No, I haven’t started another society like Monty Python’s Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, tempting though it be. No – this is more of a mental exercise. At conference last week I attended two fringe events that particularly stayed with me. The first was on Palestine: the two of us roamed the fringe events trying to find something that would both interest and feed us as time was very short between events but sadly the queue for the Palestinian food was so long that in the end all I got was some couscous. But I’m getting sidetracked. Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was the main speaker at this event, but before she spoke we watched a video about what is happening in Palestine, how their land is being taken systematically year by year, how children, doctors and aid workers (who are clearly marked as such) are being shot and how their houses are routinely destroyed. Emily Thornberry said that every time she visited Palestine she found it worse than the time before. It was heartbreaking.
The next night I went to an event organised by the Holocaust Education Trust. Holocaust denial is just about the worst thing I can imagine, and the trust exists to educate, inform, and counter this abhorrent tendency. The main speaker here was an elderly woman, a survivor of the concentration camps. She was twelve when her family was taken; her parents were gassed and she was personally abused by Joseph Goebbels, along with a number of other girls. I cried so much I thought I would have to leave.
Afterwards I put these two events side by side in my mind and reflected on them. It is now official Labour Party policy to recognise the state of Palestine and to pursue a two-state solution to the problem. Whilst I think this is incredibly difficult, it seems to me the only way to proceed without denying either Israelis or Palestinians the right to exist in that place. But division breeds division. Israel/Palestine is divided. These divisions foster divisions in the world outside the Middle East, where countries are inclined to line up on one side or the other: Muslim countries tending to be pro-Palestine while Britain and the US are pro-Israeli. Recognising the state of Palestine will undoubtedly cast a Labour-governed Britain as ‘anti-Israeli’ but I believe it’s the right thing to do. The Palestinians (and others) were, after all, living there first.
The same thing is happening with Brexit. The Labour party has struggled towards a coherent position on the subject and in all fairness I don’t see how anyone can have a cut-and-dried policy on it at this stage of the game. But again we see that division breeds division: Brexit was divisive and continues to divide. It becomes ever harder to take an even-handed approach in a climate where any semblance of support for one side is seen as necessarily indicating hostility towards the other.
Had I been chosen to speak at the conference I was going to say this: that all lives matter. Not just Israeli lives, not just Palestinian lives, not just Brexiteers, not just Remainers, not just the rich, not just the poor, but all of us. That is what we have to be about, and I don’t just mean those on the Left but all of us. And yes, that includes the super-rich who live in a prison of their own making.