Labour Friends of Palestine has canceled a meeting in parliament featuring veteran Palestinian British journalist Abdel Bari Atwan.
The cancelation was made after the group came under pressure from Labour Friends of Israel, a separate group inside the party. Legislators had been due to hear from Palestinian students over Skype.
Atwan had been invited to chair the meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday evening. After a pro-Israel paper complained about the invitation, Labour Friends of Palestine told The Electronic Intifada Monday it would find a different chair.
But on Tuesday, Atwan was told the meeting had been canceled altogether. Palestinian co-organisers of the meeting had promised to turn up and insist Atwan chair the meeting regardless of his replacement.
Atwan slammed the move as a capitulation to the Israel lobby. “This is not the Labour Friends of Palestine, it’s the Labour Friends of Israel,” he told The Electronic Intifada.
Atwan had been jointly booked as chair by Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and GUPS, the General Union of Palestinian Students.
The event was planned as a “briefing for MPs [members of Parliament] to hear directly from four young Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon/Syria – live via Skype.”
Update: Labour Friends of Palestine told The Electronic Intifada after publication of this article that the event was “postponed not canceled” and would be rescheduled with a different chair.
Labour Friends of Palestine denied that Israel lobby pressure had been behind their move to replace Atwan. Director William Brown said on Monday that it was down to “controversial” statements Atwan had made in the past.
But it is clear an Israel lobby group has been campaigning for Atwan to be disinvited.
Labour Friends of Israel used a report in the Jewish Chronicle on Friday to call for the meeting to be canceled.
Brown said that Labour Friends of Palestine would not be responding to a letter Labour Friends of Israel had sent them and did not want to be “jumping to their tune.” But he said that Atwan should not have been invited to chair the meeting in the first place.
Brown said it was down to an oversight on his part, since his group did not want controversy over Atwan to overshadow the message Palestinian students wanted to bring to lawmakers.
Brown argued that the coalition-building nature of parliamentary work for Palestine meant minimising controversy. He said that Atwan would still be welcome to attend the event and speak from the floor, but not to chair.
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