Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Why Labour is right on Israel

In his article for the Progress website, Tal Ofer took Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander to task for their reaction to the latest Israeli bombardment of and incursion into Gaza. Under the headline ‘The wrong stance on Gaza’, Tal criticised the Labour leadership for issuing ‘a number of statements’ that were ‘very disappointing’ and accused them of continuing to ‘speak out against Israel’, despite Hamas’ ‘genocidal strategy’. Tal also claimed that Israel did ‘everything it can to minimise the loss of civilian life.’

This assertion, heard regularly from Israeli spokespeople during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, is hard to square with the facts. More than 1,900 Gazans, most of them civilians, were killed during the Israeli action. Three civilians in Israel were killed by rockets originating from Gaza.

The veteran British journalist, Donald Macintyre, who spent ten days during the recent conflict in Gaza, documents numerous examples of innocents, including children, being killed. As well as the heavily reported examples of United Nations’ schools and refugee camps being hit, Macintyre noted that this time, compared with the last major Israeli operation in Gaza, ‘Cast Lead’ in 2008-9, a much larger number of families were killed in homes with their civilian residents still inside. He also catalogued the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure including factories, power and water treatment plants and historical sites.

In response to ‘Cast Lead’, when up to 1,400 Palestinains were killed, the then Labour foreign secretary, David Miliband, did not hesitate to describe the Israeli action as ‘disproportionate’. He also helped ensure an emergency European Union summit did the same and he suspended arms exports to Israel. (In his current role as head of International Rescue, David has also made clear his view that the absolute right to defence for civilians in times of war laid down in the 1949 Geneva Convention was broached by Israel during the recent conflict).

The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon described the attack on the UN-run school in Rafah as ‘a moral outrage and a criminal act’ and even the United States government, normally neuralgic about criticising Israel, condemned its actions as ‘indefensible and unacceptable’. For Labour to have refrained from such criticism would have been an abdication of moral and political leadership.

Ed and Douglas’ words have been measured and always accompanied by clear restatements of Israel’s right to defend itself. They have also chimed with the views of the majority of the British people and the Labour party and contrast starkly with the deafening silence of the government. Here, Tal falls for the anonymous Tory spin following Baroness Warsi’s resignation: that her departure was more about about personalities and thwarted ambition than principle. But it was clear to anyone listening to her, or reading her own words, that Warsi, whatever her multiple disappointments with Cameron, could simply not remain part of a British government that had positioned itself to the right of America on the latest Gaza crisis. I cannot recall a time in recent history when Britian has been more reluctant than the US to criticise an Israeli government and neither Cameron, nor the new foreign secretary Philip Hammond, nor any Conservative commentator, has offered a convincing explanation for this.

Wise friends of Israel have been prepared to criticise the Netanyahu government. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland wrote of the latest Gaza action: ‘Israelis want security, yet their government’s actions will give it no security, they are utterly self defeating.’ Freedland went on to point out that many more Israeli soldiers died in operation ‘Protective Edge’ than from the Hamas threat over years. To what end?

My parliamentary colleague, Anne McGuire, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, told LabourList that the ‘underlying causes’ of the conflict had to be addressed, including the ‘hopelessness’ of the people of Gaza caused by Israel’s blockade and the continuing occupation of the West Bank. Anne is right. Unless the suffering of the people of Gaza is addressed, the blockade eased and the Palestinians feel the prospect of progress towards a two-state solution the dismal cycle of violence will repeat itself.

But the collapse of the Kerry talks under the weight of Israeli settlement expansion and Netanyahu’s recent refusal to countenance ever relinquishing security control of the West Bank leave a two-state solution if not dead, then on a life support machine. And that is what should be really worrying the real friends of Israel and of Palestine.


Ben Bradshaw is member of parliament for Exeter


Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

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Ben Bradshaw MP

is former secretary of state for culture, media and sport


  • Those of us who are Labour members and supporters of Israel would like to hear Ed outline what his policy would be towards dealing with or attempting to negotiate with Hamas so that Israel woukdn’t have to defend herself in this or any other way. But this won’t happen as your stance is defined by expediency. Put simply. The Muslim vote and the union vote are bigger than the Jewish vote. If Israel has a right to defend herself….. then how?

  • The fact remains if you blockade refuse to allow movement off people and steel other people land ignore the UN treatys’ Kill innocent people you get a reaction The oppressed have now become the oppressors

  • Ray, when Hamas’ charter pledges to kill all Jews (not even ‘just’ all Israelis) do you really believe their strategy is a political one based on blockade and is just ‘a reaction’? They are genocidal Islamist maniacs, not political tacticians. Their very existence is because they formed to oppose Arafat entering peace talks, ie they don’t believe in negotiation, just death. Their own quote ‘we love death more than zionists love life’ sums it all up. I don’t see any other contraversial land dispute in the modern world where those feeling aggrieved feel suicide bombers entering cafés and restaurants is the best tactical response. Did rosa Parks do that? Did Mandela target civilians wherever possible? Did Native Indian Americans or Australian Aboriginies? Controversial measures imposed by Israel came AFTER hundreds of suicide bombs in the early to mid 90s, and the simple fact is those bombs stopped as a result. Israel had a duty to stop suicide bombs. Israel also was quick to sign peace deals and hand land back to nations who recognised its right to exist, eg handing the Sinai back to Egypt or peace with Jordan. Even the non Hamas led West Bank is less tense. Your defence of Hamas (ie the implication that they are obliged to have a genocidal and Islamist response to a land dispute) is stupidity of the highest degree. And that is something that anyone having a sensible debate on this, and by that I include people critical of Israel’s recent military action, should accept. Your defending of Hamas is as ridiculous as defending ISIS and Al Qaeda. Defending Hamas is not something that helps ordinary innocent Gazans.

  • “More than 1,900 Gazans, most of them civilians, were killed during the Israeli action. ” Always churned out by what Douglas Murray calls the Islamophiliacs. And how many Israelis were killed by suicide bombers sent by the various terrorist movements welcomed by Hamas in Gaza (Islamic Jihad, etc.) if not Hamas itself? The reason for ANY civilian deaths (most of whom were fighters by the way, your figures are taken from the Gazan Ministry of Health which makes them up as they go along) is a) became Hamas forced them not to leave their homes b) built no bomb shelters despite using Israeli cement and Israeli electricity to build the tunnels to which civilians were not allowed access for shelter! As for the illiterate Ray Jones, he clearly would have marched with Moseley had he been alive at the time, lots of people did.

  • The loss of life in Israel would be far, far greater were it not for the Israeli defence system, so the loss of life will, inevitably, be unequal.
    It is inevitable that Israel will have hit civilian targets – this is, afterall, a war – but Hamas fires from within populated areas, uses schools etc as places to store weapons, and aims its rockets very deliberately at Israeli civilian populated areas.
    The loss of life and suffering in Gaza is awful, but rarely if ever do the media – BBC and Guardian among them – distinguish between civilian deaths and Hamas deaths. They use figures released by the Gazan authority, even while, admittedly, the number of Hamas deaths differ according to whether one believes Israel or the UN. And even Ben Bradshaw only uses the term “most of them civilians”.
    However, can a Labour frontbench spokesman find comfort in the words of Baroness Warsi’s resignation letter when, in 2006 on Question Time, she welcomed the election of Hamas and never seems to have found it “morally irresponsible” not to condemn Hamas incursions long before Operation Protective Edge.
    Few defend the present Israeli government on many of its policies, especially those on settlements and Ben Bradshaw is right that the root to achieving peace, justice and stability in this part of the Middle East is solve the problems of Palestinians while respecting the rights of Israel. However, the blockade could be ended today if Hamas stopped its aggressive – the blockade is not the cause of the rockets; the rockets are the cause of the blockade.
    What does Labour want – Israel not to defend itself? The Coalition’s proposed ban on arms export licences would be an excuse for Hamas to again break the ceasefire.
    Labour’s wish to face both ways at once is yet another example that if Israel does not defend itself, no one else will.

  • The main cause of the problem in Gaza as I see it, is the Israelis have been claiming Palestinians land, as their Biblical rights. The main problem is we moved european Jews into Israel, that was the beginning of this problem in Palestinian. The siege of Gaza isn’t helping much for us to try and find a solution, the irony is the people of Gaza has democratically elected the Hamas government, so when we don’t like a democratically elected government we call them terrorist, then we have let a people live in a open prison. So this is the consequence of what the western countries created, we only have to look around the world to see the mess we are in. We don’t seem to have learned any thing about the wars we have fought two wars to end all wars, I very worried about future.

  • Hamas rockets started way before any Israeli blockade – and Hamas suicide bombers were murdering Israelis long before that. The blockade is a response to, not a cause, of, Hamas terrorism.
    Had there been no ground campaign the 32 Hamas terror tunnels into Israel would never have been discovered, and thousands of Israelis would have been murdered or kidnapped. Had Israel attempted to destroy the Hamas rockets with an air campaign alone, many more civilians would have been killed, and it would probably have been far less effective.
    Hamas is a jihadi terror organisation, just like ISIS (but with better PR).

  • Jobacom

    Thank you for your comments which instead of any acknowledgement of my points you drop straight down into the gutter My first point is i happen to be dyslexic so i am sorry my English is not up to your required standard i have a degree in economics and a HND In engineering .I have and continue to do work opposing fascists as have most off my family my grandfather fought with the POUM in Spain in 1936 so the chances off me ever been a black shirt are zero The facts are over 2000 people have been killed needless both sides need to grow up as always there are two side to all wars and one mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist

  • “Dyslexia” is a great excuse for a lot of other failings. Your degrees have little to do with politics and what your grandfather did is hardly relevant. As for 2000 people having been killed on both sides, as someone better informed than I am has pointed out, that is just a morning’s work for ISIS and the other parts of the Arab world that are at war with each other. If you are so concerned to stop killing, why don’t you concentrate your efforts on stopping the various Islamic sects from attempting to annihilate each other? Or do you have a distinctly unhealthy desire – as so many have – just to stop the Jews, the Israelis, who are in fact doing the West’s dirty work for them?

  • For your information The Independent today carries a story about a letter published in the USA accusing Israel of genocide. It is signed by 300 holocaust survivors and their relatives. I suggest all read this letter before jumping to the keyboard.

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