British Prime Minister David Cameron
British Prime Minister David CameronIsrael news photo:Creative Commons

British Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza a "Prison Camp" and harshly criticized Israel's blockade of Gaza. Cameron, who has dubbed himself a "friend of Israel" was speaking with Turkish businessmen on a visit to Ankara.

"The situation in Gaza has to change," said Cameron. "Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."

Cameron also said he hoped Israel and Turkey would “not to give up on” their friendship; yet he called the May 31 Israeli military operation on a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza “completely unacceptable,” and called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to conduct a “swift, transparent and rigorous” inquiry into the incident.

Cameron's remarks seemed to be aimed at endearing himself to his Turkish hosts, but were received among Israelis with displeasure. The Israeli embassy in Britain said in response, "The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organization Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas’ rule and priorities. We know that the Prime Minister would also share our grave concerns about our own prisoner in Gaza, Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage there for over four years, without receiving a single Red Cross visit.”

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan added to Cameron's criticism, calling Israel’s behavior in the flotilla incident an act of “piracy." Erdogan compared Israelis to Somali pirates. "The pirates are there in Somalia but when a similar situation occurs here ... political leaders, who are there to establish a fair life for everyone – they should not remain silent," said Erdogan.

Pundits and analysts around the world expressed surprise at Cameron's apparent change of direction against Israel. In a Washington Post opinion piece, columnist Jackson Diehl wrote, "A prison camp? Israel's enemies are fond of using that term, with its implicit hint that the Jewish state has adopted the policies of Nazi Germany. But according to the BBC, no British prime minister has ever spoken so harshly of Israel's handling of Gaza."