Brent Labour councillors back down after seeking to defy Starmer with BDS motion

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Brent Labour councillors back down after seeking to defy Starmer with BDS motion

Draft motion backed by a number of Brent Labour Group councillors backs 'support of the right to boycott and divest' after highlighting 'abuses of rights and violations of international law, in occupied Palestine'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

A group of Labour councillors aligned with the Momentum group have attempted to defy  party leader Keir Starmer’s long-standing opposition to boycotts of Israel by tabling a motion in support of BDS at a council meeting.

Jewish News have been forwarded a “draft” copy of the “defend the right to boycott” motion drawn up by a section of the Labour Group on Brent Council, in north west London.

It is understood that the motion has been circulated amongst supportive councillors for a number of weeks, with the intention of it being tabled at a full council meeting.

While the motion does not have the unanimous support of the Brent Labour Group, according to local sources it continues to have enough backing to ensure that it does not “go away.”

After being approached for comment a senior Brent Labour source responded confirming a draft motion of the Right To Boycott motion “was brought to a private meeting” of the Labour Group.

Bu the source added:”It was decided that the motion would not be taken forward in full council in line with national Labour policy.”

The source said Brent Labour Group “values all our diverse communities and their contributions which continues to make Brent the open and welcoming borough it is today.”

Reacting to this decision a Jewish Labour Movement spokesperson said:”It is clear that there are still parts of the Labour Party, even in diverse borough like Brent, which struggle to understand left antisemitism and fail to consider the impact of their political grandstanding on the borough’s Jewish population, particularly on issues like BDS.

“Whilst it’s good this motion has been pulled, and it is clear there are moderate voices amongst Brent Labour councillors, many will ask how a now-fringe group like Momentum still has sway in Brent Labour.”

Other councillors aligned to the pro-Starmer Labour To Win group are believed to have raised concerns about the draft motion.

It is understood that the meeting to discuss the motion took place when senior Jewish Brent councillor Neil Nerva was out of the country.

Labour has been clear at national level about the party’s long-standing opposition to BDS against the state of Israel, including in Starmer’s speech to the Labour Friends of Israel group in 2021.

Will a Labour government led by Keir Starmer be committed to the 2SS and recognise Palestine alongside Israel? (Blake Ezra Photography)

But it is also understood that Labour’s London regional office does not have the ability to block Labour Group motions.

Another source said:”It’s pretty clear there will be consequences for the Labour Group if they proceed to move the motion at a full council meeting.

“Brent Labour has been pretty good at moving away from the hostile anti-Israel stance that was once allowed to run free. But there are still occasional problems such as this.”

The source claimed that the hard-left Momentum group locally were involved in organising support for the motion.

The motion cites the government’s Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill, which has passed its second reading in the Commons, suggesting it “will limit the ability of Brent Council as a public body to make ethical choices about spending and investment that reflect widespread public support for human rights, climate goals and international law.”

It adds:” The government has indicated that a major reason for proposing this law is specifically to prevent public bodies from deciding not to invest in companies operating in Israel and occupied Palestine – even if they are complicit in the violation of international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people. 

“As a diverse borough with a significant Palestinian community and a proud history of anti-racism and anti-Apartheid….

“It is the right, and indeed a responsibility, of Brent Council as a public body to break ties with companies contributing to abuses of rights and violations of international law, in occupied Palestine, and anywhere else where such acts occur.”

In Westminster, former shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy had forcefully outlined the party’s official position on the government’s bill, saying that while the opposed it over issues such as the conflation between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories”  in its drafting, and over serious concerns it could impact on the right to take action in support of  of the Uyghur Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, Labour’s policy was that it did not support BDS.

But the Brent Labour Group motion clearly defies this, backing “those in civil society mobilising in support of the right to boycott and divest.”

In 2016 the leader of Brent Council Muhammed Butt apologised for sharing a Facebook post which compared Israel with Islamic State.

Last year he said he was “appalled” after learning that he had shared a recording of a popular Palestinian song that included the chant “Hit, Hit, Tel Aviv” in a social media post.

It is not known if Butt is himself supportive of the draft motion.

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