Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP has excoriated party leader Jeremy Corbyn in a speech to the organisation’s annual lunch.
With Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry in the audience, Ms Ryan said: “Let me be clear, Mr Corbyn, it is neither morally right nor at all acceptable to lay a wreath at the grave of those who order the torture and murder of people simply because they are Israelis.
“It is neither principled nor brave to campaign for the right of people to call Israel a ‘racist endeavour’ or to spin absurd antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming it for terror attacks.
“And, no, it does not advance the cause of peace to snub our party’s comrades in Israel while calling Hamas terrorists friends and brothers.”
She told the 300-strong audience, which included 70 MPs and 30 peers, as well as Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl, Senior rabbi to the Reform Movement Laura Janner-Klausner and many others – the organisation’s largest lunch in years – that it was “incredibly and shamefully [in] the Labour party where the battle [against antisemitism] is having to be fought.
“It’s a battle in which we stand by the Jewish community in this country. We oppose those who claim they know better than Jews how to define antisemitism. We challenge those who insult the memory of the six million by equating the actions of Israel with those of Nazi Germany; and we reject vicious smear that charges of antisemitism are all about silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.”
Ms Ryan – described by LFI director Jennifer Gerber as “fearless” – received a standing ovation when she said: “In this fight against antisemitism, I will never cower in the face of hatred and abuse. However long it takes. Whatever the personal cost. I am with you, on your side.”
Guest of honour former Israel Labor Party leader and now Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog told the audience: “Anti-Semitism cannot be dismissed as legitimate criticism of Israel. What we’ve seen from several leaders and activists in the Labour party is not a foreign policy debate – it is a campaign of hate, using the Israel-Palestine conflict as camouflage.
“Wherever BDS goes, antisemitism follows. The fight against antisemitism is just one part of a wider fight for truth, liberalism, progress and against the politics of fear, fake news, hatred and division. It is the fight for sanity and common sense.”
He added he was “a believer in a two-state solution. Our Palestinian brothers deserve dignity, but they must come to negotiations.”
Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev noted that this year saw two 70th anniversaries – the birth of the State of Israel, “which Labour supported from 1917”.
“The second anniversary worthy of our celebration is of course the creation of the NHS, an institution created by one man in particular – a certain Nye Bevan.”
Bevan was, added Mr Regev, “every much a proud socialist as he was a proud Zionist. Bevan wrote [that] to achieve peace, he said, there is no substitute for direct negotiations.
“We should call out those who are undermining direct negotiations now. Whether it be a Palestinian leadership that refuses to sit down to talk with Israel, or those in the party of Nye Bevan who today tell the Palestinians that they can have a state without negotiating with Israel at all.”
Dame Louise Ellman MP also thanked the audience after receiving the Labour Friends of Israel Lifetime Achievement Award.