The Israel lobby

(See also, articles on Electronic Intifada & Ben White’s website)

The following is just an excerpt from the introduction to ‘The pro-Israel lobby in Britain.’ Please read the full text on openDemocracy

PETER OBORNE and JAMES JONES
13 November 2009

The authors ask for transparency in Britain’s policy towards Israel

Publisher’s Intro
Antony Lerman’s Introduction
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Publisher’s Intro
Antony Lerman’s Introduction
Return to the navigation page

By Peter Oborne

Every year, in a central London hotel, a very grand lunch is thrown by the Conservative Friends of Israel. It is often addressed by the Conservative leader of the day. Many members of the shadow cabinet make it their business to be there along with a very large number of Tory peers and prospective candidates, while the Conservative MPs present amount to something close to a majority of the parliamentary party. It is a formidable turnout.

This year’s event took place in June, with the main speech by Tory leader David Cameron and shadow foreign secretary William Hague in attendance. The dominant event of the previous twelve months had been the Israeli invasion of Gaza at the start of the year. So I examined Cameron’s speech with curiosity to see how he would handle that recent catastrophe.

I was shocked to see that Cameron made no reference at all to the invasion of Gaza, the massive destruction it caused, or the 1,370 deaths that had resulted. Indeed, Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it “strives to protect innocent life”. I found it impossible to reconcile the remarks made by the young Conservative leader with the numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza. Afterwards I said as much to some Tory MPs. They looked at me as if I was distressingly naive, drawing my attention to the very large number of Tory donors in the audience.

But it cannot be forgotten that so many people died in Gaza at the start of this year. To allow this terrible subject to pass by without comment suggested a failure of common humanity and decency on the part of a man most people regard as the next prime minister. To praise Israel at the same time for protecting human life showed not merely a fundamental failure of respect for the truth but also it gives the perception, rightly or wrongly, of support for the wretched events which took place in Gaza. That is not to condone or excuse the abhorrent actions of Hamas, but to overlook Israel’s culpability is undoubtedly partisan.

It is impossible to imagine any British political leader showing such equanimity and tolerance if British troops had committed even a fraction of the human rights abuses and war crimes of which Israel has been accused. So that weekend, in my weekly Daily Mail political column, I criticized Cameron’s speech to the CFI, drawing attention to his failure to mention Gaza and his speaking of Israeli respect for the sanctity of

human life. Soon I received a letter from Stuart Polak, the longstanding CFI director: “Peter, the snapshot of our lunch concentrating on the businessmen and David’s alleged comments was really unhelpful.” The CFI political director, Robert Halfon, wrote saying that my letter was ‘astonishing’ and accusing me of making a ‘moral equivalence’ between Israel and Iran. I wrote back to them citing a number of reports by international organizations such as Amnesty International highlighting breaches of codes by the Israeli army.

I resolved then to ask the question: what led David Cameron to behave in the way he did at the CFI lunch at the Dorchester Hotel last June? What are the rules of British political behaviour which cause the Tory Party leader and his mass of MPs and parliamentary candidates to flock to the Friends of Israel lunch in the year of the Gaza invasion? And what are the rules of media discourse that ensure that such an event passes without notice?

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