Yvonne Ridley: Palestine is still the issue at conference - take note SNP

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says the SNP should intensify its support for Palestine

THIS has not been a good week for the pro-Israeli lobbyists who have invested millions in recent years on all expenses paid trips to Tel Aviv and donations to some election campaigns for groups of MPs based in the Westminster Parliament.

Politicians of all stripes have been targeted to give their unconditional support to their favourite state. It has worked rather well for them, with Labour party leaders like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband joining their counterparts in the Tory party as "friends of Israel" along with the majority of their ministers and shadow ministers.

However, after this week’s triumphant Labour party conference in Brighton it looks as if the pro-Israel lobby has lost its grip on the party led by Jeremy Corbyn. If anyone had any doubt that the Zionist influence has all but gone, it was dispelled by the Labour leader's speech. 

After this week’s triumphant Labour party conference in Brighton it looks as if the pro-Israel lobby has lost its grip on the party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The loudest cheers of the day came when Corbyn raised the issue of Palestine. He said: "And let’s give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Britain’s voice needs to be heard independently in the world," he added to cheers from around the conference hall.

Perhaps, more astonishingly, he then lobbed a volley of salvos to Israel's greatest friends in Washington for good measure: "We must be a candid friend to the United States, now more than ever. The values we share are not served by building walls, banning immigrants on the basis of religion, polluting the planet, or pandering to racism. 

"And let me say frankly, the speech made by the US president to the United Nations last week was deeply disturbing. It threatened war and talked of tearing up international agreements. Devoid of concern for human rights or universal values, it was not the speech of a world leader."

Warming to the theme, Corbyn then warned Theresa May's Tory government that: "It cannot meekly go along with this dangerous course. If the special relationship means anything, it must mean that we can say to Washington: that way is the wrong way. 

"That’s clearly what’s needed in the case of Bombardier where thousands of jobs are now at stake. A prime minister betting our economic future on a deregulated trade deal with the US might want to explain how 220 per cent tariffs are going to boost our exports. So let Britain’s voice be heard loud and clear for peace, justice and cooperation."

This was eye-watering stuff; a shot in the arm for Palestine, a slap in the face to the Trump administration and a knee in the groin to Israel ... all from a political leader who was the butt of jokes in the Westminster press gallery.

Corbyn’s message will be especially well-received in Northern Ireland, where 4,500 jobs are under threat after it emerged that a ruling on punitive tariffs by the US plunged the Canadian-owned Bombardier Inc. into crisis after threatening to make its key C Series jet all but unsellable.

This was eye-watering stuff; a shot in the arm for Palestine, a slap in the face to the Trump administration and a knee in the groin to Israel ... all from a political leader who was the butt of jokes in the Westminster press gallery.

Like it or not, Labour is a party ready to take office; in a climate where Britain’s current prime minister is hanging on to her job by a thread, some political observers are already talking about "when" Corbyn becomes prime minister, and not "if".

We can only guess what Australian-born Israeli diplomat Mark Regev makes of it all. The focus of much of his attention has been spent on trying to demonise, criminalise and destroy the BDS campaign in Britain. 

After Wednesday's Corbyn speech he might rip down the anti-BDS war room maps in Israel’s London Embassy and focus instead on how to stop Labour from forming the next British government.

However, there are signs the pro-Israel lobby is courting the SNP leadership and it is vital Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers take note of the reaction of those listening to Corbyn's speech in reference to Palestine. 

The Israeli ambassador was reeling after being so publicly snubbed by Corbyn this week and to the ambassador’s angst, the Labour leader's pledge to give "real support" to Palestine drew the loudest cheers and applause from the audience during the entire 70-minute speech.

Regev, clearly annoyed, trotted out the old trope of "anti-Jewish bigotry" at the Labour conference after Corbyn didn’t show up at a pro-Israel reception. He made his claim at a Labour Friends of Israel event, where those present heckled and shouted "where is he?" and "why isn't he here?" when it was revealed that Corbyn would not be appearing alongside the ambassador.

Just to remind you, Regev hasn't always been an ambassador. He was the former Tel Aviv spin doctor who sought to justify the killing of children, women and men during successive Israeli military offensives against civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told the pro-Israel gathering that the Labour leader was "not attending any of these receptions" on Tuesday night in order to prepare for his keynote conference speech on Wednesday. How unfortunate, then, that photographs of a grinning Corbyn later emerged from the Daily Mirror conference party where some of his shadow ministers put in karaoke performances!

"The Labour movement has a proud history of supporting Zionism," said Regev. "So to those who called for the expulsion of Zionists from the Labour party on Monday, I ask, would you have expelled some of Labour's greatest luminaries too?" The ambassador was clearly rattled by the humiliating snub.

With the exception of a few, SNP politicians no longer talk about the wars unleashed on Gaza or the reality for the Palestinians who are suffering today.

Thornberry insisted that Labour is "completely committed" to a two-state solution in the Middle East. She added, pointedly, that it is "completely inappropriate for those on the fringes of the Labour party, on the fringes of this conference, to try to strangle that debate". 

In a written statement to the pro-Israel reception, Corbyn said: "Labour will continue to campaign for peace through a two-state solution, a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable Palestinian state. I look forward to working with you all to achieve that together."

The powerful leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, is a close ally of Corbyn. He claimed later that allegations of anti-Jewish sentiment within the party are "mood music" created by those wanting to "undermine" the Labour leader.

Nevertheless, Regev and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can at least reassure themselves that the pro-Israel lobby is alive and well within the ranks of Tory MPs, and no doubt Prime Minister Theresa May will reassure Tel Aviv of this during the Conservative party conference next week. 

Such reassurances from a lame duck PM and a government declining in popularity, though, will be cold comfort to the wounded Israelis. Not only are they losing their friends in one party, but those in the other are losing their influence. Dark days ahead, then, which means a ray of hope for the beleaguered people of Palestine as the pro-Israel lobby loses its grip on Westminster.

We need a repeat of the support for Palestine from the SNP conference earlier this year when Sheppard pledged the SNP would be "seeking justice for the Palestinians whose aspirations have long been ignored".

However, there are signs the pro-Israel lobby is also courting the SNP leadership and it is vital Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers take note of the reaction of those listening to Corbyn's speech in reference to Palestine. 

With the exception of a few, SNP politicians no longer talk about the wars unleashed on Gaza or the reality for the Palestinians who are suffering today from the after effects of bombs dropped on them containing smart technology from Scotland.

Who now in the SNP talks about the Israeli arms embargo Alex Salmond once demanded back in September 2014? Just as Corbyn's Labour says it is ready to govern, the SNP is so close to fulfilling its own ambitions linked to independence, but if the Palestinian people are thrown under a bus in favour of greater cooperation and trade with Israel, some members may never forgive the party.

The SNP has always had a proud tradition of campaigning for peace and justice whether at home or overseas and at its forthcoming conference it must back the calls it made during the spring conference for Palestinian justice against a brutal occupation. 

Led by Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard and the growing Friends of Palestine movement in the party, the SNP’s spring conference condemned Israeli illegal settlement building. The vote was overwhelmingly in support of the show of solidarity - and the call for an independent Scotland to show global leadership as part of the peace movement. 

SNP Friends of Palestine has solid support for justice in Palestine among many SNP MPs but that support should be seen to extend to the party's leadership as well. 

Forget Corbyn's performance on Wednesday, we need a repeat of the support for Palestine from the SNP conference earlier this year when Sheppard pledged the SNP would be "seeking justice for the Palestinians whose aspirations have long been ignored", while making it clear that the 1967 borders settlement would provide a just and lasting peace for a Palestinian and Israeli state.

SNP Friends of Palestine has solid support for justice in Palestine among many SNP MPs but that support should be seen to extend to the party's leadership as well. 

The pro-Israeli lobby is losing its grip on Westminster but there is a concern that efforts might be made to try and influence policy with political friends in the north.

Picture courtesy of Global Panorama

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