McDonald was suspended from Labour for saying: "We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty."
Left wing MP Andy McDonald had the Labour whip suspended last night following a speech he made at a Palestine solidarity rally over the weekend. McDonald will sit in parliament as an independent pending an investigation.
At the demonstration on Saturday, McDonald said: “We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.”
His comments were a reformulation of a phrase and chant used in pro-Palestine circles – ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. That phrase has been heavily discussed in the media in recent weeks, with some claiming that it calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. However, Palestine solidarity campaigners argue that the phrase simply calls for the end of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (which sits next to the river Jordan), and Gaza (which borders the Mediterranean Sea).
A Labour spokesperson said McDonald’s comments: “were deeply offensive, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism which has left Jewish people fearful for their safety”.
Following his suspension, McDonald said: “I am saddened to have received the news from the opposition chief whip that I have been placed under “precautionary suspension” for a period of three months, which is reviewable pending an investigation by the Labour Party.” He continued by adding: “Throughout the past two days, there have been a number of misrepresentations of my words in the media.”
Commenting on the remarks he made in the speech on Saturday, he said his words “should not be construed in any other way than they were intended, namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to the killings in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence.”
McDonald’s suspension has been met with fury from figures on the Labour left.
The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded the suspension “absolutely nonsensical”. He said: “With Andy McDonald when he spoke on demo. These are his words exactly “We wont rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty.” He turned a slogan some are concerned about into a peace plea.
“Now he has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. This isn’t just unjust it is absolutely nonsensical. It was a brilliant way of turning something that some misinterpreted as a negative into a positive contribution.”
Labour MP Beth Winter called for McDonald to have the whip reinstated. She tweeted: “My colleague @AndyMcDonaldMP is one of the most principled, caring & compassionate MPs that I know. He has consistently called for a ceasefire and a just and peaceful solution for Palestinians and Israelis. The decision to suspend him is so wrong. I call on the Labour leadership to reinstate him immediately.”
Kate Dove, co-chair of Labour’s left wing faction Momentum accused the Labour leader Keir Starmer of seeking to ‘silence those speaking out in solidarity with Palestine. She said: “This is an appalling and opportunistic attempt from the Starmer Leadership to silence those speaking out in solidarity with Palestine. It is an insult to the millions of voters who share Andy’s hopes for a peaceful and just settlement in Israel and Palestine.
“Like Andy, the British public look on with horror at the war crimes perpetrated by Israel in Gaza, and the ongoing killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians. But instead of siding with the rest of the Labour Party and the public in condemning these crimes, Keir Starmer has joined in with disingenuous smears put out by the right-wing press, which deliberately misrepresent Andy’s call for peace. We urge every voice in the labour movement to speak up in one voice and tell Keir Starmer: reinstate Andy McDonald without delay, stop backing war crimes and demand an immediate ceasefire.”
Meanwhile, the Labour Muslim Network branded McDonald’s suspension “obscene” and “deeply offensive”. The group tweeted: “The suspension of the Labour whip to Andy McDonald MP today is both obscene & deeply offensive.
“The fundamental right to live in peace, with liberty & self determination is one which should be applied to all peoples.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that those who have made this decision do not see Palestinian & Muslim life as deserving of this fundamental principle.”
Andy McDonald was first elected to parliament in a by-election in 2012. He served as shadow transport secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, and also sat in Starmer’s shadow cabinet for over year. In September 2021, McDonald resigned from the shadow cabinet after being asked to argue against introducing a £15 an hour minimum wage at the Labour Party’s conference. He is a member of the left wing Socialist Campaign Group in parliament.
Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward