Elections for Labour’s NEC are not always considered as exciting as the vote-off from I’m a Celebrity, however, recent elections for what is sometimes dubbed ‘the soul of the Labour Party,’ have been an exception; it brought the return of Luke Akehurst, a former colleague of mine on Hackney Council and, how shall I put it, yes, I will use the word, a Zionist.
For many years Luke has supported Israel’s right to self-determination – the essence of Zionism. Although non-Jewish, he has spoken at many shuls and Jewish gatherings, as Director of We Believe in Israel, he has sought to combat the demonization of Israel, whilst respecting the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, too.
A keen supporter of Labour’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, Luke not only won election to the NEC, he finished top of the constituency section, voted on by all members.
To be a Zionist in the Labour Party in recent years, has been akin to being a vegetarian in a not entirely strictly kosher butchers’. Things are changing.
Many years ago, I sat in the house of the Head of the East Jerusalem Electric Company, drinking Turkish coffee with him, on a trip arranged by Mapam (now Meretz). It struck me how much a peace agreement is needed by all parties to the conflict, in their interests – and everyone else’s. It must begin with greater economic co-operation, rebuilding of trust – then, eventually, a full agreement.
With increased economic opportunities, an EC-style arrangement could cement relations for future generations; Bethlehem has enormous potential, not as a Disney-style theme park, but as an iconic location for people of all faiths and none to visit. When I visited the Church of Nativity with my Moslem friend Muniba Shams, it was a spiritual experience for both of us, Jesus’ place of birth may not be fundamental to either of our religions, but it was meaningful to us.
Supporting Israel is not the same as supporting all the actions of its’ Government, as the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism makes clear. Criticism is fine – in fact, almost compulsory amongst Israelis, who find differences discussing almost anything. In Biblical times, it can be imagined, one saying to the other, as they wandered through the desert ‘the earth is flat’, the other replying, ‘how flat, haven’t you heard of mountains?’ Argument and disagreement are fine, obsessive hatred is not.
Luke and I both supported Ed Miliband for the leadership in 2010, which, in hindsight, may have been a mistake, we both campaigned for Keir, who I’m confident, will fulfil his promise, he has already shown gravitas and stoicism at a time of National Emergency and now has a majority on the NEC, who support him. It maybe, as was famously said by Harold Wilson, a week is a long time in politics; fortunately, Labour is no-longer weak.