Rishi Sunak recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘historic capital’ and says there's ‘very strong case’ for UK embassy move

Sunak also committed to getting the Westminster Holocaust memorial built, and passing legislation to combat BDS


Rishi Sunak said that there is a “very strong case” for moving the British Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and formally recognising it as the capital city.

Speaking at a Conservative Friends of Israel hustings on Monday, the Tory leadership contender said that Jerusalem is “indisputably the historic capital”, but cautioned that he wasn’t fully aware of all the “sensitivities” as he was not Foreign Secretary.

The former Chancellor also committed to building the Westminster Holocaust memorial, which is still the topic of much debate, and he also said he would pass a bill to combat the BDS movement, which was a manifesto pledge in 2019.

Rishi Sunak was asked by Lord Eric Pickles, who hosted the hustings: “Last week at the Westminster synagogue, you said that Jerusalem was unmistakably the capital of Israel, but it wasn’t as easy as that, just to declare it so. Could you take the audience through what are the obstacles to Britain recognising the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?”

Sunak replied: “To me, it’s indisputably the historic capital. Clearly there’s a very strong case for it to be recognised. The point I was making then, as I would make now, is I’m very open to looking at that, and all I would say is, having not been Foreign Secretary, there must be some sensitivities involved because if it was that easy, it would have been done by now.

“And before saying ‘yes, it could be done overnight’, I’d like to get in there and [understand] the reasons why its proved so difficult, but prima facie, it seems to me that there is a very strong case to it, to recognise what is a historic and practical step.

“You talked before about our American allies. Again, it would be something where we’d be acting in concert with our allies in the region and, in general, one of our closest allies, so it’s something I’d like to do.”

Sunak was also asked about why Holocaust remembrance is so important, and he replied: “I have two young girls who are nine and 11. Unless they are being spoken to, unless they are being educated about what happened, this will be lost, because the people that are still here who we can still hear from, they’re not going to be with us forever. So, that’s why the next generation and the generation beyond, for my two girls, they need to understand what happened so that we never forget their awfulness and can remember the lessons and protect ourselves against anything like that ever happening again.”

He then added: “And that's why I'm privileged to work with you [Lord Pickles] and Robert [Buckland, Tory MP] on the memorial, and it's important that we crack on with that. I was pleased as chancellor to ensure that the funding in perpetuity will be for people to be able to visit it free.”

He proposed adding an amendment to the levelling-up bill “to speed that through” and get the memorial built.

“That will serve as an incredible institution, a legacy for this that we can use to educate my two girls, then everyone else, because if we don't, then we risk forgetting what was something that humanity should never, ever forget.”

He also reaffirmed his support for the memorial when asked about combatting antisemitism in the UK: “We should make sure that we support the CST, and it goes back to making sure that we get the memorial built because the best way to stop this is by educating people, and the more we can spread awareness and education at every part of our society and every generation, the closer we will be to eradicating this awful, awful thing.”

Sunak was also asked about the Conservative manifesto commitment to passing legislating opposing the BDS movement. He cited his record as a local government minister where, in 2018, the government moved to stop investment policies that contradict British foreign and defence policy, which includes BDS.

He told the CFoI hustings: “As prime minister, we need to make sure that we do pass that bill [opposing BDS]. And you’re right, it’s a manifesto commitment, it shouldn’t be controversial, and I’d like to crack on and do it as quickly as possible.”

Sunak also strongly criticised Amnesty International, which has been the subject of controversy following its report saying that Israel is committing “apartheid”, and also criticising Ukraine and its response to Russia’s invasion.

Sunak said: “They were an organisation that you actually looked up to. Now, this is an organisation that not only said what they said about the most recent situation, which was completely wrong, and quite frankly, offensive, I thought. But also, look at what they've said about Ukraine.

“This is an organisation that has lost his way because these places are being infected by a very dangerous kind of lefty-oriented ideology, which we must root out.”

In response to Rishi Sunak's comments, Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, told the JC: “Rishi Sunak is wrong about Amnesty. It’s not a ‘lefty’ thing to call for an end to Israel’s system of apartheid or to press the Ukrainian military to do all they can to ensure they’re not endangering civilians - no government is beyond scrutiny.

“Defending human rights isn’t party political or left- or right-wing - and we’d urge Rishi Sunak to look at the details of what we’ve said, including our reports on Russian war crimes in Ukraine and the numerous human rights abuses of Palestinian armed groups and the Palestinian authorities.”

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