Following the UN General Assembly’s overwhelming vote to accord “Palestine” non-member observer status, negative references to “Jewish lobbies” and “Jewish power” (as well as unbalanced criticism of Israel’s building program) have been bandied about in the House of Lords, the UK parliament’s upper chamber.
On December 3, 2012, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon tabled a debate with the express intention of ascertaining the nature of the relationship between the UK government and the Palestinian leadership following the UN vote. Instead, the peers inside the debating chamber used the time to castigate Israel and make dubious remarks about American Jews.
Conservative peer Lord King, for example, blamed America’s Jewish community for the US “no” vote. He opined: “The truth is that the Jewish lobby has done no service to Israel and it has done no service to the standing of the United States in the region.”
The Labour Party’s Lord Judd accused Israel of “screwing” Gaza. He also claimed that “no people paid a higher price for the creation of the State of Israel than the Palestinian people.”
Lord Phillips of Sudbury also blamed American Jews for the US decision to vote against the Palestinian bid. He said that “if necessary” the UK should be independent of the US, “which is in a particular relationship with the huge and powerful Jewish community there.”
Lord Phillips also found time to characterize Israeli plans to build new homes in E1 as a colonial initiative (“3,000 new colonists in east Jerusalem”) and made a favorable reference to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh: “I was immensely impressed by the man,” he said.
He continued: “Unless I have lost all my touch for understanding the reactions of people, I was impressed. I spent an hour with him, man to man. He is dying for an opening and for some encouragement because he never gets a dividend for anything Hamas does, except more colonization and more repression.”
This is the same Lord Phillips who, in 2010, told a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting in London that “America is in the grip of a well-organized Jewish lobby” and suggested that “many” Jews were “deeply prejudiced,” although “not lacking in intelligence.” No surprise, then, that Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chair of the Zionist Federation, has called Lord Phillips “an obnoxious man,” who holds “revolting” views.
Lord Phillips is a member of the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems (as they are usually known) is the junior partner in the current UK government. Although there are some notable exceptions, party members tend to be anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine website, for example, is a sickening morass of Israelophobia and half-baked political commentary.
Israelis who are not familiar with the machinations of the Lib Dems may be familiar with the obnoxious views of Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was made a House of Lords peer in 2005. Until very recently, Baroness Tonge was a prominent member of the party but left once it became clear she would not apologize for her appearance at a pro-Palestinian hate-fest in which she said, “Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form.”
(This is the woman who, in 2004, said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she were Palestinian. In 2006 she suggested that the pro-Israel lobby had “financial grips” on British politics. In 2010 she published an article accusing the Israel Defense Forces emergency aid hospital in Haiti of harvesting organs.)
Fortunately, there has been some brave souls who have spoken out against the anti-Israel hostility in the House of Lords, but such voices are few and far between. One of these voices is Lord Palmer, the former Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel chairman. Lord Palmer is relatively new to the House of Lords but says he already feels “uncomfortable” about the “skewed” rhetoric against Israel. He is also concerned about the disproportionate amount of time spent debating Israel and the Palestinians (in contrast to the rare debates about Libya, for example). He has also noted “a lack of criticism” of Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah.
Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle, Lord Palmer said: “I am always quite amazed as to how many people getting up to speak are anti-Israel and how few who are pro-Israel. I think very often that the people who are pro-Israel don’t feel able to come and speak. I am surprised that there are so many well-known and erudite Jews [in the Lords] who never speak on the subject.”
Lord Palmer has called on Jewish and Israeli advocacy groups – specifically the Board of Deputies and the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre – to provide more support for Israel’s allies in the House of Lords, many of whom (it seems) are afraid to speak out.
Yes, the Palestinian issue has a devastating tendency to throttle free speech and kill off balanced debate. But Israel’s political allies have a moral duty to speak up and make the case for the Jewish state, even if doing so makes them unpopular. People in positions of power can make a real difference by defending the integrity of the Jewish state, as well as challenging anti-Semitism in all its forms and exposing the fanatical ideology of Palestinianism. Let’s hope our friends in the House of Lords rise to the challenge.