One of Israel’s youngest Knesset members Stav Shaffir received a rapturous response at Labour Friends of Israel’s traditional annual reception – but the group expressed “disappointment” at the absence of Jeremy Corbyn.
Ms Shaffir, who launched her political career after leading the social housing street protests in Tel Aviv in 2011, is an unapologetic Israeli patriot, and told the reception: “We have to bring back true Zionism and take our future into our own hands.”
Denouncing those who “can’t unequivocally accept Israel’s right to exist”, the politician implored her audience: “We need you with us to rebuild our campaign — and to get those who disagree with us to sit and talk. Our cause is your cause, your cause is our cause. Join us in the fight”.
Later, Ms Shaffir, who had spent most of the party conference in private meetings with Labour MPs, told Jewish News that the net effect of the BDS campaign was “simply to push Israel to the right, and we need to strengthen the progressive camp.”
Corbyn – who attended the reception for the last two years – became the first party leader in living memory not to attend its reception. A source says he also didn’t attend the Labour Friends of Palestine event this year after a decision to rotate his attendance at fringe events.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who was a special guest, claimed he was working on his speech for the next day, but pictures later emerged of Mr Corbyn at the Daily Mirror’s annual party.
The event was chaired by Joan Ryan MP, who read out a message from Mr Corbyn saying that Labour would continue to campaign for “a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable Palestinian state”.
But a welcome guest was Labour’s general secretary Ian McNichol, who leapt on stage to hug Israel’s ambassador, Mark Regev — and was rewarded with a spontaneous sung chorus of “Oh, Ian McNichol” — a wry reference to the party faithful’s tendency to sing “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” wherever they can.
LFI also had a stand throughout the conference to engage with delegates. Director Jennifer Gerber said: “As we saw at our stand, in fringe meetings and on the floor of the conference, the Labour party now also contains individuals who do not wish to debate the issues but whose only aim is to demonise and delegitimise the Jewish state. We will not be bullied out of the Labour party by them.”