The Left and Israel: Ed Miliband just pressed reset


Alan Johnson is the editor of Fathom: For a deeper understanding of Israel and the region

In an event organised last night by the Board of Deputies, Labour leader Ed Miliband was asked by a member of the audience whether he is a Zionist. He replied, “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.”

Miliband IsraelMiliband’s journey – into the community, into the faith, and into a closer if still critical relationship to Israel – reached a new way-station last night.

It was certainly a very personal speech. He explained that he felt “huge respect, admiration and indeed a debt…to Israel for the sanctuary it gave my grandmother – Israel gave her comfort.”

But it was also a speech that gave party members a model of how to talk about Israel and Palestine.

First, he was fiercely pro-two state solution, unwilling to see any contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a friend of Palestine. He spoke a language of mutual recognition, mutual compromise and peace.  That remains the beginning of all wisdom on the issue, as LFI rightly point out.

Second, he was scathing of the polarising and counter-productive boycott movement.

He knows that efforts to delegitimise Israel are an obstacle to peace-making and he believes that proposals to break links between UK trade unions and the Israeli Histadrut, for example  – a policy pushed by the PSC and whispered into the ears of some well-meaning trade union leaders by political advisors who are engaged in their own long march through the institutions of the British labour movement – should be rejected.

And he thinks we lefties should be “intolerant of those who questions Israel’s right to exist”.

Third, he adopted the stance of a critical friend. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni once wrote that “Israel is a confident and strong democracy and [so] is able to withstand and contain criticism” when it is offered “from within the family… out of love”.

That’s what it got last night.

Miliband raised his concerns about aspects of Israeli government policy (in particular, settlements) in the name of Labour’s values, and not in the name of a dangerous campaign to delegitimize Israel. Instead Ed Miliband wants to make the progressive case for Israel in the spirit of the late David Cairns.

That case involves demanding that social justice is not elbowed aside by very real security concerns. It is positive and forward-looking and seeks to make solidarity with the democrats and peace-makers on both sides.

This broad position of progressive and critical friendship with Israel (can we start to call it ‘two-state Zionism’, please?) is in line with exciting work being done by Tal Becker and others at the Shalom Hartman institute to develop the idea of ‘aspirational Zionism’; it is in line with Tzipi Livni’s idea of a ‘new Jewish conversation’, and dare I suggest with my own idea of ‘aspirational advocacy’ set out in the Jewish Chronicle recently.

Writing in the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer points out that ‘despite the many faults of the Jewish state, going by the results Zionism is a success story… None of the other nations established over the last 70 years come even close.’

But for Pfeffer, the real meaning of Zionism today is ‘the ongoing challenge of building and maintaining a country and society that conforms to the highest global standards’ taken on by ‘Israelis engaged in the daily struggle of building their society and extricating it from racism, bigotry and hatred.’

Friends of Israel can help in that challenge. Labour’s Ed Miliband just did.

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  • Mick

    “…and that your far right is the one doing the leaking. Of other people’s blood.”

    I knew he’d be back into the comedy groove. He’s so obsessed with calling me a butcher and a bloodletter, it makes you wonder if he’s killed anybody himself.

  • Newsbot9

    So you’re saying I’m halfway more normal than you?

    And keep repeating your mantra vs reality, American troll.

  • Jack Meoff

    Yeah, that’s it. Someone who disagrees with you is a “sock puppet”. One more fine example of the tolerant leftist.

  • Newsbot9

    You. And I see, you’re whining that London wasn’t entirely flattened. And of course you’re for tit and tat, gotta up the body count.

    I’m not calling for bombing anyone, unlike you.

  • Jack Meoff

    I was thinking that myself. Should we report this to Interpol? ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/JCBoyce85 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Yes, each one of those 28 Israeli’s who have died is a tragedy and a crime, but so is the 171 Gazan’s who have died for each one of those 28! You were the one who called 171/1 ‘occasional retaliation’
    And yes, obviously Israel is colonising Palestine with illegal settlements.

  • http://twitter.com/JCBoyce85 Joe Cottrell-Boyce

    Of course I deplore the bombing of Dresden. Is that really still up for discussion by anyone???

  • Newsbot9

    Every single post. Again, keep making threats.

  • Newsbot9

    No, I’m not you. I don’t kill people.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, keep on insisting on tolerance for sock puppets and shills. Gotta disrupt conversation, after all.

  • Jack Meoff

    Bulls hit. Interpol is being notified.

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, I’m sure you engage in Animal cruelty as well. And fine, I’m quite willing to discuss your crimes with the legal authorities.

  • Newsbot9

    Malicious false accusations? Another crime…

  • Jack Meoff

    Mick, you are right. I have decided to stop responding to the idiot. This will give him the opportunity to use his right hand for something else. (I hear it’s “date night” for Newsbot9; I also heard that his left hand is jealous!)

  • Newsbot9

    Of course it is, for your far right.

  • Mick

    You obviously forget to mention the Six Day War, when a coalition of Islamic forces had the crap kicked out of it by Israel, who then moved to secure buffer zones to help ensure these psychos wouldn’t dare raise a finger to them again.

    Now they just fire rockets from amongst civilians, something Israel more than notices when the ‘plucky little Pallies’ aim for other civilian centres:http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/24/gaza-palestinian-rockets-unlawfully-targeted-israeli-civilians

    And I’m glad you do admit it’s a crime. Let’s see your lefty mates go out there and stop being apologists for the people the Israeli forces have to bash together to stop their mischief for a while.

  • Jack Meoff

    - deleted by self -

  • Newsbot9

    Yes, thanks for trying to confuse me with you again. And keep running away from anyone who dares THINK. Why, how idiotic when your Dear Leader tells you what you need to know!

  • sidjames

    This Israeli lobby in the UK is run by fifth columnist working on behalf of this forign country, to control UK forign and domestic policy. These are the acts of a subversive enemy, pure and simple. The UK’s war on Iraq was one of their successes.

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