Ed Miliband meets Jewish leadership

By Martin Bright, February 4, 2011

Labour leader Ed Miliband has agreed to visit a Jewish school in the next few weeks as part of an attempt to build trust with the community. Mr Miliband made the pledge at dinner with the trustees of the Jewish Leadership Council, organised to mend fences and clarify the Labour Party's position on Israel.

The dinner for Mr Miliband, hosted by Sir Trevor Chinn, took place on January 12 at Dukes Hotel in St James's in central London and was described as "a very useful constructive dinner" by one Labour source.

The Labour leader was accompanied by his adviser Lucy Powell, who played an important role in brokering the meeting. Subjects discussed ranged from faith schools and antisemitism to care and welfare. Described as "a serious and positive meeting", sources said Mr Miliband expressed particular concern after he was briefed about the growth of campus extremism.

Eyebrows were raised during the new Labour leader's acceptance speech at the party's conference in October when he appeared to single out Israel for special criticism over the Gaza blockade and the boarding of the Turkish flotilla.

Observers were shocked that he made no reference to Hamas terrorism or the threat from Iran and appeared to be marking a shift from the positions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom had championed Israel's cause.

Reshuffle puts Israel friend on front bench

The first Jewish leader of the Labour Party later used an interview with the JC to acknowledge that he needed to work harder to win the trust of the community. "There is a task for me to get to know the Jewish community better as the leader of the Labour Party... and there's a task for the community to get to know me," he said. He also clarified his position on Hamas and condemned its rocket attacks on civilians.

Behind the scenes, his recently ennobled adviser Stewart Wood has worked hard to rebuild the relationship with the Jewish community. Lord Wood was a trusted figure in Downing Street under Gordon Brown and was always considered as a moderate voice on Middle East issues.

Plans within the Labour Party to consult the Jewish community were put on hold after the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. Yvette Cooper had planned a meeting with senior Jewish figures with knowledge of the Middle East before she was moved from foreign affairs to shadow home secretary. However, her husband Ed Balls's move to shadow chancellor puts a consistent friend of Israel in the second most senior post in the Labour front-bench team, behind Mr Miliband himself.

The office of Labour's new foreign affairs spokesman Douglas Alexander confirmed that there would be no change to the party's policy on the labelling of products from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

In December Yvette Cooper said Britain should put pressure on the EU to follow the lead of supermarkets which labelled food produced by West Bank settlers.

Although Labour remains opposed to any boycott of Israeli goods, Ms Cooper said she welcomed measures to make the origin of settler goods more transparent.

Last updated: 10:35am, February 4 2011