The United Kingdom


Websites of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

The website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its subsidiaries contain many fine words. See:

- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office; on settlement building.

- The British Consulate General in East Jerusalem; on settlement building.

- The UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), a directorate of the FCO, provides information to British companies about the OPT. However in August 2008 Lord Digby Jones,then UK Minister for Trade & Investment and Andrew Cahn, UKTI’s Chief Executive, visited Israel with a business delegation and apparently no mention was made of the settlements or occupied territories.

See ‘UK Economic Links with Israeli Settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory (Profundo)’ section 2.2.2. for statements from these websites and comment.

Political Parties and Associated Organisations

  1. The Labour Party

Labour Friends of Israel:

Labour Friends of Palestine & The Middle East (LFPME):

See their pamphlet ‘Stop Building Hatred’.

Gordon Brown appeared to be very sympathetic to Israel. The eminent historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who accompanied him on his visit to Israel in July 2008, has since commented that Brown ‘is totally committed to Israel and feels very close to Jewish people’ (The Times, 28.01.10).  On that visit Brown said that the UK would remain a ‘true friend’ of Israel and work with it toward creating a future ‘free of terror’ (Ha’aretz, 23.07.08). A former Labour MP, who is informed about Palestine, commented to me that he holds an ‘old fashioned’, quasi-socialist, view of Israel as a land of Kibutzim. In January 2009 Brown offered that the British navy could be used to stop arms being ‘smuggled’ into Gaza and vehemently opposed the issuing of an arrest warrant for the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, should she visit Britain.  He further promised to back Israel in the face of a nuclear threat from Iran. Labour said that if it were to win the 2010 General Election it would introduce legislation which would threaten universal jurisdiction, disallowing citizen arrests (see below). 

The LFPME website at the time of the Labour Party Conference of 2009 told us that ‘disbelief and anger spread at the news that Ehud Barak, Defence Minister during the Gaza conflict, cited in Judge Goldstone’s report on war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, was attending conference’. Representations were made to the Deputy Leader of the Party, Harriet Harman, and to the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, about Barak’s attendance at the International Reception. However Gordon Brown ‘specifically welcomed Ehud Barak in his opening remarks at this reception’. Members of the LFPME protested outside the conference, speaking of ‘their outrage that a member of the Israeli Government who should be being held to account for Israel’s conduct by the UN in Geneva was instead being wined and dined at the Labour Friends of Israel reception’.

More recently some have judged Ed Miliband to be sympathetically inclined towards the Palestinians. Neither Miliband brother is a member of Labour Friends of Israel. Their mother, Marion Kozak, is apparently a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. A Canadian writer, Joshua Blakeney, judges Ed Miliband ‘by far the most uniquely positioned of the leaders of the mainstream political parties’ in what he calls the ‘Imperialist Block’ to ‘defy the dictates of Israel’. The Labour Friends of Palestine website calls for boycott of settlement goods, but does not go as far as calling for suspension of the Association Agreement. Meanwhile the Labour Friends of Israel website speaks of Israel as a ‘liberal democracy’ (sic). 

  1. The Conservative Party

Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI):

For commentary on the Conservative Friends of Israel see PowerBase and Wikispooks.

The Conservative Middle East Council, aims ‘to raise awareness of Middle East issues’ (having no specific interest in Palestine):

If Labour has close relations with Israel, the Conservatives have always appeared to be hand-in-glove. Some comments by leading conservatives would seem beyond belief. After a visit to Israel organised by CFI in 2008, Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones (former head of the UK’s joint intelligence committee and at the time national security adviser to David Cameron) remarked that Israel had ‘shown the world’ how to deal with terrorism while maintaining democracy. (Report dated 16 Sept. 2008 in The Jewish Chronicle.) It is claimed that around 80% of Conservative MPs are CFI members. The programme-makers of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme said of the CFI that it was ‘beyond doubt the most well-connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying

‘There are some in the West who see some sort of equivalence between Israel and Hamas. I do not. Israel is a democracy – Hamas want to create a theocracy. Israel strives to protect innocent life – Hamas target innocent life. And so there can be no doubt, and let me make clear we won’t judge Hamas just on words. Our test is whether their actions show that they are going to end the terror, recognise Israel and accept all previous peace agreements.’ David Cameron in his speech at the Conservative Friends of Israel Lunch, 18 June 2009. For the full speech click here.

groups’. The extent of funding is disputed but is clearly major. It is alleged that threats of a withdrawal of CFI funding of the party were made after William Hague described Israel’s attack on the Lebanon in 2006 as ‘disproportionate’ and David Cameron gave an undertaking that the word would not be used again. Instead, at the annual CFI lunch held six months after Operation Cast Lead (see further under ‘The Present Impasse’, ‘Europe’) Cameron in his speech commented that Israel was to be commended because ‘it strives to protect innocent life’.

It was reported in The Jewish Chronicle that the Conservative Party despatched Kenneth Clarke MP and the Shadow Attorney General Edward Garnier to ‘assure’ Tzipi Livni that she would not need to worry about warrant arrests if she visited the UK and that there was Conservative support for a change in UK law. (Middle East Monitor, 21.02.10). The Coalition Government has now done exactly this, and has welcomed Livni (see below).

The CFI clearly sought to influence the adoption of candidates for the May 2010 general election (saying as much on its website). The comments on their website on the attack on the aid flotilla heading for Gaza, which was intercepted while in international waters by Israeli forces, were beyond belief, simply parroting the Israeli government’s propaganda (which has been shown to be wildly inaccurate). Under the heading ‘Israel’s proud humanitarian record’ the CFI tells us that ‘[Israel] has always upheld high-standards of humanitarian commitment for Gaza.’ Further: ‘the ‘activists’ aboard the MM [Mavi Marmara] were not genuine humanitarian aid workers, but perhaps, something more complex and sinister’. Speaking in the debate on Middle East Policy in the House of Commons on 14 June 2010 the Conservative MP Nick Boles averred: ‘In Israel, Israeli Arabs have always had all rights - the same as Israeli Jews ...’. What relationship this statement bears to the lives of Israeli Arabs one cannot imagine.

In government however there has been a distinct shift. Cameron has made forthright comments (reported 2 June 2010) on the need to end the siege of Gaza. Meanwhile Hague is clearly trying to improve relations with the Arab world, in particular the Gulf states. With the evident failure of the peace process in late 2010 followed by the outbreak of revolutions in the Arab world in January/February 2011 there seems to have been yet further shift (see under ‘Current Situation’ below.)

  1. The Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel:

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine: (An informative website with a useful list of links to political organisations and groups of all parties.)

It is somewhat difficult to say where the Lib Dems stand, though the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine (judging by its website) would seem to be a very active organisation. Baroness Jenny Tonge in particular has been a stalwart campaigner for the Palestinian cause. In a strongly worded article published in The Guardian (7 Jan. 2009) at the time of the Gaza crisis, Nick Clegg stood out among British political leaders in demanding that the UK cease arming Israel and insist that the EU do likewise. ‘Brown must stop sitting on his hands. He must condemn unambiguously Israel's tactics, just as he has rightly condemned Hamas's rocket attacks. Then he must lead the EU into using its economic and diplomatic leverage in the region to broker peace.’ In a further article in The Guardian published in December 2009 to mark the anniversary of the attack on Gaza he commented: ‘And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing.’ However, now in government, on 8 Nov. 2010 Clegg gave a luncheon speech to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel which seemed to many an about-face. (See the Middle East Monitor’s ‘Open Letter’ to him, 17 Nov. 2010). The LDFI website speaks of a ‘welcome plan to change the UK’s law on Universal Jurisdiction’, while the LDFP website has a full discussion of the issue with links to statements by various human rights and campaigning organisation.

Cross Party Pro Arab/ Palestinian Groups

  1. The Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group

The body ‘seeks to foster good relations and understanding between Britain and Palestine and to promote a just and durable peace in the Middle East’. Following the precedent of EU contact with Hamas, members of this group met with high-ranking Hamas officials in Ramallah on 31 Jan. 2007. Click here. Further, in May 2009, shortly after operation cast lead, an all party parliamentary group went on a fact finding mission to Gaza and the West Bank, producing a report.

  1. The Council for Arab-British Understanding (caabu)

The CAABU ‘works to promote a positive approach to Arab-British relations by providing an unrivalled forum for a diverse range of politicians, journalists, opinion formers and members of the public to co-operate on issues relating the Arab world’. It is jointly chaired by an MP from each of the three main parties and has over 120 Parliamentary members. They have an excellent daily information e-mail service.

The Response to Gaza

What the UK has omitted to do may be thought incredible. At the time of the attack on Gaza, War on Want commented:

As governments around the world condemn Israel's
actions, the British [Labour] government refuses to condemn Israel for its attack on Gaza. The UK government supported the US block on a draft UN resolution submitted four days after the attacks began which ‘strongly condemns all military attacks and the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israel, the occupying power, which have led to the death and injury of scores of innocent Palestinian civilians, including women and children’. The

Labour Friends of Palestine

Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

resolution calls for ‘an immediate ceasefire and for its full respect by both sides’. (For the full War on Want statement click here.)

Shamefully, the UK chose to abstain in the debate on the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly.

A labour politician who spoke out movingly (in the House of Lords), comparing the Israeli action to that of Nazis, is Sir Gerald Kaufman. Brought up as a orthodox Jew and Zionist and having lost many of his family through the holocaust, Kaufman in the past had strong links with Israel and a succession of its leaders.

Universal Jurisdiction

The concept of ‘universal jurisdiction’ is that a national court, of one country, should be able to try cases in which grave crimes against humanity are suspected, even though these crimes were not committed in the country concerned. The principle involved is that no country should be a safe haven for those thought to have committed crimes universally recognised as war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is thus to be distinguished from for example the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-49 in which states establish an international court. Some argue that, with the establishment in 2002 of the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which however not all states recognise), universal jurisdiction has become less necessary.

In the UK under current legislation any member of the public who can present serious evidence that such crimes have been committed can apply to a magistrate who can issue an arrest warrant. For a prosecution to go ahead the consent of the Attorney-General is needed. However the International Criminal Court Act (2001) allows magistrates to issue arrest warrants without reference to the Attorney-General where there is a suspicion of war crimes. The Coalition Government is proposing a change, such that the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) would have the power of veto over the issuing of private arrest warrants against alleged international criminals who are visiting Britain. The problems seen with this are that (i) it would introduce a ‘political’ element (ii) the proceedings would be delayed, allowing a suspected criminal to leave the country.

It may also be said that, as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions (1949) and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), the UK has a duty to arrest and prosecute those suspected of such crimes. Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the UK is ‘under an obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts’. The Goldstone Report, as also the reports of various organisations concerned for human rights, suggest that war crimes and crimes against humanity may indeed well have been committed during the Israeli attack on Gaza. 

The issue of universal jurisdiction came to the fore in the UK when in December 2009 Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister at the time of the Israeli attack on Gaza, was due to visit the UK to speak at the Jewish National Fund conference. A senior UK magistrate, finding there to be sufficient evidence, issued a warrant under the Geneva Conventions Act for her arrest were she to visit. The recently issued Goldstone Report had suggested that the IDF had in Gaza committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. When Israeli officials were tipped off that an arrest warrant was being prepared in the UK Livni cancelled her visit.

Following this incident the Labour government pledged itself to change the law,

I think it is important to realise that the whole idea of universal jurisdiction is to take account of the weakness of international institutions in upholding international criminal law. There has always been the sense that national judicial institutions reinforce the norms of international law and take account of that institutional vacuum that exists in international society...

If a country such as Britain, which has a proud constitutional tradition, reserves the implementation of international criminal law just for those the government doesn’t like at the time - in other words if international criminal law is used for prosecuting Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic but not the friends of the government - then you discredit, in a fundamental way, the rule of law...

I’ve often said that US foreign policy would be much more successful had the Americans chosen to respect international law in the last several decades; the most of the failures of American foreign policy have correlated with deviations from international legal norms. Hence, in that sense I think a lot is at stake with this whole idea of universal jurisdiction.’

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories in a talk given in the House of Commons, 3 Dec. 2010 (Middle East Monitor, 10 Dec. 2010).

Gordon Brown telephoning Livni to say he was ‘completely opposed’ to the issuing of the warrant and that she was very welcome to visit the UK. (Labour Friends of Israel, update 08.02.10). However the move came up against resistance from the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, and the legislation did not go through before the General Election. The Coalition government pledged that it would change the law. Embarrassed on his first visit to Israel as Foreign Secretary in November 2010 when Israel announced that it would suspend the UK-Israel Strategic Dialogue were there no change, William Hague as Foreign Secretary promised that measures would be introduced ‘within weeks’.

The ‘Police Reform and Social Responsibility’ Bill, to which a clause regarding universal jurisdiction will be attached, had its second reading on 13 Dec. 2010 and will now be considered by a Public Bill Committee. The Bill was supported by the Opposition Shadow Home Office team, but opposed by Labour backbenchers. Sir Gerald Kaufman commented: ‘Israeli politicians will be literally allowed to get away with murder.’

There has been widespread campaigning against such a change.  The Palestine Solidarity Campaign considers that: ‘The issue that overrides all these considerations must be the principle that politicians from any country should never feel able to commit war crimes with impunity.’ The Guardian has carried two letters signed by prominent individuals. A group of lawyers (2 Dec. 2010) comment: ‘Not only is it morally right, but it is also our international obligation to bring war criminals to justice ... It is deeply insulting to the knowledge and expertise of ... judges to suggest that they would issue warrants on the basis of flimsy evidence; while a cross-party group of MPs and others comment (13 Dec. 2010) that giving the DPP such a veto would risk political interference and ‘constitute a gross interference with the rights of the victim and the responsibilities of the judiciary’.


The Current Situation

It is tempting to think that there has of late been a shift in relation to the Palestinian issue on the part of Britain’s political class. Certainly the Coalition Government looks a little different from what one might have expected of the Conservative party before taking office; but there is reason to think that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have done likewise. The liberal Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz (27.09.10) not least has picked up on this shift. Whether this is simply a reflection of the evident widespread support for the Palestinians among the British public, which has snowballed since Gaza/Goldstone/the attack on the Mavi Marmara, which have brought home as never before to the British public the nature of the Israeli regime, it would be interesting to know. It could be that the attack on the Mavi Marmara (which affected British citizens) has made a difference. Giving his first Labour Party conference speech as leader, Ed Miliband (himself Jewish), condemning the attack on the flotilla, called for an end to the blockade of Gaza and for Israel to recognize a Palestinian state. During a visit to Ankara, David Cameron (chameleon-like) remarked that Israel had turned the Gaza Strip into a ‘prison camp’ (Guardian, 27 July 2010). He had earlier remarked in the House of Commons (28 June): ‘Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza.’ Subsequently, in conjunction with the visit of the Queen to the Gulf States in November 2010 the FO issued a Report to the effect that British policy would now begin to ‘change to reflect Arab concerns’. The Telegraph remarked (24.11.10): ‘That may mean yet further withdrawal of traditional British support for Israel, with criticism of its government already more marked under Mr Hague than it was under New Labour government.’  Clearly such a shift is in part driven by economic and wider political concerns: the Gulf states are already massively invested in the UK economy and would be crucial in any show-down with Iran.

The outbreak of revolution in Arab states in January/February 2011 has placed the Conservative-led Coalition government in an extraordinary situation. David Cameron was caught out undertaking what was essentially a trade mission, attempting not least to sell armaments, at the time of the revolution in Egypt, taking in that country as an extra stop not previously planned. He was outspoken in Bahrain and told the
Kuwaiti National Assembly that suggestions that Arab nations are unsuited to democracy ‘border on racism’. However pressed by a journalist as to whether his pro-reform message applied to Saudi Arabia he declined to answer! (Telegraph 22 Feb. 2011). Meanwhile William Hague has been outspoken in relation to the Resolution on the illegality of Israeli settlements before the Security Council of the United Nations. Speaking also on behalf of France and Germany (all of which countries voted with all

The Prime Minister’s Office

John Major, David Cameron and the Kuwaiti PM Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah arrive for a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Liberation of Kuwait, 22 Feb. 2011.

other members of the Council, 14 countries in all, in favour of the motion, which only fell owing to the United States veto) he said that they hoped to welcome a Palestinian state to the United Nations by September 2011. This may be unrealistic, but it is effective rhetoric. It is reported that both Cameron and Hague have been glad to put some clear blue water between the American and the European position on Palestine. (Cf. Telegraph 22 Feb. 2011). There is an evident disquiet at the lack of leadership from the United States in any meaningful peace process (cf. Guardian, 9 Feb. 2011) with a general feeling that he has dropped the ball. This means that the Quartet will play a larger role in any resumption of talks. But that any talks are worthwhile unless there is a change in Israeli policy - which is hardly likely - must raise the strongest doubts. In an interesting article in The Telegraph (30 Dec. 2010) Peter Oborne muses on what may lie in store. The Coalition would seem to be very split in their attitude towards Israel/Palestine: George Osborne and Liam Fox (Defence Secretary) are entrenched pro-Israelis, Nick Clegg may well re-assert deeply pro-Palestinian views, while Cameron and Hague are somewhere in-between and it remains to be seen which way their decisive weight will fall. Any shift in policy notwithstanding, the Coalition is intending to change in the law affecting universal jurisdiction, as Labour had also clearly been Labour’s intention.


The pro-Zionist Lobby in the UK

The pro-Israel lobby in the UK is, writes the journalist Peter Oborne, ‘an almost completely unexplored topic’. In 2002 the New Statesman ran a story ‘A Kosher Conspiracy’ in which David Sewell cited instances of journalists being pressured and accused of anti-Semitism. It was the episode of David Cameron’s infamous remarks (see above) at the CFI luncheon in the summer of 2009, within six months of the attack on Gaza, that resolved Oborne to ask the question ‘what led David Cameron to behave in the way he did?’. What caused the Tory leader, MPs and candidates  ‘to flock to the Friends of Israel lunch in the year of the Gaza invasion?’. Further: ‘what are the rules of media discourse that ensure that such an event passes without notice?’ And of Cameron’s remarks on Gaza: ‘To allow this terrible subject to pass by without comment suggested a failure of common humanity and decency on the part of a man most people regard as the next prime minister.’ Further that: ‘To praise Israel at the same time for protecting human life showed not merely a fundamental failure of respect for the truth but also it gives the perception, rightly or wrongly, of support for the wretched events which took place in Gaza.’ As he probed the matter further, Oborne’s experience was (as in the case of Sewell) of people not being prepared to speak with him, or only off the record. The conservative MP Michael Mates, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee and former Northern Ireland minister, has commented: ‘the pro-Israel lobby … is the most powerful political lobby. There’s nothing to touch them.’ He added: ‘I think their lobbying is done very discreetly, in very high places, which is maybe why it is so effective.’ Oborne , who had himself been on a CFI tour in Israel, was one of those behind (a rare) TV programme (accompanied by a pamphlet) which investigated the tendrils of the Jewish lobby in their reach throughout the British political establishment. It should be noted for example that David Cameron (as were both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair) is a patron of the Jewish National Fund ‘which has always been and continues to be instrumental in the colonisation of Palestine and the expropriation of Palestinian land’ Hilary Wise, Palestine News, summer 2010), participating in such activities as the building of parks to hide Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948. Current projects include theft of land and water from Bedouin communities in the Negev and illegally acquiring houses in occupied East Jerusalem. (‘Stop the JNF – Stop Greenwashing Apartheid’, Michael Kalmanovitz of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Palestine News, summer 2010.)

Bias of the BBC and the UK Media more generally

It may be apposite to comment here on the deep bias of the BBC, extending back now over many years, in its reporting of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This must be extraordinarily important, given the influence of the BBC over the formation of British public opinion and quite wrong given the fact that the Corporation is in receipt of tax-payers money. In an updated version of their earlier book, now called More Bad News From Israel (2011), Greg Philo and Mike Berry’s analyze the coverage of the Gaza conflict, in which the whole impression given was that Israel was ‘retaliating’ to Hamas’ rockets and acting in self-defence, with little mention of the fact that Israel was subjecting Gaza to siege condition, or that Hamas had wished to extend the truce on condition that Israel lift the siege. In January 2009 the Corporation refused to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella organisation for major British charities, for the people of Gaza. Then there was the case of the extraordinary Panorama report of the attack on Mavi Marmara which attracted much criticism for its simplistic re-iteration of the Israeli obfuscation of what had happened. In an article in The Guardian (23 May 2011) erstwhile BBC Middle East Correspondent Tim Llewellyn comments that whereas the Corporation’s coverage of the Arab awakening has been ‘brave and honest’, the coverage of Israel and Palestine ‘where another state continually kills and oppresses Arabs, is replete with imbalance and distortion’. Considering the UK mainstream media more generally, including the BBC, one may note that for example mention of the progress and successful arrival of Viva Palestinian convoys to Gaza seems to be scarce indeed. Again, reporting of the recent session of the Russell Tribunal meeting in London in 2010 did not compare with that in Spain after the Barcelona Tribunal. While the (Chinese in origin) doctor and founder of Medical Aid for Palestine, Swee Ang, on returning to the UK from the operating theatres of Gaza after the invasion, promptly had all four TV interviews that she had lined up cancelled. (Mentioned by her at a public meeting which I attended, Jan. 2010.) No wonder there is so little understanding among the wider public of what has befallen the Palestinians.


This page has the function of a portal, pointing readers to political organisations and to sites, making some comment. Otherwise it briefly discusses (i) the stance the UK took (under Labour) re the Gaza crisis and Goldstone Report and (ii) the issue of Universal Jurisdiction, which the Coalition Government intends to amend. Finally there are notes on the pro-Zionist lobby in the UK and on the perceived stance of the BBC and the media more generally.