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Rt Hon Joan Ryan MP
Labour Friends of Israel
Annual Lunch 2018
Chief Rabbi, Ambassador Regev, friends
Thank you to all of you for being here today.
In particular, I want to thank Sir David Garrard and Isaac Kaye, our long-standing lunch sponsors.
I also want to thank all of my parliamentary colleagues who have joined us;
Our chair in the House of Lords, Baroness Ramsay, a tireless and staunch friend of Israel who leads our Labour peers with great skill and dedication;
LFI’s vice-chairs and parliamentary supporters not just for being here today, but for the ongoing support and commitment you show to our cause;
And our special guest, the new chair of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog.
Whenever I have visited Israel since becoming chair of LFI, I’ve always made sure to meet and spend time with Isaac.
He’s been a great source of support, strength and friendship and I am so delighted that he’s here with us today.
Three years ago, Isaac led Labor to its best performance at the polls in 15 years. He built the strong foundations upon which we all hope our sister party will go on to victory in next year’s general election.
I do not need to tell any of you, it has been a difficult, shameful year for the Labour party.
And, as my good friends at Press TV have extensively reported, LFI has had a busy 12 months.
Despite the huge challenges, I am so proud of what we’ve all achieved together.
We’ve continued to make the case for a two-state solution: one that offers security and recognition to Israel and a viable, democratic and independent state to the Palestinians.
We’ve campaigned for more support for the vital civic society work which will underpin any negotiated peace agreement:
LFI obtained greater UK funding for grassroots coexistence projects and thus investing in a new generation of peacebuilders who can foster the values of reconciliation, trust and mutual understanding.
We secured the backing of the British government for the establishment of a new International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and working with our partners in Europe and the United States to help make it a reality.
And we opposed the BDS movement’s effort to drive Israelis and Palestinians apart when it is so vital that we build bridges between them.
We’ve urged a much tougher line on the principal barrier to a two-state solution: the pernicious activities and ideology of terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
That’s why I secured a debate in the chamber of the House of Commons earlier this year to call for Britain to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety.
And we’ve told ministers that they must stop the Palestinian Authority from using our aid money to incite antisemitic violence against the Israeli people.
LFI has won a pledge from the government to establish a review into the PA’s new school curriculum which teaches Palestinian children the virtues of martyrdom and glorifies terrorism.
But this is no substitute for action now.
After over a year of hand-wringing, it’s time for ministers to halt the flow of British money into the pockets of those teaching and implementing these lessons in hatred.
Chaim Herzog and antisemitism
Two months ago we celebrated the centenary of the birth of Isaac’s father, Chaim Herzog.
A pioneer, a soldier, and a statesman.
A man who participated in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, fought in Israel’s war of independence and became the Jewish state’s sixth president.
I recently reread the remarkable speech which Chaim Herzog delivered to the UN General Assembly 43 years ago this month when it passed that notorious resolution labelling Zionism as racism.
“Zionism,” he declared, “is the name of the national movement of the Jewish people and is the modern expression of the ancient Jewish heritage.”
The UN’s actions were born of the twin evils of “hatred and ignorance”.
Israel’s democracy is imperfect.
So is our own.
But let us be in no doubt.
The hatred of Israel – and the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – which Chaim Herzog spoke out against in 1975, is once again alive and well.
It doesn’t stem from a justifiable concern for the rights of the Palestinian people.
It has nothing to do with the tragic plight of Gaza, settlement building, or the nation state law.
It is born instead of hatred and ignorance.
And this hatred is the oldest hatred of them all.
Antisemitism, the writer Conor Cruise O’Brien, once suggested is “a very light sleeper”.
In America, we have seen it stalking the streets of Charlottesville and wreaking horror in Pittsburg just a few short weeks ago.
Across Europe, we are now having to refight a battle that many of us hoped had long been won.
From Poland through Hungary and France, we’re once again called to the barricades.
Here in Britain, it is – incredibly and shamefully – the Labour party where the battle is having to be fought.
It’s a battle to defend the world’s only Jewish state:
- a state established in the land of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust – the darkest hour in human history;
- a state which – uniquely in the region – embraces the values of democracy, free speech and respect for minorities;
- and a state which provides the ultimate safe haven for Jews the world over and which has never been more needed than it is today.
It’s a battle in which we stand by the Jewish community in this country:
We oppose those who claim they know better than Jews how to define antisemitism;
We challenge those who insult the memory of the six million by equating the actions of Israel with those of Nazi Germany;
and we reject vicious smear that charges of antisemitism are all about silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.
As Howard Jacobson eloquently argued earlier this year:
“Most Jews know what antisemitism is and what it isn’t.
Its history is written on the Jewish character in blood.
To invent it where it is not would be a sacrilege.”
Finally, it’s a battle for the soul of our party and the future of our country:
defending the values of equality, respect and tolerance;
honouring our cherished tradition of fighting racism wherever we find it;
and standing up to the politics of hatred and division.
So let me be clear, Mr Corbyn:
It is neither morally right nor at all acceptable to lay a wreath at the grave of those who order the torture and murder of people simply because they are Israelis.
It is neither principled nor brave to campaign for the right of people to call Israel a “racist endeavour” or to spin absurd antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming it for terror attacks.
And, no, it does not advance the cause of peace to snub our party’s comrades in Israel while calling Hamas terrorists friends and brothers.
Over the past few months, I have listened to the fear, the anger and the disbelief in the Jewish community these actions have rightly provoked.
It is now time to choose sides.
When it comes to the battle against antisemitism,
There’s no room for accommodation.
There’s no space for compromise.
There’s no time for equivocation.
We will challenge antisemitism wherever we find it.
We will oppose antisemitism wherever we see it.
We will confront antisemitism however powerful those who excuse it or propagate it are.
Neither I, LFI, or my parliamentary colleagues in this room will stand to one side.
We will not be intimidated, and we will not be silenced.
We will speak up and we will speak out.
And so let me give you this final solemn pledge:
In this fight against antisemitism,
I will never cower in the face of hatred and abuse.
However long it takes.
Whatever the personal cost.
I am with you, on your side.