Jim Murphy: Labour still loves Israel

The Labour Party should resist pressure to embrace the boycott movement and should remain a staunch supporter of Israel under Ed Miliband's leadership, according to Labour's defence spokesman, Jim Murphy.

He said the party's decision to urge the government to vote for Palestinian statehood should not be seen as a betrayal of Israel, and warned that nothing would be solved by "a one-off symbolic vote at the United Nations".

Speaking to the JC on the eve of Labour's party conference, Mr Murphy condemned last week's decision by the TUC to review its relationship with the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut. "There are renewed efforts to demonise Israel - the vote at the TUC and the continuing efforts on campus, the endless attempts to launch boycotts of Israel. But the Labour Party is against boycotts and it's the right policy."

He added: "Some of these people are sincere… but for others it is gesture politics and the Labour Party should have nothing to do with it. The decision of the trade unions to boycott connections with Israel was a big step backwards."

‘The Labour Party is against boycotts — and it’s the right policy’

Mr Murphy, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel who boasts a large Jewish community in his East Renfrewshire constituency in Glasgow, has long nailed his colours to the mast. But this did not mean ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people, he said.

"The grinding poverty that families are living in - you can't have a sense of decency without having sympathy for that. But it doesn't mean that Labour is anything other than a staunch supporter of the state of Israel."

He understood that some in the UK Jewish community would view the statement from Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, urging the UK government to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN, as a betrayal. But he said this would be the wrong interpretation.

"I think what Douglas is saying is that this isn't going to be solved by a one-off symbolic vote at the United Nations. It will only be resolved by months of genuine negotiation."

Mr Murphy recently visited Israel as part of Labour's review of defence policy, which he launched this week, and believed there were lessons to be learnt in the UK. "There is exceptional best practice in the way in which academia is linked to high-tech engineering, part of which can be defence," he said.

Closer to home, he said he was deeply concerned by recent incidents of antisemitism in Scotland, including a Facebook page targeting Jewish residents of Giffnock in Renfrewshire and the racially aggravated attack on a Jewish student at St Andrews University.

Mr Murphy said the religious sectarianism of a minority of Catholics and Protestants in Scotland brought shame to the country, and should not be allowed to spread to other communities. "I take primary responsibility for making sure that this area, and the whole of Scotland, never allows the type of intolerance that occasionally poisons relations between a minority of Catholics and a minority of Protestants, to take root in an antagonism towards Jewish families."

    Last updated: 1:50pm, September 22 2011