My brothers, sister and I sent the letter below to the three Labour Party leadership candidates because we were increasingly horrified by their capitulation to the extreme Zionist lobby’s outrageous and growing demands for attacks on Palestinian solidarity activists. This was at a time when the USA’s support for the Israeli government was making annexation of the West Bank an immediate possibility and was allowing a further intensification of attacks on Palestinians. We also wanted to point out how the extreme Zionists’ demands were seeking to undermine the wider fight back against the growth of all forms of racism. Needless to say, none of the three candidates responded. But we will not leave it there.
An open letter to Labour’s leadership candidates
Dear Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer,
As British Palestinians who have been supporters and members of the Labour Party for a long time, one having been a Labour Councillor for 12 years and another currently the branch secretary of his Ward Party, we feel that the Party’s response to accusations of anti-Semitism is increasingly making us feel unwelcome in the Party.
The Party’s response is also displaying an underlying anti-Palestinian racism in many instances and we believe you are all acquiescing in this rather than stopping it.
We are calling on all of you to take a stand against these accusations and defend our right to free speech to expose Israel’s horrendous treatment of Palestinians.
Our views on this issue are rooted in our family history. Our Palestinian father was studying in Britain on a British Council scholarship in 1948 but was denied the right to return to his home near Nazareth because he was a non-Jewish Arab. If he had been Jewish from any part of the world, he would have been allowed in. This was clearly racist: racism at the birth of Israel as a self-defined Jewish state.
A similar family history is shared by a very large number of Palestinians, as the newly created Israeli state refused, often using violent means, to allow Palestinian refugees the right to return and drove others out. It continues to pursue the same policies today. Yet for saying that this shows that Israel was founded on racism, we all stand to be accused, by referring to the faulty IHRA definition, of being anti-Semitic. We all felt the sting of anti-Palestinian racism when you agreed with Robert Peston and Andrew Marr that it was anti-Semitic to say that Israel was a racist endeavour.
Many of our Palestinian relatives are Israeli citizens – though not nationals, as you have to be Jewish to have full national rights. They face daily discrimination and the constant threat of ethnic cleansing. The Party’s stance, and your equivocation, make speaking out in their defence a risky endeavour.
Let us be clear: there is anti-Semitism in British society and in the Labour Party. Despite the denial of his right to return home our father taught us that we must fight anti-Semitism, not just because of the general human need to oppose all forms of racism, but also because it was European anti-Semitism that led to the current plight of Palestinians.
We all support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign‘s Constitution which not only states its opposition to all forms of racism including anti-Semitism but also acts on it by, for example, expelling Holocaust deniers. While we will continue to argue forcefully against apologists for Israeli policies, we would just as forcefully support them if they faced anti-Semitic abuse : opposition to any form of racism must be unconditional.
We are proud of our late cousin Saliba and his wife, Arna Mer, who was Jewish, as well as their murdered son Juliano Mer-Khamis, who established the Freedom Theatre of Jenin and who described himself as 100% Jewish and 100% Palestinian. They all fought for Palestinian rights and for a future where there is no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion. They were all harassed – to put it very mildly – by the Israeli state.
Our concern about Labour’s response to the accusations of anti-Semitism is broader than concern about our rights as Palestinians. Racism and prejudice, including anti-Semitism, are growing around the world. The need to oppose and counter them is one of the major international struggles today. Yet, some of those making anti-Semitic accusations seek to exclude good people from broader anti-racist action, a case in point being the recent attempt to exclude Michael Rosen and Ken Loach as judges of Show Racism the Red Card’s schools’ competition.
We are also concerned, therefore, that Labour is suspending and expelling many great anti-racist activists on dubious grounds including many anti-racist Jewish opponents of Israeli policies. We too risk charges of anti-Semitism if we seek to defend these activists or call out Israeli actions against Palestinians. As Palestinians, we would argue that any such accusation against us would be anti-Palestinian racism.
The fight against racism needs unity. All minorities desperately need solidarity; we cannot win isolated and alone. All three of you, whether you win the leadership or not, have a key role to play in building this unity. You must:
- Stop accusations which attempt to suppress genuine debate and solidarity.
- Implement the Chakrabarti report in full including putting an end to the trawling through of old Facebook posts and Tweets.
- Ensure, instead, a Labour Party system that deals fairly, swiftly and proportionately with current instances of racism.
Do this for the sake of the Party, Britain and all those facing discrimination and prejudice across the world. It’s the least we can ask of you.
We would appreciate an answer to our letter.
Yours in solidarity,
Thea Khamis – North Durham CLP
Hanna Khamis – Warwick & Leamington CLP
Chris Khamis – Labour International, formerly Birmingham Perry Barr CLP
Tareq Khamis – Luton North CLP
The Labour Party, Palestinian Rights and Antisemitism
ONLINE MEETING: Tuesday 26 May,
19:00 (GMT+1, London)
- Chris Khamis, a Labour Party member who has written about the hostile environment towards him and other Palestinians in the Labour Party;
- Jenny Manson, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour;
- Gilbert Achcar, professor of international relations at SOAS and author of The Arabs and the Holocaust; and