Another glimpse into delusional British attitudes to Israel

A recent speech given by the British Ambassador to the Knesset reveals yet more about the FCO's underlying attitudes towards Israel

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How much does Matthew Gould's speech reflect the institutionalised views of the FCO?
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Hadar Sela
On 13 July 2012 10:08

Recently, The Commentator offered some insight into attitudes towards Israel within the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Further illumination was available this week when Matthew Gould, the British Ambassador to Israel, spoke at a sub-committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem.

There is much in the Ambassador's speech (which, obviously, reflects the attitudes of those he represents rather than his own opinions) to raise quizzical eyebrows, but insufficient space here to address all the points.

Not the least bizarre was the statement that last year the British government allocated £2 million for security in Jewish schools -- without addressing the rather obvious follow-up question of why Jewish schools in the UK (and only they) are in need of security in the first place.

No less bizarre is the following claim:

"…[T]here is indeed a small group of people in the UK – as in many other countries – who are determined to promote a fundamental assault upon Israel's very legitimacy.  They represent a small minority, but they are active, loud and hugely dedicated. 

They try, and sometimes succeed, to marshal civil society organisations to their cause. These people are on the margin of political life, but they have made occasional inroads into mainstream politics."

One can but speculate as to how Palestine Solidarity Campaign patrons such as Jeremy Corbyn MP and Baroness Tonge will react to the knowledge that the FCO considers them to be 'on the margin of political life'.

Equally, one wonders how the 17 trade unions affiliated to the PSC – representing, according to their own claims, 80 percent of the members of the 6.5 million-strong TUC – became a 'small minority'. And, according to the Ambassador's theory, apparently the Church of England can also now be classified as a fringe group.  

But among all the claims made in the speech, there are two in particular which merit further discussion. The Ambassador – again, presumably reflecting FCO accepted wisdoms – stated that:

"There is an important battle for public opinion to be had in the UK, but it is not the one at the far fringes of political life.  Rather, it is for the centre ground, where the issue is not delegitimisation but a genuine concern about the absence of progress towards peace, about settlements and the occupation. 

"By contrast, progress towards peace will further discredit the delegitimisers and allow Israel’s supporters to shift their energy away from extinguishing fires to embracing Israel positively."

Notably, this view places the onus entirely upon one party involved in the conflict: Israel. It completely ignores the many efforts –and sacrifices - Israel has made over the years in order to try to achieve a settlement to the conflict.

Not only does it also choose to side-step the issue of the repeated refusal of the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table and its seemingly boundless ability to come up with ever more imaginative pre-conditions (which, when met, inevitably become the basis for yet more demands), but it also fails to view the issue in its broader terms as an Arab-Israeli conflict rather than merely a Palestinian-Israeli one.

The notion that progress in the peace process, dismantling of settlements and the ending of Israeli control over land not already ruled by the Palestinian Authority would result in a reduction of the delegitimisation of Israel by UK-based organisations is undermined by events to date - including the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Far from resulting in a reduction in delegitimisation of Israel in the UK, the fact that for seven years there have been no Israeli civilian villages or permanently stationed armed forces in Gaza has had no positive effect whatsoever.

Gaza is today even more of a cause celebre for British supporters of the Hamas regime which aspires to rid the region of Jews completely – and (despite the Ambassador's claims) those supporters include a startlingly high number of British MPs, members of the House of Lords and other public figures.

What is profoundly worrying about this FCO view is the apparent lack of ability to acknowledge the true nature of the conflict.

The simplistic approach - as represented by this 'it's the occupation' mindset – blithely ignores the fact that prior to 1967 – before any 'occupation' or 'settlements' - peace was just as elusive as it is today. That is because such an approach deliberately erases the wider regional aspects of the conflict, including the funding and enabling of terror by players such as Iran and Qatar.

The FCO approach also fails to recognize the critical fact that rather than being a 'genuine concern' or reaction to any situation on the ground, delegitimisation is in fact part of the warfare; another weapon in the arsenal of those who aim to bring about an end to the Jewish state.

And, like the Kassam and Grad missiles and the suicide-bombers' explosives, that weapon too is in many cases funded and enabled by elements far beyond the local confines of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It is, of course, difficult to believe that with all its resources, the FCO does not know all this. The question which must therefore be asked is why the FCO appears to want to establish Israeli action or inaction as the cause of increased anti-Israel activity in the UK – rather than making an honest and factual appraisal of the pro-Islamist extremist elements at work in its own society.

No less worrying was the following claim made by the Ambassador in the Knesset meeting:

"These people [anti-Israel activists in the UK] are a small minority. Their efforts do need to be addressed, but they also need to be set in context. The wider economic impact of what they do has been miniscule. Their impact is through the noise they make. And that noise has been magnified many times over all the attention they have been given by Israel’s friends. 

That attention risks making them mainstream. I fear that for many friends of Israel, this destructive agenda by Israel’s enemies – and their desire to counter it - will come to define their connection with Israel. And perhaps, that is the most profound victory that the delegitimisers could achieve."

In other words, this (apparently FCO-endorsed) approach cynically apportions the blame for the growth of the anti-Israel movements in the UK, and their infiltration into the mainstream, exclusively to supporters of Israel.

It implies that a better strategy would be to ignore the constant stream of lies, distortions and often downright anti-Semitic calumnies -- whilst failing to acknowledge what kind of effect such unchecked intense and well-funded propaganda has on both mainstream opinion and decision-makers in the UK.

Chillingly, it also appears to promote the outdated concept of quiet, passive Jews keeping their heads down in the hope that the latest storm-cloud will pass. Fortunately, those days are long gone.  

But Israelis (and Jews) have been here before. During the years of British administration of the Mandate for Palestine, the standard approach taken by the British authorities in reaction to Arab rioting and violence (e.g. 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936) was to blame Jewish immigration and systematically disarm the Jewish population of Palestine, rendering it unable to defend itself from recurrent attack. That policy laid down disastrous foundations for a modus operandi still prevalent today.

The FCO appears to be determined to proceed along its well-trodden route of failed policies based upon willfully blind misinterpretations of the Middle East tailored to protect its own perceived interests.

Whether or not those interests are identical to those of a government purportedly seeking (for all too obvious reasons) to strengthen economic ties with Israel is another question.

How the FCO's policies tie in with the current government's past  statements regarding its commitment to Israel's security – as well as its own domestic struggles against extremism - is yet another. 

Hadar Sela is an Anglo-Israeli writer and blogger living in Israel

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