Five Minutes in the House of Commons

star-house-of-commons1Five Minutes for Israel addresses the House of Commons debate on Palestine and Israel

Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. David Guy (Rehovot, Israel) (Five Minutes for Israel, non co-operative) to address the House. As with all the back-benchers before him he will be constrained to a symbolic five minutes speaking time. I know that he will aspire to retain or to gain the warm regard of his colleagues and will therefore not seek to detain the House.

Mr. Guy: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Perhaps even five minutes is too long. The vote on the issue of recognising the yet-to-be-if-ever State of Palestine was decided long before my hon. Friend the member for Easington (Lab) Mr. Grahame M. Morris uttered his first syllable. All the honourable Labour members have been whipped† into supporting this business on penalty of party discipline and more than three hundred and seventy-five members of parliament, from a total of 649, have either abstained, taken refuge behind procedure or simply made themselves scarce. There have been rumours that members of the Conservatives have been whipped into abstaining. Evidence is circumstantial and I hope to enter into the documents of this session statistics on what percentage of each party obeyed these instructions and what percentage bravely defended their consciences in the House of Commons bar‡.

A special mention must be made for those honourable members who made speeches opposing the recognition of a state of Palestine and then either voted for the motion or abstained.

Unfortunately the Hansard record only records ayes and noes but not the reason for the vote or the decision not to vote. One might hope that honesty reported from my hon. friend, whom I regard as a ‘big brother’ member for Bradford West (Respect) George Galloway who abstained because he is committed to the destruction of Israel and is not going to pretend that pressuring Israel to take actions that it considers suicidal to itself as a nation and to its citizens is not a call for its destruction, is only a small part of the no-shows.

As is accepted practice when addressing such a subject as this particularly as the more perceptive may have noticed that Rehovot isn’t exactly part of the British Isles. They didn’t notice that President Abbas currently in the ninth year of his four-year term isn’t exactly the poster boy for democratic reform so the oversight is understandable. I will spend a little time on the United Kingdom connection.

If one was to visit De Schalit High School in Rehovot one would notice a rather elegant stone building with an arched facade. Now the school administration offices it was for a time towards the end of  the First World War, the headquarters of  the Desert Mounted Corps under General Harry Chauvel. The corps played a major role in the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at Beersheva and the capture of Damascus. The British could not have received their Palestinian Mandate for a national home for the Jewish people had they not defeated, invaded and occupied it. Does this sound like a familiar pattern? They took it from the recognised owners for the previous six hundred years, the Ottoman Turks. Neither recognised any Palestinian claims. Not least because they didn’t recognise any Palestinians.

Modern Middle Eastern history began from this invasion. The successful, humanist and democratic, states of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the apparently less praiseworthy state of Israel were formed when the British and the French divided  Ottoman possessions between them at the San Remo Convention later ratified by the League of Nations.

On a more personal note, I could have been legitimately sitting in the House of Commons if the war-time British government hadn’t arrested my father, a refugee from Nazi Germany as an enemy alien and transported him under armed guard to Australia*. He did rather better than hundreds of thousands of refugees from German tyranny who, denied entrance to Palestine, the only country willing to accept them,  by these same British, perished in Hitler’s death camps. This occurred at the same time as the Arabs in the Levant were actively working for Hitler. So please excuse me if I don’t get too sentimental about the British and the formation of the Israel. By the way, does that make me a Germanophobe or a Britaphobe?

Grahame M. Morris: Will you yield? British people, they and their representatives here in this House would feel that it was completely wrong in practice and in principle if another sovereign state, be it Israel or any other country, determined our foreign policy.

Richard Burden: Will you yield? Recognition for Palestinians cannot be a matter of privilege; it, too, must be a matter of right.

David Guy: I’m afraid I can not yield although yielding can be pleasure when one is not outnumbered like Custer at Little Big Horn. However I will speak to the interjection.

Apparently undermining the policy of Israel, the sole state in the region even trying to be a liberal democracy is OK.  However I do commend the honourable members sudden appearance of backbone even if only to resist a bully of almost twelve times smaller landmass and seven times smaller population.

Will we see a wave of backbencher motions, to say, recognise the Armenian Genocide or does Turkey determine British policy? Perhaps a recognition of the Kurdish state in Iraq. We have heard so much about the Balfour Declaration but nothing about how the British and French divided up the Ottoman Empire in the process creating Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and two halves of Palestine but nothing about how the Kurds missed out. Or how about defying the People’s Republic of China and recognising Taiwan as independent? Unlike Israel China and Turkey are in a position to real harm to Britain if they choose prudence appears to determine British policy in these cases not the moral high ground.

Andrew Bridgen: Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that the political system of the world’s superpower and our great ally the United States is very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America, it falls to this country and to this House to be the good but critical friend that Israel needs, and this motion tonight just might lift that logjam on this very troubled area?

The House responds: Boo! That’s a classic antisemitic slur used by the Nazis and Soviet Union! If the Jews controlled the White House would America be playing footsies with Iran?
[Who am I trying to kid? The only response was a weak there is more than one lobby in the United States.]

Sandra Osborne:  Surely we have even more responsibility towards the Palestinians because of our history.

David Guy: This debate is drawing to an end so I will conclude swiftly and ask the hon. member how far does this responsibility go? Will you support British boots on the ground when the whole Palestinian enterprise falls like a house of cards? What would you do when moderate, democratic (in the only election Hamas not Fatah won government) Abbas is overthrown by Hamas or possibly even worse the self-declared Islamic State? I think not.

I thank everyone for their patience.


Extra credit

  • Full text of House of Commons Backbench Business, Palestine and Israel as copied from Hansard for 13 October 2014. [Please note that the process of copying from PDF to word and back to PDF has left artifacts, most notably paragraph breaks on each line, appearing as one single column and some odd spacing. As this document takes up some 35 odd pages of two-column prose I hope you will forgive me for not laying it all out properly. Besides it was depressing.]
  • The original PDF of all House of Commons business for the day can be found here or on the Hansard website.

 The Twelve Noes – Truly uncommon members of the House

† For those unfamiliar with the British system. There is nothing sexual about being whipped, rumours about some graduates of public (i.e. private) schools, not withstanding. It is simply the party leader ordering all members of his party to vote as a unified bloc.
‡ Once again for non-British visitors. In a British court of law the bar serves justice. In the parliament the bar serves beer and whiskey.
* The Dunera Affair


About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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