Cameron defends arms exports to Israel

Cameron argued the UK and its allies had to show more courage in facing down adversaries in “a moment of peril”….reports Asian Lite News

David Cameron has said the UK will not be withholding arms sales to Israel, saying its position is not comparable with that of the US, which has paused the delivery of a weapons shipment, since the UK is not a large state-to-state arms supplier to Israel.

The foreign secretary added that the UK did not support a large-scale invasion of Rafah unless it saw a plan that protects civilians, a position the UK has repeated for the past month.

Foreign Office officials said they had no view as to whether Hamas or Israel were closer to the UK position of a two-stage ceasefire, starting with a humanitarian ceasefire and leading to a permanent cessation. They pointed out that Israel claimed the offer accepted by Hamas on Sunday differed from the one Israel had been prepared to accept the week before.

Taking questions at the end of a lengthy speech setting out his foreign policy vision after six months in the job, Cameron said: “There’s a very fundamental difference between the US situation and the UK situation.

“The US is a massive state supplier of weapons to Israel. We do not have a UK government supply of weapons to Israel, we have a number of licences, and I think our defence exports to Israel are responsible for significantly less than 1% of their total. That is a big difference.

“On Rafah, we are clear that we would not support some major operation in Rafah unless there was a very clear plan for how to protect people and save lives, and all the rest of it. We have not seen that plan, so in the circumstances we will not support a major operation in Rafah. We have very clear licensing procedures, some of the toughest and most rigorous in the world. We follow them through very closely and that’s what we’re doing, and will continue to do, in the period ahead.”

US president, Joe Biden, overnight hardened the US position by saying it would not be supplying arms for use in population centres. UK officials were unwilling to describe what Israel would have to do in Rafah to be deemed to have crossed a red line, but it appears a ground invasion would be seen as a breach of international humanitarian law.

Cameron said he remained focused on improving the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and said the position was improving with the opening of the Rafah crossing on Thursday and the delivery of aid.

Cameron’s claim that UK arms sales are not the same as those from the US to Israel could be challenged on the basis that the scale or supplier of the arms is immaterial, and the issue is whether the arms are being used in a way that could conflict with UK legal criteria about a risk of a serious breach of international humanitarian law.

Foreign Office officials said the next formal assessment of UK arms sales and the risk the arms may be used to commit a serious breach was imminent. The formal assessments are made on a six-week cycle, and the last assessment was completed at the end of March.

In the main part of his speech, Cameron argued the UK and its allies had to show more courage in facing down adversaries in “a moment of peril”.

Cameron said the west was in “a battle of wills” with an authoritarian cabal that believed “they can outlast us, can endure more pain, make more sacrifices”, and he insisted that “we in Britain, and in the wider west, have agency. The question is whether we have the courage to use it.”

He challenged the isolationist mood in the US and elsewhere, saying those who believed in focusing only on domestic concerns were “profoundly wrong since what happens abroad matters directly to our citizens”.

Sunak asks university chiefs to fight antisemitism

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday urged university chiefs to address the rise in antisemitic abuse on campus and disruption of learning in reaction to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Sunak and his ministers will meet with university vice-chancellors to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitic abuse is adopted on all campuses, Downing Street said.

The government said it wants to make it clear that debate and the open exchange of views in universities is essential but that this can never tip over into hate speech, harassment or incitement of violence.

Universities should be places of rigorous debate but also bastions of tolerance and respect for every member of their community, said Sunak.

A vocal minority on our campuses are disrupting the lives and studies of their fellow students and, in some cases, propagating outright harassment and antisemitic abuse. That has to stop, he said.

The meeting is to also help to inform planned government guidance on combatting antisemitism on campus.

Meanwhile, the Office for Students (OfS) has committed to publishing the response to its consultation on a new condition of registration, which could give OfS the power to impose sanctions where there is clear evidence that universities are failing to take sufficient or appropriate action to tackle harassment, including antisemitic abuse. “I have made it absolutely clear that universities must crack down on antisemitism and ensure that protests do not unduly disrupt university life,” said Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

In the Budget last year, the government announced GBP 7 million of extra support to tackle antisemitic abuse in educational settings, and GBP 500,000 of this will be dedicated to supporting the work of the University Jewish Chaplaincy, boosting support for Jewish students on campus.

The University Jewish Chaplaincy helps students deal with incidents of antisemitism and intimidation and currently supports over 8,500 students at over 100 universities in 13 regions. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) have criticised the toxic environment faced by Jewish students across the country. According to the UK’s Communities Security Trust, there was an increase of 203 per cent in university-related antisemitic incidents between 2022 and 2023.

Ministers want to ensure that universities take immediate disciplinary action if any student is found to be inciting racial hatred or violence and contact the police where they believe a criminal act has been committed.

The Education Secretary wrote to Vice Chancellors on Sunday setting out government expectations in respect of the support being provided to Jewish students. Representatives from the Union of Jewish Students will also attend the roundtable on Thursday to share their experiences and perspectives during the meeting with Sunak and Keegan, who will invite Vice-Chancellors to share best practices and lessons learned and seek views on how the government can continue to support them in fighting anti-Jewish incidents.

It comes as a few UK university campuses have seen some encampments come up of students protesting against the Israel-Hamas conflict, following large-scale protests on US university campuses.

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