Coincidentally during "Israel Apartheid Week" (see David Collier's brilliant post here) the House of Lords has been debating the Middle East, and some of the speeches have been notable for their resounding support for Israel.
Look, for example, at this offering, from Labour life peer Lord Livermore, a former party strategist and quite obviously not a Corbynista:
'My Lords, I wish to use the short time available to argue for a better understanding of Israel. This task is urgent because we see now a disturbing resurgence of anti-Zionism that is bordering on the antisemitic, particularly, I regret to say, in sections of the left in British politics.
Israel is not of course above criticism. It is right that where necessary we should be critical of Israeli policy, conduct and behaviour. \
But too often this legitimate criticism of specific actions taken by Israel obscures the reality of Israel. When this reality is not heard, it creates a space for those with uglier motivations to build support for grotesque analogies between Israel and apartheid South Africa or even Nazi Germany.
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
I fear that on the left today what is in jeopardy is support not just for the conduct of Israel but for the concept of Israel. We see senior figures praising as friends those who are committed to the violent destruction of the Jewish homeland.
Indeed, we now have the perverse situation where people who consider themselves to be progressive oppose Israel in the belief that they are standing up for liberal values and human rights, but in doing so side with totalitarian Islamist regimes that abuse human rights and prohibit basic liberties.
I believe that it is the duty of progressives to stop the slide from opposition to specific policies of Israel towards opposition to the very existence of Israel. I want us to make the progressive case for a country where women have the right to vote, dress as they wish and say what they wish in a region where, too often, they are segregated and subjugated; for a country that is committed to the free practice of religion for all in a region where religious minorities are frequently suppressed and persecuted; for a country where gay people are not discriminated against, tortured, detained or executed, as they are almost everywhere else in the region; and for a country with a free press, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary and strong trade unions, all lacking in almost all neighbouring countries.
There is nothing progressive about siding with those who oppose the very values that we as a society strive to represent, and there is nothing progressive about seeking to extinguish a beacon of democracy, modernity and pluralism in the Middle East.'Conservative life peer Lord Grade, who's Jewish, said; inter alia:
[Emphasis added above and below]
'Just yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who is in her place this evening, and other noble Lords spoke with eloquence and passion on the intimidating environment in our scholarly communities which is suppressing constructive discussion on the Middle East. The vicious approach to debate, or rather to the stifling of debate, taken by some—for example, those who violently disrupted an Israeli speaker at King’s College, London, last month—does nothing to foster greater understanding of the Middle East in the UK; quite the contrary.
The KCL Action Palestine society, which spearheaded the disruption of KCL’s Israel society event, is a committed supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The BDS movement continually smears the only democratic state in the region by comparing Israel to the apartheid South African regime of yesteryear. This is as intellectually bankrupt as it is dishonest: it is almost like comparing BDS to the National Socialist Party in pre-war Germany. Let us be clear that the overarching aim of this particular movement is to quash constructive dialogue and end any hope of a viable two-state solution.
To achieve its ends, in recent years BDS has engineered votes to boycott Israel at some of our top universities, which really should know better. In recent months, students at the School of Oriental and African Studies voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israel, and only last week the co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, while lamenting that much of the student left has“some kind of problem with Jews”, resigned in the light of the club’s decision to support Israel Apartheid Week at the university this week.
Elsewhere, the movement has been particularly successful in galvanising support for BDS against Israel in the UK’s influential culture and entertainment sectors, culminating in a letter last year signed by 1,000 artists indicating support for a boycott of Israel. Interestingly, Professor Stephen Hawking publicly boycotted one academic event in Israel. It is perhaps worth noting that his extraordinary speech-generation device’s most important component is a silicon chip that was designed in Israel. A leading commentator writing about the professor’s decision asked whether the solution to this problem would be for Professor Hawking to boycott himself.
While advocacy for supporting boycotts represents a disturbing trend in any sector, the prominence and success of the movement in areas which should thrive on free expression is particularly distressing. Last year, more than 300 professors committed themselves to boycotting Israel. Campuses should be at the forefront of charting a way towards the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not spaces to further entrench differences and incite hostility and, dare I say it, bigotry.
Parliament is at the heart of the academic issue. There is a blatant double standard here, which we as legislators have not addressed. There is evidence that we permit the funding of some educational departments by authoritarian states with abhorrent track records on human rights and free expression, yet UK institutions are somehow at the forefront of calls to ban Israeli academics and students on the basis of their nationality and, probably, their religion. The connection between the funding of universities by vehemently anti-Israel regimes, the constraining of free expression and referenda to ban Israelis must be exposed. While we in this place advocate free expression and a two-state solution, elsewhere, we permit the clandestine manipulation of research and teaching on the Middle East to the opposite effect.
Let me now, at last, be more positive. I was especially pleased to learn just last week of the Government’s follow-through on their commitment to prevent public authorities, such as local councils and universities, boycotting products from Israel. The statement by Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock in Israel was welcome news for all those who cherish free speech.
I am also encouraged to see Israel’s linkages with Britain grow with unabated rapidity in recent years. In science and technology, one of the UK’s leading country priorities is Israel. The development of the UK Israel Tech Hub, the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, and a top-level UK-Israel Life Sciences Council bring together millions of pounds in funding and some of the world’s brightest minds to collaborate on a number of fronts, including heart disease prevention, regenerative stem cell research and battling multiple sclerosis. UK-Israel partnerships are currently producing world-leading innovations in nanotechnology, agriscience, neuroscience and many other specialist subjects.
In the real commercial world, away from some of the bigoted posturing of academe, trade between Israel and Britain is supporting much-needed manufacturing jobs here at home. For example, Rolls Royce has recently won a contract to supply jet engines to Israel’s state airline, El Al—El Al, by the way, is the only airline for which you do not buy a ticket but give a donation. Perhaps some of those academics who parade their prejudices without any sense of responsibility would like to see what the employees of Rolls Royce might say to them about working with Israel. Business and trade is flourishing between Israel and Britain. In the past 10 years, bilateral trade has increased by 60% to over £3 billion per annum. As many as 300 Israeli companies operate in the UK, and it remains a principal destination for capital and market growth opportunities for Israeli entrepreneurs.
Crucially, in the arts sector, last year we celebrated 20 years of the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme. Funded by the British Council and the Government of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture and Sport, the programme provides advice and short-term grants, as well as longer-term programmes.
Fostering connections between Palestinians and Israelis and between Britain and Israel is laying fertile ground from which peace may one day grow. It is in this endeavour that government can be a leading champion. Most important of all, in my view, in the search for peace in the Middle East are the many unreported collaborations where Jews and Arabs are working together on the ground. The Valley of Peace initiative promotes economic co-operation between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians based in the Arava valley. Regional economic collaborations like this are critically important, as an economically viable Palestine is a necessary condition for a peaceful resolution. I could also highlight the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, which facilitates co-operation, dialogue and interaction between Israeli and Palestinian scholars and scientists. Initiatives such as these are where grass-roots activists and professional leaders are doing the lion’s share of the work to increase understanding and work towards peace.
However, I feel that in order for us to create a society where co-existence can truly thrive, we need to focus on those who will be the future leaders: the children. How can Israelis and Arabs find common ground if they cannot talk to each other? In Israel, Jewish and Arab children attend separate schools, which creates space for fear, stereotypes and inequalities to grow. These children, who might even be neighbours, grow up in two parallel worlds that rarely interact. In order to change this reality, parents and community members in Be’er Sheva have played an active role in developing a future based on equality and respect for their children and their community through the founding of the Hagar Association, Jewish-Arab Education for Equality, an organisation dedicated to creating a shared society and co-existence between Jewish and Arab residents of Israel’s Negev. It is a centre for joint community initiatives which are completely bilingual in Hebrew and Arabic. There are sport activities that encourage Israeli and Arab children to aspire to be the next Lionel Messi.
We need understanding and discussion, and I hope that this debate will encourage that more than boycotts.'Baroness Deech, who's also Jewish, and has of course been the target of a nasty little dig by Roger Waters for it, was her usual excellent self:
Reporting from the area is bedevilled by the failure to use the right words—for example, not saying the word “terrorist”—and consequent downplaying of the violence. There is disproportionate coverage of Israel, and nothing is ever reported about the Palestinians’ way of life or their diaspora, save for victimhood. Opinion is disguised as news—for example, Tim Willcox of the BBC, at a Charlie Hebdo rally, saying to a Jewish demonstrator:
“Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well”.
There is a lack of context; there has never been an East Jerusalem, except during the Jordanian occupation period of 1948-67. There is selective omission—for example, the headlines proclaiming that a Palestinian has been killed, when in fact he was brought down after murdering Israeli civilians in the street. That is why it is so important that complaints about the media inaccuracies are handled by independent arbiters, and the BBC has to reform its complaints system.
Our universities have accepted money from various repressive Arab regimes—money directed almost exclusively at teaching Middle Eastern studies and putting in place curricula and professors subscribing to that point of view. An example is the Islamic Centre at Oxford, which has received £75 million from Saudi Arabia and other such regimes. The same is true of nearly every professorial post in this subject. I hope that the Minister will announce an inquiry into the foreign funding of our universities and that university donations are to be made public.'Lib Dem life peer Lord Palmer of Childs Hill said:
My Lords, the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Grade, is how to increase understanding of the Middle East. I am just back from an all-party Peers’ visit to Israel and the West Bank. We met Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, who were far more positive than we had been led to believe. Does the Minister believe that the Israelis are prepared to come to the negotiating table without preconditions?
We received a frightening presentation on the radicalisation of Palestinian youth in schools and in sport. It must say something when Palestinian sporting events are named after so-called martyrs who killed Israelis. Have the UK Government any views on how to stop this education of hate?
We also visited the town of Sderot and the moshav Netiv HaAsara, right on the border with Gaza. The people there live in and out of bomb shelters, which has saved lives but has caused great trauma particularly for the kids, who know of no life without shelters and safe rooms at home and in school. Have the UK Government views on why this life of trauma receives so little publicity in this country?'Even Conservative "wet" Lord Patten, chancellor of the University of Oxford, no friend to Israel either before or during his headship of the BBC Trust, appeared (more or less) conciliatory. (Too bad he never hauled Bowen, Donnison, and the rest of the Israel-demonising BBC pack over the coals; words are cheap.)
'The lightning conductor and fulcrum of Middle Eastern misunderstanding since the late 1940s has been the state of Israel with its polyglot and talented population. Understanding the Middle East today, almost 70 years on, must begin at home in the United Kingdom, which has a particular historical role as the colonial power in Palestine during the run-up to the creation of Israel in 1948. We have not managed so far, despite best efforts, to be at all successful in eradicating antisemitism at home in the United Kingdom and thus cannot be sure of our standing in getting greater understanding of Israel, which feels under deadly threat just as some Palestinians feel the same.
That 70 years on these attitudes prevail in what should be a bastion of liberalism and tolerance is completely shameful, so robust action must be taken where and when reason is missing. I thus congratulate very warmly the Government on their stand against local authorities who now wish to boycott Israeli goods as their own little contribution to Middle Eastern understanding—nowhere else, just Israeli goods. I want my local authority to deal with flood prevention and potholes rather than developing their own foreign policy in direct contravention of the rules of the World Trade Organisation with the sole aim of undermining and delegitimising one state and one state only in the Middle East—the state of Israel.
I say all that not as a Jew but as a Roman Catholic. There are a lot of my lot in Jerusalem and I want them to stay there. I am extremely grateful to the Government of Israel for protecting them and for making it possible for Roman Catholics and other Christians to be in Jerusalem and not to be cleansed and cleared out, as they have been in so many other parts of the Middle East.'For more see here (citing Hansard House of Lords Debate, 23 February 2016)