Jennifer Gerber has announced that she will be stepping down as director of Labour Friends of Israel in September after ten years in the job.
Having taken the role in 2010, she described today how “it has been a huge honour to lead the LFI for the past decade” – but talked of working with “an incredibly challenging backdrop” in recent years.
Gerber praised MPs who left the party over antisemitism, and said it was testament to them that “Keir Starmer has committed to fully rooting out the antisemitism and Israel obsession we have seen in the party over the past five years”.
She said: “It has been a huge honour to lead LFI for the past decade. I am so proud of what the team achieved against an incredibly challenging backdrop. It has not been easy to be a friend of Israel on the left, but we have never shied away, and continue to make the case for Israel on the left.”
“It is testament to brave former MPs like Joan Ryan and Louise Ellman, that Keir Starmer has committed to fully rooting out the antisemitism and Israel obsession we have seen in the party over the past five years.
“I will miss my incredibly talented colleagues and all those who have supported the LFI over the years but look forward to seeing all it will do and achieve in the years ahead.”
Gerber had previously been the director of Progress, and worked as a special adviser to Andy Burnham, before serving as the director of the LFI. She will be replaced by Michael Rubin, who is currently the political director of the organisation.
Rubin said: “I’m delighted to have been appointed at this crucial time for friends of Israel on the left. We now have a tremendous opportunity to make Labour a party that is proud to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.”
In what was his first meeting with the group as Labour leader last week, Starmer said he understood that “the past few years have been difficult for members of LFI” and pledged to visit Israel with the organisation.
He said: “I was delighted to meet with LFI today to put on record my thanks for the crucial role they play in the Labour Party, for contributing to a balanced debate on the Middle East and for their work in supporting initiatives to promote a peaceful two-state solution for the people of Israel and Palestine.
“I also wanted to make clear that I understand the past few years have been difficult for members of LFI as far too often the debate on the Middle East and Israel has descended into hateful antisemitism.
“As Labour leader I am determined to confront this, rid our party of antisemitism and ensure we conduct our political debate in a respectful and constructive manner.”
He was welcomed by LFI chair Steve McCabe to the virtual event held via Zoom, who described how “we have already seen the start of real progress in tackling the scourge of antisemitism in the party”.
McCabe said that under Starmer “Labour will once again be an honest-broker on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, and that “ending the disproportionate obsession with Israel is also vital to making our party a safe and welcoming space for Jewish members”.
He added: “It is extremely positive that Keir has agreed to visit Israel with LFI as soon as is possible. We will play a full and constructive role in supporting Keir and I look forward to working with him to rebuild our party.”
Under the new leadership, Labour last month called on the government to ban the importing of goods from illegal settlements in the West Bank if the Israeli government pressed ahead with annexation plans.
“But the LFI has said it “totally opposes imposing sanctions on Israel” as the policy “would only serve to weaken those in Israel fighting annexation and embolden the right in their bunker mentality”.