Just over a week ago, Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition in Britain’s Parliament, was asked at a public meeting if he is a Zionist.
The Labor Party head replied: “The answer to that is yes, because I consider myself a supporter of Israel.”
Speaking at an event organized by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Miliband continued: “I think it’s very, very important that as somebody who supports not only Israel’s right to exist but has huge respect for what Israel does that I count myself in that category.”
Miliband did not specify whether his “huge respect for what Israel does” includes its occupation, control and subjugation of an entire group of people, its war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, or its refusal to abide by the international laws which are supposed to govern civilized nations.
He did not comment on whether the category of supporters in which he feels it is so important to be counted is the category which supports the apartheid system which Israel has created in order to keep Palestinians segregated from Israelis, in both the West Bank and within Israel.
He did, however, use his question and answer session to make one thing quite clear — he has no time for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
“Unbreakable” belief in Israel
Ignoring the fact that he was elected to his current position thanks to the backing of Britain’s trade unions who formally backed a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in 2009, Miliband declared: “I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I’d say that to any union leader, any Labor Party member. How do you create a two-state solution? Not with boycotts — you’ve got my very clear view on that.”
It would seem that the call from Palestinians to the world to divest from and boycott the firms which are complicit in Israel’s theft and occupation of Palestinian land is not compatible with the Labor leader’s overriding support for the occupier.
One-sided though his position and his views may seem, Miliband is not alone within the British Parliament in his staunch support for a state which has just proposed legislation to define itself as the “national state of the Jewish people,” condemning its 20 percent Palestinian population to eternal apartheid.
In October 2012, David Cameron, the leader of the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, told his audience at the annual dinner of the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA): “With me you have a prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable.”
Outlining what he called his “non-negotiable” commitment to Israel’s security, Cameron went on to describe Iran as a threat “not just to Israel. It is a threat to the world.”
“Let’s be clear about the facts. Iran is flouting six United Nations resolutions,” Cameron told a delighted audience. Needless to say, the prime minister left out other facts that would not have gone down so well with the UJIA crowd, namely that Israel is in breach of more UN resolutions than any other country in the world and — unlike Iran — has a stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Cameron concluded his speech by dragging his entire electorate into his blinkered support for a country which, just a month later, would proceed to massacre more than 170 Palestinians in Gaza in the space of a week.
Addressing the chairman of UJIA, Cameron announced: “Brett, in your introduction you said that support for Israel was in the DNA of the political party I lead. It is. But I believe it is in the DNA of the country I lead too.”
Productive year for Israel lobbyists
Leaving aside Cameron’s disturbing claim that support for an apartheid state is bred into the genes of the British, his hosts were right at least in their observation that support for Israel is part of the DNA of the Conservative Party.
In an article in The Daily Telegraph in December 2012, the journalist Peter Oborne, who has done much to campaign for transparency in Britain’s policy towards Israel, noted the influence of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) on the party.
“Some 80 percent of all Tory MPs are members, including most cabinet ministers,” he wrote. “No other lobbying organization — and certainly not one that acts in the interests of a foreign country — carries as much weight at Westminster.
“Every year, it takes a significant number of parliamentarians to Israel. Meanwhile, its sponsors play an important role in financing both the Tories nationally, and MPs [members of parliament] at the local level.”
In 2012, CFI was present at the Conservative Party conference, where its “annual delegates reception” hosted 400 and was addressed by the Foreign Secretary William Hague; it hosted an “annual business lunch” in December at which Cameron was the guest of honor, giving a speech to more than 500 businessmen, alongside 140 Conservative politicians; and it held its “annual members reception” on the House of Commons’ Terrace in September with Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister, and Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to London, along with more than 250 members and 100 Conservative MPs.
As Oborne has noted: “The Palestinians enjoy no such access. They would be lucky to get a single Conservative MP in the audience for their events, and perhaps some moribund peer [member of the House of Lords] to make an address. There is no such organization as the Conservative Friends of Palestinians.”
CFI is well aware of its success in lobbying at the highest levels of the Conservative Party, and therefore of government. In its “Year in Review 2012,” sent by email to members last month, and seen by this writer, it proudly detailed the events listed above, describing 2012 as “an incredibly busy and productive year for all concerned with the Conservative Friends of Israel.”
Three CFI-led or coordinated trips to Israel for Conservative MPs were also mentioned, including one which took place during Israel’s November onslaught on Gaza. The email noted: “CFI’s November delegation, which coincided with Operation Pillar of Defense, gave MPs an immediate insight into the many security threats facing Israel.”
One day into the November assault, Foreign Secretary William Hague appeared on television on Sky News and said ”it is Hamas that bears principal responsibility for starting all of this.”
This position, with its complete lack of political balance, was reiterated in letters sent by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and others who wrote to question Hague’s statement.
When the PSC wrote to the Foreign Office for a second time to ask where it was getting the facts to make such an unbalanced judgment, it received this response: “Alistair Burt, the FCO minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East, visited the areas of southern Israel targeted by the rockets during his recent visit to Israel.”
Burt, remember, was hobnobbing with the Israeli ambassador on the House of Commons’ Terrace at a CFI party just a few months earlier.
In its “Year in Review,” CFI was quick to chalk up the victory. It stated: “The government showed support for Israel throughout Operation Pillar of Defense with assertions that Hamas ‘bears principal responsibility’ for the violence and strong condemnation of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.”
Similar support for the Palestinians as they came under sustained air and sea bombardment was not forthcoming, nor was there “strong condemnation” of Israeli attacks. Later in November, the British government abstained from the vote which resulted in Palestine being recognized as a non-member observer state in the UN.
Labor Friends of Israel (LFI) is also well-connected to the political party it lobbies and involvement is viewed by young, ambitious Labor MPs as a good way to get ahead in politics. In the last Labor government, James Purnell and Jim Murphy both held the positions of chairmen of LFI and went on to become ministers. Ivan Lewis, who served as foreign minister with responsibility for the Middle East, was a former LFI vice-chairman. Tony Blair, currently the Middle East “peace envoy,” joined LFI in 1983 when he was first elected as an MP.
Ed Miliband, then, with his unabashed and enthusiastic support for a state which uses race to distinguish between its treatment of two groups of people, is following, not just in the tradition of past Labor leaders, but of the British ruling elite. This elite doesn’t seem to have progressed much in its thinking since 1917, when Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, effectively handed over Palestine to the Zionist movement.