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Ilan Pappe warns UK Labour against supporting Israel's Blue and White 'charade'

Outspoken Israeli historian says Labour should not be swayed into supporting an Israeli government led by Benny Gantz
Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, was a general in Israel's 2014 Gaza war, when more than 2200 Palestinian were killed, mostly civiilians (AFP)
By in
Brighton, UK

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has warned the UK Labour Party against embracing the Israeli opposition alliance that could replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following last week's elections.

Speaking at a packed venue outside Labour’s annual conference, Pappe said that Israel’s Blue and White coalition led by former general Benny Gantz was no different from Likud in its treatment of Palestinians.

'These people are not different from Netanyahu when it comes to the Palestinians and this is the main issue'

- Ilan Pappe, historian

"We used to call it liberal Zionism, or left Zionism; this is gone anyway – they are calling it something else, Blue and White - god knows what it is," Pappe said.

"Its main ideological stance is it doesn’t like Netanyahu. Neither do I, but that’s not enough as a vision for the future."

Pappe is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and a professor at Exeter University. He left Israel in 2007 after his support for an academic boycott of Israel exposed him and his family to death threats.

The Blue and White Party won 33 seats to Netanyahu’s 31 in last week’s general election in Israel. It has brought together votes from other parties in Israel’s parliament, including the Palestinian Joint List. But with 54 MPs backing it, the coalition is still seven seats short of the necessary 61 seats to form a government.

The parties have been in talks about a possible coalition between Blue and White and Likud.

Pappe said Blue and White "are in a position to mesmerise western public opinion once more, especially the Labour party, especially the Blairites in the Labour party: they love generals like Benny Gantz, who's a war criminal, who enacted crimes against the people in the Gaza Strip."

If the opposition in Israel is able to replace Netanyahu, a new narrative will emerge around Gantz, he said, which will attract support among parts of the western left.

"This is exactly the kind of charade we will all now face: Israel is back to being a social democracy, there is a reasonable, mainstream Israeli political party taking over from the awful Mr Netanyahu."

'No different'

"These people are not different from Netanyahu when it comes to the Palestinians, and this is the main issue," Pappe said.

The Labour fringe meeting was organised by the pro-Palestinian Jewish Voice for Labour.

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Pappe also criticised the British media over its coverage of long-running controversy around antisemitism in the Labour Party, which has dogged Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership since he was elected in 2015.

"Every minute the British media waste reporting on alleged institutional antisemitism in the Labour Party is a minute they should have used to report to the people what is being done to the Palestinians in Area C and everywhere else in Palestine," he said, referring to a section of the occupied West Bank.

"Whether inside or outside of the EU, Britain is part of Europe, and this Europe has been silent since 2006 when Israel began to enact a genocidal policy toward the people in the Gaza Strip."

'We are Jews not Zionists'

Pappe was applauded as he disavowed Zionism and settler colonialism.

"It is important for me as an Israeli citizen not to put the Israeli flag on the day of independence because the flag represents oppression, colonisation, racism," he said.

'We are Jews and not Zionists because we know history'

- Ilan Pappe

"I cannot identify with the flag of a state that oppresses another people, and the flag of Palestine is for me the flag of justice, and I proudly wave it."

He said Britain had failed to come to terms with its role in enabling the dispossession of Palestinians.

"We know that it was Britain that allowed the settler colonial project of Zionism to have a foothold in Palestine. Without the British bayonets, the whole Catastrophe of 1948 [the Nakba] would have been avoided," Pappe said.

"We have a meeting here today to say not only to the Labour party but also to the British government that you have never come to terms with your role in the catastrophe of the Palestinians and its high time you will do it, instead of celebrating the Balfour declaration.

"We are Jews and not Zionists because we know history."