Israel must not alienate Western opinion, Hammond tells Tories


Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said he wants to help secure a better future for Israel.

He told a packed Conservative Friends of Israel reception at the party conference in Birmingham that his party had been consistent in its support of the country during the Gaza conflict.

But Mr Hammond also warned of the need for Israel to maintain support among the public in the West, or risk losing the sympathy that it received in the face of terror attacks.

The event also saw Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers launch a wide-ranging attack on both the Labour opposition and the Tories’Liberal Democrat coalition partners for “failing Israel”.

Making his first public comments to a pro-Israel group since becoming Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond said: “During the course of a long and difficult summer I’ve had many conversations with Israeli ministers

“We have been consistent in our message – we are absolutely clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. We are absolutely clear that there is no justification at all for the rocket attacks launched out of Gaza into southern Israel.”

Mr Hammond said Israel must “conduct itself in a way that carries public opinion in north America and Europe with it”.

He said Israel must “make sure it responds to threats to its security in a way that meets the expectations of Western public opinion.

“It’s vitally important that we maintain the strong sympathy that there is for Israel and its need for defence as we go forward.”

The Tory conference’s theme relates to ensuring a better future for Britain, and Mr Hammond added: “We also want to see a better future secured for Israel, where it and its neighbours can live in peace and security together and enjoy the prosperity that all of us expect in the future.”

Ms Villiers spoke of meeting victims of antisemitism in her Chipping Barnet constituency who had been affected by the rise in attacks following the Gaza conflict.

“The spectre of antisemitism has been walking again, on our streets, on our buses, on the internet, on campus and that is a matter of very great concern to this government. It’s something we take extremely seriously,” she said.

Ms Villiers claimed the government had “probably” done more than any other in the world to tackle Jew-hatred.

She said it was “utterly unacceptable” for issues in the Middle East to lead to antisemitic incidents in Britain, and said the prospect of British Jews fleeing the country was “very sad”.

Turning her attention to the political responses to the violence seen in Israel and Gaza, Ms Villiers said: “The political establishment has been tested in this country over the summer. Each of the three main political parties has been tested – are we really friends of Israel or are we not? I believe the Conservative Party has passed that test.

“Frankly I have to say I don’t think our coalition partners in the Liberal Democrats have passed that test. Any party that includes David Ward and Jenny Tonge never passes that test.”

Ms Villiers said Labour leader Ed Miliband and his party had also “well and truly failed that test”.

She told Tory activists: “Just remind voters that care about Israel of what Ed Miliband said about Israel’s actions being unacceptable and unjustifiable.

“The truth is, Labour failed Israel at their time of need. We must make sure every voter in this country who cares about Israel knows that.”

Israeli ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub also addressed the Conservative supporters, telling the CFI event that it was vital for “true friends of the Palestinians to speak with clarity”.

He said the “road to statehood” for Palestinians needed to be one that included face-to-face talks and negotiations.

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