Keir Starmer faced a calamitous day at his party conference on Monday as delegates pushed through a defiant motion on Palestine and a shadow cabinet member resigned with a furious statement denouncing Starmer’s leadership.
Labour conference backed a motion urging the party to back sanctions against Israel for its illegal actions under international law, to stop the UK’s arms trade with Israel, and end trade with illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
The vote is an embarrassment for Starmer who has downplayed the issue of Palestine since replacing Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of Palestinian calls for an end to Israeli abuses and military occupation.
The Palestine motion points to recent human rights reports showing “unequivocally” that Israel has committed the UN-recognised crime of apartheid as evidenced by Israeli rights organisation B’tselem and Human Rights Watch.
The motion supports Palestinian civil society calls for “effective measures” against the building of settlements, demands the end to the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and supports the right of Palestinians to return to their homes.
The motion, brought by Labour’s youth section, was passed easily following a short debate that was cut short by the conference organisers and not broadcast live to delegates.
The vote is not binding on the Labour leadership, but indicates that the party membership still favours supporting Palestinian rights and an end to UK complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
Israel’s military action against Gaza in May, which left hundreds dead, sparked huge protests in the UK, with up to 200,000 people taking to the streets in the largest demonstration in support of Palestine seen in Britain.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has made clear since his election as leader last year that he distances himself from his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding support for the Palestinian cause, stating that he “supports Zionism without qualification”.
Palestinian Labour members have complained that the leadership has not supported them and made the party a hostile environment for supporters of Palestinian human rights.
A group of leading Palestinians has written to Starmer several times but has not received a response from the Labour leader.
Atallah Said, former chairman of the British Arab Association and founder of Arab Labour, told The Independent in May: “Ignoring multiple letters from leading members of the British Palestinian community means that this community is unwelcome in the party.
“The leader is practically treating the whole community as outcasts and is refusing to meet or even respond. We cannot separate this from the alarming shift in Labour’s approach to issues of race, or the shift in Labour’s position on Palestine.
“The message is loud and clear: I don’t care about you or your issues.”