UK activists denounce Netanyahu visit, urge Israel sanctions

Union leaders and anti-Israel advocates plan rallies against PM during visit this week, call for arms embargo on Jewish state

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, April 17, 2013. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, April 17, 2013. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Prominent far-left activists and union leaders in Britain, along with three members of Parliament, are calling for the disinvitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to visit the United Kingdom this week, and to impose immediate sanctions on Israel.

The activists urged the action in a letter published in The Guardian newspaper on Monday and signed by the heads of a handful of unions – Unite, RMT, Aslef and TSSA; three MPs — Labour’s Jo Stevens, Cat Smith and the Scottish National Party’s Tommy Sheppard; and longtime anti-Israel activists such as film director Ken Loach, Israel-born historian Ilan Pappé, union leader Len McCluskey, Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair Hugh Lanning, and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Netanyahu “must bear responsibility for war crimes identified by the UN human rights council in its investigation into Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza,” the letter urged. “Our prime minister should not be welcoming the man who presides over Israel’s occupation and its siege on Gaza.”

It added, “While [British Prime Minister David] Cameron continues to impose limits on the number of refugees who can take shelter in the UK, he is willing to welcome Netanyahu to our shores… We call on him to instead impose immediate sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel until it complies with international law and ends the blockade and the occupation.”

Demonstrations against the Israeli leader are planned in London on Wednesday.

A petition on the UK Parliament’s website calling for Netanyahu’s arrest during his visit – something not currently possible under British law – garnered over 106,000 signatures.

The petition claims “over 2,000 civilians” were killed by Israel in the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, apparently conflating the overall Palestinian death toll with the civilian one.

There was no immediate response to the letter, or to The Guardian’s coverage, from the UK government or Israeli embassy, but in its response to the Parliament website petition, the British government defended Israel’s right to fight Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, and said Netanyahu could not be arrested under the law.

“Under UK and international law, visiting heads of foreign governments, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, have immunity from legal process, and cannot be arrested or detained,” the response read.

The Guardian quoted further from the Cameron government’s response: “We recognize that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll. As the Prime Minister said, we were all deeply saddened by the violence and the UK has been at the forefront of international reconstruction efforts. However the Prime Minister was clear on the UK’s recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.”

The rest of the government’s response, including strident denunciation of Hamas as responsible for the continued conflict, was not quoted by The Guardian: “We condemn the terrorist tactics of Hamas who fired rockets on Israel, built extensive tunnels to kidnap and murder, and repeatedly refused to accept ceasefires. Israel, like any state, has the right to ensure its own security, as its citizens also have the right to live without fear of attack,” it read.

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