Published: 29 October 2023
1. Question: What is the significance of such humanitarian events organised by Singaporeans?
Minister: This is the second event in two days that I am attending. Yesterday at Nee Soon, we launched a GRC-wide campaign, for a month, to collect supplies, collect donations, to help people in Gaza. There is a strong desire in the community to help and Singaporeans, regardless of race, language, religion – they want to help. And yesterday, within a few days we collected a substantial sum of money – I think just under $30,000 yesterday, to support. Within a month, I’m sure the amount will grow further.
Today, Humanity Matters, you look at who is contributing: Taoists, Missions, Buddhist Temples, Hindu volunteers, Muslim organisations, corporations, and of course majority of those involved are Chinese. This is Singapore, this is unique about Singapore – everyone comes together to help, even though they know most of the help goes towards Muslims in Gaza. They are human beings. They need help. We do what we can. That is what Humanity Matters' action today shows. Likewise, yesterday, Sikh temples, Hindu temples, Christian organisations, pastors, Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, they all came together, just like today. And I think we need to keep that spirit.
2. Question: Singapore has voted in favour of the UN resolution in respect to humanitarian efforts in Gaza. What is the significance of that?
Minister: Singapore’s position was made clear by the Prime Minister some days ago. This resolution is consistent with the position we have taken over 50 years, in UN resolutions from 1967. This resolution was sponsored by Arab countries, it’s titled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations”. It is a very major vote. We voted in support. The resolution:
• Expressed grave concern at the escalation of violence since 7 October;
• Called for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce, leading to a cessation of hostilities;
• Called for immediate, continuous and unhindered provision of essential supplies to the civilians in Gaza;
• Called for Israel to rescind its evacuation order in the Gaza Strip;
• Rejected forced transfer of the Palestinians; and
• Reaffirmed that the solution to the conflict, should be through a peaceful two-state solution.
We took a clear stand, expressing our concerns on the grave situation on the ground. But, while we voted in support of the resolution, we did not think it comprehensively set out the whole picture. So we explained our vote, and we said that there are two areas in principle which the resolution should have mentioned – (1) we must still condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October, which cannot be justified; and (2) we need to note also Israel’s right to self-defence, but that right to self-defence cannot include indiscriminate killing of civilians, and it must be done in accordance with international law.
3. Question: Yesterday you had a closed-door meeting with the Malay-Muslim leaders. Could you share some of the sentiments that was shared?
Minister: There were over 200 Malay-Muslim community leaders. It was a very good session. I explained, because a lot of things are not known on the ground, and there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation going around, both about what is happening and the Government’s position.
For example, what does a two-state solution mean? Are these just words? What has been Singapore’s position? We have said, and we have voted against illegal settlements by Israel – we said that it was contradictory to the international law. We have voted against Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. But at the same time, we have always also supported Israel’s right to exist, whereas Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the map. So there are a number of perspectives to this, and the community leaders understood. They were very appreciative. They had a better picture. And what they said was, can this be brought to the ground and explain? Can we find ways in which we can reach the ground and explain to the Singapore community as a whole, the position, who are the major actors, what is really happening, why and what is our position. And we will try.
4. Question: There is an online post that says that while the call for public rallies has been disallowed by the authorities on the basis of not advocating for foreign interests, there are still posts online that advocates for the cause. What is your comment on that?
Minister: On rallies in Hong Lim, we disallowed on public order reasons. Remember, rallies can be done by, if we allow one group, we have to allow other groups. And different religious groups wanted to hold rallies. Some of them made public their views, some of them haven’t made public their views. Some Muslim organisations wanted to hold rallies. Some Christian organisations also wanted to hold rallies. Some others also wanted to hold rallies. We took the decision that we will not allow rallies by anyone. We don’t want to import foreign arguments into Singapore.
But there is a strong need and desire in the community to do something, and today’s actions – coming together, sending supplies, helping people in Gaza – those are the ways in which I think we can be constructive, and by making our position known internationally, like the way the Government has voted at the United Nations, and what the Prime Minister has said. These are the ways in which we can help in our own small way.
Posts online, as long as they don’t go into an incitement of violence, as long as they don’t ask people to go and take arms, do bad things; people are entitled to express their views, but it mustn’t cross into incitement or hate speech against other religions, other races.
5. Question: There has been some posts by the Israeli embassy that could be advocating for the cause that is going around in the Middle East. What is your comment on that?
Minister: We don’t take lightly any foreign interference in our domestic politics. Our position is quite clear. We expect any ambassador or embassy to respect the way things are done in Singapore. So, we do track closely what foreign missions say and do here, and whenever necessary, we will speak firmly to them, to make our position clear. We have done so before, and if need be, we will do so again. I don’t want to comment specifically on any ambassador or embassy at this point. Thank you.