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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Newcastle opposition leader complains about show of solidarity with Gaza

Anita Lower, leader of the Lib Dem opposition group on Newcastle Council, has attacked David Stockdale, a fellow councillor, for raising the Palestinian flag above Newcastle Civic Centre. The flag flew very briefly as a gesture of solidarity with those under attack in Gaza.

Lower boasted to local paper, the Chronicle, that she had made an official complaint to the council's legal department about the Labour councillor who has been active in recent protests against Israel's war on Gaza, demanding disciplinary action.

The raising of the flag was the symbolically powerful climax of a vigil and 'die-in' called by Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other local groups, to commemorate those killed in Gaza and to demand an end to the killing.

It was one of several protests in Newcastle, including a march and rally of around 1000 people on 26 July, calling for an end to Israel's assault on Gaza, which has resulted in around 2000 deaths, much higher numbers of wounded and displaced people, and the destruction of vital infrastructure.

The vigil and 'die-in' attracted around 100 people and took place on Tuesday 5 August. Lower has falsely claimed that it was on 4 August, the centenary of Britain entering World War One, and said that "the day on which it happened too was disrespectful.”

David Stockdale has said he stands by his action. He has pointed out that nobody has complained to him in person.

David Stockdale recently visited the occupied West Bank himself, together with other local councillors, and is returning there next month. He and other councillors are developing supportive practical links with Palestinians suffering in conditions of occupation, discrimination and violence.

The 'die-in' and the raising of the flag were a small, but symbolic, part of a proud Newcastle tradition of expressing opposition to injustices elsewhere in the world. Newcastle University was famously the only British university to honour Martin Luther King while the great civil rights leader was still alive. Newcastle Council gave Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city in 1986, when he was still in jail and Margaret Thatcher regarded him as a 'terrorist'.

David Faulkner, a Lib Dem councillor and former council leader, spoke at the vigil on 5 August himself. Like all the recent protests, it was entirely non-party political. It is deeply regrettable that the Lib Dem opposition leader should have associated her party with attacks on those who have stood in solidarity with Gaza and opposed Israel's war.

The Chronicle article comes just a few days after the same paper used its front page to smear Dipu Ahad, another councillor who has been active in the wave of local protests against Israel's war. The source of that story was local members of the hardline racist English Defence League members, who had attempted to whip up an online campaign against Dipu Ahad. The EDL had previously gathered at a vigil (on 13 August) where they shouted abuse at people reading aloud the names of children killed in Gaza.

It is to be hoped that Lib Dem councillors in Newcastle will distance themselves from their leader's attacks on councillors who show solidarity with Palestine and on the wider anti-war and solidarity movement.

UPDATE ON THURSDAY: The Chronicle has responded to complaints and agreed to publish a correction and apology on page 2 of tomorrow's edition, clarifying that the vigil was not on 4 August and did not coincide with the World War One centenary. I am not yet aware of any apology for this slander from Anita Lower or her party.

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