Ahead of the UK election, a look at the parties' positions on Israel, Jewish issues

With just a couple of exceptions, parties have shown support not only for a two-state solution but to varying degrees, support for Israel as well.

By JERRY LEWIS
May 2, 2015 08:20
The statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of parliament

The statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

With all of the United Kingdom’s major political parties releasing their manifestos in advance of next Thursday’s general election, the Jewish community has been to a degree reassured that party leaders have paid heed to its positions.

With just a couple of exceptions, they have shown support not only for a two-state solution but to varying degrees, support for Israel as well.

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Prior to launching the Labor manifesto, party leader Ed Miliband was questioned about early recognition of a Palestinian state. He recalled that parliament had backed the call for a Palestinian state as part of the process toward a two-state solution, but declined to speculate as to when UK recognition would occur and especially, on whether it would be within the first year of a Labor government taking power. “That is a judgment we would have to take at the time,” he stated, somewhat cautiously.

In its manifesto, Labor made clear that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was one of the party’s most pressing foreign policy concerns.

It maintained its commitment to a “comprehensive two-state solution,” saying it was determined to see a “secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine.”

As to how to achieve that goal, the party asserted, “There can be no military solution to this conflict, and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve.

Labor will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution.”

In the Conservative Party manifesto the current government reiterated its policy, indicating a distinct and ongoing understanding of Israel’s predicament. “We will support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, robustly defending the right of Israel to protect its security while continuing to condemn illegal settlement building, which undermines the prospects for peace.”

However, over at the Liberal Democrats, while this party too says it backs a two-state solution, its leadership demonstrated why so many in the Jewish community find their stance toward Israel biased. In reference to last summer’s Gaza conflict, the Liberal Democrats condemned the “disproportionate force used by all sides,” spelling out that it not only condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks and other targeting of Israeli civilians, but also “Israel’s continued illegal policy of settlement expansion, which undermines the possibility of a two-state solution.”

As for recognition of a Palestinian state, the party said it would signal support for an independent Palestine, “as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”

The UK Independence Party, meanwhile, explicitly avoided taking sides in the conflict and in their manifesto, expressed what amount to “motherhood and apple pie”-type platitudes that show it acknowledges the problem but in the current climate, can offer no suggested solutions.

“In the Middle East, UKIP wants to see nations at peace, but acknowledges that sectarianism fueled by historical Western involvement has rendered this all but impossible within a generation.

We want to see a peaceful, two-state solution in Israel and the Palestinian territories,” the party said.

The greatest opposition, even hostility, to the Israeli side emerges among the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Green Party. In its manifesto, the SNP said it would call on the next British government “to pursue a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and to support the formal recognition of a Palestinian state.”

The Greens, meanwhile, go a stage further, calling for a suspension of the EU’s trade agreement with Israel.

“We seek a just, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on mutual recognition of the rights to independent statehood for Palestinians and Israelis,” the party said.

But in slamming human rights violations by both parties, the Greens demonstrate their obsession with the Jewish state by highlighting “the oppression and disproportionate use of aggression by the Israeli government against the people of Gaza,” adding it would thus would “seek to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement.”

SUCH IS the desperate search for votes that Labor took the extraordinary step of issuing a separate manifesto aimed specifically at what are termed BAME voters – black and ethnic minorities. It contained a swathe of policy initiatives – with numerous ones no doubt aimed especially at many of the 3 estimated million Muslim voters, many of whom reside in marginal constituencies.

Labor, in referring to protecting religious practices, gave just a oneline mention of shechita (ritual slaughter), which is contentious or outright banned in certain European countries. “We will always be clear in our support for the right to practice one’s religion, including protecting traditions such as the humane practice of shechita and halal,” it stated – and it is notable that in doing so, the party specifically took on criticism of both practices by using the term “humane.”

In the Conservative Party manifesto similar wording appears, repeating previously made commitments on the subject by Prime Minister and party leader David Cameron.

Referring to those from differing sectors of the community, the Conservatives noted, “We want people to integrate fully into British society, but that does not mean they should have to give up the things they hold dear in their religion... So while we will always make sure the Food Standards Agency properly regulates the slaughter of livestock and poultry, we will protect methods of religious slaughter such as shechita and halal.”

A search of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto did not reveal any policy line on shechita, but previously, Deputy Prime Minister and party leader Nick Clegg has said the party had no plans to ban the practice.

Again, it is the two fringe parties that have provided the Jewish community with cause for worry. The Green Party, for its part, seem to be at odds with everyone on the subject of food classification, calling in their manifesto for mandatory labeling on the issue of methods of slaughter. Yet on the vexed subject of requiring stunning prior to slaughter or on the issue of the shechita and halal methods, the party – for once – appears not to have expressed any opinion.

UKIP, however, has a checkered recent history on ritual slaughter.

Just two months ago, its national executive passed a resolution demanding an end to shechita and halal. Weeks later, party leader Nigel Farage appeared to reverse the decision, indicating shechita is safe.

In its manifesto, the party clarifies where it is coming from on the issue of animal welfare. “We can only regain control of animal health and welfare by leaving the EU. UKIP takes both issues seriously and will insist on formal non-stun training and certification for all religious slaughterers, to ensure the highest standards are adhered to.”

The party also called for the placing CCTV in abattoirs, in addition to labeling on animal products to delineate the origin and method of production and transportation, and if the animal had been stunned or not.

Farage is already on the record as saying he recognizes the high standard of kosher slaughterers, so a reference to training religious slaughterers is most probably relevant to those carrying out halal slaughter – which is unregulated.

On shechita, it appears the SNP will not try to change existing arrangements. A spokeswoman reportedly confirmed the party did not propose to shift its position on the subject, and that it recognized the chief rabbi’s role in having direct authority over such issues in Scotland.

While the manifesto itself had no direct reference to Jewish slaughter per se, in its reference to animal welfare issues, the SNP said it would give “consideration to further protection of slaughter.”

A party spokeswoman later added: “We have no proposals to change current arrangements regarding shechita, including importing kosher meat and poultry into Scotland.”

Finally, in its separate manifesto, Labor explains why it is so concerned about issues affecting minorities. Inevitably, there are strong condemnations of racism with specific references to Islamophobia, but anti-Semitism is not ignored.

The party contends that it is intolerable that British people today still face verbal and physical abuse because of the color of their skin or expression of their religion.

Acknowledging that in the past few years there have been worrying signs of an increase in extremism and hate crimes, including a rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks, Labor continued, “As a country, we must stand together to eradicate hatred, prejudice and intolerance, rather than letting it spread.”

Promising a Labor government would take robust action against hate crimes, developing a cross-government strategy to coordinate and drive forward the work of different departments, the party promised to make these incidents visible – by ensuring that hate crimes are clearly marked on the criminal records of perpetrators, and producing new guidance from the sentencing council to ensure the appropriate use of sentencing for aggravated hate crimes, particularly for repeat offenders.

The party pledged, “We will make sure hate crime is properly recorded, including incidents of Islamophobia, as is currently the case with other types of crime; and will review police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] guidance to ensure anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other hate crimes on social media are adequately covered.”

Labor also committed to tackling hate crimes on the Internet. “We will challenge social media companies to take more responsibility to prevent harassment and hate crimes prosecuted through their sites.”

Finally, the party added a commitment to ensuring that a number of languages used by ethnic minorities are protected in regard to university study and examinations.

Included in the list alongside Gujarati, Punjabi and Bengali was Hebrew.


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