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UK PM-hopeful: As a "passionate Zionist", I "love" Israel

Middle East Monitor

July 10, 2019



UK prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson has said that he “loves” the “great country” of Israel and considers himself a “passionate Zionist”.

In an exclusive interview with UK newspaper Jewish News, Johnson – the former British foreign secretary who is now hoping to lead the ruling Conservative Party and, therefore, the country – yesterday described himself as a “passionate Zionist” and Israel as a “great country” that “I love”.

Johnson also sought to clarify his previous comments about Israel’s 2014 assault on the besieged Gaza Strip, which he once described as “disproportionate”. Johnson yesterday claimed “it’s totally unacceptable that innocent Israeli civilians should face the threat of rocket fire and bombardment from Gaza,” adding: “I understand why Israel reacted in the way that it did and I understand the provocation and the outrageous behaviour that occasioned that response.”

He continued: “Those of us who support Israel always want Israel to show the greatest possible restraint [but] Israel has a right to respond, Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel has a right to meet force with force.”

Johnson also discussed other aspects of the UK’s relationship with Israel, saying he was “proud to be the Mayor who led the first ever London-Israel trade mission” in 2015. Johnson served as mayor of UK capital London from 2008 to 2016, but stressed that, if he becomes the UK prime minister later this month, he “will be actively supporting trade and commercial engagements of all kinds [with Israel]”.


The politician also addressed the prospect of moving the British Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, following in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump’s December 2017 decision. Johnson said he could “see the logic” of the British government pursuing such a policy, but added that “the moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress”. Johnson did not specify what form this progress would take.

On Palestinian issues, Johnson condemned the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s payment of stipends to the families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails. “I think it’s ludicrous that there should be any kind of financial incentive or compensation for terrorist activities,” he argued, claiming that he has spoken to PA President Mahmoud Abbas about the policy in the past.

Johnson also appeared to label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement anti-Semitic. Asked whether he agreed with rival candidate for the Conservative leadership, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that boycotts of Israel are anti-Semitic, Johnson claimed they “often stem from that syndrome, definitely”.

An activist holds up a placard during a protest supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) [Heri Rakotomalala/Flickr]


He added: “Anybody who knows anything about it knows that actually the boycott and disinvestment movement will probably hit hardest Palestinian […] people who are in jobs, are benefitting from Israeli investment, Israeli farming, whatever. It just makes no sense at all.”

Efforts to label BDS anti-Semitic have gained pace in recent weeks, after the German parliament in May voted to pass a non-binding motion to this effect. The motion claimed that BDS’ “don’t buy” stickers – which aim to identify products of Israeli origin so consumers can refrain from purchasing them – “arouse associations [with] the Nazi slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews’” and are “reminiscent of the most horrific phase in German history”.

Despite widespread condemnation, Israel has continued to pressure other European states to follow Germany’s lead, even seeking to prevent the Palestine Expo – Europe’s largest Palestine exhibition which took place in London this weekend – from happening and trying to ban its Knesset members from attending.

Johnson is no stranger to controversial statements: he has previously said that Muslim women wearing the burqa or niqab look like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”; referred to Africans using the racial slur “picanninies” with “watermelon smiles”; and claimed that former US President Barack Obama’s decision to remove a bust of former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, from the White House Oval Office was “a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire”.

These statements have caused concern about Johnson’s suitability for the position of prime minister, which he will automatically assume if he is elected as Conservative Party leader this month. Johnson could serve as prime minister until 2022 without holding a general election, which would represent five years since his soon-to-be-predecessor, Theresa May, held the UK’s last general election.

The results of the Conservative Party leadership race are expected on 23 July, with May likely to step down as prime minister the following day.









EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson: I’m prepared for sanctions over Iran’s nuclear madness


In wide-ranging interview with the Jewish News, Tory leadership frontrunner vows UK will act so sanctions continue against EU-banned terror groups after Brexit


July 9, 2019

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News


Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has told Iran to “cease this madness” over its breaching of the nuclear deal and said he was “prepared” to re-start sanctions against Tehran.

The former foreign secretary’s comments came in the only Jewish media interview of his campaign to become prime minister, during which he vowed to maintain the proscription of terror groups on EU banned lists after Brexit and to pursue Palestinian leaders over their policy of paying salaries to terrorists.

He also responded to concern over his labelling of Israel’s actions in the 2014 Gaza conflict as “disproportionate” and said “wild horses wouldn’t keep me away” from becoming the latest PM to visit the Jewish state.

On Iran, Johnson insisted the nuclear deal which the UK remains a signatory to has stopped Tehran from building a nuclear weapon – but said Britain must now wait for a the international watchdog to confirm Iran’s claims that it has already broken its terms before considering sanctions. “I don’t want people to think I’m in any way soft on Iran. We face a very difficult situation and I am certainly prepared to go down that route if they have breached the nuclear deal. My strong, strong advice to the Iranians would be to cease this madness, not to take any further steps that would break the terms of the agreement, and not to acquire a nuclear weapon.

“I think that there are enough tensions in that region without triggering a nuclear arms race, whose consequences would be very hard to foresee, and which would certainly pose very difficult choices for any Israeli government. I certainly think you could not fault the UK government for being tough on Iran’s sanction busting. As Prime Minister, I’d make sure we continue to do everything we can to constrain Iran’s disruptive behaviour in the region.”

Boris Johnson being interviewed by Jewish News’ Justin Cohen

The Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP described himself as a “passionate Zionist” and Israel as “great country” that “I love”. It was in this context that he sought to explain his characterisation of the IDF’s operation against Hamas in 2014 as “disproportionate” – a claim that differentiated the London mayor’s response from that of David Cameron’s government.

“Those of us who support Israel always want Israel to show the greatest possible restraint in all its actions and to do everything it can to minimise civilian casualties. It’s totally unacceptable that innocent Israeli civilians should face the threat of rocket fire and bombardment from Gaza. I understand why Israel reacted in the way that it did and I understand the provocation and the outrageous behaviour that occasioned that response. All I’m saying is that you know in any such response it’s always right to be proportionate.

Israel has a right to respond, Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel has a right to meet force with force. I absolutely agree with that, but all I was saying is I believe in Israel. I support Israel. I will always support Israel. I just joined with those who say ‘I want the Israeli response to be proportionate’.”

Ex-Mayor of London Boris Johnson tries on an Oculus virtual reality headset at Google’s offices in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the start of a four day trade visit to the region in 2015.

As London mayor, he led a successful trade mission to Israel and the West Bank, but the final day made headlines for the wrong reasons after a series of engagements were cancelled amid Palestinian anger at his colourful dismissal of Israel boycotters.

“I was proud to be the Mayor who led the first ever London-Israel trade mission. I’m proud that the UK is now Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and we saw huge investments both ways, partly actually as a result of that trip. We did a lot of good business but we want to step it up. There’s much much more to be done and I will be actively supporting trade and commercial engagements of all kinds.”

“I don’t want people to think I’m in any way soft on Iran. We face a very difficult situation and I am certainly prepared to go down that route if they have breached the nuclear deal.

Asked if he agreed with leadership rival Jeremy Hunt’s description of boycotts as “antisemitic”, he said: “I think it often stems from that syndrome, definitely. Anybody who knows anything about it knows that actually the boycott and disinvestment movement will probably hit hardest Palestinian community people who are in jobs, are benefitting from Israeli investment, Israeli farming, whatever. It just makes no sense at all.”

Johnson said he “could see the logic” in moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem but believed “the moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress”. And he added the moment for this country to formally recognise Palestine would be when Palestinian leaders “meaningfully recognises Israel and stops threatening to revoke recognition”.

Boris Johnson looks out over the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives during his trade visit to Israel (2015).
Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

He also strongly condemned the Palestinian policy of offering salaries to terrorists. There are funds that are made available to the Palestinian Authority that end up in the pockets of terrorist families, and that is indeed a point I raised with Mahmoud Abbas, and will continue to raise,” he said. “I think it’s ludicrous that there should be any kind of financial incentive or compensation for terrorist activities.” In 2016, the government froze millions of pounds to the PA amid claims aid supposedly paying for civil servants in Gaza was being transferred to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which offers payment to terrorists serving sentences in Israeli jails.

Closer to home, the leadership frontrunner confirmed for the first time that “all the necessary steps” will be taken to ensure terror groups like the political wing of Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade remain proscribed in Britain post-Brexit.

There are funds that are made available to the Palestinian Authority that end up in the pockets of terrorist families, and that is indeed a point I raised with Mahmoud Abbas, and will continue to raise

They are currently proscribed in member states as a result of being on EU banned lists, with the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council warning the Treasury would need to act to prevent a lifting of sanctions when the UK leaves the EU. The former London mayor committed to “copy over the list of organisations that are currently on EU-only lists”.

If he wins the keys to Number 10, government spending on security for communal buildings would “absolutely” remain at at least the same levels as today and he will “continue to support” the planned Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Westminster. He added: “I will make sure that shechita is protected and traditional observance is permitted. Of course, it is very important also that this country maintains high standards of hygiene and animal welfare.”

Boris Johnson hands out sweets to youngsters at Chanukah In The Square.

He sought to reassure British Jews concerned about the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn government of his experience of defeating the Labour leader’s left-wing ally Ken Livingstone to City Hall. But he said the best way of avoiding that scenario was to leave the EU in October and insisted he had the “credibility to explain the Brexit deal that I do to the country. It will be a very good deal but if necessary we’ll have to come out without a deal. I also have a lot of experience of defeating the London Labour left.”

I think it’s ludicrous that there should be any kind of financial incentive or compensation for terrorist activities

But he didn’t go as far as Matt Hancock’s description of Corbyn as an anti-Semite. “I can’t make a window into his soul, and discover exactly where his feelings lie on this. I think there is no question that he is indulging and condoning antisemitism in the Labour Party that is quite extraordinary and reprehensible. It would never have been tolerated 20 years ago.”

I think there is no question that he is indulging and condoning antisemitism in the Labour Party that is quite extraordinary and reprehensible. It would never have been tolerated 20 years ago.Chanukah

Johnson was pressed repeatedly on whether he felt he shouldn’t have used the words he did by comparing veiled Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers – for which he apologised for the offense caused.  But he would say only: “It was a thoroughly liberal article defending the right of women to wear the burka.”

And would he be more careful in future with his language about minorities? I remain frank and unexpurgated in my language. But I am always sensitive in the concerns of the Jewish community and other monitory groups and will continue to be true to that.”







A ‘passionate Zionist’

Regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute, Johnson is a strong advocate for some version of a two-state solution. In a 2017 article that he penned, he set out a detailed explanation of his position.

By Neville Teller
Jerusalem Post, Opinion article, July 25, 2019


‘A passionate Zionist” he has called himself. Boris Johnson, Britain’s new prime minister, has often asserted his strong feeling for Israel and his empathy with the historic aspirations of the Jewish people to achieve self-determination in their ancestral homeland.

Johnson’s ancestry is unusual. Given its Muslim, Jewish and Christian elements, Johnson has called himself a “one-man melting pot.” Through his father he is connected to the German royal house of Württemberg, but also to Ali Kemal, a minister of the Ottoman Empire who was assassinated in 1922 during the Turkish War of Independence. Through his mother, his connections can be traced back to the revered 19th century Lithuanian Rabbi Elijah Ragoler.

His feelings about Israel, though, may stem just as strongly from Jenny Sieff, who became his stepmother when he was 17. The Sieffs are a prominent Anglo-Jewish family. Jenny’s stepfather, Teddy, served as chairman of Marks and Spencer and was vice-president of the British Zionist Federation. In 1973, he survived an assassination attempt by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when he was shot by the assassin known as Carlos the Jackal.

In the summer of 1984 Jenny’s family in Israel – distinguished Israeli diplomat Michael Comay and his wife – helped aPrange for Johnson and his sister Rachel to volunteer at Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi for six weeks. Johnson spent his working day in the communal kitchens.

In an article to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Johnson wrote, “I served a stint at a kibbutz in my youth, and… saw enough to understand the miracle of Israel: the bonds of hard work, self-reliance and an audacious and relentless energy that hold together a remarkable country.”

Circumstances brought Johnson face to face with a figure representing the strong anti-Israel stance of the hard-left wing of Britain’s Labour Party. Ken Livingstone, who became mayor of London in 2000, is on record as saying, “It’s not antisemitic to hate the Jews of Israel.”

Livingstone’s two terms of office as mayor were marked by a number of incidents abhorred by many in the Labour movement. For example, he twice invited, entertained and lauded Egyptian extremist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who incited the mass murder of Israelis, claimed that Hitler was Allah’s hand for punishing the Jews, and favored wife beating, genital mutilation and flogging homosexuals. Livingstone dubbed al-Qaradawi “one of the leading progressive voices in the Muslim world.”

In the 2008 London mayoral election, then-prime minister David Cameron agreed to run Boris Johnson against Livingstone as the Conservative candidate. Astonishingly, multicultural Labour-supporting London voted Johnson into office, and kept him there for a second term.

JOHNSON’S TENURE was a success on many fronts, but a major achievement was to boost London’s global financial, commercial and economic links. In pursuit of this program, Johnson and a high-powered team landed at Ben-Gurion Airport on November 11, 2015, on a three-day trade mission with an emphasis on high-tech. Amid a host of activities, Johnson visited the Google campus in Tel Aviv, joined by representatives of 15 London technology firms working to secure business with Israeli companies and projects.

“London,” he said, “is the leading European destination for Israeli companies looking to expand overseas. It is the natural tech partner for Israeli firms.”

Since his visit, trade between the UK and Israel has boomed. The basic facts are astonishing. Bilateral UK-Israeli trade in 2014 was $6.3 billion; by 2018 it had topped $11 billion, an increase of 75% in just four years. Under a Johnson premiership, the prospects for continued expansion of trade, to the benefit of both Britain and Israel, are rosy. The February 2019 trade and cooperation agreement provides for continuity in trade relations after Britain leaves the EU, which Johnson pledged to achieve by October 31.

The UK is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe, and its third largest worldwide. One key component is the little known UK-Israel Tech Hub.

A month before Johnson came to Israel as London’s mayor, the then-UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, officially launched the hub at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. Its creation followed an agreement between UK prime minister David Cameron and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promote business partnerships. The hub was a ground-breaking effort to do so in the fields of technology and innovation. Nothing of the kind had ever been attempted between the British government and a foreign embassy.

The success of the UK-Israel Tech Hub, and the many organizations in the UK and Israel working with it, was recognized on October 25, 2018, when Haim Shani, chair of the hub, was awarded an honorary OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The tech partnership had helped to boost the UK economy by nearly a billion pounds, enabling British companies to access Israel’s world-leading innovations, while helping Israeli companies go global by partnering with UK firms.

Earlier this month, Johnson gave a n interview indicating the direction he is likely to lead the UK on issues of interest to Israel. On UK-Israeli trade he said, “I was proud to be the mayor who led the first-ever London-Israel trade mission. I’m proud that the UK is now Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe and we saw huge investments both ways, partly actually as a result of that trip. We did a lot of good business but we want to step it up. There’s much more to be done, and I will be actively supporting trade and commercial engagements of all kinds.”


JOHNSON AS prime minister is certain to support the continued expansion of Britain’s hi-tech sector, and mutually beneficial collaboration with Israel.

Regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute, Johnson is a strong advocate for some version of a two-state solution. In a 2017 article that he penned, he set out a detailed explanation of his position.

“I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel and a believer in that country’s destiny,” he wrote, “while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realized. I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples.”

He suggested what “a fair compromise,” which he saw as two sovereign states – a viable and contiguous Palestine alongside a secure Israel, with borders based on the pre-Six Day War lines adjusted by “equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”

He called for adequate security arrangements for Israel, while for Palestinians the assurance that the “occupation” was over. He said nothing about the dilemma posed by some two million Palestinians Gazans being ruled by the rejectionist terrorist organization Hamas.

The final determination of Jerusalem, he believed, should be agreed by the parties, ensuring that the holy city is a shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state, granting access and religious rights for all who hold it dear.

“All of the above I set out with due humility,” he wrote, “because it is Israelis and Palestinians – not those of us who live far away – who would bear the pain of compromise. And I am encouraged by President Trump’s evident commitment to finding a solution.”

Johnson has said little about Trump’s “Deal of the Century” but does not rule out moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem. He could see the logic of doing so, he said, but added, “The moment for us to play that card is when we make further progress.”

Britain under Boris Johnson is likely to be a good friend of Israel.



The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is The Chaos in the Middle East: 2014-2016, and he blogs at a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com.







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