'Serious concerns' about Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband’s stance on Israel is sparking widespread worry. So does he have a message for the Jewish community?

By Marcus Dysch, October 7, 2010
Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose views on Israel have raised concern

Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose views on Israel have raised concern

The election of new Labour leader Ed Miliband has caused serious consternation among leading members of the Jewish community and supporters of Israel.

They fear his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his main conference address and fringe event appearances presage a "new reality" in Labour's relations with the Jewish state.

Mr Miliband has rejected the chance to allay those concerns, with a party spokesman this week saying the new leader would not answer questions about his comments on Israel, his approach to foreign policy, or his plans to meet community leaders.

During his conference address in Manchester last week, the 40-year-old told delegates they must "strain every sinew" to make Israel end the naval blockade of Gaza and said "the attack on the Gaza flotilla was so wrong".

Jewish Labour supporters believe they must come to terms with Mr Miliband taking a different approach from that of staunchly pro-Israel former leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Our questions

● Where do you stand on Israel?
● Why haven't you mentioned Hamas?
● When will you meet Jewish leaders?

Senior figures within the Labour Friends of Israel group admitted to "serious concerns" about his election as leader. One LFI member said: "We have got Ed whether we like it or not."

Mr Miliband received a polite welcome when he spoke to around 600 people attending the LFI fringe event in Manchester.

At the earlier Labour Friends of Palestine reception, he shared a stage with former MP and outgoing LFP chair Martin Linton, who earlier this year warned that Israeli "tentacles" would influence May's election.

That event was sponsored by the Friends of Al Aqsa group, whose chairman, Ismail Patel, travelled on the Mavi Marmara ship involved in May's Gaza flotilla incident. One senior LFI member said: "We are going to have to work with Ed and build a relationship with him. It's going to be a challenging few years because we do not have a Labour leader who is pro-Israel in the way we had before.

"He's just not engaged on foreign policy. He's had no engagement with the Jewish community or LFI before."

Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said: "It was very disappointing that his conference speech criticised Israel without mentioning Hamas rocket attacks on civilians. It's important for Ed to show he is even-handed on the Middle East and the first things he must do are support the universal jurisdiction legislation, show he is opposed to boycotts and support a negotiated peace agreement."

At the Israeli Embassy in London, staff were said to be giving Mr Miliband "the benefit of the doubt" and adopting a "wait and see" policy.

But one Israeli official said his comments since becoming leader had been "unpleasant" and "worse than naïve", and suggested that Mr Miliband had been "influenced" by his mother, Marion Kozak, who is a long-standing supporter of organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies senior vice-president, who attended the Labour conference, said he was concerned by Mr Miliband's remarks.

"His speech singled out Israel for criticism and lacked balance in relation to the Middle East," Mr Arkush said. "I felt that the conference was an uncomfortable place for any supporter of Israel."

LFI director Jennifer Gerber said: "We were pleased to welcome Ed Miliband to our reception. He spoke of the need to unequivocally oppose those who question the right of Israel to exist, and the importance of working towards a two-state solution."

Inverclyde MP David Cairns, a former Catholic priest, was installed as the new LFI chairman. He previously held the role in 2004.

Last updated: 5:17pm, October 7 2010