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Cameron's Jerusalem syndrome

    What are we to make of David Cameron's extraordinary rant against Israel in the House of Commons on February 24? On that day, the Labour MP for Bradford East, Imran Hussain, drew Cameron's attention to one "Nora" and her family, who he declared had been living in "the old city of East Jerusalem" since 1953.

    "Israeli settlers," Hussain alleged "are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years… Does the Prime Minister," he asked, agree that "illegal settlements and constructions are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations? What are this Government doing to help prevent these infringements into Palestinian lives and land?"

    There are several incorrect assertions in Hussain's remarks. There is no such thing as "the old city of East Jerusalem." There's a continuous and well documented history of Jewish settlement in Jerusalem spanning the last 2,000 years and more. The case of "Nora" and her family is complicated by larger questions of property ownership in the city: my own inquiries suggest that the house they occupy was rented from the Jordanian government (then in illegal occupation of the city) in 1953 and that it may have been previously owned by Jews, whom the Jordanians of course expelled.

    Be that as it may, I certainly don't blame Hussain for asking his questions. Hussain won the Bradford East seat last year in a contest that pitted him against that well-known Lib-Dem friend of the Jews, David Ward, having previously (2012) been trounced by another well-known friend of the Jews, George Galloway, in a by-election in neighbouring Bradford West. Both contests involved bitter fights over Muslim votes.

    Hussain, who was one of the 36 Labour MPs to have nominated yet another well-known friend of the Jews, Jeremy Corbyn, for the Labour leadership, is now Shadow Minister for International Development on Corbyn's front-bench team. Clearly, he has political ambitions to fulfil, and needs to make his mark.

    Did he refer to the city from which Jews were expelled?

    But let's look at the answer he received from the Prime Minister.

    Cameron began his response by declaring that Hussain's question was "incredibly important". He was - he insisted - "well known as a strong friend of Israel." But, he went on, "I have to say that the first time I visited Jerusalem, had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what has happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem - occupied East Jerusalem - I found it genuinely shocking."

    Although (he added) his government "are supporters of Israel... we do not support illegal settlements and we do not support what is happening in East Jerusalem. It is very important for this capital city to be maintained in the way it was in the past."

    Let's leave aside for the present the question of the legality or illegality of Jewish settlements around east Jerusalem - though in so doing let me commend to you the excellent and most welcome statement ("Israeli Settlements and International Law") that has recently appeared on the website of Israel's London embassy, on the initiative, I gather, of Israel's no-nonsense deputy minister of foreign affairs, Tzipi Hotovely.

    Let's concentrate instead on our own PM's avowal that it's "very important" for Jerusalem to remain in the future "in the way it was in the past."

    In the first place, dynamic cities - especially capital cities - are not static objects. They necessarily change over time, as London has done. Though they may contain many museums they are not themselves museum pieces. They are living spaces, where people work, rest and play. And in the second, we need to ask what "past" our prime minister was referring to as "the past" in which Jerusalem must "remain in the future".

    Was it the past of 1948-67, when Jerusalem was viciously divided and from the eastern parts of which Jews were expelled, Jewish homes demolished and synagogues destroyed?

    Was it, perchance, the past of the British Mandate, when the city was undivided? Or was it the past of the Ottoman hegemony, when Jews could live in the city only as second-class citizens, tolerated up to a point but publicly degraded?

    Perhaps Mr Cameron could be persuaded to enlighten us.

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