Sajid Javid has spoken of how a school trip to Israel by his brother forty years ago set off his lifelong support for the Jewish state – as he paid tribute to Labour MPs for standing up for the country and fighting antisemitism.
The home secretary delivered a keynote address at Conservative Friends of Israel’s conference reception, with communities secretary James Brokenshire, defence secretary Gavin Williamson and party chairman Brandon Lewis also addressing the 500-strong audience. Scores more were unable to get into the packed room.
Javid joked it was a larger crowd than attended his main conference speech earlier in the day before recalling his brother’s school visit aged 11. “I’d never heard the word Israel,” he said. “My dad explained the history, how it came about and why it is such a special place. Since then I always wanted to visit.”
He first travelled to Israel – where he has previously said he would choose to live out of any country in the Middle East – on honeymoon and returned repeatedly for business and with his close friend Robert Halfon MP, who told the audience there was no need for any communal pessimism while a “true” friend like Javid remains in government.
“I vowed to myself that whatever opportunity I get in Government I will always try to help and support Israel, and that’s what I’ve done ever since,” said Javid, mentioning how he stood up to regular calls to back BDS as business secretary by boosting trade with Israel and promoting the IHRA to councils as communities secretary.
In what was seen be some as a nod to communal calls for the outlawing of Hezbollah in full, the home secretary said he was “looking at what more we can do to strengthen our already strong partnership with Israel, especially in security.
“Now as Home Secretary, there is so much more I want to do, and I am doing, and I will continue to do, to work with Israel. Already I have made it absolutely clear that the Home Office will continue to support our Jewish friends, our Jewish population in this country in every way that we can”.
He also paid tribute to Labour Friends of Israel, saying: “One thing we agree on is antisemitism is wrong in every shape and form and we all support the state of Israel.”
“Today is an opportunity to extend that hand of friendship and to tell them on Israel and their fight against antisemitism we stand with them.”
Brokenshire hailed the “incredible”work of CFI in linking parliamentarians from both countries and praised “an enduring partnership in technology, medicine, academia and in our shared values” over seven decades. To loud applause, he added: “Israel has the right to defend itself. We pray for peace for all communities. As a true friend of Israel we’re here to help.”
He heaped praise on CFI parliamentary co-chair Lord Eric Pickles for enhancing bilateral relations and for his work on the new national Holocaust memorial. Brokenshire – who described himself as “communities secretary standing for all communities” – emphasised the “responsibility” of the Conservatives to “stand up and call out antisemitism wherever we see it”, in a side-swipe at Labour.
Williamson praised the UK-Israel relationship, stating: “In terms of defence, Britain and Israel are working increasingly closely together. There’s a real bond and a real understanding about the importance of working together. That bond, that friendship is so vitally important to both nations.”
Lord Pickles, serving as MC, drew huge cheers by asking the audience who is a Zionist and by mentioning the Balfour Declaration.
Shaun Bailey, the Tory’s mayoral candidate, described himself as a “CFI graduate” whose visit to the region with the organisation opened his eyes to the reality. Praising the contribution of the community to the capital, he said: “In any ups and downs as a fellow good Londoner I’ll stand with you.”
Stephen Crabb, who chairs CFI in the Commons, rounded on the “poison of antisemitism” that has “reared it’s ugly head in British politics”. He added: “We work with some very brave and courageous Labour MPs that stand with Labour Friends of Israel. The bravery that they show when they stand up…to defend Israel is something to be admired”.
The meeting was also addressed by Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, CFI lay chair Andrew Heller and Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, who urged anyone wanting to be on the “front line against Corbyn” to campaign in the borough.