LONDON – Jewish community leaders have expressed concern at British opposition leader Ed Miliband’s criticism of the IDF’s move into Gaza.
Until Israel’s ground attack, the Labor Party had displayed a united front with the government.
Miliband, who has led the opposition for four years, made his first major overseas trip as Labor Party leader to Israel. In June he had made a speech in front of the Labor Friends of Israel in which he said he was proud to be “a friend of Israel.”
However, to some Jewish leaders that seems a distant memory.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that, last week, prior to the Labor Party’s policy forum, he was influenced by trades union leaders with close links to the Palestine Solidarity Movement to alter his stance toward Israel’s actions.
“I have seen for myself the fear in Israel from the unjustified and appalling rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza, and I defend Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks,” he said at the policy meeting.
But, he added, “I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians.
And as a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel’s invasion of Gaza.”
“This escalation will serve no lasting purpose and will do nothing to win Israel friends as there can be no military solution to this conflict,” he said.
He told The Huffington Post that while he supports Israel’s right to defend itself, “we oppose the Israeli incursion into Gaza.”
He said the incursion was likely to help Hamas’s recruiting efforts and undermine Israel in the eyes of the international community. “I do not think it will help win Israel friends, I do not think this will make the situation better, I fear it will make it worse.”
In an address to the Royal Institute of British Architects on Friday, referring to the latest incident at the UN school, he said it was “a horrific example of precisely what we feared: the death, destruction and mayhem resulting from the escalation of violence. And now it is spreading to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, This is a cycle of violence that has spiraled out of control.”
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council in a combined statement expressed their great disappointment.
“Whilst we recognize Ed Miliband’s support for Israel and for its right to defend itself, his latest comments regrettably ignore the ideology, psychology and actions of Hamas and thus the reality faced by Israel.”
Noting Hamas’s rocket firing and tunnel building, they added: “This is something that no government would be able to ignore, given the threat they present to the lives of their citizens.”
The board and the council said Israel was entitled to the support of all political leaders who, “if faced with a direct threat of violence to their people and on their territory, would undoubtedly be forced to act and bring such attacks to a sustainable end.”
Labor Friends of Israel’s director Jennifer Gerber, admitted they were not singing on the same hymn sheet as the party leadership.
“Ed [Miliband] has proved himself a strong friend of Israel on numerous occasions, including when he visited the country earlier this year and denounced boycotts.”
But she told the Post, “This is one of those times where LFI’s views diverge from the Leader’s, and we would ask that any future statements are more balanced and focused on Hamas and their actions, especially a clear condemnation of their use of human shields.”