FUNDING, HISTORY AND MORALS
In every country there are Jewish and at least one “Israel” lobby. They make donations to parties in the expectation that members of that party will do their bidding later, specifically to back “Israel” no matter what -even if it is diametrically opposed to decency, common sense, any sense of morals or the interests of that country. But these lobbies back both horses as in a Hegelian dialectic. In the United Kingdom, there are “Conservative Friends of Israel” as well as “Labour Friends of Israel.” Traditionally they have exerted enough funding and Jewish pressure to coerce governments to back “Israel” on every occasion. But after Baroness Warsi resigned over the shameful stance this government have taken, the dialogue is changing, new words have entered the lexicon and there is a parliamentary paradigm shift under way. If this government can shake off these parasitic and dangerous lobbies’ influence, so much the better for the UK and the world. And in addition to the shift within the discourse, this government are addressing one crucial factor: arming “Israel” with weapons it uses to occupy, oppress and war on Palestine.
7 August, 2014 Telegraph
For the past two decades, the British political establishment has automatically taken the side of the Israeli government against the Palestinians in the tragic and seemingly everlasting middle eastern conflict. For the Tory party, backing for Israel has been axiomatic ever since Balfour, a Conservative foreign secretary, signed his Declaration in 1917. By contrast, Labour used to allow a decent airing for Palestinian voices. However, this stopped immediately after Tony Blair became the party’s leader in 1994.
Israel’s murderous bombardment of Gaza over the past month has at last broken this establishment consensus. Ed Miliband was the first to shift when he condemned the Israeli invasion at the end of July.
His remarks have caused consternation among Labour’s Blairite wing, and for good reason. They mark a historic shift from Mr Blair’s strategy of giving unconditional support for the government of Israel – and have returned the party to its more balanced approach under earlier leaders.
Mr Miliband’s words were, furthermore, tactically astute. He has aligned Labour with a great swathe of public opinion and left the Tories isolated. David Cameron has consistently thrown his weight behind Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and during the Gaza conflict has refused to allow his ministers to condemn the Israeli actions as “disproportionate”.
The refusal by Conservative ministers to use this word denies the facts. According to United Nations figures, 67 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, have died so far in this latest violence. More than 1,800 Palestinians have died, of whom (again according to the UN) more than 400 have been children.
To understand Mr Cameron’s current position, it is necessary to go back to the early days of his leadership, when the new Tory leader struggled to find a way to express the deep public revulsion against Israeli atrocities committed during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Tony Blair, then prime minister, was refusing to call for a ceasefire, let alone condemn the Israeli government.
In response, Mr Cameron licensed William Hague, then shadow foreign secretary, to describe the Israeli actions as “disproportionate” in a Commons speech. This caused problems. Several Tory donors reportedly threatened to withdraw funding.
Stuart Polak, Director of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and one of Westminster’s most effective operators, then set to work. Well over 50 per cent of Tory MPs are thought to belong to the CFI, which was described by the late Conservative historian Robert Rhodes James as “the largest organisation in western Europe dedicated to the cause of the people of Israel”. (By contrast, there is no organisation representing Palestinians on the Conservative benches.)
In the aftermath of Mr Hague’s remark, Mr Polak was able to secure a meeting with Mr Cameron. He extracted one crucial concession. As I revealed five years ago in my Channel 4 film about Britain’s pro-Israeli lobby, Mr Cameron agreed that terms such as “disproportionate” were not the sort that Conservatives should use to describe Israeli military action.
Neither Mr Cameron nor his ministers used this pivotal word after the meeting. Crucially, they have repeatedly refused to do so despite sustained pressure in the House of Commons and elsewhere, over the past four desperate weeks. We can therefore assume that as far as the Conservative element of the Coalition is concerned, the damage inflicted during the recent conflict has been even-handed.
Some will admire Mr Cameron for honourably keeping his word, but others might well wonder whether it is appropriate that a British Prime Minister should be bound when it comes to any foreign policy issue by promises made while in opposition to an internal Conservative Party lobbying organisation.
Such is the background to Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation on Tuesday. There have been various attempts at character assassination since she quit, so it is worth stating that the Baroness was a fine minister who brought energy, originality and competence to government. More than anyone else, Lady Warsi has spoken up with eloquence for the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and Christianity in secular Britain.
She has made enemies. One of them is George Osborne, who said that her resignation was “frankly an unnecessary decision”. It is time that Mr Osborne, whose experience of the Middle East does not stretch much further than one CFI-funded trip a decade ago, confined himself to his Treasury brief.
One Right-wing newspaper accused Sayeeda Warsi of “flouncing out” of the government, as if on a whim. Let’s leave aside the implied insult to women – were Peter Carrington or Robin Cook ever accused of flouncing out after their memorable resignations?
Lady Warsi did not flounce. She quit over the horror in Gaza, where the Israeli Defence Force has made it dreadfully clear that it counts Palestinian lives very cheap. This is not a trivial or inconsequential issue.
Lady Warsi’s is the most honourable and principled resignation since Robin Cook quit the Blair government on the eve of the Iraq War in 2003. It may come to be seen as even more important. It has become clear in the past 48 hours that she is not the only Conservative who regards Mr Cameron’s position on Gaza as a moral outrage.
Tory MPs including Sir Nicholas Soames, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Crispin Blunt and Dominic Grieve have all spoken out in favour of Lady Warsi. I know of several others who are preparing to do so.
There used to be a small, though painfully inconsequential, pro-Palestinian presence in the Conservative Party, represented by such marginal figures as Ian Gilmour and Cyril Townsend. This group more or less fell into abeyance during the Thatcher years. But I have a strong sense that, appalled by this latest outbreak of Israeli brutality, this group is about to re-emerge with additional strength.
The latest Israeli conduct in Gaza has brought about a sea-change in the official British attitude towards Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. All mainstream politicians will continue to support Israel’s right to exist, and to celebrate its rich and flourishing democratic history (at any rate, so long as you are Jewish).
But they will start to do much more than mutter politely about the illegal West Bank settlements. They will start to insist that Israel obeys international law – and pays a serious price when it fails to do so.
I am quite certain that it is in Israel’s own interests that this should happen. This little country will only be secure over the long term if it can learn to treat its Arab and Palestinian neighbours with respect. The Blair/Cameron approach sends Mr Netanyahu the appalling message that he can get away with any outrage.
It is greatly to his credit that Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, has called time on British collaboration with Israeli crimes. And it is greatly to her credit that Sayeeda Warsi, who is Muslim, has sent a wake-up call to David Cameron. Let’s hope the Prime Minister – who pledged in the Knesset that he would be with Israel “every step of the way” during his recent visit – finally gets the message.