Tory attempts to ban ‘boycott, disinvestment and sanctions’ are part of decades of refusing to support international law when it comes to Palestinian rights writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
IN MY autobiography, I recount how while travelling in the 1960s in Algeria — and before I was politically active or a member of the Labour Party — we went to a local Palestine Liberation Centre.
At the time, I did not know that the Palestinians had been driven off their land in the Nakba, or about how many of them then (as they are now) were in refugee camps. This was the first time I heard a different side of the story.
I wasn’t persuaded of the Palestinians’ case at the time — which was totally new to me — but an image that stayed with me, and later helped form my views in support of Palestinian rights as my politics developed, was of a young man telling me his father had gone back to look at the house he’d been forced to leave, faced abuse and been devastated.
A look at the situation today shows that the situation facing the Palestinian people — including refugees — remains desperate. And over 2022 — and now 2023 with the extremely reactionary government in power in Israel — it has become even more so.
Today the Israeli government continues and intensifies seizures of Palestinian land for settlements, alongside the denial of the right of Palestinians to return.
According to a UN report released in June 2023 — and there has been the attacks in Jenin since then — Israeli forces had at that point killed 112 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the beginning of this year.
The government’s ongoing attempt to ban local councils, universities, pension funds and other public bodies from supporting the international boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign launched by Palestinian civil society globally shows what their perspective is, and fits in with decades of British governments refusing to raise a finger against the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine, which as the UN has stated again and again is against international law.
Since 2015 alone, the UN general assembly has adopted 140 resolutions criticising Israel, mainly over its treatment of the Palestinian people, but the UK government is desperate to maintain and further develop a “special relationship” with Israel, not even being willing to consider an end to arms sales that are used in human rights abuses.
What younger readers may not know is that the Tories and their allies condemning those campaigning for a just peace and the rights of Palestinian people in line with international law — rather than the abuses of the government that is actually breaking international law — is nothing new.
And it doesn’t just involve opposition to more militant acts of solidarity. In the 1980s when I was leader of the GLC we supported a Palestinian cultural event at County Hall and received abuse and hostility for doing so.
Years later, when I was mayor of London, Tory assembly members condemned us for allowing a War on Want Peace for Palestine reception at City Hall, and also objected to me writing an article in The Londoner encouraging people to attend a Palestinian Trade Fair.
And the political opposition is always intense when steps are made forward to support the Palestinians’ cause. I still remember how horrified Labour rightwingers were in 1982, when we were able to achieve the Labour Party conference passing an emergency resolution that recognised the PLO as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
More recently, when the 2021 Labour Conference passed strong policy in support of Palestinian rights, front-benchers announced they would ignore it literally within minutes of it being overwhelmingly passed!
But these attempts to stifle support for Palestine — and the government’s latest attempts to ban BDS are of course at the forefront of this — will not change the fact that today many, many more people are much more aware of the need to support Palestinian human rights than when I went to the aforementioned Palestine Liberation Centre in the 1960s.
Their international solidarity will be vital to achieving a just peace, based on international law, for Palestine in the future.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star