SIMON JOHNSON

So thankful that yomtov meant I missed two days’ hard Labour...

IT was something of a blessed relief that the first two days of the Labour Party Conference coincided with the first two days of Succot.

There was a downside to this in that I was unable to get to Liverpool for either the Labour Friends of Israel fringe event nor the packed- out session of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

In fact, I had remarked to the Chief Rabbi, who visited our shul on the first day of Succot, that the chag had arrived at precisely the right time, with it being almost therapeutic to be engaged in “Simchat Chag” rather than tracking what was likely to be an attention-grabbing party conference as far as the Jewish community was concerned.

All I had available on that Monday and Tuesday was the report in my morning newspaper. So I switched on the news at the end of yomtov to see what I had missed.

I confess to being momentarily confused at seeing a hall full of Palestinian flags being waved. Why was the BBC showing the PLO’s annual conference?

It took me a moment to see that Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and Claudia Webbe were on the platform and to realise that this was actually the Labour Party Conference and the image was from the conference debate on “Palestine”.

The leader’s office, Momentum and Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East had ensured that Palestinian flags were distributed to the delegates.

I can say with some confidence that more people were waving Palestinian flags during this debate than were waving “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” scarves during the dear leader’s speech.

We in the Jewish community are hammered with the accusation of dual loyalty if we display Israeli flags at political events.

This was why, at the Enough is Enough rally in March and the Say No to Antisemitism rally in Manchester last month, there were less than a handful of Israeli flags.

Nobody thinks to accuse Labour Conference delegates of dual loyalty for having Palestinian flags during a foreign policy debate.

Nobody questions why the debate on “Palestine” should be festooned with flags but other foreign policy or other debates are not.

Few people wonder why the subject of “Palestine” is chosen for a “short notice” debate ahead of such trifling issues as Brexit or the NHS, or any other pressing foreign policy issues such as Russia or Syria.

There is insufficient scrutiny of how one-sided are the contributions in a supposed debate on Israel and “Palestine” — the one side being that of the Palestinian narrative in a complex and multi- layered debate.

But one sided it was.

On the very next day, Conservative Friends of Israel released a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May in which she said, among many other supportive comments, that “the UK is proud to stand side by side with Israel as an ally with mutual interests, and a close friend with shared values”.

Her article was very similar to the text of the remarkable speech which she delivered at the UJIA annual dinner in mid-September. She hit every correct note in showing her party’s friendship and support for Israel.

Welcome though her words were and the government’s actions continue to be, it is striking how the cross-party consensus on Israel and “Palestine” is now dead.

It is a matter of difference between the political parties.

They agree on only one issue — that there should be a two-state solution. But even the approach to — and the detail of — that policy come from different places.

But other than that, the issue of Israel and “Palestine” is likely to be a point on which the Labour Party opposes the government.

I have previously written about how, in the UK, the issue of Israel is no longer a bipartisan or cross-party issue.

It is perhaps a failing on the part of us in the communal leadership, but it is more to do with the ideological obsession with “Palestine” and Palestinians on the part of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Left who now control the levers of the Labour Party.

It is not just the Labour Party, which now has an obsession with “Palestine”. The arch-boycotteers have stirred themselves in the last few weeks.

Sinn Fein have decided to try to stop Northern Ireland from playing friendly matches against Israel and their U21s from playing the Republic of Ireland.

Ultimately, they failed, but their frothing campaign literature displayed a one-eyed perspective on the world’s most complex foreign policy issue.

And, many of our old boycotteer friends have got their crayons out nice and early and started a campaign to try and have the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest moved from Tel Aviv.

As predictable as night following day, as the tide going in and coming out, the signatories to this nascent and ultimately futile campaign included Roger Waters, Ken Loach and Alexei Sayle.

This loathsome threesome seem to sign anything that seeks to boycott Israel. I have all sorts of objections to this.

The latest to occur to me is that these supposed fans of human rights did not at any point try to boycott the World Cup in Russia or the Olympics in China. No, they reserve their ire only for Israel and Israeli culture.

All I am left with is my own small boycott campaign against these boycotteers. Alexei Sayle is easy to boycott. He has not been funny since Hello John Got a New Motor. Ken Loach’s films can be easily avoided.

Roger Waters is harder to avoid if you listen, as I do, to Absolute Radio. Pink Floyd songs are regularly played.

But you can join me. Next time you hear the opening chords of Another Brick in the Wall or Money, switch to another station. Immediately.

It won’t stop anything, but you will feel a whole lot better.


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