Yvette Cooper: ‘It’s nonsense to say Labour is anti-Israel’

My interview with Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper:

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has hit back at claims that Britain’s relationship with Israel would be weakened if Ed Miliband became prime minister.

Ms Cooper said it was “utter nonsense” to claim this country’s role as a key ally of Israel would be seriously diminished if Labour won the general election in May.

She also insisted that Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community was “as strong as ever” and that differences of opinion on Israel should not detract from the ongoing work between Labour politicians and communal organisations.

Ms Cooper was responding to comments made last month by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers who said the impact of a Labour government on Britain’s relationship with Israel could be “chilling”.

Speaking to the JC in her Westminster office this week, Ms Cooper said: “Labour has always shown very strong support and a strong relationship with the Jewish community in government.

“Our commitment is as strong as it has ever been. Of course there will be different discussions people will always have about aspects of foreign policy, but I don’t think that remotely detracts.”

She said Ms Villiers’s effort to “play party politics” with foreign affairs was “disappointing”, but described Mr Miliband’s criticism of David Cameron’s approach to Israel’s conflict with Hamas last summer as “rather different”.

Backbench Labour MPs have been among the strongest supporters of boycotts against Israel, but Ms Cooper said Mr Miliband’s response should reassure those working to combat delegitimisation.

“Ed has been very clear on the issue of boycotts. He has taken a firm line from the beginning,” she said. “Ed does defend Israel but that’s not to say he will support every decision the Israeli government takes. No one could expect that.”

Ms Cooper’s portfolio has led her to work closely with Jewish groups on tackling antisemitism. The community’s concern over a lack of visible security measures — backed up by JC polling last month — was due to government cuts, she said.

“We have a concern that nationally there’s a retreat going on from neighbourhood policing because of the scale of cuts. It’s a big problem.

“You need that community-led policing work because people have a right to feel safe on their streets and in their homes,” Ms Cooper said.

Jewish neighbours in the Stoke Newington area of north London had told her of their concern after the killings in Paris.

She said: “When you have those sorts of high-profile attacks, or shouting in the street, things on social media, the impact that can have on people’s lives, we should never ignore that. We have to take it seriously and provide that reassurance for people.”

Ms Cooper said a Labour government would introduce initiatives to challenge extremism and radicalisation of young British Muslims.

A broad new strategy was needed to tackle hate crime, with combating antisemitism as a focal point.

She repeated her attack on social media companies which, she said, had not done enough to stop users posting antisemitic messages and highlighted how fellow Labour MP Luciana Berger, was abused by an internet troll.

“Much more needs to be done. Look at what happened with Luciana — someone convicted of using Twitter to commit a crime is then allowed back on to Twitter to do the same sort of thing all over again. It’s incomprehensible that Twitter allows that within their rules. ”