The statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – All four candidates for the UK Labor Party leadership race who attended a packed meeting with the Jewish community Monday evening had one theme in common: deep regret that the party had failed to communicate with the Jewish community in the crucial run up to last May’s general election, in which Labor suffered one of its greatest defeats in generations.
The latest opinion polls give a narrow lead to Shadow Health Spokesman Andy Burnham, who summed up the mood on Monday by demanding, “How did it get to this with the Jewish community? This cannot carry on – the party has lost the art of communicating and the art of listening.”
That sentiment was echoed by Liz Kendall, the most right-wing of the four, who received strong applause when she declared that she was the only candidate who had deliberately abstained despite being ordered to support last October’s controversial House of Commons motion calling for early recognition of a Palestinian state. She struck a nerve when she added, “We have lost your trust.”
With one exception – left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn – each of the candidates tried to outbid each other in terms of how they would, if elected, try to restore relations with the Jewish community by being more supportive of Israel. Indeed, Israel was the subject of most of the evening’s questions.
Burnham – who was formerly a supporter of Israel but has since moved toward the pro-Palestinian camp – vowed that if he won the race, his first overseas visit in his new post would be to Israel.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper reminded the gathering that during her brief term as shadow foreign secretary, she had made a visit to Israel her priority and fully supported the Jewish state.
She did not mention that during that same period, in 2010, she had also endorsed calls to label all Israeli goods from the West Bank.
Cooper asserted that in her current position, she had strongly opposed anti-Semitism, though she conceded that Labor had not been quick enough to condemn the attacks on the Jewish community that followed last summer’s Gaza war.
She added that she was “very clear” about her strong opposition to boycotts of Israel.
Kendall, meanwhile, said she would fight the boycott with “every fiber of my being,” and if elected, she would ensure that Labor showed “a strong lead” in tackling anti-Semitism.
Corbyn took a different stand than his colleagues on virtually every issue. Quizzed about a Commons lobby meeting two years ago at which he referred to his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, he explained that while he did not support the groups’ policies, he favored dialogue and believed they would be a key part of securing a solution to the Palestinian issue.
All three other candidates made clear that if they won the election, they would seek to expel Corbyn from the Labor party if he invited representatives of either or both Islamist movements to Parliament.
On boycotts, Corbyn listed a catalogue of human rights offenses he claimed Israel was committing in both the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, he said, he would continue to support sanctions against Israel, especially an arms embargo. He also demanded a much stricter regime of labeling goods from the West Bank.
Pressed on whether it should extend to all goods from Israel, he implied that it should not, but complained about instances of relabeling.
The only exception to his tougher policies toward Israel would be academia: Academics should not be subject to boycotts, he said. However, he maintained that “we have got to get real about the issue of Israel and the settlements,” and indicated that he favored economic sanctions.
In a poll by one of the co-sponsors of the gathering, members of the Jewish Labor Movement selected Cooper as their favored wouldbe leader. But with Corbyn widely predicted to place a close second to Cooper, it appears Labor will move either more in the direction of outgoing leader Ed Miliband or further left when the results are declared in mid-September.
Meanwhile, British Premier and Conservative Party leader David Cameron told The Jerusalem Post at his annual Downing Street Garden Party on Monday night that if Labor were going down that path, it would only strengthen his party’s prospects in the 2020 general election.