Lisa Nandy: Labour can now be ‘honest broker’ for Israel and Palestine

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Lisa Nandy: Labour can now be ‘honest broker’ for Israel and Palestine

Shadow foreign secretary speaks to the JN about rebuilding trust with the Jewish community and her party's Middle East policy

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Palestine flags are waved during the Labour conference 2019 (Jewish News)
Delegates wave Palestinian flags at the Labour Party's annual conference. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has insisted Labour is now in a position to play an “honest broker role” over its dealings on Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking to Jewish News, the Labour frontbencher also said she was “determined” never to allow the debate within her party over the Middle East to be “used by a small group of people, to propagate antisemitism.”

Lisa Nandy at a Jewish Labour-Jewish News hustings (Marc Morris Photography via Jewish News)

But the Wigan MP stressed that a balanced approach to the Israel/Palestine issue would mean that Labour “won’t shy away from calling out behaviour that abuses human rights, that erode the rights of people, that makes the hope of a two-state solution ever more distant.”

Nandy said that both herself and leader Keir Starmer shared the view that there “would be no peace between Israel and Palestine and the wider Middle East unless we take seriously the big concerns and the needs of both the Israeli people and Palestinian people.”

She added: “We have worked very hard in the Labour Party over the past year to show that we will take a balanced approach on the issues.

“We have reached out and are rebuilding relations with the Israeli Labour Party and we recently met with the Israeli ambassador.

“We met with the Palestinian ambassador recently as well and we work very closely with different groups across the Labour movement.”

Nandy revealed that one of her “most moving” moments as shadow foreign secretary had at a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli figures “who meet regularly and work together in order to change things collectively for the people that they are part of and that they represent.”

“They thanked us for taking a fairer, more balanced approach on both sides,” she said.

“They wanted an official opposition and a future Labour government who could command support and respect and be listened to by both sides in order to provide that honest broker role in the Middle East.

“I believe that is the best way you stand up for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”

The 41-year-old MP, who won the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement in last year’s party leadership contest, also spoke of the efforts taken by Labour under Sir Keir to “get our house in order in terms of antisemitism.”

All too often the issue of debate around Israel and Palestine straying into anti-Jewish racism, she said, “not because the two things are one and the same but because often what we saw in recent years was the way antisemitism was able to spill into the debate around Israel and Palestine.

“And debate around Israel and Palestine was able to be used by some — a small group of people — to propagate antisemitism.

“We are determined not to allow that to happen.”

But this did not mean Labour would avoid direct criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, she insisted.

“We won’t shy away from calling out behaviour that abuses human rights, that erodes the rights of people, that makes the hope of a two state solution ever more distant,” she said.

“Particularly in relation to the settlements and the annexation plans — we have been incredibly vocal and we pushed our government very hard in order to take concerted action.”

Last year, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatening the annexation of parts of the West Bank, Nandy had called for a ban on the import of goods from settlements.

She said at the time the move would be a “major step” and require “courage that so far ministers have not been willing to show”, adding “such a blatant breach of international law must have consequences”.

But the former chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine group was always opposed to implementing Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) policies.

Ms Nandy has said of BDS: “I have never supported it because of the very particular circumstances in which Israel came into being and the constant attempts to undermine the right of Israel to exist.

“It is important not to stray into that territory.”

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