New Bury South MP talks of 'massive learning curve' during CFI trip to Israel

Conservative MP Christian Wakeford said he was left inspired by visit to initiative involving Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem


The Conservative MP for Bury South has said his first ever visit to Israel was a “massive learning curve” and that a visit to a business initiative in Jerusalem aimed at empowering the lives of both Jews and Arabs left him inspired.

Christian Wakeford, who replaced former Labour minister Ivan Lewis as MP for the area at December’s general election, travelled to the Jewish state for the first time as a part of a delegation with the Conservative Friends of Israel.

The politician told the JC: “For me it was highly important that I actually went to Israel, to actually be able to say I have been to the Western Wall, to the Holy City and elsewhere — to places that a lot of my Jewish constituents hold very dear.”

In an exhaustive schedule the delegation visited Yad Vashem; Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance and medical emergency service; and met political experts at Hebrew University to learn about the electoral system.

Tel Aviv’s Start Up Nation, a thriving organisation connecting businesses with government, offered lessons on how such an initiative might be unveiled in the UK; while dinner with UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan saw the delegation discuss future trade deals and cooperation.

The MPs also held what Mr Wakeford said was “a depressing” meeting with PLO Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat in which he said the Palestinian official’s only real concession towards a peace settlement was recognition that Israel had a right to exist.

But providing a far more optimistic picture was the visit to Mati, a non-profit organisation at the Jerusalem Business Development Centre in East Jerusalem with Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan to social enterprise initiatives aiming to help both Charedi and Palestinian communities.

“There was this example of Israel Arabs and Palestinians being taught how to work with Israeli apps, with some of the mothers learning how to run nurseries and actually go out and earn a living,” said Mr Wakeford.

“It’s not just levelling up, it’s bringing up the entire communities. It is one of these occasions where it has taken time to build up trust – but now it seems to be going from strength to strength.”

Mr Wakeford said he “never listened to the left wing tropes” about Israel as an apartheid state, and was left equally enthralled by a visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah during this month’s trip. 

He met employees of Red Crow, a successful start-up company monitoring security data in the region. “It was clear that the people at Red Crow didn’t really want to discuss the political side of things,” said the MP.

“The Palestinian people at this new business, they had achieved everything without their political leadership, who are not representative of their own population.”

Mr Wakeford said he was left “deeply moved” by his visit to Yad Vashem, where the delegation laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

Looking ahead to his first term as an MP under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he said he wished to be “a champion” both to the local Jewish and wider community in Bury South.

“I want to protect religious freedoms, whether that’s through shechita or making sure that Jewish people can go about their normal, everyday lives.”

Mr Wakeford was also scathing of the claim that the current Tory government is hard right. “As Mayor of London Boris was actually incredibly liberal.

“Now we are trying to put more into education, health and policing  — to me this is not the sign of a government that is hard right.”

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