Tristram_CroppedLabour’s Shadow Education Secretary last night invoked Winston Churchill’s fulsome backing for Zionism in his first address to a Jewish audience since taking on the role. 

Tristram Hunt recalled a speech by the wartime premier at Hebrew University in which he expressed his ‘full sympathy for Zionism’ and a belief that a Jewish national home in Palestine would a ‘blessing’ to Britain and the world. “How right he was,” Hunt said during an address at JFS celebrating the graduation of former pupils last night. “Because there is no such thing as a progressive argument which denies the right of the Israeli people to a homeland.”

He said he wanted to see a negotiated two-state solution with a safe Israel alongside an independent Palestinian state. 

Hunt’s explicit advocacy of the term Zionism will be particularly noted as it comes 20 months after Ed Miliband’s office denied suggestions he had described himself as a Zionist at a Jewish News event.

The Labour leader avoided using the word during his successful  April visit to Israel when he described the country as the “homeland for the Jewish people” but told this newspaper he had no problem with people attributing the term to him.

But relations between his party and some of Israel’s supporters have been strained in recent months over criticism of the IDF’s operation against Hamas and subsequent support for a parliamentary motion on Palestinian statehood. 

Hunt also used the opportunity to recount the wartime efforts of Jewish doctor Sir Barnett Stross, one of his predecessors as MP for stoke on Trent Central. 

After the massacre of all the men of Czech mining village Lidice – and the deportation of women and children to death camps – in retaliation for the 1942 assassination of Nazi Reinherd Heydrich – Stross called a meeting of his local community attended by a staggering 3,000 workers and miners that was attended by 3,000 miners and other workers.  “There they pledged £32,000 – an extraordinary war-time amount equivalent to around £1m in today’s money – to rebuild Lidice and defy Hitler,” said Hunt. 

“There is something in this tale of post-war reconstruction that I think speaks to the continued importance of the state of Israel to progressives today.  The State of Israel, like Lidice, remains a symbol of post-war renewal. Of new life and opportunity springing from the ashes of misery. 

“But more than that it is a beacon to the Jewish world – a place any Jew can escape to should barbarism return once more to Europe.” 

Hunt also reaffirmed his leader’s pledge, first made at last year’s CST dinner, to pledge to continue the funding provided by the current Government since 2010 for security guards at Jewish schools. 

He said: “I want to tell you today that in the face of rising anti-Semitism, the safety of this school and others like it is non-negotiable for the next Labour Government.  So if I become Education Secretary, I will act swiftly to protect future funding for this most vital of tasks, guaranteeing that a Labour government will spend at least the same amount on protecting your community’s safety.