The first Labour Friends of Israel delegation of prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) since 2014 last week met with the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog.
- The delegation, led by LFI chair Steve McCabe MP and joined by Luciana Berger – who rejoined the Labour party in February this year – included PPCs standing for Labour at the next election in a range of constituencies across England, including Stevenage, Dover, High Peak and Bournemouth West.
- The PPCs, all of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, were also joined by Anne Clarke, who represents Barnet and Camden on the London Assembly.
- The five-day delegation represented 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.
- The delegation started with a walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, including visits to the holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians of the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
- Delegates then visited the president’s house and were greeted by the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, a longstanding friend of LFI and former leader of the Israeli Labor party.
- Following this meeting, our group took part in a guided tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum, and took part in a memorial ceremony in which they laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
- Later on, we visited the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Here, our group joined the Israeli Labor Party’s weekly faction meeting, including meeting Israeli Labor leader Merav Michaeli. Later, the group also met with Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky, one of the co-chairs of the Knesset’s UK-Israel Friendship Group.
- On Tuesday, the delegation visited Ramallah in the West Bank, where we visited a Palestinian civil society group that focuses on youth leadership and democracy, as well as visiting the Al-Amari refugee camp, where we heard the perspectives of Palestinian residents there.
- Later, we met with Elias Zananiri, the vice-chairman of the PLO committee for interaction with Israeli society, in his capacity as a representative of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.
- On Wednesday, we travelled south to the border near Gaza. Here, we were briefed by the IDF regarding the security situation and challenges posed by Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip.
- Following this, we visited Kfar Aza, a kibbutz less than a mile from the Gaza border, to hear about life for residents facing the challenges of rocket fire and terror tunnels from Hamas, as well as the historic economic ties between kibbutzniks and Gazans.
- Our delegation also gained insights into Israel’s culture of tech and innovation, including visiting the Jerusalem station of Magen David Adom – Israel’s emergency ambulance service – for a look at how tech has been used to reduce patient waiting times.
- Our itinerary also included a tour of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, founded by former president and prime minister Shimon Peres, and a meeting with EcoPeace Middle East, an environmental NGO that combines water security with peacebuilding.
Commenting on the trip, LFI chair Steve McCabe MP said:
“I’m delighted to be leading LFI’s first delegation of parliamentary candidates to Israel since 2014. 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.
It is also fantastic to be joined by Luciana Berger, who rejoined the Labour party in February this year in a marker of the progress Keir Starmer has made to tear out the poison of antisemitism from our party.
This trip will allow Labour candidates to experience a deep and broad introduction to Israel and the wider Middle East. LFI has always believed that enabling Labour politicians 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 political debate around Israel in the UK remains well-informed and balanced.”
Luciana Berger said:
“It’s been an enormous privilege to join this delegation of Labour parliamentary candidates.
I rejoined Labour earlier this year when the party was brought out of special measures by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Keir Starmer has made significant progress in rooting out the antisemitism that festered in the Corbyn years, and has returned Labour to its historic position as an honest broker on the Middle East.
Like me, I know that my fellow delegation participants will have benefitted hugely from this unique and diverse experience to understand the complexities both within Israel and with her neighbours.”