LFI director Michael Rubin has written in the Jewish Chronicle. Click here to view the original.
This week I start as Director of LFI. After five years of Jeremy Corbyn, and 10 years of increasingly right-wing government in Israel, friends of Israel have questioned if they can still find a home in Labour, while progressives have questioned their support for the Jewish state.
I’m proud to have been a Labour member for over a decade because our party is the most effective movement for social change in Britain. The last five years were an aberration in Labour’s illustrious history.
I’m under no illusions that the scale of the challenge to restore Labour’s place as the natural home of Jewish socialists, social democratic Zionists and all who oppose racism is colossal.
However, I am encouraged by the real progress Keir Starmer has already begun to make. As LFI’s new chair, Steve McCabe, has said, we will play a full and constructive role in supporting Keir and I hope that in the months and years to come, those who understandably left the party feel able to return. A key test of how much Labour has changed will come when friends of Israel are welcomed with open arms in the party.
There is a rich history of support for Israel on the left, irrespective of the political colours of the Jewish state’s government.
Labour supported the Jewish people’s right to self-determination six months before the Balfour Declaration. Harold Wilson was famously described as having only one doctrinal belief: a “devotion to the cause of Israel”. And in 2008 Gordon Brown became the first British prime minister to address the Knesset. His explanation for his deep connection to, and admiration for, the Jewish state is shared by many of us: “No nation has achieved so much in so short a period of time. And to have accomplished all this in the face of the war, the terror, the violence, the threats, the intimidation, and the insecurity is truly monumental.”
I am no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu’s populism and some of his actions have threatened Israel’s precious character as a Jewish and democratic state — but true friends of Israel have always understood that our support is not conditional on who the country’s prime minister happens to be.
Israel’s right to exist as a secure, prosperous and thriving state goes beyond whoever resides in Balfour Street.
My progressive values demand that I support Israel. If you support the right to self-determination for all peoples, you can’t make an exception for Jews. If you support liberal democracies, where rights for minorities are protected and enshrined, you can’t make an exception for the one Jewish democracy.
LFI will continue to speak out against settlement expansion, the Nation State law, annexation proposals and any other policy we believe to be detrimental.
Too often, however, legitimate criticism is applied unequally.
Supporting a two-state solution requires us to call out all the barriers to peace. Progressives who are silent when Hamas sends rockets and incendiary balloons from Gaza or when the PA teaches schoolchildren the virtues of martyrdom, or incentivises terror attacks through its prisoner’s salary scheme, actively undermine the prospects of peace.
As Amos Oz has said, the conflict is not a “struggle between good and evil, rather it is a tragedy in the ancient and most precise sense of the word: a clash between right and right, a clash between one very powerful, deep, and convincing claim, and another very different but no less convincing, no less powerful, no less humane claim.” It is in that spirit that Labour friends of Israel should recommit ourselves to supporting the Jewish state, and doing all we can to help those working towards a negotiated two-state solution.