Britain’s official Jewish leadership on Wednesday condemned a leading Conservative member of Parliament for recent comments in which it said he “likened those expressing any support for settlements to anti-Semites, sexists and homophobes.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews also suggested that Sir Alan Duncan MP, a former vice chairman of the governing Conservative Party, “was raising the anti-Semitic theme of a Jewish lobby” when he told a BBC interviewer ahead of Monday’s Parliamentary vote on recognizing Palestine that America was dominated by “a very powerful financial lobby.”
In other remarks, the Board protested, Duncan “suggested that anyone he termed a ‘settlement endorser’ should not be allowed to be involved in British politics.”
The Vice President of the Board, Jonathan Arkush, said in a statement that the comments by Duncan, a former minister for International Development, “served to display his well-known hostility to Israel.”
Arkush added: “Sir Alan made the 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. We invite Sir Alan to reconsider the implications of those words.”
Furthermore, said Arkush, “Alan Duncan attacked the British 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.”
In the aftermath of the House of Commons vote, which overwhelmingly urged the British government to recognize Palestine, Duncan launched what the London Times called “an outspoken attack on Israel for its construction of illegal settlements,” which he claimed had left one West Bank town, Hebron, resembling South Africa under apartheid.
Duncan was speaking to a London think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute. He said it would be “impossible to overstate the criminal intent and strategic importance” of Israel’s recently announced plan to build 2,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, a reference to the planned Givat Hamatos neighborhood, which would “finalize the severing of Bethlehem from Jerusalem,” The Times reported. “This illegal construction and habitation is theft, it is annexation, it is a land grab – it is any expression that accurately describes the encroachment which takes from someone else something that is not rightfully owned by the taker,” he said.
Moving on to speak about Hebron, Duncan said “the rule of international law has been shelved” in the West Bank city. “While Israeli settlers throw human excrement and rubbish out of their back windows onto the Arab souhk [market] below, busloads of US tourists visit the Old City while their organizations back home such as the New York Hebron Fund take advantage of their tax-exempt status to fund the settler families who illegally move in,” he said. “One should not use the word ‘apartheid’ lightly, but as a description of Hebron it is both accurate and undeniable. In South Africa it meant pass cards, no free movement, forbidden areas, and first and second class citizens. So it is in Hebron,” the former minister said, according to The Times.
Duncan also protested that “there is no punitive action taken against Israel for their persistent annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem… Settlement endorsement, meaning the denial that they are illegal and the support for their consequences, is a form of extremism which we should not tolerate. Be it tacit, or be it explicit, such an attitude is simply not acceptable. Over the years we have made a firm stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. It is time now that we added ‘settlement endorsement’ to that list of extreme undemocratic attitudes which we are not prepared to tolerate.”
During the House of Commons debate, Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, was far milder in his comments. He said “all of us in this House, to a man and a woman, recognize the state of Israel and its right to exist. Our belief in that should not in any way be impugned. Let us also be clear that that same right has not been granted to Palestine; in my view, it is high time that it was. It is the other half of the commitment that our predecessors in this House made as part of the British mandate in the region…”
He added: “Recognition of statehood is not a reward for anything; it is a right. The notion that it would put an end to negotiations, or somehow pre-empt or destroy them, is patently absurd; Palestine would still be occupied, and negotiations would need to continue, both to end that occupation and to agree land swaps and borders. Refusing Palestinian recognition is tantamount to giving Israel the right of veto. When I was a Minister of State at the Department for International Development, we supported the Palestinian Authority; over so many years, it was there, a responsible organisation. It is not their fault that they are occupied, and so often have their revenues withheld by the Israelis; if they were not withheld, Palestine would not need a penny of British aid.”