Rt Hon Joan Ryan MP, Chair, Labour Friends of Israel, speech to the LFI Annual Lunch 2016.
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Chief Rabbi, Ambassador Regev, friends
I want to begin by thanking you all 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 redoubtable friend of Israel who marshals our Labour peers with great skill, dedication and much charm;
LFI’s vice-chairs – especially our three new vice-chairs, Sharon Hodgson, Pat McFadden, and John Spellar – not just for being here today, but for the ongoing support and commitment you show to our cause;
Also our many, new Parliamentary Supporters.
And our special guest, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party.
Tom, we thank you for joining us today and greatly appreciate your continuing support.
I need to tell none of you that the last year has not been the easiest one for friends of Israel in our party.
But I can tell you that, thanks to your support, LFI has weathered the storm and we have come out stronger, more determined and leading the debate in parliament in support of a two-state solution.
LFI is stronger.
As I suggested a moment ago, recent months have seen a huge increase in our number of Parliamentary Supporters.
And the next year will see many more.
We have a record number of parliamentarians wishing to go on delegations to Israel.
So, since we last met, LFI has led five delegations to Israel.
And, by the second week of January, we’ll have completed two more.
Our reception at conference in September was our biggest ever.
And, I predict, our next one will be even bigger.
LFI is stronger, and we’re also more determined.
There has never been a more important time for friends of Israel in the Labour Party to stand up and be counted.
That’s why we have been at the forefront of the campaign over the past year to call out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
As the Ambassador well knows from my conversations with him, we have a series of differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
Probably all of us in this room do.
We oppose continued settlement-building in the West Bank.
We believe that the Israeli government should do more to help advance the stalled peace process.
And we expect it to uphold the Prime Minister’s repeated commitments to a two-state solution.
But no-one – not me, not Prime Minister Netanyahu, not the millions of Israelis who would rather see our friends in the Israeli Labor party in office – believes that saying any of those things makes you anti-Semitic.
The government of Israel does not ask to be immune from criticism.
Nor should it be.
However, we must also be clear:
Hating Israel and rejecting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination;
Singling out the world’s only Jewish state for boycott and sanctions;
And attempting to equate the actions of Israel with the crimes of those who sought to exterminate the Jewish people,
Those things are anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
We should call it out,
We should stand side by side with those subjected to it,
And we should make clear that we will have none of it in the Labour Party.
So to all of my colleagues, those in the community and the Labour Party – and a special word of praise here should go to Labour Students – to all who have joined in that effort over the past year, our thanks and appreciation.
Let me briefly mention in particular three brilliant Labour women who have borne the brunt of so much abuse: Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth and Louise Ellman.
I know that you will all want them to know that we stand with them.
And can I just say a word about Louise Ellman. Louise is one of LFI’s longest-serving, hardest-working and bravest supporters.
Louise, we are all incredibly proud of you.
Your courage and determination is an example to us all.
It is important that the victims of anti-Semitic abuse have justice.
That’s why we will continue to condemn and report all and any instances of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party;
That’s why we urge the Labour Party to swiftly conclude its investigation into the events at Oxford University Labour Club and announce the results – this has gone on too long;
And that’s why we expect the Labour Party National Executive Committee to show leadership and expel Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party.
LFI is stronger and more determined than ever.
And we are leading the debate in parliament in support of a two-state solution.
We have focused over the past year on ensuring that our international aid spending truly advances the cause of a two-state solution.
We do not believe that officially sanctioned anti-Semitic incitement by the Palestinian Authority does so, so we called upon the government to tell the PA it must live up to its commitments to non-violence in word and deed.
We do not believe that the effective payment of salaries by the Palestinian Authority to convicted terrorists does so, so we urged the government to suspend that aid and investigate.
And we do not believe that Britain’s pitiful levels of investment in coexistence work brings us any closer to realising a two-state solution, so we launched a campaign to do something about it.
Any peace process needs a political dimension, an economic dimension and a civil society dimension.
Coexistence projects that bring together Israelis and Palestinians to advance the cause of mutual understanding, reconciliation and trust, is that civil society dimension.
The world has paid it too little attention.
The absence of strong constituencies for peace in Israel and Palestine is one of the results.
Let’s remember, today’s 18 year-old Israelis and Palestinians were born five years after the signing of the Oslo Accords and two years before the outbreak of the Second Intifada.
For too many Israeli young people, a Palestinian is simply a potential terrorist.
For too many Palestinian young people, an Israeli is simply an occupying soldier.
We need to help them to see each other for who they really are: a potential team mate; a work colleague; a friend.
As our party’s great friend, Shimon Peres, once said: “The way to make peace is not through governments. It is through people.”
That’s why our campaign – ‘For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace’ – is leading the global effort here in Britain to establish an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
The world invests only around £37m a year in people-to-people projects for Israel and Palestine: that’s less than £4 for each Israeli and Palestinian person each year.
The International Fund would boost that figure four-fold to £160m a year.
Earlier this month, I was in Washington helping to promote our campaign on Capitol Hill.
Today, I am pleased to announce that I have secured parliamentary time when the House returns in January to introduce a 10 minute rule bill in support of the International Fund.
This will be one of many initiatives LFI will be taking over the coming months as part of our campaign.
A campaign that will reach out to all parts of our party, and across all parties in parliament.
Our annual lunch last year provided the backing we needed to allow me to provide you with such a positive report today.
Your support today will help ensure what I hope will be another very successful year.
Israel’s friends in the Labour Party: stronger, more determined and leading the debate.