Support for the right of the state of Israel to exist will remain a “cornerstone” of British foreign policy under a Labour government, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said.
In a speech to Labour Friends of Israel, Thornberry said there was no justification for the boycott of Israeli products or academics and that anyone holding anti-Semitic views would be “drummed out of our party”.
Her intervention came amid persistent criticisms that, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has failed to tackle anti-Semitism within the party and that its policies on the Middle East would damage Britain’s relations with Israel.
Thornberry confirmed a Labour government would go ahead with plans for the UK to recognise the state of Palestine – something the current Government does not – saying it was “in the interests of Israel, the Palestinians and peace”.
At the same time, she said Labour would continue to support the existence of the Jewish state and the rights of its people as a formal principle of British foreign policy while defending the rights of Jewish people whenever they came under attack around the world.
“Those principles will remain a cornerstone of foreign policy under the next Labour government,” she said.
“There can be no place in our party for anyone who holds anti-Semitic views or who denies the right of Israel to exist, and any people who hold those views must and will be drummed out of our party.”
Thornberry said she still had “profound differences” with the current Israeli government and that Labour would press for an end to settlement-building on occupied Palestinian territory and a lifting of the blockade of Gaza, while protecting Israelis from rocket attack.
She acknowledged, however, 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.
Her speech came as a report by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom) think tank warned Labour’s “pro-Palestinian stance” could have a “chilling effect” on relations with Israel. Read Jewish News coverage about BICOM’s report here.
Bicom chief executive James Sorene said: “Labour’s foreign policy is an issue of deep concern to many of Britain’s closest allies in the Middle East and around the world.
“Decades of intelligence and defence co-operation are at risk.
“If Labour move too close to Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah, then this will also undermine international efforts to fight terrorism and even limit the sharing of vital intelligence that saves British lives.
“If Labour recognise a Palestinian state and adopt the Palestinian position of putting international pressure on Israel, it could lose its influence with Israel to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”