By Andrew Dismore, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden
According to JewishNews.co.uk’s Adrian Needlestone, I am “probably the greatest non-Jewish friend we have ever had in Parliament”. Yet Mr Needlestone also believes Jews should not vote for me due to Ed Miliband’s position on Gaza.
Funnily enough, I am seen in the same light by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), which at the last election campaigned actively against me – I narrowly lost my seat! Am I paranoid, or are both Jews and Muslims out to get me?
All parties are split on the issue of Gaza. It is very divisive among politicians generally, and not on party political lines, as shown by the resignation of Baroness Warsi and Conservative MP Margot James’s statements about “disproportionality”.
I disagree profoundly with Ed’s rhetoric on Gaza, which has caused considerable offence among the community. I also disagree with his view that Israel was wrong to intervene militarily. But strip away the rhetoric, and polling among Jews shows that what Ed has been saying echoes among many in the community, for whom Gaza has also been divisive.
As this newspaper reported last week: “A Jewish News poll of more than 350 readers has shown a near 50:50 split in the number of people who think Israel’s actions in Gaza are disproportionate.”
Ed Miliband has made very clear his support for Israel and his condemnation of Hamas. I agree with Ed, as do all decent-thinking people, that the loss of life on both sides is a tragedy and that a lasting ceasefire is urgently needed and essential.
His concern is that, for short-term security gain, Israel is storing up more problems through the creation of new generations of Hamas supporters and terrorists. He is also concerned that the result will strengthen Hamas against Fatah in the West Bank, making future peace negotiations towards a two-state solution even more difficult. This opinion is also held by Israeli Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni.
However, I personally believe a military response by Israel was inevitable and justifiable. No country can tolerate its citizens facing a rocket bombardment, day in, day out. The Israeli Iron Dome system cannot stop all the rockets and missiles.
Sderot is only a few seconds’ rocket distance from Gaza and has been under frequent attack. I saw this myself, when visiting last year.
The difference is that Israel embarked on civil-defence measures while Hamas did not, building reinforced tunnels (with Israel reconstruction-intended concrete) in which to keep the rockets to attack Israel, rather than provide a safe-haven for civilians.
I don’t say individual Palestinians are the cause of the fighting, I say Hamas is, and bears much of the responsibility for the Palestinian dead and injured by citing military installations in and near mosques, hospitals, schools and residential areas, with the deliberate intent of maximising Palestinian casualties for propaganda purposes.
Israel set up field hospitals at the Gaza border for Palestinians, but Hamas won’t let them be used. There cannot be meaningful negotiations on border crossings without a lasting ceasefire. And remember, the most important crossing is from Egypt, which the Egyptians closed due to the risk of terrorism from Hamas.
Hamas does not agree with meaningful peace talks aimed at a two-state solution. While it is committed to the destruction of Israel there can be little hope of real progress.
So, of course, I support Israel at this difficult time. That’s why I attended the vigil for the three murdered teenagers; I was at the pro-Israel rally last month and at the recent ZF solidarity event at Hendon Synagogue.
It is too easy for politicians to support Israel when things are quiet but keep quiet when the going gets tough. Unlike many ‘fair-weather friends’ who sat on their hands, I would have spoken out in the Gaza Commons debate had I still been MP.
During Operation Cast Lead, there was no parliamentary debate, so the BBC organised one in which I made the case for Israel (and received death threats as a result).
Those who care about Israel, irrespective of party allegiance, need to vote for that dwindling number of MPs and parliamentary candidates who can be counted on – and who are not spineless fair-weather friends when things are difficult and when Israel faces a security crisis across the whole nation.