What I said in a previous blog about South Africa’s ruling ANC’s accommodation of the BDS movement rings true about any political organisation or elements thereof in any part of the world. Those in high office who indulge in Israel-bashing neglect the duties they were voted in to that office to discharge. The evidence of that neglect lies thickly around them. Yet, even when it begins to produce a smell, such as the student riots that broke out in South Africa the week after the country’s leadership rolled out the red carpet to Hamas, this disproportionate focus on Israel at the expense of more immediate concern continues.
Take for instance, Saturday 31st October’s “Palestine Solidarity March” in the North East England town of Middlesbrough. About 40-50 people took part, walking from Ayresome Green to a spot outside MIMA, the main art gallery, on the town square. They chanted Free, Free Palestine and In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians and the more chilling, From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
Keynote speakers included Teesside University lecturer and University & College Union activist, Mehdi Husaini and local MP, Andy McDonald (Labour). McDonald fell short of calling for a total boycott of Israeli products, focusing on economic activities in the famous settlements, whose goods are “the products of war crimes….they have no place on the shelves of the UK.” Which reminds me; I need to get one of those SodaStream devices. McDonald also condemned the knife attacks on Israeli civilians.
However, he is certainly no moderate. To an applause as thunderous as it gets when there are less than 50 people listening, the Labour politician added:
I am delighted that in Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has in its leader one of the most committed champions of Palestinian rights in the UK and there are dozens and dozens of Labour MPs who are committed to achieving justice for Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.”
If anyone is in doubt what “justice for Palestinians” actually means, the words “from the river to the sea” and “one-state solution” offer clues. The destruction of Israel , in other words. A rehashing of the purport of the Hamas Charter. The MP did not actually come out and say it, but he never checked everyone else who did. Mehdi Husaini told him, “You have been a great help and supporter to all of us on the issue of Palestine.” Another lady speaker noted that “there has also been a lot of talk about negotiations and how Palestinians should negotiate with Israel. These negotiations have happened in the past, and what you will find is that those leaders have miraculously just disappeared or died, and these conversations aren’t being taken seriously.”
While Labour cosies up to Hamas and its supporters in Britain’s Islamic community, its sorry record as a political party speaks for itself. Labour has essentially ruled North East England since time immemorial. Support here is almost tribal, people vote for it because their great-grandparents worked the coal-mines and steel mills and they self-identify as “working class,” although many of them would hardly qualify as members of the Great Unwashed. Under successive Labour regimes, Middlesbrough is one of the poorest places in the country, even when there isn’t a recession.
This is why I make the comparison between the Labour Party in the North East and the ANC in South Africa. Neither have managed to deliver effective change to their ever-faithful electorate. Both make noises about social justice, yet presiding over increasing unemployment and economic stagnation. Both indulge in resentment-stirring demagoguery, of the kind that engenders resentment, hatred and blame, diverting from the real socio-economic issues of the day. And both are keen to indulge in the kind of antisemitism that disillusioned so many of Europe’s assimilated Jews, and made the idea of starting a new country in their ancient homeland appealing.
The local paper reported that 1500 people marched in Middlesbrough last year. If only around 50 marched this year, even if taking into account that last year’s march took place in summer, it is clear that anti-Israeli sentiments are not as popular in Middlesbrough as some people feel they ought to be. I hear that similar “solidarity marches” around the country, even in London, did not draw huge crowds either. People are fed up, people want more out of the leaders they elect. Calling for the delegitimisation of a country that has managed to keep it together despite an onslaught from the day it was established now has many people wondering when these politicians will come round to addressing Middlesbrough’s own issues. Even Labour’s Asian community, who spearhead the anti-Israel campaign, are becoming increasingly disillusioned.