The cowardice of Peter Oborne.

Cross posted by Richard Millett

Peter Oborne loves the Jewish people. He loves us so much he wants to save us from ourselves. It’s a shame Oborne wasn’t around at any of the previous troubled stages of Jewish history to advise us where we were going so wrong, but we can only breathe a sigh of relief that he has taken an interest in our current predicament.

In his recent article for The Daily Telegraph The cowardice at the heart of our relationship with Israel he writes about the “cowardice” of the Conservative Party for not condemning Israel’s settlement policy in stronger terms. He’s concerned the door will soon be closed on the possibility of a two-state solution and that, eventually, Israel will either cease to be Jewish and democratic or will become an apartheid state.

Oborne quotes Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former British ambassador to Israel, who recently said that “anyone who has a real affection for the Jewish people will want to help them to avoid this looming disaster.”

Alarm bells start ringing when someone critical of Israeli policy then co-opts the “the Jewish people”. Are all “the Jewish people” really responsible for “this looming disaster”? Israel is a democracy and British Jews do not have a vote. And it’s not British Jews who have Hamas to their south and Hezbollah to their north.

It’s a fact that there are far more non-Jewish supporters of Israel in the world, and thank goodness when considering the tiny Jewish world population. So why don’t Cowper-Coles and Oborne think non-Jewish supporters of Israel require such “help”?

Their patronising attitude towards Jews brings to mind Lord Andrew Phillips of Sudbury’s quip that “the Jews aren’t lacking in intelligence”.

Oborne finishes his article by claiming that “Mr Cameron does not want to go down in history as the man upon whose watch all hope of a two-state solution died”. Oborne ignores the fact that the two-state solution died in 1937 when the Arabs rejected 80% of British Mandate Palestine, in 1948 when the Arabs rejected 45% of British Mandate Palestine and 2000 when the Palestinians rejected 22% of, what was, British Mandate Palestine.

Oborne’s allegation that Israel could eventually either cease to be Jewish and democratic or become an apartheid state bears no relation to reality when one looks at the demographics on the ground. A study by Bar Ilan University proves that should Israel ever decide to annex the West Bank then the 1.41 million West Bank Palestinians would, when added to Israel’s existing Arab population, still leave Israel a Jewish majority and democratic state.

Oborne slams David Cameron for devoting just 64 words to the settlement issue at the recent Conservative Friends of Israel lunch. Oborne thinks “This is cowardice”. But Oborne doesn’t criticise Hamas and even blames Israel for the recent conflict. Again Oborne ignores the hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza before Israel assassinated Hamas’ Ahmed Jabari.

And Oborne refuses to differentiate between Palestinian terrorists and civilians who were killed, but just repeats the mantra that “the number of Palestinian deaths vastly exceeded those on the Israeli side”.

Oborne ignores Hamas treatment of its own people in forcing them to become human shields. Hamas imports tens of thousands of rockets into Gaza but cannot build even one bomb shelter for the people it was elected by to govern.

Oborne also criticises Britain for not backing the recent Palestinian bid for enhanced statehood at the UN. It is morally reprehensible that Britain only abstained. How could a civilised country like Britain refuse to vote against enhanced statehood when considering that the Hamas Charter calls for the murder of Jews?

In 2009 Oborne made a television documentary called Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby. It opens with the menacing line “Tonight on Dispatches how British policy is influenced by supporters of a foreign power.”

Oborne sets out to investigate financial transactions between Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and the Conservative Party and to investigate the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists like CFI, BICOMZionist FederationJewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. A not insubstantial part was dedicated to CiF Watch, which monitors anti-Semitism in The Guardian and its Comment is Free website.

Oborne investigated the claim that accusations of anti-Semitism by pro-Israel lobby groups are being used to silence criticism of Israeli policy. He put to Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor, an accusation by CiF Watch that the Comment is Free comments’ thread “is full of vile anti-Semitic sentiments”.

Rusbridger replied:

“I think it would be a terribly dangerous thing if the British press were made to feel that they couldn’t criticise Israel because they are going to be held up as anti-Semitic. I think it is a very disreputable argument.”

But since 2009 CiFWatch has proved time and again that some Guardian articles are anti-Semitic. Chris Elliot, the Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, has admitted as much.

The Guardian’s Deborah Orr was forced to apologise for describing Israel’s prisoner swap of Gilad Shalit in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners as proof “Zionists believe that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.” Elliot explained in response that “Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read ‘chosen’ as code for Jewish supremacism.”

A recent cartoon by The Guardian’s Steve Bell seemed to employ the anti-Semitic trope that Jews control the world. Elliot admitted that Bell’s cartoon could be considered anti-Semitic.

And under a very recent Comment is Free article there’s this and worse:

“The 9/11 WTC attack was done by the pro-slavery Zionist-Jew bankers…”

Despite all his efforts to uncover something sinister Oborne declares at the end of his Dispatches documentary:

“In making this programme we haven’t found even something faintly resembling a conspiracy, but we have found a worrying lack of transparency and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby continues to be felt.”

So, Oborne found the pro-Israel lobbies in Britain guilty of nothing more than…..doing their jobs effectively.

Instead of trying to save “the Jewish people” from ourselves Oborne could do worse than visit Gaza if he really wants to understand why there cannot be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He could then ask Hamas:

1. Why it summarily executes alleged Palestinian collaborators and drags their bodies through the streets?

2. Why it oppresses Palestinian women, gays and political dissidents?

3. Why it doesn’t build any bomb shelters for its people?

4. Why its Charter calls for the murder of all Jews?

But we know he won’t go and ask such questions and that makes Oborne the only coward around here.

Loyalty test for British Jews?

This is cross posted by Mark Gardner at the blog of the CST

The suggestion by Paul Flynn MP (Labour, Newport West), that Britain ought not to have a Jew as Ambassador to Israel, fuels the growing sense that it is becoming increasingly acceptable to say things about Jews that we had hoped were consigned to history. It also infers that Jews in public life must undergo systematic loyalty tests throughout their careers. Such logic is plainly racist, even if Flynn did not mean it to be.

If this phenomenon were restricted to ‘the usual suspects’ of the far right, then it would be easier to comprehend. The depressing reality, however, is that far too many such accusations come from within mainstream liberal-left sources in Parliament, media and campaigning circles. Indeed, Flynn’s outburst occurred in a Select Committee hearing with Britain’s most senior civil servant, Sir Gus O’Donnell.

When the accusations are openly about Jewish conspiracy (eg Tam Dalyell MP in 2003“a cabal of Jewish advisers”), it is relatively straightforward to call them for what they reveal. (Although Paul Foot in the Guardian famously argued otherwise.) When the accusations come against pro-Israel lobbies, or Zionists, it can be more challenging. The instinct is to accuse certain MPs, media outlets and journalists of hiding their antisemitism behind a cover of anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism, but the reality is surely far more complex: as keenly shown by this example, with Rob Halfon MP writing in the Jewish Chronicle that he does “not believe for one moment that Mr Flynn is antisemitic”.

It was Rob Halfon himself who interjected against Flynn’s outburst, and the former head of Conservative Friends of Israel is an unforgiving opponent of antisemitism and extremism. So, his saying that Flynn is not an antisemite is important here. Indeed, the remainder of Halfon’s article (aptly titled “A Shocking Outburst of Prejudice“) is sternly critical of Flynn and the phenomenon his words reside within. As Halfon puts it

…when I tried to interject, Mr Flynn then accused me of being a neo-conservative and part of a clique that wanted to bomb Iran.

Mr Flynn’s actions betray an extraordinary mindset on the left, that allows normally highly intelligent and engaging individuals to lose all sense of proportion when the word ‘Israel’ is mentioned.

…[this mindset ignores Syria and Iran], preferring to focus on Israel as part of some vast international conspiracy – usually involving American and British Conservative politicians.

This strikes to the heart of the matter. The framework for the attack is one of right wing conspiracy, and adjectives such as “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” or “neo-Con” provide a nasty dog whistle spin that is heard only by those who either oppose antisemitism, or are turned on by it.

The fact that the left also uses this hate lexicon to denote miscreants within their own ranks (as seen with the excoriation of Tony Blair and the excommunications of David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen) makes matters only worse: reinforcing the notion that once you are labelled with Zionism or Israel, you are understood to be an insidious alien threat to the body politic.

Nevertheless, those blowing this dog whistle are blissfully self-assured of their progressive anti-racist credentials; and perceive themselves as having the courage and insight with which to explain Western embroilment in Afghanistan, Iraq and (rapidly) Iran. Worse still, the whistlers’ instinct is to interpret objections and concerns as further proof of just how embedded the pro-Israel conspiracy has become.

All of this constantly reinforces the vicious cycle of accusation and counter-accusation.

Any regular reader of the London Review of Books, New Statesman, Guardian and Independent cannot fail but be struck by their urgent warnings of Israel’s singular wickedness; and of the powerful, perfidious reach of the lobby that sustains it (sometimes “pro-Israel”, sometimes “Zionist”, sometimes “Jewish”, even “kosher” – sometimes any combination of the above, even in the same article). The temptation is to blame such media for creating an environment from which suggestions such as Flynn’s emerge. Again, the reality is more complex and more depressing: because these outlets display the intellectual and political milieu of their leading influences, whilst also reflecting (and reinforcing) the attitudes of their readers.

Whilst Paul Flynn MP should be publicly disciplined by his party for this outburst, we should note that his initial intervention towards Sir Gus O’Donnell was on the basis of his representing two constituents who had written to him concerning their having been detained by Israel, and their belief that the Ambassador had been more concerned with Israel’s interests, rather than their own.

In representing his constituents’ concern, Flynn always risked being seen as agreeing with it, and there may be those who consider his age (he is 76) as mitigating his lack of politically correct language. Nevertheless, his “neo-con…bomb Iran” reported attack on his fellow Committee member, Rob Halfon MP, was surely absent from his constituents’ letter (even if it did most likely reflect their opinions); and shows a thoroughly modernist approach to the subject area.

This “neo-con…bomb Iran” aspect reveals a very worrying overlap between the opinions of serious anti-Israel activists and those of an MP who has previously holidayed in Israel with his family. It strongly suggests Paul Flynn is symptomatic of a far deeper attitudinal malaise, whereby things that ought to be restricted to openly racist circles may now be voiced within progressive ones. In fact, the malaise is now so utterly axiomatic in proper far left media and activist circles that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s attempts to disown the worst of the antisemitism around it, now risk seriously splitting the anti-Israel movement.

Where anti-Zionist attitudes prevail, they inexorably present an essentialised image of anybody whom you might (rightly or wrongly) associate with Israel. The essential trait is the same as that underpinning the Jewish conspiracy myth: Jews cannot truly assimilate into the surrounding body politic, they are forever alien and therefore always at risk of working for their mutual interest against the rest of society.

Put this mindset into practise and there is only one logical outcome. Namely, loyalty tests for Jews in public and political life, wherever and whenever they might come into contact with areas of interest to the pro-Israel / Zionist / Jewish lobby: and that is why Paul Flynn MP should be publicly disciplined by his party, regardless of what he meant, or which of his constituents he was representing when he began descending this slipperiest of slopes

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