Labour will see more challenges over Palestine at the general election, probably in the autumn, and more losses of votes writes Lindsey German

Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer in Munich, February 2024

As Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to compound his war crimes with an imminent invasion of Rafah and with the banning from Israel of the news channel Al-Jazeera (always good to get cameras out of the way before you launch another genocidal assault), the political ramifications of the war against the Palestinians are being felt across Europe and the US.

The deliberate complicity of US imperialism and its allies in supporting Israel is plain for all to see and is triggering protests across the world. Yet another failure of the peace talks demonstrates that these have become essentially performative. They are sops to the US government and to Israel’s own domestic opposition which is demanding the release of the hostages. But it is clear that Netanyahu and his even more right-wing allies in government have no interest in stopping the war, because it will cost them politically.

The invasion of Rafah and the forcing of its population out is particularly hideous, given we were told for months that they were safe in the very south of the Gaza strip. There is one way to stop Netanyahu which is to stop sending him arms and to impose sanctions on Israel. There is no sign of either of these things happening. We need to put even more pressure on our governments in order to make it clear they will pay a very heavy political price for continued support of Israel.

Here in Britain the disarray of the political system was in plain sight at the local elections last week. The Tories did terribly, triggering calls for a general election from the Financial Times among others, and the (entirely correct) accusation that the party is simply squatting in Downing Street, having lost whatever mandate it might once have had. Tory party members are at each other’s throats, with calls from the crazed Suella Braverman to move even further to the right in lockstep with the Reform party.

But the loss of Tory votes clearly was not because the electorate felt there weren’t enough people being deported to Rwanda. It was a cry against the cost-of-living crisis, declining real wages, a housing crisis affecting millions of families, the collapse of the NHS, the appalling consequences of privatisation.

Tory support for the Israeli genocide in Gaza may not have overtly figured on the ballot paper but it is way out of line with public opinion, which in its majority favours a ceasefire and a halt to arming Israel. And here lies a big problem for Keir Starmer. Because for Labour Palestine was on the ballot and it cost Labour some council seats and many votes from those on whom it could once rely.

Even the media commentators were forced to concede that the refusal of Starmer to condemn Israel’s actions or to call for a ceasefire has been a big issue, and Labour spokespeople have acknowledged that they will have to ‘listen’ or ‘have a conversation with’ the Muslim community.

This continues the patronising attitude that Labour has shown towards Muslims on whose votes they rely but whose concerns they consistently ignore. I guess most of the Muslim community don’t want a conversation from Labour politicians – they want a change of policy. Nor should Labour or anyone else be fooled into thinking this revulsion with the party’s policy over Gaza is only among the Muslim community. Labour also lost votes to other parties such as the Greens or independents, and suffered high abstentions, from students, trade unionists and many others who simply could not face voting Labour.

Starmer must have hoped that by now the war in Gaza would be over – he must also hope that by the general election it won’t be such an issue. This shows a total misunderstanding of the depth of anger and of the size of the movement. As with Iraq, those opposing Labour’s policies will neither forgive nor forget. We should remember that Respect’s big electoral success, when it achieved the four biggest swings against Labour and the election of George Galloway MP, came more than two years after Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq.

So Labour will see more challenges over Palestine at the general election, probably in the autumn, and more losses of votes. The fact that Starmer has little to offer on domestic issues which challenges the Tory agenda only adds to the alienation from the party.

The strength and resilience of the Palestine solidarity movement internationally means that the Zionists and their allies are losing the argument and Israel is becoming more of a pariah state. The response of governments has been more state repression, more claims of antisemitism on the part of protestors, and more violence from the right. This has been most dramatic in the US where more than 100 university camps in solidarity with Palestine have been brutally attacked by police and in some cases right wing pro-Israel mobs.

Thousands of students and some staff supporting them have been arrested, beaten up and threatened with disciplinary measures by university authorities. They have been accused by Biden and the authorities of antisemitism and violence, although it is clear that the violence comes from the state and counter protestors, and that any criticism of Israel is equated with antisemitism.

Biden is also suffering politically because of his ‘ironclad’ support for Israel, losing support among young people, including many Jewish people. His response is to pay lip service to stopping Israel but to keep delivering arms which are directly responsible in killing those in Gaza and Lebanon.

The EU is also showing its pro-Israel colours – take the case of Dr Ghassan abu-Sittah. Deported from Germany a couple of weeks ago to prevent him speaking at a conference on Palestine, he found himself barred from all the Schengen countries when he was also refused entry to Paris to speak at the French Senate.

This quite incredible attack on the civil liberties on someone who was recently democratically elected as the rector of Glasgow University shows that in the eyes of the authorities campaigning for solidarity while Palestinian is the real offence.

Yet the repression cannot rewrite the truth nor can it stop the movement. The issue is now part of politics in the imperialist countries and it goes to the heart of how we built a left opposition to both the Tories and Labour.

08 May 2024 by Lindsey German

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