Oral Answers to Questions — Anti-Semitism (Middle East)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st May 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside 12:00 am, 1st May 2001

What recent representations he has made to Governments in the middle east about anti-Semitism. [158607]

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We deplore anti-Semitism, as we deplore racism and xenophobia wherever they arise, and we condemn any incitement to hatred and violence. We have consistently called on all parties in the middle east to do everything possible to desist from such incitement and to curb extremism.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Will my hon. Friend condemn categorically the well-documented anti-Semitism that is emanating from the middle east? Specifically, will he condemn the article that appeared in the Egyptian state newspaper Al Ahram in November 2000? The article repeated the blood libel and stated that Arab children had been abducted by Jews who wanted to use their blood for baking Passover matzo. Will he also condemn Syria for the statements that appeared in Tishreen, the state-owned press, in January this year? The report condemned Zionists for trying to suffocate the voice of … David Irving, who proved the holocaust to be an illusion, the product of the Zionist imagination. Does my hon. Friend agree that anti-Semitism in the Arab world, as elsewhere, is a barrier to achieving true justice for Palestinians and Israelis? Will he also condemn its ugly manifestations in this country, which include the attack on the Chief Rabbi and his wife as they made their way to celebrations of Israel's independence day last week?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend makes some very good points. The point about racism that should always be borne in mind is that, in any form, it disfigures those who are responsible for it more than those against whom it is directed. In respect of the attacks that she mentioned, which we all deplore, it should also be borne in mind that anybody who uses the language of racism must assume that an audience is listening to what he or she is saying or writing and that that audience is subject to incitement. Such people therefore bear a heavy responsibility. I repeat my initial statement: we condemn anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia in all their forms.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

As both the Arabs and the Jews are Semitic races, will the Minister try to persuade the Secretary of State that it would be more than usually fatuous of him to send a racist message to either of them, or even to pontificate to them about their national diet?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I fear that we have just heard yet another bad example of the views of a senior member of the Tory party. The hon. Gentleman makes an unhelpful contribution. I would have thought that every hon. Member would agree that this a serious subject. I am not interested in dealing with semantics; I am being asked to speak about anti-Semitism. Let me make it clear again, without equivocation or any play upon words, that we condemn anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, from whatever source they come—full stop, no fancy words and no messing about. One should condemn them and then live as one speaks.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about condemning racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism wherever they arise, as anti-Semitism affects both Arabs and Jews. Will he confirm the Government's view that discrimination should be tackled wherever it exists in the middle east? Does he agree that we must register concern about water supplies in the west bank, 90 per cent. of which are reserved for Israeli settlements? That is a matter of discrimination on which it is right for us to register our concern.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We try to practise what we preach by telling both parties to the conflict in the middle east that the only way to advance is through dialogue and an end to violence. Part of that process must be an end to the abuses that are coming from all directions, against all parties. They must try to draw the line and get back to dialogue. In that way, we can go forward. The specific abuse to which he referred is, of course, wrong. The closures are wrong. We make these points, but I return to the original point: we condemn racism, prejudice and bigotry, from whatever source they come.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd Conservative, Fareham

Will the Minister also condemn those who try to brand as anti-Semitic people who criticise Israeli Government policy, especially people who deplore the cruel and excessive reaction of the Israeli authorities to the unrest that their illegal settlements inevitably provoke? Peace process or no peace process, those settlements are ever expanding, and young Palestinians see their homeland rapidly shrinking. Will the Minister acknowledge that such name calling is used by some to try to silence those who wish the Jewish people well, but realise that their policies on Palestine are futile for everybody in the middle east, not least the Israelis?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I generally agree with the early part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. However, I am wary of giving a blanket endorsement to what he described as inevitable provocation. Deeds should be judged on their merits; provocation should not be assumed to be inevitable.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that one can criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. It is important to maintain a distinction. No one should attribute false motives to critics in order to protect themselves against legitimate political criticism. The more such debates are debased by the sort of language that we discussed earlier, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the distinction. However, its maintenance is important in the interests of dialogue, debate and decency. One can criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic and the Arabs without being racist. One can criticise hon. Members and other politicians not on the basis of race or religion, but genuine political belief.