EXCLUSIVE: UK Conservative lawmakers create 'long overdue' pro-Palestine group

EXCLUSIVE: UK Conservative lawmakers create 'long overdue' pro-Palestine group
Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said part of Conservative Friends of Palestine's role was to put simple facts before parliamentarians in a digestible form they can quickly consume.
4 min read
19 May, 2023
Sayeeda Warsi spoke about Conservative Friends of Palestine at an event marking Nakba Day in parliament on Monday [David Levenson/Getty-archive (2017)]

UK Conservative parliamentarians have created a "long overdue" group seeking to inform colleagues on Palestine, a lawmaker said earlier this week.

The confirmation came at an event in parliament on Monday marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic), which saw over 750,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed alongside the 1948 foundation of Israel.

The Conservative Friends of Palestine (CFoP) group was "long overdue", said Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in response to a question asked by The New Arab at the event.

"I've been really quite heartened by the amount of support that we've had both from outside parliament and from within parliament," she told attendees at the panel talk, which drew more than 100 people including lawmakers from across party lines.

"We've already had a couple of meetings and our first newsletter has gone out.

"We hope that this will be the start of something quite interesting."

Shamiul Joarder, head of public affairs at pro-Palestine group Friends of Al-Aqsa, told The New Arab that his organisation welcomed the creation of CFoP.

"At a time when Israeli violence against Palestinians is beyond breaking point and our democratic right to BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] is under threat in the UK, it is imperative that we work together across the political spectrum to bring freedom and justice for Palestinians," he added.

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Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal said: "Any counter to the dominant voice of Conservative Friends of Israel in the Conservative Party is to be welcomed.

"But if this new group aspires to have any meaningful impact then it must be prepared to address head on the system of racist domination which meets the definition of apartheid and deprives Palestinians of their rights."

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have found that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid – a crime against humanity.

Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is a prominent lobbying organisation in the UK. It claims over 2,000 supporters and says it's "active at every level of the Conservative Party". Many Tory lawmakers belong to the CFI parliamentary group.

At the Nakba commemoration event on Monday, Warsi said simple facts are often not put before parliamentarians in a digestible form. Addressing this would be part of CFoP's role, she added.

The group will be engaging with Palestinians and Israelis and working with civil society from both countries, as well as with organisations in the UK, she said.

"Initially, actually, we wanted to call it the Conservative Friends of Palestine and Israel because we felt that we wanted to be a portal that wanted to provide accurate and balanced information to parliamentarians on the issue of Palestine and Israel," Warsi said.

"I felt that and lots of us felt that that wasn't currently the case within the party."

Warsi, who quit as minister in 2014 over government policy on Gaza, is also a former party co-chair.

She said CFoP was working with the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), which helps lawmakers grasp the region as a whole.

Former Tory MP Alistair Burt, who was Middle East minister under then-premier Theresa May, said he was hopeful about CFoP, so long as it wasn't seen as a partisan group opposing CFI.

"You would quite happily be both. While I was minister, I wanted to support and… listen to both Conservative Friends of Israel and CMEC," Burt told The New Arab.

"So long as it's not seen as polarising but it's giving people more information, I think that's a good thing. I always worked on the basis the more people knew about a problem, the better it was.

"Didn't mean anyone found an answer any easier, but at least they understood a little bit more about it. I think that's what parliamentarians need to do."

Another group going by the name Conservative Friends of Palestine previously existed but closed at the end of 2022.

The New Arab understands it was a grassroots initiative not affiliated to the party that has no relationship with the group Warsi spoke about in parliament on Monday.