Emily Thornberry has branded boycotts of Israeli products or academics as “bigotry” in her strongest statement on the issue to date.
The shadow foreign secretary’s comments came during a speech to Labour Friends of Israel’s annual lunch at which she also pledged that defending the rights of Jewish people worldwide would remain a “cornerstone” for a future Labour government.
She acknowledged “profound” differences with the current Israeli government and made it clear that the commitments of the Balfour Declaration would remain “unfulfilled” so long as settlements are expanded and Gazans face a humanitarian crisis. A Labour government would also proceed with plans to recognise Palestine “in the interests of Israel, the Palestinians and peace”.
But Thornberry – who visited Israel and the territories earlier this month – attacked those who “somehow believe that opposition to the policies of an individual government can ever justify a hatred of the nation and its people, or a boycott of its products, its culture or its academics, or a denial of its right to defend itself from military assault and terror attacks. That sort of bigotry against the Israeli nation has never been justified and it never will be”.
She suggested there would be “better understanding of why the security situation is so fundamental to any progress” if more British people understood the fears of terrorism experienced by Israelis. And she added: “We will make clear to the Palestinian Authority that officially sanctioned anti-Semitic incitement, and the glorification of suicide bombers, particularly to children and young people, must come to an end.”
Thornberry told the hundreds of guests including dozens of parliamentarians that those with anti-Semitic views or who deny Israel’s right to exist would be “drummed out of our party.” She acknowledged that Labour needed to reach out to Jewish voters who refused to back the party because they believed it was allowing anti-Semitism to “go unchecked”. “It would be a crying shame if when voters next go to the polls, we fail to win councils like Barnet or seats like Finchley and Golders Green, not because we don’t have the right policies or the right candidates, but because large parts of those communities feel that we are not doing enough to tackle the bigotry and prejudice that they face,” she said.
LFI chair Joan Ryan called on Jeremy Corbyn to personally lead the “battle” against BDS and enforce clear red line about where legitimate criticism of Israeli policy morphs into anti-Semitic anti-Zionism.
In a hard-hitting and personal speech, she said: “For some – including within our own party – ‘Zionist’ has now become a term of abuse. I wear it as a badge of honour. There is no shame at all in asserting one’s belief in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. We should say so proudly, clearly and repeatedly.”