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Labour’s approach “would drive a wedge between Britain and Israel”

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This article was first published in the Telegraph. You can read BICOM’s full briefing on Labour’s Middle East foreign policy here.

An “unbalanced” approach to the country by a Corbyn government would threaten Britain’s ability to “play an effective diplomatic role” in the conflict.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in Israel, who held talks with Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, earlier this month, said a “shift in UK policy to an unbalanced approach would be cause for concern.”

His intervention came as a report by a pro-Israel think tank warned that Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to the country would “drive a wedge” between the UK and “both Israel and Western-aligned Arab states”, as well as threatening Israeli investment in Britain.

This week supporters of Israel within the Labour party are hoping that Ms Thornberry will signal a shift in the party’s rhetoric on the country and how the conflict should be solved, in a keynote speech to the party’s Friends of Israel Group on Tuesday.

In a statement posted on the organisation’s website last week she expressed sympathy for security concerns voiced by Israel, saying there was “a long way there is to go before Israeli citizens can feel safe in their homes and on their streets”.

“I do think that if more people in Britain understood what it’s like for ordinary Israelis to have to live with that constant undercurrent of fear, there would be better understanding of why the security situation is so fundamental to any progress,” she added.

Earlier this month Ms Thornberry visited Israel and the West Bank with Labour Friends of Israel and held talks with senior figures including Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader and Labour representative in Israel’s Knesset.

Mr Herzog told The Telegraph: “Any shift in UK policy to an unbalanced approach would be cause for concern, threatening not only UK-Israel relations, but Britain’s ability to play an effective diplomatic role, and its wider regional influence.

“I recently had the pleasure of meeting Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry to discuss these issues, and given the British Labour party’s proud history of friendship with Israel, I hope the party will remain committed to a strong UK-Israel relationship and a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

His comments came ahead of the publication this week of a report by Bicom, a pro-Israel think tank focused on Israel and the Middle East, which states that the Labour leadership’s approach to international affairs is “in flux” as “the radical left agenda that has defined Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters meshes with the possibility of facing the real world challenges that come with holding office.”

The paper, which will be published this week, warns that official positions such as a pledge to recognise Palestine immediately would have “a chilling effect on UK-Israel relations”.

A Corbyn-led Government would also make the UK more likely “to immediately condemn Israel in a situation of escalated conflict such as fighting between Israel and Hamas or Hezbollah” in contrast to previous governments that have “supported Israel’s right to self-defence.”

The report states: “During a recent visit Israel Thornberry was keen to stress that UK-Israel relations would remain strong under Labour and to play down differences between their position and the current government,” it states.

“However, there is clearly the risk of a broader ‘chilling effect’ on UK-Israel relations. The perception of a negative attitude of the Prime Minister and his circle to Israel would likely have a ripple effect through Whitehall, with Israel no longer being seen as a priority for UK engagement.

“This atmosphere could negatively impact years of government support for cooperation in research, hi-tech and trade built up under a succession of Prime Ministers warm towards Israel. The change of atmosphere could also lead to reduced Israeli investment in the UK, currently Israel’s top investment destination in Europe.”

James Sorene, Bicom’s chief executive, said: “Labour’s foreign policy is an issue of deep concern to many of our closest allies in the Middle East, and around the world. Decades of intelligence and defence cooperation are at risk. Booming bilateral trade, inward investment and job creation could be inperil, precisely when we need them the most as we leave the EU.

“If Labour move too close to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah then this will also undermine international efforts to fight terrorism and even limit the sharing of vital intelligence that saves British lives.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”