Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague declared on Wednesday that he considers himself a Zionist.
In a question-and-answer session for the Conservative Friends of Israel annual business lunch, Mr Hague was asked by JC columnist Times journalist Danny Finkelstein if he thought of himself as a Zionist. He said: “I believe in the existence of Israel and in its safety and democracy, so yes, I am.”
Mr Hague also told the more than 500 guests, including what were claimed to be 85 Conservative MPs, that neither Israel nor Britain should negotiate with Hamas. He said: “Hamas needs to renounce violence and recognise Israel first, and there is no sign of that yet. Talking only works when all parties realise that violence is not going to succeed.”
He defended his 2006 comments that Israel’s response to rocket attacks in the war with Lebanon was “disproportionate”. He maintained: “If we are friends of another nation, we should be able to criticise them as a candid friend.”
The Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, hailed Israel at the lunch as a country of “freedom and democracy”.
Mr Osborne spoke of his first-hand experience of “what Israel is up against the whole time” from his first visit to the country, in November 2004, organised by CFI, during which there was a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. He and three other Conservative MPs were taken to the scene 90 minutes later.
“I saw some pretty horrific things. It made a powerful impression on me and my fellow MPs,” he said.
He was joined on the trip by the then MP for Henley, now mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Mr Osborne said: “We ended up singing Israeli resistance songs in a karaoke bar. Boris was better at the words than I was.”
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, who also addressed the guests, made a renewed call for tough action against Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
“The one issue of existential threat to Israel is Iran,” he said.