Hugh Lanning

A constitutional mandate for racism

Hugh Lanning
A constitutional mandate for racism

Hugh Lanning, Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair, unpicks Israel’s new Nation-State Law   ON 19TH JULY ISRAEL’S KNESSET adopted the ‘Nation-State Law’ which declares that only Jews have the right of self-determination in Israel. It also “views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

Lebanese actress Manal Issa protesting at the Cannes film festival

Lebanese actress Manal Issa protesting at the Cannes film festival

This law will deprive 1.5 million citizens of the state of Israel, and residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, of the same democratic rights and equal treatment that Jewish citizens of Israel enjoy.

The many settlements internationally recognised as illegal will be endorsed by this law which gives constitutional weight to the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages in the occupied territories and the growth of settlements in defiance of international law. The law also cements the legitimacy of maintaining Jewish-only settlement.

In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government, in signing away Palestine to enable the creation of Israel, said that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This is precisely what the Nation-State Law does. With the introduction of this law, Israel is not only making official many of its already existing discriminatory laws and practices, but also openly declaring to the world that it has no regard for international law.

Additionally, it fundamentally undermines any remaining claims Israel has to be a democracy. As an article in the Financial Times said, the law makes clear that “Jewishness trumps democracy”. It negates the main purpose behind any democratic constitution, namely that citizens living in a given territory are equal.

The Nation-State Law establishes discrimination as a constitutional value. There is a crucial difference between the reality of racism and racist practices, and a constitutional law that requires, as a mandate, racist acts. In effect Israel's ethno-religious character supersedes its democratic one.

That is why among many others Daniel Barenboim, the world-renowned pianist and conductor, has labelled Israel's Nation-State Law as “a very clear form of apartheid”. The UN defines the crime of apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” There has been a Palestinian call for the UN to investigate this new law and other discriminatory practices under the 1973 UN Apartheid Convention - a call Labour should be supporting.

Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, said, “Israel’s official adoption of apartheid opens the door for the Palestinian people and its allies around the world to pressure the UN to activate its anti-apartheid laws and impose serious sanctions on Israel like those imposed on apartheid South Africa.”

All of this highlights the dangers of the debate within the Labour Party being used to silence criticism of Israel and to muffle Palestinian voices. While the internal debate is going on, it has not been quiet in Palestine. The killings in Gaza and Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as part of his forthcoming ‘peace plan’ mean that now, more than ever, Palestine needs a strong, progressive Labour voice on its side.

Jeremy Corbyn has said the Labour Party should “give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people”. Emily Thornberry rightly calls for Labour to have an ethical foreign policy. To be genuinely ethical, it must make Palestine a priority. For this to happen, there is one small step Labour needs to take, but it would be a giant step for Palestine. It needs to recognise in its policy and actions that there is a difference between being the oppressor and the oppressed.

There is huge support for Palestine within the Labour Party, which is not being properly reflected at the moment. With this in mind an open meeting is going to be held during the party conference to discuss building grassroots support for Palestine within Labour.

The intention is that the meeting, supported and sponsored by unions and organisations affiliated to or working with the party on Palestine, will discuss ideas for establishing an independent social media platform to give support, advice and guidance to an informal network of Labour Party members.

The focus will be on how Labour Party members should harness the support there is for Palestine within the party so it becomes a proud advocate of Palestinian rights as part of Labour’s ethical foreign policy.

It is time to stand up and speak out on Palestine.


is co-founder of the Alliance for Free Movement and former Deputy General Secretary of PCS.