‘Zionist’ UK Labour leadership candidate endorses Palestinian right of return

Lisa Nandy, who has received backing of Jewish Labour Movement after speaking out against anti-Semitism in her party, supports series of pro-Palestinian pledges

Candidates for leadership of Britain's Labour Party, with from right, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Jim McMahon who is attending in place for candidate Kier Starmer, and Rebecca Long-Bailey, during the Labour leadership hustings in Nottingham, England, Saturday February 8, 2020. (Jacob King/PA via AP)
Candidates for leadership of Britain's Labour Party, with from right, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Jim McMahon who is attending in place for candidate Kier Starmer, and Rebecca Long-Bailey, during the Labour leadership hustings in Nottingham, England, Saturday February 8, 2020. (Jacob King/PA via AP)

A British Labour party leadership candidate who has called herself a Zionist signed onto a series of pro-Palestinian pledges last week, including one recognizing the Palestinian right of return.

Responding to a letter from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) calling on all Labour candidates to support its commitments, Lisa Nandy said in a tweet, “I have and always will support Palestinian rights. That’s why I oppose Trump’s ‘plan,’ have campaigned against British business profiting from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and support any embargo on arms deals which violates human rights.”

While Nandy has long been a vocal critic of the Israeli government’s policies regarding the Palestinians, she has also spoken out against anti-Semitism in her party and last week received the endorsement of the Jewish Labour Movement, one of the oldest societies affiliated with the party.

But JLM officials came out against Nandy after she tweeted that she was “happy to back” the PSC commitments.

Stephane Savary, a national vice chair of JLM, accused Nandy in a tweet of “playing both sides.”

Labour Friends of Israel tweeted that a Palestinian right of return would mean “the end of Israel as a Jewish state, so is incompatible with support for two states for two peoples.”

(The “right of return” is one of the key core issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that over five million people — tens of thousands of original refugees from what is today’s Israel, and their millions of descendants — have a “right of return.” Israel rejects the demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers. Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions would mean Israel would no longer be a Jewish-majority state.)

The letter Nandy signed is titled “Three commitments to a Palestine policy based on international law and human rights.”

Its stated pledges included one “to oppose any proposed solution for Palestinians, including [US President Donald] Trump’s ‘deal,’ not based on international law and UN resolutions recognizing their collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.”

The pledge does not specify whether the right of return would be to a future Palestinian state or to Israel, though the question normally refers to Palestinian reclaiming lands left in Israel during the 1947 to 1949 War of Independence. Earlier this month, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang answered “yes” to a questionnaire from The New York Times to a question on whether Palestinian refugees have a right of return to their homes in Israel.

(L-R) British Labour leadership candidates, Emily Thornberry, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy pose for a photo during the Leader hustings event in Liverpool, north west England on January 18, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

But a day later, Yang backtracked, saying the question “was answered by a staffer who I think misunderstood the question. I believe that Palestinians should have a say in their future but I do not believe that all refugees and descendants have the right to return to Israel.”

Nandy received the support of JLM last Friday, amid an ongoing race to replace outgoing, highly controversial leader Jeremy Corbyn.

JLM did not send members out to canvass for Labour candidates ahead of the elections last December, in which Corbyn led Labour to a landslide defeat, amid a rift with the party over its handling of charges of anti-Semitism.

Last year, the UK-based Jewish Chronicle reported that Nandy earned the affection of JLM members during an impassioned speech against anti-Semitism when she described herself as a Zionist.

“I believe Jewish people have a right to national self-determination. That makes me a Zionist,” she was quoted to have said.

Also last week, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was eliminated from the race Friday after failing to secure enough nominations from local constituencies, leaving the contest as a three-way between Nandy, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Starmer is currently seen as the clear front-runner in the race, to be decided April 4, with Nandy something of a long shot. Both he and Nandy are seen as centrist candidates, while Long-Bailey is part of Corbyn’s inner circle and the preferred candidate on the party’s left wing slate.

Starmer was a close second to Nandy in the JLM vote, winning 45 percent of votes to Nandy’s 51%. Thornberry won only 1.9% and Long-Bailey received 1.4%.

During a televised debate Thursday all of the candidates apologized to Jewish party members for Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism within the party and said much more needed to be done to tackle the issue. All vowed to make it a top priority if elected.

Labour Party lawmaker Keir Starmer speaks to the media following the launch of his campaign to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, in Stevenage, England, Sunday Jan. 5, 2020 (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

Nandy said she was “ashamed” by racism in the party, called the matter an “existential” threat and added she had at one time considered leaving her position in Labour over it. “We gave the green light to anti-Semites,” said Nandy. “Never again do I want to be door knocking with members of the party and be called racist.”

Nandy is also notably the head of the parliamentary group Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, which currently numbers 91 of the party’s 202 MPs in the House of Commons. Starmer and Long-Bailey are also members.

She has accused Israel of violating international law and human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, and has called Israel’s policies “the deliberate destruction of the hopes of a generation.”

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