On 28 June 2010 – just six weeks after becoming Prime Minister – David Cameron told the Commons that Gaza was a “giant, open prison”. A month later, on a visit to Turkey, he again said that Gaza “must not be allowed to remain a prison camp” and went on to condemn Israel’s assault on the peace flotilla as “completely unacceptable”.
What happened to that David Cameron? In the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions we heard a totally different David Cameron who brushed aside Sir Gerald Kaufman’s concerns about the new Nationality Bill before the Israeli Parliament and the threat it poses to the civil rights of Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens with breath-taking complacency.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of the precise words used by Sir Gerald in his question and the Prime Minister’s dismissive reply:
Prime Minister’s Questions Wednesday 26th November 2014
Sir Gerald Kaufman: “Will the Prime Minister condemn the new Israeli Government Bill that removes what are defined as national rights from all Israeli citizens who are not Jews, makes Hebrew the only national language and has been denounced by the Israeli Attorney-General as causing a “deterioration of the democratic characteristic of the state”? Will he make it clear that the statutory, repressive removal of citizenship rights on the basis of religion will turn Israel into an apartheid state?”
David Cameron: “One of the reasons I am such a strong supporter of Israel is that it is a country that has given rights and democracy to its people, and it is very important that that continues. When we look across the region and at the indexes of freedom, we see that Israel is one of the few countries that tick the boxes for freedom, and it is very important that it continues to do so.”
One should maybe make allowances for the fact that the Prime Minister would have had no notice of this question, but that would be an excuse for an answer that is non-committal, not for an answer that is totally misleading and wrong.
When one looks at international indexes of freedom one see that Israel, far from “ticking the boxes”, is languishing a long way down the league table. In the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom Israel is in 44th place, behind Macedonia, Latvia, Armenia and Jordan.
In the 2014 World Press Freedom Index Israel is in 96th place below Kuwait, Liberia, Mongolia and Panama.
In an international Freedom of Religion Index Israel comes in bottom place, scoring ‘nul points’ along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Afghanistan.
The reason is precisely because it has not “given rights and freedom to its people”, as David Cameron claimed, but continues to deny equality to its 1.2 million Arab citizens, and nowhere more so that in the proposed Bill before the Knesset, as Sir Gerald pointed out.
A list of more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures, has been published by the civil rights organisation Adalah.
And even where the law does not discriminate, the police do. Of 11,282 complaints of police brutality filed with the police complaints body in the last three years, 97.3% have been dropped or closed or stopped short of criminal charges.
And now the Knesset is considering a Bill that would entrench “national rights” for Jewish Israelis that would not be shared by Muslim or Christian Israelis and deprive Arabic of its status as the second national language. Does this “tick the boxes for freedom”?
Where is the David Cameron of 2010?