UK Labour’s pick for top diplomat would consider arms embargo against Israel

In Ramallah, Emily Thornberry ignores Abbas’s anti-Semitic speech, slams Netanyahu’s ‘blatant contempt for the interests of peace’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, with Labour's Emily Thornberry after arriving for the declaration at his constituency in London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, right, with Labour's Emily Thornberry after arriving for the declaration at his constituency in London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The UK’s would-be next top diplomat this week called for a review of her country’s arms sales to Israel to ensure Jerusalem would not use British weapons “to attack innocent Palestinian civilians.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who attended the Palestinian National Council summit in Ramallah this week, also reiterated her vow that the the next Labour government would “without delay” recognize a Palestinian state.

Writing on Facebook, Thornberry promised the Palestinian leadership the support of her party and made “three solemn guarantees” of steps a new Labour government would take “as soon” as it comes into office.

“First, as we rightly mark this month the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel, I said it is also right — and long overdue — for the United Kingdom to formally recognise the State of Palestine, and urge other countries to do the same, not in due course, not when the time is right, but now and without delay,” she wrote.

Secondly, she vowed her party would host an “international funding conference to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people” and Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. This was necessary to make up for the funds the US administration has withheld from the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

“And third, I said a Labour government in Britain would immediately review the sale of arms by the United Kingdom to Israel to ensure that none of the weapons sold by our country are being used by the Netanyahu government to attack innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza or anywhere else,” Thornberry went on.

In her lengthy statement, posted to Facebook on May 1, she did not mention Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s controversial speech the day before, during which he claimed the Holocaust was not the result of anti-Semitism but of European Jews’ social behavior, including usury.

Abbas’s speech, a photo of which Thornberry posted alongside her statement, was widely criticized for its anti-Semitic content, including by the UN, US, the European Union, the German government and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, as well as countless politicians and historians from across the Western world.

Dear Friends, I had the privilege these past few days of representing the Labour Party at the conference of the…

Posted by Emily Thornberry on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

In her post, Thornberry harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, charging that their policies “displayed a blatant contempt for the interests of peace in the Middle East and the chances of making progress towards a two-state solution.”

Israel’s alleged misdeeds include the expansion of West Bank settlements, the “crippling blockade against Gaza, the brutal and lethal suppression of protests on the Gaza border, and the unlawful detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian children,” according to the UK foreign shadow secretary.

She criticized the US administration for its “reckless and irresponsible decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem, and the cruel cuts in funding for the UN agencies providing healthcare, education and humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees.”

While Thornberry detected “considerable anger” in Ramallah, which she said she shared, she also felt that rather than succumbing to exhaustion and despair, her Palestinian hosts were ready to “more clearly than ever” reiterate their commitment to a two-state solution leading to a Palestinian state “living alongside a secure Israel, both sides recognising each other’s right to exist, and to live in peace.”

Emily Thornberry (right) with former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner in Jerusalem on November 9, 2017 (Courtesy Labour Friends of Israel)

Last November, Thornberry, who visited Israel several times in the 1970s and early 1980s, told The Times of Israel in an interview that she loves “the liberal democracy” that is the Jewish state, but added that the “continued occupation of the Palestinians” had to be addressed.

“We’re very critical of the Israeli government… A lot of Israelis are pretty critical of the Israeli government, too,” Thornberry said at the time. “We can tell each other the truth. We think the Israeli government has lost its way.”

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Her boss, Labour chief and prime ministerial candidate Jeremy Corbyn, is known as a fierce critic of Israel and has is embroiled in a massive scandal involving his allegedly weak response to anti-Semitism within his party.

Last month, Corbyn said he was planning to come to Israel and meet Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s office refused to say whether he would be willing to host Corbyn.

A few days later, Israel’s Labor party announced it was cutting ties with Corbyn, citing his “hostility” to the Jewish community and Israel “and the anti-Semitic statements and actions” he has allowed to take place as the leader of his party.

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