LONDON - In his first speech as leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband spoke movingly on Tuesday about how both his parents had to escape the Nazis in 1940 and created new lives in Britain. Their legacy taught him the importance of standing up for the weak and the dispossessed, and how hope can carry on in desperate times, he said.
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His late father Ralph fled the Nazis, leaving Belgium with his own father on one of the last boats out, Miliband told the Labour party conference in Manchester.
"They had to make a heartbreaking decision - to leave behind my grandmother and my father's sister. They spent the war in hiding, in a village, sheltered by a brave local farmer. Month after month, year upon year, they lived in fear of the knock at the door.
"At the same time, on the other side of Europe, my mother, aged 5, had seen Hitler's army march into Poland," Miliband said. "She spent the war on the run, sheltering in a convent and then with a Catholic family that took her in. Her sister, her mother and her.
"My love for this country comes from this story. Two young people fled the darkness that had engulfed the Jews across Europe, and in Britain they found the light of liberty," said Miliband. "They arrived with nothing. This country gave them everything."
Miliband, 40, was named Labour leader on Saturday, beating his older brother David by just 1 percent.
During his hour-long speech, Miliband commented on the Middle East, offering his positions for the first time as the official party head.
"There can be no solution to the conflicts of the Middle East without international action, providing support where it is needed, and pressure where it is right to do so," he said, before turning his attention to specifics, such as the recent end of the settlement moratorium, and the Gaza flotilla and blockade.
"As Israel ends the moratorium on settlement building, I will always defend the right of Israel to exist in peace and security," said Miliband, who has described himself as a "critical friend of Israel." "But Israel must accept and recognize in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood."
The new leader condemned Israel's halting of the Gaza-bound flotilla, and said the blockade "must be lifted, and we must strain every sinew to work to make that happen."