Friday, 18 January 2008

Israel's friendly network

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, with the West Bank demoralised and Gaza subject to a feudal-like siege, there's an historical continuity to how the Palestinians' plight is being willfully ignored by the 'international community' and a servile media.

Gaza has been bombed again today, bringing this week's murder count to 37 civilians. But, it's treated as a sideshow by politicians and media in the West, with no serious effort to call Israel to account for its despicable actions.

In 1948, Western governments also stood idly-by while David Ben-Gurion's Zionist forces systematically murdered a population, forcing no less than eighty-five per cent of Palestinians to flee their towns and villages as refugees. (1)

The savage truth of this barbarous programme has been brilliantly documented by the Jewish historian Ilan Pappe in his latest book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Two recent lectures given by Pappe at Oxford provide additional verbal testimony on how that ethnic cleansing unfolded:

Pappe notes here how Palestinians who tried to raise awareness of the disaster at the time were treated as liars and propagandists. Instead, a contrived Israeli narrative became accepted in the West, promoting, among other distortions, the peculiar notion that the Palestinians had 'voluntarily' left their own homes to make way for supporting Arab armies. No serious questioning of such a claim came from the British state or its 'critical' media. Indeed, this fictional narrative remains largely unchallenged even today.

60 years on, the same complicit denial can be seen in the West's failure to highlight and denounce the starvation siege of Gaza. As in 1948, the bearers of uncomfortable truths about Zionist crimes are being marginalised or ignored. Predictably, mainstream Western reaction has been to portray the US/EU-backed sanctions policy as a 'reactive' punishing of Hamas 'terrorism'.

There's a similar indifference towards Israel's de facto 'transfer' policy, an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel which most Western governments and media seem to regard as a 'practical state solution' to an 'internal civil problem'. Israeli and other Jews opposing these kind of apartheid policies are treated, more particularly, as 'self-haters' prepared to compromise Israel's national 'security'.

In Pappe's case, this comes with added vilification from within the Israeli establishment. But the demonisation of Pappe as a traitorous recalcitrant cannot be so-easily defended by his accusers. Unlike the shunning of those who told the world about the ethnic cleansing in 1948, Pappe has a wider and more informed global audience. And his message about the present Occupation comes with this vital and uncomfortable truth: that in order to understand the current apartheid and transfer policies of the Israeli state, one has to recognise its roots in the formative ethnic cleansing.

Pappe's book is more than a piece of 'revisionist history'. It's a forensic documentation of systematic killing and expulsions. Indeed, Pappe has 'borrowed' the considered legal and moral definitions of ethnic cleansing employed by the US State Department to show how they fit like a "hand to a glove" in the case of Palestine. (2) Except, of course, that the State Department singularly refrains from including Palestine on its actual list of ethnically-cleansed people.

As Israel celebrates six decades of its founding, it must live with the dark truth of how it murdered and cleansed so many human beings in order to make that state possible. And it must live with how it did so just three years after the discovered horrors of six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.

In his talks, Pappe acknowledges that the early 19th century Zionist movement contained honourable elements intent on sheltering and saving the Jewish people from European persecution. He also notes how the Holocaust gave new impetus to the Zionist project's selection of Palestine as a homeland. But, with that fateful choice came ideological presumptions about a Jewish ethnic state and ruthless decisions about how to effect it.

Friend or foe

That Zionist agenda has been consistently denounced by Orthodox Neturei Karta Jews. Following one of this week's IDF operations in Gaza, in which 20 Palestinians were killed, a spokesman for the religious grouping said:

"We are appalled by the terrorist massacre performed by the Zionists in Gaza. This ferocious act is just one in a long line of oppressive acts of ethnic cleansing performed against the Palestinian people since 1948 by the evil Zionist movement".

The statement goes on:

"The anti-Zionist Jews denounce the violent, bloodthirsty actions made in the name of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion...We fail to understand why the world powers allow the Zionists to commit such crimes against the Palestinian people, by using F-16 warplanes, battleships and tanks...When will the world finally control the Zionists and give the Palestinians in historic Palestine their rights back?"

This is a savage indictment from 'within'. As Jews for Justice in Palestine also assert, Israel does not speak for many Jews appalled at what Olmert and his predecessors have done 'in their names'.

Despite all this condemnation, internal and external, the ethnic purging of Palestine is still widely rationalised within Israel as an exercise in necessary survival. There's also the related charge of 'anti-Semitism' commonly levelled at those questioning this Zionist logic - an argument which has been ably exposed by Chomsky and significant others. A further aspect of the Zionist-exploited discourse is the defensive deceit that one is either a friend or foe of Israel as it struggles to fend-off Hamas and the 'Muslim menace'.

The main articulation of this comes from the Jewish lobby in the US (AIPAC et al), who work assiduously to maintain the 'good reputation' of Israel as a country 'threatened on all sides'. The US-sided version of the lobby encapsulates elite interests across the political establishment (liberal and conservative), corporate sector and the nascent Christian-Zionist alliance, a 'defensive offensive' giving Bush and his cabal a cover role as 'peace-maker friends' seeking 'fair resolutions' to the conflict.

But, the 'friendship network' is also underpinned by an assertive Israeli lobby here in Britain, perhaps most decisively by Labour Friends of Israel, a grouping of parliamentary notables, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and elite business-connected donors like Lord Sainsbury and the controversial David Abrahams.

A Labour advert in the Jewish Chronicle notes that:

"Since 1997 a record 57 Labour MPs have visited Israel, mostly with Labour Friends of Israel, swelling the number of MPS willing to ensure balance on the Middle East in the House of Commons. More Labour MPs have visited Israel than from any other party."

A less 'respectable', but significant, part of that network is also engaged in more subversive activity against academic and media critics of Israel, as in the attempt to smear the campaigning journalist Jonathan Cook.

Concerned at growing international awareness of its crimes, the recently-appointed Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, has adopted a more campaigning role, seeking-out 'unfriendly' university venues and any other available public platforms to proselytise his 'firm-but-friendly' Zionism.

Israel's friendship network extends, likewise, across a large swath of media and cultural life, the Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips being, perhaps, the most notable, and virulent, journalist speaking in Zionism's intellectual defence.

But she's far from alone in serving to popularise Israel's 'good-standing' and special friendship with Washington. The Mail's City Editor, Alex Brummer, also lauded Bush as "a true friend of Israel" during his recent trip to the region, a sentiment based on the zero-sum logic that anyone protecting Israel's gains, even those acquired through land theft and murderous ethnic cleansing, must be worth applauding.

Of course, Brummer clearly sees, like those who oppose his self-serving views, that Bush and Blair can, indeed, be relied upon to act as dependable, last-resort friends of Israel as it seeks a 'peace deal' that secures everything it has stolen from the Palestinians.

With similar intent to courting MPs, senior British journalists and editors are being taken on all-expenses PR trips to Israel, ensuring that Tel Aviv's 'side' of things is being 'fairly aired':

"A UK-based pro-Israel lobby will bring a delegation of senior journalists from major media outlets to Israel on Sunday. Fourteen editors and senior journalists will visit for six days - including senior editorial staff from the Times, Independent and Sun newspapers and broadcasters from the BBC and Sky News, in a trip organized by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) to show them events from Israel's point of view. Many of the journalists have written on the Middle East for years, but are visiting Israel for the first time. All play a large part in determining the editorial policy at their respective organizations."

Meanwhile, the true victims of this prolonged injustice are still being, effectively, airbrushed from serious view. The typical media response to this week's killing and ethnic cleansing in Gaza is one of 'unfortunate escalation' as Israel 'retaliates' against Hamas 'militants'. The symmetry of words from journalists and politicians is despairingly obvious.

In that vein, here's a copy of the letter I've sent to Charles Ramsden, Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life, in response to a heartfelt appeal for just recognition of the crisis in Gaza:

Mr Charles Ramsden
Secretary to the Committee
Committee on Standards in Public Life
35 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BQ

Dear Mr Ramsden,

As Secretary to the Standards Committee, you will, I hope, be alert to the formal and not-so-formal ways in which political lobbying helps shape government policy.

You will also, I trust, be fully aware of the illegality of Israel's Occupation of the Palestinian Territories, as defined under multiple UN resolutions. There is, in addition, the illegal construction of the 'security' wall, as judged by the International Court of Justice in 2004, and the daily abuses of Palestinian human rights, contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Geneva Convention.

As eminent figures like Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have stated, the situation in the Occupied Territories is closely akin to the evil of apartheid South Africa. I have been to the West Bank in recent months (with fellow-members of Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign) and witnessed some of the daily suffering and humiliation of Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli forces.

With all those international statements and opinions well-documented, one is inclined to ask why the UK government has failed to act decisively against Israel? More immediately, why is it standing idly-by while a crisis siege in Gaza continues to inflict death and suffering on innocent people?

You may respond that these are Foreign Policy issues. However, at the heart of this lies a more particular question for the Standards Committee itself:

Has the lobbying influence of groups like Labour Friends of Israel helped limit proper Parliamentary scrutiny of these issues?

While perhaps not the immediate job of the Committee to recommend direct action against Israel (though, members can always still personally support the current call for boycott, divestment and sanctions) it is very much within its remit to ask probing questions about leading parliamentarians' political and social affiliations with Labour Friends of Israel and other such bodies and to what extent this is inhibiting due discussion of, and action on, the crisis in Gaza.

I'm most keen to hear your thoughts on whether the Seven Principles of Public Life, promoted by the Standards Committee, are being upheld in this case.

I look forward to your considered thoughts on the matter.

Best wishes,

John Hilley

Gentlemanly friendship

One can but speculate as to how far Friends of Israel 'reaches into' the Committee itself. Parliamentary Committees often like to 'demonstrate' their nominal 'autonomy' and prescribed powers of scrutiny, a usually delusional, if not always insincere, belief in serving members' desire to hold ministers and senior executives to account. In practice, this is just a very gentlemanly way of challenging without intent, a kind of 'probing inaction', which helps keep any criticism moderate, muted and safely distanced from the actual policy-forming process.

Whatever the reluctance of Parliament to act morally in opposing Israel's apartheid policies, there's a growing need to recognise how these friendship linkages are keeping Britain's Zionist connections safely intact, thus serving to maintain the UK's shameful part in the persecution of Gaza.



1. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p 179.
2. Pappe speeches at Oxford.

No comments: