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
counter-terrorism, Douglas Alexander, Ed Miliband, Gaza, Israel, Palestine