Conference shows strong support among Labour members for the Palestinian cause, reports Terina Hine
Tuesday was Palestine Day at the Labour Party conference. A sea of over a thousand Palestinian flags were waved across the conference floor in support of the Palestinian struggle. The sound of ‘Free, Free Palestine!’ could be heard in the halls outside the conference room as delegates chanted in support of a motion proposed by Harlow CLP. But most importantly the Labour Party passed a motion which calls for an immediate end to the sale of arms to Israel, a motion which unequivocally condemns the recent killings of innocent Palestinians by the Israeli state and demands an “immediate and unconditional end to the illegal blockade and closure of Gaza”.
The motion refers to the displacement of Palestinians during the Nakba, during the founding Israel. This is a hugely significant move, coming almost immediately after the NEC (Labour’s ruling body) agreed to adopt the IHRA definitions of antisemitism. For many this will be seen as a direct rebuke from the Labour members to this recent NEC ruling as the motion condemned attempts to “rewrite history and erase the victims of the 1948 war”.
In moving the motion the delegate for Harlow refused to be cut short by the chair, forcefully saying he was speaking for the Palestinians and like them it would take an army to remove him from the platform before he had finished.
The debate on Palestine was voted for on the first day of conference by an incredible 188,000 delegates, prioritising the debate above that on Brexit. This alone shows the strength of feeling that the issue provokes amongst the Labour membership.
However, for those who have spent the last three days at the conference none of this is really surprising. All the fringe events hosted by those supporting the Palestinian struggle (Labour Friends of Palestine, PSC) or those calling for a new foreign policy direction (Stop the War Coalition) to reflect the failed wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, were bursting at the seams. People were being turned away from meetings because they were too full to accommodate more, where only a few years ago such meetings would have struggled to attract more than a handful of Labour delegates. Times really are changing and the Labour Party members are moving faster than the NEC can keep pace with.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn, former Stop the War chair and a lifelong campaigner on justice for the Palestinian people, as Labour leader, has attracted a mass membership to the Party of committed individuals who believe in Labour’s internationalist roots and are not willing to stand by and let the old guard dictate to them how foreign policy ‘must’ be. They want things to change and are prepared to make that change happen. Foreign policy and the Palestinian Cause can no longer be ignored or sidelined. The membership have shown where their localities and principles lie.