UK Labour passes motion calling to ban arms sales to Israel

Delegates wave Palestinian flags, chant ‘Free Palestine’ during party conference held amid widespread anti-Semitism accusations

Illustrative: Delegates hold up Palestinian flags during a debate on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, northwest England on September 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF)
Illustrative: Delegates hold up Palestinian flags during a debate on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, northwest England on September 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF)

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Tuesday passed a motion strongly criticizing Israel and pledging to halt all UK weapon sales to the Jewish state if it rises to power

At the same conference, a senior lawmaker warned Labour must root out anti-Semitism amid persistent scandals dogging the party.

Delegates at the party’s conference in Liverpool voted to criticize Israel’s use of force against violent protests and riots on the Gaza border, urge more UK funding for the UN agency for Palestinians, and back a freeze on British arms sales to Israel.

The vote came after a heated debate that saw Palestinian flags waved in the convention hall and participants chanting, “Free Palestine.”

Delegates at the Labour Party’s conference in Liverpool hold up Palestinian flags during a debate on September 25, 2018, as leader Jeremy Corbyn looks on from the podium. (AFP Photo/Oli Scarff)

Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry warned that the party must kick out “sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed.

Shadow Secretary Emily Thornberry gives a speech at the 2016 Labour conference. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Rwendland, Wikipedia)

“Those people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party,” Thornberry said.

The motion against Israel was proposed by delegate Colin Monehen, who said in his speech, “I want us to say this to every Palestinian: We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy.”

Monehen, a staunch pro-Palestinian supporter of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, said that Palestinians can’t be “left alone in the darkness” and added that their story “must be told,” the UK Jewish News reported.

He slammed US President Donald Trump’s recent move to defund UNRWA, the UN body dealing with Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which followed longtime Israeli accusations that the agency perpetuates refugee status and serves as a political bludgeon against the Jewish state.

“I want us to send a message to Mr. Trump that cutting the funding to UNRWA, the humanitarian agency set up by the UN to assist these people in exile, born homeless, born stateless, in refugee camps, will not crush their spirit. It will not lessen their resolve to return home,” Monehen said.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The US called UNRWA a “deeply flawed” organization in citing its reason for cutting funding, arguing that it perpetuates Palestinian suffering by recognizing as refugees the descendants of Palestinians who fled their homes during Israel’s War of Independence from 1947 to 1949.

Israel also accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by, uniquely, granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, criteria that are not applied by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year.

On Sunday, Corbyn himself insisted he was not an anti-Semite, but refused to apologize for a series of incidents involving him and other party members that have drawn accusations of rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

In an interview with BBC host Andrew Marr ahead of the party’s annual conference, Corbyn defended his own conduct and his handling of some of the scandals that have rocked the opposition party in recent months.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to a speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, England, on September 23, 2018, the official opening day of the annual Labour Party Conference. (AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS)

When asked by Marr if he wanted to “express personal remorse” over the ongoing crisis, Corbyn responded: “I’ll simply say this, I am an anti-racist and I’ll die an anti-racist. Anti-Semitism is a scourge in any society. I have opposed it all my life and I will continue to oppose it all my life.”

Corbyn insisted to Marr that he was “absolutely” not anti-Semitic, while defending a remark he made about British Zionists not understanding irony, his attendance at a memorial for Palestinian terrorists, and Labour’s reluctance to fully adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.

While allegations of anti-Semitism have dogged Corbyn since he became Labour leader three years ago, the furor has reached fever pitch since March.

The crisis over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has caused a major schism within its ranks and led Jews to express fears over their future in the country.

Almost 40 percent of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became prime minister, according to a recent poll conducted for The Jewish Chronicle.

JTA contributed to this report.

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