It’s not all that hard to say, Mr Cor­byn — it’s I.S.R.A.E.L

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

JEREMY COR­BYN’S much an­tic­i­pated party con­fer­ence speech to the Labour Friends of Is­rael group has been de­scribed as “far­ci­cal” af­ter he re­fused to men­tion Is­rael by name.

The Labour leader was heck­led as he ended his speech at the LFI re­cep­tion dur­ing the party’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Brighton on Tues­day night.

Michael Foster, a Labour par­lia­men­tary can­di­date in the May elec­tions, shouted: “Say the word Is­rael, say the word Is­rael,” af­ter Mr Cor­byn failed to re­fer to ei­ther the coun­try or LFI by name.

A se­nior Is­rael sup­porter in the party said Mr Cor­byn’s ap­proach to the event had been “just as­ton­ish­ing”.

Another Westminster-based Labour source said it had been “fur­ther proof he pos­sesses no ca­pac­ity for states­man­ship. He should know the au­di­ence”.

One Labour MP said that it would have been bet­ter if Mr Cor­byn had de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion to speak at the event.

In his eight-minute speech, Mr Cor­byn made no men­tion ei­ther of a two-state so­lu­tion or his pre­vi­ous com­ments on Ha­mas and Hizbol­lah. He also made no ref­er­ence to his pre­vi­ous calls for a boy­cott of Is­rael.

He had been warmly wel­comed by the au­di­ence, which in­cluded sup­port­ers from Labour’s Friends of Palestine group.

Mr Cor­byn said: “The is­sue of recog­ni­tion of Palestine is some­thing that was very im­por­tant in the last Par­lia­ment — it may well come up again.”

He added , “peace, ne­go­ti­a­tion, di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion” were “the right way for­ward”.

He was cheered when he said: “I hope that means the siege of Gaza, or the re­stric­tions on Gaza, can be lifted. I hope we can make progress that way.”

Mr Cor­byn said he wanted to hear all points of view on the is­sue and pledged to work with any group want­ing peace. Re­fer­ring to his

nine trips to the Mid­dle East, he said he had vis­ited “many places and met many peo­ple — some I agree with, some I don’t agree with. I have neu­tral opin­ions on lots of things.”

He thanked Bri­tain’s Jewish com­mu­nity for “open­ing their hearts and open­ing their doors” to help refugees flee­ing vi­o­lence in the re­gion.

Mr Cor­byn said he had tried to set out his “pas­sion and com­mit­ment” to fight­ing for hu­man rights around the world. “That means some­times you have to be very crit­i­cal of peo­ple for their abuses of hu­man rights. That’s why we have to stand by in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions,” he added. He also pledged to stand against an­ti­semitism and racism.

Shadow For­eign Sec­re­tary Hi­lary Benn thanked LFI for its work and said: “The re­la­tion­ship, the en­dur­ing friend­ship be­tween our two coun­tries… is one that will en­dure dur­ing the weeks and the months ahead, and one to which I am very strongly com­mit­ted.”

WHEN JEREMY Cor­byn told John McDon­nell to wave to the del­e­gates af­ter the shadow chan­cel­lor’s key­note speech — not some­thing front­line politi­cians usu­ally need to be re­minded of — it il­lus­trated, al­beit in a triv­ial way, that Labour is now in un­charted ter­ri­tory.

At its helm are two men un­used to the rules, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and rit­u­als that most of those reach­ing their po­si­tions will have learned as they climbed the greasy pole. Hav­ing never served on Labour’s front­bench in gov­ern­ment or op­po­si­tion, Mr Cor­byn and Mr McDon­nell lack that ba­sic po­lit­i­cal ap­pren­tice­ship.

Never was this more ap­par­ent than when the Labour leader spoke at the Labour Friends of Is­rael re­cep­tion on Tues­day evening with­out once men­tion­ing the word “Is­rael”.

In fair­ness to Mr Cor­byn, it was not the first such oc­cur­rence dur­ing the con­fer­ence in Brighton. He made it through a pro-Europe event — another cause for which he has lit­tle, if any, en­thu­si­asm — with­out ut­ter­ing the words “EU” or “cam­paign to stay in”.

But Mr Cor­byn is not just a slightly for­get­ful guest. At LFI, he re­mem­bered to make ref­er­ence to Palestine and Gaza — although, in what was per­haps in­tended as an olive branch, he ac­knowl­edged when dis­cussing last year’s vote on Pales­tinian state­hood that “there are peo­ple in this room that think it was pre­ma­ture”. And as soon as the emo­tive words “the siege of Gaza” had crossed his lips, he awk­wardly tried to soften them, say­ing “or the re­stric­tions on Gaza”.

Given some of his past fiery rhetoric and dis­taste­ful as­so­ci­a­tions, his very ap­pear­ance at LFI might be seen as progress. His ac­knowl­edge­ment that “ev­ery­body recog­nises the only way for­ward is through peace, through ne­go­ti­a­tion, through di­a­logue and dis­cus­sion and through recog­ni­tion of the rights and needs and tra­di­tions of all of the peo­ples of the re­gion” was opaque and bland enough to mean ev­ery­thing and noth­ing at the same time.

With­out ever be­ing clear about where and whom he was talk­ing about, it was only pos­si­ble to judge Mr Cor­byn by what he did not say: no rote ref­er­ence to Is­rael safe and se­cure within its 1967 borders, no men­tion of a two-state so­lu­tion. As David Hirsh of Gold­smiths, Univer­sity of Lon­don, noted, Mr Cor­byn’s re­marks were a dis­play of “stud­ied am­biva­lence”.

The re­al­ity is Mr Cor­byn is caught in a trap. Amaz­ingly, given his long as­so­ci­a­tion with the Pales­tinian cause, he chose not to men­tion it dur­ing his first con­fer­ence ad­dress as leader. In­stead, he fo­cused his re­marks on the Mid­dle East else­where: with a strong con­dem­na­tion of Saudi Ara­bia’s ap­palling hu­man rights record, back­ing for Barack Obama’s nu­clear deal with Iran and op­po­si­tion to mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Syria, on which Labour’s shadow cab­i­net, let alone the par­lia­men­tary party, is deeply split.

The Labour leader wants to win the ar­gu­ment on Syria: for the present, Is­rael sim­ply isn’t press­ing enough for him to pick another dam­ag­ing fight with his party’s mod­er­ate wing.

So, he stays silent: un­able to bring him­self to ut­ter the mea­sured lan­guage about a two-state so­lu­tion, which — de­spite Ed Miliband’s con­dem­na­tions of Is­rael over Gaza — re­mained Labour’s pol­icy at the 2015 elec­tion.

It is not that Mr Cor­byn has too lit­tle to say, but too much. Deep down, he no doubt wants to de­fend ev­ery ill-judged meet­ing and poorly cho­sen phrase of his past three decades in Par­lia­ment. But he knows that he can­not with­out spark­ing a firestorm. In­stead he leaves it to shadow for­eign sec­re­tary Hi­lary Benn to re­state the party’s ex­ist­ing, bal­anced po­si­tion.

Mr Cor­byn’s prob­lem, how­ever, is that the one qual­ity both his sup­port­ers and crit­ics will will­ingly grant him is his au­then­tic­ity. But, to coin the party’s slo­gan this week, that rests on his rep­u­ta­tion for “Straight talk­ing. Hon­est pol­i­tics.”

It is in­dis­putable, too, that the huge man­date he won ear­lier this month was for just that type of lead­er­ship. A vote for stud­ied am­biva­lence it most cer­tainly was not.

Mr Cor­byn at LFI

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