Published: 06 November 2023
1. Mr Speaker, I rise in support of the amended motion.
2. The loss of innocent lives in Israel and Gaza has shaken all of us. I am sure I speak on behalf of all Singaporeans, when I say that we feel the grief and pain of those who have lost their loved ones.
3. As the conflict in Gaza intensifies, we also watch with great concern the tremendous suffering of innocent civilians – babies, young children, the sick and the elderly.
(a) With food, water and medical aid not reaching the people, this humanitarian crisis will worsen. We are already reading reports of emergency surgeries being conducted without anesthesia.
(b) This is the tragic price of conflict – the loss and suffering of innocent lives. It is heart-wrenching, and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.
Preserving Peace and Harmony
4. The longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict is an emotive issue. This latest outbreak of hostilities has led to a global rise in hate speech, crimes and attacks.
5. Mr Alex Yam asked if there have been increased reports of anti-Semitic rhetoric or inter-religious disagreements in Singapore.
(a) In the month of October 2023 alone, the Singapore Police Force received eight reports of offensive remarks or actions targeted at either members of the Jewish or Muslim communities in Singapore.
(b) This is equal to the total number of anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim police reports received between January and September this year.
6. We take firm action against acts that threaten our religious and racial harmony.
(a) We have provisions to do so in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and Penal Code.
(b) We also have powers under the Broadcasting Act to disable access to egregious content, including those likely to cause racial or religious disharmony in Singapore, or which advocate violence or terrorism.
7. The laws are only one part of our holistic approach to maintaining racial and religious harmony in our society.
(a) We work closely with the community. MHA and MCCY regularly engage our religious and community leaders through platforms such as the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.
(b) MCCY has refreshed the 93 Racial and Religious Harmony Circles, one in each constituency, to build trust and interactions across our ethnic and religious communities.
(c) MCCY also uses the Harmony Fund to support community initiatives that bring different communities together, deepen their mutual understanding, and foster meaningful conversations about their commonalities and also differences.
8. Individuals who engage in offensive conduct are a minority in our society. Even where views on the conflict have differed, most Singaporeans have been measured and mature in our response.
(a) We may feel deep sympathy for the civilians caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas.
(b) However, we should be mindful that just as there are those among us who feel more deeply for the Israelis killed or abducted by Hamas, there are also many Singaporeans who are profoundly saddened by the sufferings of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
9. We should therefore show our support and concern, in a way which does not lead to conflict and tensions among us, and is not framed as a clash between religions.
(a) Whether it is an Israeli or Palestinian life, it is still a life, and we should be concerned, and should be willing to give help.
Ensuring Public Safety and Security
10. We understand Singaporeans’ desire to come together to show their concern and support. Some have applied to hold assemblies at the Speakers’ Corner.
(a) Dr Syed Harun Alhabsyi asked about applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for such events. Over the last three years, NParks has received more than 400 applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for events. Of these, seven applications were rejected. Five of the rejected applications were to hold events related to the Israel-Hamas conflict in October 2023. The two remaining applications were for unrelated events in December 2022 and August 2023.
(b) SPF has said that public assemblies on matters related to the Israel-Hamas conflict will be prohibited. There are real public safety and security concerns. There have been numerous incidents of violence related to the conflict in other countries. Tensions are high, and public demonstrations may inevitably advocate, or show more sympathy, for one side of the conflict or the other. They can spark off incidents on the ground. They also have the potential to divide us as Singaporeans. Once we allow one event, we will have to allow others.
(c) Our position is consistent with previous requests for events held outside the Speakers’ Corner, where SPF had assessed there to be a safety and security risk, such as those related to the Russia-Ukraine war. We would have adopted the same approach if the event was held at Speakers’ Corner.
(d) NParks will continue to reject applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for such events as long as there is a public safety and security risk.
11. There are other practical and impactful avenues through which Singaporeans can show support.
(a) They may, for example, contribute to authorised fundraising activities and donation drives in support of humanitarian relief efforts, such as the fundraising appeal by the Singapore Red Cross.
12. Mr Alex Yam asked whether there has been an increase in rhetoric or activities by extremist groups in the Southeast Asian region.
(a) Hamas has issued statements calling on all Muslims to fight.
(b) Supporters of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as those in Southeast Asia, have celebrated Hamas’ attacks. They have called on followers to join in a wider jihad.
13. Singaporeans are not immune to such sentiments. DPM Wong mentioned the individuals we had detained in the past.
14. Our stance is clear – we condemn all acts of terrorism. Terrorism is not justifiable under any circumstances. Neither will we tolerate people calling for violence. We will take firm action.
15. Our security agencies are watching the situation very closely and have stepped up their alert. Additional measures have been taken, such as enhanced security patrols at certain events and places.
16. Singaporeans, on their part, must stay vigilant.
(a) They should report to the authorities any suspicious behaviour, or individuals whom they suspect could have been radicalised.
(b) Our strongest defence is our collective vigilance.
17. Mr Speaker, in line with Singapore’s condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and our support of international law as well as the two-state solution, I support the motion raised by MPs Mr Vikram Nair, Mr Alex Yam and Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim.