Steve McCabe: Under Keir’s new management, Labour can be honest-broker for Israel-Palestine

This article first appeared in the JewishNews. Click here to read the original. 

LFI’s meeting last week with Keir Starmer was another demonstration that our party is, as Labour’s leader put it himself, “under new management”.

Keir’s acknowledgment that the last five years have been difficult for LFI’s members and supporters, set the tone for the kind of positive and open engagement that I believe we will see under his leadership.

I am delighted that he recognises the crucial role that LFI can play in the party in ensuring a balanced and constructive debate on the Middle East and Israel. Anti-Zionist antisemitism has been at the heart of the scourge of anti-Jewish racism we have witnessed in Labour in recent years. Keir’s understanding that, far too often, that debate has descended into hateful antisemitism and his determination to both confront it and rebuild the trust and confidence of the Jewish community, is crucial. As we made clear, ending the obsession with Israel which has characterised foreign policy debates is vital to making the party a safe space for Jewish members once more.

His desire to visit Israel with LFI will provide an opportunity for him to witness first-hand the enormous security challenges the Jewish state faces. It will also allow him to see the huge opportunities that exist to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Britain, one that brings huge economic, cultural and security benefits to both our countries. Keir’s visit will also be an important signal that Labour wants to rebuild the historic bonds between our party and Israel’s centre-left, trade unions and progressive forces. Crucially, the Labour leader going to the Jewish state and paying his respects at Yad Vashem, will be a powerful, symbolic moment for the Jewish community.

It is essential that a party aspiring to become our country’s government should establish its credentials as an honest-broker on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was the stance adopted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and it underpins Britain’s commitment to a two-state solution. It means that we reject the demonisation and delegitimisation of either side and instead seek to understand the hopes, fears and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

It means also that we must work to support all those in Israel and Palestine who are striving for peace and an end to conflict and oppose actions which make achieving these goals more difficult. That is why LFI is unequivocally opposed to any Israeli annexation of the West Bank. It is also why, as we underlined to Keir, LFI does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against the Jewish state.

As we discussed, a positive, alternative approach is epitomised by coexistence work which seeks to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. LFI has been a long-standing and active supporter of the establishment of an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Modelled on the highly successful International Fund for Ireland, it aims to boost funding for people-to-people work, thereby establishing constituencies for peace, fostering trust and reconciliation, and building the vital civic society foundations upon which any lasting settlement must be founded. Once just a concept, thanks to our friends at the Alliance for Middle East Peace, the fund is now close to becoming a reality, with the passage of the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act by the US House of Representatives, set to provide an initial commitment of $110m over the next five years. This is a rare initiative that commands bipartisan support and has also been supported by Jewish groups and a broad range of pro-Israel campaign groups in the US.

Our meeting with Keir is part of a wider shift we’ve witnessed on Labour’s foreign and national security positions. Within days of taking up his appointment, the new Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, announced that Labour would support the full proscription of Hezbollah, introduced last year. He and Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, have adopted a new and welcome tone on the threat posed by Russia and China’s abuses of human rights both in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. The restoration of Labour’s internationalist tradition is one of the most welcome elements of the new management.