A response to anti-Israel op-ed by Beth Winter MP

Written by Jonathan Hoffman

Bethan Winter is a Welsh Labour Party politician. She has been the Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley in Wales since the 2019 general election.

Ms Winter has signed all three of the recent statements opposing ‘annexation’ (the extension of Israeli law into parts of Judea and Samaria): the CAABU letter, the Socialist Campaign Group statement and the European Parliamentarians’ letter.  She doesn’t have a record of anti-Israel or antisemitic statements but recently wrote an op-ed in the Western Mail full of anti-Israel bias and factual errors, which she posted on her Facebook page. (The Western Mail is effectively the newspaper for Wales, it is one of the most important local newspapers in the UK).

Let’s examine this op-ed:

Though she harshly criticises Israeli checkpoints, Ms Winter fails to make mention of why they’re there – to save lives:  All lives, Jewish, Arab, all lives.  Over time, at least 742 Israeli civilians have been killed and 4,899 wounded by suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (data from University of Chicago). Nevertheless Israel reduces the number of checkpoints to as low as possible.

Ms Winter writes that the security fence is ‘illegal’. Wrong. No Court of law has ever found it illegal. The International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion in 2004 deeming it ‘illegal’ but the ICJ isn’t a genuine legal Court, it is a creature of the UN General Assembly. Israel had no representation among the Judges. Like the checkpoints, the fence saves lives.

Ms Winter mentioned  roads in Judea/Samaria that cannot be used by vehicles without Israeli licence plates.  That’s misleading. Though there are, for terror prevention reasons,  a very small number of West Bank roads closed to Palestinian traffic (40 km of roads in total), the overwhelming majority of roads are open to everyone: Palestinians, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and foreigners of all religions.  There is not, nor has there ever been, religious-based restrictions on roads in Israel or the West Bank – nor has there ever been roads only open to settlers.

As far as the small number of roads that, as I said, are restricted, it’s important to put it in context: If Wales was a separate country and the English were firing missiles into Cynon Valley and English suicide bombers were killing her constituents, would Ms Winter not expect the Welsh government to take measures to protect her? Yes? So why can’t Israel protect its citizens in the same way?  Though I’m not accusing Ms Winter of antisemitism, let’s remember that to require Israel to behave differently from any other democracy under attack from terrorists is antisemitic, by definition (the IHRA definition, accepted by Labour!).

Ms Winter calls the Israeli presence in Judea/Samaria ‘illegal occupation’. Wrong. The Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply because as part of Mandatory Palestine, Judea and Samaria never belonged to any sovereign state, but were occupied and administered illegally by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, after the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948. Further, multiple media outlets have corrected claims that the occupation is illegal. Though the settlements are considered by most to be illegal, that’s is not true of the occupation itself.

Ms Winter says that ‘annexation means life will get harder’ for Palestinian women and their families.  Extremely misleading if not inaccurate.  According to both Alternate PM and Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Likud MK Sharren Haskel, the Palestinians in the areas affected will be offered full Israeli citizenship. In other areas the lives of Palestinian women will be no different from now.

Ms Winter seems to get her information from Mairead Canavan who represents Wales on the Executive of the National Education Union.  

Canavan is hardly a reliable source of information when it comes to Israel and antisemitism, see her two tweets above. She is also a supporter of Ken Loach, the film director who said that Labour MPs who joined the ‘Enough is Enough’ protest outside Parliament against antisemitism in Labour were “the ones we need to kick out.” And the NEU (or at least its predecessor the NUT) hosts the antisemitic Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Perhaps the nastiest demonisation from Ms Winter is the allegation that Israel ‘attempts to censor textbooks’ of Palestinian children. Presumably this comes from Canavan. It shows the disinformation which NEU visitors to Judea and Samaria are fed.  And at home the NEU (in truth its prececessor the NUT) is in bed with the antisemitic Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

What is in Palestinian textbooks? Well an 11th grade history book described the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre by Palestinian terrorists in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered as ‘a strike at Zionist interests abroad.’  As for Mathematics, calculus is taught by counting the number of dead Hamas terrorists in Palestinian uprisings. Israel would be perfectly justified in criticising this perversion of education.

I contacted Impact-SE. The statement ‘Israel attempts to censor textbooks’ is a lie.

Israel does not (and of course cannot) intervene regarding Palestine Authority-issued schoolbooks in Judea/Samaria and Gaza, taught in PA and UNRWA schools to 1.3 million children. The PA is an independent authority as is UNWRA. Nor does it interfere in private Jerusalem schools. Arabic-language schools in Jerusalem, served by the Jerusalem Municipality and paid for by Israeli taxpayers, have historically refused to study the excellent Israeli curriculum in Arabic studied in Arabic language schools across Israel, but insist on studying the extremist Palestinian Curriculum.

Respecting the wish to include a distinct Palestinian national identity but equally sensitive to their responsibility that Palestinian students should not be indoctrinated by the hate and radicalisation in the PA curriculum (that has been condemned inter alia by the UN, European Parliament, UK and Norwegian  governments), the Jerusalem municipality offers (not forces!) alternative textbooks which meet UNESCO peace and tolerance standards.

The demonisation of Israel – in the form of straight lies, or omitting the security rationale, for example for checkpoints or the security fence – has been the breeding ground of much of the antisemitism evident in the Labour Party. If Keir Starmer is serious about tackling it then he must address Labour MPs like Bethan Winter who give currency to the demonising lies. This should be a recommendation of the EHRC. But we all know it won’t be ……………

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