By Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister
The Jewish community makes an enormous contribution to our country. In charity, business, culture and, of course, politics, it has had an impact both huge and positive. There are members of the community prominent in both main political parties. Governments of all persuasions have, by and large, paid tribute to the work of the community, supported it and supported Israel.
The Labour Party in Government has a long and proud history of being a staunch supporter and advocate for Israel. I have no doubt this would continue if Labour wins the election today.
We have superb candidates, such as Sarah Sackman, Andrew Dismore and Wes Streeting, passionate believers in the state of Israel and its security. And as Ed Balls said recently, he wouldn’t want to be in a Labour Party that did not support Israel. I know Ed Miliband feels the same.
It is important to understand why this support is so strong and why in Government those of us in positions of leadership kept true to this belief even when it was difficult to do so.
I believe in peace in the Middle East and in the two-state solution based around the idea of two states for two peoples. I have spent a large part of my political life trying to further that idea. Sometimes pursuit of that notion leads to disagreement with the Government of Israel at any one time. But it does not, and should not, ever lead to a diminution of the core support for Israel.
The reason for this support is clear: after the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust, from often difficult and fractious beginnings, the state of Israel came into being and grew into the country it is today – a beacon of democracy, economic development and the rule of law. Its security is our security. Those who would threaten it, threaten us here, too.
As I know from seeing it first-hand, its politics can be rough, its media free, but occasionally savage and its public discourse vibrant. It has some of the best technology in the world, probably now second only to California as a hub of innovation in that sphere. Its culture and art are remarkable. It has people with conservative religious views.
It has, also in Tel Aviv, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and host to one of the world’s largest Gay Pride festivals.
Over time I have come to know Israel and to have deep affection for the country and its people.
None of this diminishes in any way my advocacy of a Palestinian state. I believe that creating such a state, based on 1967 borders, in a manner protective of Israel’s security is an important long-term guarantee of that security. The alternative is a binational state which, as everyone from Prime Minister Netanyahu down, has said would be impossible to manage fairly or peacefully.
From time to time, there will be a disagreement with policies of the Israeli Government. I long argued for a change of policy on Gaza, opening it up to the outside world, while condemning without equivocation the terrorism coming out of Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. The international community as a whole, including the USA and the present UK Government, has indicated its profound disagreement with any settlement activity that impedes the practical possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
Such disagreements are reflected in the debate inside Israel itself. One of the great things about the country is the willingness to engage in a policy argument as heated as that in any democratic system anywhere, as was vividly shown by its recent election campaign.
But when it comes to the basic security of the state of Israel and defending its existence, the ranks close. It is the same with Labour and its support for Israel. This tradition of support is long, deep and genuine.
There is another reason for it: the close ties between the Labour Party and the Jewish community here in the UK. The last Labour Government instituted Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001 and introduced the first grants for the Community Security Trust (CST) in 2005. Ed Miliband is absolutely right to commit the next Labour Government to maintaining funding for the CST in full.
And he is right to support our thriving faith schools, which flourished under Labour and delivered successfully for their students. It grieves me to say that these schools need increased security protection, but in recognition of this, Ed has pledged to deliver central Government funding.
Most of all, we celebrate the extraordinary work the Jewish community does day in day out – philanthropy and service at its best, reflecting the profound commitment of the community to making the world better. At the most significant level – that of basic shared values around the notion of a strong society as necessary to support the individual – the Labour Party and the Jewish community have so much in common.
That has not changed over the last half century and it will not change if Labour comes to power.