Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Monday rejected claims he had made anti-Semitic comments in a debate last week, telling The Times of Israel that he merely voiced concerns over Israeli policies, many of which are shared by Israelis.
“I am not remotely anti-Semitic. Quite the reverse. I have all my life strongly supported the state of Israel, and its right to live in peace and security,” Straw wrote in an email.
The veteran Labor politician reportedly said during a debate in the British parliament last week that the greatest obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians and her Arab neighbors are the “unlimited” funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US, as well as Germany’s “obsession” with defending Israel.
Straw made the reported comments during the Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum in the British House of Commons, according to former Knesset member Einat Wilf. Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”
Writing to The Times of Israel on Monday, Straw did not relate to whether he had said what Wilf alleged he said, but did insist there was no justification in any of his remarks for claims that he was being anti-Semitic. He pointed out that in her post, Wilf did not claim that he had embarked on an anti-Semitic diatribe, as it had been characterized in media reports, although he acknowledged she said that his remarks “reflect prejudice of the worst kind.”
“In any event there is no justification whatever for such claims, arising from my remarks at this seminar, or on any other occasion,” Straw wrote.
Rather, he continued, he had voiced concern over three issues, first among them settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. “This is illegal, as the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has observed and in those terms. I said that this amounted to ‘theft’ of Palestinians’ land,” he told The Times of Israel.
Secondly, he said he had called on the EU to take “a tougher stand” on the settlement issue, including the labeling of settlement goods. He pointed out that “one of the difficulties in gaining EU agreement for this has, in the past, been the attitude of Germany, who for understandable reasons have been reluctant to be out of line with the Government of Israel.”
Lastly, the former foreign secretary said he had addressed “the problems which faced President [Barack] Obama from AIPAC and the ‘Israeli lobby’ more generally.” He said he had “pointed out that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a player in domestic US politics, on the Republican side, and that under US political funding rules (or their absence) huge sums were spent by AIPAC in support of some elected politicians (or candidates), and against others. This is in sharp contrast to the rules in the UK, where spending is tightly controlled,” he wrote.
“None of this is ‘anti-Semitic,’” Straw concluded. “There are plenty of people in Israel who take a similar view to me — not least (as I do) because they believe that the current approach of the Government of Israel will weaken the position of the state of Israel in the medium and long-term.”
Wilf told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Sunday that “it was appalling to listen to Britain’s former foreign secretary. His remarks reflect prejudice of the worst kind.” She added: “We’re used to hearing groundless accusations from Palestinian envoys but I thought British diplomats, including former ones, were still capable of a measure of rational thought.”
Wilf, a member of Knesset from 2010 to 2013 (Labor, and then the breakaway Independence party), said she repeatedly stressed in the debate that the root of the conflict lay in the Palestinian and Arab refusal to accept Israel’s sovereign legitimacy as a Jewish state. “Throughout the debate I reiterated that the origin of the conflict was the Arab and Palestinian unwillingness to accept the Jewish people’s legitimate right to a state of their own, and that as long as that willingness is absent there will be no true solution.”
Straw, who is Christian and whose maternal grandmother’s father was Jewish, announced Friday that he would step down as a member of Parliament from the Labor Party at the upcoming 2015 general election. He has served in Parliament continuously since 1979. Straw served as both home secretary and foreign secretary under prime minister Tony Blair, and as justice secretary under prime minister Gordon Brown.
Straw, who has noted that his Blackburn constituency has some 25,000 Muslim residents and 23 mosques, has made anti-Israel comments in the past. In June, on a BBC radio program, he declared that Israel “has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians.” When he was foreign secretary in 2001 he reportedly made comments that appeared to legitimize Palestinian terrorism, prompting then prime minister Ariel Sharon to cancel a meeting with him.
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.