Labour leader Ed Miliband this week told Palestinian supporters that he was “right to take a stand” against Israel’s incursion into Gaza this summer as he pledged to take a similar approach in the future.
Addressing a fringe meeting of the Friends of Palestine at Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, Miliband said he would speak “without fear or favour,” adding that the political situation in Israel was now so urgent as to warrant “an emergency”.
Miliband’s forthright stand came as Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander told the audience that Palestinian statehood was “not a gift to be given but a right to be recognised”.
Alexander condemned both Hamas and also the “pattern of permanent blockade, permanent occupation and periodic invasion” as the two leaders pledged to “try to re-engender a sense of possibility and hope”.
But despite the prickly tone, both men avoided the subject of boycotts, endorsing only further efforts through direct negotiations involving international mediation.
Israeli leaders are increasingly suspicious that left-leaning European political parties will use EU institutions to further delegitimise the country, as activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement ramp up support for Israel’s isolation.
Motions condemning Israel’s military operation against Hamas and calling for an arms embargo will not be debated at the Labour Party Conference after delegates chose to prioritise other issues.
The conference’s steering committee last week progressed a number of resolutions covering the recent conflict to the next stage of a process determining what would be discussed on the conference floor in Manchester.
With at least one of those advocating an end to the arms trade with Israel, there were fears that such a proposal could go to the vote and effectively become party policy – despite Labour’s clear opposition to boycotts.
But in a priority ballot on the opening day of the annual conference, the unions and rank-and-file members selected issues including the NHS (approx 96,000 votes), low pay (72,000) and rail renationalisation (48,000) ahead of Israel and the Palestinians (nearly 36,000).
A motion on global human rights, which referred to workers in Qatar, was the only one with an international flavour to progress.
Luke Akehurst, director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour’s national executive, said: “Both the party leadership and supporters of Israel have fought hard for this outcome which reflects the desire of delegates to focus on bread and butter social and economic issues and not have a divisive fight at conference over middle east issues.
“It will please the party leadership who were keen not to have this debate and means the long-standing opposition to boycotts continues as party policy. Given that this conference is happening immediately after Operation Protective Edge when feelings are still running high, it’s a relief this divisive and difficult debate has been avoided.”
Meanwhile, the Jewish Labour Movement and Finchley prospective parliamentary candidate Sarah Sackman proposed a motion condemning the recent rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and rejecting attempts to “play out international conflicts on the streets of our cities”.
It called on the party to work to “marginalise and eliminate all hate speech in Europe, where necessary sanctioning individual elected representatives, parties and groupings who regard anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other extremism as an acceptable part of political discourse.” It also didn’t make it through the priority ballot.
Read Ed Miliband’s Rosh Hashanah message HERE.
You can also watch Ed MIliband’s speech to Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East from the 22nd September 2014 below (Via @barnetbugle )