Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

UK Labour Party student officials face backlash over free tour of Israel, settlements

By Asa Winstanley – The Electronic Intifada – 16 January 2012

London – A member of the UK’s National Union of Students Executive Council has denounced several youth and student officers from the opposition Labour Party for taking part in an all-expenses-paid tour of Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Labour students delegation met with Captain Barak Raz, an Israeli army spokesperson and other Israeli officials.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), a pro-Israel group, paid for the entire junket. The 4-9 January tour was led by Dan Sheldon, UJS campaigns officer. It included meetings with Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister who now works as a representative of the Middle East “Quartet” (the US, European Union, UN and Russia), and Mark Regev, chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Delegation member Joe Vinson told The Electronic Intifada that the group had “visited the [Israeli] settlements” in the West Bank as well as “various religious landmarks” on a “fact-finding mission to explore the conflict.” Of the settlements, Vinson said it was “not ideal that Israel is building on Palestinian territory.” All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, a position upheld by successive UK governments. Vinson is president of Cornwall College Students’ Union.

Vinson defended the tour, claiming it had given the Palestinian perspective as well as the Israeli. “We didn’t control the agenda,” it was set by the UJS, Vinson said. “Not for one minute do I think that the UJS tried to use it as a Zionist propaganda trip, they were very conscious to give the two sides of the argument throughout the whole trip.”

“Unbiased” propagadanda

Vinson said that Captain Raz “didn’t give us much opinion, it was very much an unbiased point of view that he gave us. It was mostly information about what they do to ensure that peace is consistent in the West Bank.” He added, “it was interesting, but didn’t really give us much to go on.” During the trip, Vinson wrote on his Twitter account that he had been “Really glad to meet” Captain Raz.

@JoeVinson
Joe Vinson Really glad to meet @CaptainBarakRaz. Very interesting to hear about his time serving in the West Bank.
Jan 06 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

Asked if he thought it was problematic to visit settlements as part of an Israeli delegation, Vinson said, “I certainly see the issues that surround that and the international law” but that it was crucial “to get opinions from all sides of the argument.”

When pressed, Vinson said OneVoice Palestine was the only Palestinian group his delegation had met. OneVoice is an Israeli-Palestinian group founded by Israeli businessman Daniel Lubetzky. It has often been criticized by Palestinians for encouraging normalization between Israelis and Palestinians in violation of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.

A “Palestinian perspective” given by Israelis

Vinson admitted that “we didn’t meet with as many Palestinians as we did Israelis” but said that the guide for the tour “was always trying to put the Palestinian perspective across, we were always asking him questions about things from a Palestinian perspective.” According to other members of the delegation writing on Twitter, this guide who supposedly gave “the Palestinian perspective” was Jeremy Leigh of tour group Jewish Journeys. “Born in the UK and a graduate of the Reform Zionist youth movement, RSY-Netzer, [Leigh] has been living in Israel since 1992,” says the group’s website.

The Electronic Intifada asked Vinson what he thought qualified Leigh to give a “Palestinian perspective.” He replied: “the fact that he’s lived there for 20 plus years and I guess he acknowledges both sides of the argument.”

Also on the delegation were: Emma Meehan, the secretary of Scottish Young Labour and a vice-president of Edinburgh University’s Students’ Union; Ruth Brewer, of Liverpool Labour Students; Jess Leigh, the vice-chairperson of Labour Students; Sam Woodcock, co-chairperson of Manchester Labour Students; and Nick Pringle, northern coordinating officer of Labour Students. Labour is now Britain’s main opposition party, having been in government from 1997 to 2010.

Student activists denounce tour

James Haywood of the National Union of Students (NUS) Executive Council denounced the tour. Haywood said, “for elected officers to accept all-expenses-paid trips to Israel is scandalous, all the more so that it was arranged by an openly pro-Israel organization. I’m not surprised that these officers didn’t meet Palestinian refugees, students and activists — because they would have seen the truth of the racism and oppression they suffer from daily.”

Haywood, a Palestine solidarity activist and an elected student officer, is on the same NUS Society and Citizenship committee as Vinson.

Majdi Hafi, president of the Student Council for Birzeit University in the West Bank told Edinburgh student newspaper The Journal he was “very disappointed and shocked” to learn of the trip.

“As students at Birzeit University we were looking forward to working towards forming closer relations” with the Edinburgh Students’ Union, he wrote. But he said the trip’s “sole aim is to whitewash Israel’s crimes and the suffering of the Palestinians.”

He said the delegates had shown “a blatant disregard for the history of student activism for human rights at Edinburgh University,” and called upon “the other sabbatical officers, and the wider student body [to] distance themselves from this shameful trip and condemn Ms. Meehan for taking part.”

Liam O’Hare, president of Edinburgh Students for Justice in Palestine, told The Journal he was “horrified” that Meehan had chosen to join the trip, which he said was “designed to whitewash the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people.” The trip “has brought the union into disrepute,” he said, promising to protest against it in all relevant forums.

Shallow understanding

Vinson said the tour was a fact-finding mission to encourage debate and improve understanding. If that was really its aim, it seems to have been pretty unsuccessful judging from what delegates have publicly discussed about their trip.

In one now-deleted Tweet, Ruth Brewer commented on the looks of Israelis: “I don’t understand why people boycott Israeli goods, the lads here are fine to dine.”

The Electronic Intifada asked Vinson how the trip facilitated discussion when they had met with only one Palestinian group, and he had mentioned not discussing the conflict with Captain Raz. He confusingly replied they they had asked Raz “why some Palestinian settlements were being pulled down in Israeli areas and vice versa.” When asked if he meant Israeli settlements, Vinson said “sorry, other way around.”

Brewer tweeted that they had spent the day in East Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement, then “took a short cut through the West Bank” to Tel Aviv where she was “enjoying cocktails.” She later deleted this tweet and several others. - Full article

January 16, 2012 - Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular

4 Comments »

  1. what you expect from the labour party, they have elected a son of an ardent Zionist as their leader. Do you think the the Milliband’s care for Britain they were brought up with Zionism and Israel.

    Comment by hans | January 17, 2012 | Reply

  2. OK thass the last nail in the coffin of my votes and support of the effing Labour Party in Britain. Yeeeurrgh

    Comment by Barbara, England | January 17, 2012 | Reply

  3. Zionism was first sponsred by Britain thru the befour declaration…one of many crimes Great Britain committed against the third world. You do not expect much that Millband boys have the reigns over the labor party and that is ok with anglican england..They would certainly protest and make it impossible for someone of Arab or Muslim back ground

    Comment by Avi Shlomo | January 19, 2012 | Reply

  4. [...] UK Labour Party student officials face backlash over free tour of Israel, settlements (alethonews.wordpress.com) [...]

    Pingback by California professor under attack for opposing “study in Israel” scheme « MasterAdrian's Weblog | January 25, 2012 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 723 other followers