Former British Commander Vows to Keep Defending IDF Despite Backlash

Though not Jewish, Richard Kemp says he has been on receiving end of anti-Semitism.

Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan and a staunch defender of the Israel Defense Forces, said he would continue to speak out on the army's behalf - as he did this week after Israel's deadly flotilla raid - although he says the overall reaction to his advocacy has been overwhelmingly negative.

"I have received much more criticism for what I've said than praise," he told Anglo File this week. "I've seen, particularly on the Internet, a large volume of not just criticism but abuse of me as an individual and my family," Kemp said.

"I've been accused of doing things with, for and to Jews, and encouraging my children to do things with, for and to Jews that probably shouldn't be repeated."

Kemp, 51, says the extent of anti-Semitism and abuse in the U.K. is increasing. "I am aware of that for quite some time but only recently have I been on the receiving end of it, even though the anti-Semitism directed against me is not directed against a Jew." Kemp says he has "no loyalty or affiliation to the state of Israel" and certainly doesn't consider himself a spokesperson for the country.

"But frankly, [the abuse] doesn't concern me in the slightest, any more than it would impress me to learn that I was popular with pro-Israelis," he notes. "I'm happy to get that kind of abuse, as long as I know - and I do - that what I say is said with sincerity and I hope with objectivity," adds Kemp, who was in the country this week for a conference organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on "Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace."

Last year, Kemp defended Israel against accusations of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, telling the United Nations Human Rights Council there has never "been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties."

These and other such statements have given Kemp some sort of VIP status among pro-Israel activists, who consider him a secret weapon in what they see as the country's losing PR battle. Indeed, participants in this week's conference referred to him as "a real asset," and one person told Anglo File "Israel needs a thousand Kemps."

Kemp - who didn't know the word hasbara (public diplomacy ) before it was explained to him this week - says a number of people in Britain and Israel told him they appreciated his Israel-friendly remarks. "They said it's unusual to hear someone from the U.K. making comments like that. But I certainly had no intention or expectations that that would be the outcome," he says.

Commenting on Israel's raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla Monday morning, which resulted in nine deaths, Kemp told Anglo File that Israel should not feel compelled to cooperate with an international investigation into the incident but rather should launch its own investigation.

"No democratic state would subject itself to such an investigation," Kemp says. "I don't think the United Kingdom or the U.S. would subject itself to an international investigation in similar circumstances. I don't think necessarily that Israel should have a higher standard expected of it than other democratic nations." Israel should, however, work together with Turkish authorities, who are likely to probe the incident on their own, adds Kemp.

Rapid and transparent

Following worldwide outcry against Israel's actions, the U.N. Human Rights Council decided to launch an international committee to investigate this week's events. After Cast Lead the same body passed a similar resolution that eventually led to the Goldstone report, which accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

He said an Israeli-initiated investigation "should happen very rapidly and be transparent. Israel should be prepared to admit the mistakes it made and to demonstrate how it will act in the future to avoid such mistakes."

Kemp, who retired from military service in 2006 but continues to advise the British government in foreign affairs, says the legality of Israel's raid is "debatable." However, Israel was justified in considering the flotilla a threat and therefore attempting to stop it. "Certainly it is not at all unheard of for a legitimate government to board ships in international waters if they see the need to do so," he says.

What is more problematic is the way the raid was executed, Kemp says. Israel failed to gather enough intelligence about the flotilla and thus launched the mission without knowing what to expect, he says. "In the absence of proper intelligence, [the Israeli troops] should have probably gone in better prepared. They weren't ready for the worst case scenario," he says.