Friends uninvited to the party

David Cameron’s description of Gaza was no gaffe; he meant it — for all the outcry among his ‘friendly’ Israel supporters


My dictionary defines a "gaffe" as "a blatant mistake or misjudgment". Prime Minister David Cameron has recently been accused of having made several political gaffes in the course of various ill-judged foreign policy initiatives.

Speaking in the USA at the end of July, he asserted that the UK had been the junior partner fighting Nazism in 1940, when in reality the UK had then stood alone against Hitlerism and continued to do so until the entry of the USA into the war at the end of the following year. Cameron has had to apologise numerous times for this risible ignorance of historical fact.

No sooner had he offered the latest of these apologies than - at the same meeting at Hove town hall last week - yet another gaffe fell from his lips, namely his insistence on "the fact that Iran has got a nuclear weapon". An embarrassed Downing Street spokesperson rapidly offered the clarification that what the Prime Minister had meant to say was that Iran was seeking a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, the PM has had to weather yet another diplomatic storm of his own making, arising from ill-judged remarks he made in Turkey relating to the culpability of certain interests in Pakistan for the terrorism of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Even if this accusation was correct (and there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest it was), these were not remarks that should have been made by a British Prime Minister in public on the eve of a state visit here by the Pakistani president.

The evidence shows the CFI’s claim to influence the party on Israel to be rubbish

But there is one supposed Cameron gaffe for which no apology has been issued. Nor, I think, will there be, because it was not a gaffe - "a blatant mistake or misjudgment"- at all. During that same Turkish excursion, David Cameron infamously declared: "Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp". And he repeated the condemnation he had voiced in the House of Commons several weeks previously to the effect that Israel's interdiction of the Gaza flotilla was "completely unacceptable".

Once again, unnamed Downing Street and Foreign Office personnel tried to play down the significance of these remarks, stressing that they did not signal any change in UK policy towards Israel. The fact remains that Cameron meant what he said. And in a clearly contrived and carefully choreographed display of public hostility towards the Prime Minister, the Conservative Friends of Israel - through its director, Stuart Polak - politely chastised Cameron for having "failed to address Hamas's role in creating the Gaza we see today".

This apparent falling out between a Conservative-dominated government and the CFI merits closer attention. In 2006, the CFI apparently fell out with William Hague, then shadow Foreign Secretary and now political supremo at the Foreign Office, after he had publicly characterised Israel's Lebanese incursion as "disproportionate". Following this incident, Mr Polak reportedly met Mr Cameron and reportedly secured an undertaking that neither he nor Mr Hague would ever again use the word "disproportionate" in relation to Israel. But clearly the words "unacceptable" and "completely unacceptable" were not included in this agreeable concordat.

Established in 1974 by the then Conservative MP (and immediate past president of the Board of Deputies) Michael Fidler, the CFI is said by its apologists to have played a key role in persuading the Conservative party to champion the cause of the Jewish state. In the face of the evidence, this claim strikes me as complete rubbish.

Yes, the CFI will attract a stellar clientele at its annual gala dinner. Yes, its praises will be sung by party members who enjoy (who wouldn't?) a jolly all-expenses paid trip to Israel. But when Arab push comes to Turkish shove, the party will carry on treating the Jewish state with the contempt its members believe it deserves, CFI or no CFI.

Lest it be thought that I have a particular obsession with the CFI, let me assure you I level the same accusation against the Labour "Friends" and the Lib-Dem "Friends".

Their main purpose seems to be to act as a launch-pad for those who seek advancement within their respective political parties. That being the case, do not expect them ever seriously to challenge their party leaderships where Israel is concerned.

    Last updated: 10:48am, October 6 2010

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