Labour’s antisemitism fiasco has led to a drop off in pro-Palestinian activism – it’s time we found our voice again

Labour’s antisemitism crisis has led to a drop off in pro-Palestinian activism – it’s time we found our voice again

In 2014, the killing of 1,900 Palestinians in the Gaza strip saw 150,000 people take to London’s streets. Yet the UK’s Palestinian solidarity movement has been noticeably muted in recent months

It is eight years since I attended a protest in the West Bank where unarmed Palestinian activist Mustafa Tamimi was killed after being shot in the face with a tear-gas canister at close range by the Israeli army. Horrified by the brutal injustice of his death, I attended Mustafa’s funeral days later. I witnessed the Israeli army shoot the tear gas canisters that killed Mustafa at his grieving family, as they mourned at his graveside.

It often feels that so little has changed since then, and that only the list of Palestinian dead has grown longer. Israel continues to kill Palestinians with impunity, and I never cease to be outraged by the British government’s shameful “diplomatic silence” and its failure to condemn the Israeli government for its actions.

In the last year alone, the Israeli state has killed 194 Palestinians, including 41 children, during the weekly Great March of Return protests that began in Gaza on 30 March 2018. Although a UN report has now suggested that Israel’s actions could constitute war crimes, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt abstained on a vote at the UN last month that would have held Israel responsible for its intentional use of “lethal force” against civilian protesters.

The most infamous of these civilian deaths was that of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old nurse who was shot in the chest by the Israeli army while wearing her white medic’s uniform as she attended to injured protestors in the Gaza strip.

Britain’s failure to condemn this potential war crime has undoubtedly further emboldened the Israeli state. This week, Israel killed another medic; teenage volunteer medic Sajid Muzher was shot in the abdomen while giving medical attention to protestors in a Bethlehem refugee camp. Young enough to be a student in the sixth form at the school I teach at, Sajid’s death hangs particularly heavy in my mind.

The failures of this government to intervene in these crimes only highlights how important a grassroots Palestinian solidarity movement truly is. After all, we must never forget that while it was Thatcher’s Conservative government who supported South African apartheid to the very end, it was ordinary British people who stood in solidarity with the struggle of South Africans in their fight for equal rights and freedom for all.

Just like South Africa then, the UK’s solidarity movement has repeatedly shown that many people in this country will refuse to stand on the sidelines as the British government allows Israel’s actions to go unchecked.

Tens of thousands of protestors marched through London in 2009 after 400 Palestinians were killed by Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive. In 2014, these demonstrations had grown exponentially; the killing of 1,900 Palestinians in the Gaza strip saw 150,000 people take to London’s streets once again.

Yet the UK’s Palestinian solidarity movement has been noticeably muted in recent months; demonstrations outside Downing Street last year in solidarity with Gaza’s Great March of Return saw only around 2,000 activists in attendance, and a protest outside the Israeli embassy this weekend is likely to be much the same size.

There could of course be a myriad of reasons why this is the case. But it is increasingly clear that the antisemitism crisis that has rocked the Labour Party in recent months has deflated the confidence of Labour Party members like me who would have previously taken part in mass demonstrations against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

This is not to deny, of course, the very real, abhorrent cases of antisemitism that do exist within Labour, which must be vociferously challenged. But many now feel that these have become even more difficult to root out because of the way antisemitism has often been conflated with anti-Zionism by those who seek to shut down legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state.

The Palestinian solidarity movement must not be afraid to speak out in the face of such attacks. We need more grassroots actions like those taken by members at the Labour Party conference in 2018, when the hall was filled with delegates waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Free Palestine” as a motion was passed unanimously agreeing to freeze arms sales to Israel, were a Corbyn government to be elected.

Corbyn himself could make a bold statement if he agreed to speak at a national demonstration in London on Saturday 11 May, just as he did in 2009 and 2014 before being elected Labour’s leader. This could reaffirm Corbyn’s long-standing commitment to Palestinians’ liberation, and generate the confidence needed to build a mass solidarity movement once again.

As Palestinians in Gaza take to the streets this weekend to mark the anniversary of the Great March of Return, Israel is unlikely to respond with either caution or restraint, making the UK’s grassroots solidarity movement as important as ever. We must never underestimate the powerful message this international solidarity sends to Palestinians struggling everyday against their oppressors.

30% profit on every Persimmon home sold last year thanks to taxpayer ‘help to buy’ subsidy

Outrage as help-to-buy (help-to-sell) boosts Persimmon profits to £1bn

Builder condemned for making massive gains from taxpayer-funded programme

Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn.
Housebuilder Persimmon has reported full-year profits of £1.09bn. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Housebuilder Persimmon made a record-breaking £1bn profit last year – equal to more than £66,000 on every one of the homes it sold – with almost half of its house sales made through the taxpayer-funded help-to-buy scheme.

The York-based builder, which sparked widespread public and political outrage for attempting to pay its former chief executive Jeff Fairburn a bonus of £110m, posted pre-tax profits of £1.09bn.

The huge profit – the biggest ever made by a UK housebuilder – means Persimmon banked £66,265 from every one of the 16,449 homes it sold last year. The average selling price was just over £215,000,

The profit from each house it sells has nearly tripled since 2013, when the government introduced the help-to-buy scheme in an attempt to help struggling families buy their first home. Last year the company paid an average of just £31,536 for each plot of land, and spent £112,295 on actually building each home.

Cable demanded that the government immediately end the help-to-buy scheme and take action to crack down on “outrageous” executive pay. “This greed is coming at the expense of the public purse through the subsidies in help-to-buy,” he said. “Help-to-buy is a scam, enriching developers while forcing buyers off the ladder by pushing up prices.”

Greg Beales, the campaign director of the housing charity Shelter, said: “Persimmon represents everything that is wrong with the housebuilding system. The firm has generated huge profits from taxpayer subsidies whilst doing very little to help solve the housing crisis we face.

“Piecemeal schemes such as help-to-buy have made the situation even worse by inflating house prices and giving big developers a leg-up – while doing next to nothing to help those most in need of a genuinely affordable home.”

Many Persimmon customers have complained that their homes are poorly built, with pipes springing leaks and windows cracking just days after they moved in. Persimmon has been awarded only a three-star Home Builders Federation customer service rating every year since 2014, compared with four and five stars for its major rivals.

Victoria Baker, who bought a £380,000 five-bedroom Persimmon house in Ingleby Barwick, near Stockton, last year described the building work on her home as horrific. “We noticed leaks straight away as we were putting things away under the sink; there was a pool of water under the sink in the kitchen,” she said. Baker, who lives in a home built by Charles Church, a brand owned by Persimmon, said numerous other leaks later appeared. She is part of a Facebook group called “Charles Church (Persimmon) Homes From Hell”.

Persimmon has made so much money in recent years that it triggered a near-£500m bonus bonanza for its 150 most senior bosses. The company’s former chair quit when he recognised that the huge bonuses were wrong, but was unable to prevent them being paid out.

Persimmon’s former chief executive Jeff Fairburn was eventually persuaded to give up part of his payout but still walked away with £75m. His replacement, Dave Jenkinson, collected more than £40m.

The company’s huge gains from the help-to-buy scheme, in which the government provides a guaranteed interest-free loan, have sparked a ministerial review. James Brokenshire, the housing minister, is said to be “increasingly concerned by the behaviour of Persimmon”.

A source close to the minister said: “Given that contracts for the 2021 extension to help-to-buy are being reviewed shortly, which overall is a great scheme helping hundreds of thousands of people into home ownership, it would be surprising if Persimmon’s approach wasn’t a point of discussion.”

A government spokesman said officials would “carefully” examine the vast profits made by Persimmon and other housebuilders. “Help-to-buy will look different,” the spokesman said. “We’ve already said it will look only at first-time buyers and we will definitely not be funding leasehold properties. We will look carefully at developer performance over recent years.”

Jenkinson, who was appointed Persimmon’s new chief executive on Tuesday, defended the company’s use of the help-to-buy scheme, saying the company had “helped hundreds of first time buyers” and “given them the opportunity to own their own home”.

He said the help-to-buy scheme was just one element behind the firm’s financial success and the government had not contacted the company with any concern about its use of the help-to-buy scheme.

Jenkinson said his £40m bonanza “isn’t distracting [him] – I’m incredibly focused”. He said his bonus payment was tied up in Persimmon shares, which he had no intention of selling soon. He was not paid a bonus in 2018 and will not receive one in 2019. His basic pay is £518,000.

More than a year ago, Fairburn pledged to set up a charity with a “substantial proportion” of his bonus but has so far failed to do so. He has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up.

Independent property expert Henry Pryor said: “There is no doubt that help-to-buy has been the crack cocaine of the housing industry. Listen carefully and you can hear the housebuilder bosses chortling into their cornflakes as taxpayers pump up the executive bonus pool.

“With 100,000 kids waking up in B&B accommodation this morning, it’s a national outrage that the government is still pouring accelerant on to the smouldering housing market. Bosses who have trousered the profits from selling to taxpayer-supported buyers have taken the place of bankers on my dart board. They have a business model, thanks to successive governments, that would make Al Capone blush.”

a landrights campaign for Britain

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