Boycotts fuel hatred, says Labour’s man in the Middle East

By Marcus Dysch, March 14, 2014
Ian Lucas

Ian Lucas

Boycotts of Israel “feed into an antisemitic feeling” and are counter-productive, according to Labour’s shadow Middle East Minister.

Ian Lucas said the party was “robust” on combating boycotters and suggested a visit to Auschwitz had strengthened his belief that the boycott movement was reminiscent of historical Jew-hatred.

“[Labour leader] Ed Miliband has been absolutely clear that he is against boycotts. I always counsel anybody against using the term. It feeds into an antisemitic feeling and obviously Jewish people are very conscious of history in this respect,” the Wrexham MP told the JC.

But Mr Lucas also said Labour was clear in its belief that products from Israel and from settlements in the West Bank should be more clearly labelled.

“It’s not to do with the boycott. It’s about informing people to make their own choice,” he said.

The shadow Middle East role involves the MP dealing regularly with Israel’s representatives in Britain, political groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, and NGOs including the OneVoice grass-roots movement.

Mr Lucas said Israeli and Palestinian groups must show “real pragmatism” to end the conflict.

“We have to constantly argue with both Israelis and Palestinians about the necessity of two states being viable and secure.

“The more settlements are extended and the more land that is taken on the West Bank, the less possible a two-state solution is going to be — because Palestine isn’t viable any more in those circumstances.”

He predicted a one-state solution would be a disaster for Israel.

“Palestine has to be a viable state on its own with sufficient land for it to function. We need to argue for that with Israelis, Palestinians and everyone else,” said Mr Lucas.

The 53-year-old former solicitor has worked to increase his understanding of British Jews’ relationship with Israel.

Last month he returned to Gateshead, his home town, to meet representatives of the strictly Orthodox community. He was shown around by local MP Ian Mearns, who is also vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews.

Mr Lucas said: “I’ve always been very aware of the Jewish community in Gateshead from being a child growing up there. It was always striking to see the men with their beards and black hats. When I got this job in 2011, I wanted to learn more about Israel and the Jewish experience in particular.”

During the visit, Mr Lucas met rabbis and a dozen members of the Charedi community to discuss health issues, changes to the benefits system, and kosher food provision in local hospitals.

Last updated: 9:49am, March 17 2014