Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party in Britain has affirmed that he supports Israel and is opposed to boycotts. But he still seems reluctant to call himself a Zionist, which disappoints some in the Anglo-Jewish community.
Speaking to around 300 people at a conference organized by the British Board of Deputies, Miliband said he owed a “debt” to Israel “for the sanctuary it gave my grandmother” who settled in Tel Aviv after World War Two.
The Labour leader said that although he does not always agree with Israel’s policies, he nonetheless considers himself “a supporter of Israel” and expressed intolerance of those people “who question Israel’s right to exist.”
Significantly, Mr Miliband equated the delegitimization of the Jewish state with anti-Semitism. “I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong,” he said on Thursday night. “We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders.”
Mr Miliband’s support is a welcome boost for those who support Israel and are dismayed by the Left’s hostility towards the Jewish state. Indeed, Mr Miliband himself had, until now, been overly critical of Israel, with much of his ire directed at the settlers in Judea and Samaria.
And while he is still not a fan of the settlements, he has at least called on “moderate” Palestinians to do more to further the cause of peace. And he has refused to rule out military intervention with regard to Iran.
But wouldn’t it be refreshing if a leading British politician actually said he or she supported the settlements? After all, Israel’s enemies are hardline about the settlements, so why don’t Israel’s friends take a decisive stand and say: “Yes, the settlers have a right to build on their own land; and no, the settlements are not the obstacle to peace.”
In Britain, it is politically correct to condemn the settlements. But actually, it is factually incorrect to say the settlers aren’t entitled to be there. I urge Mr Miliband to do some research and admit in public that both the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 Mandate of Palestine endorse the creation of a Jewish homeland in Judea and Samaria.
And why do British politicians parrot the same tired argument that the settlements are an obstacle to peace? Who will be brave enough to point out that between 1948 and 1967 there was not a single settlement in Gaza or the so-called West Bank. And yet the Arab states refused to make peace with Israel and made no attempt to establish a Palestinian state when they had the chance.
Why doesn’t Mr Miliband – or for that matter, Prime Minister David Cameron – ask Israel’s critics why the Palestinians chose to elect a genocidal terrorist organization after the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased Mr Miliband has declared his support for Israel. I just wish he would stop blaming the settlers for the absence of a Palestinian state and strongly criticize the Arabs for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
But credit where credit’s due. The Labour leader accepts that British trade unions are contributing to a climate of anti-Semitism.
For years the UK’s Trade Union Congress has been strengthening ties with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, even if it means a complete severing of relations with the Israeli trade union movement, the Histadrut. Then there’s the University and College Union, which voted in May 2011 to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, the Co-operative Group, which has close links with the British Labour Party, has singled out Israel. Last year, the Co-op widened its boycott of Judea and Samaria by banning imports from four Israeli companies on the grounds that these companies traded with the settlements. Pro-Israel campaigners have pointed out the hypocrisy of a policy that prohibits some Israeli companies but permits products to be sourced from China and Saudi Arabia, which have genuinely repressive governments.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Anglo-Jewish community is alarmed at the widespread anti-Israel hostility emanating from the Left. Indeed, there is evidence that British Jews – who by and large identity with the State of Israel – feel more threatened by the Left than by the Right.
In 2006, a parliamentary inquiry reported that “contemporary anti-Semitism in Britain is now more commonly found on the Left of the political spectrum than on the Right.” Historian David Cesaeri told the inquiry that anti-Semitism is “masked by or blended inadvertently into anti-Zionism […] because it is often articulated in the language of human rights.” Denis MacShane, who chaired the inquiry, said that singling out Israel for boycotts, while ignoring non-democratic regimes, is “hypocritical and contributes to an atmosphere in which Jews in Britain feel like "second-class citizens.”
The truth is the Left is in a moral mess. Most people on the British Left – including Mr Miliband – want a Palestinian state. And yet they ignore the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the opportunity to build an independent country. And isn’t it strange how those on the Left make a song and dance about equal rights but lend their support to the PLO and Hamas, which want to turn Gaza and the so-called West Bank into one-party states? Indeed, it is a curious turn of history that the socialists, who pride themselves on their progressivism, have aligned themselves with illiberal Islamists and war-mongering Arab dictators.
One day the Left may realize it has been on the wrong side of history. Since the collapse of Soviet communism, most socialists have come to realise it was immoral to support Stalin and Mao. But many still cling to their support of Hamas, the IRA and Hugo Chavez. Maybe in fifty years’ time, hopefully not because the Jewish state has imploded from the pressure of a hostile world or is blown to bits by the Iranians, Israel’s critics will understand why it was indefensible to single out a tiny country for unwarranted condemnation.
Hyperbole aside, I hope Mr Miliband is brave enough to resist pressure from those in his party who want to delegitimize and boycott Israel. And I hope he continues to show support for the beleaguered Jewish state and rethink his attitude towards the settlements. And who knows, he may even learn to love the word “Zionism.”