EXCLUSIVE: Why my Labour party will always stand up for Israel, writes Keir Starmer

The Labour leader writes exclusively for the Jewish Chronicle on antisemitism, antizionism and BDS

November 17, 2021 17:49

On the day I became leader of the Labour party, my first act was to acknowledge and apologise for the pain and hurt we have caused to Jewish people in recent years.

I said I would tear the poison of antisemitism out by its roots and we have made real progress: introducing a new independent complaints process; proscribing groups which deny or excuse antisemitism; and, of course, welcoming Louise Ellman back to the Labour party.

Our work is by no means complete and we will not give up this fight against racism, bigotry, and hatred until it is finally won.

My resolve was hardened when David Baddiel recently gave me a copy of his brilliant book, “Jews Don’t Count”, which shows so clearly – just as the Royal Court theatre demonstrated last week – how racism against Jews is held to a different standard from other kinds of racism.

As this shameful chapter in our party’s history comes to a close, we will return to Labour’s heritage as an ally and a friend of the Jewish community of 100 years standing.

Many in the community have indeed seen our party as their home, seeing their values – the commitment to community, education, and social justice.

From our earliest days – even before the Balfour Declaration – Labour at its best has also been an ally and friend to the cause of Jewish self-determination. And Labour leaders – from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – have recognised Israel’s importance to the community here at home, celebrated its achievements and stood by it in moments of peril.

This was the tradition that animated the last Labour government’s relationship with Israel and the Jewish community.

I’m proud of this record and it is one a future Labour government will seek to emulate and enhance.

But for us to do so, we have to recognise that tackling antisemitism is not just a legal and institutional matter. It is also about cultural change: identifying, confronting, and rooting out the scourge of anti-Zionist antisemitism.

This ideology – which denies the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination, equates Zionism with racism, and seeks to paint the actions of Israel as akin to the crimes of those who sought to annihilate European Jewry – is the antithesis of the Labour tradition.

But – as the principles enunciated in its Declaration of Independence show – the State of Israel wasn’t just built as a response to those who committed mass murder in the bloodlands of Eastern Europe. It was built on a worldview that promotes the goals of universal freedom, justice, equality and peace.

Sometimes Israel falls short of those goals and we, in the British Labour Party, will always say when we believe there are wrongs or shortcomings.

But in Israel’s rumbustious democracy and its independent judiciary, its vibrant media and the rights won by the struggle of the women’s movement, the LGBT community, and religious and racial minorities – we see a path to peace and prosperity which is worthy of our admiration and support.

I am proud of the fact that, this year, we have re-established relations with our friends in the Israeli Labor party.

Thanks to Merav Michaeli’s inspiring leadership, Labor helped to bring the Netanyahu era to a close and is back in government.

I welcome the Israeli government’s efforts to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority and proposals to help tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and begin to rehabilitate its economy.

Israel’s most precious features are its Jewish and its democratic identities. To retain both, and to respect the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, we must have a two-state solution.

Our approach to this complex conflict will be guided by a simple principle: we are pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace.

Our allies will be all those – Israeli or Palestinian – who seek to further the cause of reconciliation, peace, and progress.

And – through our support for the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace – our goal will be to support the efforts of peacebuilders to overcome the challenges which face them and seize the opportunities they see before them.

We fully oppose and condemn illegal settlements, annexation and the eviction of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian territories. We believe that international law should be adhered to.

But I also want to be clear that Labour does not support BDS.

BDS would not only target the world’s sole Jewish state, but it is counterproductive: driving people apart when we should be bringing them together, weakening our ties and influence not strengthening them.

Under my leadership, Labour will stand shoulder to shoulder with peacemakers and progressives.

We’ll stand up against those who demonise and delegitimise Israel and its people.

And we’ll stand by our party’s long and historic commitment to the world’s only Jewish state.

November 17, 2021 17:49

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