Brown tells Knesset will fight academic boycott of Israel
First British PM to address Israeli parliament opens address in Hebrew, pledges UK support for Israel in face of regional threats. Speaking after day of high-profile meetings with Israel's political echelon, Brown slams Ahmadinejad's calls to annihilate state as 'abhorrent'
Gordon Brown became the first British prime minister to address the Knesset on Monday morning, and opened his statements in Hebrew to extend his best wishes to the country as it marks its 60th anniversary: "Mazal tov Israel, shalom aliechem," he said.
Brown, who is struggling with plummeting approval ratings back home, pledged the UK and its European partners are prepared to tighten the sanctions imposed on Tehran should it choose to ignore calls to suspend its pursuit of nuclear arms.
"To those who question Israel's very right to exist, and threaten the lives of your citizens through terror, we say: the people of Israel have a right to live here, to live freely and to live in security," said Brown.
"And to those who believe that threatening statements fall upon indifferent ears, we say in one voice: it is totally abhorrent for the president of Iran to call for Israel to be wiped from the map of the world.
"Our country will continue to lead, with the United States and our European partners, in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Brown with FM Livni earlier on Monday (Photo: AFP)
"We stand ready to lead in taking further sanctions and will ask the whole international community to join us," he said, adding that Iran "has a clear choice to make: suspend its nuclear weapons program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response, not just of one nation, but of all nations aground the world."
Brown said a historic peace with the Palestinians was within grasp, and urged Israel to freeze the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and to withdraw from them in a future peace deal.
Brown described the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority as the best partner Israel has had for peace in a generation and said it must fufil its security obligations.
At this point MK Uri Ariel (National Union – NRP) left in the plenum in protest. Despite this however Brown received a standing ovation at the end of his address.
Blocking UK academic boycotts
The British PM said he considered himself a "lifelong friend" of the State of Israel, attributing his early exposure to the country through his father, who was an ardent supporter and frequent visitor.
Brown praised the achievements of the Jewish people over the century in spite of persecution and also Israel's achievements in the 60 years since the state's creation.
Arriving at the Knesset (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"To have achieved all this in the face of the war, terror and violence, intimidation and insecurity is truly monumental," he said.
"Let me tell the people of Israel today: Britain is your true friend."
Brown said the finest minds in Israel and in Britain are working together in a plethora of fields, and added that he and Olmert announced the launching of an academic partnership between the two countries on Sunday evening.
He pledged the British government would fight against any attempt to boycott Israeli academia.
Olmert: Britain recognizes Iran as global threat
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who took the podium before Brown, said in his speech that the citizens of Israel "do not forget that it was the British government that was the first to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a home in its historic homeland. The letter written by the foreign minister, Lord Balfour, became a historical turning point that solidified the right of the Israeli people to the land of Israel.
"I believe that Britain and Israel are, today, closer in their outlooks than ever before," said Olmert. "I know that you too recognize that the greatest threat to stability in the Middle East and world peace is the assertion of regional hegemony by the Ayatollah regime in Tehran, which stems from a fundamental objection to peace, widespread support of terrorism, an intense effort to obtain nuclear military power and an overt and declared goal of annihilating Israel."
Olmert said the country's sensitivity to the possibility of seeing weapons of mass destruction backing those threats of annihilation.
"For us this would be an intolerable situation that we would not be able to accept. But the threat is not faced by Israel alone, rather all the moderate regimes in the Arab and Islamic world and nations far beyond the Middle East (are also threatened by Iran).
"This is a global threat, and dealing with requires a united, determined, and immediate international front. Because under no circumstances can we afford to be too late here."
Prior to his speech Brown met with Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, who briefed him on recent diplomatic developments and the Iranian nuclear issue. The two also discussed indictments filed against Israeli defense officials in Britain.