Starmer over-reacts on Long-Bailey

Don Flynn says Sir Keir Starmer has turned his back on a movement against excessive police force

On Saturday 30th May this year, a 32-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, Iyad Halak, was shot and killed by Israeli police officers as he attempted to take refuge from a confused scene of shouted demands for him to stop.  He was autistic.

According to a report in the Guardian, his caregiver had attempted to alert the officers who were threatening him that he didn’t understand their demands. “He’s disabled, disabled,” she said she shouted repeatedly, in Hebrew. “Wait a moment, take his ID card, check his ID.”

The Guardian went on to report that Halak’s death led to protests that mirrored those taking place in the United States and elsewhere, with placards raised saying “Palestinian Lives Matter”. The London-based news outlet, Middle East Eye, has reported on the emergence of video and still photo images which show Israeli security forces leaning on the necks of restrained Palestinians in the same posture associated with the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Concern about the use of excessive force on policing subaltern populations has been raised in both Israel and the US in the past, with attention being drawn to programmes that send US officers to Israel to observe the tactics used to enforce submission from the Palestinians. Organisations which have drawn attention to these activities, most notably the US branch of Amnesty International, have stated that the precise nature of the training offered to US police forces by Israeli officials is not something the organisation has documented.

No conspiracy theory

Given the intensity of feeling that has exploded across many countries against the excessive use of force by police and security forces, it is unsurprising the view exists that this is a common problem that extends across the world. What needs to be resisted is the idea that this commonality stems from a ‘conspiracy’ which requires security officials to share and use specific restraint tactics. The defence of the rights of sectors of any society which enjoy privilege on the basis of their ownership and control of property, or their assumed superior ethnic status, will inevitably take similar forms when it comes to policing the dispossessed. No conspiracy here: just the same cruel logic rooted in capitalist and imperialist forms of power.

The left wing actor, Maxine Peake, spoiled an important point by claiming that US and Israeli security personnel are complicit in sharing the technique of neck-kneeling which killed George Floyd. She has acknowledged her error and stands corrected against her claim. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s involvement in the matter is highly peripheral, having done no more than commend a newspaper interview which essentially concerned Peake’s acting career and her strong feelings about the performance of the Conservative government. When it was pointed out that, deep within the body of the interview, Peake made the erroneous claim that the origins of the neck-kneel lay with Israeli security forces, she was quick to issue a tweeted statement distancing herself from that part of the article. That was sufficient and ought to have been the end of the matter.

Labour turns its back on #BLM

Much is now being made of the exposed position that the socialist left in the Labour Party now finds itself because of this episode. If it is sensible it will roll with the punch and ready itself for future campaigns.  

Far more important is the damage which Keir Starmer’s over-reaction has done to Labour’s standing with the hundreds of thousands of people in Britain who have come to identify with the politics that the Black Lives Matter movement now represents. His drive to push Labour back to a position of middle-of-the-road respectability has produced weak efforts in Parliament to bring Johnson’s government to account for its blundering over the Dominic Cummings incident and for its willingness to draw a line under the evidence of ministerial corruption on the part of housing minister Robert Jenrick. He is seeking a route back to acceptance as a prime minister-in-waiting based on his lawyerly cross-examining of Johnson at prime minister’s question time, as though this was something regarded with interest by anyone outside the Westminster media bubble.

The chance to take a pop at Long-Bailey on the tendentious claim of an association with antisemitism is meant to be read as Starmer’s ‘Clause IV’ moment. But whilst this involved an intense ideological battle between ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Labour which was fought out over months, the more recent event will figure as a part of the continued effort to gaslight the rank and file of the party into thinking it has a problem that only Super-Starmer can resolve.

The left will have to base its work for change by considering how it stands in relation to the moods that continue to be revealed by such waves of anger as the Black Lives Matter movement, and the even greater eruptions we can expect to see as new hardships are imposed on old by the descent into a deep economic recession. Who then will remember a couple of lines in a newspaper interview which have been vastly overloaded with false claims as evidence of antisemitism?   

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