Cameron's comments are a measure of Israel's PR failure

By Martin Bright, July 29, 2010

David Cameron's description of Gaza as a "prison camp" during a visit to Turkey may have caused deep offence in Israel and parts of the Jewish community around the world, but the Prime Minister can be safe in the knowledge that his comments are relatively uncontroversial elsewhere.

Like most British politicians of his generation, Mr Cameron has no great knowledge of foreign affairs. But ignorance cannot explain why the Ankara speech did not make the usual diplomatic nod towards Hamas extremism and the threat to Israel's security.

Mr Cameron has built his political career by surfing the zeitgeist. As a fundamentalist centre-ground politician he is always painfully sensitive to the consensus. This is why Ankara is such a significant moment for Israel's relationship with Britain.

Mr Cameron's analysis may be naïve. Gaza is not a prison camp. But the Israeli government should not be surprised that he feels he has the licence to use such language. There is no nuance in the court of public opinion and Mr Cameron knows that during his first major tour of world capitals few, if any, will pull him up for his comments.

The fact that such a mainstream politician felt able to use emotive language of this kind suggests that the Israeli government and its supporters are not winning the argument on Gaza.

That the "prison camp" comments came just as the coalition government outlined its plans to change the law on universal jurisdiction, means, of course, that Mr Cameron can safely claim that his comments were made in the context of being a friend to Israel.

How the press saw the PM’s speech

Roland Watson - The Times
The Prime Minister is presenting himself as a champion of Turkish accession [to the EU] because most importantly, he believes in it. But while his EU script was deliberately calibrated, his Gaza remarks were loose and unplanned.

Simon Tisdall - The Guardian
Cameron’s lunge was the diplomatic equivalent of Nigel de Jong’s chest-high tackle of Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final. From Israel’s perspective, he too was lucky not to be sent off.
With its mix of energy and determination, this is Cameron-style kick-and-run diplomacy. Call it naïve. Or call it radical. But it’s certainly different.

Jackson Diehl - Washington Post
Erdogan was delighted to have Cameron join his anti-Israel campaign. His Islamist ruling party encouraged the Turkish ferry whose attempt to break Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza at the end of May led to a clash in which nine Turks died.
Since then Erdogan has been using the incident in a bid to compete with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah for leadership of the Middle East’s Israel-hating “street”.

Melanie Phillips - The Spectator
Cameron’s truly shocking and quite astoundingly stupid speech has now laid bare the fathomless shallowness and frightening ignorance and idiocy of Britain’s new Prime Minister.
What about the alliances Erdogan has been forging with Islamic terror regimes such as Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran – and not forgetting his warm overtures to Russia?
Is this what Cameron regards as evidence that Turkey is playing the role of “great unifier”?

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010