Ed Balls was quizzed by JN readers this week on Israel, anti-Semitism, school security and how Luciana Berger is destined for high office
Ed Balls has insisted he would not want to be part of the Labour Party if it was not “absolutely unequivocal” in its support of Israel and described MP Luciana Berger as “definitely cabinet material” during a wide-ranging Jewish News question and answer session, writes Justin Cohen..
The shadow chancellor was quizzed on topics including security for schools, Holocaust education and the mansion tax during at the event, chaired by Sky News journalist Samantha Simmonds at JW3 on Tuesday.
After one audience member claimed the party had taken steps regarding Israel over the summer which caused British Jews to feel more isolated, Balls said: “Israel is the only democracy of the Middle East and that is something to be proud of and to nurture and to support. “I am a member of a party which has always supported the right of the state of Israel to exist and flourish. We have always supported and will always support the actions which are needed to deliver a two-state solution and we will act decisively and aggressively any time there is any sign of anti-Semitism in our country – whether it is happening in schools or outside synagogues or universities campuses.”
Balls was among a number of senior figures within the senior Labour team that stayed away from a debate and vote on recognition of Palestine last year, despite official backing for the motion from the party.
Although he was not quizzed in detail on that vote as questions focused on domestic issues, the man hoping to enter 11 Downing Street next month told the audience: “If a Labour government were not absolutely unequivocal of its support for the state of Israel, tackling anti- Semitism and delivery of a two-state solution, I would not want to be part of it.”
He added: “I saw Prime Minister Netanyahu in the run-up to the Israeli elections coming out against a two-state solution and stigmatising Arab Israelis. I respect his right as a democratic politician to say these things but I profoundly disagree with him. “There are some people in my party who do not take a balanced view of Israel; I respect their views but profoundly disagree with them. My party is pro-Israel. “The leadership of the Labour Party is unequivocal in its commitment to support the right of Israel to exist and to tackling anti-Semitism and that is why I am proud to be part of that party.”
Balls reassured a schoolchild in the audience that Labour would continue to go the “extra mile” in providing funding for security at Jewish schools and spoke of the “great honour” of being part of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission which recommended a new memorial and learning centre. “The important thing about the Holocaust Commission was it was absolutely cross-party commitment,” he said during the event, which was partnered by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council. “This is as important and as live a subject, a challenge and a moral imperative to today’s 15, 16 and 17- year-olds as it was to my generation and to the generation before.”
Hailing the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, he said: “One of the lessons I learned from working with the HET and the Commission is that there is no doubt the immediacy of testimony is powerful for this generation of young people and we need to find a way we keep that powerful immediacy for the next generation as well.”
He defended Labour’s must-discussed mug promoting controls on immigration in the face of criticism from a Labour Party member, describing his party’s approach as “the pragmatic social justice approach to making sure that immigration works for all”. He said: “The NHS would fall over without people who come here from around the world to work, many of the great ideas, engineers and surgeons and very many hard working people in my constituency have come here as first or second-generation immigrants. “So I will defend immigration to the hilt. What I will not do is defend it happening in an uncontrolled, random or unfair way.” Turning to the mansion tax, he acknowledged that some voters with properties worth more than £2million may desert Labour at the election, but argued those with such properties were “substantially under-taxed at the moment”.
On distrust in politicians, he claimed this had been exacerbated by the consequences of coalition Government. It’s partly because of the global financial crisis, partly because of the expenses scandal, but trust in politics has fallen all over the world,” he said. “It’s also because we had a coalition, and coalitions don’t go too well with trust. Nick Clegg fought the election on promises not to raise tuition fees or VAT, and ended up doing just that, so these compromises can erode trust. “But there are lots of other things we need to do too, such as clear up second earnings, clean up lobbying, but also be careful to keep politicians’ promises.”
Ahead of a possible Labour-led administration, Balls said Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree Luciana Berger, who is the current shadow public health minister, is “absolutely cabinet material”, should the party win power.