|Labour Friends of Israel welcomed shadow chancellor and LFI vice-chair Rachel Reeves as keynote speaker at its Annual Lunch this week, the largest since Labour was last in government.
Following on from last year’s success, at which Labour leader Keir Starmer made clear his rejection of antisemitic anti-Zionism and BDS, the 2022 Annual Lunch was LFI’s biggest since 2010, with over 350 attendees and over 70 parliamentarians in attendance, including around half the shadow cabinet.
- Alongside Rachel Reeves as keynote speaker, the lunch was also addressed by LFI chair Steve McCabe MP, and Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely.
- Israeli Labor leader Merav Michaeli also addressed the event, flying to London especially to speak. She is the second senior Israel leader to address the lunch in recent years, following President Isaac Herzog’s keynote speech in 2018.
- Alongside 70 sitting parliamentarians, a number of former MPs were in attendance, including Luciana Berger, as were a dozen prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) and Labour general-secretary David Evans.
- Around half of the shadow cabinet were present, including shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, and shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy.
- Also in attendance were Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, JLC chair Keith Black, Board of Deputies vice-president Edwin Shuker, and former LFI chairs Dame Louise Ellman and Joan Ryan.
- The Annual Lunch followed LFI’s hugely successful conference reception in Liverpool in September.
Rachel Reeves became the first shadow chancellor to address an LFI Annual Lunch since 2012, when Ed Balls addressed the event. Speaking for around twenty minutes, her speech reaffirmed the shift in Labour’s position since 2020, outlined by Keir in his speech last year as strongly pro-Israel and supportive of a two-state solution.
- Reeves heralded Labour’s progress at tackling problems of antisemitism under Starmer’s leadership, declaring that the party would not tolerate the downplaying of antisemitism and adding that Jew-hate had “no place in a party that holds equality as its highest value”.
- She thanked former MPs like Luciana Berger, Joan Ryan and Dame Louise Ellman for their work and expressed her “dismay and disgust” by the antisemitic abuse they had been subjected to in the Corbyn years.
- She added that those who denied Israel’s right to exist or compared Israel to the Nazis were guilty of antisemitism and had “no place” in the Labour party.
- Reeves also talked about the impact of the three LFI delegations to Israel she has been on – first as a PPC in 2005 – underlining the importance of LFI’s work.
- Reflecting on the recent election in Israel, she said that she “shared the pain” of the Israeli left in their loss, pledging to “stand in solidarity” with the Israeli Labor party and maintain a position that was “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace”, while echoing Starmer’s rejection of BDS last year.
- Reeves pointed to how Israel has “pioneered a digital driven economy from which we can learn important lessons” as Labour looks to “deliver modern public services in the UK”.
- Furthermore, she pointed to how her cabinet colleagues David Lammy and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting had visited Israel with LFI this year to learn about Israel’s world-leading health and green tech sectors.
- She ended with: “I am proud to be a friend of Israel. I am proud to be a Labour Friend of Israel” to a standing ovation.
Rachel went on to unveil a “new initiative” in UK-Israel ties in the form of a partnership between high tech firms, especially in the artificial intelligence field, to “explore the lessons we can learn from Israel’s success”. This will form part of the fresh industrial strategy under the next Labour government launched by shadow business secretary and LFI vice-chair Jonathan Reynolds in September.
The lunch was also addressed by Merav Michaeli, Israel’s minister for transport and leader of the Israeli Labor party, who flew to London especially to address the event.
- In her speech, Michaeli thanked Keir Starmer for “restoring the precious relationship between our two parties” and “leading the fight against antisemitism”.
- She admitted that Israel’s election results on 1 November were “deeply disappointing” but appealed to Labour “to stand by us, stand with us, we need you. And the wider Israeli public also needs your support”.
- Michaeli pledged that Labor would “fight the destructive agenda” of the incoming Netanyahu government and thanked the UK Labour for its opposition to the BDS movement, “which drives Israelis and Palestinians further apart and gives an excuse to avoid the compromises necessary for the path to peace”.
- On Wednesday, Michaeli met with Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy in Parliament to strengthen and reaffirm the sister party relationship between Israeli Labor and UK Labour.
In his remarks, LFI chair Steve McCabe echoed Reeves and Michaeli’s disappointment regarding the Israeli election results, which he called a “wakeup call for the left and centre”, before “sending our solidarity to our friends in the Israeli Labor party and all the many people in Israel committed to the country’s founding principles of equality for all”.
He pledged that LFI would “play its full part” as Labour looked to the next general election and beyond, including continued advocacy for a two-state solution, the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, expanding the Abraham Accords, opposing BDS and greater action against the Iranian regime.
Steve also set out how the next Labour government could implement “sensible, practical measures” in its Middle East policy to “do better” than the Conservatives’ record in office, including proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, working with international partners towards action against Hezbollah and Hamas, and ensuring that aid to the Palestinian Authority reflected a commitment to non-violence and support for a two-state solution.
He finished with a commitment to “seek an even stronger and closer relationship with Israel and its people”, which he called “our enduring allies and friends”.
The Lunch was also addressed by HE Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. In her speech, she made clear her view that “the bonds between our two countries run deep” regardless of the “political hue of the government in London or Jerusalem”. She celebrated the UK and Israel as “natural partners” and thanked “Keir Starmer and the Labour party for reaffirming your opposition to BDS, for supporting stronger bilateral ties with Israel, and for your recognition of the security threats that our country faces”.
Alongside the speakers, attendees at the Lunch also received written messages from Israeli president Isaac Herzog and Labour leader Keir Starmer, both of whom have addressed the event in previous years.
- President Herzog sent his “warmest greetings” to attendees, many of whom he noted he had “shared lifelong friendships with”.
- He celebrated LFI’s “central role” in “ensuring that all forms of antisemitism, including discriminatory boycotts, are opposed by Labour” and expressed his “optimism” at how Labour had changed since the Corbyn years.
- Meanwhile, Starmer’s message sent his “very best wishes” and reiterated his commitment to “strengthen Britain’s bilateral ties with Israel”, “uphold the right of Israel to defend itself”, and “seek to build on the Abraham Accords, which remind us that there is an alternative to violence and confrontation”.
Labour Friends of Israel would like to thank everybody who joined our Annual Lunch yesterday, including our speakers Rachel Reeves, Merav Michaeli, Steve McCabe, and Tzipi Hotovely.
Thanks to the parliamentarians and supporters who attended the lunch and made it such a success.
And a special thanks to the volunteers who helped make the event run smoothly on the day.