Thursday, May 17, 2018
Supporters desert Labour Friends of Israel
Two parliamentary supporters of Labour Friends of Israel have distanced themselves from the group – an Israeli embassy front – as outrage has grown over its support for the massacre of dozens of protesters in Gaza on Monday.
Writing on Twitter, LFI had blamed the Israeli massacre on Palestinian political and resistance group Hamas.
At her request, member of Parliament Catherine West’s name was removed from the group’s list of supportersovernight Wednesday.
West has issued a statement condemning the massacre.
And in an email seen by The Electronic Intifada, Tulip Siddiq, another Labour MP, told a constituent questioning her support for the group that she had never “signed up to be a member” in the first place and would “check this with the organization.”
She reiterated this claim in a local Labour Party meeting last night, according to an activist who was present. At the time of this writing, Siddiq was still listed on their site as a supporter.
Labour Friends of Israel, West and Siddiq did not reply to emails requesting comment. Siddiq’s office did not answer a call. West’s office declined to comment.
Labour news site The Skwawkbox reported Thursday that West had written to LFI “to suspend my membership.”
The LFI tweet was so widely repudiated by Labour Party activists that the next day the group deleted it and replaced it with a vaguer statement condemning Hamas and the “cycle of violence.”
More than 60 Palestinians were fatally shot in Gaza by Israeli snipers on Monday, including seven children.
The protests were held on the eve of Nakba Day, and were part of weeks of protests calling for an end to the siege of Gaza and the return of Palestinian refugees to lands and homes from which Israel expelled and excludes them because they are not Jewish.
Monday’s massacre coincided with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, which Palestinians and much of the world strongly oppose as a violation of international law.
Despite West previously stating that she was “proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Israel,” unlike its sister organization in the ruling Conservative Party, LFI has no membership sign-up scheme – although it does solicit donations.
Instead it lists Labour lawmakers as “supporters.” The process by which it does this is unclear. Labour Friends of Israel has no official status within Labour as a formal affiliate.
But as extensively reported by The Electronic Intifada, LFI is actually a well-funded front organization for the Israeli embassy.
Michael Rubin, the group’s parliamentary officer, admitted to an undercover reporter in 2016 that LFI is at least partly funded by the embassy and “we do work really, really closely together.”
Explaining that a lot of that work was “behind the scenes,” Rubin asserted that “publicly we just try to keep the LFI as a separate identity to the embassy.”
The group has played a central role in the propaganda campaign to smear the Labour Party under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn as “institutionally anti-Semitic.”
LFI’s chairperson Joan Ryan even went so far as to fabricate an allegation of anti-Semitism in order to smear a Labour Party activist who questioned the group’s approach towards Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
One of LFI’s highest-ranking “supporters” is Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign minister.
But the massacre was too much for her to support, and she issued the party’s statement condemning it “unreservedly.”
Although she called for holding “the Netanyahu government to account for their actions,” the statement stopped short of any concrete measures which would do that.
Separately, party leader Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement pledging that “Labour is committed to reviewing UK arms sales to Israel while these violations continue.”
Last year Thornberry gave a speech to Labour Friends of Israel in which she condemned attempts to hold Israel to account with boycotts as “bigotry.”
The speech echoed many other common Israeli government talking points, including the racist anti-Palestinian myth that nothing existed in Palestine before Israel was founded apart from “deserts.”
Other lawmakers listed as “supporters” of LFI have come under fire.
Barry Gardiner, another Labour shadow minister, criticized Israel’s “brutal” actions on Twitter. Many of the replies are by his supporters calling for him to distance himself from LFI.
Israel’s actions make it so toxic now that even many “good friends of Israel” – as one prominent activist on the hard right of Labour put it on Thursday – have little choice but to publicly distance themselves.