Report by Justin Cohen – In Manchester for the annual Conservative Party conference
Phillip Hammond has mocked Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to mention Israel by name in a speech to Labour Friends of Israel.
The foreign secretary’s comments came during an address at the Conservative Party Conference, as party chairman Lord Feldman suggested the “consensus” between the major political parties on Israel “seems to be breaking down”.
A week after the new Labour leader was heckled over his omission by a major party donor, Hammond told a packed Conservative Friends of Israel reception: “I’ve read the reports of Mr Corbyn’s attendance at the LFI meeting last week and I just want to say one word – Israel. There you go, I said it and it didn’t hurt. I’ll say it again – Israel.”
In a further jibe at Corbyn’s record, he added: “I can make you a couple promises – Mr Corbyn can’t. I can promise you I will never share a platform with Hezbollah. I can promise you I will never describe anyone that launches indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian areas as my friend.”
He acknowledged that he and Benjamin Netanyahu don’t see “eye to eye” over the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran but maintained it was in Israel’s best interests.
“I’m confident we have averted the disaster of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the ayatollahs,” he told the 500-strong gathering in Manchester. “If we play this right and carefully I hope we’ll see the moderates in the Iranian regime winning ground and benefiting from this change at the expense of the extremists and hardliners.”
He vowed to stand behind israel again if she is forced to defend herself against attacks as happened last summer, and acknowledged there won’t be progress towards peace with the Palestinians for next few months “for all sorts of reasons”. But Without explicitly mentioning settlements, he added: “I need both sides to preserve that possibility (of a two-state solution) – we do not allow the facts on the ground to eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution.”
The foreign secretary also addressed the proposed action announced this week to stop local authority boycotts of goods. “Under a conservative government our foreign policy will be made in the foreign offices not in hundreds of labour controlled town halls,” he said.
Addressing the event also attended by cabinet ministers Sajid Javid, Theresa Villiers and Robert Halfon as well as mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith, Lord Feldman said: “It’s fabulous to see the depth and strength of the Conservative party’s support for Israel. It’s even more important given the consensus across the main parties, which has existed for as long as I can remember, seems to be breaking down. We can no longer take it for granted that all the major political parties are supporters of Israel.
“So the Conservative party has to be more ardent and stronger in its support than ever.”
Tributes were also paid to outgoing CFI director Stuart Polak during the event which Sir Eric Pickles, CFI’s parliamentary chair, ensured was held in a party atmosphere.
Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb described Polak as a “force of nature” before describing how a visit
to israel with CFI “opened my eyes to the challenges Israel faces on a daily basis in terms of security but also in terms of the enormous economic opportunities that exist between Israel and the UK”.
Eitan Na’eh, charge d’affaires at the Israeli Embassy, hailed the move to outlaw boycotts, saying: “I think that will increase Israeli confidence in the international community. It will promote moderation.”
He also announced plans being explored to send a 300-strong delegation of Conservative Young Future members to Israel.
CFI chair Andrew Heller praised Sir Eric’s impact since taking on his role with the organisation.