Nearly 500 people attended Monday night’s Labour Leadership Hustings event organised by LFI in partnership with the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Labour Movement and JW3.
Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall appeared at the event which was chaired by Jewish Chronicle and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland.
Much of the debate focused upon Labour’s policies on Israel, with questions on boycotts, the current Israeli government, West Bank settlements and the 2017 centenary of the Balfour declaration.
Jeremy Corbyn was challenged about previous comments in which he had referred to Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists as “friends” and pressed on his involvement in events such as the annual London Al Quds day rally which have become hotbeds of extreme antisemitism. Corbyn said that he had spoken of Hezbollah using the term during a welcome to a number of groups he had invited to speak in Parliament. Burnham said he would consider taking measures against MPs who invite terror groups such as Hezbollah to parliament, while Cooper commented “You cannot describe as ‘friends’ groups who engage in terrorist activity.”
Three of the candidates opposed anti-Israel boycotts, however Corbyn suggested he would back a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but that he would oppose an academic boycott of the country. Liz Kendall said that she would fight boycotts “with every fibre in my body.” Yvette Cooper also slammed boycotts as “counter-productive”. Andy Burnham similarly opposed the idea of any boycott of Israel and pledged that his first foreign trip as leader would be to Israel.
With the exception of Corbyn all of the candidates felt that last year’s Parliamentary vote on unilateral recognition of Palestine had been mishandled by the party. Liz Kendall – the only candidate to abstain on the vote last October – argued that unilaterally recognising Palestine was not the “right thing to do” and suggested that a “responsible opposition” would not have done it.
Both Burnham and Liz Kendall addressed the frayed relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community. Kendall said that the debate’s focus on Israel was evidence of how “damaged” the relationship had become, a situation which Burnham said “cannot carry on.”
A recording of the hustings can be viewed at: http://www.thejc.com/videos/news-videos/watch-again-labour-party-leadership-hustings
Please read below an article written by LFI Director Jennifer Gerber on how Labour rebuilds bridges with the Jewish community: http://labourlist.org/2015/07/tonights-hustings-could-begin-to-rebuild-the-bridges-between-labour-and-the-jewish-community/