Skip to main content

Sea of Palestinian flags at Labour conference during first debate on Palestine

Delegates back call for suspension of UK arms sales to Israel, while Emily Thornberry says Palestine used as front by anti-Semites
Delegates in the audience wave Palestinian flags and banners at the annual Labour Party Conference in Liverpool (Reuters)

Delegates to Labour’s conference in Liverpool waved hundreds of Palestinian national flags on Tuesday during a rare debate on Palestine which backed an immediate suspension of arms sales to Israel.

The debate was the first time in living memory that Palestine has been discussed at the party’s conference, where delegates from local parties voted to put the issue on the agenda on Sunday.

The motion, condemning the US cutting of funding for Palestinian refugees and calling for the party to support an immediate suspension of arms sales to Israel pending an independent investigation of Israeli killings of protesters in Gaza, was passed by conference.

However Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, told delegates that anti-Semites in the party were using the issue of Palestine to promote hatred, calling for them to be thrown out of the party.

"We all support the Palestinian cause, we are all committed to recognise the Palestinian state, and I stand here with no hesitation when I condemn the Netanyahu government for its racist policies and its criminal actions against the Palestinian people.

"But I know as well, and we must all acknowledge, that there are 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," she said.

Israel’s recent nation state law, which enshrines Jewish supremacy, and the killing of more than 180 protesters in Gaza demanding the right to return to the homes they were expelled from in 1948, has sparked growing pressure in the party to more robustly back Palestinian human rights.

"Such a powerful moment when over 1000 Palestinians flags flew in solidarity with #Palestine whilst the #StopArmingIsrael motion was heard at #Lab18. First time in living memory a Palestine motion heard at Labour conference. Palestine will be free,” wrote Huda Ammori in a tweet.

Many Labour supporters posted video images of the scenes on the conference floor as hundreds of flags were waved in solidarity with Palestine.

Delegate Colin Monehen delivered impassioned remarks in support of the motion at the conference, refusing to leave the stage until fully delivering his comments.

"We see that you seek to push the Palestinian people and the truth of their tragedy into the darkness," he said. "And I want us to say with one voice that we will not let the tragedies of the Palestinian people go quietly into the night. We will rage... against the dying of the light, not because it's easy thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do."

When interrupted with a reminder that his time was up, Monehen insisted on finishing his speech.

"My time is not up, I'm speaking for the Palestinian people. I've got a couple of more lines, and I'm going to say them," he said as the audience erupted in cheers. "If you want me off this stage, you're going to have security up here. And they better send an army because East Enders, like Palestinians, they don't go down easy."

Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal, who helped organise the flag waving, said: "In August Palestinian civil society wrote to the Labour Party saying 'don't let our voices be silenced. Stand with us'. Today Labour members @ #Lab18 responded with a sea of Palestine flags and chants of 'Free, Free Palestine'."

The debate comes as almost 300 Israeli citizens including artists, academics and members of the Knesset have signed a letter in support of Corbyn and the Labour Party. 

They write: "Since his election, Corbyn has been subjected to sustained attacks for his supposed friendliness to anti-Semitism. We reject the substance of these accusations completely, and we note that some of Corbyn’s accusers, such as Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu, are themselves notorious racists and allies of known antisemites, such as Viktor Orbán and the Polish nationalists. 

"We also note that, even as many of Corbyn’s critics claim to respect the right to criticize Israel in theory, in practice their attacks seem designed to shut down debate on Israel-Palestine and prevent a future Labour government from applying any real pressure on Israel to change its policies."

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.