The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson MP, made the most unequivocal declaration of support for Israel this week when he sang “Am Yisroel Chai” — the people of Israel live — in front of 300 supporters of the Labour Friends of Israel at LFI’s annual lunch.
Mr Watson’s almost defiant re-drawing of Labour bonds with Israel was made to an audience which included large numbers of Labour MPs and peers, and included the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.
Mr Watson’s tough speech in which he called support for Israel and opposition to BDS “a moral responsibility” followed an equally feisty address by LFI”s chair, Joan Ryan MP. Ms Ryan told the audience that after a turbulent year, it was vital for Labour “to call out” anti-Semitism wherever it occurred. “We will have none of it in the Labour Party,” she declared.
Ms Ryan said it was “long overdue” that Labour concluded and published its report into allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford University. And, in the same spirit, she called for the party to expel former Labour MP and London mayor Ken Livingstone.
Mr Watson said that tackling anti-Semitism was a “moral responsibility. Dealing with it can’t be for show, or because of media pressure. It’s a commandment and it must be done.
He said the party should be quicker at dealing with such instances — “and, if God forbid, there should be more Antisemitism, it should be tackled quickly and not be ignored.”
The Labour deputy leader is just back from a high-profile mission to Israel with LFI, his first visit for 25 years and the fifth such mission run by LFI this year. By mid-January LFI will have taken seven separate missions to Israel.
Joan Ryan announced that LFI”s latest campaign is the launch of an international peace fund to help Israelis and Palestinians. She has secured a 10minute rule slot to launch the fund in parliament in January.
Ambassador Mark Regev noted that the day of the lunch, on Tuesday, marked 69 years since the United Nations had voted on partition which led to the ultimate founding of the state of Israel.
He spoke of the warm ties between the Jewish state and the `Labour and trade union movements, and said that an international peace fund was a wonderful way to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration next year. “We are for two states, for two peoples, and for peace”, he declared.
Jennifer Gerber, director of LFI, said: “The excellent turnout at our lunch today, especially among parliamentarians, shows the strength of support for LFI. As Tom Watson made clear in his speech, the bonds between the Labour party and Israel are strong, long-standing and unbreakable. The record number of MPs wishing to participate in LFI delegations, backing our campaign ‘For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace’ and engaging in LFI activities in Parliament demonstrates this fact.”
— Justin Cohen (@CohenJust) November 29, 2016