Conservative Friends of Israel have joined community leaders in condemning a Tory MP who has steadfastly stood by his remarks in Parliament about a “Jewish lobby”.
Andrew Bridgen used last week’s debate on recognition of a Palestinian state to ask a colleague if he would agree that “given that the political system of the world’s superpower and our great ally the US is very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America, it falls to this country and this House to be the good but critical friend that Israel needs, and this motion just might lift that logjam on this troubled area?”
Despite criticism that his comments echoed “the most insulting of tropes against Jews”, the MP for North West Leicestershire only defended his comments when approached for clarification by Jewish News.
Reflecting on recent conversations with senators and congressmen in America, he said: “It was alleged to me that no American politician would be remotely critical publicly of anything Israel does because as they put it, if they do, their opponents in the elections or in the primaries would have millions of dollars dropped into their campaign fund, without even asking, to get rid of them.”
He added: “To have a situation where America’s political figures can’t make any comment remotely critical of Israel is in my view unhealthy. I do feel that it falls to Britain to be, when necessary, a critical friend of Israel. I can only regard the words and phrases that were used in Washington as the truth as those politicians saw it. I used the language that I recall was used to me.”
He insisted he is “certainly not anti-Semitic” and that he had historically sided with Israel in the Commons. CFI director Stuart Polak said the comments “demonstrate an ignorance of what does and does not constitute anti-Semitic language and it is very disappointing that he has chosen not to clarify his remarks… MPs should be clear on the sensitivities around the use of certain language.
There should be no place in the Conservative Party for these sorts of comments”. Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson said: “It is scarcely credible for an MP with one breath to claim that he is not anti-Semitic and with the next breath make reference to Jewish lobbying power based on unattributed comments by persons unknown on a trip to Washington.
As a friend, Mr Bridgen should know that such comments refer to the most insulting of tropes against Jews. He really should disassociate himself from such insults.” Several community leaders also noted that the Tory party is yet to comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, former international development minister Sir Alan Duncan (pictured, right) faced criticism over a speech in which he said “no settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party or sit in a Parliament”.
In an attack on Israeli settlement policy in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, he said the continued expansion of settlements “demonstrates that the occupier has little or no intention… of permitting a viable Palestinian state to come into existence”.
Duncan said settlement endorsement – which he described as a form of extremism – “should be on par with racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism…. Just as we quite rightly judge someone unfit for public office if they refuse to recognise Israel, so we should shun anyone who refuses to recognise that settlements are illegal.”
Board of Deputies vice president Jonathan Arkush said Duncan, “characterises defending Israel as equivalent to accusing people of wanting Israel’s destruction or being anti- Semitic.
This is a blatantly false allegation against the leadership bodies of the British Jewish community. It is a poisonous slur which should be retracted immediately.”