UK’s Keir Starmer hosts Israeli Labor party in charm offensive ahead of local elections

British Labour leader Keir Starmer (AFP)

Jessica Elgot

The Guardian  /  April 28, 2022

 Senior shadow cabinet ministers invite Israeli politicians to observe Labour’s door-knocking drive in Barnet, north London.

Keir Starmer and senior shadow cabinet ministers have launched a charm offensive while hosting officials from Israel’s Labor party, including taking them door-knocking for the local elections in Barnet, north London.

In move designed to underline the contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Starmer and Rayner have hosted nine officials including the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, Chen Arieli, the party’s chief executive, Nir Rosen, and senior staffers from the Israeli leader’s office.

The Guardian understands the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, hosted the delegation for dinner and the group also met the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, and discussed campaign tactics with senior figures in Labour HQ including the general secretary, David Evans, and campaign director Morgan McSweeney.

Though they have long been “sister parties”, the previous leader, Avi Gabbay, cut ties with Corbyn in 2018 over the handling of antisemitism within the Labour party.

Once a dominant force in the country, Israel’s Labor has also been in political turmoil, suffering some of its worst results in multiple elections over the past few years, though it is now part of the shaky governing coalition with a small increase in seats.

Jonathan Cummings, international adviser to the Israeli Labor leader, Merav Michaeli, said it was a “great relief” to be in contact with the party and said they were struck by the time they had been given by senior politicians.

“Our main concern was always about antisemitism and the Jewish community – anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, that was almost a secondary issue. We wanted to be on the right side, supporting the community here,” he said.

Cummings said Starmer had been delighted to see them join to observe London activists hoping to take Barnet council, where Labour underperformed in 2018 compared to their overall results in London.

Jewish Labour activists had described encountering significant anger on the doorsteps in Barnet in 2018. Party sources hope any gains will be a major story of next week’s election results to show how the party is changing.

Starmer has repeatedly said he intends to rid the party of any antisemitic members, in the wake of the equalities watchdog report, which criticized the handling of complaints.

Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour whip for his reaction to that report and Starmer also sacked his shadow education secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, for praising an interview which compared Israeli police tactics to the murder of George Floyd. Both decisions have drawn significant criticism from the party’s left.

Starmer has also shown an uncompromising attitude towards pro-Palestinian activism since he was elected leader. He said he did not accept the findings of an Amnesty International report that Israel was an apartheid state. Its report found there was “institutionalized and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people”.

Michael Rubin, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said the visit was “an important landmark in the rebuilding of the deep and historic relationship with our sister party”.

Jessica Elgot is The Guardian’s chief political correspondent