LONDON – The Jewish state cannot carry on unilaterally deciding how best to respond to threats to its security without taking the views of its friends into account, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond recently told Israeli leaders.
Throughout the summer’s Gaza conflict, British ministers led by Premier David Cameron were staunchly supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets.
Hammond told a packed reception held by Conservative Friends of Israel during the ruling party’s annual conference in Birmingham that during a “long and difficult summer” he had held numerous conversations with Israeli cabinet members.
And such was his priorities that in just his second week in office, he visited Israel to deliver the UK’s consistent message that not only had Israel the right to defend itself, there was “no justification at all for the rocket attacks launched from Gaza.”
But, he warned, “we are also clear that Israel has to conduct itself in a way that carries public opinion in North America and Europe with it.”
The foreign secretary, who has strongly criticized Israel’s recently announced settlement expansion in Judea, said he looked forward to working with Israeli ministers “to make sure that Israel responds to threats to its security in a way that meet the expectations of Western public opinion,” because, he explained, it was vitally important “that we maintain the strong sympathy that there is for Israel and its need for defense in the West.”
At the same event, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers expressed the British government’s condemnation at the levels of anti-Semitism seen during and since the Gaza conflict, saying it was taking the situation “extremely seriously.”
Following a briefing about anti-Semitism given by Jewish constituents in her north London Chipping Barnet constituency, Villiers had exceptionally led a delegation of other government MPs to discuss the matter with her cabinet colleague Home Secretary Theresa May, and while she though the government had probably done more than any other to deal with anti-Semitism, she found it “utterly unacceptable that events in the Middle East should lead to incidents and attacks in Britain.
The prospect of British Jews fleeing the UK “was very sad,” Villiers said.
Earlier at the conference itself, May told party representatives that if reelected in next year’s general election, one top priority would be tackling Islamic extremism.
A Conservative government would not continue to let current coalition partner Liberal Democrats water down her proposals, which include new powers to ban extremist groups and to curb the activities of “harmful” individuals, she said.
At present, organizations can only be banned if there is evidence linking them to terrorism. If May’s proposals become law, groups that cannot currently be proscribed could be subject to banning orders, should ministers “reasonably believe” that they intend to incite religious or racial hatred, to threaten democracy. The same would apply if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm – from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.
The granting of a ban would make membership or funding of the organization concerned a criminal offence.
The police would be given new powers to apply to a court to impose extreme disruption orders on individuals, using the same criteria.
This could result in those targeted being stopped from taking part in public protests, from being present at all in certain public locations, from associating with named people, from using of conventional broadcast media and from “obtaining any position of authority in an institution where they would have influence over vulnerable individuals or children.” Any breach of the restrictions would become a criminal offence.
May, who is spoken of as a serious candidate for party leadership should Cameron be defeated in the general election, was given a standing ovation when she emphasized that upholding British values was important in the fight against religious extremism.
Measures would be introduced targeting those who “stay just within the law but spread poisonous hatred,” she said, and while she admitted there was a “very complicated battle” taking place for the “heart and soul” of Islam, it was not Britain’s role to try and resolve it.
Britain, May said, should not “shy away” from tackling the radical Islamic State and she noted that hostage David Haines had been murdered “simply for being British.”
If Islamic State succeeded, “we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established only a few hours flying time from our country,” May said, adding “We must not flinch, we must not shy away from our responsibility.”
Her strategy would aim to prevent extremists being appointed to positions of authority including in schools, she said, a reference to several publicly funded Muslim schools which have been caught introducing curriculum items and rules which do not tie in with British values.