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Wes Streeting: whether it’s on Israel or antisemitism, I get attacked by all sides

The Ilford North MP tells a Yachad conference he is ‘dismayed by the quality of debate’ in the UK

Ben Weich

September 12, 2019 17:42

Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Wes Streeting has said his calls for targeted sanctions on settlements in response to the demolition of Palestinian villages was met with pushback and “constant arguments” by the Israeli embassy.

In a speech to a Yachad student conference in North West London on Thursday, the Ilford North MP spoke of the importance of avoiding the “path of least resistance” on Israel-Palestine.

Criticizing both sides of the divide, he said he was “dismayed by the quality of debate” in the UK, with people “picking sides like they were picking a football team”.

Mr Streeting, a pro-Israel MP and prominent critic of Jeremy Corbyn, came under fire in July after advocating sanctions against some Jewish settlements, in the event that Khan al-Ahmar and other Palestinian villages were demolished.He told the Yachad conference:

“When I called out Airbnb for posting listings in illegal settlements I was denounced as ‘a fraud… more like Corbyn-lite’.

“When I said that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar should result in targeted sanctions against settlements because settlement expansion would be a death knell for the two-state solution, I was told I had joined the ranks of BDS and had ‘faux-campaigned’ against antisemitism.

“But this is an issue I wrestle with time and time again, and an argument I constantly have with the [Israeli] embassy is when the Israeli government is behaving the way that it is, apparently without any consequence, what do we do?

“When I called for targeted sanctions against Israeli settlements – if Khan al-Ahmar was demolished, which it hasn’t yet been – the backlash I got was ferocious.

“And it was taken very personally. I don’t support the BDS movement for lots of reasons – practical, political and moral. But what are you supposed to do?“

Basically, you’re shutting off a non-violent means of protesting something that is actually unjustifiable.”

Mr Streeting added that he had faced a similar backlash from the pro-Palestinian far left for his interventions in Labour’s antisemitism crisis, and had been accused of receiving payment from the Israeli embassy.

Fielding questions from students on Labour’s ongoing antisemitism crisis, the Ilford North MP said he would apologize to Jewish constituents for putting them in the position “where they don’t feel they can vote for a party they’ve voted for their entire lives”.

He also predicted that Luciana Berger would “stand a fantastic chance of winning” if she ran for the Finchley and Golders Green parliamentary seat at the next general election.

Ms Berger, formerly of the Labour Party, is a Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool Wavertree.

He said: “In the last election, lots of my Jewish constituents did stick with me. But I’m not convinced they will stick with me in the same numbers at the next general election because of our leader, and because of our very public failure to tackle antisemitism

“They see a Labour government as a risk rather than an opportunity.

“I think [Ms Berger] would eat deeply into the Conservative pro-Remain vote, which is significant in Finchley and Golders Green. And I think she will eat deeply into the Labour vote, who will see Luciana as maybe now a Liberal Democrat, but still the same woman with the same values and same integrity.

“I think Finchley and Golders Green will be an interesting race to watch if she declares as a candidate.”

Jack Lubner, who chaired the discussion, later praised Mr Streeting, saying he had been a “brilliant, brilliant ally, both in the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party and promoting a two-state solution”.

The 18-year-old gap year student told the JC: “Why Wes gives me a lot of hope – and a lot of people in this room – is that we have the same experience of having it from both sides. It’s not a very fun place to be.

“It gives me the energy and optimism to carry on fighting.”

The Israeli embassy has been approached for comment.

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