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January 25, 2019 2:16 pm

British Jews Furious Over Fresh Labour Party Call to Suspend UK Arms Sales to Israel

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Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry speaks at a Labour Party conference. Photo: Rwendland via Wikimedia Commons.

As the UK continues to wrestle with the absence of a political deal to accompany its departure from the European Union on March 29, the opposition Labour Party has again clashed with the Jewish community, this time over a call to suspend arms sales to Israel.

In a letter on Thursday to British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Labour Party Shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry equated Iran’s military support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria with Israeli air strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah weapons convoys and military facilities in that country. This was followed by a list of demands that focused exclusively on punishing Israel, including the suspension of arms sales to Israel and the canceling of joint exercises between the Israeli Air Force and the Royal Air Force planned for later this year.

“It would seem utterly inappropriate for the RAF to be helping to train pilots who would then be using those lessons in a war of aggression against Iran, or in breach of Iraq’s sovereignty,” Thornberry said.

British Jewish leaders reacted furiously to Thornberry’s letter.

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“Will Labour give a cast-iron guarantee that if Israel is attacked by Iran or its proxies like Hezbollah or Hamas that Labour would support Israel’s defense of its civilians?” asked Marie Van Der Zyl — president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

“British Jews are invested in the security of the region, not least because of our close religious and familial and religious ties,” Van Der Zyl continued.

Joan Ryan — a Labour MP and the chair of Labour Friends of Israel —  reminded Thornberry that “the leadership of Iran has consistently made clear its desire to destroy Israel.”

“The current tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stem from these threats and the desire of Tehran to turn them into a reality,” Ryan argued. “Thus, with the connivance of Russia — on whom, I note, you once again fail to place any responsibility for the death and destruction it has wrought in Syria — Iran has worked in recent years to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel.”

Ryan pointed out that “despite agreements signed by Russia and the US in late 2017, Iran has continued to work to increase its presence in southern Syria. This was evident in the construction last year of a new military base south of Damascus, a mere 31 miles from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.”

“It is this context and background which is totally absent from your letter,” she told Thornberry.

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