One of the most recent Jewish members of the House of Lords has said he feels “uncomfortable” at what he considers disproportionate criticism of Israel in the chamber.
Lord Palmer, the former Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel chairman who took his seat in the Lords nearly two years ago, confessed to having been surprised at the degree to which debates and questions in the chamber were “unbalanced against Israel”.
The peer, who speaks on defence for the LibDems, said: “What struck me is how much the House of Lords talks about Israel and the Palestinians, far more than a country the size of Wales, with seven million citizens, would merit.”
Since May, six questions had been asked by peers about Gaza and 20 on Israel and the Palestinians, compared with two on Lebanon and four on Libya, he found.
Over the previous 18 months, from November 2010, there had been 30 questions on Gaza and “over 100 on Israel and Palestine. I stopped counting after 100”.
Whereas Israeli conduct towards the Palestinians was often taken to task in the chamber, he noted, “there seems to be a lack of criticism of Israel’s enemies. It really makes me feel rather uncomfortable.”
He observed: “The Lords are all ladies and gentlemen in the old sense of the words. It is rare for people to be nasty in the way of the Commons. But the nastiness comes through in the fact that the view of Israel and the Palestinians was skewed in this way.”
While not in favour of settlement expansion himself, he said: “I don’t believe that’s the only factor in the peace negotiations. Where are the calls on the Palestinians to recognise Israel within secure boundaries, to stop the rocket attacks, stop the delegitimisation of Israel and the hate literature and broadcasts?”
On debates on the Middle East, Lord Palmer said: “I am always quite amazed as to how many people getting up to speak are anti-Israel and how few who are pro-Israel. I think very often that the people who are pro-Israel don’t feel able to come and speak. I am surprised that there are so many well-known and erudite Jews [in the Lords] who never speak on the subject”.
Last week he was due to meet Labour peer Baroness Blackstone, who had given a critical speech about Israel during a Middle East debate.
The best response, he believed, was to “talk to people and tell them why they are wrong and try to persuade them. I don’t think people like being shouted at and we don’t make too many friends [if we do].”
But pro-Israel peers needed to co-ordinate better to put their case, while advocacy groups could be more “pro-active” in the Lords.
“I do think, whether it’s the Board of Deputies or Bicom, that there ought to be better research facilities to people who support Israel and the Jewish community in the UK”.