Analysis: Fallout puts strain on new coalition

By Martin Bright, June 10, 2010

The new government's pro-Israel stance has been sorely tested by the fiasco of the raid on the Gaza flotilla. William Hague is said to have been taken aback by the level of anger from Conservative MPs after news of the deaths of the operation broke last week. The deaths of nine Turkish nationals and the presence of British activists made Israel's actions impossible to defend in the immediate aftermath.

The immediate diplomatic aftermath has been an increased pressure on the Israeli government to lift the Gaza blockade. The Foreign Office is pressing the Quartet to urge Israel to switch from a "white list" to a "black list" system. In other words, there would no longer be a list of goods allowed in to Gaza, but a list of banned items. This would be combined with end-user certificates to assure the Israelis that dual-use items, such as circuit boards, would not be used in weapons.

But thus far, William Hague's tone as Foreign Secretary has been less strident than his predecessor in critcising Israel. Although Middle East minister Alistair Burt spoke to the Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor immediately after the event, there are no plans to call him in for a carpeting.

Senior community leaders met Mr Burt on Wednesday to raise concerns about the hostile tone of the debate over Israel. This followed a strongly-worded statement from the Board of Deputies, warning of "the disproportionate attention paid to Israel while larger, more significant conflicts, some involving far greater loss of life, are virtually ignored".

Thus far, the potential faultline in the coalition presented by the Middle East conflict has not widened, although it is significant that a figure as senior as Sir Menzies Campbell signed an early day motion calling for an immediate lifting of the blockade.

The mood softened as new facts emerged about the militancy of the Turkish humanitarian organisation, IHH, which organised the aid convoy, and the nature of the violence meted out to the Israeli soldiers. Writing online for the JC this week, Hertsmere MP James Clappison warned: "In our reaction to the tragic events that took place last week, we must not do anything which emboldens Hamas to pursue its course of aggression and rejection. To hand such a propaganda coup to Hamas paves the way for future conflict."

MPs from the Conservative Friends of Israel have been urged to voice their support at Monday's parliamentary debate on the affair, which ministers will use to test the mood.

However, as one senior figure in the Jewish community said this week: "At times like this we have to recognise that the best we can hope for from supporters of Israel, is silence."

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010