Cri­sis? What cri­sis? MPs de­mote de­bate


FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRS ques­tions in the Com­mons on Tues­day was telling — in a num­ber of ways. Most im­me­di­ately no­tice­able was the fact that ques­tions about Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans were not reached for half an hour.

Sure, the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and other mat­ters were un­der­stand­ably raised first, but the shuf­fling of the Mid­dle East’s most in­tractable con­flict down the peck­ing or­der shows the ev­i­dent lack of de­sire on the Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal scene to weigh in.

When the ques­tions did even­tu­ally come, they were largely from pro-Is­rael Tory back­benchers, rais­ing con­cerns about in­cite­ment by the Pales­tinian Author­ity.

For all their chirp­ing away on Twit­ter, Labour MPs were few and far be­tween in the at­tempts to at­tack Is­rael. Per­haps the pro­mo­tion to leader of the party of one of their most out­spo­ken fig­ures on the is­sue has dented their ef­fec­tive­ness in such ses­sions?

That said, Sir Ger­ald Kauf­man, Labour’s vet­eran back­bencher, stayed true to his form of past decades by ask­ing a long-winded ques­tion in which he laid the blame for the cur­rent vi­o­lence di­rectly at Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu’s door.

Of greater con­cern was the Fa­ther of the House’s sug­ges­tion that the at­tacks on Is­raelis were a “di­rect con­se­quence” of “per­sis­tent des­e­cra­tion of the Al Aqsa mosque by Is­raeli settlers”.

But the most strik­ing as­pect of the ses­sion was the per­for­mance of Mid­dle East Min­is­ter Tobias Ell­wood.

Last week he is­sued a state­ment in which his ap­par­ent des­per­a­tion to ap­pear bal­anced led him to re­fer to the knife-wield­ing ter­ror­ists as hav­ing car­ried out “protests”.

Here he re­peated the gov­ern­ment’s con­cern at the vi­o­lence, and said the fo­cus was on en­cour­ag­ing “all sides to en­cour­age calm… and avoid any mea­sures which could fur­ther in­flame the sit­u­a­tion.”

But he gave a shaky show­ing, strug­gling to read out the bal­anced lines pro­vided by his depart­ment.

His de­liv­ery could be de­scribed as “ro­botic”, ex­cept an au­to­mated read-out would have sounded more con­fi­dent.

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