Layla Moran MP: ‘I am a daughter of Palestine and a friend of Israel’

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Layla Moran MP: ‘I am a daughter of Palestine and a friend of Israel’

Lib Dems foreign affairs spokesperson recognises claims of "apartheid" in reports criticising Israel but says 'it's not for me to say if the definition is met on the ground".

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Layla Moran, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
Layla Moran, Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesperson

Liberal Democrats Foreign Affairs spokesperson Layla Moran has said she can “understand” the anger around claims Israel is practicing apartheid against the Palestinians.

But the MP’s recommendation to those left livid by the recently published reports that have made the ugly equation, particularly in relation to Israeli government actions in the West Bank, is uncompromising.

Speaking to Jewish News, days before both herself and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey were due to meet with Israel ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, Moran said of the use of a word always associated with the racist South African regime: “I can understand why they get angry … it’s a horrible thing to admit, if it’s happening.

“My answer to those who are getting angry about the word ‘apartheid’, my challenge to them…. well, what are you doing to improve the human rights of Palestinians on the ground in Jerusalem, and other places?

Layla Moran at 2021 Oxford Union debate

“Because if you aren’t improving human rights on the ground, then it’s just going to keep getting worse.

“We need those people getting angry about apartheid to be allies to the cause.”

Moran is careful not to align herself directly alongside organisations such as Amnesty International, who provoked outrage amongst many in the community with a report published in February, that concluded Israel was practicing apartheid against the Palestinians.

The former teacher, and daughter of Christian Palestinian mother Randa, whose family hail from Jerusalem, does not refer to the Amnesty report, as we speak in the House of Commons terrace cafe.

Instead, Moran mentions the work of the BT’Salem organisation who have concluded that “Israel’s regime of apartheid and occupation is inextricably bound up in human rights violations. ”

“I think we need to all appreciate the word apartheid as is being used in these reports is referring to international law,” she argues, before stressing how she defines Liberal foreign policy to be “the application of international law and human rights without fear or favour no matter where they are.”

Moran then adds:”So it is not for me to say whether or not the definition of apartheid is being met on the ground in Palestine.

“What I will say is I am afraid to say I recognise the picture that they are painting on the ground from reports I have had from my own family, and the reports I have had a Foreign Affairs Spokesperson.”

The word apartheid is “immediately difficult for people to hear”, accepts Moran.

“They immediately start to see parallels with what is happening there and what is happening in South Africa.

The word apartheid is “immediately difficult for people to hear”, accepts Moran.

“I think we need not to shy away from the difficult conversations about the plight of the people on the ground.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend it’s not happening.

“If not calling it that, or calling it that, will lead to action to solve the problem.”

Layla Moran at 2021 Oxford Union debate

Promoted to the role of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson two years ago, Moran’s views on stopping the slide away from a two state solution to the conflict in the Middle East dominate her interview with Jewish News, despite other topics being discussed.

She stresses that she is a “daughter of Palestine” but that she also sees herself as “a friend of Israel.”

Moran continues:”The idea that in anyway the existence of Israel is in question, is not a question.

“Israel is a recognised state. What I try to push on is recognition of the state of Palestine, my homeland.

“Recognition of the state… it’s a different thing to where are the borders?”

Moran says she “cannot give up hope” of this eventual two state solution.

The day before we speak, Moran had held a meeting with Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot, which she said resulted in a frank exchange of views.

The MP, who describes herself as a British Palestinian says she raised the issue of “Hamas questioning Israel’s right to exist, and the atrocities that they have committed to anyone they come in contract with.”

She adds there “was a challenge to the Palestinian Ambassador over that.”

Having heard the way in which Moran has regularly, and forcefully spoken out on the need to fight and challenge antisemitism, both in the Labour Party, in her own party, and within some elements of the Palestinian movement, there is no reason to doubt her ability to raise injustice, whenever she sees it.

The MPs Bill calling for immediate recognition of the state of Palestine, is set to be debated in parliament next year.

But rejects claims it is dangerous to even consider this when Hamas, an Islamic terror organisation retains at firm grip over the population of Gaza.

“Britain recognises states that have done even worse that what Hamas have done,” she says, arguing the wrongs of groups like Hamas is a different question than recognition of a state, and the need for international law to be implemented equally.

“Hamas’s attrocities I have called out,” she stresses. “Hamas does not speak for me, nor any of my family, nor anyone I know in Palestine.

“To in anyway suggest that because of their existence, moderates like me, and by the way that’s the vast majority, in my experience of Palestinians, should have their right to exist taken away from them, play into Hamas’s hands.”

Moran also stresses that she refers to her own small Jewish community in her Oxford West and Abingdon constituency, that she was first elected to represent in 2017, and to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group for soundings on issues likely to concern them.

She says it was this “heartening” dialogue with LDFI, that led her party to back a policy supporting the boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements, a policy passed last year by the party that has led to some communal organisations raising concerns about a “slippery slope” to full-blown support of the BDS movement.

“Under International law the settlements are illegal, it’s illegal goods,” says Moran.

“It is a really important distinction between BDS and party policy,” she argues.

“I think some people are seeing it as a slippery slope kind of thing, but we need to focus on the policy for what it is.

“The reason why the goods shouldn’t be allowed in the UK is simply because they themselves are illegal. We know that many of the people who have moved into the settlements, they’ve done it, done it because they have cheaper housing.”

In December 2020 Lib Dem leader Davey had held talks with Yair Lapid, Israel’s then opposition leader in the Knesset, in a meeting designed to increase dialogue and co-operation between the two mainstream centrist parties.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey giving his keynote address at One Canada Square in east London, to his party’s annual Lib Dem conference which is being held virtually this year.

“One of the things I am most disappointed about in the Naftali Bennett, Lapid coalition government that has just fallen was I thought this would be different,” Moran now admits.

With Benjamin Nentanyahu beaten she said she hoped it would be “the start of a new era.”

But Moran notes that under the just fallen government settlement building actually increased.

“That’s because of Naftali Bennett,” she claims. “He was always…. I don’t think people had a clue what he stood for before he became the power force he is.

“But anyway, he’s gone.”

Moran says it is “early days” but she is “a little” bit disappointed with the performance of Lapid, although it is a “positive” his party have applied to join Liberal International, her own party’s representative body abroad.

“In the same way in a family, you can disagree with your sister, by being in our sister party we can challenge them.

“Ed met Lapid last year, I would hope to continue that dialogue. As a party we are very keen to continue that dialogue, because it is our way in.”

Israeli PM Yair Lapid (Jewish News)

Another major concern, she admits, is the current position of the American administration under Joe Biden.

She points to the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May, while working in Jenin, in the West Bank.

Reports last week said the responsibility for the death was unclear, but an Israeli soldier was likely to have accidentally fired the fatal shot.

“The images from that funeral will stay with me… Shireen was Christian like me, she’s from my community in Jerusalem,” says Moran.

“Many, many people who are Palestinian in my family grew up with her on their screens. Her equivalent would be (the BBCs) Huw Edwards.

“Her loss was really keenly felt by the Palestinians.”

A picture of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by gunfire in Qatar (Photo: Reuters/Imad Creidi)

Moran once again refers to a report published by BT’Salem in which the investigation into the incident was said to be “a US/Israel backed whitewash of the situation. ”

The MPs argues that from her perspective she would defer to the organisation’s view  “because they have been closer to the ground, with the evidence.”

Moran insists the issue is “not about taking sides.”

She says “any Israel family who had lost a life in those circumstances, any Israel journalist killed in the same way would want a free and fair investigation to avoid it happening again.”

The picture, in terms of America’s ability to be an “honest broker for peace” had also been soured, says Moran.

“I am saddened the US appear to have gone in behind this,” she says. “it was opportunity for the US to show it could be the honest broker.

“If we are going to have a peace process, we need an honest broker. We were hoping post Trump that the US might start to broker an international solution.

“It needs to be a brokered peace, and that is not going to happen with America in the eyes of the Palestinians being seen to be on one side.”

Moran, and Davey’s meeting with ambassador to the UK Hotovely, is likely to be a tense one as a result of her impassioned stance on the issue.

“It needs to be a brokered peace, and that is not going to happen with America in the eyes of the Palestinians being seen to be on one side.”

She says her and the Lib Dem leader’s view on the Middle East chime. “She is in her role,” says Moran, who says anger will not be personal when she meets Hotovely.

“It’s fair to say the ambassador has not endeared herself with the large parts of the Jewish community that I speak to,” she adds.

“I think she represents a more extreme wing than those I have in my community.I will certainly be raising the issues of settlements, she was the settlement minister.

“She may well have a completely different view.”

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