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Boris Johnson's Palestine visit axed due to 'misinformed' pro-Israel position

Published 11/11/2015

Boris Johnson during a visit to Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem
Boris Johnson during a visit to Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem

Boris Johnson's Palestine visit fell apart after organisers cancelled meetings and accused him of adopting a "misinformed and disrespectful" pro-Israel stance.

The London mayor said he understood his comments against a trade boycott of Israel have been "very much whipped up" on social media.

He added the office of Palestinian Authority prime minister Rami Hamdallah had advised that security would be "perhaps at risk" if he went ahead with the visits in the West Bank.

It was indicated protests were feared should he turn up.

But two of the groups due to host events insisted they refused to welcome Mr Johnson, with the Sharek Youth Form saying he had failed to acknowledge "our very existence as Palestinians".

The Association of Engineers added they were protesting at his "sarcasm" on the Israeli goods boycott movement and his ignorance of Israeli "crimes".

The Conservative MP has repeatedly dismissed the idea of boycott, in line with British Government policy, although his choice of words and approach is said to have prompted the backlash.

Speaking in Tel Aviv, Mr Johnson said a "completely crazy" trade boycott against Israel lacks support and used a lecture to hit out at some " corduroy, jacketed, snaggletoothed, lefty academics in the UK" who are pursuing the cause.

But shortly after he entered the Palestinian city of Ramallah news emerged that his appearances at three scheduled events had been binned.

He was due to meet young Palestinians, female business leaders and discuss affordable housing.

Mr Johnson told reporters worries over security emerged after people took offence to his remarks on the boycott, adding this had been "very much whipped up" on social media.

During his three-day trade trip to Israel and Palestine, the Conservative MP a lso questioned the logic of shunning the Middle East's one "functioning democracy".

The S harek Youth Forum later said: "Following Johnson's inaccurate, misinformed and disrespectful statement regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on November 9, stating that he 'cannot think of anything more foolish', it is our conclusion, supported by the Palestinian youth that we represent, he consciously denies the reality of the occupation that continues to oppress them and all Palestinians.

"As Palestinians and supporters of BDS, we cannot in good conscience host Johnson, as a person who denounces the international BDS movement and prioritises the feelings of wearers of 'corduroy jackets' over an entire nation under occupation."

The Association of Engineers, due to host the affordable housing workshop, released a statement noting the position of Majdi Saleh, captain of engineers, was to "reject the remarks" made by Mr Johnson and the need to "escalate the global boycott movement and effectively and strategically affect the repression in the state of the occupation regime".

Speaking after his meeting with Mr Hamdallah, Mr Johnson continued to cite "elements on social media" for wanting to disrupt the events.

Asked if he regretted his comments, he told reporters: "No. I think on the boycott it was very striking just now that the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority himself said very clearly and several times that he was opposed to a boycott of Israel.

"That is the right position. It's a shame that some elements have been whipping up social media so that there seems to be some security issue."

He denied a throwaway remark had damaged the trip.

His official spokesman said Mr Johnson was disappointed his remarks opposing a trade boycott were " taken out of context on social media, and then cited by organisers of events he was due to attend in Ramallah as a reason for cancellation".

Mr Johnson's team later said representatives from his delegation attended the affordable housing workshop and the event with the Palestine Women's Business Forum.

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