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Sinn Fein to Defy UK Ban on Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and Attack Labour’s ‘do Nothing Position in the Face of Genocide’

Declan Kearney attended the first Global Anti-Apartheid conference on Palestine in South Africa last weekend

Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney spoke at the Global Anti-Apartheid conference on Palestine in South Africa last weekend. Photo: Alaister Russell

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Sinn Fein has committed to supporting the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel no matter what sanctions the UK Government will impose on public bodies that do.

At the first Global Anti-Apartheid conference on Palestine last weekend, Sinn Fein’s party’s chair and Member of Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly (MLA) for South Antrim, Declan Kearney dismissed the potential UK law and its consequences for Northern Ireland, saying: “Simply because legislation exists doesn’t make it good, ethical law and legislation.”

“Our position is absolute, the use of BDS is an entirely acceptable and proportional action to be taken until there’s a full ceasefire and the apartheid system and occupation of the Palestinian people is ended,” he said, adding: “Sinn Fein will continue to do that.”

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill introduced last year by Minister of Levelling Up Michael Gove explicitly bans UK public bodies such as councils and the Northern Ireland Assembly from boycotting Israel with public funds, with those who break the rule facing significant fines. It is currently working its way through parliament and had its third reading in January.

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The Department of Levelling Up said the bill will also apply to individuals acting on behalf of a public authority, such as the Northern Ireland Executive, though not individual MLAs. Kearney is not a member of the executive but as party chair speaks for Sinn Fein, which has four of the ten executive ministerial positions, including finance and economy as well as First Minister, Michelle O’Neill. It is also the largest party in six of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils, with an outright majority in one. 

The conference, which was also billed as working ‘Towards a global movement to dismantle Israeli’s settler colonialism and apartheid’, was attended by South Africa former President and Nelson Mandela’s successor Thabo Mbeki.

During the conference, in Johannesburg, various speakers from South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle spoke out against what they called the misrepresentation and undermining of Mandela’s support with violence, as shadow foreign Secretary David Lammy did last week. The conference applauded when reminded that Mandela founded uMkhonto We Sizwe (MK) the armed wing of the ANC’s anti-apartheid resistance. 

Kearney called Lammy’s misrepresentation of Mandela a “hallmark of politicians who want to adopt the position of doing nothing even in the face of the genocide which is being inflicted upon the Palestinian people”.

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Last week the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion to condemn “the ongoing genocide in Gaza“. Voting split along unionist and nationalist lines and was passed 44 to 26 and Kearney argued again this and Sinn Fein introducing a bill to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 shows the country’s moral righteousness on the subject.

“If you look at the current state of play, Ireland and Irish popular opinion has been on the right side of this issue by contrast with the stance by the British Conservative government,” he said.

Comparisons between Palestine and South Africa’s struggle were plentiful throughout the conference, with Kearney drawing extra comparison between the two and Ireland as all subject to, and the result of British imperialism, be it the 1917 Balfour Declaration in Palestine, Lloyd George’s partition of Ireland in 1921 or the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. 

He claimed that now “Palestine is the existential moral challenge facing the international community at this time”.

“Regrettably there has not been the same international momentum, [as there was with South African anti-apartheid activism in the 1980s] to date, around the Palestinian struggle but we’ve not moved through a watershed and it screams at the international community for action,” Kearney argued.

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That there has yet to be an international boycott movement on a par with what happened to South Africa Kearney attributes to “huge levels of disinformation, designed to obscure the ability of ordinary citizens from recognising precisely what is happening”. He argues this is because “the West has deeply implicated itself in the Zionist settler colonial project, the apartheid and the occupation of Palestine” and hopes the conference will be the “catalyst for developing precisely the global anti-apartheid campaign which was built and sustained in support of the South African struggle”.

The UK government did not respond to a request for comment on a UK politician – though Kearney sees himself as an Irish politician in an illegitimate part of the UK – participating in a conference calling to boycott, isolate and ultimately dismantle Israel in its current state. And one that also included calls for violence.

Speaker after speaker at the conference outlined how they either supported the armed Palestinian resistance taking up arms if that’s what it chooses – often to rapturous applause – or told those gathered that it is not their place to police how Palestinians choose to wage their struggle.

In Kearney’s address he claimed “the historic changes achieved in South Africa and Ireland emerged from the changed context created by revolutionary armed struggle, which then gave way to negotiations, and negotiated settlements”. The seemingly supportive statement for Palestinian armed struggle flies against the UK’s current position on the conflict in Palestine and Israel.

Although there were many calls for international solidarity, there were also condemnations of Western nations with Namibia’s Minister of Justice, Yvonne Dausab, accusing Germany of “committing its third genocide with its complicity of Israel’s actions in Palestine”. This, she argued, followed the holocaust and the genocide against the Namib and Herero people at the start of the 20th Century in the then German colony of South West Africa, today Namibia.

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On Saturday, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor gave the opening remarks to the conference, saying: “We support all calls for action against settler Israel’s settler colonial apartheid regime.” She added and that we are currently “witnessing Nakba two,” in reference to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for the creation of Israel.

Basem Naim, Hamas’s Head of the Council on International Relations, showed up on the second day of the conference, but was not there in any official capacity and an event organiser told Byline Times he wasn’t supposed to have been invited.

The conference brought together international figureheads, human rights activists and politicians, such as Palestinian political leader Mustapha Barghouti, former Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu and Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation who requested the ICC to investigate crimes of genocide committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.


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