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Homesingapore‘Politics must stop at the water’s edge’: WP agrees with PAP to...

‘Politics must stop at the water’s edge’: WP agrees with PAP to call Hamas attacks 'acts of terror' after debate

SINGAPORE: On external matters where national security is at stake, political parties should not try to outflank the government “just to score political points”, said Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday (Nov 6). 

Mr Wong was speaking during a parliamentary debate on a motion on the Israel-Hamas conflict, where he and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan pressed Workers’ Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh to unequivocally condemn Hamas’ acts of terrorism. 

“Let’s not risk our precious unity for short-term political gain. Not when our collective security and fundamental interests are at stake. All of us owe this basic duty to Singaporeans,” Mr Wong said.

In a statement issued on Oct 18, the WP – as well as its members who spoke in parliament on Monday – had initially stopped short of referring to Hamas’ actions as terrorism. But Mr Singh eventually agreed with the description, as he reiterated the need for a united population when it comes to matters of national security.  

The WP in its earlier statement had called for an immediate end to hostilities in the region and the delivery of humanitarian aid into the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip; and referred to the surprise Oct 7 attack on Israel as a “military operation” by the Palestinian militant group. At the time, it did not condemn the Oct 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. 

Separately, the Progress Singapore Party – the other opposition party represented in parliament – set out its position on the war in a Facebook post on Oct 30, saying it “unequivocally condemns violence against innocent civilians”.

In his speech on Monday, Mr Singh said Hamas’ actions on Oct 7 were “atrocities committed against innocent civilians” that cannot be supported.

Fellow party member Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied) also said Hamas’ killing of 1,400 people and taking of more than 240 hostages cannot be justified and must be unequivocally condemned. 

In their respective speeches, Mr Wong and Dr Balakrishnan also condemned the Oct 7 attack, and said there could be no excuse or justification for the wanton acts of violence and terrorism by Hamas, even though Singapore empathises with the historical grievances of the Palestinian people. 

“Let’s be clear: it is in our national interest to (condemn the Hamas attack). To compromise on this stand would be to compromise our own security,” said Mr Wong. 

He also affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, noting that in doing so, it must comply fully with international humanitarian law and the rules governing the conduct of war. 

Related:

Israel-Hamas conflict a 'reminder' for Singapore that it has national interests at stake: Vivian Balakrishnan

Increase in anti-Singapore rhetoric and online extremist threats since start of Israel-Hamas war: Lawrence Wong

Mr Wong invited Mr Singh to update WP’s position on social media to reflect that the party condemns Hamas’ acts of terrorism, so that there would be no ambiguity on the matter. 

“This is not a trivial matter. This is not just nitpicking at words. It is a key point of principle because national security is at stake,” he continued. 

“Indeed, in situations like this, we must stand united and politics must stop at the water’s edge.” 

AN “EVEN-HANDED” APPROACH

The first objective of WP’s earlier statement was to state a “seemingly obvious fact” – that the latest eruption in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian people should not be seen in isolation, Mr Singh said on Monday. 

The second aim was to identify the threat that the latest hostilities in the Israel-Hamas conflict posed to multiracial and multicultural societies like Singapore, he added. 

“The reality of radicalisation and the prospect of uncalled-for and senseless attacks against Jews and Muslims all over the world and a more unsafe world as a result, cannot be understated,” he said.

“Singaporeans should be alive to this and not fall prey to calls, especially online, that target Jews or Muslims.”

The third point of the statement relates to the importance of Singapore putting its firm belief in international law on the record, he said.

Related:

Pritam Singh responds to Lawrence Wong on Israel-Hamas conflict

Pritam Singh, Vivian Balakrishnan and Vikram Nair respond to clarifications sought on Israel-Hamas conflict

Dr Balakrishnan said that while the WP’s Oct 18 statement left “room for ambiguity”, speeches by Mr Singh and Mr Giam in the chamber were “more reassuring”. 

“I was somewhat reassured when I listened to the Leader of Opposition’s speech just now where he now seems to have clarified that the attack that was launched by Hamas was not simply a military operation, but in fact, deserves to be condemned,” he said.

“Mr Gerald Giam was even more specific, I think you used the word ‘unequivocally condemn’ the attacks by Hamas.”

But he pointed out that both Mr Giam and Mr Singh did not use the word “terrorism”.

“I would feel even better if you can clearly and unequivocally say that indiscriminate attacks on civilians, on women, on children and taking hostages is a clear and present act of terror. And say that for the sake of Singapore, and Singaporeans,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

In response, Mr Singh said that the focus of the WP’s statement was to emphasise that regardless of the perpetrator, the killing of non-combatants, women and children, by any country or organisation deserves no less than “absolute condemnation”.

“I thought that would have made it clear that we will take a very even-keeled approach to this matter, that on the one hand, terrorist attacks are not to be condoned,” he said.

“On the other hand, when you have matters such as Israeli settlers evicting Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, even today, it’s happening today, that also ought to be condemned.”

“I hope the minister can agree that there has to be an even-handed approach to this.”

Related:

Lawrence Wong on Israel-Hamas conflict

Vivian Balakrishnan on Israel-Hamas conflict

Mr Singh also noted that Hamas was not on a list of organisations by an inter-ministry committee on terrorist designation, and that this was “legislatively captured” in the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act.

Later, Dr Balakrishnan asked if it was the WP’s position that Hamas’ actions on Oct 7 were acts of terror. The Foreign Minister noted both Mr Singh and Mr Giam agreeing and confirming that they were – albeit offscreen on the parliament livestream.

Mr Singh then said WP would append his and Mr Giam’s speeches to their Oct 18 statement, to make their position clearer. 

He also noted that even though the government was of the view that the WP statement “had some omissions which were quite critical”, it had not taken the opposition party into confidence regarding its position on the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

“On the 18th of October, I did not get any message from the Minister of Foreign Affairs or anyone suggesting to me that that was problematic from a national security angle,” the WP chief continued. 

“In future, if the government has an inkling of such a concern that there are national security matters or issues which the opposition may not be apprised of, or we may have completely ignored, let us know.”

Mr Singh said that his party would certainly consider these views very carefully, adding that “at the end of the day, we want a Singapore where we have a united population, even though we know that the issue tugs at the heartstrings of people on both sides”.

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