‘I’m proud to be a Labour Friend of Israel’, says Rachel Reeves

In an exclusive interview with the JC, the shadow chancellor also defends her record of fighting antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership


The far right’s success in the recent Israeli elections will not stop a future Labour government forging a strong relationship with the Jewish state, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has told the JC.

Speaking in an exclusive interview this week, after she gave the keynote speech at the annual Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lunch in Westminster, she pointed out that Britain had good relations with many countries where politicians whose views some found obnoxious had attracted support.

She added that she totally rejected the claim that Israel had become an “apartheid” state.

Ms Reeves repeated a pledge in her speech to “stand by” Israel’s Labour Party, which was all but destroyed at the polls this month, winning just four seats.

Also speaking at the lunch, its leader, Merav Michaeli, said Labour would open a new era of cooperation between Israel and Britain over new technology.

Ms Reeves told the JC that despite the election of 14 Knesset members from the religious Zionist alliance led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir and their likely inclusion in the next Israeli government, “the relationship goes beyond the Labour Party and the Israeli government of the day.

"There are plenty of parties around the world that I wouldn’t have voted for, including the Republicans led by Donald Trump who was voted President of the US.

“But I still regard the US as a friend and ally and a great country. You’ve got to look beyond the people that have been elected.

"We know what it’s like to be defeated and crushed and we are working our way back, and I know Israeli Labour and Meretz [the other main left-wing party in Israel] will as well.”

Ms Reeves said she believed that political criticism of Israel was stronger than that directed towards other countries because of antisemitism.

“There are issues of antisemitism around the world and there are in British politics,” she said.

“We can’t single out Israel so that they’re somehow seen as unique. They’ve got elections and the rule of law and I look to Israel as a beacon of hope in the Middle East.”

Defending her personal record in fighting the antisemitism that swept Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, she pointed out that she was the first to resign from his shadow cabinet soon after he was chosen party leader in 2015.

The hatred and abuse directed at Jewish Labour MPs in the following years had left her “disgusted and dismayed”, she added.

The shadow chancellor told the JC how she had supported Jewish MPs who had been hounded out of the party, such as Luciana Berger. “Luciana and I entered Parliament together in 2010,” she said.

“We were friends before we became MPs, we were at each other’s weddings. We’re close friends and we continue to be. It was incredibly difficult for me when Luciana left the party.”

She insisted that under Sir Keir Starmer, the party had made great progress in fulfilling the promise he made on his first day as leader to “tear out antisemitism by its roots”.

Ms Reeves said: “We’ve got an independent complaints procedure, we’ve massively tightened up parliamentary selection.

"I’m sure there is more that can be done, but we’ve come an awfully long way in vetting and taking immediate action against people when these accusations are made.”

She said that Labour's Industrial Strategy Council would look at details of how Britain could learn from and work with Israel. Next month, economist Lord O’Neil will unveil a new Labour Start-Up Review.

Ms Reeves cited a comment by the late Israeli leader Shimon Peres: “Our greatest asset is our minds.” She added: “Israel’s success speaks for itself. Last time I went there, I saw some fantastic stuff they were doing with batteries for electric vehicles, well ahead of anything else that’s happening anywhere.

"I’ve always been really impressed by the innovation that’s happening, the entrepeneurship, the focus on new technology, in Israel. I think there’s an awful lot we can learn from that.”

In fields such as artificial intelligence and green energy, she said, “some countries are going to lead the global race. Israel is doing really well in these areas and I want us to learn from their success.”

Ms Reeves’s speech at the lunch earned her a standing ovation. She said Labour would never tolerate the downplaying of antisemitism, “which is why Jeremy Corbyn is not in the parliamentary party”.

Jew-hate, she told an audience that included 70 MPs and peers and leading shadow cabinet members such as David Lammy, Yvette Cooper and Lisa Nandy, “has no place in a party that holds equality as its highest value”.

She ended the speech with a ringing affirmation: “I am proud to be a friend of Israel. I am proud to be a Labour Friend of Israel.”

In her speech, Israeli Labour leader Ms Michaeli thanked Sir Keir for “restoring the precious relationship between our two parties” and “leading the fight against antisemitism”.

She said that both Labour and the Israeli public needed that solidarity, having lost the election.

The LFI chair Steve McCabe MP referred to the recent JC investigation into corruption and human rights abuse by the Palestinian Authority.

He said that LFI remained committed to a two-state solution but that for this to be achieved, it was vital that the PA undergo “reform and democratisation”.

READ MORE: Rachel Reeves: Labour Party won't tolerate Corbyn 'downplaying antisemitism'

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive