by Rob Marchant
The attacks on both sides have ceased in Gaza and southern Israel and the death tolls have ceased to mount – a sure-fire way to get the issue off the news bulletins again – and an uneasy truce holds. For now.
But, during those eight days, the focus of popular attention briefly fell on what is probably, for the vast majority of its citizens, an issue at the very margins of their daily thinking. Even many of those interested in international affairs have simply given up trying to understand the complex debate on the territorial and governmental rights of Israel and Palestine, or simply feel “a plague on all your houses”. And that is for those who think about it at all.
Except one group of citizens, of course. The political class: not necessarily politicians, but that odd and strangely passionate group, those actively involved in politics. If you are reading this, you are very likely one of them. Everyone has an opinion.
What has happened on the British left during this short period, therefore, is that the somewhat strange, yet long-held, views of some of its members have suddenly had a public airing, where no-one would normally even listen. Often all the complexity of the Israel-Palestine situation, with respectable arguments on both sides for ends if not means, has been reduced to the infantile football-terrace chanting of “my side’s right, your side’s wrong”; and oh, what a revealing set of quotes it has provided.
“We do not hate Jews. We hate Zionism,” shouts George Galloway, seemingly feeling that he really needs to make it clear, speaking to a somewhat disturbing (watch it here) Bradford rally, flanked by two large Palestinian flags. So that’s alright then. Not Jews. Just Zionists.
Or Steve Bell’s unpleasant cartoon – which revived the centuries-old trope of the Jewish puppet-master, but which in the modern-day Guardian, used to printing puff-pieces on Holocaust cartoonists, passes almost without comment.
But we expect hate-filled views from Galloway and unpleasantness from the Guardian. What we might not, perhaps, expect are complementarily unhinged statements by Labour members of parliament.
First there was Yasmin Qureshi MP, who tweeted “Are Tories really blinkered? Israeli is pounding Gaza with thousands of missiles which are lethal unlike Hamas home made few rockets.”
Ah yes, the home-made rockets. The 21-foot Fadjr-5 rockets were not, of course, “home-made” but were technology supplied by Iran and carry 90kg of explosives – as Guido Fawkes, no friend to Labour, delighted in pointing out.
As for not being lethal, this beggars belief. The reason for the low Israeli casualties is self-evidently its anti-missile protection system and the large number landing in open ground (together accounting for over 80% of the rockets). Not because these weapons, specifically designed to be lethal, had somehow failed to be so. And Qureshi is not the only one to make this bizarre statement: Richard Burden MP also describes them as “ramshackle.”
Or when Andy Slaughter MP, the shadow justice minister, quotes on his website, verbatim and at length from the Palestinian Mission UK, the unofficial embassy for Palestine. Naturally, being an arm of the Palestinian Authority, it is not exactly giving objective information, but this does not seem to bother Slaughter in the least:
“The Palestinian Mission UK strongly denounces Israel’s military escalation against the Palestinian people which hinders peaceful efforts made by Palestinians in their campaign for freedom and justice.”
“Peaceful efforts”. Ah, Hamas, that peace-loving bunch of Gandhi-esque holy men. Not suicide-bombing, civilian-targeting terrorists who oppress women and gays, you understand. The whole extract fails, predictably, to mention that any kind of attack is being carried out by Hamas. It is as if what became a final total of 1,506 rockets had simply never existed.
Then there are the increasingly incoherent ramblings of veteran backbencher Gerald Kaufman on the subject of Palestine. While Kaufman at least makes plain his dislike of terrorists Hamas – not something which all of his colleagues do – he still finds time to describe the Israeli army’s spokesperson’s words as “the reply of a Nazi.”. As ever, one wonders whether a gentile would get away with such language, with or without the benefit of parliamentary privilege.
Or Jeremy Corbyn MP’s irony-free comment that “This is effectively a first world state attacking a poor and largely defenceless population.” Defenceless, that is, except for the 1,506 not-really-lethal Fadjr-5s.
And, incidentally, after a quick Google, Labour Uncut found that Corbyn’s words did not seem to be reported in any UK national newspapers. Just the usual fringe blogs, and…wait for it, PressTV and the FARS news agency, both propaganda mouthpieces for the Iranian regime.
That is, the only coverage that Corbyn seems to achieve with such press statements is from a hostile theocracy with which Britain long ago broke off diplomatic relations, and yet which happily uses the cloak of credibility afforded by a British member of parliament to further its own pernicious, destabilising narrative.
So, albeit briefly, a light has been shone on the views of Labour representatives, regarding an issue which may well, with the rise of a nuclear Iran, come to dominate the geopolitics of the next decade or so. It’s not that Israel is blameless: it’s that there’s no attempt at balance or nuance. Israel is evil, and that’s it.
And in this brief spotlight, the world has seen that Labour on the middle east is a party all over the place. Even at senior levels, it has MPs with infantile, monochrome views on a complex conflict. Some of them people who, just like Galloway, think “Zionist” a terrible insult, to be hurled at anyone who dares to look at the conflict otherwise, in shades of grey.
If peace is ever to come between Israel and Palestine, what the good people of Palestine – and by that we clearly don’t mean Hamas — really need more than anything is better advocates for their legitimate cause. These people are not them.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left