Open letter: Palestinians in Britain demand freedom of speech

The Labour Party’s willingness to censor criticism of Israel gives license to a broader crackdown on anti-racist, anti-Zionist speech across society. Palestinians in Britain are the first victims of this censorship, and are leading the fightback against it.

Pro-Palestine protesters in London.
Photo: Steve Eason

We republish below an open letter from a number of Palestinians in Britain. The letter was originally written to protest the Labour Party’s ongoing moves to silence and suppress criticism of Israel within the party, including the party’s support for the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Since it was written the letter has itself been effectively embargoed and marginalised by several Labour Party-aligned publications who were approached to publish it, despite the letter’s careful language and moderate political tenor. LabourList and the New Statesman refused to publish the piece; Tribune, a publication associated with the left wing of Labour, has ignored the piece for two months, despite repeated inquiries by its own former editor, Mark Seddon. We republish this letter here in solidarity with all Palestinians and in defence of the right to oppose Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.

As the letter-writers comment:

‘Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has led to our dispossession and that sustains a state that discriminates against us and denies us our collective rights…We cannot but reject this ideology and to deny us the right to do so is a form of anti Palestinian racism.’


We write as British Palestinians. Many of us are members of the Labour Party, some are not.

We have previously expressed our fears of how the space to publicly bring the facts of the Palestinian people’s history and ongoing dispossession into the public domain was under severe threat.

Then, as now, our concerns were rooted in a clear opposition to antisemitism believing that, alongside all forms of racism, it should not be tolerated within the Labour Party, the Palestinian solidarity movement, nor broader society.

We write now to address our specific concerns relating to developments within the Labour party since that time.

We believe that an internationalist Labour Party has a special responsibility to redress the ongoing injustices against the Palestinian people, denied their right to self-determination during the British Mandate because of the role Britain played as a colonial power leading up to the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.

We welcome commitments made by the party, at recent party Conferences, including rejection of Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” and any proposed solution not based on recognition of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and to return to their homes as enshrined in international law.

We welcome the call by the Leadership team for a ban on settlement goods in response to Israel’s proposals to annex further swathes of Palestinian lands, including illegal settlements.

However, we remain deeply concerned about steps being taken which will only serve to shrink the space in the Labour party for British Palestinians and other members to assert their rights to campaign for an end to the oppression of the Palestinian people.

We respectfully but unequivocally reject any assertion that dealing with antisemitism must necessarily reverse policy commitments to protect Palestinian rights. Respect for Palestinian rights is not incompatible with the struggle against racism and antisemitism; in fact, it is integral to that struggle.

We are extremely concerned by any conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Zionism is a political ideology and movement that has led to our dispossession and that sustains a state that discriminates against us and denies us our collective rights whether as victims of military occupation, unequal citizens of the Israeli state or living in exile as refugees denied the right of return to our homeland. Benjamin Netanyahu recently described the proposed annexation of further swathes of the West Bank, a proposal rightly condemned by the Labour Party, as “another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism”. We cannot but reject this ideology and to deny us the right to do so is a form of anti Palestinian racism

We note with concern statements made by the Labour leadership affirming support for the usage of the IHRA definition and examples, including within Labour Party disciplinary procedures, without reference to the concerns regarding the threat those examples pose to the rights of Palestinians and to party members advocating for justice for the Palestinian people.

We are alarmed to note the stated intention of the Shadow Communities Secretary to urge all Labour-run councils who have not adopted the IHRA to do so, ignoring the evidence of how councils have previously used the IHRA to limit the rights of Palestinians, and of others advocating on their behalf.

In 2018 the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the British Palestinian Policy Council made submissions to the NEC that called upon the Labour party to confirm its unequivocal commitment to the principles of freedom of expression as outlined in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. They called upon the party to recognise the right of Palestinians to legitimately describe their experiences of oppression including by reference to terms such as settler-colonialism or apartheid. These submissions joined warnings of the threats posed by the IHRA examples to core Palestinian rights and to freedom of expression from Palestinian civil society as well as over 80 BAME organisations, including Black Lives Matter UK, prominent members of the Jewish community, leading lawyers and academic experts on antisemitism and the Institute for Race Relations.

We reiterate our call that the right of Palestinians to accurately describe our experiences of dispossession and oppression, to criticise the nature and structure of the state that continues to oppress us and to openly criticise the ideology of Zionism which informs the actions, policies and laws of that state, be upheld both as a right of a people under oppression and as a right of freedom of expression respected and supported by the Labour Party leadership. Furthermore, the rights of other British citizens to respond to calls for action including via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement to address that oppression, should also be supported and upheld.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here