There’s been a lot of discussion lately surrounding evidence of antisemitism in the Labour Party, and throughout the left in general. The most recent incident was of an antisemitism row sparked at the press conference of Labour’s own antisemitism inquiry! The problem of antisemitism is one that needs to be recognised and confronted by everyone in our society. Not only is it morally wrong, but once we begin to accept one form of intolerant prejudice, it leads neatly into the acceptance of others such as racism, sexism and homophobia. It is important that whenever examples of these prejudices rear their ugly heads, we all stand together to challenge and condemn them.
That’s why I was so heartened to read this apology by Cllr Muhammed Butt, the Labour leader of Brent Council in London. He had shared a Facebook message without fully realising the contents of that message, including some of the offensive comments underneath it. His apology provides an example that all of us can learn from when it comes to talking about Israel and its relations with Palestinians.
He specifically refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He clearly states “I have no time for boycotts”, going on to express how he opposed attempts for the Israeli waste company Veolia to be boycotted by Brent Council. On this point I can only agree with him. Boycotts help no one and only shut down dialogue instead of encouraging it, further reinforcing harmful prejudices in the process.
The BDS movement, in fact, goes further than just advocating the boycott of Israeli-linked goods and services. The BDS movement encourages and legitimises antisemitic behaviour, in the name of “standing up to Israel”. It’s a worldwide campaign against the only Jewish state, and no other country is provided this special attention. It paints the overwhelming majority of Jews who oppose BDS and have a strong connection to Israel, as apologists for apartheid, Nazism and colonialism, even though these analogies are inaccurate and offensive. It provides a cloak of morality to thoroughly immoral ideas and views and does nothing to advance the cause of peace in the region or greater understanding between Israel and its neighbours. This kind of attitude is harmful and wrong. I am glad to see Cllr Butt stand up so clearly against this.
As it is one of the only true democracies in the region, I am proud to say that I support Israel. Cllr Butt and I probably disagree on some policies carried out by the Israeli government. However, the great thing about a democracy like Israel is that if the Israeli people also want to change those policies, they will have the opportunity to. Cllr Butt’s apology makes it plain that you do not have to support Israeli policies in order to recognise that dialogue is preferable to hatred and boycotts. This is a lesson many on the left, who have entirely legitimate concerns with Israeli government policies, need to understand.
Cllr Butt’s apology is the start of a much needed discussion within our society on how we approach the highly complex and thorny issues surrounding the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Groups like WeBelieve in Israel, who I am proud to support, should be at the heart of this, especially as one of their key objectives is to promote a constructive dialogue and conversation about Israel. This approach is much more preferable to blindly condemning and boycotting. That is why we should strive to have a mature, sensible discussion about the issues and how we can approach these without alienating an entire community. Cllr’s Butt’s heartfelt apology provides a blueprint for this.