Lord Eric Pickles speaks out on British elites' hostility to Israel
Lord Eric Pickles, 71, is not himself Jewish, but he is as strong an advocate for the Jewish People and the State of Israel as you can find anywhere in the British government. Now a member of the House of Lords, the Conservative politician is a former MP and cabinet minister who was appointed by former prime minister Theresa May as her government’s anti-Semitism czar.
Lord Pickles is also the government’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, co-chair of the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Foundation, and chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, and in those capacities he takes a keen interest in matters affecting UK Jewry.
“Lord Pickles is a tremendous friend who consistently makes himself available,” says Joel Friedman of the Pinter Trust, a public relations body whose aim is to provide a credible voice for the chareidi community in the media and in government.
Lately, Lord Pickles has watched the massive pro-Palestinian rallies that have been taking place in Central London over the past few weekends with growing concern.
In one video clip, a masked protestor walking alongside a police officer could be heard shouting, “We’ll find some Jews there! We want the Zionists. We want their blood.” Although London’s Metropolitan Police has provided some 1,000 officers for these events, the number of arrests have been negligible, especially considering the open displays of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and pro-terrorist rhetoric.
Taking to the Daily Telegraph, Lord Pickles made no bones about his disappointment with the police’s soft approach, saying that the police had “lost the plot” over their handling of the marches. He has also taken aim at how British media is portraying the Middle East conflict, and has been unsparing in his criticism of public figures and cultural institutions taking a “both sides” approach.
We caught up with Lord Pickles to discuss the police’s response and the constant battle for public opinion given the current situation.
After a pro-Hamas rally in Trafalgar Square, you criticized the police and called for far stronger enforcement. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley responded that the laws covering hate crime and terrorism didn’t allow police to make arrests, and that “jihad” has a number of meanings. Are the police correct? And do the laws need to be changed?
I need some persuading that police weren’t able to make more arrests than they did. If there are constraints to making arrests on the spot, there’s still more they can do, such as using CCTV to identify people. I’m not promoting incarcerating lots of people, but my worry is that unless there’s intervention, it gives people the license to go further and become more violent.
And as for the police saying that “jihad” can mean anything from a holy war to a hot cup of tea, I think they’re out of sync with what the ordinary use of the word is. You can’t have a police officer watching all that take place and then say to the Jewish community, “Look, don’t worry, jihad doesn’t really mean anything nasty.” You only have to look at that chanting to understand what it means, and if I was a Jewish person, I’d be very worried.
I doubt many people in the wider public support Hamas, and I am still convinced that the majority of the British pubic recognize that Israel has a right to self-defense, but the significant number who are prepared to come out onto the streets and attack Israel for defending itself are concerning.
The sign of a civilized society is one where people can show external signs of their faith without giving it a second thought, whether that’s Christians wearing a cross or Muslims and Jews wearing head coverings. When there are parts of our major towns and cities that Jewish people can’t go to on a Saturday, that’s very wrong.
People committing these offenses need to be censured so that they can reflect on the fact that what they are doing is deeply offensive. I’ve seen a lot on my life, but I was particularly shocked over the last two weekends at the nastiness of the rallies and the calls to jihad.
You said that the police were taking a “compliant and wokey” type of view — is woke-progressive ideology a problem in the higher ranks of the police?
Let’s just say that the Metropolitan Police have a checkered history over the past couple of years. They have shown indifference to violence against women in which their own officers have been implicated, and now they’ve taken a partisan view with regard to people preaching hate on the streets.
They’re putting an over-reliance on the micro process — getting bogged down in the definition of the word jihad, for example — without looking at the overall effect that the flag waving, the chanting, and the calls to jihad are actually causing real fear within the community. That’s the thing they should be thinking about, not looking for reasons to excuse their inaction.
The police’s primary duty is to protect the public, and I think they have allowed themselves to get to a place where they’ve forgotten that. I suppose they want to reflect the views of modern Britain, but it’s important that they don’t forget their primary goal.
The Football Association, English soccer’s governing body, refused to light up Wembley Stadium’s iconic arch with the Israeli flag, even though they have done similar things for a number of other causes. What’s your message to them?
Find your moral compass. The point has fallen off the dial. That’s my message to them. Lighting up Wembley Stadium would have been the sensible thing to do, but now they’ve gotten into a position that they’ve knotted themselves up to explain the unexplainable. The sensible thing would have been to do like town halls did up and down the country, as well as Big Ben, Downing Street, and buildings further afield such as the White House and the Eiffel Tower.
If you won’t light up Wembley for 40 murdered children, for executed and kidnapped Holocaust survivors, then who would you do it for? How high is your bar? I think their decision lies in madness.
The BBC has become a global symbol of the media’s anti-Israel animus. Their refusal to label Hamas a terrorist organization — despite using that term regularly for other groups — has been roundly criticized. Despite all this, the BBC has upheld their policy. How can the government bring the taxpayer-funded corporation into line so that it reflects British — not far-left — values? Is now the time to privatize it?
The BBC made a judgment which is wrong and frankly made them a laughingstock. The smart thing would have been to drop their objections and reverse their judgment by admitting Hamas is a terrorist organization, but instead what we ended up with is a national embarrassment. Reporters have told me privately that they admit the mistake, but publicly, stubbornness and pride have prevented the organization from doing so.
I don’t think the right route is to privatize the BBC or change their charter, however. They should be prepared to engage with the British public in a way that they haven’t until now and be open to changing track. They are forfeiting an awful lot. People have contempt for them, which isn’t healthy, and makes people hesitate going to the BBC for news. It used to be people’s first port of call, but now there are lots of other news outlets out there.
Rishi Sunak — or any politician for that matter — cannot be given the powers to change the BBC. That sort of setup would make you begin to wonder a bit about the future of freedom of speech. I’m a politician, and I have a healthy disregard for the reliability of politicians! You wouldn’t want a situation in which they can start making changes to news bulletins, and therefore it’s important for the organization to stay independent of government.
With your post-Holocaust work, what do you make of the Guardian’s publishing a headline like “Israel must stop weaponizing the Holocaust”?
It’s an interesting point that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. On the one hand, there are certain comparisons that fit well. Hamas terrorists entering Israeli settlements and towns in the early hours, and consciously selecting their victims on the basis of race, and engaging in heinous acts of violence on that basis, just like the Nazis did.
But at the same time, there are some differences. Whereas the Nazis seemed to know that their work was terrible and often carried it out in secret, and also tried to destroy evidence before the end of the war, in Gaza the terrorists filmed it, shared it, and rang their parents in Gaza to celebrate how many Jews they had killed.
However, one thing weakens the comparison considerably: The Jews now have an army, a navy, and an air force to defend themselves. If between 1937 and 1945 Israel had existed like it does today, perhaps the Holocaust would not have happened.
The order of the day every year on Holocaust Memorial Day is to wear black, be somber, and remember all the dead Jews. Which people don’t mind doing — because the world loves dead Jews. The world is not so keen on Jews getting pesky and deciding to do something about dealing with the threats leveled at them.
I don’t mean to be flippant here, but protesting against the Jews defending themselves is wrong. I found the massacre perpetrated by Hamas deeply, deeply depressing and the pictures of the rallies on our streets were deeply shameful. Which is why I’m so pleased that our government has stood by Israel’s side.
To all these people calling for a cease-fire and telling Israel to hold off from taking out Hamas, I say you’ve got it wrong, because all that means is that five or ten years down the line, it’ll all happen again.
Do you know why civilians are dying in Gaza? Not because of Israel, but because of Hamas who hide under hospitals, exploit the economy, and put civilians in harm’s way. Eliminating Hamas is the greatest service Israel can do to Gaza, and today — unlike during World War II — Israel has the ability to do so.
Support for Hamas is much higher in the UK than in America. How can Israel advocates change that fact?
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is key here, because even though many institutions have adopted it, they need to do more — make it a working definition and implement it. At the very minimum, universities need to have safe spaces for Jewish students to be able to study, enjoy themselves, and be relaxed on campus.
The Crown Prosecution Service also need to take the examples in the definition to heart. Allowing people to get away with calling Israel an apartheid state, or Nazis, is ridiculous! Twenty-one percent of the Israeli population is Arab, and Arab-Israelis enjoy integration into Israeli society, whether that’s in the police, the armed forces, or the judiciary. But good luck to a Jew trying to own property in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, or Syria.
For me as a Christian, I admire Israel’s tolerant society that gives me the safe space to worship. And as for comparing Israel to the Nazis, the people who came out of the mist to commit atrocities on that fateful morning on October 7, they’re the true inheritors of that term.
Finally, we need to condemn people who think that British Jews are somehow responsible for what Mr. Netanyahu or any of his ministers say. British Jews are British citizens, and they shouldn’t be judged by a different view. I have 17 percent Spanish blood in my veins, and it’s like telling me that you’re not happy with what the Prime Minster of Spain is doing and I need to do something about it — simply ludicrous!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 984)
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