CFI Parliamentary Chairman, Rt. Hon. Sir Eric Pickles MP spoke on the Jewish New’s podcast this week, the Jewish Views, to talk about CFI’s contribution to Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this year.
Speaking about Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s keynote speech, Sir Eric said, “Boris has been a long track record of supporting Israel, and it’s good to have somebody who understands the importance of a democracy in the middle of one of the most troubled regions of the world”.
Sir Eric added that the Foreign Secretary’s tribute to the late Shimon Peres was “quite moving”.
He said the CFI reception “was packed – it was the largest room we could book, there were over 500 people there”.
When asked about whether he was surprised that the Foriegn Secretary was quoting from Shimon Peres, who was associated with centre-left political parties, Sir Eric said: “We took a view a long time ago that we would be Conservative Friends of Israel, which means we’re not supporting one particular party. It does mean that right from the very beginning we’ve had excellent relationships with Likud and with Labor, and with everything in between and beyond”.
He added: “I had an opportunity of meeting the great man as early as 1980 when I was a young Conservative leader, and I think it’s a mark of the man… You feel as though you are in the presence of something very special, that had a view beyond a generation”.
In response to a question on whether why the wider world has such a blinkered view on Israel, Sir Eric responded: “Because they’ve not seen it. That’s why we spend a lot of money and a lot of time in getting opinion formers to see Israel. Whether you’re dealing with a senior cabinet minister or whether you’re dealing with a young youth worker – all of them say the same thing at one point – it might be a stroll along the beach in Tel Aviv, it might be visiting high tech – ‘it’s so normal’, ‘it is like home’, ‘it is a western democracy’, ‘it is a place that believes in freedom of speech’, ‘it believes in freedom of the individual'”.
He said: “Israeli society is argumentative, it can be quarrelsome, it’s just like how normal people behave. There’s no leadership cult of the prime minister or the president, it’s about people working together to earn a living to bring up their kids with as much safety as they can get”.
“We’ve always wanted to stress and for people to understand the modernity. People tend to think in terms of the conflict and of settlements and the relationship with neighbours. All those things are important, but this is a modern, dynamic economy”.
When asked about what he saw next for UK-Israel relations, Sir Eric said: “With Brexit we’re going to be looking to negotiate trade relations between countries. I would hope that Israel would be top of the list. We have to bear in mind that our pride and joy the NHS is particularly dependently upon Israeli patents and Israeli medicines. I recently put in a question and the best testament of the Government was that Israeli patents and medicines represent hundreds of millions of prescriptions”.
Click here to listen to the full podcast.