Hostility revealed on the fringes of Labour event


Labour's new shadow cabinet avoided making any major policy announcements on Israel at the party's conference this week, but there were a series of hostile receptions and controversial comments around the fringes.

In his first conference speech as leader, Jeremy Corbyn did not refer to Israel or the Palestinians during a lengthy passage on the situation in Syria.

But his keynote address on Tuesday did include support for United States president Barack Obama's approach to Iran. He praised Mr Obama's "clever and difficult diplomacy" in concluding the nuclear deal with Tehran.

The previous day, his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn made only a short reference to Israel in his own speech.

Mr Benn said: "We must end the conflict in the Middle East, where it is now time for the Palestinian people to have their own state so that they and the people of Israel can live in peace."

One member cited the gas chambers in a speech on workers' rights

Away from the main speeches and television cameras, the approach was quite different. The tone for the fringe sessions was set even before conference began, at a meeting in Coventry last week, when former Labour MP and Trotskyist Dave Nellist referred to Labour Friends of Israel as "the enemy within".

The atmosphere at Brighton was similarly hostile. Shadow Equalities Minister Cat Smith, the Lancaster and Fleetwood MP who previously worked for Mr Corbyn, told the audience at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting that Britain should enforce an arms embargo on Israel.

She said: "The situation where we continue to supply Israel with arms and other security equipment… as though there was no occupation and no systematic abuse of human rights cannot be tolerated.

"There is now a compelling case for Britain to suspend this trade until Israel takes serious strides to ending the occupation and respecting the fundamental rights of those they rule over."

One of the key speakers at a Labour Friends of Palestine panel event on Monday was Husam Zomlot, a former Palestinian representative in Britain who has previously accused Israel of "fabricating the story of the Holocaust".

The academic, who was lauded by Labour MPs, appeared to compare the concept of a Jewish state to the arguments made by the Daesh terror group for an Islamic state.

In 2014 he claimed his remarks about the Shoah in a BBC interview had been taken out of context by an Israeli group in an attempt to label him as a Holocaust denier.

Mr Corbyn was mobbed when he spoke at a LFP reception on Monday evening. In comments similar to those he made on Tuesday at the Friends of Israel group event, he said he would not change his position on the Middle East following his election as party leader.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, used his conference appearance on Monday to equate the government's approach to industrial action with Nazi Germany. Speaking about Conservative plans for striking workers to wear armbands on picket lines, he said: "Remember that's what the Nazis did to trade unionists in the concentration camps at Dachau."

Party member Sioux Blair-Jordan told the conference that if David Cameron passed a Bill of Rights into legislation, "we might as well walk into the gas chamber today".

Conservative Justice Minister Dominic Raab said delegates had shown "extraordinarily bad taste" in applauding the remark and called on Mr Corbyn to apologise for embracing her at the end of the speech.

Speaking at a fringe session, Labour Knesset member Michal Biran warned that Mr Corbyn's leadership could be a "disaster" both for Britain's relationship with Israel and for his party.

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