Playing politics

March 31, 2011

Nearly a year after the election, it is still unclear just where the two main parties really stand on Israel. Take this week's last-minute manoeuvrings by Labour over universal jurisdiction. Having said all along that the party stood solidly behind the Coalition's proposals to remove the blight on our relations with Israel, this week it started to play politics.
Its argument for tabling an amendment to the Police Bill was on one level perfectly proper: that government cuts might wipe out the prospect of arrest warrants for genuine war criminals, in the absence of police manpower to gather evidence. But there is another side to the story. Labour's amendment, to establish in law a unit of the Metropolitan Police specifically to investigate war crimes, is precisely what anti-Israel activists have been seeking.

Throughout, Labour insisted that it remained fully behind the government legislation and would vote in favour, which indeed it did on Wednesday night. But its tactics are clear: it wants to have it both ways. Yes, it said: it supports the legislation. And yes, too, it nodded to the anti-Israel activists and MPs within the party: here is what you need.

Hardly, to put it mildly, edifying. Not that Labour is alone in attempting to be all things to all people over Israel. The Foreign Secretary said the right things at Chatham House on Wednesday, voicing his support for Israel's security and condemning the delegitimisation campaign.

Yet last week the UK joined Cuba, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain voting in support of a truly bizarre resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning the "non-co-operation by the Occupying Power, Israel, with the independent international fact-finding mission on the Gaza flotilla incident."

Mr Hague seems to be unaware that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. But then the Foreign Secretary is never backwards in coming forwards with unwarranted attacks on Israel. We have been spoilt in past decades with Baroness Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who truly understood Israel's case. Would that we were as well served by the current crop of party leaders.

Last updated: 10:42am, March 31 2011