Talk of ‘Jewish lobby’ surfaces during UK Palestine vote

Many Parliament members who speak in debate assail settlement activity; Jewish legislator implies Israel to blame for rise in anti-Semitism

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Illustrative: The British Parliament voting whether to recognize a Palestinian state in 2014. (screen capture)
Illustrative: The British Parliament voting whether to recognize a Palestinian state in 2014. (screen capture)

Parliamentarians leveled harsh criticism at Israel, and especially the current government, during Monday’s British House of Commons debate on the recognition of a Palestinian state.

One MP spoke about the power of the “Jewish lobby” in the US, while another insinuated that Israel was to blame for the rise in anti-Semitism around the globe.

While Conservative MP James Clappison, vice chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, gave a speech against the motion, his colleague Andrew Bridgen rose and asked, “Does my honorable Friend agree that, given that the political system of the world’s superpower and our great ally the United States is very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America, it falls to this country and to this House to be the good but critical friend that Israel needs, and this motion tonight just might lift that logjam on this very troubled area?”

“There are powerful lobbies on all sides,” Clappison replied, “and I am sure that my honorary friend would agree with me in paying tribute to the work that Secretary of State Kerry did in trying to bring both sides to the negotiating table; he really does deserve our staunch support.”

Later in the proceedings, leading Israel critic Gerald Kaufman, the son of Polish Jews, seemed to blame Israeli actions for a rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of the summer’s fighting in Gaza: “I call on right hon. and hon. members on both sides of the House to give the Palestinians their rights and show the Israelis that they cannot suppress another people all the time. It is not Jewish for the Israelis to do that. They are harming the image of Judaism, and terrible outbreaks of anti-Semitism are taking place. I want to see an end to anti-Semitism, and I want to see a Palestinian state.”

The illegality of Israeli settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged lack of seriousness in negotiations, and the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians were recurring themes.

“The lack of equity between Israel and the Palestinians is a structural failure that has undermined the possibility of a political settlement for decades,” said Grahame Morris, the Labour MP who initiated the vote. “As it stands, Israel has little motivation or encouragement — perhaps little incentive is a better way of putting it — to enter into meaningful negotiations. The majority of Israeli government politicians flat-out reject the notion of a Palestinian state. There are currently no negotiations and, as Secretary of State John Kerry admitted, it was Israeli intransigence that caused the collapse of the latest round of talks.

“Israel has been unwilling to offer a viable Palestinian state through negotiations. If the acceleration of the illegal settlement enterprise had not already proved that, in July Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again ruled out ever accepting a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank.”

Others who voted for the measure struck a different tune, though they too were highly critical of settlement construction.

In what the Guardian described as “possibly the single most important contribution in an emotional debate,” Sir Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said the Netanyahu government’s recent appropriation of land in the Etzion Bloc area of the West Bank had cost Israel his support. He said he had long been a supporter of Israel — “I was a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory. My wife’s family were instrumental in the creation of the Jewish state.” But, he went on, “I realize now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool and that is something I deeply resent.”

Some MPs came out firmly against the proposal.

“We are told that 135 members of the United Nations — many of which have relatively little connection with the Middle East, although some have a great connection — have recognized Palestine as a state,” said Conservative Intelligence Committee chairman Malcolm Rifkind. “That has had no effect. It has received 24 hours of publicity but has had no marginal, massive or significant impact on the course of history. There is a great risk that today we will make ourselves feel important and that our own frustration will lead us to vote for a motion that will not have the desired effect and will perhaps make the problems that need to be addressed in reaching a two-state solution more difficult to deal with,” said Rifkind, a former British foreign secretary who is Jewish.

Labour-Cooperative MP Louise Ellman railed against the idea that Israel is uninterested in peace. “It should be remembered that while peace negotiations were under way following the Oslo negotiations, in one month alone — March 2002 — 80 Israeli civilians were killed and 600 injured in targeted suicide bombings on the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon, in a concerted attempt to undermine and destroy that peace process. No wonder there is concern among the people of Israel; they know that during those peace negotiations — it was right to stick to them and to keep going with them — terror groups sent by, among others, Yasser Arafat, were targeting, killing and maiming Israeli civilians. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza — a correct, unilateral withdrawal — was followed by rockets, the terror tunnels, and more and more death.”

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