UK Member of Parliament (MP) Andy McDonald launched legal proceedings on Friday against fellow MP Chris Clarkson over Clarkson’s “highly defamatory statement” about McDonald’s involvement in a pro-Palestine rally amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Clarkson claimed that McDonald’s comments at a pro-Palestine rally were an attempt to “justify the murderous actions of Hamas.” As a result of McDonald’s participation in the rally, he is currently suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party and sits in Parliament as an independent MP. An investigation into the matter is ongoing in Parliament.
Clarkson’s allegedly defamatory post on X includes a video of McDonald’s speech at the rally in which McDonald used the phrase “Between the River and the Sea.” Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously claimed the phrase to be antisemitic and asserted it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel. She claimed that “any attempts to pretend otherwise are disingenuous.” The phrase refers to the state of Israel, which lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea.
Clarkson’s X post continued, “‘Between the River and the Sea’ is a deeply sinister, antisemitic trope – seeing a Labour MP use it whilst seeking to justify the murderous actions of Hamas should be shocking. Sadly, it’s barely surprising.” Braverman also posted, “To hear [the phrase] shouted in public causes alarm not only to Jews but to all decent people. Those who promote hate on Britain’s streets should realise that our tolerance has limits.” A Labour Party spokesperson reflected on the situation, stating, “The comments made by Andy McDonald at the weekend were deeply offensive, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism which has left Jewish people fearful for their safety.”
In the legal proceedings launched Friday, McDonald said Clarkson’s post was “highly defamatory and caused serious harm to my reputation….Much of what I have said in the last few days about the recent events in Israel and Palestine have been deliberately distorted and misinterpreted.” He also noted that his full phrase at the rally was, “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.” He has sent a letter of claim for libel to Clarkson, in the first step of initiating proceedings.
McDonald’s statement also clarified that he was calling “for peace in the Israel-Gaza war and in particular for ‘an immediate comprehensively binding ceasefire.'” This plea is, in itself, not controversial in the UK, who have adopted a stance promoting a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict, instead of a ceasefire.
MP Paul Bristow was fired on Monday afternoon after breaking Conservative Party ranks by writing a letter on October 26 to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. In it, he claimed, “Ordinary Palestinians are not Hamas….They should not suffer collective punishment for the crimes of Hamas. We need a ceasefire.” A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said the decision to fire Bristow was due to “comments that were not consistent with the principles of collective responsibility.”
Labour peer Lord Mandelson has warned MPs of using language that “would be interpreted as calling into question the existence of Israel and the rights of Israelis to live in their country,” and commented on Friday that McDonald’s words “necessitates that person being put outside the tent, and that’s what [the party] has done.” McDonald responded by claiming Mandelson deliberately misinterpreted his statements.
Kate Dove, co-chair of the campaign group Momentum, has called McDonald’s suspension “an appalling and opportunistic attempt from the [party] to silence those speaking out in solidarity with Palestine.” The Labour Muslim Network also released a statement, calling the suspension “obscene and deeply offensive.” The statement went on to read:
The fundamental right to live in peace, with liberty and 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 and Muslim life as deserving of this fundamental principle.
Days after Hamas first attacked Israel and Israel declared war, Braverman ordered UK police to increase scrutiny on displays of Palestinian support. Underlying Braverman’s statement is the fact that Hamas is designated as a terrorist group in the UK, which makes it a criminal offense to show any support towards them.