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Emily Thornberry defends Israel and says anti-Semites 'will be drummed out' of the Labour party

3 min read

Emily Thornberry has insisted anti-Semites will be "drummed out" of Labour - as she admitted the ongoing controversy over the issue had cost the party votes at the general election.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary also condemned "bigoted" critics of Israel and pledged that a future Labour government will always defend the Jewish state's right to exist.

Her comments are a clear attempt by the party's hierarchy to draw a line under the anti-Semitism rows which have dogged Labour under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

In a speech to a Labour Friends of Israel event in London, Ms Thornberry said: "Jewish voters at the last election, on the doorstep or in the street, told me: 'I agree with your policies, and I don't like the Tories, but I can't vote Labour, as long as your party allows anti-Semitism to go unchecked'. 

"And there is only one answer to that: We will not. There can be no place in our party for anyone who holds anti-Semitic views or who denies the right of Israel to exist, and any people who hold those views must and will be drummed out of our party.

"Because it would be a crying shame if when voters next go to the polls, we fail to win councils like Barnet or seats like Finchley and Golders Green, not because we don't have the right policies or the right candidates, but because large parts of those communities feel that we are not doing enough to tackle the bigotry and prejudice that they face.

"Instead, if we can demonstrate that zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism, not just in words but in action, then I hope we can get back to having a conversation with those Jewish voters about the other issues on which we all agree."

The Islington South and Finsbury MP said opposition to the current Israeli government's policies should not be used to "justify hatred of the nation" or the boycott of its goods - something Mr Corbyn himself has supported in the past.

Ms Thornberry said she has "profound differences with the current government of Israel", but that Labour's sister party in the country offered "a more progressive future" for its people and neighbouring countries.

She said that was "a constant rejoinder to all those who somehow believe that opposition to the policies of an individual Israeli government can ever justify a hatred of the nation and its people, or a boycott of its products, its culture or its academics, or a denial of its right to defend itself from military assault and terror attacks".

She added: "That sort of bigotry against the Israeli nation has never been justified and it never will be. That is why it is so important to remember the centenaries of Labour’s War Aims and of the Balfour Declaration, because they enshrined the existence of the Jewish state and the rights of its people, as a formal principle of our foreign policy, and committed us to defend the rights of Jewish people wherever we see them attacked around the world.

"And those principles will remain a cornerstone of foreign policy under the next Labour government."

In September, Mr Corbyn faced criticism for failing to turn up at a Labour Friends of Israel event at the party's conference in Brighton.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, also told the BBC's Newsnight that accusations of anti-Semitism were being used as a way of attacking the Labour leader.

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