By R. Taylor
The current UK Government is ‘the most hostile to Israel in living memory.’ So says Melanie Phillips, formerly a respected UK journalist now better known for her militant anti-Islam stance and her Israel-is-never-wrong/blame-everyone-else rants.
And maybe she is right. But as all previous UK governments have meekly toed the Zionist line, it wouldn’t be saying very much. After all Gordon Brown, Cameron’s predecessor, was honorary president of the Jewish National Fund, Brown succeeded Tony Blair (need one say more), he followed Major/Thatcher and so on. Nevertheless David Cameron’s coalition is voicing the kinds of criticism of Israel’s policies that have rarely been heard before
A particular beef for Phillips (or Mad Mel as she is often referred to nowadays) was the government’s failure to support Israel in the United Nations on the issue of West Bank settlements. In her blog for The Spectator magazine on 22nd Feb she berates Cameron and co. with the following. “While the British Prime Minister David Cameron is in Egypt hymning the prospect there of democracy and human rights…..what has been overlooked is that this same David Cameron has chosen this of all moments to push the one and only democracy in the region, Israel, under the Islamist bus. While America finally vetoed the UN motion slamming Israel’s ‘illegal’ settlements because it went too far even for Obama, Britain voted in favour.”
Leaving aside her bizarre views that settlements are neither legally nor morally wrong, it does seem that UK Zionists are becoming increasingly alarmed about changing attitudes in the UK towards Israel. Long-used to a situation where the Zionist narrative was accepted virtually without question, Mel and others can’t quite believe that things have changed; that the romantic view of poor little Israel has faded in the West, that the Palestinian narrative is now much more accessible and that even our politicians have taken note.
Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph is another who is concerned. He praises Cameron for a recent speech to a Jewish audience in which he described his belief in Israel as “indestructible”, but then asks why Israeli PM Netanyahu is so worried about the UK and the apparent decline of its backing for Israel. “The truth,” he laments, “is that relations between Jerusalem and London are bad, drifting to worse. …..At a time when the affairs of the Middle East should preoccupy us all, Britain gives the impression of being indifferent to the concerns of a country that is not just the only democracy in the neighbourhood, but also one of our paramount allies in the fight against militant Islam.” Brogan then quotes the dark warning from Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, that the undermining of Israel even reaches “back to Her Majesty’s Government”.
Worse than that though, Brogan asserts that the “UK has turned from an indestructible ally into a gullible host for the global campaign to undermine its legitimacy,” and has become “an echo chamber for a coalition of religious and political campaign groups and academics of all stripes – some of them Jewish – pumping out a propaganda campaign of explicit and implicit hostility to Israel.” Brogan’s solution to all this? “Cameron should find a reason to visit his friends (Israel) and tell them, face to face, why our links are indestructible.”
Edgar Davidson is a lesser known Zionist blogger but he is quite certain where much of the blame lies. His blog piece of February 20th 2011 includes a revealing anecdote. “If you need to know the depth to which the British media has indoctrinated the public with anti-Israel feelings,” he suggests helpfully, “then I can give no better example than the following: My daughter, who goes to an orthodox Jewish school, tells me that, when the subject of Israel is discussed in their Jewish studies GCSE class, students routinely state things like “the Jews have no right to Israel because they stole the land from the Palestinians”. In making statements like that, those regular 15-16 year old Jewish kids, are simply repeating what they are told relentlessly in every part of the media”. Perhaps, Edgar. But, it could just be that these Jewish kids are better informed than their parents, have a greater grasp of the notion of justice and recognize that the concept of human rights applies to Palestinians too. Don’t underestimate them.
The media malaise is not confined to the usual suspects – the BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian. It is even to be found in the UK Jewish press. In December, under the heading “The JC (Jewish Chronicle) Sinks Lower and Lower”, Edgar tells his readers that, “rapidly the JC is morphing into a Guardian look-alike, with its increasingly central contributions from anti-Zionists.” He bemoans the fact “Nicholas Saphir, the Chair of the anti-Zionist New Israel Fund (UK), is a trustee of the Kessler Foundation, which owns the Jewish Chronicle. Last week the New Israel Fund had a 4-page pullout in the JC, and rarely a week goes by nowadays without some major positive focus/article about the NIF.” This will never do.
What really worries Zionists in the UK though is the thought that they are losing the propaganda battle and their ability to ensure mainstream politicians don’t step too much out of line, or if they do go off-message, the capacity to set them on the straight-and-narrow again. A couple of examples from recent years illustrate the point.
In 2006, during Israel’s war on Lebanon William Hague was the Shadow Foreign Secretary. He had the temerity to use the word “disproportionate” when describing Israel’s military actions. A leading Zionist hit out at Hague and told The Spectator that his words comments were “not merely unhelpful” but “downright dangerous.” This was enough to secure a solemn undertaking from Hague’s boss Cameron that the ‘d’ word would not be used again. Suspicions regarding Hague still lingered, however, and in 2008 he was grilled by arch-Zionist journalist Danny Finkelstein at the Conservative Friends of Israel annual bash. “Are you a Zionist ?” he was asked. A discomfited and apologetic Hague had to agree. Later that year when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, the ‘d’ word did not pass his lips.
In the run up to the general election of 2010, the dramatic rise in popularity of Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg posed a similar problem. Hadn’t he criticised Israel for its bombing of civilians in Gaza? Couldn’t he be in the next government, maybe even Foreign Secretary? Clegg would have to explain himself. Backtracking feverishly, he duly did so in the Jewish Chronicle saying his comments were made because of his genuine concern that Israel’s actions ran “counter to its best interests” – no mention of the interests of the people of Gaza, the slaughter of innocents and breaches of international law.
But what now? Opinion in the UK has shifted decisively away from blind acceptance of anything Israel does. The politicians, fed up no doubt with Netanyahu’s lies, here have tagged along, perhaps seeing for the first time that the UK’s interests do not automatically coincide with those of Israel. Aware too that the ‘peace process’ is just that – a process, with no end in sight and that supporting Israel’s policies of grabbing as much land as possible from the Palestinians is inherently dangerous to Britons.
An exchange in the House of Commons on Monday 14th is indicative of the changes. During Prime Minister’s Questions the following exchange took place;
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Labour) Will the right honourable gentleman join me in condemning utterly the slaughter inflicted on the Fogel family in a West Bank settlement over the weekend? Does he agree that no response to that savagery could be more futile than the building of further settlements, and the only way to stop this useless slaughter of innocent people – both Jews and Palestinians – is for Israel to sit down and talk?
The Prime Minister: The right honourable Gentleman is entirely right. Like others I read about the case over the weekend and found what happened extremely disturbing. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem and seen the settlement building, particularly around East Jerusalem, can understand why the Palestinians feel so strongly about building on their land. There is a danger of the two-state solution being built away if we are not careful. That is why this Government has always taken a strong view about the settlements.
It is hard to imagine a British PM speaking this way in the past, especially so soon after an event such as the massacre in Itamar colony. The times certainly are a-changing and Zionists are scared.
– R. Taylor contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.