“What is proportionate force?” – Mike Freer MP on the Israel-Palestine Crisis.

The Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green spoke to us about his opposition to recognise Palestine as a state and why he is a strong defender of Israel’s recent defence actions.

The Interviews/Where In The World? – A Mash Up


The Israel-Palestine conflict came up extensively during my recent interview with Mike Freer MP, due his controversial vote on a motion concerning the conflict last year. He was one of only 12 MPs who voted against a backbench motion* to recognise Palestine as a state, compared with the 274 who did. Some press attributed the consideration of the large Jewish community in his constituency and his membership of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) as a contributing factor in the vote, which forced him to resign a government position he held. However as he was in a position of real influence and his stance on the issue was very much different to that of our writer, Janith Peiris, we were curious for Mr Freer to tell us himself why he voted that way.

So very close yet so very different – Israel and Palestine
“I voted against the motion to be in accordance with the internationally recognised peace process.” He noted, truthfully, that Hamas – the group recognised as a terrorist organisation by the US that was voted into power by Palestinians, now in a unity government with other parties to govern Gaza – doesn’t recognise the state of Israel and asserted “recognising the state comes at the end of the process, not at the start.” It was unsure whether he and his 11 colleagues were the only MPs who knew this, which can very much be doubted, however, he suggested many more MPs supported his position, so “de-legitimised the motion by not being there”- there are 650 MPs in the House of Commons so a substantial majority did not attend.

He also felt personally the motion “awarded Hamas, while Hamas would have had to do nothing,” mentioning the many violations of human rights committed by the group including persecution of other sexualities and lack of religious freedom.

As our discussion developed into the view that Palestinians were massacred in comparison to the Israelis, a view which may have influenced his colleagues, he questioned the notion of proportional force. In reference to the Israelis, he said, “What do you expect them to do, sit there and do nothing? And just have missiles fired on them?” He also questioned the idea of a ‘proportionate’ response repeatedly, stating once that the Israelis didn’t match “missile for missile” and also that their Iron Dome system does not mean they should “sit down and do nothing.”

He compared their situation to an analogy of what would happen here, “If someone was firing rockets from the car park of the Royal Free Hospital (a large hospital in North West London), what would you want the government to do? Nothing? Or would you want them to take out the launchers?” Even if Mr Freer says it is his own judgement, it seems very akin to the Israeli Government’s argument. He also felt personally the motion “awarded Hamas, while Hamas would have had to do nothing,” mentioning the many violations of human rights committed by the group including persecution of other sexualities and lack of religious freedom. As our discussion developed into the view that Palestinians were massacred in comparison to the Israelis, a view which may have influenced his colleagues, he questioned the notion of proportional force. In reference to the Israelis, he said, “What do you expect them to do, sit there and do nothing? And just have missiles fired on them?” He also questioned the idea of a ‘proportionate’ response repeatedly, stating once that the Israelis didn’t match “missile for missile” and also that their Iron Dome system does not mean they should “sit down and do nothing.” He compared their situation to an analogy of what would happen here, “If someone was firing rockets from the car park of the Royal Free Hospital (a large hospital in North West London), what would you want the government to do? Nothing? Or would you want them to take out the launchers?” Even if Mr Freer says it is his own judgement, it seems very akin to the Israeli Government’s argument quoted as: "Since Hamas embeds itself among Palestinian civilian communities, Israel is forced into a choice between bombing those communities or sitting passively as Hamas flings rockets into Israeli territory."”>quoted as:

“Since Hamas embeds itself among Palestinian civilian communities, Israel is forced into a choice between bombing those communities or sitting passively as Hamas flings rockets into Israeli territory.”

This seems to blame Hamas for bringing their terror onto themselves, having launched missiles from hospitals, car parks and residential areas. It happens often and there is evidence to suggest this type of bombing is a tactical practice on the part of Hamas, with the American publication The Atlantic stating, “Dead Palestinians represent a propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true.”
Mr Freer asks a similar question, 
here posed in IDF propaganda. (Source)

However, unlike Britain which would likely use its secret services and SAS teams to take out such a threat to minimise civilian casualties, Israel still uses force knowing it will kill civilians, and does so more often than not – proven by the civilian death record where the 7,065 Palestinian conflict-related deaths grossly outnumber the 1,101 Israelis over the past 15 years, more astounding considering the Palestinian population is about half that of Israel’s.

Therefore, it is not quite clear whether his assertion that for him, “Being a friend of Israel is not the same as being a friend of the Israeli government,” is wholly true. However, it does not seem like Israel does not influence foreign policy in Britain even closely to the extent of its visibility in America – Netanyahu, Israel’s PM, recently denounced the Iranian nuclear negotiations; afterward 47/100 US senators wrote an open letter to Iran, a form of treason, telling its leader to distrust and abandon the extremely important negotiations.
He said the Conservative Friends of Israel only “keeps me informed, but I make my own mind up,” elaborating ‘for example, if I go to Israel and meet members of the Knesset (Israel’s legislature – its Parliament), I actually argue quite forcefully when I think something’s wrong.”
When asked on an example of what he disagreed on, “For instance, on settlements. What the Israeli Government is doing is wrong… I said to the Israeli ambassador, I don’t care what legal justification you have got, from a pure winning-hearted perspective, it is wrong, it is counter-productive and it is provocative.”
A settlement wall diving Palestinian land
‘occupied’ and developed on by Israel . (Source)
Freer noted one key area which distinguishes Israel from its neighbours was its scope for equality, impressing that the members of the Knesset are of all faiths, “It’s the only Arab country that has this.” “I’m not suggesting it’s perfect, but whether you’re black or white, gay or straight, man or woman, Christian or Jew; you have rights in Israel.”
Mr Freer contends the threat is truly staggering once you visit Israel. “You’re in a nursery, within view of the [Israeli-Gazan] border where the play equipment is adapted for a bomb shelter.” “It does change your perspective on defence to stand there within 3 seconds of a missile hitting if it was fired.”
What can be concluded is the conflict staggers those with both little and encyclopaedic knowledge of it.
However, would his view have been different had he visited Palestine, as well as Israel?

To take part in the vote, he had to resign as a PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). Mike Freer explained what they actually do:

“It’s the first rung in a Government position… For example, when a minister is so busy, doing what ministers do, they don’t often get a lot of time to float around and pick up the moans and groans of colleagues. Therefore other colleagues would come to the PPS and say ‘I’ve got this problem…this village is inundated with planning permissions, what’s going on?’ or ‘That bit of policy is not working,’ or ‘Are they going to be anywhere I can talk to them?'” “Your job is a bit of a fixer, a smoother”


* Backbench motion – a vote on an issue which one of the less important MPs (a backbencher) felt it was important for the government to take a stance on.

About Che Applewhaite
Che Applewhaite is the Editor-in-Chief of Whippersnapper. He is a 18-year-old student who is passionate about understanding the issues today that he thinks will affect the future, primarily changes in international relations, feminism and global warming. His musical tastes are defined by a deep appreciation of jazz, minimalism, house and rap, though by no means are limited to those genres. He can often be found in a museum or bookshop on a weekend.