The dif­fi­cult ques­tion Ham­mond­mus­tan­swer

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY MARTIN BRIGHT

PHILIP HAM­MOND is still tak­ing his first baby steps as For­eign Sec­re­tary, but there is one ques­tion he needs to learn to an­swer. And quickly.

Does he con­sider Is­rael’s use of mil­i­tary force against Ha­mas to be dis­pro­por­tion­ate?

On the pro­gramme on Tues­day he was asked the ques­tion three times and three times he dodged it. This is not good enough.

It is hard to imag­ine a more dif­fi­cult start for Mr Ham­mond: the war in Gaza has co­in­cided with the in­stal­la­tion of an ex­trem­ist Is­lamic state in parts of Iraq and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of re­la­tions with Rus­sia fol­low­ing the Malaysia Air­ways dis­as­ter in Ukraine.

But in such un­sta­ble times it is im­per­a­tive that we know where the For­eign Sec­re­tary stands on this most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion.

Is­rael watch­ers have noted a change in tone since Mr Ham­mond took over from Wil­liam Hague in the July reshuf­fle. It had be­come plain that Mr Hague had grown weary of the con­flict and deeply ir­ri­tated by Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu him­self.

Fol­low­ing the fail­ure of the vote to in­ter­vene in Syria, Bri­tain was fast look­ing like it had no Mid­dle East pol­icy at all. Mr Ham­mond was quick to visit Is­rael and has been seen as sym­pa­thetic to­wards the coun­try in his early state­ments.

But he should have been bet­ter briefed to an­swer what is, af­ter all, a banker ques­tion for in­ter­view­ers on this sub­ject.

There are a num­ber of ways he could have ap­proached this. He could have ar­gued that Is­rael is ab­so­lutely right to pro­tect its peo­ple from at­tack from Is­lamist mil­i­tants and that Ha­mas must bear full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the loss of life in Gaza.

He could have pointed out that any com­par­i­son be­tween the nec­es­sar­ily welle­quipped army of a demo­cratic na­tion in a danger­ous neigh­bour­hood and a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion such as Ha­mas is clearly ab­surd.

He could have said that Ha­mas ad­ver­tises its war crimes and ex­plic­itly tar­gets the homes of Is­raeli cit­i­zens.

Al­ter­na­tively, he could have said that the devastation in Gaza and the level of civil­ian deaths, in­clud­ing those of chil­dren, was com­pletely un­ac­cept­able. He could have said, yes, the Is­raeli use of force is dis­pro­por­tion­ate and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will no longer tol­er­ate it.

In­stead, Mr Ham­mond opted to re­peat the mantra that Is­rael is un­der­min­ing its sup­port in the West.

This may be true, but the new For­eign Sec­re­tary needs to move be­yond state­ments of the ob­vi­ous if he is to es­tab­lish him­self as a re­spected voice in the re­gion. Martin Bright works for the Tony Blair Faith Foun­da­tion

PHOTO: STEVE RID­ING

The pro-Is­rael sol­i­dar­ity gath­er­ing in Leeds last Sun­day, which drew around 500 demon­stra­tors

Philip Ham­mond: sym­pa­thetic to Is­rael

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