By Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North
There is a great deal of soul-searching taking place in the Labour Party following a heavy defeat that has left my party with an electoral mountain to climb during the next five years. Part of that soul-searching must include an honest reflection on how it was that the close ties between the Labour Party and the Jewish community were so badly damaged.
Andrew Dismore should have easily overturned a slender Conservative majority of 106 in his old Hendon constituency, but even his well-known record as a consistent and fearless campaigner against anti-Semitism and the delegitimisation of Israel could not overcome the drag of the national party and the Tories increased their majority to 3,724.
In Finchley and Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, one of Labour’s most impressive candidates at the election, managed to increase Labour’s share of the vote against a popular incumbent.
Under a different leader, she would have been a shoe-in and added considerable talent to the House of Commons.
Even in my own constituency, Ilford North, where we won against the odds by overturning a Conservative majority of 5,404, I lost count of the number of Jewish voters who told me they couldn’t vote Labour this time. Many of them abstained or voted for the Conservatives for the first time in their lives.
Last week’s hustings for the Jewish community has given me confidence that the next Labour leader will address the fraught relationship between our party and the Jewish community that cost Labour a number of seats at the general election.
Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham all, in their own ways, expressed the exasperation that many of us felt before 7 May as Jewish voters turned their backs on the party they felt had abandoned them. The far-Left candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, is gaining much attention after securing more nominations from constituency Labour parties than had been predicted, but he is unlikely to emerge victorious in the final ballot.
This is just as well, given his remarkably one-sided and one-dimensional views on one of the most intractable conflicts and some of the unpalatable company he has kept during his long career in Parliament.
The next Labour leader faces the important task of building bridges with the Jewish community. Kendall, Cooper and Burnham have all pledged to oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and have criticised the clumsy handling of the vote in Parliament on the UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
There will inevitably be some disagreement with the policies of the Israeli government, particularly given its rightward shift since the Israeli general election. During my own election campaign, I was told by some voters that I couldn’t be a true friend of Israel because I oppose settlement expansion and believe a change of policy is needed in Gaza – positions shared by, among others, Tony Blair, who is hardly a fair-weather friend of Israel.
I am hardly a shrinking violet either: I led opposition to BDS during my tenure as president of the National Union of Students and condemned without equivocation of acts of terrorism and violence committed against Israeli civilians.
Such disagreements are reflected in Israel’s vibrant and volatile political life and it is therefore unsurprising that those of us who are Labour friends of Israel are critical of a right-wing government opposed by our sister party and its allies in Israel. But when it comes to defending Israel’s security and right to exist, the Labour Party should always be consistent and uncompromising.
There are many other issues closer to home that we need to address. In October, John Mann and I are leading a parliamentary delegation to France to look at rising anti-Semitism and what lessons we can learn in the UK, where anti-Semitism is on the rise. The Board of Deputies continues to champion religious freedom – whether through education, religious slaughter or burial – and should have our full support. There is also much to celebrate as the Jewish community continues to make an enormous contribution to our political, cultural and economic life in the UK.
Following the summer, I will be visiting Jewish schools, shuls and community centres in my constituency and, on 15 October, will be holding a Q&A with the London Jewish Forum at Sinclair House.
I want Jewish people in my constituency to feel they can trust in the Labour Party again. Following the election of a new leader, I am confident they will.