The Prime Minister fields questions on peace in the Middle East, the Dubai passport scandal, faith schools and JFS, the rise of antisemitism and attacks the Tories for their far-right allies.

By Martin Bright, April 22, 2010


What would a new Labour government do to kick-start talks in the Middle East in order to bring about over a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?
I was incredibly proud to be the first British Prime Minister to address the Knesset and as long as I am Prime Minister Israel will always have the firmest of friends in the British Government.
The Israeli and Palestinian people’s both deserve the lasting peace and shared prosperity that can only come with a just two-state solution, and I am determined to do all I can to bring that about.
That means actively supporting those in both Israel and Palestine who are advocates for peace rather than violence; working closely with the US, our EU allies and moderate Arab states to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict; and resolutely maintaining our implacable opposition to the minority committed to the tactics of terror. I am optimistic that a lasting settlement is within our grasp, and that direct talks between the parties need to resume as soon as possible.
What is the Prime Minister’s position on Israel’s actions in Operation Cast Lead and what should Israel do to calm international opinion on this issue?
We recognise Israel’s right to protect the security of its citizens and have consistently condemned the firing of rockets in to Israel by Hamas and other organisations. Equally we believe very strongly that the current blockade of Gaza should be lifted to allow humanitarian assistance through and the reconstruction effort to begin, in a way that is consistent with Israel’s continuing security imperatives.
I think there were legitimate concerns about some of the actions undertaken by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead, and believe that Israel should conduct its own investigation into allegations of war crimes.
What is the PM’s view of the current state of UK-Israel relations in the light of Israel’s use of British passports in Dubai? What further action will be taken if the investigation of the Dubai authorities confirms that Israel was responsible for the assassination of the Hamas operative?
The security relationship between the UK and Israel is a close and important one, and it is essential that such relationships are built on trust. Misuse of British passports was a clear and serious breach of that trust and we were obliged, in defence of our own citizens’ rights, to take action. This has not fundamentally damaged the strong relationship between Israel and Britain, or the friendship between our two peoples.
The government has been accused of political opportunism in raising the issue of the Conservatives’ allies in the European parliament. Why is this such an important issue for British voters?
This isn’t about opportunism, it’s about accountability. David Cameron has chosen to leave the grouping of the German Chancellor and French President, to ally with marginalised figures who do not share Britain’s values, and it is legitimate to ask him why.
The former Czech Prime Minister, Topolanek, has had to resign from his party leadership because of his homophobic and antisemitic remarks, but these are the friends David Cameron has chosen, in order to satisfy the Eurosceptic wing of his party. I think that demonstrates poor judgement, and that British voters should understand the compromises to British values and British influence that the Tories are prepared to make in order to appease a significant section of their fanatical backbenchers.
Jewish parents and students are very concerned about the rise of antisemitism and Islamic radicalism on campus. What measures would a Labour government take to stamp these out?
We will never compromise on the right to freedom of speech in our universities, but where that crosses the line and becomes intimidation or discrimination I think universities have a responsibility to take strong action and the authorities must step in where the law is broken. Universities and colleges have a responsibility to protect all their students and staff from those who seek to promote violence, incite hatred, intimidate or bully others.
Many universities are already doing a great job on this, and they are to be commended, but it is precisely because we recognise that some are falling behind that we have set up a campus working group to tackle the specific issues raised in higher and further education, as part of our wider commitment to implement the London Declaration Against Anti-Semitism. I was very pleased to be the first head of Government to sign that Declaration and I know that all members of the cabinet are working hard to ensure its recommendations are being implemented in their department.
Will a Labour government make funds available to improve security around Jewish institutions including schools as recommended in the recent all-party report on antisemitism?
We make significant sums available to local authorities to fulfil the security needs of community institutions and schools. In particular, we support formal arrangements between schools and police to work together to keep young people safe, reduce crime and improve behaviour. As part of these arrangements, a police officer or police community support officer will work at a school or cluster of schools with pupils and staff.
These Safer School Partnerships can benefit all schools and they should be the norm, not the exception – available to schools wherever parents or headteachers demand them.
We are proud of the strong relationship between the police and the Community Security Trust, and we will of course continue to take the CST’s advice on the specific safety concerns of the Jewish community. But we will not make ring-fenced funding available for Jewish institutions as Jewish institutions – instead local authorities must assess every school on a case by case basis so we can be sure we are giving the greatest support to those most at risk.
What is the Labour Party’s commitment to faith schools?
We very much value the contribution faith schools make to education and the choice they provide for parents. Almost a third of maintained schools are faith schools, including 38 Jewish schools. We have made unprecedented investment in Jewish faith schools, particularly those in London and Manchester that moved from independent to state sector and have benefited from new buildings and resources.
I was pleased to honour some of our pioneering Jewish educationalists at our recent Downing Street Chanukkah celebrations, and very much appreciate the difference Jewish schools are making in the lives of our young people.
Is there any legislative remedy to the Supreme Court decision over JFS?
We will uphold the decision of the Supreme Court based on their interpretation of existing legislation. Faith schools have played an important part in our education system for generations, but must follow admission procedures that are non-discriminatory, and consistent with both the law and the admissions Code.
JFS has, I believe, amended its admissions policy in light of the updated guidance from the Office of the Chief Rabbi. We are open to any proposal to resolve this issue that comes from the leadership of the British Jewish Community and look forward to working with Jewish Chronicle readers to find a way to uphold both the integrity of our non-discrimination legislation and the ancient Jewish laws about membership of the community.
In December, the Prime Minister and David Miliband committed to amend the universal jurisdiction legislation, which allows magistrates to issue arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians and military staff. Now that the government has pushed the issue into the long grass until after the election, what guarantee will you give to the Jewish community that you will introduce the law change immediately afterwards?
We have made clear that we are committed to legislating in the first session of parliament to ensure that the principle of Universal Jurisdiction is respected, but also to ensure that that it cannot be misused against Israel or any other friend and ally of the UK by opportunists who want to embarrass politicians they dislike.
In fact it was the Conservative Party that prohibited the use of the only legislative vehicle that would have enabled Parliament to act prior to the start of the election campaign. The Labour Party is and will remain fully committed to the principle that politicians of democratic nations should be able to travel to Britain freely.
There is serious concern in the Jewish community over comments made at a recent House of Commons event by Labour MPs Sir Gerald Kaufman and Martin Linton, who warned about Israeli “tentacles” influencing the forthcoming election? What can the Prime Minister do to reassure readers of the JC that he will act against MPs who use such language (with its clear anti-semitic antecedents) in future?
I am pleased that Martin Linton has since apologised for his remark, which was totally unacceptable. Labour Friends of Israel has worked for over 50 years to build stronger relationships between Israel and Britain and we are proud of the ties that bind our two people’s together.
Labour will continue to oppose prejudice and bigotry in all its guises, as the vigorous efforts of the Jewish Labour Movement bear out. In government we have taken action to pass laws to prohibit speech that is designed to stir up racial or religious hatred.

Last updated: 12:16pm, April 22 2010

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