On 10 march, the JJP Lobby Group wrote to Keir Starmer, asking him to speak out in support of Palestinian rights as strongly as he does against antisemitism. He is proud of his work as a lawyer in defending human rights. Support our letter by e-mailing him to tell him he should now speak out in defence of Palestinian rights.
He speaks of antisemitism often hiding behind criticism of Israel. Tell him, yes, that is not acceptable, but it’s also true that allegations of antisemitism often mask attempts to suppress criticism of Israel, and that isn’t acceptable either.
His e-mail address is: email@example.com
Please tell us if you e-mail so we know how many people responded. a EJJP’s letter to Keir Starmer is below. You can use the text in our letter or write your own.
Sir Keir Starmer 10 March 2021
Leader of the Opposition, House of Commons
We are writing to you as a Jewish organisation in response to two recent occasions when you have spoken about human rights, firstly in your interview at the Limmud festival in December and later at the Fabian Society’s conference. You talked about how you first encountered human rights law at university and became aware of powerful international instruments and the key principle that states are accountable for how they treat the populations they govern. As a human rights lawyer for 20 years, you defended people in many countries. It is in this context that we urge you to make a public commitment to the rights of Palestinians.
As you know, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories is illegal under international law. The human rights violations being committed against the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza are legion. Some key issues are:
Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are routinely denied building permits, whether for houses or agricultural structures. When they do build without permits their structures are subject to demolition. The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions estimates that 55,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed under this policy, each one rendering a family homeless.
According to Peace Now, there are now nearly 700,000 settlers in 270 settlements (including outposts) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, distributed widely over the whole area. All of them are illegal under international law. In the period immediately before President Trump left office, hundreds more plans for settlement housing were authorised by the Israeli government, including some in strategic locations clearly designed to break up contiguous Palestinian areas. The proliferation of settlements has obviously been designed to make the occupation permanent and make the internationally accepted two-state solution for Palestinians impossible.
Using the device of administrative detention, large numbers of Palestinians are imprisoned for unlimited periods without trial. The most recent figures, for September 2020, show that 376 Palestinians, including two minors, were being held under administrative detention.
According to evidence provided by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, the Shin Bet security service routinely uses torture when interrogating Palestinians. A recent example is the notorious case in 2019, of Samer Arbeed, who remained unconscious for two weeks after interrogation by the Shin Bet. Yet the criminal investigation against the interrogators involved was recently closed, pretty clearly implying acceptance of the use of torture. Minors are not exempted from ill-treatment when arrested.
The final example is Israel’s refusal to accept its obligation under the 4th Geneva Convention to vaccinate the occupied population of the West Bank and Gaza at the same time as it vaccinates the settlers. Under pressure, Israel has recently donated several thousand vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority for use on front-line medical staff,.but has done nothing for the general population of the West Bank or Gaza. .
There surely cannot be a Labour foreign policy that lives up to the ideals you outlined in your Fabian Society speech without condemning these abuses and undertaking to hold the state of Israel accountable for them.
You have spoken firmly and often about antisemitism, but you haven’t matched it by speaking about freedom of expression on Israel and the Palestinians. JJP believes this is a problem because, over the past few years, the issue of what is or isn’t antisemitism has become inextricably entwined with the question of what is legitimate criticism of Israel.
Criticism of Israel can be misused as a means of expressing antisemitism, but equally allegations of antisemitism can be misused as a means of suppressing criticism of Israel.
The Labour Party put itself in a potentially difficult position by adopting the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism because of the definition’s many shortcomings as a definition and its bias towards interpreting criticism of Israel as antisemitism. The Party clearly recognised this by simultaneously issuing a statement that “emphasises freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians”. We urge you to make it clear that the Labour Party continues to support both calling out genuine antisemitism and advocating for Palestinian rights.
Diplomatic and Parliamentary Officer
Lisa Nandy, Shadow Foreign Secretary
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Shadow Home Secretary