A version of this article also appeared on the US outlet ZNet.
Israel is in hot water. It’s not over the UNSC vote. Whilst irritating for Netanyahu, the shock abstention of the US over ongoing settlement construction seems to have increased Israeli defiance more than anything.
What’s making waves, however, are the recent revelations regarding Israeli interference in British politics, something that saw multiple Members of Parliament targeted for a potential campaign of slander and defamation on behalf of Tel Aviv.
Al Jazeera got the goods. As part of an in-depth piece of investigative journalism, the Qatar-based network successfully exposed open intent from an Israeli embassy official to “take down” several British MPs.
How would this be done? After potentially instigating a “little scandal” for purposes of destroying their reputation, the MPs in question would ideally find their careers ruined and their voices unheard. Al Jazeera also successfully exposed marked hostility to a number of other prominent personalities, many of which are associated with political currents either generically sympathetic to the Palestinians or directly supportive of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Jeremy Corbyn, himself leader of the opposition Labour Party (itself the largest political organisation in the UK) was also targeted for potential action. Serious repercussions would seem likely.
The British government, however, initially attempted to dismiss the matter as “closed”. No investigation is likely to be undertaken. This is remarkable. It doesn’t take much speculation to imagine how London may have reacted to a similar affront from, say, Moscow. Russia seems unable to so much as sneeze in a westerly direction without attracting hostile attention. Had the Kremlin authorised something as overtly intrusive as what transpired recently with Israel then it’s likely the matter would not be dismissed so easily.
Britain is, of course, an enduring ally of Zionism. The relationship goes back some time, even prior to the formal appearance of Israel as a state, from the Balfour Declaration to the suppression of the 1936 Arab Revolt to the UN Partition Plan of ’47. There may be some considerable eagerness to keep such an alliance intact, regardless of the recent and less than sincere antics of Tel Aviv.
Both nations also have extensive economic ties, with London finding the Israeli Defence Force an eager customer for British weapons, some of which appear to have been used in more egregious acts of aggression such as 2014’s Operation “Protective Edge”. If anything might soothe hurt feelings then it seems a continued flow of cash and armaments would do the trick.
There’s more to this than meets the eye, however. Since 2015, the British government has been comprised of Ministers drawn entirely from the dominant Conservative Party, an entity that has, with some honourable exceptions, been historically dismissive or openly hostile to the notion of Palestinian statehood.
The opposition Labour Party, however, is a more eclectic group, having seen a pro-Palestinian MP, Jeremy Corbyn, rise to leadership not just once, but twice within as many years, accruing considerable grass-roots support in the process.
The Conservatives are not exactly ecstatic about such events. For Corbyn and those like him to be potentially targeted by the Israelis would hardly prompt concern. Given a great many Conservative MPs have concrete ties to pro-Israeli institutions they may even welcome it.
It’s easy to see why. For the entirety of his political life, Corbyn has been a tried and tested opponent of Israeli aggression, holding to a steadfast platform for Palestinian self-determination and the severing of arms sales between London and Tel Aviv.
He’s maintained a consistently anti-war, anti-racist position for decades of political activism, having been arrested as a young man in defiance of apartheid in South Africa and being instrumental in the creation and enduring existence of Britain’s own Stop the War Coalition (STWC).
This may have been all well and good if Corbyn had confined himself to activity outside of the corridors of power. After all, political protest on the streets is notoriously easy to ignore, with the largest demonstration in British history – comprised of well over a million people marching in defiance of the 2003 invasion of Iraq – being quietly dismissed by then “New Labour” dominated government of Tony Blair.
This has arguably changed, however, following Corbyn’s repeated success in wresting control of the Labour Party from would-be detractors, something that has brought his pro-Palestinian politics further into the limelight. It’s a position that has proven increasingly difficult to dismiss.
Even without the presence of anti-Zionists in Parliament, the movement for Palestinian freedom has gained considerable traction. To speak openly of the crimes of Israeli apartheid, whilst once regarded as “controversial”, is no longer taboo, at least in more humanitarian circles.
In Britain, specifically, pro-Palestinian politics are more visible than ever. Every act of large-scale Israeli aggression in the recent past has met with a sizeable response on the streets, with mass demonstrations being held in support of Palestine during both Operation “Cast Lead” and “Protective Edge”, respectively.
The 2014 revelation that British-made weapons had found their way into the hands of the Israeli military also made for an uncomfortable episode for the UK government, with an aborted legal challenge against such purchases further exposing state hypocrisy. If government leaders wish to continue supporting a power that incessantly violates international law then it certainly won’t be met with meek acquiescence from an increasingly assertive pro-Palestinian movement.
It’s thus easy to see why Corbyn and company may have earned the unwelcome attention of the Israeli government. It’s also easy to work out why the current Conservative government would be unconcerned by such attention, even when one of their own Ministers is singled out for potential mistreatment.
The recent intrigue is inseparable from previous attempts at subterfuge. It’s no secret that for some considerable time there has been a concerted attempt to defame opponents of Zionism with the stigma of anti-Semitism.
Those who speak out against the actions of Israel are to be branded as de facto haters of Jews, the logic being that since Israel is a “Jewish State” any criticism of its actions extends by default to the entire Jewish people. There’s no need to point out the obvious absurdity in such logic. The fact that a considerable number of Jews take issue with modern Israel speaks volumes as to the validity of such accusations.
What is remarkable is just how often this tactic is employed in response to mounting sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Such a method his been shamelessly exploited in Jeremy Corbyn’s case, specifically, with the often beleaguered politician facing a gauntlet of media hostility on an apparent upsurge in anti-Semitism within his own political party.
It’s hard to pin such accusations down. There is undeniably anti-Semitism in the UK. Yet it’s more visible on the far-right of the political spectrum, where a plethora of incoherent sentiments coexist, from a blanket endorsement of British military action overseas to an eccentric localism that views institutions such as the European Union as essentially fascistic.
It also can’t be denied that such groups are also in a bizarre habit of actually endorsing Israel as part of a generically anti-Muslim position; a strange spectacle given that the members of such groups are notoriously hostile to anyone deemed to be not adequately “British”, Jews included. All the same, the slander against the pro-Palestine camp persists.
Take Corbyn’s initial bid for leadership of the Labour Party. In addition to the usual propagandising about impending disaster, Corbyn was branded with alleged association with an apparent holocaust denier, Paul Eisen.
Corbyn, so goes the argument of his detractors, had managed to befriend Eisen at a series of meetings on Dier Yassin, itself a village that was the site of a massacre of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s initial annexation of Palestinian territory in 1948.
The details of said relationship are hard to pinpoint. Eisen himself appears to have little to say on the matter, only appearing to speak warmly of Corbyn greeting him on several occasions.
Corbyn himself claims to have little recollection of Eisen or indeed whether he was actually a denier of the holocaust at the time, something that seems easy enough to believe considering the sheer volume of personalities he’s no doubt encountered over the course of his political career. All the same, this was enough for some to attempt to portray Corbyn as an anti-Semite. Forget evidence. Forget politics. Just hurl accusations and hope they stick.
This is just one example of an increasingly desperate tactic that, unfortunately, still seems to be being employed. The above revelations in regards to Israeli interference in British politics are thus perhaps no real surprise. Israeli is merely attempting to once again utilise a method they know will strike a chord, regardless of how far from the truth the accusations may actually be. This is not unprecedented.
What is new, however, is just how self-assured Tel Aviv has become in pursuing its agenda overseas in open defiance of any notion of transparency, accountability or indeed respect for the governmental process of a long-standing ally. Al Jazeera have thus done a remarkable job in exposing the situation for what it is.
Those responsible would certainly like us to forget this incident. They no doubt look upon calls for a full reckoning with apprehension. We should not indulge them. If the British truly value the integrity of their own Parliament, let alone the rights and aspirations of the Palestinians, then no stone should be left unturned in exposing the full extent of this latest example of Israeli hubris.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.