British MP condemned for anti-Israel comments

Sir Alan Duncan is a lifelong Arabist and a former UK government minister who retains a desk in the Foreign Office as Britain’s special envoy to Oman and Yemen.

By JERRY LEWIS
October 19, 2014 23:47
4 minute read.
Alan Duncan

Alan Duncan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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LONDON – Sir Alan Duncan, a lifelong Arabist and a former UK government minister who retains a desk in the Foreign Office as Britain’s special envoy to Oman and Yemen, has been strongly criticized for a series of stinging attacks not only on Israel, but also on the so called “Israel lobby” both in the US and Britain.

The reported millionaire – who had a previous career as a trader in the oil industry working for Royal Dutch Shell, then for international commodities trader Marc Rich, and then working for himself – gave vent to his views both during last week’s historic House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood and in a controversial speech he gave to the prestigious Royal United Services Institute.

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In his address to the Royal United Services Institute, having comprehensively attacked Israeli policies – an example of which was his assertion that West Bank settlements were “a wicked cocktail” of occupation and illegality and a system akin to apartheid in South Africa, he made an unprecedented verbal assault on those who supported settlements, suggesting they should be barred from public office.

“Settlement endorsement should be put on a par with racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. Indeed, just as we quite rightly judge someone unfit for public office if they refuse to recognize Israel, so we should shun anyone who refuses to recognize that settlements are illegal,” he said.

Duncan added, “No settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party, or sit in a Parliament,” before asking, “How can we accept lawmakers in our country, or any country, when they support lawbreakers in another? They are extremists, and they should be treated as such.”

And he had sharp words for the Christian movements that support Israel. Accusing Israel of treating the Holy Land reprehensibly and citing Israel’s alleged actions around Bethlehem and in Hebron, he said that many evangelical Christians in the United States are among those who “most excuse and justify the improper actions of Israel.”

“They should reconsider their position. Their blind endorsement of Israeli conduct has become perverse, and their unquestioning acceptance of Israeli injustice to Palestinians is warped,” Duncan said.



The Bible, he maintained, was not “a travel guide to modern national boundaries,” adding, “Those US Christians who endorse and enable the expansion of Israel into Palestinian land should realize where morality and justice lie.”

But he saved his strongest criticism for those who lobby for Israel. He stated that under UK rules, “political funding should not come from another country or from citizens of another country, or be unduly in hock to another country.”

He added, “This rule seems to apply to every country except when it comes from Israel.” Jews, he said, were entitled to support Israel, but he warned, “The time has come to make sure above any doubt that the funding of any party in the UK is clearly decoupled from the influence of the Israeli state.”

Duncan did not elaborate at that stage, but in a BBC Radio interview linked to his speech and the parliamentary vote he said the Commons decision in favor of Palestinian statehood was needed because “all know that the United States is in hock to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its politics.”

A Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesman noted that Duncan’s speech made not a single mention of Palestinian terrorism and incitement to violence and hate. “By ignoring the facts behind a complex dispute, he is breathtakingly one-sided,” the spokesman said.

As for Duncan’s “extraordinary demand that anyone who endorses settlements (whatever that may mean) cannot be considered ‘fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party, or sit in a parliament,’ the Board invited Duncan to “reconsider the implications of his words.”

Based on Duncan’s “unsustainable foundation built on intolerance and ignorance,” the Board noted he had also attacked the UK Jewish community for defending Israel. “He characterizes defending Israel as equivalent to accusing people of wanting Israel’s destruction or being anti-Semitic. This is a blatantly false allegation against the leadership bodies of the British Jewish community. It is a poisonous slur which should be retracted immediately.”

Meanwhile, Mark Gardner, the communications director of the Community Security Trust, which is tasked to look after the Jewish community’s defense, said that while Duncan had stated that anti-Semitism should be “crushed in all its forms,” his allegations about the American lobby were “objectionable in their own right,” but combined with his comments about pro-Israel lobbying in the UK, they “resonated with Jews/money/hidden power/alien purpose motifs of old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, only now it was directed at Israel or pro-Israelis rather than Jews.”

While, Gardner observed, the shift in language from Jews to Israel might be sufficient to cast off the anti-Semitic label, rendering everything “kosher, modern and correct,” when Duncan said, “We all know” about America being “very much in hock to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its politics,” but he failed to specify what the lobby was, “his audience are left wondering what lobby it believes he is talking about, the anti-Semitic Jewish lobby, the non-anti-Semitic Jewish lobby or the pro-Israel lobby which unfortunately bears such a striking resemblance to the pre-1945 version.”

Duncan – the first openly gay MP in the Conservative Party – had a checkered ministerial career. He was effectively demoted from a shadow spokesman office when he declared he had claimed £5,000 parliamentary expenses for tending his garden, and he previously had launched an unsuccessful bid for party leadership only to hastily withdraw when he found he lacked support. He eventually was appointed an international development minister, a post which brought him in contact with Palestinians, and from which he retired in Premier David Cameron’s summer reshuffle.

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