The foreign secretary this week told delegates at the Conservative Party Conference of his belief in the importance of Israel carrying European public opinion when exercising its right to defend itself.
In his first public address to a pro-Israel event since taking on the role this summer, Philip Hammond told Conservative Friends of Israel’s reception of the “vital importance” in maintaining sympathy in the world for Israel’s plight.
Senior Tories from David Cameron down have been applauded by Israel’s supporters in recent weeks for their response to Israel’s anti-terror operation in Gaza – and Hammond reiterated that position.
“We are absolutely clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. We are absolutely clear that there is no justification for the rocket attacks which have been launched out of Gaza into southern Israel,” he said.
“But we are also clear that Israel has to conduct itself in a way that carries public opinion in north America and Europe with it. I look forward to working with Israeli ministers to make sure that Israel responds to threats to its security in a way that meet the expectations of western public opinion.”
Hammond – who stressed the importance he places on his party enjoying positive relations with Israel – told the 400-strong gathering that included Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and former defence secretary Liam Fox: “It’s vitally important that we maintain the strong sympathy there is for Israel, and its need for defence, in the West.”
Hammond, who visited Israel within days of succeeding William Hague, looked forward to a “future where Israel and its neighbours can live in peace and security together, enjoying the prosperity that all of us expect in the future”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers meanwhile said the conflict had provided a test of whether the three main parties are true friends of Israel – a test she insisted the Conservatives had passed but the other two failed.
But she said: “I don’t believe our coalition partners in the Liberal Democrats have passed that test. And I certainly believe that Ed Miliband and Labour have well and truly failed that test. The truth is that Labour failed Israel at their time of need.” She urged those campaigning ahead of the next General Election to remind to remind voters who care about Israel of Ed Miliband’s criticism of the IDF’s ground operation.
The Chipping Barnet MP also addressed communal concerns over the rise in anti-Semitism during the conflict, insisting the Government took the issue “extremely seriously”. She said the Government had “probably done more than any in the world to crackdown on anti-Semitism – and will continue to do so”. Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub, addressing the fringe event in Birmingham, said Britain’s was one of the clearest voices of understanding for Israel’s plight over the summer.
Despite “an extraordinarily difficult” summer for Israelis and Palestinians, he suggested the conflict had offered some “glimmers of opportunity” including the “constructive role” played by Eyypt and the fact Arab states in the region didn’t speak out in support of Hamas.
He added: “Even in Gaza we can see the possibility of recapturing one of the missed opportunities of our region after Israel pulled out nine years ago. Perhaps this time Hamas will not take over, will not trash the greenhouses, will not divert 20 percent of building materials to tunnels.
“Perhaps this time we can couple reconstruction with demilitarisation. If we can empower the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility we can see a genuinely different future emerging in Gaza Strip.”
Taub – who praised the “remarkable” work of CFI director Stuart Polak over many years – joked about the high temperature in the packed room that only his organisation could hold an event in Birmingham and make it hotter than Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, Jewish prospective parliamentary candidate for Harrow West Hannah David was among the speakers at a fringe event held by the Conservative Muslim Forum.
The event was also addressed by Afzal Amin, the party’s candidate for Dudley North, who referred to common interests of the Muslim and Jewish communities on religious slaughter, saying Muslims have the Jewish community to thank for its work in defending the practise.
The only reference during the session to the Israel-Hamas war came during a Q and A that inclused a question on Baroness Warsi’s resignation.