A Muslim peer has claimed that student societies are recruiting young British Jews to join the Israeli army. They fought, he said, in last month’s Gaza conflict and should be prosecuted for war crimes on their return to this country.
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham said student unions had been “actively recruiting young people in Britain to join the Israeli Defence Force”.
British citizens had, he claimed, “gone out to fight against the Palestinian people”.
The evidence on which he said he based his claim was a 2007 blog posting from the website of Akram Awad, a Palestine Solidarity Group activist who caused outrage among students the previous year by introducing a motion which effectively gagged Leeds University’s Jewish Society.
Lord Ahmed’s comments were made during an interview with Press TV, the Iranian government-funded news channel, after he was asked whether British citizens were serving with the Israeli army.
He told the interviewer that newspaper reports in January had shown that to be the case and continued: “How many of those have been involved in war crimes? How many of those have broken the Geneva Convention?
“When they come back to this country, we want our government to take some legal action against them.
“The IDF and those who serve in it have been involved in the massacre of civilians… There is just no excuse for anyone to get away from these war crimes this time.”
The Union of Jewish Students said the peer’s allegations were part of a “continued campaign” against British Jewish organisations.
The blog posting from May 13, 2007 stated: “I could never imagine that the UJS is shameful enough to call the Jewish British students for ‘National Service’ in Israel by voluntarily serving in the Israeli Occupation Army.”
It went on to give details of the Sar-El programme, which offers volunteers the chance to work in Israeli nursing homes, and stay on army bases packing supply bags or helping in kitchens.
Volunteers do not see front-line action.
Explaining his comments, Lord Ahmed said he would not limit charges to Jewish students, but “any British citizen who goes abroad to take religious education from any school and then gets involved with killing any innocent civilians. I was talking generally.
“I definitely think if there’s evidence then they should be prosecuted here for war crimes when they return. God willing I will pursue it. Regardless of what community they are from, if they have broken international law they should be prosecuted.”
Yair Zivan, UJS campaigns director, said: “Lord Ahmed seems purposely to confuse volunteer programmes in the IDF and full military service as part of his continued campaign to attack and undermine British Jewish institutions.”
The 51-year-old peer, who is a trustee of the Jewish-Muslim dialogue group, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, was interviewed following a House of Lords debate last week during which he asked whether British citizens who had “served in Gaza” would be prosecuted.
During the debate, Baroness Tonge asked whether the government was concerned that “every summer many Jewish schoolchildren from this country go to Israel for military and citizenship training by the Education and Youth Corps of the IDF?”
Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown responded by saying it was “very unlikely” any UK nationals had served in recent operations.
The House of Lords Whips Office said it was unlikely action would be taken against Lord Ahmed following his comments.