Fake flexibility from London’s Israel lobby

Predictably, the European Union responded quickly to yesterday’s violence in Southern Israel. “I condemn unreservedly all such acts of terror,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Asthon said.

Will Ashton be issuing another statement today to denounce the Israeli military in similarly strong terms for murdering an infant in Gaza a few hours later? Or for ending a teenager’s life in the early hours of this morning? I’m sure that she won’t. The most we can expect is that she will call for “restraint” (that weasel word which diplomats have rendered meaningless through overuse).

And did she post something on her website expressing revulsion at how Israeli troops shot dead Sa’d al-Majdalwai, a 17 year old with a mental disability, also in Gaza earlier this week? Of course, she didn’t. Why? Because he was too low down in the hierarchy of victims to get noticed. And because the European Union applies different standards to the Israeli forces of occupation and the Palestinians who resist them. Violence by Israel is “regrettable” (or, in most cases, elicits no comment); violence by Palestinians is always categorized as “terrorism”.

A phony plea for understanding

Ashton may try to appear balanced — she has repeatedly criticized the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank — but, in reality, there is little to distinguish her from former colleagues in the British parliament such as Lorna Fitzsimons. Who, you might ask? Fitzsimons was an elected representative of the Tony Blair-led Labor Party in Westminster between 1997 and 2005. After losing her seat, she took up a job running a propaganda outfit called the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).

Fitzsimons had an opinion piece published by The Guardian in London this week, in which she sought to come across all reasonable. Purporting to be a big fan of mutual understanding, she patted her own back for organizing a “roundtable discussion” recently, where representatives of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Palestinian party Fatah chatted amiably. She proceeded to illustrate how she has no interest in understanding the concerns of Palestinians by insisting “there cannot be a mass return of Palestinian refugees to [present-day] Israel.”

War criminal in London

BICOM’s team includes a “senior visiting fellow” named Michael Herzog. He is a retired brigadier-general from the Israeli army. During Operation Cast Lead, that relentless three-week assault on Gaza’s civilians in late 2008 and early 2009, Herzog was chief of staff to Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister. As he was involved in planning that operation and advising on strategy, Herzog must be held accountable for the war crimes committed in its execution. Next time he pops into BICOM’s London offices for a cup of tea and some blue-sky thinking, the police should be alerted and be ready to arrest him.

Herzog has at least done one good thing: he has proven that BICOM’s declared belief that Israel should display “considerable flexibility” (as Fitzsimons wrote in her Guardian article) amounts to waffle. In a new briefing paper for the center, Herzog contends that any future Palestinian state would have to be non-militarized but that Israel would maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.

So while the Palestinians could have nothing more destructive in their arsenal than pea-shooters, the West Bank would remain surrounded by one of the world’s most powerful armies. That, it appears, is what the Israel lobby means by flexibility.