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.