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The Tories Can Never Be True Friends of Palestine

Last month, at an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Nakba in the British Parliament, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, formally announced the creation of the Conservative Friends of Palestine (CFP).

Warsi stated that the founding of the new parliamentary group was “long overdue” and that it would be the start of “something quite interesting”. She said CFP will serve as a counterbalance to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) which was established in 1974.

For half a century, CFI has been a formidable pro-Israel voice in the higher echelons of the British political establishment. A recent investigation revealed that it has paid for more MPs to go on overseas trips than any other lobby group. In 2014, CFI boasted that 80 percent of Conservative Party MPs were members of the group.

In light of CFI’s historic success, and continuing popularity among Conservative members of parliament, the founding of CFP is undoubtedly a surprising development.

Indeed, Warsi, who became Britain’s first Muslim cabinet minister in 2010, has long been a rare – if not the only – prominent pro-Palestine voice in the Conservative Party.

In 2014, she resigned from David Cameron’s cabinet in protest to its response to the Israeli regime’s bombardment of Gaza, which saw more than 2,000 Palestinians killed. The government’s “approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible,” Warsi wrote in the resignation letter she shared on Twitter.

Warsi’s efforts to counter CFI’s influence over Conservative parliamentarians, however, is in no way an indication that British Conservatives are growing more supportive of Palestinian liberation.

After all, core Tory values and policies continue to be at odds with the goals of and motivations behind the Palestinian struggle. Warsi herself is only in a position to try and promote the Palestinian cause among Conservative representatives because she agreed to join the House of Lords – a body seen by many as antithetical to democracy and the epitome of elitist rule – as a life peer in 2007.

Furthermore, just six percent of Conservative MPs and members of the House of Lords, or some 35 people among 615, joined CFP since its founding – a very poor showing compared with the CFI, which counts over two-thirds of Conservative MPs among its members.

Indeed, those who support Palestine’s struggle for liberation generally tend to be on the left of the political spectrum. In the United Kingdom, trade unions, socialists and many other leftist spaces and grassroots organisations have long been standing in solidarity with Palestinians against Zionist settler colonialism.

As a Jacobin editorial stated a decade ago, support for Palestine is not an “idiosyncratic fetish divorced from the broader politics of the left. Rather… (it is) a focal point of anti-imperialist struggle, where peasants and slum-dwellers are now fighting a desperate struggle against tanks and F-16s…”

It is leftist values of anti-colonialism, and racial and social justice, among others, that are the driving force behind this kind of solidarity with Palestine.

In this context, it is difficult to see Warsi’s CFP as anything other than a gimmick and a personal project that is unlikely to change the party’s stance on Palestine in any meaningful way.

Yet, despite the values fuelling the Palestinian struggle perfectly aligning with the core values of left-wing political thought, the “leftist” establishment in the UK and its leading representatives in the Labour Party have been staunch supporters of the Israeli regime since its inception.

Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, for example, was known for his “devotion to the cause of Israel” and somehow considered the Israeli regime a “wonderful experiment in socialist politics”. Labour’s support for the Zionist project was grounded in its support for liberal Zionism, which fused socialism and settler colonialism together. For the British establishment left, which to this day has not reckoned with its own colonial past, there was no contradiction in this fusion.

Since then, the British Labour Party has maintained a strong relationship with the Israeli regime and in particular its sister Israeli Labour Party – the very party that spearheaded the illegal settlement enterprise in the West Bank, Gaza, and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 1967. Today, the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is a popular parliamentary group with support from the higher echelons of the Labour Party.

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party he broke with tradition and disrupted the party’s unwavering support for the Israeli regime.

In addition to recentring socialist politics as the foundation for the party, he was also outspoken in his critique of the Israeli regime’s oppression of Palestinians. His decades-long support for and involvement in the Palestine solidarity movement was one of the main reasons he was eventually ousted from Labour leadership and eventually the party.

Today, as it continues to embrace neoliberalism and moves away from true leftist values under the leadership of Keir Starmer, the Labour Party is once again increasingly hostile to the Palestinian struggle. And it is not the only one – most leftist establishment political parties in the West are also hostile to Palestinian liberation. So much so that the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States has come up with a term to describe this: Progressive Except for Palestine (PEP).

Yet despite this betrayal by establishment politics, most grassroots leftists across the world insist on the inclusion of Palestine as part and parcel of leftist politics. For them, the Palestinians’ struggle against racial domination and aggressive settler colonial expansion is obviously legitimate and embodies the true meaning of internationalism.

With the right wing on the rise across Europe, some may be tempted to seek out allies in these spaces and support tactical alliances with rare pro-Palestine right-wingers like Warsi. Such cooperation attempts, however, would not only be morally questionable but also politically incoherent.

So, rather than looking for friendly outliers on the right, those interested in expanding Palestine solidarity should focus their efforts on rebuilding power and support on the left.

Supporting the Palestinian struggle is not to support a single, isolated issue. It is to support a radical and international political package that demands justice for all.

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