David Cameron signalled the start of his campaign for support from the Jewish community ahead of May’s General Election as he accused Labour of showing its “true colours” on Israel over recent months, writes Justin Cohen.
His comments came during a wide-ranging address to Conservative Friends of Israel’s annual business lunch, during which he also reflected on his emotional visit to Auschwitz last week and set out his record in government.
Addressing an audience that included 150 parliamentarians and 15 cabinet members, he said Labour had “trampled on a long-term cross-party consensus” that recognition of Palestine would only come after a two-state solution.
He said: “Yet here was the Labour leader, on a vote put down by a couple of backbenchers, a vote he could so easily have avoided or walked away from, not just breaking that consensus but actively whipping his own colleagues to support the motion.
That is the Labour leader we are now faced with and he has to be defeated.” And he sought to draw clear blue water between his party and Miliband’s on the issue of boycotts.
While Labour’s leadership has consistently spoken out against boycotts, he referred to a recent motion proposed by Labour councillors in Leicester and said: “Unlike Labour, we in this party oppose boycotts.”
A spokesperson for Miliband described the remarks as “wrong, divisive and irresponsible”. He said: “Ed and the Labour Party have zero-tolerance of those who seek to delegitimise Israel and we continue to oppose boycotts.”
Cameron told the gathering at the Park Plaza Hotel in Westminster that settlements make the aim of reaching peace “less likely” but reiterated the country’s right to defend itself against attack. He hailed the country’s tech prowess and described it as an “oasis of freedom” which was all the more “extraordinary” as it is surrounded by “terrorists hell bent on doing it harm like those last month who brutally murdered four rabbis as they prayed”.
The Tory leader also reflected on his visit to Auschwitz days earlier and how it had strengthened his resolve to ensure the memory of the Shoah lives on. “It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, it’s only when you stand under that sign ‘Arbeit macht frei’, when you stand alongside those train tracks that brought millions to their death, when you see the children’s clothes, the hair, the ovens, it is only then that the horrific enormity of it all actually comes home to you,” he said.
“Why must we never forget? So it never happen again. And that brings us to Israel. One of the reasons the Holocaust was able to happen is because there was no Israel. And that is one reason – one mighty big reason – why this party will always stand behind that nation, the homeland of the Jewish people.”
The speech – which brought a standing ovation – also saw Cameron hail the achievements of Yavneh College and point to the areas where he said his party and the Jewish community had similar outlooks, including that “everyone should have the opportunity to get on”.
He outlined his government’s record on the economy, business and education but insisted he needed another term to continue the job. Next May’s poll, he said, was about whether voters wanted “a country that believes in opportunity – or sinks back to envy, a country that promotes responsibility and pays its debts, or opts for debt, taxes and chaos”.