Steve McCabe

With Starmer, Labour can return to being a balanced voice on the Middle East

We should now help Sir Keir rebuild the party, says the chair of Labour Friends of Israel

April 07, 2020 17:27

The election of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader last weekend offers the opportunity to begin rebuilding the relationship between the party and the Jewish community.

As Sir Keir knows, repairing the damage wrought during the past five years is not something that can be achieved overnight. It will be a long process and it will require dedication, determination and focus. Crucially, it will be the Jewish community itself which judges whether we have matched words with action.

Sir Keir sent an important signal on Saturday by deciding that his first act as leader would be to write to the Board of Deputies and offer an unequivocal and heart-felt apology for the hurt, distress and anger which those antisemites hiding within the Labour Party have caused to so many of Britain’s Jews.

As the new Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I intend that we should do all that we can to assist Sir Keir in the vital work ahead. We will support him in his desire to swiftly implement the recommendations of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission following the investigation into antisemitism in the party.

We also accept that he cannot simply wait for that report and will therefore be at his side as he works to establish a fully independent complaints procedure and moves to purge antisemites from the party.

And we will work with Keir to ensure that those who have protected and excused antisemites are removed from positions of power and influence within our party.

Anti-Zionist antisemitism is at the heart of the crisis which has afflicted Labour over the past four years. Any strategy to truly rid the party of the stain of antisemitism must recognise that fact.

No Jewish member will feel comfortable sitting in local Labour party meetings while a small number of cranks and bigots loudly proclaim their views about Jews, Israel and Zionism at every opportunity. We must end this obsession with Israel which has been allowed to drive far too much of the discussion and promote too many ridiculous resolutions within the party from its grassroots to the floor of party conference.

I am also determined that – working with Sir Keir, Lisa Nandy and Labour’s new frontbench team – LFI should play its full part in the intellectual renewal of Labour’s foreign policy agenda.

We should recommit ourselves to the search for a two-state solution with security and recognition for Israel and an independent, viable and democratic Palestinian state. We should work to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians and vigorously oppose the divisive effort to demonise and delegitimise the Jewish state led by the BDS movement. And we should celebrate the burgeoning economic, cultural and security ties between Britain and Israel.

If we want to become a credible party of government once again, we must also begin to develop a progressive policy agenda for the wider Middle East. From the threat of Iranian expansionism to terrorism, the rights of women and minorities, and the new relationships being forged between Israel and many of the Gulf Arab states. We need to start thinking seriously again about the changes and challenges which will shape the region over the next decade.

As we look to the future in terms of Labour’s relationship with both the Jewish community and Israel, we should also remember the past. Ours is a party with a proud internationalist history. We were an early and consistent advocate of Zionism and Labour Prime Ministers such as Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were staunch allies of the world’s only Jewish state. Many British Jews saw Labour as their natural home.

Now is the time to return to this proud tradition.

Steve McCabe MP is Chair of LFI

April 07, 2020 17:27

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