The Labour Party should not have voted for Britain to recognise the Palestinian state said a leadership candidate during election hustings organised by Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Chronicle. Referring to last year’s Parliamentary vote in which Labour whipped its MPs to in favour of the resolution to recognise Palestine, Liz Kendall argued it was not the “right thing to do” and that a “responsible opposition” would not have done it.
Kendall told the hustings that hostility between Labour and the Jewish community “really did come to a crunch in the vote on the House of Commons on recognising the Palestinian state” – a vote in which she abstained rather than follow her party’s line despite pressure from her own constituents to back the vote .
She added: “I don’t believe we would have done that had we been in Government and I believe a responsible opposition that seeks to become the Government should behave in the same way – particularly over such an important issue as this.”
The Jewish Chronicle reports three quarters of the hustings focused on Israel, including questions about boycotts, the current Israeli government, West Bank settlements and even the 2017 centenary of the Balfour Declaration.
As he must have expected on entering the lion’s den, hard line leftist Jeremy Corbyn was asked about his references to Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists as “friends”. He restated his defence that he referred to Hizbollah that way during a welcome to a number of groups he had invited to speak in Parliament. On this occasion he did not lose his temper with the questioner as happened when the same issue was raised by Channel 4 News.
Other leadership contenders challenged Corbyn’s defence. Andy Burnham said he would consider sanctioning MPs who invite terror groups such as Hizbollah to Parliament and Yvette Cooper said: “We have to be immensely careful about the language we use. You cannot describe as ‘friends’ groups who engage in terrorist activity.”
Kendall, Burnham and Cooper were united in their opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. Cooper called them “counter-productive” and Kendall said she would fight them with “every fibre in [her] body”.
On the other hand Corbyn said he supported an arms embargo and boycott of products from the occupied territories but was not in favour of either a generalised or an academic boycott of Israel.
The Jewish Chronicle reports Corbyn did not directly answer a question from Community Security Trust communications director Mark Gardner. Corbyn was asked about his leadership of the Stop the War Coalition and its support of the anti-Israel Quds Day rally which Gardner described as a “festival of hate”.
CST’s Mark Gardner asks Corbyn whether Stop the War will pull out of Quds Day “festival of hate”. Corbyn doesn’t answer. #labourhustings
— Marcus Dysch (@MarcusDysch) July 20, 2015
Corbyn was not totally isolated in his criticism, Burnham told the audience he would not describe himself as a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration. That said when asked how important he would see it to visit Israel if elected leader, he still found it possible to assure the audience his first foreign trip would be to the country.