Shadow cabinet minister Ivan Lewis was critical of a minority in the Jewish community, whilst speaking at a well-attended session on the Labour Party and Israel at Sunday’s We Believe in Israel conference.
Sitting with MP Dame Anne McGuire, former MP for Hendon Andrew Dismore, and the director of Labour Friends of Israel Jennifer Gerber, Mr Lewis gave a robust response to those who made Islamophobic remarks.
He said: “I find it incredible that the Jewish community can have double standards on this matter. If we are out there fighting anti-Semitism and asking for zero tolerance on it, then if even a small minority engages in Islamophobia, we lose moral authority and legitimacy and we cannot have double standards. I think we have a disturbing amount of anti-Muslim elements in our community, and if the Jewish community doesn’t call people out on what is frankly racism, then it is shameful.”
Mr Lewis also challenged those who attacked Labour leader Ed Miliband over his position on Israel.
“The Labour leadership is now prepared to make public criticism of Israel,” he said, “but the idea that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not critical is simply untrue”.
Mr Lewis, whose constituency of Bury South is one of the country’s marginal seats, also said that there were Labour MPs whose attitude towards Israel was critical but fair. “But we are trying to bring those people back to us in Parliament, and if they are being demonised [by the Jewish community], how does that help us?”
Calling Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election comments on Arab voters “unacceptable”, Mr Lewis added: “We have to say to our friends in Israel that they have to understand the impact of their public relations on the diaspora.”
He said that LFI needed more resources in order to help make the progressive case for Israel, and said that it was vital to reiterate support for the two-state solution.
Dame Anne McGuire suggested that it was “time to push back” on the BDS debate. “This is not just about oranges or university lecturers. It’s about mobile phones, about pharmaceutical drugs, about how Israel has become integrated into everyday British life.”
Andrew Dismore, a member of the London Assembly, noted that many British jobs could be lost as a result of boycott activities.