Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed that if re-elected he will “crack down on all varieties of antisemitism and prejudice, including Islamophobia,” and pledged that an inquiry on varying forms of racism would “start before the end of the year and be entirely independent”.
Speaking to the Jewish News this week, Johnson dismissed charges that he used “selective outrage” about antisemitism as “rather unfair”. He cited both his Jewish and Muslim antecedents in his defence. His comments came after a group styling themselves “Jews Against Boris” took out a full-page advert in the Jewish Chronicle which attacked the prime minister for “openly appealing to the far-right to secure power. He is demonising minorities, promoting discriminatory policies and undermining the democratic safeguards that we rely on”.
Thirty-five years ago Mr Johnson was a volunteer on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi, and, although he has visited Israel many times since, he said his stint in the “steamy environment” of washing-up in the kibbutz kitchens had laid the foundations of his love of Israel. Not, he hastened to clarify, that he had embraced the “socialist ideal” of the kibbutz.
But the prime minister did not accept criticism that he had been the architect behind Britain’s tough United Nations resolution just over three years ago, denouncing Israel’s settlement policy. “We were merely echoing Britain’s policy [on settlements],” he insisted. “The best way forward is a two-state solution”.
He did not respond to a question about how Britain might act now that President Trump has announced that American policy was no longer against settlements.
The prime minister was on happier ground when it came to denouncing payments in the Palestinian territories for the families of terrorists. He said that such payments were “completely wrong: we should not be bankrolling terror.” If he wins the election, he said, he would insist on “more stringent conditions attached” and a “much closer scrutiny” of money given to the Palestinian administration.
He also said he would not be inclined to follow the Labour pledge of recognising the state of Palestine as an early act in government. A Conservative government would not recognise a Palestinian state unless there were more moves towards peace from the Palestinians, he said.
Johnson this week reaffirmed his support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, adopted in full by the Conservative Party in 2016.
“Britain’s Jews will always have my support and that of the Government I lead,” he wrote.