|Keir Starmer last week thanked Labour Friends of Israel for “giving him the space” he needed to tackle antisemitism in the party, as he addressed a packed LFI conference reception at Labour party conference in Liverpool.He heralded LFI’s work: “when we go back into government, and we will, you’ll be inscribed on the foundation stone as part of this story and part of this journey”.
- The Labour leader praised Labour Friends of Israel as he addressed our annual party conference reception in Liverpool alongside the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.
- Other speakers at the reception – which was attended by over 300 delegates – included Israeli Labor MK Emilie Moatti; LFI chair Steve McCabe; and Israel’s deputy ambassador to Britain, Oren Marmorstein. Christian Wakeford, who crossed the floor and joined the Parliamentary Labour party in January and has since been a strong supporter of LFI, also addressed the event.
- In his comments, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy noted his 22 years of support for LFI in Parliament, as well as discussing the importance of progressive hope in Israel’s history and development.
- Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves also spoke, stating that she was “so proud to be a Labour friend of Israel” and thanking LFI for our work “through the difficult years and the good years”.
- A rising star in Havoda, Moatti travelled to the conference at LFI’s invitation and met with a number of Labour MPs, as well as dozens of grassroots members. “Thank you to LFI and all its supporters, both inside and outside parliament, for your work and for your friendship and solidarity with the State of Israel. You truly touch our hearts,” Moatti said at the start of her speech.
- The conference also saw a steady stream of friendly visitors to LFI’s stand in the exhibition centre.
In his speech to the LFI reception, Starmer spoke about LFI’s important role in returning Labour to the political mainstream.
- Starmer began by reflecting on the success of the 2022 party conference, saying that the party was increasingly “in a position where we can look the electorate in the eye and they can look us back in the eye”.
- He thanked LFI for “taking the chance to give me the space to judge me on what I did, not on what I said”.
- “We wouldn’t be here today, with a changed Labour party – a remade Labour party – facing the electorate with confidence if you hadn’t done that” he added.
- Starmer particularly heralded LFI’s work: “when we go back into government, and we will, you’ll be inscribed on the foundation stone as part of this story and part of this journey”.
- With regard to the battle against antisemitism within Labour, Starmer acknowledged that ‘we’ve made progress but I’m not complacent. We will never, ever end this work”.
Both Starmer and Moatti praised the warm relationship between Labour and the Israeli Labor party. Referencing Labor leader Merav Michaeli, Starmer said: “I’ve spoken to Merav a number of times, and we’re rooting for our sister party in Israel”. The Labour leader also wished our sister party well for November’s Israeli general election: “Let’s wish them the very best in the campaign all the way to the election in November”.
“It is no secret, the last few years have been difficult, with the shadow of antisemitism in the Labour party hanging over our relationship,” Moatti said. “Thanks to the leadership of Keir Starmer, this is now behind us, and the tradition of good relations could be renewed …We are sister parties again, Labour and Labor, Havoda and Labour, fighting for our shared values”.
“Stand with us”
Moatti used her speech to strongly endorse a two-state solution, urging Israel’s friends in Britain “to stand with us”.
- “The central issue for the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state remains the end of the conflict with the Palestinians,” Moatti declared. “The two-state solution is the only viable solution.” She added: “It is an Israeli vital interest to have borders and to separate from the Palestinians. It is the right thing from any point of view: security, diplomacy, economy and yes, ethics too.”
- Moatti also denounced the BDS movement, saying: “I know also that delegitimising Israel and boycotts are an issue in this country, and I thank you for your important work opposing this. It is good to remember that radical fringes like BDS are not interested in peace and a boycott is not a beginning of a peace process.”
- She also called for the international community to recognise “the destructive role that terror organisations and their paymasters in Tehran play and the threat they pose to Israel’s citizens”. “Iran must never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons,” Moatti argued. “Iran is not just an Israeli problem, it’s a global one.”
Friends of Israel
- Both David Lammy and Rachel Reeves proudly proclaimed themselves to be “Labour friends of Israel”, a reflection of their longstanding support for LFI.
- Lammy spoke about Israel’s history “birthed by Labor” and “birthed against a backdrop of hope”, as well as discussing positive developments in the region such as the Abraham Accords, which he characterised as a great “coming together that we’ve seen across the Middle East”.
- The crowd was also addressed by one of LFI’s newest supporters, Christian Wakeford, who spoke about how welcome he’d been made to feel by LFI and the wider Labour Party: “I could not be prouder to be finishing my last speech of this conference here with Labour Friends of Israel”.
From the chair
LFI chair Steve McCabe used his speech to launch our new publication “Steps to a Two State Solution” which, he said, “sets out an agenda to narrow the parameters of the conflict, improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis, and help foster the conditions in which a final agreement can be reached”. McCabe also praised the shift in Labour’s approach towards the Middle East under Starmer. “It is one which recognises – as LFI set out last year – the manner in which the Middle East has changed since Labour was last in office,” he said. “It is one which understands the threat – to regional stability, to the forces of progress, and to world peace – posed by the government of Iran and its phalanx of proxy armies and terror groups. And it one which knows that Britain’s place is by the side of Israel: our fellow democracy and our ally in the battle against extremism and terror”.