The woman who was once the most prominent Muslim politician in Britain, Baroness Warsi, was back in the headlines today with an interview in which she called for British volunteers for the Israeli army to be treated as foreign fighters and prosecuted on their return to the UK.
Lady Warsi, who resigned from the government as Foreign Office minister during the Gaza War in 2014, saying its policy on Gaza was “morally indefensible”, has now published a book, “The Enemy Within”, which was launched on Wednesday night.
The one-time chairman of the Conservative Party gave an interview to Middle East Eye (MEE) to launch the book, in which she said that there were two different narratives, relating to Muslims who went to fight for non-state groups and militant organisations, and British citizens who volunteered to fight for Israel.
She complained of a “loophole designed to protect Israel” and said that “the only reason we allow the loophole to exist is because of the IDF, because we are not brave enough to say, if you hold British citizenship, you make a choice. You fight for our state only. That has to go out strong [sic].”
Those who went out to fight for groups, Lady Warsi claimed, were prosecuted on their return. She felt the same should apply to those who fought for state armies such as Israel’s.
Public debate, she believed, focused “exclusively on demanding loyalty from British Muslims, the same rule should apply to all. Let’s shut down this loophole. If you don’t fight for Britain, you do not fight.”
But MEE was unable to come up with anything more specific than that “dozens of British citizens are currently volunteered to the IDF through its Mahal program”. A spokesperson for Mahal told MEE that the exact number was a “state secret” and referred inquiries to the Ministry of Defence.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, said “Sayeeda Warsi lost all touch with reality when she walked out of government over her Gaza issues, and into well-earned obscurity. If she is really suggesting that a Briton who volunteers for the French Foreign Legion or serves in the armed forces of an close ally is a traitor, then no-one can treat her seriously.”
Lady Warsi also told MEE that she believed Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza in 2014 when she was part of David Cameron’s coalition government.She said: “I fundamentally believe that our policy towards Israel is flawed. If you go back to statements that [then-Foreign Secretary] William Hague made, at the time of the recognition of Palestine as a state, the government said not now, maybe in six months’ time.
“Now we are four or five years forward. What’s changed? The settlements are still being built. There is no formal recognition [of Palestine], the peace process is no further forward. The reality on the ground is changing.”
Theresa May, she said, had shown a “real lack of moral courage and leadership” by failing to attend the Paris peace conference in January and blocking the EU from adopting its closing statement.
Lady Warsi said: “When you have colleagues who stand up in parliament and deny the right of Palestine to exist, as Rob Halfon [Conservative MP for Harlow] did when he said that Palestinians can live in Jordan, that’s denying Palestinians a right to exist. All sorts of legitimate opposition to current Israeli government policy are now being seen as illegitimate.”
Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation said: “Baroness Warsi’s comments come dangerously close to comparisons between the Defence Forces of the democratic state of Israel, and the extremist forces in Syria. This is a wildly irrational comparison and simply serves to demonise not only the Middle East’s but arguably the world’s most moral army.
“Those who hold British citizenship have served and continue to serve in the ranks of the IDF, as they are able to do in the French army, Spanish army, and even the British Army! Indeed, the international volunteers were one of the key reasons Israel was able to stave off total annihilation during the Six Day War, whose 50th anniversary we will celebrate later this year. Baroness Warsi is driven by her own personal agenda, which is an anti-Israel one, and would sooner see Israel’s capability to defend itself limited than support the one true democracy in the region”.
Conservative Friends of Israel Honorary President, Lord Polak said: “To equate the actions of the Israeli Defense Force and non-state actors that can include vile terror groups such as Daesh is misguided. This blasé attitude is both careless and shows a total lack of understanding of the only true democracy in the Middle East”