Cameron government ‘more collectively sympathetic to Israel’

UK Jewish leader says Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg ‘wouldn’t be allowed’ to repeat call for arms ban.

June 16, 2010 00:45
3 minute read.
Group of men in the streets of the New Baghdad dis

David Cameron 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is likely to prove itself “more collectively sympathetic to Israel” than the previous Labor government, Jonathan Arkush, senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said on Tuesday.

The new Conservative-led government “has no one to compare to [former Labor prime ministers] Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who, each for their own particular reasons, were extremely supportive,” said Arkush, whose visit to Israel will include meetings with government officials.

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Blair, he said, paid a high political price for his support of Israel during the Second Lebanon War, and Brown grew up in a Scottish Presbyterian household where Zionism was seen “as part of God’s plan,” he noted.

But “collectively, the Conservative party has more Israel supporters” than Labor, he said. And although the Liberal-Democrat junior coalition partners “are collectively unsympathetic to Israel,” he continued, “on the Middle East as in other areas, they will have to play along” with their senior partner.

Arkush noted that the Foreign Office minister responsible for this area, Alistair Burt, was a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, and said the Lib-Dems “were deliberately kept away from sensitive places” in the Foreign Office.

Nick Clegg, the Lib-Dem leader who is now deputy prime minister, “would not be allowed” to repeat the calls he made for a halt in arms sales to Israel during Operation Cast Lead if there were a similar flareup, said Arkush.

Broadly speaking, in parliament, he said, “the majority is unsympathetic to Israel.”

“They still support a twostate solution,” he elaborated, “but there’s a feeling that Israel is the great wrongdoer and treats the Palestinians badly… There’s a siding with the perceived underdog.”

Still, the UK Jewish leader said that a House of Commons Middle East debate on Monday was notably “moderate” in addressing Israel in the wake of the flotilla affair, which marked a change from the “knee-jerk anti-Israel hostility” in parliament and in the media in the immediate aftermath of the bloody flotilla interception. He said the “major turning point” was the publication of IDF footage of those on board the Mavi Marmara beating Israeli commandos and the release of pictures showing the weaponry found on board.

Arkush noted, however, that Sir Gerald Kaufman, one of Israel’s strongest critics in parliament, spoke as “notoriously” as ever in the debate.

Kaufman branded the Netanyahu government “the most extremist government it [Israel] has ever had, under the most extremist prime minister it has ever had, and a foreign minister who is an avowed racist.”

“Israel,” added Kaufman, “is allowed literally to get away with murder. Only punitive international action will make even the tiniest difference. That means an arms ban, and the kind of sanctions that were imposed by the senior president [George] Bush on Yitzhak Shamir to force him to participate in international talks in Madrid.”

He went on: “Let us be clear that we cannot appeal to the conscience and good will of a country that has not demonstrated that it has either quality…” Kaufman, who is Jewish, declared that “this Israel does not want a two-state solution, but the only alternative is a one-state solution… It took the Jews 2,000 years to get their homeland in what is now Israel. After 60 years in that homeland, they now risk throwing it all away.”

Arkush said he was worried about the impact of the activities of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel within sections of the trade union movement and parts of the church, and castigated coverage of Israel in the BBC, Guardian and Independent. He described most British newspapers, however, as being pro-Israel.

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