Tory minister Sajid Javid and Labour’s Brexit chief Sir Keir Starmer have clashed on child refugees and boycotts of Israel at a feisty election hustings in London.
Starmer and Javid were debating issues affecting the Jewish community, in a panel convened by the Board of Deputies which included Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Sarah Ludford and Kirsten Oswald of the Scottish National Party.
The minister and shadow minister first clashed on a question about the Dubs Amendment, under which the government committed to taking 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees fleeing war in the Middle East, but under which only 350 children had been admitted.
The panel were asked whether the UK should not be admitting – and providing homes for – the full 3,000 children as promised, but while Javid said the Government had a good record on refugees, he did not commit to taking more than have currently been allowed in.
To widespread applause, Starmer said: “The answer is yes, and Sajid did not say yes, and that’s disgraceful. It’s disgraceful that we have a policy that says if you’ve arrived somehow in Europe, you don’t need our protection. That’s completely unacceptable.”
The pair also clashed on Israel, with Javid accusing Labour and party leader Jeremy Corbyn of supporting boycotts. When asked, Starmer said: “The Labour Party is against boycotts and I am against boycotts.” But Javid took issue with this, saying that when he introduced rules forbidding town halls from boycotting countries last year, Labour’s spokesman at the time said councils had the right to do so.
“Keir, I’m afraid it’s just not right to say that the Labour Party does not support boycotts of Israel – you are misleading these good people,” said Javid. “Jeremy Corbyn has said when asked about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and I quote, BDS is part and parcel of a process to be adopted.”
Javid added: “When he was asked about it again, [Corbyn] said, and I quote, I believe sanctions against Israel are an appropriate way of promoting the peace process. That’s Labour’s position, and if Labour were ever near power, they would boycott Israel.”
To widespread derision from the floor, Starmer said: “Labour party policy is absolutely clear, and we don’t help by this juvenile throwing around of phrases.”
Starmer was further harangued by audience members who described themselves as Labour supporters, including Simon Hochhauser, a former president of the United Hebrew Synagogue and current deputy for South Hampstead Synagogue.
He said Starmer was the only party representative who, in their introductory remarks, did not mention anti-Semitism, and asked: “How do you expect anybody in this room or in the wider Jewish community to vote for your party which, despite your rhetoric on zero tolerance, has shown itself to be totally tolerant of anti-Semites and anti-Semitic views?”
Starmer said: “I think it really important for my party to hear the words ‘zero tolerance.’ It pains me to think that in the last two years there is a discussion or association about my party and anti-Semitism.”
Hustings chair Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “There was a real buzz in the room as the event drew a big audience from across the UK and robust debate ensured candidates left with little doubt as to the commitment of the community to the main issues of the day.”
You can re-watch the hustings, which was live streamed by the Board of Deputies, here: