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Sacks calls Unesco Temple Mount decision 'an outrage' during Lords Israel-Palestine debate

    Lord Rabbi Sacks
    Lord Rabbi Sacks

    Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, has attacked the Unesco decision to deny the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, calling it “an outrage”.

    Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the future of the Middle East peace process, he said the move “would achieve nothing but to further damage trust and set back prospects for peace”.

    He told the House that he “saluted” the British government’s opposition to Unesco’s vote on the issue.

    Baroness Ludford, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Europe in the Lords, said she “shared the outrage”.

    She added: “That this is unhelpful in the extreme goes without saying. For a UN body not to acknowledge the significance of the Temple Mount to Jews is beyond belief.”

    Lords from all sides of the House contributed to the debate on Middle East peace.

    Baroness Deech saying the UK government should call on the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas “to stop promoting the murder of Jews, to stop the financial support of murderers and to stop indoctrinating children with hatred and suicide tactics.

    “Two states would be fine, but the real issue is the recognition of Israel, on which Abbas has reiterated refusal over the decades”, she said.

    “Let us be clear about this: the Palestinian National Covenant aims at the elimination of Israel in its entirety and denies nationhood to Jews. How can you negotiate with this stance any more than nation states can negotiate with ISIS?”

    The House of Lords, where Thursday's debate took place (Credit: Flickr/UK Parliament)
    The House of Lords, where Thursday's debate took place (Credit: Flickr/UK Parliament)

    Conservative peer Lord Leigh noted the lack of democratic process in the Palestinian territories, with President Abbas in the 11th year of a four-year term.

    He asked: “What steps are being taken by the British government to assist in fair elections” in the Palestinian territories, noting elections had been postponed once again, from October to December.

    “This is in part owing to the worry that the Fatah movement has about the very troubling possibility of a Hamas victory”, he said.

    “The elections have to cover both the West Bank and Gaza, and there have been disturbing reports of the Hamas-run courts in Gaza annulling candidates and barring Fatah figures from standing.”

    Baroness Tonge proposed a “radical” solution to the conflict.

    “I think that we should impose sanctions on trade with Israel—yes, government-led BDS—and stop all aid and payments to the Palestinian Authority, including those paid to Gaza”, she said.

    “We should stop those payments until [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and President Abbas sit down in a closed room with representatives of Hamas, who were the legitimately elected government of the West Bank the last time that President Abbas allowed elections. They should stay there—all sides under strict sanctions—until an agreement is reached.”

    The former Lib Dem peer, who is a long-time critic of Israel, also attacked what she claimed was the “McCarthyite-style persecution of all critics of the government of Israel”, while claiming she had “never” denied Israel’s right to exist.

    “We cannot have a fair and honest debate about anything so long as any opponents of the Israeli fovernment are accused of antisemitism”, she said.

    Baroness Ludford, speaking afterwards, criticised “antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism.

    “Too many of those who claim to be only anti-Zionist use it as a fig leaf for prejudice and bigotry towards Jews”, she said.

    “It is frankly absurd to claim that it is impossible to criticise Israel or its government’s actions without being accused of antisemitism. Tell that to the Members of the Knesset, who make PMQs in the other place look like a vicarage tea-party.”

    Lord Grade (Conservative) praised “the bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel”, which, he said, “has never been stronger, whether in trade, technology, academia, the military or between governments.

    “Trade is at a record high, amounting to more than £4 billion in 2015, and is on course to increase this year. More than 300 Israeli companies are currently operating in the UK and Israel has expressed an interest in becoming one of the first countries to secure a free trade agreement with the UK, which will benefit both our nations.”

    Lord Turnberg (Labour) spoke of “a glimmer of hope” for peace negotiations, “with the initiative of President Sisi of Egypt and the Arab peace initiative led by Saudi Arabia.

    “There is a remarkable alignment of interests between the pragmatic Arab states and Israel as they face the common threats of Iran and ISIL”, he said.

    Several peers took the opportunity to pay tribute to Shimon Peres, who passed away just prior to the Jewish New Year.

    Lord Rabbi Sacks spoke of Mr Peres as “one of a remarkable generation of Israel’s founding fathers, who began as hawks and ended as doves and who showed no less courage in pursuit of peace than they had done in the course of war.

    “He was the last of that generation, and the older he became, the younger his vision grew. He never despaired of peace with the Palestinians, no matter how many times he failed.”

    Lord Mitchell, speaking for the first time as a non-affiliated Lord after leaving the Labour Party last month, called Mr Peres “an indefatigable fighter for peace.

    “He never gave up; no matter how often the peace talks with the Palestinians broke down, he picked himself up and kept fighting for what he believed”, he said.

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