Labour delegates to be handed Palestinian flags ahead of debate on Tuesday

McCluskey says antisemitism crisis is about shutting down debate on Palestine


Len McCluskey has told activists at Labour's annual conference that the party's antisemitism crisis is being driven by "those within our society and around the world" who have "failed miserably" in trying to shut down debate on Palestine.

In a speech to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting on the first day of the conference in Liverpool, the Unite union chief also said the Labour Party had only adopted the IHRA antisemitism code to ensure attacks on Jeremy Corbyn were "eased" so "we could continue the fight."

Mr McCluskey launched a bitter attack on "shameful Labour MPs" who attacked Mr Corbyn in what he described as the "right wing media."

At the same event, Palestinian activist Hazem Jamjoum said Israel was now a model state for white supremacists and racists such the American far-right activist Richard Spencer. He said the Jewish state had come to "enshrine privilege and racism" for 70 years.

The comments came on a day when pro-Corbyn Momentum activists succeeded in making Palestine a "priority" issue for discussion at the conference on Tuesday.

A vote of Constituency Labour Party delegates on Sunday's first day of the conference showed that Palestine was deemed to be the fourth most important issue for debate alongside housing, schools and Windrush - ahead of the NHS, Brexit, social care and welfare.

Earlier a copy of a 'Yellow Pages' free-sheet distributed to all Momentum supporters at the conference had urged them to vote for Palestine as a "priority" issue which will now be debated on Tuesday afternoon.

The JC has learned that all Labour delegates will be handed Palestinian flags ahead of the debate. 

Labour's general secretary Jennie Formby spoke from the main conference floor on Sunday and insisted party members must be free to raise the “terrible injustices” faced by Palestinians - but she warned against antisemitic  language.

In comments that will infuriate many Jewish Labour MPs, Ms Formby insisted that under her tenure the Party had made “significant progress” in dealing with anti-Jewish conduct amongst members.

But Mr McCluskey's speech on Sunday evening looks certain to once again raise anger over the failure of the Labour leadership to acknowledge the issue of antisemitism.

To loud applause, he told around 300 pro-Palestinian activists: "There is no doubt that there are those within our society and indeed around the world  who would sooner not allow people to debate and discuss Palestine.

"If that was their goal it failed miserably. The truth is, right across the summer when the antisemitism issue was being debated - IHRA and its examples being debated - the truth of the matter is that the issue of Palestine rose in people's consciousness."

Addressing the debate over IHRA antisemtism code, Mr McCluskey said: "The debate about the examples, the IHRA definition - I know this caused concerns amongst comrades on the left.

'The truth is that we were getting sucked in almost like the Charge of the Light Brigade - cannons to the right and left and in front of us, sucked in to a debate on our enemy's territory.

'It was important to make certain that the attacks on Jeremy were eased so that we could continue the fight.

"Jeremy Corbyn's demand or belief that those examples needed to be contextualised or clarified - time will come when people will say Jeremy Corbyn was right.

"If anybody believes for one moment that those examples are going to silence us from supporting the Palestinian cause or calling Israel what it is, an apartheid state, they are very much mistaken."

Describing the current Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "one of the most right wing in the world" Mr McCluskey said he supported oppressed people "and who can be more oppressed than the Palestinians?"

Responding to claims he did not understand antisemitism, he said that in his younger days, "I fought against the fascists who were attacking Jewish comrades and Jewish synagogues. So I don't need any lessons in fighting antisemitism especially from right wing newspapers."

Earlier, at the Jewish Labour Movement rally at a fringe event away from the main conference arena Dame Louise Ellman said it was "disgraceful" that the row was still going on and criticised the "sinister" actions of trade union bosses.

She said: "Len McCluskey, the powerful general secretary of Unite who spoke about the Jewish community showing 'truculent hostility' - truculent hostility when we speak up against anti-Semitism being displayed against us, what's that from a major trade union leader?"

Leaflets distributed to Labour activists on Sunday included one produced by Left Horizons which claimed it was legitimate to draw attention to other Holocausts besides the one which saw six million Jews slaughtered.

The leaflet stated: "The issue of the Jewish Holocaust is a complex one. What is also true is that the Israeli right wing politicise the awful history of the Holocaust for is own ends."

It was also suggested it was legitimate to "draw attention to the holocaust listed on the African population by centuries of slavery."

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