The recent Labour Party conference has done nothing to allay the fears of the Jewish community at the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. In fact, everyone with an interest in Britain’s future should be seriously concerned.
When Jeremy Corbyn was a backbench member of Parliament, he lobbied the British government and the European Union to “end the trade with Israel.” He repeatedly called on the world to “isolate Israel” and to impose “sanctions against Israel.” As a lifelong anti-Israel activist, Corbyn has led some of the largest anti-Israel organizations and demonstrations in the world, not to mention his referring to certain terrorist groups who seek Israel’s destruction as his “friends.”
Corbyn’s hostility towards Israel in the past shows that if he was to become prime minister in the future, there is a real threat to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Jewish state.
The United Kingdom currently benefits from a close partnership with Israel. Any damage to this relationship deployed by a future Corbyn government would have devastating consequences.
The two countries have one of the closest intelligence-sharing operations in the world. The intelligence given to the United Kingdom by Israel has helped prevent numerous terror attacks in Britain and Europe, including the discovery of a Hezbollah explosives stockpile in London in 2015 that was discovered thanks to Israeli intelligence.
High-level security experts, such as retired British army officer Col. Richard Kemp, have warned that crucial intelligence-sharing and military cooperation will cease under a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Corbyn is a firebrand for anti-Israel activism in the United Kingdom. However, with the media spotlight upon him since becoming leader of the opposition, he has clearly learned to tone down his rhetoric, giving the impression of a shift in position. This is not the case.
Since Corbyn became Labour leader, the character of the party has been drastically altered. His leadership team consists of like-minded individuals, almost all of whom have been active in protests against Israel. The huge influx of new members into Labour has also been mostly those that align with Corbyn’s position regarding Israel and the Palestinians.
Jewish MPs who have been critical of Corbyn for his mishandling of anti-Semitism within the party are under threat of being purged. Among them is Dame Louise Ellman, a long-serving Jewish MP, who faced a no-confidence motion on Oct. 8, the eve of Yom Kippur, meaning she was not able to attend in person. Meanwhile Dame Margaret Hodge faces a similar challenge in her constituency after calling Corbyn “an anti-Semite.”
Not everyone in Labour is anti-Israel. However, the vocal anti-Israel backbenchers of Labour are now in leadership, steering the party away from the country’s longstanding and beneficial position of standing with Israel and the Jewish people. Meanwhile, pro-Israel sections of the party are being side-lined, vilified and bullied into silence.
This dramatic shift in Labour’s attitude towards Israel is reflected in the fact that the largest fringe events at the past few Labour conferences were anti-Israel. In contrast, the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) group decided not to host a stall or any event this year for fear of their safety.
Like last year, the Labour Party conference in September witnessed delegates jubilantly waving flags and banners, though not in support of the United Kingdom or the European Union. Instead, someone shouted “Free Palestine” from the stage. The audience gave a standing ovation, waved hundreds of Palestinian flags and chanted “Free Palestine” in response.
Shortly after this display, the party’s membership voted to effectively boycott Israeli goods and to support the Palestinian’s so-called “right of return,” which essentially calls for an end to Israel existing as a Jewish state.
What’s more, Labour has pledged to “immediately” recognize the “state of Palestine.”
This was originally in its 2017 election manifesto and repeated again at the party conference, where Shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry declared that “Palestine” would be at the top of her priority list, saying that the United Kingdom would give recognition “not in due course, not when the time is right, but now.”
A recent survey shows that the majority of Labour’s members believe accusations of anti-Semitism against the party are a political smear, with only 16 percent thinking it is the fault of the Labour leadership. And more than half of Labour’s current membership opposes Britain’s signing of a post-Brexit trade agreement with Israel, even though it will secure thousands of jobs in the country.
Sadly, in Britain today, supporting Israel is becoming a partisan issue. And it is clear that one party has placed its anti-Israel attitudes as a focal point of its political agenda.
Today, however, anyone who values Britain’s relationship with Israel must remain alert to the very real threat that a Labour government under Corbyn would pose to this important and valuable partnership.
Des Starritt is the executive director of CUFI UK.