Labour leader Keir Starmer recently (Tuesday 31 October 2023) gave a speech on the escalating crisis in the Middle East, commenting on the violence between Israel and Hamas that has led to thousands of deaths. While Starmer, under pressure from the backlash his prior pronouncements have unleashed both within the Labour Party itself and amongst Labour supporters, attempted to strike a more balanced tone, it revealed the limitations of his perspective.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is inherently linked to capitalist imperialism and the contradictory divisions it has created in the region. Starmer sidesteps the core role of Western powers like Britain in establishing Israel through the displacement of Palestinians and supporting that state politically and militarily ever since. There is no acknowledgement of the ongoing oppression of Palestinians under Israeli occupation and apartheid policies. His calls for “pauses” in fighting for humanitarian purposes serve to legitimise Israel’s military assault on Gaza.
Starmer upholds the facade of Israel’s “right to self-defence” while minimising its massively disproportionate use of force and war crimes. He urges Israel to “submit to the rules of international law,” as if mere restraints on state violence could resolve the fundamental injustices at play. He does so while he himself has defended actions that are blatant breaches of the puny rule of international law, such as the cutting of power and water to Gaza.
Marx asserted that the law in bourgeois society inherently serves the ruling class. International laws fail to deliver Palestinian liberation precisely because they operate within a capitalist system dominated by imperialist states like the United States and Britain. The inability of the United Nations to chart a different path was starkly illustrated by the resignation of Craig Mokhiber, director of the New York office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, on November 1, with a powerful denunciation of imperialism’s complicity in genocides and the UN’s powerlessness to prevent it.
Furthermore, Starmer perpetuates the tired liberal myth that the solution lies in a “two-state settlement,” a mirage dangled for decades to distract from Israel’s ongoing settler colonialism. He exhibits the classic bourgeois fixation on diplomacy, negotiations, and incremental reforms instead of naming the underlying structures of oppression and the role of the British state in upholding them.
Any road to justice in the region must involve grassroots struggle against imperialism, capitalism, and all manifestations of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. It requires a struggle to end the occupation and the other subsequent edifices of Israeli apartheid and for the right of return of the 7 million Palestinians living as refugees. It requires solidarity between the Israeli and Palestinian working classes based on their shared interests against economic exploitation.
But Starmer’s speech is confined to platitudes about peace and dialogue within existing power structures. His tepid centrism demonstrates that the Labour Party remains captive to capitalist interests despite its socialist roots. Genuine Marxist principles of unconditional but critical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and a fight for a one-state solution within a radical transformation of the region as a whole are still sorely needed to cut through bourgeois rhetoric and advance the fight for human emancipation.
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