West News Wire: The Conservative Friends of Palestine (CFP) was formally launched last month by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, during a ceremony honouring the 75th anniversary of the Nakba in the British Parliament.
The formation of the new parliamentary group, according to Warsi, was “long overdue” and would mark the beginning of “something quite interesting.” She claimed that CFP will act as a counterbalance to the 1974-founded Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).
CFI has been a powerful pro-Israel voice in the upper levels of the British political establishment for half a century. According to a recent analysis, it has funded more international visits for MPs 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.
However, Warsi’s attempts to limit CFI’s influence over Conservative lawmakers in no way suggest that British Conservatives are becoming more pro-Palestinian liberation.
After all, fundamental Conservative principles and practises continue to conflict with the aims and causes of the Palestinian struggle. Warsi joined the House of Lords as a life lord in 2007, a body widely regarded as the antithesis of democracy and the pinnacle of elitist authority, and is only now in a position to advocate for the Palestinian cause among Conservative representatives.
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.
Support for Palestine is not a “idiosyncratic fetish divorced from the broader politics of the left,” as a Jacobin editorial from a decade ago put it. Instead, it serves as a focal point for the anti-imperialist struggle, where slum dwellers and peasants are currently engaged in a desperate war against tanks and F-16s.
This sort of solidarity with Palestine is motivated by leftist values such as anti-colonialism, racial and social justice, among others.
In light of this, it is challenging to see Warsi’s CFP as anything other than a publicity stunt and a side project that is unlikely to materially alter the party’s position on Palestine.
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 was elected leader of the Labour Party, he defied convention and overturned the party’s steadfast backing of the Israeli government.
He was outspoken in his criticism of the Israeli regime’s mistreatment of Palestinians in addition to establishing socialist politics as the cornerstone of the party. One of the primary factors leading to his final removal from Labour leadership and the party was his decades-long support of and involvement in the Palestine solidarity movement.
Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, the Labour Party is once more becoming more antagonistic to the Palestinian struggle as it continues to embrace neoliberalism and drift away from true Marxist beliefs. Additionally, it is not the only one; the majority of Western establishment leftist political parties 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.