Eric Pickles gave up his post as Secretary of State for Communities in May 2015 and on the following day he became chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel. Ever since the the start of the current wave of violence in the West Bank he and his hit squad of CFI MPs have been trying to persuade ministers that the whole thing can be blamed on “incitement” by the Palestinian government – as though there were no other possible cause for the anger felt by young Palestinians.
He took it one stage further at Foreign Office questions when he contrasted the way the Palestinian and Israeli governments deal with violence and extremism:
Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Israeli authorities deal with Jewish extremism—they investigate, they prosecute and they condemn—whereas the Palestinian Authority names schools after violent extremists, names sporting events after them and glorifies them on television. Will take this opportunity to condemn absolutely the attitude of the Palestinian Authority and urge it to cease this senseless encouragement of violence?
I accompanied a cross-party group of MPs on a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank last month and this point was put to an Israeli journalist. Is the Palestinian Authority guilty of incitement? Is it true that streets are named after murderers?
He said the MPs who believed this should visit his part of Jerusalem where “ALL the streets are named after murderers” – members of Irgun, Lehi and Haganah who fought for independence for Israel in 1948.
He was exaggerating, but there are streets named after Shlomo Ben-Yosef (who threw a grenade at an Arab bus), Eliyahu Hakim (who assassinated Lord Moyne), Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (who tried to assassinate Winston Churchill), Menachem Begin (leader of the group that blew up the King David Hotel killing 91 and later Prime Minister) and Olei Hagardom (the 12 militants executed by the British on charges of terrorism).
There are certainly public buildings in the West Bank named after people Israelis would regard as “terrorists” and there are posters celebrating “martyrs” who have died in the conflict, but the truth is that every country that has fought for its independence glorifies people that the other side regard as “terrorists”.
The irony is that the current Palestinian government is led by politicians who advocate non-violent resistance and are more often under attack for being too “moderate” while the current leaders of the Israeli government are rightly regarded as “extremists” in almost every country other than Israel.
Eric Pickles also holds up the way that the Israeli government deals with Jewish extremism as exemplary. Not many would agree. The United Nations has recorded more than 2,100 settler attacks on unarmed Palestinians in the last eight years. Often the attacks are witnessed by Israeli soldiers who take no action. If Palestinian police are present, they are not allowed to arrest Israelis. Over 90% of complaints have not even led to a charge and only the most extreme cases (such as the burning alive of Mohammed Khdair and the fire-bombing of the Duwabshe family) have led to custodial sentences for settlers.
See Mehdi Hasan’s clip on this subject: