Background Report Two Friends of Israel Contesting Leadership of British Labor Party
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Background Report Two Friends of Israel Contesting Leadership of British Labor Party

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Denis Healey and Michael Foot, who will contest the leadership of the British Labor Party tomorrow both have a long tradition of friendship for Israel, and show no trace of the anti-Zionism which has recently been making ground in British politics.

Healey, the candidate of the right-center bloc of Labor members of Parliament, has many Jewish supporters. He represents a constituency in Leeds, a city with one of Anglo-Jewry’s biggest communities (18,000).

A rugged Yorkshireman, who flirted with Communism during his student days, Healey entered Parliament in 1952 after being nominated as a candidate by the Leeds branch of Poole Zion, which is affiliated to the British Labor Party.

He had already shown his good will towards Israel and Zionism in the immediate post-war years when he was the secretary of Labor’s international department. What won the admiration and the gratitude of the Leeds Zionists who backed him for Parliament was the fact that he had been immune to the anti-Zionism of the then Labor Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin.


Immediately after Israel became independent, Healey helped to organize, and took part in, the first delegation of the British Labor movement to visit the Jewish State. It was a journey of reconciliation between Britain and Zionism and Healey remains influenced by that visit to this day.

In the 1960s, Healey was Defense Secretary during Harold Wilson’s first administration and took part in the British Cabinet’s deliberations during the crisis leading up to the Six-Day War. He counselled against the proposals, then supported by Wilson and Foreign Secretary George Brown, that Britain should unilaterally break Egypt’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran. He doubted Britain’s military capacity to do so. Such on idea was also reminiscent of Britain’s Suez intervention in 1956 which, like most of the rest of the labor Party, Healey had criticized.

Nevertheless, that did not prevent Healey, while still Defense Secretary, from showing his friendship for Israel in other concrete ways.

Healey’s present outlook on Middle East and other international issues is probably very close to that of James Callaghan, the moderate outgoing Labor leader, under whom he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Like Callaghan, he was an admirer of Golda Meir. Healey recently published a collection of his own photographs, including a fine portrait of the fate Israeli, leader.


Michael Foot, the other contender for the Labor leadership, is the keeper of the party’s Socialist conscience and its finest orator. As a minister, he has had very little to do with foreign policy and he is therefore something of an enigma for other countries.

He is one of a group of very gifted brothers, who include Lord Carodon, Britain’s former United Nations Ambassador and who was an official in Palestine during the British Mandate.

Foot, himself, was an outstanding pro-Zionist and a bitter critic of Ernest Bevin during the final, bloody years of the Mandate. When Bevin ordered the arrest of Moshe Sharett and other leaders of the Jewish Agency in 1946, in on attempt to smash the Haganah, Foot electrified the House of Commons by declaring: “If I were in Palestine today I would be a member of the Haganah:”

At that time Foot supported the Zionist light against Britain in the leftwing weekly, “Tribune,” of which he was the editor. One of his closest Parliamentary colleagues since those days is the Jewish member of Parliament, Ian Mikardo, still one of Labor’s most valiant supporters of Israel.

Since those early days. Foot has been reticent about Middle East issues, especially since the 1956 Suez affair, which may have influenced his views on Israel. Even so, his underlying sympathy is probably intact. When he unsuccessfully tried to succeed Wilson as Labor leader four years ago, he told some of his potential Zionist supporters that they could rely on his continued friendship for Israel.


If Foot wins, however, this could enhance the prospects of a third MP of eventually becoming Labor’s leader and a possible future British Prime Minister. If the trade unions and the party’s local branches gain a major say in electing the new leader, this would give Labor’s crown to Tony Benn, the darling of the left.

Benn’s links with Zionism are even deeper than those of Healey. An avid student of the works of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, Benn has visited Israel many times. His closest links there are with Mapam. He is a sponsor of Mapam’s “New Outlook” magazine and is associated with its study center at Givat Hoviva.

Benn’s pro-Zionism is inspired by the love of the Old Testament and land and people of Israel taught his by his parents. Both were outstanding Friends of Zionism during the Mondale years. His father, the late Lord Stansgate, espoused the Zionist cause while he was the member of Parliament for Whitechapel, the old Jewish district in London’s East End. Benn’s mother, Lady Stansgate, who is still olive, has taught herself modern Hebrew and has long supported Israeli causes.

All three men are pragmatic politicians, and make British national interest their first priority, nevertheless, personal friendships and background cannot be ignored.

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