WASHINGTON– A British MP who recently quit the Labour Party over anti-Semitism warned participants at the annual AIPAC pro-Israel lobby’s policy conference here on Sunday night that her former party had changed beyond recognition in just three years, and that “things can change quickly” for the worse elsewhere too.
Joan Ryan, the non-Jewish head of Labour Friends of Israel, was speaking soon after AIPAC’s own CEO Howard Kohr highlighted that the lobby group is under attack for its core mission — supporting a strong US-Israel relationship — including, said Kohr, by critics who are “saying you can’t even be a good American and a supporter of Israel.”
Ryan, whose address was punctuated by warm applause from the 18,000 conference participants, said she had been a Labour member for 40 years but that the party had been “transformed… taken over by the far left” and was now “riddled with anti-Semitism.”
Under its leader Jeremy Corbyn, “who proudly declares Hamas and Hezbollah to be his friends,” Labour “now seeks to demonize and delegitimize Israel,” she charged.
She said she would “never have believed three years ago” that Labour, which she noted backed the establishment of Israel even before the 1917 Balfour Declaration, would “have sunk so low, so fast.”
Ryan noted that she and several other colleagues had now “walked away from the Labour Party” and set up a new faction, and that she had come to the US to remind her audience “that things can change quickly.”
She urged the audience to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism “unequivocally” whenever and wherever it is found. And in apparent reference to critics of AIPAC such as freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Ryan declared: “We must always call out politicians, from whatever side of the aisle, who question Israel’s right to exist, and engage in vile anti-Semitic tropes about the loyalties of British or American Jews to their countries.”
“Sticking to your convictions isn’t always popular, but it is always right,” she declared to more applause, noting that she had been subjected to a “torrent of abuse” when leaving Labour. “Those threats only strengthen my resolve,” she said, and would not stop her “standing by British Jews against the far left and the far right” and “standing up for Israel.”
“I never forget that Israel is not just a Jewish state but a democratic state in a neighborhood where democracies are few and far between” and “a country where Christians, Muslims and Jews are free to practice their faiths,” she said.
Ryan concluded, “Let’s stand together — proud of each other and proud of Israel in the battles that lie ahead.”
Ryan quit Labour last month to join The Independent Group (TIG) saying anti-Semitism was not a problem in the party until Corbyn became leader.
Nine Labour MPs have quit the party in recent weeks, many of them citing anti-Semitism.
After leaving the party for TIG, Ryan received threatening letters including death and rape threats. One letter writer, declaring support for Corybn, reportedly wrote that Ryan should be “thrown in the ovens.”
Labour has been rocked by charges of anti-Semitism in its ranks since the hard-left Corbyn became its leader in 2015, with Corbyn himself also facing such accusations — which he has denied.