By Justin Cohen, News Editor
David Cameron has pledged never to “blow in the wind” in speaking up for Israel’s right to defend itself and insisted he did “what I thought was right” in standing by the state during its operation in Gaza last summer.
The prime minister’s comments came in an exclusive interview with the Jewish News in which he also voiced “frustration” over settlement construction, predicted there would “one day” be another Jewish prime minister and claimed the work of the Holocaust Commission was one of the greatest achievements of the past five years.
Cameron – on a visit to Archer Academy in Finchley with local Candidate Mike Freer – insisted he reacted in a way he “thought was right” during Israel’s operation against Hamas last summer, despite widespread criticism from the Labour Party and even senior figures within his own party.
“Everyone regrets loss of life wherever it happens and everyone wants a two-state solution and progress,” he said. “But frankly there isn’t an equivalence. When Israel is under attack it is indiscriminate, trying to kill as many civilians as possible. When Israel is responding to that it’s trying to defeat the people attacking it. Israel is a state that has a right to exist, a right to defend itself and I’ll always speak up in that way and hopefully with the clarity I did then.”
He said it was for his rival for Number 10 to answer whether there would be a material difference in approach to Israel between a Government led by him or Ed Miliband. But in what will be interpreted by many as a side swipe against the Labour leader, he went on to say: “You know with me as prime minister you have a strong friend of Israel, someone who believes in Israel’s right to defend itself and someone who won’t blow in the wind when there’s pressure on these things.”
While there was a necessity to take every step to avoid civilian casualties, Cameron also said he had been “quite shocked” by the response to his approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict from some Labour MPs “who I thought were absolutely saying there is no difference” between the rocket attacks and the IDF’s defensive actions.
Asked if he felt Benjamin Netanyahu is serious about the two-state solution, the prime minister said: “I hope he is. Obviously some of the things said in the election campaign were concerning. I happen to think it’s the right answer for the world, the region, the Palestinians and for Israel. I actually think the danger is not having a two-state solution. The alternatives are worse.
“The settlement issue is important – that can be frustrating – I understand the pressures but it is frustrating because this makes the two-state solution more difficult. Britain has taken a strong stand on settlements. We’ve supported EU measures about it.” While he hoped condemnation by Britain and Europe as a whole would not turn into actual action against the Jewish state, he warned: “I hope prime minister Netanyahu and others understand that in order to maintain European support everyone wants to see progress.”
Following a rise in anti-Semitism at home, Cameron said it was “horrific” to see British Jews being targeted for being Jewish – and said there was a need for “complete no tolerance” to attacks.
On the threat of terror facing the community and the country, he described the 2014 atrocity at the Brussels Jewish museum as “a wake-up call for countries like Britain because we’re all diminished if these things happen in our country. I think part of the way we respond to terrorism is to carry on boldly being British and not changing this or that but we shouldn’t mistake that strong, flagmatic approach for very serious issues that need to be addressed”.
Asked if the Muslim community was doing enough to crackdown on anti-Semitism, the prime minister said: “There are still radical preachers and radicalisation and an anti-Semitic message put out on the internet that we need to do more to stop. We’re doing better at getting pages off the internet. But there is another step to take in terms of radical groups.”
The party’s manifesto proposes banning orders “because frankly there are some groups and preachers who just stay the right side of the law in terms of encouraging violence but encourage hatred. They’re a gateway to violence. This is not acceptable. We need to be more muscular in defending the liberal values on which our country is based”.
Three months after the cross-party Holocaust commission put forwards its recommendation including a new national memorial and learning centre, the Tory leader said he saw the work begun to remember and educate as “right up there” among the greatest achievements of the past five years.
“Mick Davis has done a great piece of work,” he said. “There’s the physical commemoration which has to be massively upgraded but there also the testimony. What made me so passionate about it was meeting a large number of survivors and realising just how lucky we are to have these people whose testimony can still be recorded.
“I think this is a precious moment for the country to gather testimony in an act of living history that will live on so that my grandchildren and great grandchildren can learn about what happened in the Holocaust, where prejudice can end and also to make sure we hear the stories of these people who’ve come here and done such extraordinary things. The personal nature of it for me has been meeting these amazing people. They tuned my head.”
With the polls still deadlocked ahead of what looks set to be one of the closest General elections for decades, Miliband could become Britain’s second Jewish premier. “The day I’m sure we will,” said Cameron. “One of the remarkable things about Britain’s Jewish community is the contribution it makes to public life. It’s a community that believes in service in service and putting back in. So putting back in and leading the country as prime minister I can certainly see that happening. But don’t ask me to name names – I’m trying to be prime minister for another five years myself.”
He acknowledged it would “say a huge amount “ about Britain if there was a Jewish leader of the UK.