Jeremy Corbyn, the new left-wing leader of the UK’s Labour Party last night accepted an invitation to address Labour Friends of Israel, a group that lobbies members of parliament to support Israel.
But despite his speech being only mildly critical of Israel, he was heckled by one audience member. The event took place at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton.
Before the spectacular political upset that led to his leadership election victory earlier this month, Corbyn has for decades been one of the most stalwart parliamentary supporters of Palestine. His reception at the Labour Friends of Palestine event that took place on Monday was much warmer, being more akin to the return of a hero.
As noted in The Electronic Intifada’s exclusive interview with Corbyn on Palestine in August, he is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and has for decades been active in the solidarity movement.
His positions have been ahead of most in the Labour Party, including supporting a two-way arms embargo on Israel, a boycott of Israeli universities involved in arms research and backing the Palestinian right to return as the “key” to a political solution.
In his brief address to the reception Corbyn emphasised “long term dialogue … peace through negotiation … [and] recognition of the rights and needs and traditions of all of the peoples of the region.”
He also expressed his hope that “we are able to ensure the siege of Gaza, or the restrictions on Gaza, are lifted.”
He said that his commitment to justice meant that “sometimes you have to be very critical of people for their abuses of human rights” – the implication seemed to be that he was talking about Israel, although that was not openly stated.
Despite Labour Friends of Israel putting on a brave face by trying to emphasise the historic connections between the Israeli Labour Party and the UK Labour Party, there was no escaping that things have changed.
This is by no means limited to the leadership. Corbyn’s election is only a sign of a wider grassroots uprising within the party against the right-wing, pro-war policies of the New Labour establishment under Tony Blair and his successors.
Palestine solidarity is now at the heart of the wider labor movement in the UK, with almost all trade unions endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
Corbyn’s mandate from every sector of the party (59.5 percent overall) was so overwhelming that all rumours in the press of a “coup” to oust him as leader have been silenced.
For now Corbyn’s conciliatory and inclusive leadership style, in which he has emphasised open debate may help defuse tensions within the party. But it does leave open possible challenges to his authority in the future.
The New Labour era, with its instinctive support for Israeli war crimes, may well be over. But the right within the party will now lick its wounds, bide its time and wait for its moment to return.
WATCH: Jeremy Corbyn speech at Pro-Israel event
Click here: https://youtu.be/qkwZFTMKyEg
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