Labour's annexed-settlement goods ban is the opposite of BDS

Starmer's party is opposing a grave threat to Israel. How can that be a 'boycott'?

June 29, 2020 17:39

The Labour Party recently announced that it would call for a ban on imports of West Bank settlement produce should Israel embark on the unilateral annexation of the West Bank.

The Shadow Middle East minister Wayne David outlined the policy several weeks ago, and over the weekend, shadow Foreign Minister, Lisa Nandy, reiterated that this was the position of the Labour Party.

In response, the Board of Deputies issued a statement urging Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to reject this policy, stating "the tactic of BDS is divisive and seeks to strike at the very legitimacy of the State of Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish State".

Unilateral annexation is the gravest threat to the possibility of Israel ever being able to negotiate a political resolution to the conflict with its Palestinian neighbours. It will cause untold damage to Palestinian human rights and Israel’s security, entrenching indefinitely a 53-year-old occupation, which Israel has always claimed is not permanent.

There is nothing legitimate about unilaterally annexing territory, applying sovereignty or occupying it indefinitely – whatever you choose to call it - unlike the State of Israel, which was legally and legitimately constituted by UN Resolution 181 in 1947.

The State of Israel may have held elections resulting in a government that has decided to unilaterally annex territory, but that does not make the decision democratic. The Palestinians living in the West Bank had no right to vote in those Israeli elections.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has also said Palestinians living in any areas of annexed territory will not be given citizenship  - they will remain "subjects", in his words. The Board of Deputies can call Israel a democracy but there isn’t anything democratic about annexation. 

Given the significance of a unilateral move of this nature it requires a suitably significant response, and the Labour Party, whether we would personally support it or not, is well within its right to call for a ban on settlement produce.

Far from undermining Israel, a ban that specifically targets settlements beyond the Green Line reaffirms the legitimacy of Israel inside the Green Line.

Suggesting a ban of this nature attacks the legitimacy of the ‘State of Israel’ is an attempt to erase the Green Line, a tactic deployed by the right wing in Israel who seek to blur the boundaries of Israel, and the far left in this country, and around the world, who also seek to erase the Green Line in order to suggest the entirety of Israel is illegitimate.

To imply the Labour Party - which has, this past week, shown just how serious it is prepared to be about tacking antisemitism in its ranks - is somehow singling out the only Jewish state is wrong.

It is a policy response to show an illegal act that has consequences.  When Russia annexed the Crimea, sanctions were imposed on Russia and travel bans were announced against key individuals in government. This is far removed from what the Labour Party is proposing in relation to Israel.

Jewish community and pro-Israel organisations in the UK such as We Believe in Israel - which has also launched a campaign targeting the Labour Party, misrepresenting a call for a ban on settlement produce as a call  for ‘sanctions to be implemented against Israel’ - need to be honest about what this announcement by Labour is.

It is a firm response to a dangerous move by Israel, that lacks the support of the majority of the people in the region, and seeks to render a two-state solution impossible to achieve.

It targets the illegality of unilateral Israeli annexation of land destined for a future Palestinian state whilst reaffirming the legitimacy of Israel. It might not sit comfortably with some members of the Jewish community, but the Labour Party is well within their right to call for it.

Rather than focusing their attention on this announcement by Labour, these organisations could invest their time in working out how they intend to credibly continue to support a two-state solution and refer to Israel as a democracy, whilst remaining silent in the face of looming annexation. The answer is surely: they can’t.

Hannah Weisfeld is the director and a founder of Yachad

June 29, 2020 17:39

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