Israel and the Other PA: Perfidious Albion
The dark world of anti-Semitism in British popular opinion and officialdom.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/10/bb.jpg)“There is a possibility that the Germans or their satellites may change over from the policy of extermination to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants.” - British Foreign Office memorandum to the U.S. State Department opposing efforts to rescue Europe’s Jews, spring of 1943.
The recent vote in Britain’s Parliament to recognize a Palestinian state (passed by 274 to 12) is, we are told, of no real consequence. Prime Minister Cameron’s government has said it signals no change in British policy.
But the vote was promoted by anti-Israel voices in Parliament that seek to pressure Israel into suicidal concessions; voices that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, have called for a total European trade embargo against the Jewish state, and have compared Israel to Nazi Germany. It is of a piece with other anti-Israel actions in Britain in recent years.
This summer’s Gaza War was triggered by Hamas - which openly declares its dedication to the murder not only of all Israelis but of all Jews - unleashing an incessant barrage of rockets at Israeli cities and villages. Even the Palestinian Authority’s representative to the United Nations observed of Hamas’s campaign that “each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity.” But in Britain, beyond Prime Minister Cameron’s assertion of Israel’s right to defend itself, the most visible, most vocal, full-throated and widely echoed contention was that Israel did not have a right to defend itself. Even as Hamas used civilians as human shields, the inevitable civilian deaths were evidence of Israel’s Jews being, in the words of a columnist for The Independent, “a child murdering community.” Such claims became also the message of large public demonstrations, which in turn were accompanied by mob attacks on Israel-associated and Jewish-associated targets and new calls for boycotts and other actions against the Jewish state.
The response to the war, and the parliamentary vote, represent only the latest of anti-Israel convulsions that in recent years have seen British academics, unions, religious bodies, medical and architectural organizations and other groups solemnly advocate boycotts of Israel, members of Parliament call for Israel’s dissolution, and the British public vote Israel the nation representing the greatest threat to world peace. The campaigns against the Jewish state - condemning it with false, kangaroo-court indictments and embracing those who openly advocate and pursue genocidal anti-Israel agendas - inevitably bring to mind Albion’s long history of anti-Jewish perfidy.
No doubt the opening reference to anti-Jewish policies of the British government during World War II, indeed to Britain’s role as abettor of the Nazi genocide, will elicit irate complaints by today’s Israel-baiters. They will insist that this is just another example of the special pleading of Israel’s supporters and that in fact - regurgitating the mindless aspersion that seems to most titillate the anti-Semitic heart - Israel is today’s Nazi state.
But, as will be shown, the British government’s policies toward the Jews during the Holocaust were directly related to a lethal mix of old-fashioned British anti-Semitism and newer vintage anti-Zionism, and that same ugly brew is even more on display in Britain today than it was then.
At the same time, of course, Britain had played godfather to realization of the Zionist project, giving it the nation’s imprimatur with the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour asserted the British government’s favoring the reconstitution of Palestine - then part of the Ottoman Empire - as “the National Home of the Jewish People.”
Certainly, calculations of wartime expediency played a role in the issuing of the Balfour Declaration. But in addition there had been for more than a century in Britain notable individuals sympathetic to the Jews and their historical experience and predicament, and even groups that cultivated what might be characterized as philo-Semitic views. Moreover, such individuals and groups at times offered early support for Zionist aspirations, and people with similar sympathies figured in shaping the pro-Zionist perspectives reflected in the Balfour Declaration. But these attitudes have always been exceptions in Britain, particularly among the nation’s elites.
Lord Byron, in his 1815 Hebrew Melodies, might write: “The wild-dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,/ Mankind their Country - Israel but the grave!” But Byron’s readers hardly included a large following in the poet’s sympathetic views of the Jewish predicament.
George Eliot, whose last novel, published in 1876, was the seminal Zionist work Daniel Deronda, wrote in an 1878 essay, “It would be difficult to find a form of bad reasoning about [the Jews] which has not been heard in conversation or been admitted to the dignity of print.” Eliot, were she alive today, would no doubt find entirely new, if not entirely surprising, contorted reasoning about the Jews in what passes for coherent conversation and writing, perhaps especially journalistic writing, in present-day Britain.
Eliot titled her 1878 piece “The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!” - construing contemporary anti-Jewish animus as the moral equivalent of medieval marauding Crusader gangs that, before departing for the Holy Land, would slaughter local Jewish populations while chanting “Hep! Hep! Hep!,” an acronym for Hierosolyma est perdita, “Jerusalem is lost.” Her title is likewise equally relevant today, as those who demonize Israel in British media, unions, universities, professional organizations, and religious bodies, either explicitly share the objective of, or simply make common cause with, those who would again massacre Jews with the ultimate aim of seizing Jerusalem and emptying the Land of Israel of the People of Israel.
Also resonant with today’s anti-Zionist/anti-Jewish bias is Eliot’s observation that other groups which had sustained a national consciousness and had recently translated that consciousness into a recreated national life - she notes particularly the Greeks and the Italians - were generally regarded positively in Britain for having done so. It was particularly the Jews whose preservation of a national identity, despite millennia-long efforts by those around them to destroy it, was viewed sourly and censoriously by much of British opinion, not least “polite” opinion, and whose aspirations to a resuscitated state enjoyed support in only limited quarters.
Forty years after Eliot’s essay, those leaders in Britain who did support the recreation of the Jewish national home and translated that backing into policy were quickly confronted with the overwhelmingly hostile attitudes and machinations of the nation’s military and its colonial bureaucracy in the Jewish homeland. The Zionist project was, of course, just one of many new or recreated nations that, in the wake of World War I, were carved out of the former German, Austro-Hungarian, Czarist and Ottoman empires. These included, for example, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Mandate Syria and Mandate Iraq. All of these states entailed the granting of sovereignty, or promised sovereignty in the case of the Mandates, to previously largely disenfranchised peoples, and all also encompassed other ethnic groups within their borders that chafed at the new national arrangements. Yet, consistent with George Eliot’s line of observation decades earlier, none stirred anything like the animosity displayed by many in the British government bureaucracy and other British elites at the prospect of a recreated Jewish national life.
The Military Administration set up in the wake of General Allenby’s wresting the territory from Turkish forces quickly exhibited anti-Jewish biases. This reflected not only ingrained anti-Semitism but also patronizing attitudes towards the Arabs and a conviction that the Arabs would be more malleable to British colonial intentions than would the Jews.
Some British officers played the role of agents provocateurs in encouraging Arab assaults on the Jews of the Holy Land, such as the large-scale Arab attacks on Jerusalem’s Jews in April, 1920. (The riots in the city coincided with the meeting of the Allies at San Remo that gave Allied endorsement to the British Mandate for creation of the Jewish National Home.) In addition, British authorities did little to stop the looting and killing, and the Military Administration also sought to use the riots as an excuse for curtailing Jewish immigration and other Zionist activities, arguing that local Arab antagonism would be difficult to control if such curbs were not instituted.
The British, in the post-war years, were attempting to maintain their Middle East territories with very limited forces and were indeed concerned with minimizing local unrest. But, of course, this does not account for Mandate officers working as agents provocateurs and stirring up anti-Jewish violence or for British authorities failing to quell Arab riots when they were fully able to do so. Nor does it explain the Military Administration’s preventing local Jewish units - elements of the Jewish Battalions - from coming to the defense of the Jews of Jerusalem. Vladimir Jabotinsky, who had played a key role in advocating Britain’s establishment of Jewish fighting units within the army, tried to organize defense. He was arrested by the British for his efforts and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Jabotinsky was soon released but only in the context of an amnesty extended also to the rioters. The British also chose to construe the Jewish units’ attempts to defend the Jews of Jerusalem as an intolerable breach of military discipline and disbanded the units.
Lieutenant Colonel John Patterson was a non-Jewish British officer who had commanded the Zion Mule Corps (a transport unit consisting mainly of Jews who had left Turkish Palestine for Egypt during the war) at Gallipolli. Patterson was subsequently appointed commander of the 38th Jewish Battalion and led the battalion in the Palestine campaign. Patterson wrote extensively of the anti-Jewish depredations to which his troops, and the Jewish population of Palestine, were subjected by the British military’s forces in Palestine under Allenby (the Egyptian Expeditionary Force) and subsequently by the Military Administration. These depredations emanated both from the command structure and, in the wake of evident command tolerance, from the rank and file.
With regard to the April, 1920, Arab attacks on the Jews of Jerusalem, Patterson, referring to the assault as “the Jerusalem pogrom,” noted the Military Administration’s encouragement of the violence, its failure to intervene to stop it, its blocking of intervention by Jewish troops, its attempts to use the Arab assault as an excuse to curb Zionist programs, its scapegoating of Jabotinsky, and all of this being of a piece with general Military Administration hostility to the Jews.
Patterson wrote, for example, “A veritable ‘pogrom,’ such as we have hitherto only associated with Tsarist Russia, took place in the Holy City of Jerusalem in April, 1920, and as this was the climax to the maladministration of the Military Authorities, I consider that the facts of the case should be made public…
“The Balfour Declaration… was never allowed [by the Military Administration] to be officially published within the borders of Palestine; the Hebrew language was proscribed; there was open discrimination against the Jews; the Jewish Regiment was at all times kept in the background and treated as a pariah. This official attitude was interpreted by the hooligan element and interested schemers in the only possible way, viz., that the military authorities in Palestine were against the Jews and Zionism, and the conviction began to grow [within Arab circles] that any act calculated to deal a death blow to Zionist aspirations would not be unwelcome to those in authority…
“Moreover, this malign influence was sometimes strengthened by very plain speaking. The Military Governor of an important town was actually heard to declare… in the presence of British and French Officers and of Arab waiters, that in case of anti-Jewish riots in his city, he would remove the garrison and take up his position at a window, where he could watch, and laugh at, what went on!
“This amazing declaration was reported to the Acting Chief Administrator, and the Acting Chief Political Officer, but no action was taken against the Governor. Only one interpretation can be placed on such leniency.”
Patterson wrote elsewhere of the Arab attacks: “The anti-Jewish outbreak… was carefully fostered… by certain individuals who, for their own ends, hoped to shatter the age-long aspirations of the Jewish people… There can be no doubt that it was assumed in some quarters that when trouble, which had been deliberately encouraged, arose, the Home Government, embarrassed by a thousand difficulties at its doors, would agree with the wire-pullers in Palestine, and say to the Jewish people that the carrying out of the Balfour Declaration, owing to the hostility displayed by the Arabs, was outside the range of practical politics.”
It was an inquiry into Arab attacks in the spring of 1920 and revelation that the military government had encouraged the assaults that led to London’s quickly dissolving the military administration and establishing a civil administration in its place. But the ranks of both the British military contingent in Palestine and the civil service remained the same, continued to harbor the same attitudes and continued to work against compliance with British obligations to the Jews as subsequently formalized in the League of Nations Mandate.
Winston Churchill, colonial secretary at the time, estimated that 90 percent of the British military in Palestine were opposed to Britain fulfilling its Mandate obligations. The civilian bureaucracy was so recalcitrant that Churchill circulated a memorandum to the Cabinet in 1921 suggesting “the removal of all anti-Zionist civil officials, however highly placed.”
Churchill, certainly more sympathetic to the Zionist project than most British officials, nevertheless in 1921 detached more than 75% of Mandate Palestine to create a new Arab nation of Transjordan. Although Transjordan formally remained part of Mandate Palestine until the end of the Mandate in 1947, its territories were closed to Jews. This occurred after endorsement of the Mandate by the Allied Powers at San Remo but before the League of Nations formally granted the Mandate to Britain. In 1923, despite the territory of the Mandate now being defined by the League of Nations, Britain detached the large portion of the Golan Heights that was within the Mandate’s borders and ceded it to the French Mandate in Syria in exchange primarily for French concessions regarding Iraq. This act was in clear violation of Britain’s League of Nations obligations.
So too were many other elements of British administration. The League of Nations Mandate called for Britain to promote “close settlement” of the land by Jewish immigrants; the British administration was determined to do no such thing. On the contrary, it routinely awarded large-scale grants of public lands to the Arabs while withholding public lands from the Jews. Whatever Jewish acquisition occurred did so essentially through private purchase. It also allowed virtually unmonitored migration of Arabs into the Mandate from neighboring states - people drawn by the economic opportunities created by both British and Jewish development - while at the same time repeatedly imposing limits on the admission of Jews.
Arab violence waxed and waned in the Mandate in a noteworthy pattern illustrated by the tenure of Lord Herbert Plumer as High Commissioner. Unlike his predecessor, Plumer generally resisted further backtracking from Mandate obligations to the Jews even in the face of Arab pressures, and his three years in office saw a marked decrease in violence. As has been recognized by a number of historians who have written on the Mandate, appeasement - to say nothing of tacit approval - tended to result in increased Arab violence as violence was perceived as yielding rewards, while a more steadfast course and rejection of concessions in the face of violence typically resulted in more peaceful interludes.
But Plumer’s leadership was exceptional. More typically, the Mandate administration conveyed its sympathies towards the Arabs and its favorable responses to Arab violence. In addition, over time, in the interest of Realpolitik and considerations of empire, the government in London, whether Labor or Tory, became less supportive of Zionist aspirations and more prepared to accommodate the anti-Zionist policies advocated by the Mandate bureaucracy. There emerged a recurrent cynical pattern: An outbreak of anti-Jewish violence; the dispatch from London of a commission of inquiry; determination by the commission that the violence had indeed been initiated by the Arabs; a response by the government in London that Jewish immigration should be further curtailed to placate Arab opinion.
The League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission at various times protested Britain’s betrayal of its obligations to the Jews under the Mandate. The Commission had only its moral suasion as backing for its arguments but did on occasion help bring about the British government’s retreat from anti-Jewish measures.
But the situation grew much worse for the Jews in the 1930’s, after the advent of the Nazi regime in Germany. Berlin quickly embarked on winning allies in the Arab world and stirring up anti-British sentiment. This provided another rationale, if one were needed, for appeasing Arab opinion regarding Mandate Palestine and imposing further hardships on the Jews. Britain did tolerate several years of increased Jewish immigration to the Mandate in the mid-‘30’s. But in the wake of the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, Britain, consistent with previous precedent, found in its commission of inquiry that the Arabs had fully instigated the violence and mayhem and had sought to justify the revolt with false accusations against the Jews, but concluded that the appropriate government action should be dramatic new limits on Jewish immigration. In 1939, as war loomed in Europe and Jews were desperate to escape the continent, Britain issued a White Paper restricting admission of Jews to the Mandate to a total of 75,000 over the next five years, after which immigration would end entirely and Palestine would become an Arab state with a Jewish minority.
The Chamberlain White Paper elicited once more opposition from the League of Nations as a violation of Britain’s Mandatory obligations to the Jews. But the League of Nations, having failed to muster a forceful response to fascist aggression in the preceding years, was now a dying organization with little left of its former limited authority.
Britain’s determination, in the absence of a functioning League of Nations, to quash the Zionist enterprise once and for all played a vital role in shaping British Foreign Office, Colonial Office and military hostility to the rescue of Jews from the Nazi killing machine.
In some respects, the murderous animosity that then animated so much of British officialdom was less characteristic of the larger public in Britain than would seem to be the case today. Major elements of British media, clergy and Parliament called openly for government action to rescue Jews, much more so, for example, than did equivalent echelons in the United States. Among those whose efforts were particularly noteworthy was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke out forcefully to urge rescue measures and sharply criticized Allied inaction. He was joined in his efforts by Arthur Cardinal Hinsley, leader of Britain’s Catholics.
A Foreign Office note in February, 1943, referred to the “striking difference between the intense propaganda campaign regarding Hitler’s Jewish victims [that is, calls for rescue] carried on here and the apparently negligible publicity in the United States.”
In addition Britain had admitted, among other refugees, over 8,000 unaccompanied Jewish children in the so-called Kindertransport of 1938-1939, with the children being placed in the care of Jewish and non-Jewish families. A parallel attempt to admit 20,000 children to the United States over a two-year period aroused intense opposition and was stymied.
Moreover, one can argue that State Department bureaucrats were as loathe to see Jews rescued and brought to the United States as Foreign Office officials were to see them in England. During the war, the State Department allowed use of only ten percent of the visas that were available for the rescue of Jews and blocked the escape from Europe even of many Jews who had received American visas. It did so by creating additional bureaucratic obstacles to their entry. Many were taken to death camps and murdered even as they possessed visas but were unable to surmount the additional levels of State Department obstructionism.
But where Foreign Office policy differed from that of the State Department, or at least where it set policy which the State Department all too willingly followed, was in its apparent determination to block rescue of Jews no matter where refuge might be offered. And, as Sir Martin Gilbert and others have demonstrated (in, for example, Gilbert’s Auschwitz and the Allies), behind anti-rescue policy in Britain largely lay concerns regarding Palestine. A dominant calculation appears to have been that Jewish survivors, no matter where they found refuge, would be a source of post-war pressure on Britain to fulfill its Palestine Mandate obligations to the Jews, whereas if no European Jews were rescued and none survived the war there would then be no basis for advocacy of a Jewish homeland.
It was in this context that one should understand the 1943 Foreign Office message to the State Department cited at the opening of this article, the concern that: “There is a possibility that the Germans or their satellites may change over from the policy of extermination to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants.” There were other memoranda that hammered variations on the same theme, as, for example, one that spoke of “the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued.”
Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden’s personal secretary wrote of him in 1943: “Unfortunately, A.E. is immovable on the subject of Palestine. He loves Arabs and hates Jews.” (Churchill disagreed with Eden on Palestine policy but did not have the control over Eden that, for example, an American president has over his Cabinet members.) But British government policy toward the Jews obviously reflected a casual indifference to the Nazi genocide that went far beyond simply Eden’s anti-Jewish bigotry. (Churchill during the war cautioned another Foreign Office official “against drifting into the usual anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic channel which it is customary for British officers to follow.”)
(Churchill’s general sympathy for the Jews put off many of those around him. As one friend, Sir Edward Spears, informed Churchill’s official biographer, “Even Winston had a fault. He was too fond of Jews.”)
The lengths to which the Foreign Office went to obstruct rescue at any level and from any quarter is illustrated by the story of Chiune Sugihara, who in 1940 was the Japanese vice consul in Kovno, Lithuania. Sugihara issued several thousand visas to Jews desperate to leave Europe. Among the documents in the Japanese foreign ministry charting Sugihara’s activities have been found complaints from the British Foreign Office protesting Sugihara’s visas and warning that the rescued Jews would become a burden on Japan.
Throughout the war there were many European Jews who could have reached Mandate Palestine, but the British were determined to prevent their doing so. (Given the nature of British policy, it is perhaps not surprising that, after Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, provided the trigger to World War II, apparently the first to fall to British arms were not Nazi soldiers but two Jewish civilians. They were shot dead near Tel Aviv on September 2 when a British patrol vessel opened fire on refugees from Europe trying to slip into Palestine by boat.)
After September, 1940, when the fascist government of Ioan Antonescu seized power in Rumania, several thousand Jews fled the country via Rumania’s Black Sea ports and many died when their delapidated ships - “coffin ships” as they were popularly called - sank either in transit through the Black Sea or in attempts to evade the British blockade of Palestine. One ship sank when, having reached Palestine, it was forced back to sea by the British.
Another particularly notorious episode involved the Struma, likewise an essentially unseaworthy ship that limped into Istanbul harbor in December, 1941, with nearly eight hundred Rumanian Jewish refugees aboard, many among them women and children. The Turkish government offered to let the passengers disembark only if Britain agreed to admit them to Palestine. The British refused and persisted in their stance - even rejecting suggestions that they admit only the children - despite urgent requests for compassion from various quarters. The Turks ultimately had the ship towed out to sea and it quickly sank, killing all but one of the refugees.
By the time of the Struma’s sinking, agents of the Rumanian regime, together with German death squads, had already slaughtered some 200,000 of the 800,000 Jews within Rumania’s borders. But it was widely known that Rumanian strongman Antonescu was not entirely committed to the slaughter and was willing to go on allowing Jews to ransom their way out of the country. But the only possible refuge for them was the League of Nations-mandated Jewish National Home, and Britain continued to make certain that this remained closed to Rumanian and other Jews and that there would be no escape for them. A number of Jews were ultimately admitted to the Mandate in the course of the war, but far fewer than even the 75,000 permitted by the Chamberlain White Paper.
Some Jews obviously did survive the war, and the Nazi slaughter did not end the quest for realization of the promise of the Mandate. Britain still held to its opposition to creation of a Jewish state but failed in its efforts to stop the United Nations’ ratification of partition of Palestine (excluding Transjordan) into separate Jewish and Arab nations.
Britain then tried to achieve indirectly through military means what it failed to achieve diplomatically. The most effective of the five Arab armies that attacked the nascent Jewish state was Transjordan’s Arab Legion, led by a British officer, John Bagot Glubb (popularly known as Glubb Pasha), and with various other British officers in its senior ranks. The Arab Legion seized control of what later became known as the West Bank as well as eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, and - in a policy of total ethnic cleansing - the Legion, under its British officers, either killed or expelled every Jew living in the territory that fell within its sway. (One is reminded of Tom Paulin, the Oxford poet renowned for his vicious, mindless rants against Israel, his unoriginal but, for many, ever-thrilling comparison of Israelis to Nazis, his advocacy of the Jewish state’s destruction and, perhaps most notably, his declared desire to kill Jews living on the West Bank. Had he been around in 1948, Paulin could have joined the British officer corps in the Arab Legion and fulfilled his fantasies of murdering West Bank and east Jerusalem Jews.)
As for the Palestinian Arabs dwelling in the West Bank, rather than facilitate their establishing their own state in the territory, consistent with the United Nations’ vision of a partitioned Palestine, Britain supported Transjordan’s annexation of the territory. Indeed, Britain became one of only two countries in the world that recognized the annexation, the other being Pakistan.
As King Hussein himself acknowledged, in the Six Day War of 1967 he ordered his troops to initiate hostilities against Israel at the war’s start and he continued to pursue the attack even as Israel urged him to remain out of the conflict and promised it would refrain from action against him if he did so. In the face of Jordanian bombardments, Israel ultimately went on the offensive in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, capturing both along with the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai peninsula and Gaza from Egypt.
Many Israelis believed then that peace with the Arabs was finally at hand; that the Arab states, eager for return of lost territories, would grant Israel peace in exchange. But the Arab nations, meeting in Khartoum in late August, 1967, instead endorsed the “three no’s”: no recognition of Israel, no negotiation, no peace.
Shortly afterwards, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 regarding steps to be taken towards ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. It called for the return of territory captured by Israel in exchange for peace, but not of “all” the captured territory. Indeed the key drafters of 242 stated that Israel should not be required to retreat to the pre-war armistice lines, that those boundaries were no more than cease-fire lines, were too vulnerable and would only invite additional aggression against Israel. The resolution called rather for the negotiation of “secure and recognized” boundaries.
Resolution 242 was actually introduced in the Security Council by Britain. Lord Caradon, then Britain’s ambassador to the UN and the one who presented the resolution, told an interviewer some years later: “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places where the soldiers of each side happened to be on the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That’s why we didn’t demand that the Israelis return to them, and I think we were right not to…”
In 1969, the British Foreign Secretary stated in the House of Commons that the framers of the resolution did not envisage Israel withdrawing from “all the territories.” Subsequently, George Brown, who had been Foreign Secretary at the time of the war and passage of the resolution, made the same point in his book, _Out of My Way.
The territories, most notably the West Bank, from the perspective of Resolution 242, have the status of disputed lands whose disposition is to be determined in the context of peace negotiations. In fact, a broad consensus among Israelis has supported, virtually since the war, the pursuit of a division of the West Bank that would entail Israel returning to Arab sovereignty most of the area, including the lands that are home to the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs - well in excess of 95% of the population - while retaining for Israel strategically vital and largely unpopulated areas. (With relatively few exceptions, settlement policy, along with the present placement of the settlement population, has followed this agenda and was undertaken to reinforce Israel’s claims to these strategic areas.)
But for British media, much of British officialdom and broad British opinion, particularly elite opinion, institutional memory regarding Resolution 242 has been erased and the resolution has been contorted into a demand that Israel return to its pre-1967 lines. Everything beyond those lines has been transmogrified into “occupied Palestinian territory,” and Israeli presence anywhere in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has been labeled “colonialism,” illegitimate, even “illegal.”
Moreover, popular British demands for Israel’s retreat to its 1967 line ignore the reality that no Palestinian political group with any power or following is offering Israel peace in exchange for withdrawal, however extensive Israel’s retreat. On the contrary, all parties still insist that, beyond the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories, Israel must also acquiesce to the “return” of untold numbers of Palestinian “refugees,” an agenda whose aim, consistent with the stated goals of all Palestinian parties - at least as stated in their declarations in Arabic - is Israel’s destruction.
And if Israelis refuse to participate in their own destruction, they are condemned in British popular opinion as the greatest danger to world peace and are the target of punishment by boycotts. At the same time, those who declare as their goal the annihilation of Israel and its Jewish population and pursue a strategy of mass murder specifically targeting civilians, indeed particularly targeting women and children, are hailed in Britain as poster children for the realization of a more just world.
British criticism of specific aspects of Israeli policy in the territories has likewise been characterized by hypocrisy and perfidy. One sees this not only in depictions of violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians, which are routinely portrayed in British media, and very often by government officials as well, as unprovoked Israeli brutality or gross Israeli overreaction or collective punishment in response to Palestinian “resistance to occupation” (i.e., wholesale murder of Israeli civilians). The 2002 events virtually universally labeled the “Jenin massacre” in British media - the massacre that wasn’t, that even the United Nations acknowledged did not occur - is but one egregious example of such gross misrepresentations of Israeli-Palestinian violence. But even beyond the context of violence, anti-Israel distortions of realities in the territories are pervasive in Britain.
Consider the following example of Israeli policy and British response concerning Gaza. At the time that Israel gained control of the territories, the worst living conditions among the Palestinians were of those living in the refugee camps. This was particularly so in Gaza, where the camps housed a much larger proportion of the total Palestinian population than in the West Bank and where the Egyptians had allowed no electricity or running water in the camps and forbade residents to work outside the camps.
Under Israeli administration, camp residents, as well as the general population, had virtually universal access to employment. The Israelis also sought to alleviate the squalid living conditions in the camps. This included building new housing units outside the camps for residents and also providing building lots, infrastructure, and subsidies for those who wished to build their own houses, with, in either case, ownership being transferred to the residents. By 1983, over 3,000 Palestinian families had moved into Israeli-built houses and about 3,500 families had moved into houses they had built themselves on lots prepared and provided by Israel.
But the PLO and the Arab states vehemently opposed these housing programs, perceiving the provision of better living conditions to the refugees and their descendants as undercutting both the push for these people’s “return” to Israel and efforts to recruit them into PLO cadres. In addition, various arms of the UN embraced the Arab stance. In 1985, shortly after Israel opened up new housing constructed with support from the Catholic Relief Agency, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Israel’s relocating refugees to better housing as a violation of the refugees’ “right of return” to their former areas of residence in pre-1967 Israel. Included in the wording of the resolution was the statement that the General Assembly “Reiterates strongly its demand that Israel desist from the removal and resettlement of Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip…”
Under UN pressure, Israel did end the housing projects. Nevertheless, seemingly to preempt their resumption, the General Assembly, at Arab insistence, passed the same condemnations of Israeli efforts to provide better housing for the refugees in subsequent years as well, with the resolutions including the same wording. Through these years, the British delegation to the UN consistently supported the Arab demand that Israel desist from offering those in the camps new housing. And yet in these and subsequent years British Foreign Office representatives would visit Gaza and use photo opportunities to complain about Israel’s failure to address the atrocious living conditions in the refugee camps! (In January, 1988, for example, about a month after Britain had voted in favor of the 1987 edition of the same resolution, David Mellor, described in the media as “a Foreign Office minister with responsibilities for the Mideast,” appeared before the television cameras in Gaza to denounce Israel for tolerating conditions in the camps that were an “affront to civilization.”)
Even Arab blood libels against Israel and “the Jews” are given a pass by British media or blamed on Israel. A cynic might attribute this at least in part to pride of invention, as the medieval blood libel, the claim that Jews kill Christians, particularly children, to use the blood of Christian innocents for Jewish rituals, was first introduced in England. The earliest recorded such claim involved the death of one William of Norwich in 1144.
The blood libel was exported from England to the continent, where over eight centuries it provided a rationale for the murder of thousands of Jews. The Nazis invoked it extensively, but since the end of World War II it has enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Arab world. There it has been the subject of a book attesting to its veracity by former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas and has found similar sympathetic treatment in myriad Arab texts, television shows, and movies. It is also a popular theme of Arab clerics and political figures.
British media have not given much coverage to, or found fault with, this current popularity of the blood libel in the Arab world. On the contrary, they have tended to be apologists for manifestations of Arab anti-Semitism, however crude and vile. For example, a BBC program on anti-Semitism in Egyptian media concluded that it merely reflected support for the predicament of the Palestinians and not “hatred of Jews as a race.” It was hardly surprising then when Britain’s Political Cartoon Society gave first prize in its “Cartoon of the Year” competition for 2003 to The Independent’s Dave Brown for his drawing of a naked Ariel Sharon devouring a Palestinian child.
One can certainly argue that the Jews and the Jewish state are not the only targets of bigotry in British popular opinion and in the attitudes of British elites and British officialdom. But with regard to Israel and the Jews, today’s smug and casual hatred, with its transparently ludicrous veneer of moral superiority, has a long, dark history that renders it different from other, quotidian biases; renders it rather one more chapter in a long record of anti-Jewish perfidy.
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