On Labour, the SNP & Palestine

It's fallen off the news agenda since the right of return marches, but the need for solidarity with the Palestinian people has never been greater. Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist Kishore Lennon reflects on the urgent need to support the oppressed Palestinian people and argues that both members and figureheads in Labour and the SNP need to be doing much more...

In 2017, an Israeli army medic named Elor Azaria was imprisoned by the Israei state for shooting, at point blank range, an unarmed and injured Palestinian. In the litany of murderous war crimes carried out against the Palestinian people, this case stands out for one unique reason: the perpetrator was actually prosecuted. The reaction in Israel was one of overwhelming opposition to his arrest as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Azaria's family to express support for their son and protests were organised against his detention.

Ultimately, Azaria only served nine months of a paltry 18 month sentence, but the question remains to why he was imprisoned in the first place given Israel's track record. The primary reason was simple: the murder had been filmed by Palestinian human rights activists and published on the internet, the international response was one of outrage, and Israel, already facing a growing BDS movement was forced to be seen to act. This was a direct response to pressure from below as no western power called for Azaria's punishment.

The lesson for westerners is clear: people power pays dividends and grassroots activism puts pressure on the Israeli state. But such solidarity doesn't arise in a political vacuum – it's by its very nature a product of the class struggle at home. And so it's helpful to both draw patterns and dispel a few myths on the Scottish left. There's a small minority in the pro-independence movement that wishes to draw a false equivalence between seceding from the UK and struggling against national oppression. It's impossible for us to build solidarity with Palestine on the basis of this myth. The Scottish working class do face real struggles – austerity, casualisation, low pay and so on – but they don't face a foreign imperial power in their day-to-day lives. As is the case with the majority of workers around the world, the main enemy is at home.

It's true that solidarity arises from these struggles and it's no coincidence that those advocating a Yes vote during the independence referendum, especially on the basis it would represent a break with austerity, illegal wars and nuclear weapons, were proudly proclaiming the possibility of opening a Palestinian embassy in Scotland. I'd still argue that breaking the British state through Scottish independence is an inherently radical position, ironically an awkward proposition for bourgeois nationalists like Nicola Sturgeon.

Depressingly, her party has made clear in the Growth Commission, their economic vision for independence, that they wish to pursue a less radical course. A number of critics on the pro-independence left have exposed the document's economic limitations, but it's also clear that the SNP have made a number of concessions on foreign policy. The party, for example, made clear in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack that they absoloutely supported the posturings of the British state. Such brazen support on an issue like this has worrying ramfications for an issue like Palestine, especially given the party's existing attitude to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Last year, the SNP was happy to welcome the Shalom Festival to the Edinburgh Fringe despite its toxic associations. Organisers of the festival openly sought to build bridges between Israel and Scotland, whcih stands at odds with the aims of the BDS movement. We wish to isolate the Israeli state politically, culturally and economically until Israeli recognises the human rights of Palestinians. And pro-Palestine voices within the party need to speak up – the party continues to support the redundant UN-endorsed two state solution, which seeks to facilitate and normalise the existence of an exclusive Jewish state. Even worse, the SNP has followed the Conservatives in supporting the IHRA's definition of anti-semitism, which was previously dropped due to its conflation of anti-semitism with opposition to zionism.

The SNP's inability to uphold even a timid pro-Palestine position is rooted in the same stategy that has dictated their neo-liberal economic vision. Radical politics, the SNP fear, will alienate the Scottish middle class and provoke capital flight – something which the party's White Paper sought to negate during the referendum by promising cuts to corporation tax. Deradicalisation of independence also requires the SNP to set out how Scotland would uphold western imperialist policy and put forward a vision of a 'stable' independent country that benefits the ruling classes. This was reflected in how the party tried to link independence to the EU as if it was a magic bullet that would appeal to all section of society. It was reflected in the lack of effort the party has made to consult trade unions when developing policy.

What has all this to do with Palestine? What we're witnissing in these various concessions is the limit of parliamentary strategy, mirrored in every constitutional nationalist movement on these islands from Plaid Cymru to Sinn Fein. The SNP once called for British naval ships to be sent to provide medical treatment for victims of Israeli massacres in Gaza. Under Salmond, the party was at least happy to use leftist rhetoric to appeal to that cross-section of society, but this strategy has long been abandoned.

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As for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of his support for the "oppressed" people of Palestine to rapturous applause from delegates at his party's conference last year. This came despite accusations he was an anti-Semite, a supporter of Hamas or Hezbollah and everything in between. Corbyn should be commended for his long history supporting the people of Palestine, though this is not reflected on all wings of his party. More presciently, the infighting he has faced would be nothing compared to the battle a left wing government would face should they come to power.

Corbyn recently talked about the possibility of recognising a Palestinian state, a kind gesture but nothing more given it's observer status in the UN. The limitations of parliament aren't addressed by substituting solidarity for gestures. A Corbyn-led government would need to take much bolder step. Firstly, an arms embargo would be welcomed – it already has a great deal of support across the left. And secondly, a move to expel the Israeli ambassador in light of on going atrocities. This would admittedly provoke a seismic change in diplomatic relations and pressure from America to backtrack. But it would mark a significant line in the sand at a time when Israel is increasingly becoming emboldened by the far right. Even mainstream political commentators have called out new Israeli law on the segregation of Jewish and Palestinian peoples as fascistic. It would be incumbent on a Labour government to stand against such policies at the first time of asking.

Confrontation is inevitable and necessary if we're to build solidarity with Palestine and both Labour and the SNP should recognise this. On a grassroots level, we know that tens of thousands of people will take to the streets to oppose the likes of Trump. A Corbyn-led government would need similar levels of support if it was to take even the most moderate measures in support of the Palestinian people. The risk is that Corbyn's Labour take the same trajectory as the SNP and drop such demands when the apparatus of the British state refuses to support them or when other western powers slap its wrist.

Parliament can do important things: the predominantly conservative Irish senate has just passed a bill making it illegal to trade with companies in the occupied territories. But the Israeli lobby is powerful and no policy can be assured of follow-through without mass mobilisation. In the array of left formation on these islands, class issues have found an expression in various forms of Scotland nationalism and Corbynite Labourism, yet the issue of Palestinian solidarity is both propelled and limited by the very same factors that propel and limit struggles at home.

So, yes, winning struggles at home is an act of solidarity in itself, but no one who wants to provide immediate solidarity to Palestine should accept the line that says “wait for the revolution” (or, indeed, wait for independence or wait for a Labour government). Outside the ultra left, no series proponent would make such an argument. However, what we can do is mobilise the parties that supposedly represent us by demonstrating real solidarity at the ground level.

Our solidarity in the here and now should be informed by this understanding. We can't allow support for Palestine to be dictated by parliamentary means or dominated by mediating forces like the UN. We must reject limiting our solidarity to parliament and reject the absurdity of a solution coming out of such institutions. Our solidarity instead must be a tenet of existing struggles here at home and a real desire to stand alongside oppressed people, a position only working class people are ultimately able to uphold.