Largest LFI delegation in a decade meets President Herzog

The biggest Labour Friends of Israel delegation in more than a decade this week met with the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog.

The delegation also met with Israeli Labor party leader Merav Michaeli; Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of the National Security Council; and the Palestinian Authority’s deputy foreign minister Amal Jadou.

LFI chair Steve McCabe led the parliamentary delegation which included Margaret Hodge, Catherine McKinnell, Taiwo Owatemi, Christian Wakeford and Alex Davies-Jones. James Frith, former MP for Bury North and Labour’s PPC in that constituency, also joined the delegation.

The delegates, all bar one joining an LFI delegation for the first time, represent a diverse group from across the Parliamentary Labour Party, including three MPs elected at the 2019 general election.

The five-day delegation provided a wide-ranging introduction to Israel and the wider Middle East, with opportunities to learn about the country’s history, its dynamic and innovative economy, and the importance of UK-Israel bilateral ties.

Steve McCabe said: “I’m delighted to this week be leading LFI’s biggest delegation to Israel in more than a decade, following five overseas trips last year. We are particularly pleased to have met with President Herzog who has been a longstanding friend to LFI, notably joining the 2018 LFI Annual Lunch as the Guest of Honour.”

He added: “Our group has been able to experience a deep and broad introduction to Israel and the wider Middle East over the past few days. LFI has always believed that enabling Labour parliamentarians to witness Israel’s security challenges for themselves, reaffirm ties with our sister Israeli Labor party, and renew the longstanding friendship between the Labour party and the Jewish state, is key to ensuring that debates around Israel in the UK remain well-informed and balanced.”

As well as touring the Old City and the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem (above) and holding meetings with political leaders in Israel and Palestine, the delegation was briefed on the security situation. It witnessed the threat posed by Hamas while visiting Kibbutz Kfar Aza, close to the Gaza border. Since Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal enclave in 2005, the kibbutz had repeatedly experienced attacks by rockets, mortars, deadly balloons and 10-second bomb shelter red alerts. Most recently, in May 2021, over 300 rockets were launched at or near Kfar Aza by Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian terror groups, the remnants of some of which still remain near the kibbutz itself.

The delegation also met organisations – including Tech2Peace (pictured below), EcoPeace and the Peres Centre for Peace and Innovation – which are at the forefront of attempting to promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and the Jewish state and its regional neighbours.

Meetings with the Israel Innovation Authority and Watergen – a start-up which has produced a game-changing solution that uses humidity in the air to create clean and fresh drinking water – provided an opportunity for the delegation to learn more about how Israel became a world leader in tech and innovation and the practical impact of this success.

Speaking during the delegation, Steve McCabe suggested “This has also been an opportunity for us to meet and show support for the progressives in Israel leading the way in fighting to defend Israel’s status as a beacon of liberal democracy, the rule of law and minority rights in the Middle East.

“This trip has only confirmed in our minds the need for a negotiated two-state solution for two peoples; with Israel safe, secure and recognised within its borders; living alongside a viable, democratic and independent Palestinian state.”

LFI chair Steve McCabe hands President Isaac Herzog a gift from Labour leader Keir Starmer, a copy of the new biography of Harold Wilson by shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. Wilson – who won four general elections – was a strong supporter of Israel and friend of the Jewish community.