Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Replies to Clarifications during the Parliamentary Motion on the Israel-Hamas Conflict, 6 November 2023

06 November 2023

Leader of the Opposition Mr Pritam Singh: I rise to clarify some remarks made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, specifically his comment about the Workers’ Party statement on the 18th of October 2023.


 I think Minister was, for lack of a better word, curious, why the phrase “terrorist attack” was not in our statement. The focus of our statement actually was to emphasise that whether it is Hamas, whether it is Israel, killing of non-combatants, women, children, by any country or organisation deserves no less than absolute condemnation. I thought that would have made it clear that we were taking a very even-keeled approach to this matter. That on the one hand, the terrorist attacks are not to be condoned. On the other hand, when you have matters such as Israeli settlers evicting Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, even today, that also ought to be condemned. I hope the Minister can agree that there has to be an even-handed approach to this.


My second point, perhaps explaining why the use of that word “terrorism” was not activated so readily, but a more balanced approach in our statement was what we sought to put forward, with regard to Singapore's approach on the labelling of organisations or terrorist designations of certain groups. I understand Singapore has an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Terrorist Designation (IMCTD). It is the authority on the designation of terrorist groups and groupings. The government relies on this committee to determine which organisation is labelled accordingly. This is legislatively captured in the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act 2002. My understanding (is that) Hamas is not on that list. Maybe the Minister can explain that position for the understanding of the general public.


My final point actually relates to something which was originally said by Mr Alex Yam. Minister also made the same point by way of this document that has been released to Members where he said Singapore has been consistent in its stand on matters concerning Israel and Palestine. I take the point.


I had a look at statements that were made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew over the years; I referred to him in my speech. I also noted what he said in his memoirs and he spoke of the Six-Day War. I am quoting from his memoirs: “When the UN General Assembly was debating the resolution to condemn Israel, Rajaratnam, our Foreign Minister and Afro-Asian champion, was all for it. Keng Swee saw me to press Raja to direct our UN delegate not to vote in favour of the resolution or the Israelis would leave.” By “Israelis would leave”, he was referring to the Israeli advisors who were here assisting the build-up of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Thereafter, Mr Lee says, “As I could not attend the Cabinet meeting, I stated my position in a note, we have to stand up for the right of small nations to exist” and he goes on, “I added that I did not believe that the Israeli advisors would leave, even if we were to vote for the Afro-Asian resolution. I was in favour of abstaining in the vote. The Cabinet agreed with my view; we abstained, and the Israelis did not leave.” So, I just wanted to clarify because the handout says ‘Voted Yes’ for all these Emergency Special Session resolutions. It may well be that the resolution Mr Lee is referring to is a different one. But I am just making that point to clarify what the Minister has put out in his statement. Thank you.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I just want to “double confirm” – the actions that Hamas conducted on 7 October 2023, targeting innocent civilians at home, killing women, children and taking hostages – is the Workers’ Party’s position that those are acts of terrorism?


So, I will reflect that you have confirmed that those are acts of terror.


Mr Speaker, I was reassured after listening to them (Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party), because the initial (Workers’ Party) statement did leave some room for ambiguity.


My conclusion from this recent confirmation is that you stand four-square with us, with the motion, and with the Government's position. I want to welcome that because arguments on foreign policy must stop at our shores. On something as vital as terrorism, we cannot afford to have political parties trying to outflank each other in order to fish for votes. I am grateful for the Workers’ Party’s confirmation on where you stand on this issue – that what happened on that day was a terrorist act that deserves unequivocal condemnation. I think the PSP (Progress Singapore Party) has also made its position clear.


Your second line of query is about terrorist designation. Generally, different countries have different ways of designating. The United States, the European Union (EU), have their lists of terrorist organisations. The United Nations (UN) generally works on the basis of what is designated by the Security Council. In Singapore, we do have a committee – and this is primarily a security committee. What we are looking out for are acts of terrorism, and financing of terrorism. Whether someone or some organisation is or is not on a list in the UN, or some other country, is just one factor under consideration. There is the old saying – if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. I have to ask you to trust our security agencies, that they know what activities and plans people are up to, and where that money is going, and we do not hesitate to act. It is not a binary switch, that you are on the list or you are not on the list.


I have also been very careful to say that what I am asking you to confirm today is that the actions of 7 October 2023 were acts of terror. If you want to go further back in history, I made the point earlier that yes, it is not a secret that we do have a good relationship with Israel. But a good relationship does not mean we have to agree with everything they do, nor are we apologists for what they do, specifically on the issues of the Occupied Territories and settlements. As far as I know, and I stand ready to be corrected, we have voted in favour of every resolution that has said that they (Israel) should not be building settlements in Occupied Territories. It is worth remembering that 18 years ago, Israel had to deploy its own military forces in Gaza to force its settlers out of Gaza.


I said just now that Dr Maliki and I have been to Ramallah a couple of times. Yes, there is a problem in the West Bank because of the progressive settlements, which make it very difficult for any future resolution. So yes, Mr Singh, we do vote regularly at the UN, in a way which does not please the Israelis, but we have a good relationship based on respect. They know why we take the stand we take.


The larger point I want to make to Members of this House is why it is so important to operate by principles and to consistently operate by principles. From time to time, whoever is on this side of the House will have to say no – no to a superpower, no to a friend, who has been there at a time when we were very vulnerable and needed help. Without that sense of principle and that consistent adherence to principle, we will make life much more difficult for our country and the conduct of foreign policy will become a much more dangerous enterprise than it is now. Frankly, for this matter, the foreign policy aspects of it are not difficult. We know what to do, we know how to vote. We know what to say, we can put out correct statements. That is not rocket science. The real political challenge is domestic. That is why I have been so keen on enlisting support from MPs of all parties and from the NMPs as well for this motion.


Leader of the Opposition: I just wanted to get a sense from the Minister as I put in my original set of clarifications. How would he characterise what happens in the Occupied Territories? Because I think that is important for a more balanced perspective on this issue. I think it is important that the Government sets its view out as well.


Minister: I think I stated it just now, and I would put our voting record at the UN as Exhibit A. Our view is that those settlements should not be there. If you go by the votes in the Security Council, they breach international law. You do not need to ask me for that. That is on the record.


[Further clarifications on the definition of terrorist activities in Singapore and Singapore’s voting record at the UN in 1967.]


Minister: These are clarifications following some of the questions which the Leader (of the Opposition) had asked just now.


First, on the definition of terrorist activities. Let me read a clarification I got from (the Ministry of) Home Affairs. In Singapore, it is an offence for anyone to deal with any individual or organisation regardless of whether it is designated, if the purpose is for a terrorist act or otherwise, to support terrorism, including the financing of terrorism. It is also an offence to have financial dealings with any individual or organisation that meets the definition of a terrorist or terrorist entity under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act 2002, even if it is not specifically designated in the First Schedule. We will not hesitate to take firm action against any individual or entity that poses a security threat, including barring entry into Singapore. The definition of terrorist acts is specific; it is quite long. I refer all of you to the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act of 2002, both Section 2 as well as the Second Schedule. The point is, it depends on the actions.


Just to summarise and to give you a flavour of the actions - serious violence against a person; serious damage to property, endangering a person's life; serious risk to the health or the safety of the public; use of firearms or explosives; involving releasing into the environment any dangerous hazardous radioactive or harmful substance; any toxic chemical; any microbiological or toxin; (actions that) disrupt or seriously interfere with any public computer system or services related to infrastructure, banking, financial services, public utilities; (actions that) disrupt or interfere with the provision of essential emergency services; (actions that) involve prejudice to public security or national defence; where the use or threat of these actions is intended to either influence or compel the government or any other government or any international organisation to do or refrain from doing any such act or to intimidate the public or section of the public.


I think it is very clear what Hamas did would certainly fulfil the definition of a terrorist act and have no doubt, it will not be allowed in Singapore – neither to finance nor support or to get involved. I thought that is an important clarification which I should leave on the table. I will be happy to send this to the Leader (of the Opposition).


The other point was this question about the resolutions, which happened in 1967. My staff have done a quick review. I told you we voted in favour of five resolutions which were passed, primarily to do with humanitarian assistance and the status of Jerusalem. There was one other resolution that we abstained on, but in the end, it was not carried because it did not have a sufficient majority. This was a resolution that the then-Non-Aligned Movement was trying to pass on the 3rd of July, calling amongst other things, for the immediate withdrawal of some of the military forces, but you must understand in the immediate aftermath of a war, that would have been controversial. We abstained, but that resolution was not carried in any case. I hope that illustrates the point that Singapore has taken a consistent position throughout these years, and we still believe in a two-state solution. The settlements are illegal, and the sooner that is resolved, the better. Thank you, Mr Speaker.


Leader of the Opposition: Thank you to Minister for the two clarifications.


On the first clarification, I take Minister’s point. My simple rejoinder earlier was that Hamas was not on that list. I was not questioning whether the Act did not capture them, or anything of that sort. If you look at that list, it appears to be a positive list. Taliban are there, ISIL are there, Daesh are there. So, I took it from that perspective. I hope that clarifies.


On the second point, I note Minister’s clarification.


Minister: Surely you are not saying you did not call them out because it was not on the list? Anyway, let us not get bogged down here. The point is, today in this House, you have agreed, we have all agreed, the acts that were conducted on 7 October 2023 were acts of terrorism. I think let us leave it there. Thank you.


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