Binyamin Netanyahu visits UK as protesters demand his arrest – Peter Beaumont/The Guardian
Israel’s prime minister has asked Europe for support against militant Islam, while critics accuse him of war crimes in GazaI
Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is flying into the UK for a highly charged visit, demanding that Europe treat Israel as a partner in the fight against the “medievalism” of militant Islam, rather than criticise it over its policies towards Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s spoke to reporters as he prepared to fly to London, while protesters demonstrated outside Downing Street against his visit and a petition for his arrest for alleged war crimes from last summer’s conflict in Gaza swelled beyond 100,000 signatures.
Speaking after meeting the European council president, Donald Tusk, Netanyahu said Europe “should support Israel – not pressure Israel, not attack Israel but support Israel, which is the only real shield that Europe and the Middle East have against extremist Islam, which is surging”.
His two-day visit to London – during which he will meet the prime minister, David Cameron – comes against the background of mounting foreign policy problems for Netanyahu.
Those include his failure to block in US Congress the nuclear deal between world powers, including the UK, and Iran, and the threat by the EU to insist on labelling for products from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Using confrontational language, Netanyahu added that Israel, like Europe, was under threat from violent Islam and the two needed to stand together.
“We’re challenged by the opposite of modernity, which is a barbaric mediaevalism, early mediaevalism, primitive, savage, murderous, that comes from the two sources of militant Islam,” he said, referring to Sunnis and Shias.
“We are ready to work together with Europe, Africa and other places in order to fight extremist Islam. But this necessitates a change in attitude, and this change will take time. But we will bring it about,” Netanyahu added.
On the home front, he promised to toughen security measures on his return. “We need to fight radical Islam, not just within our borders, as we have been doing, but also within our territories,” he said.
“Once I return to Israel, I will hold an additional wrap-up meeting that will deal with reinforcing our security presence, bolstering enforcement of laws, instituting minimum penalties, destroying the homes of suicide bombers, and other steps that we are determined to carry out against anyone who tries to do us harm from within Israel.
“My policy is one of zero tolerance of terrorism, and that is what we will do.”
Critics in Israel of Netanyahu’s foreign policy say he has left the country increasingly isolated in the international community.
Since being re-elected earlier this year, Netanyahu has dispensed with a foreign minister and raised eyebrows by appointing an outspoken rightwing rival from his own party, Danny Danon, as UN ambassador. Danon has spoken in the past of his opposition to a two state solution.
In that context, his comments appeared to be an attempt to shift the focus of discussion away from the frequent talk of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, its restrictions towards the Gaza Strip and the need for a return to peace talks with the Palestinians, who seek statehood in the two territories.
Europe is pursuing plans to enforce the labelling of products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to make clear they are made on occupied land rather than in Israel. That move has angered Israel, which believes Europe is applying double standards and sanctioning an important trade partner.
Netanyahu’s visit to the UK has already sparked protests. On Wednesday, about 300 demonstrators waving flags and “Free Palestine” banners staged a noisy protest that spilled on to the main road outside Downing Street in London.
Netanyahu is due to hold talks with Cameron on Thursday morning.
The British government has made clear that as a visiting head of state, Netanyahu has immunity from arrest and prosecution. On the issue of Gaza, it added in a statement: “We recognise that the conflict in Gaza last year took a terrible toll. However, the prime minister was clear on the UK’s recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.”
One protester outside Downing Street, 21-year-old student Marion Tehami, said: “We’re here because we feel that Netanyahu should pay for his war crimes. We’re here to protest and let him know that he’s not welcome in our country.”
A short distance away, in a separate cordoned off area, about 50 pro-Israel demonstrators waved the Israeli flag.