80,000 sign petition, but Benjamin Netanyahu will not be arrested during UK visit


The government has defended its decision to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London next month and said that he will not be arrested when he arrives in this country.

Reiterating Britain’s position as a “close friend of Israel”, the government responded to a petition calling for Mr Netanyahu to be arrested “for war crimes”.

The Israeli leader is due to come to the UK next month on his way to a United Nations conference in New York.

He cannot be detained here as foreign leaders and ministers have diplomatic immunity from arrest.

The petition has been signed by more than 80,000 people, making it one of the biggest on the government website and raising the prospect that the issue could be debated in Parliament. Petitions passing the 100,000 mark are automatically considered for discussion in Westminster Hall.

Damian Moran, a Manchester-based activist originally from Derry in Northern Ireland, is leading the campaign against Mr Netanyahu.

In a tweet to the Israeli leader last month Mr Moran wrote: “How many kids have you killed now, you have a short sharp shock coming your way soon you vile excuse for a human being.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said Mr Netanyahu’s diplomatic immunity would not stop the group “from shaming David Cameron and his government for welcoming him to the UK, and making clear to Netanyahu that he won’t have immunity for ever. We are committed to bringing him to justice, however long it takes”.

The group urged supporters to sign a letter to Mr Cameron calling for an arms embargo and other sanctions to be imposed on Israel.

In a statement responding to the petition, the government said that while the toll of last summer’s Gaza conflict was recognisable, Mrid Cameron had been clear on Israel’s right to “take proportionate action to defend itself”.

The government would encourage Mr Netanyahu to return to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Sir Eric Pickles, Conservative Friends of Israel chairman, said the petition was “completely absurd” and welcomed the government’s “unambiguous” response.

He said: “The petition will have no impact upon the UK-Israel relationship, which is stronger than ever, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit will enhance it further.”

Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney said: “Rest assured, this has nothing to do with Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge. Remember, these people would block Israeli footballers and ban Jewish reggae singers as well.”

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