Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has moved to reassure supporters of Israel of the government’s “unshakeable commitment" to the country.
Speaking in front of a packed audience at the Conservative Friends of Israel event at the Tories’ annual conference, Mr Hammond began his address by making light of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to refer to Israel by name at a similar event last week.
They cheered as Mr Hammond began by stating: “I’ve read the reports of Mr Corbyn’s attendance at the Labour Friends of Israel meeting at Labour conference and I just want to say one word to you: Israel. I’ll say it again: Israel.”
More than 500 people attended the CFI event in Manchester on Tuesday evening.
Among the ministers and party grandees at the reception were Business Secretary Sajid Javid, Wales Secretary Stephen Crabb, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, party chairman Lord Feldman and his deputy, Robert Halfon MP.
The Tories’ London Mayor candidate Zac Goldsmith was also cheered when he was introduced to the crowd.
Mr Hammond said: “I can make you a couple of promises and Mr Corbyn can’t. I can promise you that I will never share a platform with Hezbollah. I can promise you that I will never describe anybody who launches indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian populations as my friends.”
He reiterated the party’s support for Israel, explaining: “During the Gaza conflict last summer, the Prime Minister, I, and the Chancellor made a clear decision that we would stand behind Israel and defend what Israel was doing.
“We took a bit of flack for it and we are proud of that, and we will stand behind Israel again when it is defending its right to exist and its right to defend itself against attacks”.
The Foreign Secretary repeated the government’s opposition to boycotts of Israel and said local authorities would not be allowed to introduce “politically-motivated disinvestment campaigns”.
Opening the reception, Mr Crabb described a visit he had made to Israel with CFI in 2007. It had “really opened my eyes to the challenges Israel faces on a day-to-day basis in terms of security but also in terms of the enormous economic opportunities that exist for the relationship between Israel and the UK”.
CFI chairman Sir Eric Pickles spoke about the terror attacks in Israel in the past week.
“We’ve seen parents mown down in the streets of Jerusalem in front of their children,” he said. “It’s a shocking thing to do. Where we’ve heard Mr Abbas refer to Jews in Jerusalem as being sacrilege and having their dirty feet on the ground – this is an outrage.”