Tag Archives: israel

The Special Relationship: Same tree, many branches.

Article first published by Friends of Al Aqsa, 2nd May 2013: http://foa.org.uk/news/the-special-relationship-same-tree-many-branches

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Relations between Britain and Israel have not seemed comparatively as significant as Israel – US relations in recent decades.  Historically however, the term ‘special relationship’ held greater implications for understanding the relationship between Britain and Israel. It seems quite fitting that as we are approaching the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s policies towards Israel appear to be moving full circle. 1917 drew a firm line marking Britain’s official political involvement in Palestine, which initiated the legitimisation of the state of Israel at the end of the British Mandate period, and has since been the crux of a conflict that is seemingly, and allegorically, infinite.

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Abraham’s family tree, according to followers of the British Israel movement, who believe the Anglo-Saxon people to be one of the lost tribes. Note the importance of 1917.

British politics of today remains comparable with historic policies which have provided unwieldy support for Israel.  Both Conservative and Labour party leaders have affirmed directly their stand with Zionism through the potent platforms that are the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel respectively. Both have also stated that the deligitimisation of Israel will not be tolerated. Nick Clegg has also experienced an allegiance to Zionism, although that has been somewhat more wavering. His focus on human rights for Palestinians and his controversial statement on Israeli settlements caused a contentious relationship between the Lib Dems and the British and international Jewish community. He soon backed down on realisation that he was not winning any friends, and the looming influence of the Israeli lobby came to the fore. Ever since, his policies, or at least his rhetoric on Israel has backpedalled.  Clegg apologetically announced to a luncheon of the Liberal Democrat friends of Israel in 2010 that he was engaged in ‘clarifying misunderstandings’.[1] But these ‘misunderstandings’ resurfaced their ugly head when in 2012 Clegg was quoted as calling Israeli settlements ‘deliberate vandalism’.[2]

Along similar lines, the British government has on the one hand frequently spoken out against Israel’s human rights violations, while on the other astutely performing a delicate rhetorical balancing act ensuring it did not denounce the state of Israel itself. The current emphatic support for Israel echoes Balfour’s words that created the state. The only difference is that, in the present day there is some consideration, rhetorical at least if not political, for the rights of Palestinians.  Whereas in 1917 the cabinet decided to issue a declaration, that favoured the hopes of the European Jewish community, over the rights of the Palestinians already in situ.  Perhaps the patches of human rights rhetoric that have filtered out of Westminster in recent times are words of remorse.  Ultimately however, it is clear that the legacy of the Balfour Declaration cannot be undone, and in the eyes of the British Government the legitimacy of the state of Israel will remain intact.

Theories of Political Science argue that in order to understand a country’s foreign policy you have to look at its internal politics[3]. In the UK, as with most democratic political systems, the Left/Right divide appears to be the chief divisor in terms of foreign policy.  On observation of Britain’s policy towards Israel however, this is not the case. Historically the three main parties across the left-right spectrum have all comparatively fluctuated in their support for Israel.  The Late Margaret Thatcher went some way in her Conservative leadership to solidifying this relationship, by being the first serving Prime Minister to visit Israel in 1986.[4]  Her other strategy at a local level involved securing votes within the Jewish community in London.  

Today’s parties do not differ greatly in their overall support. The divergence in opinion between parties is now closed, which may be the result of intense pro-Israeli lobbying.  Channel 4’s Dispatches[5] concluded that pro-Israel influencers have been bankrolling MP’s in all three major political parties. Even without taking on in-depth research, the uniformity of opinion across the parties is ironically reflected in the names of the more influential groups; the Conservative Friends of Israel, The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and last but not least, the Labour Friends of Israel. Comparatively, Labour has a ‘Friends of Palestine and the Middle East’, while the Conservatives have no such party.

So is this century-old relationship a circle of policy, or a disbandment of policy circles? Some would suggest precisely the latter, and that Britain’s input in the Palestine-Israel conflict is, and has always been, party partisan.  I would strongly disagree and use a comparison between David Lloyd George’s Liberal Party and Nick’s Clegg’s Liberal Democrats as a direct example of how policies of the same party evolve to suit the political landscape by which they are surrounded. What has been clear, throughout this century of change and much that has stayed the same, is that Britain has kept up a great appearance of power and influence in its policy towards Israel, but in reality has floundered in its capability to convince and coerce internally.

[1] The Jewish Chronicle ‘Nick Clegg: we got it wrong on Israel’. http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/41015/nick-clegg-we-got-it-wrong-israel

[3] James D Fearon. ‘Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy and Theories of International Relations’. Annual Review of Political ScienceVol. 1: 289-313

[4] Haaretz. Margaret Thatcher, the British PM who praised Israel’s ‘pioneer spirit’. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/margaret-thatcher-the-british-pm-who-praised-israel-s-pioneer-spirit.premium-1.514374

[5] Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Dispatches

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLm7CXywmGc

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Cultural boycott – an effective political tool.

by Carlos Latuff.

Until very recently, the cultural boycott of Israel has often been dismissed as ineffective at influencing policy. Even those such as Noam Chomsky, who are generally uncompromising in their criticism of Israel and the Zionist ideology, have considered boycott a misguided step.  The two most prevalent arguments against the support of cultural boycott are; firstly that the notion that culture and politics are entirely unrelated entities, and secondly, that because the underlying aim of boycott is the delegitimisation of the state of Israel, it should be avoided.

The first argument often equates to the question, ‘What do Arts and Entertainment have to do with politics?’ “Everything.” I would suggest is the answer. Freedom and the arts seem to be synonymous, and the inability to express is seen as contrary to the definition of culture itself. This sense and rhetoric of ‘freedom’ through the arts however is easily put to ill use, and we must not be so blinkered by political rhetoric as to not realise this fact. To see my musical heroes such as Stevie Wonder* considering ignoring this negative use of his art is heart-breaking.

Historically, culture has often been used as a tool through which to proliferate propaganda and boost public image in world politics, particularly in wartime. Israel is not the first and will certainly not be the last state in the world to use this technique. Culture and the Arts are often seen as a liberation or antidote to political problems, but I believe it would be a grave mistake to overlook their importance or be deluded about their impact on politics and society as a whole. Therefore, answering ‘Everything’ to the question of the relationship between politics and culture is not an overstated interpretation, but is visible as an integral and functional part of the mission statement of the Israeli state itself. The Hasbara Project, or ‘Brand Israel’, was set up with the express purpose of creating a positive image of Israel.  The much-contested Batsheva dance company is associated with this initiative, and is a prime example of how culture is often used as a political tool.  Alon Pinkas, during his role as Consul General for Israel in New York, and who, ironically, is now also a current Foreign Affairs analyst for Fox Television stated, “We are currently in a conflict with the Palestinians…engaging in a successful PR campaign is part of winning the conflict.”[1] The role of Zionism is therefore not solely military but aims to achieve its goal by creating an image of itself that encourages its legitimacy as a state. This vision of ‘self’, created by the Hasbara PR Project, aims to convince the world that the Zionist ideology is a peaceful, diplomatic, combatant of anti-Semitism, among many other falsely positive images.  In his film Reel Bad Arabs, Dr Jack Shaheen noted that, ‘Policy enforces mythical images, mythical images help implement policy.’[2] Therefore, when culture clearly plays such a political role in defining images and shaping ideologies, can associations with Israel and its culture, or exporting culture to Israel, ever really be impartial?

I would suggest that while these mythical images of ‘self ‘ (Israel) and ‘Others’ (the Arab World) are still being offered up to us as truth for consumption through the medium of culture, and are used as a means to a political ends, the international community should refuse to accept them. Luckily however, the huge discrepancy between positive public images of Israel and her political actions is fast becoming general knowledge.

The second concern of those against cultural boycott is that it is being used as a tool to support the deligimistation of the state of Israel.  The subtle but considerable impact of boycott on policy has only recently been felt.  The most obvious manifestation appeared recently in statements in the British political arena.  Last month David Cameron made his non-alignment with the boycott movement very clear.  “And to those in Britain’s universities and trade unions who want to boycott Israel and consign it to an international ghetto…but I also say this: we know what you are doing – trying to delegitimise the State of Israel – and we will not have it.” In this speech made at the Annual Dinner of United Jewish Israel Appeal[3], Mr Cameron made it very clear that he associates boycott as a direct attempt to delegitimise the state. It’s worth noting that political rhetoric is generally representative of the ideology or the actual sentiment evoked by those in power. If this is the rule, then David Cameron’s recent statement was not the exception. It demonstrated a clear iteration of his own personal or political sentiments with regards to Zionism and his support for the state of Israel.

‘Brothers in Arms’

Mr Cameron went on to add that economic and cultural relations between Britain and Israel are, 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger.”  If culture reflects ideology, and subsequently influences power and policy-making, then by making this statement it appears that Mr. Cameron has no qualms identifying the British economy and culture with Israel’s.  Perhaps witnessing the usually lightweight nature of culture turning into a political force is the proverbial last straw.  As the international community shifts the boycott of culture from ‘entertainment purposes only’ into the political realm and subsequently influencing policy, governments across the globe are starting to sit up and take notice. Mr. Cameron’s response to this suggests either he is suffering from overexposure to ‘Brand Israel’ PR, or he is revealing his genuine considerations on Britain’s position towards the state of Israel. In either case, his comments demonstrate the success of cultural boycott as a political tool, and as such give a clear indication of why, in my opinion, it must be continued.

*Please sign this petition now to stop Stevie Wonder performing for the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) whose job it is to kill, torture, and harass Palestinian people on a daily basis.

http://www.causes.com/actions/1708640#


[1] Sut Jhally. Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land.

[2] Dr Jack Shaheen. ‘Reel Bad Arabs – How Hollywood Vilifies a people.’

[3] http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/ujia/ Speech at Annual dinner of United Jewish Israel Appeal. Monday 15th October 2012.