Silencing debate on Palestine

Mary Mason , who resigned as a Haringey Labour councillor, on why so many are protesting Starmer’s support for Israeli bombing

I joined the Labour Party in 2015, with hope for change, for a political party addressing poverty, climate disaster, economic policy, inequality, and international issues from a social justice perspective. It was a platform for change.

I left the Labour Party in 2023, along with two other activists who are local councillors, Lotte Collette and Mark Blake. Together we have formed an Independent Socialist Group in Haringey.

Over 100 Labour councillors have now left the Labour Party to become independents, following the Labour leadership’s failure to call for peace and a ceasefire in Gaza. Instead, the leadership has followed the United States and British governments in providing arms to Israel which are used to slaughter thousands of civilians, 40% of them children by targeted bombing of civilians and their families, of schools and hospitals. Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank have killed 266 Palestinians and injured 3,365. Hamas is not present in the West Bank which is a demilitarised zone.

The plight of Palestinians impacts on all of us, including our school children and students, trade unionists and activists who do not agree that Israel’s war is self-defence or straightforward retribution for Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October.

Hamas’s attack on civilians was horrific and cannot be condoned or supported. There is however a 75 year collective memory of oppression of Palestinian people, with the Nakba of 1948 ever present in Palestine, shaping the Palestinians’ struggle for justice and calls for their right to return to their homes.

The spirit of resilience calls on the collective memory and history of oppression and this war will not kill it. Children will become young people; poems of struggle will be written, and songs sung. “You can kill a people, but you can’t kill an idea” resonates through the centuries and is a lesson the Labour leadership should remember. “All warfare is based on deception” and “the first casualty of war is the truth” are not meaningless maxims and this includes the notion that you can defeat the Palestinian people by removing them.

For local Councillors, the impact of Gaza created divisions between those who support Starmer’s position in defending the Israeli Government and those who call for a ceasefire. In Haringey our local communities, our children and schools were hugely impacted, hate crime rose. Attempts to silence school children, MPs and local councillors were stark. The DOE wrote to schools calling on them to be silent on the war, a difficult sting given their encouragement to support Ukraine.  Children who drew the Palestinian flag on their hands were removed and teachers forbidden to mention the war with no leadership supporting an understanding of how and why peace is an imperative.

Councillors and MPs were warned by the leadership not to support Palestine, and the purge of left Jewish and Muslim members continued.

Although the leadership position on Palestine was central to those of us who left the Labour Party, it was the attempt to silence debate and the lack of democratic decision making which created the background. Head office collected information about members views, those who supported Palestine or criticised the Israeli government were expelled or suspended.

Purging activists from the party became the new norm. Councillor selection was bizarre, anyone who had ever liked a tweet that was supportive of Palestine or critical of Israel was suspended or expelled. Local democratic decision making was removed. The CLP re-organisation was rushed through with the Women’s Branch, long active in Hornsey and Wood Green, told they could not select their own representatives. One male central organiser, walked into a local school just before a ward meeting saying “you girls – go upstairs. We are managing this.” All three of us were women over 50.

Labour to Win took over. The leading figure of We Believe in Israel and Secretary of Labour First, part of the coalition Labour to Win, criticised councillors who left the Labour Party, saying that the claim of 500 deaths (17 October) was a “massive exaggeration”.  He did not condemn the 75 years of land, farms and lives being taken away, and did not mention or support the UN and Amnesty international’s description of Israel as an apartheid system.

For me, socialism is about internationalism, about self-determination and a change in power relations. Allowing people to have some say and control over their lives, it’s about democracy, collective debate and negotiation with understanding of why some of us hold more power than others.

Collective action and understanding are nowhere more needed than now.

In Haringey, the Independent Socialist Group have met with others across the country, we have spoken in support of Palestine at local and national rallies and demonstrations.

These are small acts, but they reflect the choice we made. Others picket arms factories building missiles for Israel, speak at union meetings, in parliament, write letters of support. Each action creates a defiant collective response and shows that the spirit of international solidarity is alive.

Mary Mason, a Haringey councillor, now sits as an Independent Socialist after resigning from Labour in protest.

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