By Martin Bright
The Jewish Chronicle, November 17, 2011
Labour leader Ed Miliband used a Labour Friends of Israel lunch this week to emphasise his family connection to the country that gave refuge to his grandmother. In a highly personal speech to mark the publication by LFI of a collection of essays entitled Making the Progressive Case for Israel, he said: "I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the state of Israel". His mother's family were sheltered by Polish Catholics during the Holocaust, and his grandmother later settled in Israel. Mr Miliband also spoke about an emotional visit he had made to Yad Vashem with his mother to memorialise the Polish rescuers on the "Avenue of the Righteous".
In a speech clearly aimed to allay fears that Mr Miliband did not have the same commitment to Israel as his predecessors Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, the Labour leader emphasised his admiration for Israeli democracy.
The audience included key members of the New Labour aristocracy, including Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Tessa Jowell and Alan Johnson as well as rising stars such as Luciana Berger, Mary Creagh, Michael Dugher, Rachel Reeves and LFI chair John Woodcock.
Mr Miliband tackled the issue of his support for the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, which he recognised had been difficult for some in the room to accept. He said the task of leadership was to make difficult decisions, but in the context of the Middle East he always hoped he would make "the decision that will further the cause of peace". He added that the decision to back the change in the law of universal jurisdiction had also been a difficult and had also been unpopular in some sections of the party. He did not mention Labour's candidate for London mayor, Ken Livingstone, who continues to be a divisive figure in the Jewish community.
Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub revealed that he had met Mr Miliband two weeks ago and welcomed his "willingness to engage".
The LFI essay collection, which includes contributions from Ms Reeves and Mr Dugher, was inspired by the work of former LFI chair David Cairns, who tragically died earlier this year. Mr Cairns's powerful final speech is also included.
This ended with a challenge to opponents of Israel on the left: "It is not left-wing or progressive to ally oneself with those that seek Israel's destruction, or those who don't value one iota the type of society we strive for in this country. So I am appealing for all those who value peace and justice to support our values where we see them lived out, and to assist - not obstruct - those people working on the ground to resolve their conflict and build their progressive society."