You will remember that Boris Johnson, our new foreign secretary, had to cut his visit to Palestine short after no less than six meetings were cancelled by Palestinians angry about his comments on the BDS campaign.
During his visit Johnson repeatedly criticised calls for a boycott of Israeli goods as “completely crazy”: “I cannot think of anything more foolish than to say that you want to have any kind of divestments or sanctions or boycott against a country that, when all is said and done, is the only democracy in the region, is the only place that has, in my view, pluralist, open society – why boycott Israel? The supporters of this so-called boycott are really just a bunch of corduroy-jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics who have no real standing in the matter and I think are highly unlikely to be influential in Britain.”
A Travel2Palestine delegation was in Ramallah on the same day as Johnson and, having met the Prime Minister, we were invited to an impromptu meeting with the Minister for Higher Education, Dr Sabri Saidam, who had just cancelled his meeting with Boris.
He was furious with Johnson’s comments but was more than happy to meet our delegation, including Dr Paul Monaghan MP, to make it clear he welcomed British politicians to Ramallah. Just not those who disrespect Palestinians.
Johnson was also disinvited by the Sharek Youth Forum, which posted a statement saying: “Following Johnson’s inaccurate, misinformed and disrespectful statement regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on 9 November, stating that he ‘cannot think of anything more foolish’, it is our conclusion, supported by the Palestinian youth that we represent, he consciously denies the reality of the occupation that continues to oppress them and all Palestinians.
“As Palestinians and supporters of BDS, we cannot in good conscience host Johnson, as a person who denounces the international BDS movement and prioritises the feelings of wearers of ‘corduroy jackets’ over an entire nation under occupation.
“In Johnson’s own words, the ‘only democracy in the region … a pluralist, open society’ is one that oppresses citizens, confiscates land, demolishes homes, detains children and violates international humanitarian and human rights law on a daily basis.”
They may have got the wrong end of the stick about corduroy jackets, but their feelings were shared by all Palestinians.
‘Helping the Arabs to drive tractors’
Another taste of Johnson’s diplomatic talents can be gleaned from this quote where he enlists Churchill to the Israeli cause and casually patronises the Palestinians:
“If we look at the history of modern Israel there is no doubt that there is something Churchillian about the country he helped to create. There is the audacity, the bravery, the willingness to take risks with feats of outrageous derring-do.
“When he wrote his 1922 White Paper that paved the way for accelerated Jewish entry into Palestine, Churchill imagined Jews and Arabs living side by side, with technically expert Jewish farmers helping the Arabs to drive tractors.”
Johnson seems to forget the Palestinians are descended from two of the earliest civilisations on this planet, the Philistines, who came from Greece in the 10th century BC, and the Canaanites who were inventing the world’s first phonetic alphabet while our ancestors were still using flint arrows.