Luke Akehurst, Labour NEC member and member of ‘We Believe In Israel’, has spoken out on the letter sent to Keir Starmer by a group of, now, ex-Labour councillors. According to Starmer loyalist Akehurst, the letter is “confused, ill-informed or just plain wrong”, which is actually a very good description of Akehurst’s Labour List article.
Let’s begin with an obvious point in which Akehurst claims: “The letter says there are ‘restrictions placed on Constituency Labour Parties gagging them from raising motions… and preventing them from openly standing in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis’. There are not.” Akehurst has clearly seen the letter from Starmer’s acolyte, Party Secretary David Evans, a man who led the witch hunt against non-Zionist Jewish members of the party and was then instrumental in burying the Forde Report, which highlighted the appalling treatment meted out to black and Asian members.
He may also have seen the email sent to MPs as reported by the Morning Star: “According to the email seen by ITV, council representatives were told “they must not, under any circumstance” attend any protest or demonstration.” That looks like a restriction to me.
Akehurst, like so many Israeli apologists, ignores the past 56 years of oppression and roots the current round of destruction in the events of 7th October which he describes as “unprovoked”; unprovoked unless you acknowledge that there have been at least 185 resolutions at the United Nations critical of Israel. Predictably, Israel’s friends, the US and the UK, usually boycott them. But the rest of the world sees the occupation of Gaza for what it is: illegal. In October 2022 the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, said: “For over 55 years, the Israeli military occupation has prevented the realisation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.” According to the UN, the occupation “violates Palestinians’ ability to organise themselves, free from alien domination and control, by repressing Palestinian political activity, advocacy and activism.” But no provocation there.
For over 55 years, the Israeli military occupation has prevented the realisation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Luke Akehurst is totally unaware, as are most members of the Labour front bench that, in just the past year alone, over 200 Palestinians, mainly children, have been killed by Israeli soldiers. As long ago as 1983, after an 11 year old Palestinian girl was killed by so-called ‘settlers’, a Chief Rabbi justified the killing on the basis that she might grow up to be an enemy of Israel. In December 2022, a panel of UN experts led by Francesca Albanese reported: “Armed and masked Israeli settlers are attacking Palestinians in their homes, attacking children on their way to school, destroying property and burning olive groves, and terrorising entire communities with complete impunity.”
Whilst Akehurst describes the 7th October attacks as “slaughtering 1,400 men, women and children”, he does not mention, even once, the number of Palestinian men, women and children slaughtered either before or after 7th October. Over 6,500 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, including armed ‘settlers’ before 7th October, and over 5,000 killed since. But apparently Palestinians have no right, according to the leaders of the Labour Party, to fight back against an illegal occupation and an occupying force which uses violence and intimidation.
In an attempt to give his obnoxious anti-Arab views a veneer of moral certainty, Akehurst compares the 7th October attacks to the Holocaust, liberally scattering Nazi references throughout his article. This, however, was nothing like the Holocaust, at least for the Jewish side.
Hamas does not have state power, does not outlaw or make second class citizens of its Jewish citizens, does not corral those citizens into ghettos, and does not organise death camps. With the exception of the last, Israel has done all of those things in recent times to the Palestinians.
Israel receives $3.8 billion in military aid every year just from the US. Hamas does not publish accounts, but it can be safely assumed, comparing their missiles to Israel’s, that they receive a lot less aid than Israel — and this year the American aid for Palestinians, amounting to $75 million, was stopped. This is not a war of two equal states. It is a one-sided war propagated by a heavily armed state that regards Arabs as, to quote Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, “human animals”.
It is a one-sided war propagated by a heavily armed state that regards Arabs as, to quote Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, “human animals”
Akehurst goes on to argue: “The attempt to label Israel’s actions “collective punishment” and “a war crime” is also overblown. He seems to have a complete disregard, as do Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry, and David Lammy, amongst others, for international law. United Nations General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, said: “Those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” Of course Israel, supported by the UK government and the Labour Party, has called on Guterres to be sacked — but what preceded that comment was the following, which it is surely difficult for any reasonable person to argue with:
“It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing.”
It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.Antonio Guterres, UN General Secretary
Of course Luke Akehurst is the opposite of a reasonable person. He is a self-serving Israeli apologist who has sat on his hands at numerous NEC meetings whilst Jewish members of the party have been expelled for not being the right type of Jew.
Much of the article seeks to defend a position adopted by Keir Starmer and repeated ad infinitum since by front benchers who seem to have absolutely no idea of their own responsibilities under international law. In the David Evans memo sent to CLPs, he starts by asserting that Labour “fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself”. This was Starmer’s position in the LBC interview where he was specifically asked whether Israel had the right to cut off electricity, water and fuel. Emily Thornberry was asked the same question on Question Time, and Lisa Nandy was also asked the same question by Victoria Derbyshire. None of them, despite their legal training, seemed to have the slightest clue about international law. That is not, as Akehurst asserts, a “minute textual examination of one remark”. Starmer does not turn up for interviews without being briefed. He either did not know that he was advocating a strategy contrary to international law, which seems unlikely given he is a former Director of Public Prosecutions, or he did not care. In his clamour to support Israel he simply showed no regard for the plight of the 2 million people caught in Gaza.
If Luke Akehurst wants to understand why so many Palestinian supporters are now leaving the Labour Party, it is not because they are anti-Israel but because they feel that the “safe and welcoming space” alluded to by David Evans is unable to overcome the tensions between providing a safe space for people who believe Israel can do no wrong and those who, backed by a mass of evidence, believe that not only can Israel do wrong, but has done so for a good number of years.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.