Meet Israel’s new CFI champion
ISRAEL WILL be defended in Parliament by a group of “tough-minded Conservative MPs who won’t flinch under attack”, according to the new leader of one of Westminster’s key campaign groups.
Stephen Crabb, the former Tory minister, was this week announced as the new chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel in the House of Commons. He takes over from Sir Eric Pickles, who retired as an MP before June’s general election.
Mr Crabb said he would reiterate Israel’s “impressive economic achievements and record on innovation and technology” but did not intend to “tear things up and reinvent the wheel”.
He explained: “I’ve served in cabinet, I understand how Whitehall works, and I connect very well with the younger generation of MPs. The opportu- nity under my chairmanship is to give CFI more visibility with new MPs and I’m looking forward to picking up the mantle.”
Mr Crabb said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Sir Eric and other past CFI chairs by steering the group “quietly, consistently. It’s a brilliant Mr Crabb with the Chief Rabbi
example of an organisation that communicates a consistent message in a very positive way”.
The 44-year-old was once seen as a rising star of the Conservative Party. The former Welsh Secretary and exWork and Pensions Minister briefly stood for the leadership last year after David Cameron’s resignation, but pulled out following revelations about his private life.
He told the JC he was fortunate to come to the CFI role under a period of sustained support for Israel from a government “looking to deepen the relationship, cultivate it across many fronts, cultural, economic, political and in other ways”.
But Mr Crabb added: “The case for Israel needs to keep being restated — year in, year out, generation after generation. We have a very different Parliament now from a few years ago with lots of new MPs.
“There’s a clear and needed role for CFI to keep doing what it did with me when I was first elected in 2005, in educating MPs about Israel and giving them opportunities to learn and make up their own minds about the complicated picture of the Middle East.
“For such a small country it gets mentioned probably more often than any other country in foreign questions in the Commons. Very often it is raised by MPs who don’t support the case for Israel, who actually see it as their duty to chip away at the legitimacy of Israel. The role of CFI therefore is to counter some of the negative distortions that are put forward all too regularly.”
Despite his positivity about UK-Israel relations, Mr Crabb is concerned about the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
“From my last visit to Israel earlier this year I did not come back with an overwhelming sense of optimism. Having spent a week talking to Israeli politicians, journalists, academics and people in the West Bank, the most
Stephen Crabb addressing the Conservative Friends of Israel