(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Theresa Villiers, a senior government cabinet minister, has stepped up the battle for Jewish votes in the UK’s May 7 general election by telling her north London constituents that a Labor Party-led administration would damage the historic close relationship between Britain and Israel.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, leader of Labor, has insisted that if elected premier, he would be “as good a friend to Israel” as current Prime Minister David Cameron.
Villiers, in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, said that a Labor government could have a “chilling” effect on relations with Israel. She is the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.
Referring to Miliband’s sharp criticism of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s conflict with Hamas, Villiers said, “The big problem with Labor is they were not a friend to Israel in its time of need. I have met people who say, ‘I’ve been a Labor voter all my life, but I won’t vote for them this time round.’” At the time the Labor Party leader described the IDF operation in Gaza as “wrong” and “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” He later criticized Cameron, suggesting he had been too timid in his response to Israel’s actions.
And just weeks later, Miliband effectively forced his party to vote for a nonbinding indicative Commons backbench motion calling for early and unilateral support for recognition of a Palestinian state “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution,” a move that Cameron said showed Labor’s “true colors.”
Villiers said, “The Palestinian statehood issue is a really frightening prospect. If there was a Labor government, we could conceivably have a UK government talking about the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, which I think would be hugely counter-productive.
“There’s a real danger we’d have the UK voting in favor in the UN if Labor were to win the election. That I find really chilling,” she continued.
Miliband has hit back. Speaking at a meeting for 200 Labor supporters in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Mill Hill, northwest London, he described himself as a “friend of Israel” and then stoutly defended his party’s stance in last October’s Commons vote.
Later, interviewed by the Jewish News, he said, “I recognize there will be some people in the community who don’t agree with me, of course I do. I really want to say clearly, though, there are different voices within the community and when we disagree about actions of the government of Israel, that is in one category.”
But he added, “There are the things that unite us: intolerance of those who question the existence of the State of Israel, intolerance of boycotts and total intolerance of anti-Semitism.”
He said he didn’t buy the idea that comments on Israel by Jews or politicians must always be compartmentalized as either pro- or anti-Israel.
Asked if he thought he would be as good a friend to Israel as Cameron, Miliband – who also expressed his sadness at the tensions felt on campuses as a result of delegitimization efforts – said: “Yes. The way you support the State of Israel – and the way I’ll support the state – is being intolerant of those who question Israel’s right to exist, those who attack Israel in various ways.”
Any decision on recognition if he should form the next government, he added, would be taken in the context of future negotiations. A vacuum without a peace process, he warned, would lead to “disaster.
As a friend of the state, the most important thing we need is meaningful negotiations – and the responsibility is absolutely on both sides – that is the best potential hopes of security for the state in future.”