x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Pro-Arab' Britain caters to its Muslims, Israeli leader says

Israeli president charges that Britain has become "deeply pro-Arab" and suggests British politicians cater to growing Muslim community by showing less support for Israel.

TEL AVIV // Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, provoked a furor in Britain over the weekend after charging that the country has become "deeply pro-Arab" and suggesting that British politicians were catering to a growing Muslim community by showing less support for Israel. The comments of the veteran politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner, made in an interview with a New York-based Jewish online magazine, drew condemnation even from pro-Israel legislators and Jewish leaders in Britain.

They also appeared to reflect a growing Israeli concern that public opinion in many European countries is turning against Israel due to the country's policies towards Palestinians. James Clappison, a conservative member of Britain's parliament and vice-chairman of the group Conservative Friends of Israel, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "Mr Peres has got this wrong. There are pro- and anti-Israel views in all European countries. Things are certainly no worse, as far as Israel is concerned, in this country than in other European countries."

Jonathan Romain, a British rabbi and media commentator, said Mr Peres's comments "surprised" him and added: "It is a sweeping statement that is far too one-sided. Britain has supported both Israel and Arab causes at different periods over the last 50 years. There are elements of anti-semitism but it is not endemic to British society." Mr Romain noted that Britain has become "one of the best countries in the world to live in" due to its pluralism and tolerance.

The uproar over the Israeli president's remarks comes amid some tensions in recent months between Israel and its British ally, spurred most recently by David Cameron, the new British prime minister, who last week called Gaza a "prison camp" and demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the tiny Palestinian territory. Mr Cameron's statement, an unusually blunt description of Gaza from a major western leader, prompted Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to Britain, to quickly respond by blaming Hamas for the misery of Gazans and adding that they "are the prisoners" of the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the enclave.

Ties between the two countries have also been strained after Britain in March expelled a representative of Israel's Mossad spy agency at the country's embassy in London after blaming Israel for the forging of British passports used in the assassination of a top Hamas commander in Dubai in January. Furthermore, Israel has expressed outrage over arrest warrants issued in Britain in the past year for several current or former Israeli leaders over the alleged perpetration of war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

Mr Peres, who spoke in an interview in Tablet magazine with Benny Morris, a prominent Israeli historian, stated that for Israel, "our next big problem is England". Suggesting that Britain's growing Muslim population may be part of the reason for what he labeled an anti-Israeli sentiment, he said: "There are several million Muslim voters. And for many members of parliament, that's the difference between getting elected and not getting elected."

Mr Peres, who was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2008 by Britain's Queen, charged that many in the UK establishment were "deeply pro-Arab?and anti-Israeli," and added: "They abstained in the [pro-Zionist] 1947 UN partition resolution, despite [issuing the pro-Zionist] Balfour Declaration in 1917. They maintained an arms embargo against us [in the 1950s]; they had a defence treaty with Jordan; they always worked against us."

According to the Israeli president, politicians from Britain's opposition Labour party have grown less supportive of Israel because "they think that the Palestinians" are the weak party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also said the British "didn't say a word" when Israel "refrained from retaliating" at Gaza militants who had fired rockets at its territory for years prior to the country's three-week onslaught in the enclave a year and a half ago.

Mr Peres added that in Britain, "there is also anti-Semitism". He added that Scandinavian countries also pose a problem for Israel because they try "to appear like bleeding hearts" by condemning Israel for its policies towards the Palestinians, with countries like Sweden not understanding why Israel is at war. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae