Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 8:00 pm ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench 8:00, 7 Mai 2024

My Lords, third time of asking. First, I stand here as somebody who still mourns the death, the assassination, of Yitzhak Rabin, a great statesperson who was on the cusp of finding a solution that has evaded many people. I also mourn the loss of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I was a great student of his; he taught me Hebrew and how to read the Hebrew scriptures. Also, before he died, he planted nine trees in Israel for me, so I have a little plot of land where those nine trees are.

What would he say about Clause 3(7)? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay; I am not sure that it is wisdom that, unfortunately, has included Israel in the clause. I know it is differentiated, as the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has told us; we then have in paragraphs (b) and (c) the Occupied Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights. I just wonder what it is that is being asked of us. Legislation, at the heart of it, is a statement of public policy. What public policy are we doing with subsection (7)? What are we saying? I have never believed that you can use statute as a way to give assurance, because when the law is passed, it is already dated, so it may never actually deliver what you want. I am not so sure that these three paragraphs are a wonderful opportunity; is there not a better way of saying what you want?

I totally agree that, as the noble Lord reminded us, this differentiation is made because Israel comes up more than any other country in the world. What is it that drives that? Of course, being a Christian, I cannot say, but given the Second World War and the Holocaust, you have to have a heart that tells you, “Be very careful that you do not tread on holy ground”.

I am reminded of another great name who influenced me greatly on issues such as this: Rabbi Hugo Gryn, who was asked by a child on the radio, “Where was God in the Holocaust? Why wasn’t he there? Why didn’t he defend them?” Like all good rabbis who know the Torah, he gave the most beautiful answer: “In Auschwitz, God was being blasphemed and violated. The real question is, where was humanity, made in God’s image and likeness?” The question is, will our humanity find itself better in this subsection (7)? I am very doubtful, the way it is drafted, because it conflates two pieces of land, and I am not sure that is a very wise thing.

Of course, there is a need to make sure that a country that is small can develop. I was there not long ago; you discover that in 75 years the development is just unbelievable. The same could have happened in Gaza and in the West Bank. That opportunity is now becoming more and more difficult. What is it? How can humanity emerge here? How can the springs of solidarity come out, instead of just either defending or criticising? I just want to say to the Minister that I am not so sure about that phrase—the way it is been put. Yes, it may give today some kind of assurance that people will not boycott Israel—“Don’t do this”. But the fact is that it is still the Holy Land and will still attract a lot of people, whatever anybody else tries to do, so I am not so sure. Is there a better way of putting it? Do you need to put “Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories or the occupied Golan Heights”? I am very doubtful; I am together with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on this.

I have one more thought. Recently I was the chair of Christian Aid and we did quite a lot of work in Gaza—there was a lot on educational health. I am no longer the chair, but the memory that I have is of people who somehow were in a very difficult place. Now, I do not know how you can describe it, because it is just horrendous. How do we as legislators find a way of never losing sight of our hope that the State of Israel will ultimately one day live in peace, the Palestinian people will have their own self-determination, and the neighbours around Israel will not intimidate it in whatever way? How do we create the thing that has eluded all of us? I suspect in the end that this legislation has to be extremely careful that it does not scare the horses or give assurance which you cannot actually physically deliver, because that is what can happen. It does not change the footprints on the ground. One last thought is from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that, in the end, what we will remember are not the terrible actions and words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.