Meet Is­rael’s new CFI cham­pion

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - IN­TER­VIEW STEPHEN CRABB BY MAR­CUS DYSCH PO­LIT­I­CAL EDI­TOR

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

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