Champion of Palestinian rights wins leadership of UK Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn, center, attends a rally in London against Israel’s bombing of Gaza, 26 July 2014. The left-wing lawmaker has been elected leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party. Mark Esper Polaris

Ali Abunimah 12 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn, center, attends a rally in London against Israel’s bombing of Gaza, 26 July 2014. The left-wing lawmaker has been elected leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party.

In a stunning upset, Jeremy Corbyn has been elected to lead the UK Labour Party.

The veteran left-wing lawmaker and vocal supporter of Palestinian rights took almost 60 percent of the vote, trouncing the establishment candidates Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had warned that the party would face “annihilation” if Corbyn won.

But that did not deter more than 250,000 people who voted for Corbyn in the first ever one-person, one-vote internal party election of its kind.

The new system allowed members of the public to sign up as registered supporters for a token payment of £3 ($5), in addition to regular dues-paying party members and affiliated supporters (mostly trade union members). Corbyn won in all three sectors of the party.

Previous leaders have been chosen by an electoral college that gave greater weight to the votes of lawmakers and trade unions.

In a victory speech to an ecstatic crowd at a special party conference in London, Corbyn reiterated key themes of his campaign: social solidarity and working to eradicate poverty at home, and championing peace abroad.

Corbyn said his first act as leader would be to attend a rally in London to support refugees who have been arriving in Europe often to a cold and cruel welcome from EU governments.

“Let’s deal with the refugee crisis with humanity, with support, with help, with compassion,” Corbyn said, “but recognize that going to war creates a legacy of bitterness and problems.”

The Labour Party’s record has been badly tainted by Blair’s decision to take the UK to war in Iraq in 2003, but Corbyn has signalled a decisive shift.

“Let us be a force for change in the world, a force for humanity in the world, a force for peace in the world,” the new leader added.

Israel lobby smears

Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights is causing alarm in Israel. An article on his win in Haaretz, for example, derides him as “a full-paid member of every fashionable cause of the radical-left” and claims falsely that he offers “unquestioning support for Holocaust deniers and blood libelers – as long as they’re ‘pro-Palestinian.’”

During the months-long campaign, pro-Israel groups made extraordinary efforts to tar Corbyn in this manner as an anti-Jewish bigot, despite his decades as an anti-racism campaigner.

But as The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley showed, these baseless and scurrilous attacks were due to Corbyn’s strong record of Palestine solidarity work.

Support for Palestine

It is not hard to understand why Israel and its supporters will be so disturbed by Corbyn’s win.

He is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and is well known as an active supporter of Palestinian rights.

In an exclusive interview with The Electronic Intifada last month, Corbyn endorsed key elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and called for a two-way arms embargo.

He added that Israeli universities involved in arms research should be boycotted.

Corbyn told The Electronic Intifada his involvement in the movement took off after he entered parliament in 1983. He has visited Palestine nine times, as well as refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria.

The Labour Party leader emphasized that the Palestinian right to return was “the key” to a solution and has said negotiations should include the Palestinian and Lebanese organizations Hamas and Hizballah.

He speaks with a clarity on Palestine arguably unmatched by any major party leader in Europe.

Corbyn’s victory is a measure of how mainstream support for Palestinian rights has become in the UK.