This appeared in the Morning Star on Saturday. Given the Star‘s habit of publishing letters and articles by ‘absolute’ anti-Zionists, one-staters and anti-Semites (despite its theoretical commitment to two states in Israel/Palestine) and Corbyn’s history of associating (albeit unknowingly) with anti-Semites and of calling Hizbollah and Hamas “friends”, this is tremendously encouraging:
The new party leader and his pro-Palestinian views both had a surprisingly friendly reception from the group, found SHLOMO ANKER
BEFORE Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, there was talk of tension within the party — especially from the right-wing media. People suggested that some in the party would even leave and form a SDP style split.
So the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is interesting, especially with so much discussion of Corbyn’s views on the Middle East and his record of being very sympathetic to the Palestinians.
At the Labour Party conference, LFI had two main events and its reaction to Corbyn was surprising. Instead of fostering tension and paranoia towards him, the atmosphere was positive and Jewish Labour members both in and outside of LFI are really starting to warm to him. Or to put it another way: Jewish Labour members realise that what the media has said about Corbyn is not true.
One LFI event was a broad discussion about a two-state solution. The speakers in general only spoke in defence of Israel, which included the usual exaggeration of the threat from Iran. It was disappointing that the oppression of the Palestinians was hardly mentioned.
In the discussion afterwards I decided to commment on the suffering of those in Gaza. The reaction I received was unexpected. Instead of people being upset with me, the Chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP, very much liked my question and the organisers even came to shake my hand.
Pro-Palestinian activists later asked challenging questions and the organisers and pro-Israel members of the audience enjoyed the discussion — although one woman with a Free Palestine badge did get upset with the replies and walked out of the meeting.
The second event for LFI was their annual reception where high-level members of the Labour Party come to drink, eat and discuss the Middle East.
LFI invited plenty of people involved in Labour Friends of Palestine, as well as Corbyn and Hilary Benn. They both spoke alongside Errel Margalit (an Israeli Knesset member) and the deputy ambassdor of Israel. In his speech, Corbyn called for the end of the siege of Gaza but also praised the Jewish community for its work in defending refugees.
The Telegraph and the Times reported on this event but only mentioned a heckler who shouted “Oi oi, say the word Israel!” after Corbyn’s speech. The newspapers forgot to mention that the heckler had partaken heavily in the wine served at the event and is well known as a bit of an “eccentric” who gets so agitated that even the Daily Mail had an article on his bad behaviour.
The improvement of relations between Corbyn and LFI is partly down to the most pro-Israel of all the Labour MPs, Luciana Berger, being appointed to the shadow cabinet. Luciana was formerly the chair of LFI and unlike other pro-Israel voices in the parliamentary party, she is actually Jewish.
But I should not exaggerate. LFI still has strong disagreements with Corbyn and in my opinion LFI’s work needs reform.
Their priority seems to be mainly about Israel’s national security and they do not do enough to stand up for Palestinians.
The rank and file people in LFI are often peace activists but the speakers they invite at events tend to not be as left-wing.
Although while LFI are not supporters of Netanyahu and do formally oppose the occupation, the brutal reality of the occupation is generally not talked about at their events.
I wish that LFI could reform and be focused on peace activism and not on defending the actions of the Israeli military and sometimes its government.
Yet I must also criticise Labour Friends of Palestine too. I spoke with Graeme Morris MP who is the chair of the group and he seemed pessimistic about working with LFI. While he may be right about politics and is a charming fellow, Labour Friends of Palestine need to reach out more to LFI and begin to organise more joint events which will improve relations.
If we are going to have peace and justice in the Middle East, let us at least start with friendship between these two sides within the Labour Party.