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Hilary Benn calls for cooperation and engagement with Israel

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Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn told a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lunch yesterday that relations with Israel must be based on cooperation and rejected attempts to isolate the country.

Addressing senior party figures in Westminster, Benn praised Israel for its “progressive spirit, vibrant democracy, strong welfare state, thriving free press and independent judiciary.” He also called Israel “an economic giant, a high-tech centre, second only to the United States. A land of innovation and entrepreneurship, venture capital and graduates, private and public enterprise.”

Consequently, said Benn, “Our future relations must be built on cooperation and engagement, not isolation of Israel. We must take on those who seek to delegitimise the state of Israel or question its right to exist.”

Benn also expressed determination to defeat terrorism, especially the threat posed by ISIS. He commented, “Whether it is Paris, Tel Aviv, Tunisia, Beirut or Ankara, the scourge of terrorist violence affects us all and we must stand against it.” However, he also addressed the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, emphasising that “There should be an urgency about the search for peace rather than the shrugging of a shoulder.”

Also highlighting the importance of a peaceful resolution, LFI chair Joan Ryan MP said that “Our task is to help support the prerequisites for peace: the stepping stones towards a just and lasting settlement.” To this end, she said that those who wish to boycott Israel are not only “wrong in principle” but do “nothing to serve the cause it claims to advance.”

Benn and Ryan were joined by a number of other prominent Labour MPs at the event, including Shadow Cabinet members Andy Burnham, Luciana Berger and Michael Dugher, plus former-leadership candidate Yvette Cooper and former-Shadow Cabinet members Chuka Umunna, Tessa Jowell, Jim Murphy and Ivan Lewis. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has long been a pro-Palestinian activist and a sharp critic of Israel addressed an LFI panel at the Labour Party conference in Brighton in September.