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MPs scrutinising UK-Israel arms sales to hear from ex-soldier who said Gaza deaths 'necessary'

Parliamentary business and trade committee criticised for handing a platform to pro-Israel commentator Richard Kemp and pressure group UK Lawyers for Israel
Richard Kemp (second right) poses with Israeli soldiers inside Gaza in a photo posted on social media in December 2023 (X)

A parliamentary committee examining UK weapons exports to Israel is facing criticism for giving a platform to an outspoken military commentator, who has called the killing of civilians in Gaza “necessary”, and a controversial pro-Israel advocacy organisation.

MPs on the business and trade committee are set to hear evidence on Wednesday from Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British army officer who has been a vocal supporter of Israel’s war against Hamas, and Natasha Hausdorff, the legal director at UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), told Middle East Eye: “It is extraordinary that this important committee when dealing with an issue of profound significance selects two of the most anti-Palestinian figures imaginable, but not one representative of a major agency that has expertise on the issue.”

The committee will also hear from two members of the House of Lords who have called on the government to halt weapons sales because of concerns about possible Israeli war crimes.

One of them, Lord Sumption, is among three former Supreme Court judges who have said they believe the government is breaching international law by continuing to permit arms exports to Israel.

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Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser who will also give evidence, said earlier this month: “The law is clear. British arms licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

But Emily Apple, media coordinator for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), told MEE it was "outrageous" that civil society organisations campaigning against weapons sales and Palestinian organisations with knowledge of the impact of UK-supplied weapons and components in Gaza had not been invited to give evidence.

Apple said: "This is a panel that is supposed to be scrutinising arms sales and it hasn’t got any representation from civil society, it hasn’t got any experts. It doesn’t have any Palestinian organisations that have been monitoring what is happening on the ground. And there is no way that this panel can scrutinise arms sales without that input."

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Kemp, who has described the Israeli military as the “most moral army in the world”, appears to have been based in Israel and a regular visitor to Israeli troops throughout the current conflict.

On Monday, he posted a photo of himself on social media with an Israeli infantry battalion commander at the Lebanese border.

“IDF are ready to attack into Lebanon if necessary,” he said.

In an interview with the UK's Talk TV in October last year, Kemp described Israel's response to the Hamas attacks into southern Israel as "proportionate" and said that Israel was "being extremely careful to minimise the loss of civilian life". 

In November, Kemp told an Israeli blogger: “People have been watching a large number of civilians getting killed and the destruction inside Gaza. Many people don't understand why that is necessary and are determined it should end.”

And in December he posted a photo of himself inside Gaza with Israeli soldiers, writing on X: "Inside Gaza today with three courageous @IDF soldiers. They and their comrades are fighting and winning every day against the embodiment of evil on one of the most challenging and treacherous battlefields the world has ever seen."

'Fight for western civilisation'

In December, MEE also reported that Kemp was a trustee of a British charity fundraising for Israeli soldiers.

In a YouTube video posted earlier last year but now deleted by the charity, Kemp told Israeli soldiers: “Your fight is a fight for the survival of the state of Israel but it is also a fight for the survival of western civilisation which today faces an onslaught from the same enemy that you face.”

Kemp had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

UKLFI is a pro-Israel advocacy organisation that has urged the government to continue arms exports to Israel.

In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this month, it said calls for an arms embargo were based on “erroneous legal claims and Hamas propaganda”.

It has disputed interpretations of a preliminary judgment by the International Court of Justice which said there is a plausible risk that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

It has also argued that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are not illegal, a view at odds with the position of the British government, United Nations resolutions and prevailing international opinion.

In 2019, UKLFI was criticised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the UK’s largest pro-Palestinian advocacy organisation, for hosting a speaker from a pro-settler organisation.

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Doyle told MEE: “Kemp and Hausdorff have a record of excusing Israel from every conceivable violation of international law against Palestinians even settlements whose illegality is perhaps one of the most settled issues of international law around.”

Neither UKLFI nor the business and trade committee had responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Wednesday’s hearing comes with the government facing a renewed legal challenge over continuing arms exports to Israel.

On Tuesday, campaign groups whose case against the government had previously been dismissed were granted a judicial review of the export licence process by the High Court.

The case is not due to be heard until October.  

In a later session on Wednesday, the committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Liam Byrne, is also due to hear evidence from Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a foreign office minister, and Alan Mak, a minister in the department for business and trade.

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