When it comes to Middle East policy, British Prime Minister David Cameron is moving in the same direction as his predecessor Tony Blair, who ended his term in office as a rigid Islamophobe committed to the security of Israel whatever the Israeli government does to the several million Palestinians who have the misfortune to live under its jurisdiction.
In a speech on Thursday to the Community Security trust, the British equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, Cameron conflated Zionism and Judaism in a way that is either naïve or mischievous, but certainly contradictory from the head of government of a country which espouses universal human rights.
He said that Zionists had a right to advocate their views without fear and that it is possible to be both a committed Zionist and a loyal British citizen. He spoke about anti-Semitism, a foolish and despicable racist ideology born in Europe, as though it were synonymous with anti-Zionism, a principled international movement that rejects racism in all its forms.
Here are some extracts from his speech:
It is absolutely wrong that in any of our universities there should be an environment where students are scared to express their Judaism or their Zionism freely. It is absolutely wrong that universities should allow speakers to spread messages of anti-Semitism and hate...The point is that it’s possible – and necessary - to have more than one loyalty in life. To be a proud Jew, a committed Zionist and a loyal British citizen. And to realise there is no contradiction between them.
In 1991, under pressure from the United States, the United Nations General Assembly repealed a 1975 resolution that described Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination. But there are limits to the jurisdiction of the United Nations General Assembly. If it decrees that black is white or that the Earth is flat, its decrees are meaningless. They cannot prevent reasoned debate.
Zionists maintain that the international community of Jews have a historic right to the land known as Palestine for the two thousand years until 1948, on the basis of a spurious ethno-national link to a group of people who inhabited part of that territory during the 1st millennium BC. They say that this right overrides the rights of people who have lived on that land for many generations and who played no part in the alleged departure of the Jewish population. The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, in his recent book The Invention of the Jewish People, provides convincing evidence that most living Jews are in fact the descendants of Jewish converts who never lived in Palestine, while many Palestinians are probably the descendants of Jewish farmers who converted to Christianity or Islam over the past to millennia.
Regardless of the historical facts, Zionism only makes sense in the context of the European racism of the 19th century, of which it is an offshoot. If Zionists do not often overtly claim ethno-national superiority over their Palestinian neighbours, it is only because excluding the Palestinians from their discourse has seemed a more promising strategy, given the stigma attached to racism. In practice, the Zionist strategy has been to pursue a process of ethnic cleansing, starting in 1948 and continuing to this day. To anyone who cares to look at the facts, Zionism is a form of racism. Cameron should know this.
The British prime minister was wrong on several other counts. He said Israeli politicians should be able to visit Britain without fear of arrest when there is little prospect that any prosecution will follow. On the contrary, we need to put politicians of all nationalities on notice that the world is watching their actions closely and that, if they implicated in serious crimes against whole populations, they will not be welcome guests and may have to face investigation by an independent judiciary, whether in Britain or anywhere else that upholds the rule of law.
On Iran's nuclear programme, which may or may not include plans to make nuclear weapons, Cameron adopted the same double standard as the United States and the rest of its allies. “We will not stand by and allow Iran to cast a nuclear shadow over Israel or the wider region,” he said. Why did he ignore the nuclear shadow that Israel has cast over the region for the past several decades with nuclear weapons the existence of which some Israeli officials have already confirmed? Israel's record as an aggressively expansionist state is well recorded, while Iran, which has no such record, is judged by outsiders' assessment of its unspoken intentions.
Cameron, like many other ignorant Americans and Europeans, recycled the ancient theory that Arab despots ranted about Palestine to distract their populations from domestic repression:
But I fundamentally believe that what we are seeing now in North Africa need not be a new threat to Israel’s security. For decades autocratic Arab regimes have used the Palestinian cause to smother people’s hopes and aspirations. Their message to their people has been: never mind the lack of democracy here, focus on the injustices being done to your Palestinian brothers and sisters. Now young people are seeing through this and seeking their own economic and political rights and in the vast majority of cases doing so peacefully.
In the cases of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia, this is nonsense. Mubarak rarely spoke about Palestinian rights and Israeli violations of international law. He cooperated with Israel in the blockade of Gaza and in attempts to undermine the representatives the Palestinians elected in the free elections of 2006. The fact that Israel pressed the United States to support Mubarak to the bitter end is evidence enough that the former Egyptian president served Israeli interests well. The young people of Egypt and Tunisia know this and they believe that Palestinians have the same rights to freedom and dignity as they do.
When Cameron says, “I will always be an advocate for the State of Israel”, he does not speak for me. Israel must be judged by its actions and its statements. It does not deserve a blank cheque.