Boris Johnson has insisted the UK and Israel “must stand and work together” in his first dedicated address on the issue since becoming foreign secretary.
The former London mayor, who led a trade delegation to the country last year, also heaped praise on Shimon Peres during a keynote address to the largest ever Conservative Friends of Israel reception at party conference.
He spoke of his “privilege” at attending the former president’s funeral along with prime ministers, heads of state and royalty, adding the dignitaries present were “dwarfed by the achievements of this extraordinary man”.
Johnson recalled a series of epigrams from Peres including: “’Count your dreams and your achievements. If your dreams are bigger than your achievements then you are young. If your achievements are bigger than your dreams then you are old’. I put it to you that Britain and Israel are both countries where our dreams are still bigger than their achievements. Our best days are ahead. We must stand and work together. Britain, Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel can build those dreams together.”
Long queues snaked outside the room in anticipation of the foreign secretary’s arrival as more than 500 parliamentarians and activists descended on what CFI chairman Sir Eric Pickles described as the biggest fringe event of conference.
Among those addressing the event were business secretary Greg Clarke who spoke of hi-tech ties between the countries as “a source of inspiration and profitable collaboration between us”.
In her address, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers MP took a swipe at Labour over anti-Senitiism. “I find the situation in the official Opposition to be deeply worrying… Labour has a very serious problem with anti-Semitism. I don’t think this is just a Corbyn problem – this is a Labour problem,” she said. “It’s shocking that women Labour women MPs, like Ruth Smeeth, have been subjected to vile anti-Semitism and I do not think Labour’s leadership is taking it seriously.”
Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev – who described the new prime minister as an “ally” of Israel and the Jewish community – said his country remained committed to the dialogue pursued by “great visionary” Peres.
“Israel is ready to immediately restart peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever. It’s high time the Palestinians stopped their posturing and agreed to return to the negotiating table,” he said.
He added that there is only one Middle East country that shares values of liberty and the rule of law.
“In being friends of Israel you are not only standing up for British values, you are also standing up for Britain’s fundamental interests. When Britain and Israel cooperate in cyber IT, fintech, in spawning new start-up companies, we both benefit. When Britain and Israel work together in defence, intelligence and counter-terrorism we are all safer. In the new post-Brexit reality, as we further expand our cooperation, we will be making the lives of both the British people and the Israeli people more prosperous and more secure”.
Lord Stuart Polak, honorary president of CFI, reiterated his call for a royal visit to Israel in “happy times”, saying the lack of such a trip was a “stain” on the thriving bilateral relationship.