David Cameron: full speech to Conservative Friends of Israel

December 15, 2010
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Speech by the David Cameron at the Conservative Friends of Israel business lunch, December 13

I woke up at about 10 in the morning on May 7th and thought ‘What the hell am I going to do now!”

But I would like to think that the decisions I made with others that morning to do the big and the bold and the brave thing and to reach out to form the first coalition government this country had seen in 65 years was right for our party and right for our country and we are seeing the dividends today.

Now for years I have been coming to these CFI lunches. For years I have been grateful for your support. And for years I have spoken to you about how we can bring the values of our party to government. So today, I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to be here, finally, as the Conservative Prime Minister.

I want to start by thanking His Excellency Ron Prosor, for joining us and for that excellent speech. I want to thank Andrew Heller, the new Board Chairman, James Arbuthnot, who does a brilliant job at leading CFI in Parliament, and Michael Heller, for hosting this event today.

And I know that everyone here will be thinking of his co-host in previous years, Leonard Steinberg, and the fantastic job that he did – and we are all grateful to Michael for carrying on that tradition but I think we should remember Leonard with a warm round of applause.

I am sure he would have enjoyed yesterday’s ‘X Factor’, not the music but the fact that it was a bonanza for bookmakers right across the country!

Ron, in your speech, you very kindly alluded to my fantastic success in Zurich. Thank you for bringing that up. I always thought it was politicians that looked you in the eye and made you a promise and lied blind to you, But that was before I discovered the world of international football!

I did make one good friendship which was Prince William who did a fantastic job – he worked round the clock meeting every person we could think of who could possibly influence the outcome. And I remember bumping into him in the corridors of our hotel at midnight, the night before the vote. And I said how did it go with the Guatamalans. And he said “Prime Minister I think I have got them in the bag, I have promised him pretty much everything I could”. And I said “What was that Your Highness” and I said “Did you for instance ask him to the wedding?” He said, Prime Minister, I think I promised to marry him!” I do not think that would get quite the same box office, but there we are.

It is great to be at CFI and let me add my own tribute to the Conservative Friends of Israel. What you do in terms of taking people to see Israel for themselves is absolutely invaluable. Seeing is believing, I will never forget the impression it made on me when you see the landscape turn from desert to fertile pasture, when you see the record of that country in turning poverty into prosperity, when you see the creativity, the energy, the dynamism and yes, the democracy.

And as Michael said, you also get such a strong impression of the problems of security that Israel faces. I will never forget being taken to the Lebanese border and knowing just how precarious Israel’s security is. It is an impression that has stayed with me and that I will never forget.

Now looking around this room I can see hundreds of friends of the Conservative Party. And there is one in particular I want to single out. We are here at this lunch in honour of David Lewis, and it is an honour truly deserved.

Einstein once said it was better to be a man of value than a man of success, but David has achieved both. We see the success in his phenomenal business achievements and we see the value, too, in The Lewis Family Charitable Trust, as well as his generous support for Conservative candidates – many of whom are sitting here as MPs today. There is so much this party and this country has to thank him for.

But more than anything else, I want to commend David Lewis, the war hero. As a teenager he navigated a Lancaster bomber in the 75 New Zealand Squadron. He and his colleagues played a crucial role in freeing Europe from tyranny – facing the most extraordinary danger.

I’m told that one night when David was flying over Germany with his navigation equipment all but destroyed, he had to find his way home by looking out of the window. That was just one chapter in a life of extraordinary achievement. So now it gives me great pleasure to present David with this picture of a Lancaster bomber – and thank him for all he has done.

Today I want to talk to you about friendship. I want to argue that being a friend of Israel means three things.

It means solidarity – sticking up for Israel. It means honesty – being frank with Israel. And it means respect – learning from Israel. Let me take each in turn.

First of all, friendship is about solidarity.

I’m proud that when the forest fires started burning in the North of Israel, when our friends were in danger, one of the first rescue efforts to arrive at the scene as Ron Prosor said, was the Royal Air Force sending our helicopters from Cyprus to make sortee after sortee, dropping tons of water on the blaze.

I was one of the first leaders to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about the strategy. And I expressed to him not just condolences for the tragic number of lives lost, but also my personal assurance that we were standing by to help – because that is what friendship is about.

Solidarity also means sticking up for Israel – and Jewish people – against those who attack them. So when vile antisemitic threats are made against Jewish faith schools – endangering young children – we need to step in and protect them. That’s why I’m so pleased that last week, Michael Gove committed up to £2million via the Community Security Trust to protect those schools and keep those children safe. The CST is here today and does a fantastic job.

When biased elements in the media paint Israel’s defence of its people as unwarranted aggression, we need to make it clear: when rockets are being launched at Israeli citizens, when children are in danger, Israel is within its rights to protect its people.

When we see the abuse of the UK’s laws to try and detain Israeli politicians who visit these shores, we need to act: changing the law so people don’t fear coming to our country. That’s what we are doing on Universal Jurisdiction. The vote is actually today so I hope my colleagues will not linger for too long over the coffee.

And when we see boycotts and calls for boycotts on Israel, we shouldn’t just dismiss them, we should go in completely the opposite direction: showing the world that we are proud to do business with Israel.

So I am proud of last month, when the Foreign Secretary was in Tel Aviv, making the case for closer trade links and signing a new treaty between our film industries.

Some of these attacks on Israel can be subtle in nature. But there are, of course, those threats that are there in plain sight. Take Iran. All the evidence points in the same direction: that country’s leadership is intent on developing a nuclear weapons capability.

There are no ifs, buts, maybes, I’ve read the reports, I have had the briefings: they are stockpiling enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon over time.

Of course, that’s a huge threat to the world but it’s a particular threat to Israel. We support tough engagement with Iran, but it is time to ratchet up the pressure. And time is, frankly, short.

That’s why since we came into power we have wasted no time in securing tougher sanctions. We backed tough sanctions in the United Nations – and we championed and led, at meeting after meeting, even tougher sanctions at the European level. Iran needs to know if they continue on this course they will feel international pressure and international isolation.

As well as showing solidarity, true friendship means being frank with our friends and being frank with Israel. I know, and you know, that one of its biggest threats comes from those directly on its borders. Hezbollah, Hamas – terrorist organisations that are determined to use violence against Israel. We must confront their ideology – and help Israel achieve the security she deserves.

But here’s something I passionately believe – as a true friend. That security won’t come through fighting a grinding war of attrition. It will only come through peace. And that real peace will only come through a two-state solution. Two states living side by side, in peace – there is I believe, no other realistic option.

The obligations are clear – on both sides.

For Palestinians: Take the path of a negotiated peace. Show you are serious. Show your commitment to defeating terror.

For Israel there are clear responsibilities too.

There needs to be a real drive to help improve life for ordinary Palestinians. That means humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions to and from Gaza, as far as the security of the Israeli people allows. It means more support for economic development in the West Bank.

And yes, above all, there is the need for an end to the expansion of settlements.

I know and commend the steps towards peace that have already been taken but I do Israel no favours if I deny the truth that settlement building is currently an obstacle to that peace. It is disappointing that direct peace talks are stuck on this issue.

And look: I know that many in Israel already feel they have bent over backwards. But compromise is the only path to peace. The alternative to compromise is that the moderates will always lose out.

Every time concessions are refused, every time the peace process fails, the extremists win and several steps are taken backwards.

I’m not going to deny for one moment how difficult this is. As Conservatives, we understand how hard this is. The IRA tried to kill Mrs Thatcher, yet I now have to sit in a Cabinet room with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.

My point is this, putting the past aside can be the right thing to do. However unpalatable it may be, it can mean progress towards peace.

And this government will always be there to help. Like my predecessors, I make a personal commitment to be active in the Middle East peace process.

As a friend of Israel, there is nothing I want more than that country to live in peace, in security – and in harmony with her neighbours.

But friendship means a third thing: learning from each other. There’s much in Israel that can inspire the changes that we need to make in our country, not least its economic success.

Israel has more start-ups per capita than any other country. It attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. Its economy grew by 4 per cent last year. And that hasn’t happened by chance.

It’s happened by design – a strategic seizing of opportunity by the Israeli government. Public spending – controlled, taxes – cut, innovation and science – invested in, free trade agreements – signed. One by one, they have ticked off the list of what modern, dynamic enterprise economies need.

Of course Israel is facing its own economic challenges too, but we can be inspired by its resilience – and back home we are pursuing a similar course. We are dealing with our deficit – balancing the books over this Parliament. We are making our tax system more competitive – cutting corporation tax to 24 per cent. We have prioritised investment in science and innovation. And we’ve put massive efforts into selling British business abroad. I have already taken trade delegations to China and India. Next year, I will be taking a huge delegation to going to Brazil. We are sending out a powerful message around the world that Britain is back open for business again.

But there is one final thing we can learn from Israel and that is about community spirit. It’s a country where they don’t always say ‘there’s a problem – so what can the government do about it’ – they say ‘what can I do about it, what can my community do about it?’

Just look at the Israeli police force. The professional officers on the payroll are far-outnumbered by 70,000 police volunteers who give up their time for free. That’s the Big Society spirit that we want to build here in Britain. So whether it’s letting parents set up a new school, giving young people the chance to do National Citizen Service or allowing our neighbourhoods to take control over housing developments, we are encouraging people to play their part and recognise that they have obligations beyond simply paying your taxes and obeying the law.

Another lesson from Israel is its national pride.

Whether you’re talking to an Israeli who is left-wing or right-wing, young or old, you get an unashamed patriotism – a sense that country matters. If we are honest that’s something we need more of in Britain today and if you look at so much of what this government has done so far, the is a thread of national pride running through it.

Re-writing the military covenant is about strengthening people’s emotional connection to one of our great institutions. Asking immigrants to learn English is a demonstration that we are all in this together. Protecting our aid budget does not just do good in the world, it reminds the British people that compassion does not stop at our borders.

Making sure that our schools are teaching the full spectrum of British history is essential too, because you cannot feel fully patriotic about your country if you don’t know its past. And that by the way should go for Cambridge history graduates as well.

Just as they are in Israel we must be prouder of our history, louder in celebration of our achievements and bolder in cementing the ties that bind us.

So this is what real friendship is about. Not just fair-weather support – but sticking up for your friend through thick and thin. Not just dealing in superficial pleasantries – but telling your friend the unvarnished truth. Not just solidarity – but sharing in each other’s success and learning from it.

The friendship we celebrate today has thrived in the long years of Opposition and I know in government, it will deepen, because the ties between this party and Israel are unbreakable. And in me, you have a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is indestructible. Thank you.

Last updated: 5:14pm, December 15 2010