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Board meets Baroness Symons

Last updated: 2004-02-04

Receiving Board of Deputies Honorary Officers in the House of Lords, Baroness Symons, the Foreign Office Minister of State responsible for the Middle East, stressed the British government's desire to be friends with both the Israelis and Palestinians - and that this was possible.

Responding to the British Jewish community's concerns over the misuse of funds by the Palestinian Authority, Baroness Symons stressed that the Government was familiar with these fears and had made them a central theme of their discussions over the control of the Palestinian security forces. The Palestinian cash economy did not have the infrastructure to support rigorous accounting methods. The Government had held some money back to encourage greater transparency, but it needed to achieve a balance between providing an incentive for reform and the real risk of children starving. Baroness Symons informed the Board group, led by President Henry Grunwald QC, who was accompanied by Vice Presidents Jerry Lewis and Flo Kaufmann, that she had raised these issues with the Palestinian leadership on a recent visit to the West Bank, and assured the Board that the Government would not let this matter drop.

Referring to Israel's security fence, Baroness Symons explained that the government understood the need for a fence; she had stated this in Damascus. But, while she could see the logic behind some of the route of the fence, the government's position remained that building it beyond the Green Line was unlawful.

Discussing Arab incitement, Baroness Symons agreed that the content of the recent Syrian produced television programme about Zionism was wholly unacceptable and a cause of deep offence to Jews not only in Britain, but all over the world. The Minister had raised the issue of antisemitism while in Damascus, and representations over this series were also made by the British ambassadors to Syria and Lebanon.

Following the meeting Henry Grunwald commented: "This was one of a series of regular meetings with the Foreign Office over matters of concern to the British Jewish community. Baroness Symons understands our concerns and we look forward to maintaining a positive dialogue with her and her office."