The Conservative Lords to contribute included Lord Grade CBE, Lord Rotherwick, Lord Patten, and Lord Risby.
Much of the focus of the debate was on anti-Israel activities taking place on British university campuses, including “Israel Apartheid Week”, and the investigation into the allegations of widespread anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club.
Leading the debate, former BBC Chairman Lord Grade spoke against boycotts and underlined that politicians must help eradicate the “double standards” which are imposed at British universities against Israel.
He stated that “bigotry” was being incited on campuses in Britain and highlighted the funding of academia by what he said were countries with “abhorrent” human rights records: “There is evidence that we permit the funding of some educational departments by authoritarian states with abhorrent track records on human rights and free expression, yet UK institutions are somehow at the forefront of calls to ban Israeli academics and students on the basis of their nationality and, probably, their religion”.
Lord Grade continued: “The connection between the funding of universities by vehemently anti-Israel regimes, the constraining of free expression and referenda to ban Israelis must be exposed”.
Lord Patten condemned the recent allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford University’s Labour Club, stating: “That 70 years on these attitudes prevail in what should be a bastion of liberalism and tolerance is completely shameful, so robust action must be taken where and when reason is missing”.
He congratulated the Government on its announcement this month of guidelines to curtail boycotts of Israel by publicly funded bodies: “I thus congratulate very warmly the Government on their stand against local authorities who now wish to boycott Israeli goods as their own little contribution to Middle Eastern understanding—nowhere else, just Israeli goods. I want my local authority to deal with flood prevention and potholes rather than developing their own foreign policy in direct contravention of the rules of the World Trade Organisation with the sole aim of undermining and delegitimising one state and one state only in the Middle East—the state of Israel”.
Lastly, Lord Patten thanked this Israeli Government for protecting the Roman Catholic population of Israel: “I say all that not as a Jew but as a Roman Catholic. There are a lot of my lot in Jerusalem and I want them to stay there. I am extremely grateful to the Government of Israel for protecting them and for making it possible for Roman Catholics and other Christians to be in Jerusalem and not to be cleansed and cleared out, as they have been in so many other parts of the Middle East”.
Lord Rotherwick referenced his visit to Israel and the West Bank last week as part of a delegation coordinated by the All-Party Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group, where his highlighted the discrepancy between what he heard from the Israeli Government and what was said by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in meetings.
He said: “I was fortunate to visit Israel last week, where the Israeli Government expressed to our group of Peers a wish for peace and economic prosperity for themselves and their neighbours. The Palestine Liberation Organisation gave a somewhat different and muddled view”.
Lord Rotherwick concluded his speech by stating: “Many attempts at a permanent, peaceful solution have been made. Israel has signed up to most but the Palestinians have not. It seems to me, as a Christian, that the Palestinians have no intention of committing to any agreement unless they can have total control of all of Israel”.
In reply to speeches by Lords on the subject of intolerance at university campuses, FCO Minister Rt. Hon. Lord Maude agreed, stating: “Our higher education institutions—our universities—should be places where liberalism in its best sense and the respect for hearing other points of view are absolutely entrenched”.
He asserted: “Whether on campus or elsewhere, British Jews, like all communities, must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack. The best way to tackle anti-Semitism is through effective implementation of strong legislation against racial and religious discrimination. Of course, it is important that people in the Middle East itself should be able to be taught together; that will build understanding as well”.
On boycotts, the Minister said: “A number of noble Lords talked about boycotts and the BDS movement and commented on the announcement made recently in Israel by my successor as Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matthew Hancock. It is important that the BDS movement should be understood as something negative, for the organisations that seek to implement it in terms of the value for money that they get in spending public money for their institutions, and for the bad message or signal that it sends”.
Click here to read the debate in full.