Israeli Labour Leader in no position to lecture Jeremy Corbyn on racism

Yesterday, the leader of Israel’s main opposition party, Labor chair Avi Gabbay, wrote a scathing letter to Jeremy Corbyn informing him of a ‘temporary suspension of all formal relations’ between the Israel Labor Party and the Leader of the Labour Party UK. What many may not know is that Avi Gabbay has a well-documented history of anti-Arab statements, as does his party.

The Labour Party (UK) should have cut all ties, formally ending the sister-party relationship we currently have with the Ha’Avoda (Israeli Labor Party), a long time ago. It is the deeply ironic that our party is once again in the headlines as a result of a self-serving political move on the part of Avi Gabbay as he seeks capitalise on UK Labour’s anti-Semitism row in order to play up to his domestic audience in Israel.

But who is Avi Gabbay? And why is it so hypocritical for him to criticise Jeremy Corbyn?

Well, something missing in the mainstream coverage of the fallout between the Ha’Avoda and Jeremy Corbyn’s office is a lookd in particular at Gabbay’s own anti-Arab statements.

Tom Pessah, an Israeli activist and sociologist living in Tel Aviv, has detailed Israeli Labor’s ‘glory days’, highlighting the party’s role in the oppression and dispossession of Palestinians in events that include the Nakba (1948), and the conquering and illegally settling the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Since he became chairperson of the Israeli Labor Party, Avi Gabbay has mainstreamed some of the most abhorrent anti-Arab views within his party. He is on record vowing never to work with Arab political parties in the Israeli Knesset, saying that “We [labor] will not share a government with the Joint List, period.”

In response, Ayman Odeh, chair of the Joint List, told Haaretz that Avi Gabbay was “Someone who doesn’t view Arab citizens and their elected representatives as a legitimate group,” continuing on to say that Labor “doesn’t present a real alternative to the right,” and that Gabbay had been drawn into a “delegitimization campaign led by the prime minister against Arab citizens.”

Under his leadership, members of Knesset within the Zionist Union were instructed to support a bill that allows the deportation and indefinite detention of asylum seekers living in Israel.

To add insult to injury, Gabbay has also made clear his position that he would not evacuate any illegal Israeli settlements in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

From stating “we’re stronger than the Arabs. We don’t have to be afraid of them; the Arabs have to be afraid of us” to saying that he doesn’t “deal with the rights of Palestinians”; Avi Gabbay has backed incitement towards Palestinians – regardless of whether they’re citizens of Israel or among the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. At the same conference it was reported that Gabby threatened Labor’s only Arab MK Zuheir Bahlul, after the latter announced he would not attend the Knesset’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. For even more on Gabbay, I would highly recommend readers check out Joshua Leifer’s explainer on why so many on the Left are furious at the new Labor leader.

A reminder for readers that this isn’t just an issue with Avi Gabbay. His immediate predecessor, Isaac Herzog is on record as saying such things as: “We must stop giving the impression that we are Arab-lovers” and “I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset.”

In turning to the actual content of the letter sent to Jeremy Corbyn, it is strange to see an Israeli political leader claim that it is his responsibility to acknowledge the alleged hostility that Corbyn has shown to the Jewish community. I don’t recall the Jewish community in the United Kingdom ever appointing an Israeli political leader as their representative on such matters.

Another concerning section of the letter is where Jeremy Corbyn’s critiques of Israeli government policy are framed as a ‘hatred,’ which Gabbay then ties directly to UK Labour’s anti-Semitism problems. It is precisely this politicisation of such a significant issue – one that we should all be united in fighting against – that damages the struggle to eradicate anti-Jewish oppression from within our movement here in the United Kingdom.

It didn’t take long for Labour Friends of Israel to jump on the bandwagon attacking Jeremy Corbyn with a letter from Joan Ryan, MP for Enfield North and chair of LFI. Rather embarrassingly, she fails to even acknowledge the outrageous views expressed by Avi Gabbay, instead praising Israeli Labor as a party that is “working to advance the cause of peace, reconciliation and a two-state solution.”

I have written to Joan Ryan asking her for an explanation as to how, in her opinion, such racist incitement towards Palestinians is in any way conducive to the causes of peace and reconciliation.

In particular, it is a concern given Avi Gabbay’s position outlining that the opposition in Israel is “aligned with the coalition government” on matters regarding the “actions of our soldiers”. Lets be clear: Joan Ryan is giving her backing to an official opposition that fails to scrutinise and critique the government for policies that directly result in the unlawful killing of Palestinian civilians and the routine flouting of international humanitarian law.

Considering the above, surely my fellow Labour Party members all across the political spectrum would agree that the current sister-party relationship between the UK Labour Party and the Ha’Avoda is (i) untenable (ii) bringing our party into disrepute and (iii) potentially constituting a violation of our stated aims and values, namely ‘a Just Society’, ‘an Open Democracy’ and ‘a Healthy Environment’.

It is for these reasons that I believe Avi Gabbay is in no position to lecture Jeremy Corbyn on issues pertaining to racism. It is also why I’ve drafted a motion, placing myself in agreement with Jon Lansman, that we should end our relationship with Israeli Labor, seeking instead to build ties with Meretz and the Joint List.

Labour simply cannot continue endorsing disturbing prejudices that are now mainstreamed within our sister party in Israel.

About the Author
Gary Spedding is a cross-party consultant on the Israel-Palestine conflict and an applied peace and conflict researcher with a specialisation in comparative conflict analysis, conflict transformation and restorative justice.