Making the Progressive
Case for Israel

A Series of Essays Compiled by Labour Friends of Israel

‘Making the progressive case for Israel’ was launched by David Cairns in a speech in March, one of the best speeches I have ever read and one which, tragically, David was unable to give due to illness. I was very proud to deliver it on his behalf. However, if I had known that it was going to be the last thing that its brilliant author would ever write, I would have been barely able to get the words out.

After David’s death I was honoured to be asked to be the new chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and to continue David’s work on making the progressive case for Israel. Shortly before he became ill, David had begun planning for a book on this subject to explore, in more detail, Israel’s progressive economy and society. So I am delighted that we have published this collection of essays by leading figures in the Labour movement on this very important issue, but I am also extremely sad that it is in memory of David Cairns, rather than introduced by David himself.

Through these essays, the authors are challenging a growing and dangerous phenomenon: the idea that to be left-wing is to be anti-Israel. By identifying only with the Palestinians, the perceived underdog, and by viewing the conflict solely through the prism of the strong versus the weak, elements on the left are both ignoring the complexities behind the ongoing conflict and the progressive values that are lived out in Israel every day.

David identified that over the last few years, on seeing violence from the region on our TV screens and reading about failed peace efforts,we have become distanced from the true nature of Israel. He therefore recognised that we have a task to do, to bring together progressives in Israel and the UK, in order to ensure that those on the left of British politics can feel comfortable and proud in their support for the State of Israel. David was deeply concerned, as conveyed in his speech which forms the first chapter of this book, that his, and his likeminded colleagues’, support for Israel was beginning to be regarded as an oddity – something artificially tacked on to his Labourgrounded support for a politics of equality of opportunity, democracy and social welfare – rather than something integral to it.

This shift is deeply worrying for two reasons. Firstly, because the misinformation disseminated about Israel is often deliberately designed to weaken and undermine the only country in the region that shares our progressive values; and secondly, because it is in the roots of our own Labour movement to be internationalist, and to reach out,support and collaborate with those that share our values, to our mutual benefit. To that end, the authors of the following chapters not only seek to identify the progressive achievements and ambitions of this young, small and proud nation, but to also identify those challenges that Israeli progressives are working to overcome in Israel today, to realise our shared ambitions. I have just returned from the region with a delegation of Labour parliamentarians, and it was clear from our visits and meetings that, despite the challenges and frustrations of the stalled peace process, we were in a progressive country looking to the future, with so many engaged in seeking a better world for all of its citizens. Much of our discussion with Israelis and Palestinians rightly focused on the need to advance the peace process and achieve two states for two peoples. But we were able to range far wider too: we met with Tsofen, an Israeli NGO working to increase the numbers of Arab Israeli citizens employed in the thriving high-tech sector; we visited Better Place, an Israeli-run electric car venture striving to reduce the world’s dependence on oil; we visited a Kibbutz, which has retained its spirit of communal work and living, whilst engaging with the modern economy; we visited a fortified high school in the deprived south of the country, built at great expense to allow students to continue their all-important-education as they suffer from rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza; we met journalists working in Israel’s vibrant and free media; we discussed with senior members of the Israeli Labor party the meaning behind the recent social protests, the biggest protests in Israel’s history; and we met with Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould to discuss the importance of bilateral cooperation and engaging with all of Israel’s diverse society.

Rachel Reeves MP and Jonathan Reynolds MP, both Vice Chairs of LFI, joined us on this visit, and have written of the progressive nature of the Israeli economy, and how it supports, and is supported by, world-class healthcare and education provision.

In the following chapter, by setting out Israel’s strong human rights record which has endured through years of existential threat, Dr Brian Brivati challenges those determined to focus only on the areas where the country falls short. In celebrating its freedom of the press and its vibrant democracy, Dr Brivati calls on progressives to work alongside, not to undermine, our liberal allies in the country.

Legal expert Adrian Cohen provides an overview of Israel’s robustly independent judicial system, asserting that it is a progressive defender of individual and democratic rights.

LFI Vice Chair Michael Dugher MP and Steve Scott, Director of Trade Union Friends of Israel, make the case for close cooperation between British, Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and against boycotts.

Baroness Ramsay, LFI’s Chair in the House of Lords, has written about how, despite being in a constant state of war with neighbours that seek its destruction,Israel remains a committed and constructive member of the international community.

Progress Director Robert Philpot discusses Israel’s history of immigration, its efforts to integrate ethnic and religious minorities, and its international prominence as a champion of LGBT rights.

Meg Munn MP has written on the Israeli feminist movement, and the great strides Israeli women have made in the fields of education, the economy and politics.

Dr Peter Kyle discusses the profound role played by civil society in Israel, both in the founding of the state and running of the modern country.

Wes Streeting has focused on the centrality of Israel’s youth movements to the country’s creation, and the need for Israel’s and Britain’s progressive youth to work together, to achieve shared goals.

Dr David Hirsh traces the history of and reasons for the success of Zionism. He encourages support for those Israelis working for peace with their neighbours and challenges those that attempt to treat Israel as an idea, rather than an established state.

In the final chapter of the book, LFI Vice Chair Louise Ellman MP discusses the progressive and mutually beneficial nature of Britain’s bilateral relationship with Israel, and urges support for this relationship, for the sake of supporting peace and mutual understanding.

All authors are writing in a personal capacity.

I hope that you find the following essays as fascinating and inspiring as I do, and that you will join us in making the progressive case for Israel.

John Woodcock is the Labour Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness, a Shadow Transport Minister and the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel.