Rishi Sunak has repeated his calls for a “sustainable ceasefire” and an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, along with talks aimed at forging two states, but made clear that before they could happen, Hamas must release all its hostages and be removed from power.
The prime minister made his remarks in his keynote speech at the annual lunch hosted on Monday by Conservative Friends of Israel in front of no fewer than 19 of his Cabinet colleagues. The audience included former British PMs Liz Truss and Boris Johnson; their Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak; Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and the families of four of the hostages still being held by the terrorists in Gaza.
The only members of the Cabinet not present were Scottish Secretary Allister Jack, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and First Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott. The JC understands that the absent ministers also wished to attend, but had unavoidable commitments elsewhere.
After the event, Barak told the JC: “This was a very important show of support for Israel in time of war and it is so obviously genuine. Coming here today has shown me how closely Jews are integrated into the heart of this nation, which is very encouraging.”
Before the event, held at the Intercontinental hotel in central London, Foreign Secretary David Cameron (who is also a former PM) spent time with the families of hostages Liri Albag, 19, who was kidnapped on October 7, and Danielle Gilboa, also 19, who was taken at the Nova dance festival where Hamas murdered 360 people.
Also present were friends and close family members of Ziv and Gaeili Berman, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Azar, and of Elia Cohen and Idan Stivim, who were both abducted from the festival.
Sunak said: “To the families of the hostages here today we say, you are in our thoughts, and we say with one voice, ‘bring them home’.”
He singled out Manchester Briton Noa Beer who saved numerous lives at the festival, which she had helped to organise, saying: “Amid Hamas’s massive rocket attack at dawn, Noa had acted quickly to drive a visiting music artist to safety. Noa, like her fellow festival festivalgoers, had no idea what lay ahead.
“She drove straight into a deadly Hamas ambush. Remarkably, under intense gunfire, Noa rescued a number of other injured festivalgoers she found shot on the roadside before driving them to safety through a Hamas roadblock… Noa - you represent the very best of our two great countries.”
Sunak condemned claims Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, and the current attempt by South Africa to lay this charge at the International Court of Justice, saying: “I reject any attempt to draw an equivalence between Israel’s actions and those of the terrorists.
“That is why this government has condemned the completely unjustified case that South Africa’s has brought to the international court of justice. There is a horrific irony in Israel, of all countries being accused of genocide. Under my leadership, this country will always stand by the right of our friend and ally Israel to defend itself within the framework of international law.”
As for a ceasefire and peace talks, the removal of any future role for Hamas was essential, Sunak said: “One of our preconditions is that Hamas can play no future part”. However, he also called the two-state solution “more important than ever” and pledged that in bringing this about, “we will play our part”.
He had harsh words for Iran, saying it was “at the heart of the programme of destabilisation” affecting the entire Middle East region, “and must never be allowed nuclear weapons”. Sunak ended his speech with the words “am Yisroel chai”, which earned him a standing ovation.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog delivered a video message from Jerusalem, thanking Britain for “standing with the Jewish people” and Israel with “huge moral clarity”. He called Iran “the empire of evil” and said the current war was between two sets of totally opposing values: between those who “believed in raping and killing, and those who believe in freedom and democracy”.
Ambassador Hotovely also spoke, her voice cracking with emotion when she spoke of the numerous meetings she has held with hostages’ families. “We know what they are going through in captivity, the horrible tortures and sexual violence. There are so many parents waiting for their children and it is our duty to bring them home,” she said.