By Jennifer Gerber
Hendon was the number three seat on Labour’s target list going into last week’s general election. But, despite needing a swing of only 0.2 per cent, Andrew Dismore, the unimpeachably pro-Israel former Labour MP who represented the seat prior to 2010, was defeated. A similar sad story was repeated elsewhere, including Finchley and Golders Green and Harrow East – seats that voted Labour during the Blair years but stayed solidly blue on polling day.
Like the rest of the electorate, Britain’s Jews will have had a range of reasons for voting as they did last Thursday.
Nonetheless, it’s now beyond question that, as a poll showing 69 per cent of Jews intended to vote Tory warned last month, something has gone wrong with Labour’s once-warm relationship with the community.
At root, many believe this reflects a carelessness shown by Labour’s leadership towards Jewish concerns and sensitivities over the past five years.
For many, this was dramatised by the one-sided rhetoric the party’s frontbench deployed during last summer’s Gaza war.
The lack of empathy with the fears of ordinary Israelis as their homes were under attack and the seeming rejection of Israel’s right to defend itself represented an abandonment of the approach adopted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
That approach didn’t shy away from tackling Israeli governments when they were in the wrong, but it did recognise the complexities and difficulties faced by Israel.
Labour’s error last August was compounded by its decision to whip its MPs to support the motion calling for Britain to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state.
The result: too many normally loyal Jewish Labour voters felt torn between their support for their party and their support for Israel. It is a choice we should never force people to make again.
Of course, Jewish voters do not vote only, or even mainly, on the parties’ attitudes towards Israel – and nor should they. But speaking to Jewish voters, I have been struck by the extent to which Labour’s position on the Middle East was used as a proxy measure of leadership capability and credibility to govern.
This lack of faith in a potential Labour Government was then compounded by the party’s failure, over several months, to condemn the wave of anti-Semitic attacks which hit the community last summer.
It is time now for Labour to reflect and reach out.
On Israel, we have to couple our support for a two-state solution with a recognition that all sides – not just Israel – are going to have to make concessions to realise it.
Yes, that means pressure on Israel, but also holding the PA to account: to stop incitement, and, above all, make crystal clear it accepts Israel’s right to exist.
As LFI have been doing, it also means warning of the danger of Hamas rearmament and showing concern for the human rights of Palestinians forced to live under its rule.
Labour also needs to match words with deeds.
There have to be consequences for those frontbenchers and parliamentarians who – contrary to party policy – advocate BDS or use language which serves to delegitimise Israel.
Rebuilding trust won’t be easy, but at LFI we’re determined to lead the way and have many supporters in parliament and the wider Labour Party who are proud to make the case for Israel, for a two state solution, and for peace, in the months and years ahead.