Starmer: I’ll protect community from Jew haters ‘hiding behind the Palestinian cause’

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Starmer: I’ll protect community from Jew haters ‘hiding behind the Palestinian cause’

In keynote speech at JLM conference Labour leader tells packed room at JW3 that with his party in government 'this country will be safe for you and your children'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Keir Starmer speaks at JLM conference at Jw3
Keir Starmer speaks at JLM conference at Jw3

Keir Starmer has used a keynote speech delivered at Jewish Labour Movement conference to deliver a pledge to protect the community from “people who hate Jews” who he said are “hiding behind people who support the just cause of a Palestinian state”.

Speaking at the JW3 centre, in north-west London, on Sunday, he directly addressed the problem of pockets of antisemitism that have dogged pro-Palestine demos. He told the capacity crowd: “I want to say to the Jewish community who looks upon these events, and can see hate marching side by side with calls for peace, people who hate jews, hiding behind people who support the just cause of a Palestinian state, we see what you see.

“And we understand that to be targeted for who you are, and attacked for things beyond your control, for your children to be afraid to walk the street or go to school is the greatest anxiety that a parent or a community can face.”

Stressing there was “no greater cause in my leadership” than preventing a return of anti-Jewish racism in his party, Starmer added:”I’ve dragged my party away from that abyss and I will never let Britain go anywhere near it either.

“This country will be safe for you and your children.”

During a wide-ranging speech Starmer expressed deep gratitude to JLM for their support in his efforts to turn the party’s fortunes around.

But he warned against complacency as the party continued to enjoy big poll leads in the run up to the general election.

Victory for Labour was “not”, he said, “a done deal.”

Addressing Israel’s war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attacks, Starmer said British antisemitism was not “born the day after” the atrocity.

“But nonetheless, after October the 7th we can all see that it’s taking a new shape,” he added.

He said he would “trust” the current government to “protect Jews” pointing out that ” institutions like the Community Security Trust enjoy cross-party support, and the Prime Minister has reached out during these events as well. ”

But he said he feared the direction the Tory Party was taking in its desperation to retain power.

“I worry about where it might go because the politics of division don’t help the Jewish community, and they’ve never helped the Jewish community,” he said.

Taking aim at Rishi Sunak and other senior Tories engaging in constant culture wars, he warned that it “can easily boil over.

“I’m not sure the Tories can be trusted on that anymore… I don’t know if they see the consequences,” he added.

Starmer told the JLM conference that if elected into power, his party would seek  “a different character to our politics and we can choose respect, unity and service in everything we do.”He continued:” It’s a mindset. ”

The same “mindset” was needed when approaching Israel and the Middle East, Starmer added.”Because make no mistake, if we are successful, if we have the privilege to serve this country in government, we will have to fight for the two-state solution in ways we haven’t done for years,” he added.

“The era of lip service and complacency must end.”

Starmer continued:” With that, we will all need to find a way to reach out from our own experience. Peace never makes little demands. And that will be true of Israel, as well.

“To be blunt, it already is. The need for a sustained ceasefire is clear. The bloodshed in Gaza must stop urgently. We need a humanitarian truce now, and not as a short pause but as the first step on the road away from violence. To return all the hostages to their families.

“End the killing of innocent civilians. Provide full humanitarian access into Gaza, and the medicine, water, fuel and food people need – urgently – to stave of the threat of a devastating famine.”

But he then admitted:”None of that can happen while rockets fly over Israel and bombs land on Gaza, but until we see that on the ground, it is hard to move towards what we all want, which is the prize of the two-state solution. A safe and secure Israel, alongside a viable Palestinian state…”

Later Starmer confirmed to Jewish News, that ex-MP Luciana Berger would lead a mental health strategy review for the party, four years after she quit over antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Berger rejoined Labour as a member last year and was unveiled in the key role for the party on Sunday, praising Starmer on stage for the ruthless way he had attempted to rid the party of the scourge of anti-Jewish racism.

Berger, who served as a shadow health minister between 2013 and 2016, will present recommendations ahead of the next election about how to achieve Labour’s plans to prevent mental ill-health and suicide prevention.

Starmer said he was “proud” to welcome Berger to the role. “It will be the mission of my Labour government to make sure fewer lives are lost to suicide,” he said.

“Luciana is a fierce advocate for mental health and her work will contribute to achieving that mission.”

During his speech Starmer also heaped praise on Berger, Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman and Baroness Anderson, who were seated at the front of the venue as he spoke.

Earlier Starmer had been introduced to the audience by JLM national chair Mike Katz, who mentioned the integral role the organisation played in the party today.

After speaking, Starmer took part in a further Q&A session, with barrister and Finchley and Golders Green parliamentary candidate Sarah Sackman on stage.

Starmer told the audience it was “humbling” to be at the event, and that it “hardly seems possible that four years ago we would be in this place”.

He is “forever grateful” for being given the “space” needed when he took over as leader to take action, but acknowledged “some members of this community still need to see more from us”.

He said “the work goes on”, and the test is “whether those we have hurt so much had the faith to come back”, though it was not for him to say if it had passed or not.

“Whether you left or stayed, you were all fighting for our values, and I will never be able to thank you enough”.

Starmer later admitted that his faith in the structures around inter-faith work between the Jewish community and others in the aftermath of October 7th had been dented, and that more work and more funding was required to imporove the situation.

Starmer also referenced his earlier tough stance on MPs within his party who had backed a statement from the anti- NATO Stop The War Coalition in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when asked about MPs within Labour, including Apsana Begum, who had condemned UK and US action against the Houthis in a speech on Saturday.

Sunday’s JLM event was completely sold out, and was the first time one organisation had booked out the entire venue to use themselves.

Starmer’s appearance had been kept secret until the last moment for security reasons, as had an appearance for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

Wes Streeting,  Bridget Philipson and Peter Mandleson were among the party heavyweights to speak, alongside Lord John Mann, Wayne David, Alex Davis-Jones and Anneliese Dodds.

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