British opposition head urges freeze on arms sales to Israel

Backed by Corbyn, over 3,000 march for ‘free Palestine’ in London

Protest icon Ahed Tamimi leads procession; Labour leader calls for condemnation of Israel following last week’s Gaza flare-up, doesn’t mention rocket barrages

Pro-Palestinian protesters march through London's Regent Street, May 11, 2019. (Twitter screenshot)
Pro-Palestinian protesters march through London's Regent Street, May 11, 2019. (Twitter screenshot)

An estimated 3,000-4,000 pro-Palestinian activists marched through London on Saturday, calling to “free Palestine” and for an end to “unprecedented attacks” on Palestinians by Israel.

Marchers — who chanted “Palestine will be free” and demanded a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, the Guardian reported — were commemorating the 71st anniversary of the “Nakba,” or disaster, as Palestinians call the events surrounding the formation of the State of Israel.

Leading the march was Ahed Tamimi, an 18-year-old who became an icon of the Palestinian cause after she was jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier on film.

At the protest, Tamimi called herself a freedom fighter. “From the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free,” she said.

Tamimi served an eight-month sentence in an Israeli prison for slapping and shoving IDF soldiers outside her home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh late last year. She has since crisscrossed Europe and the Middle East as a superstar of the campaign against Israel’s rule in the West Bank.

In this February 13, 2018 file photo, Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi stands inside the Ofer military prison near Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

A small counter-protest was held by pro-Israel activists, who waved Israeli flags and expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

Ahead of the protests Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed his support.

“We cannot stand by or stay silent at the continuing denial of rights and justice to the Palestinian people,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The Labour Party is united in condemning the ongoing human rights abuses by Israeli forces, including the shooting of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza… demanding their rights.”

Last week saw an escalation along the Gaza border with almost 700 rockets fired into Israel and hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes by Israel’s air force.

Referencing the violence, Corbyn made no mention of Palestinian attacks.

“Last week’s escalation of violence, during raids on Gaza, killing 25 Palestinians, and four Israelis, is both distressing and dangerous,” he said.

He accused the British government of deafening silence, called for condemnation of “the killing of demonstrators — including children, paramedics and journalists –- and other civilians, and demanded that Britain “freeze arms sales to Israel.”

During the march, Jewish Voice for Labour Secretary Glyn Secker made a speech, which was met with loud applause and cheers, claiming that Jews were “in the gutter” and “part of the problem.”

Secker also accused “American rabbis” of fueling the neo-Nazis behind anti-Semitic terrorism, including the fatal terrorist attack on Poway synagogue, and claimed that they were “unleashing the extreme-right to win key votes in marginal states which determine the presidency,” according to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

He called the 119 Labour lawmakers who are “friends of Israel” a “fifth column in the Labour Party.”

British opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in north London on April 4, 2019. (Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

Corbyn also criticized the anticipated US peace plan and reiterated Labour’s pledge to recognize a Palestinian state.

“Peace cannot be achieved while the illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian land continues, along with the multiple human rights abuses faced by Palestinians on a daily basis and actions of the Israeli government in flagrant disregard of international law,” Corbyn wrote.

“If President Trump’s Middle East plan is, as expected, an attempt to bury the Palestinians’ right to a viable state alongside Israel, we will call on our government and the international community to reject it decisively. No peace plan can succeed at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people. That’s why a Labour government will recognise a Palestinian state and press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations, aimed at achieving a lasting settlement based on UN resolutions, international law and justice that has been too long denied.”

A counter-demonstration, supporting Israel, moves through the London streets opposing a pro-Palestinian march on May 11, 2019. (Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The Labour leader has in the past been criticized for calling terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” when inviting members for a parliamentary meeting in 2009. He later downplayed the comment and said he regretted using the term.

Last year it emerged that in 2014 Corbyn attended a ceremony that honored the terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. He later said “I was present when [a wreath] was laid, I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

Also last year, the Labour leader came under fire after a video from 2013 surfaced on Twitter of him appearing to compare Israeli military rule in the West Bank to the Nazi occupation of European countries during World War II.

According to the Telegraph, in 2012 Corbyn sat on a panel in Doha with several Palestinian terrorists sentenced for murder, sharing the platform with then-Hamas head Khaled Mashaal.

Corbyn has also faced persistent accusations of anti-Semitic attitudes.

In the most recent revelation earlier this month, UK’s Times newspaper reported that in 2011 Corbyn authored a glowing foreword to a book that claimed Jews control global financial systems.

JTA contributed to this report.

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