A number of Conservative MPs expressed support of Israel during a Backbench Business Debate on the UK’s role in the Middle East this week, where they spoke about the growing threat of Islamist radicalism and emphasised the importance of maintaining a close relationship with Israel.
In the debate, secured by Phillip Lee (MP for Bracknell), notable speeches were made by John Howell OBE MP (Vice-Chairman of CFI’s Parliamentary Group), Heather Wheeler MP, Dame Angela Watkinson DBE MP and Bob Blackman MP – all Officers of CFI’s Parliamentary Group.
John Howell MP noted that too much focus has been given to the Israel-Palestine conflict “at the expense of other conflicts in the region”, and that the notion that the conflict was the root of the current turmoil in the Middle East is “misguided”.
He argued that to suggest this is to “overlook the sectarian divisions in the region that have existed for centuries”.
John Howell MP: “Part of the reason why we are at this current state is because too much focus, rather than too little focus, has been placed on the Israeli Palestinian conflict at the expense of other conflicts in the region”.
The MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, Angela Watkinson, spoke about “the value of our constructive relationship with Israel and the contribution that it makes to peace and stability”.
She referred to the benefits of BIRAX – the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, an initiative of the British Embassy in Israel and the British Council which funds joint research projects between Israeli and British academics.
Angela noted that “in stark contrast to other Middle Eastern countries, there are no legal restrictions on movement, employment, or sexual or marital relations for any of Israel’s citizens”. She went on to state that the recent wave of violence in the region “has been fomented by repeated inflammatory and false allegations from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas”.
MPs referred to the work of Hadassah Medical Centre which treats the city’s wounded regardless of whether they are victims or attackers, often treating both in adjacent wards.
Heather Wheeler, MP for South Derbyshire, suggested that the UK’s role in the Middle East should be to “support countries that provide full rights to Christians and protect the rights of all minorities”, referring to Israel as “the only country in the Middle East that shares our democratic values”.
Heather asserted that “the level of freedom in Israel is remarkable when one considers the oppression and persecution faced by citizens in neighbouring countries”, noting that since Israel’s founding in 1948, “its Christian population has increased a thousand-fold”.
Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, stated in his speech that the Palestinians have been “let down by their leadership and by their legal advisers” and that “even now Hamas is diverting the international aid that Britain and other countries are putting in to rebuild the terror tunnels it began”.
He underlined that Hamas utilised this money “to fuel hate-filled lessons in ideology in that region… preventing the international aid from coming in”. He said that the misappropriation of aid has prevented the building of a water desalination plant developed by Israel which could provide clean drinking water for all the people of Gaza.
Tom Tugendhat MBE, MP for Tonbridge and Malling made an intervention during Scottish Nationalist Party MP Tommy Sheppard’s speech who had stated that the issue had been overlooked and the IDF reacted “disproportionately” to the Palestinians. Mr Tugendhat made the point that many of the present issues at the forefront of countries in the Middle East were unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and instead they relates “to the governance of Arab nations themselves”.
Mr Tugendhat said: “What has struck me over the past four or five years…is that since the so-called Arab spring, the question of Israel has not been mentioned on the Arab streets. The question is not whether or not Israel is legitimate or illegitimate; it relates to the governance of the Arab countries themselves”.
He asked: “Is it not incumbent on us to focus on that question of governance rather than sending ourselves down a rabbit hole and talking about the Israel-Palestine question, which is, let’s face it, distinct from the question of governance in the region?”
Click here to read the full debate.