Lib Dems and the Middle-East: are we prepared to address the obvious?

I am a “Newbie-Oldbie” and joined the Party after the 2015 elections. With a lifelong interest in international relations and career with much overseas work, I particularly wanted to find out where the Party stood on Middle Eastern affairs.

I decided to attend the York conference which had interesting fringe meetings dealing with both Israel/Palestine and Syria. What really struck was the contrast between the two cases. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward clash between a settler-colonial movement and indigenous people, but that of Syria is really complicated, with many moving parts­:

  • Regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and their relevant brands of Islam
  • Saudi Arabia and Turkey on both sides, both as part of an anti-ISIS coalition while facilitating Jihadism to topple Assad and/or restrain the Kurds
  • Competing “Great Game” interests and agendas of international and regional powers, involving access to oil, arms sales and other factors.
  • Moves to contain nuclear proliferation, starting with Iran, and
  • A billowing refugee crisis in Europe.

The (Zionist) settler-colonial movement was born in the 1880s, about the time of the Congress of Berlin when other Europeans were carving up Africa. The subsequent establishment of a Jewish state in an already-inhabited land generated considerable native resistance, and led to reprehensible violence on both sides. Somewhat similar things occurred with French settler-colonialism in Algeria, and the British who displaced indigenous Kikuyu in the “white highlands” of Kenya.

However, Israel has been able to continue its colonial project for decades longer than France and Britain, due to a combination of massive and highly effective lobbying, great sympathy for Jewish people on account of their past treatment (above all the Holocaust), and strong support from “Christian Zionists” in the USA.

Many aspects of the conflict will take a lot of time and negotiations to resolve. However, Israel could start the process unilaterally, by halting the seizure of land and other resources, and putting into reverse its illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

This would leave many issues unresolved, but it would calm the situation and provide impetus for an overall settlement.

So why on earth has the Israeli/Palestinian situation proved so intractable? Here, I believe that we in the West should examine our own navels, and ask why we have failed to provide Israel with incentives to halt a colonial endeavour that is at odds with international laws and our national policies. We might find an explanation simply by looking at political parties in the UK:

In the case of the Tory Party, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme of 2009 reported that 80% of MPs belonged to Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). This begs the question as to whether these MPs have acted out of conviction, opportunism or even fear?

In the case of the Labour Party, the Jewish Chronicle and allies are currently conducting a strident campaign (not to say witch-hunt) to root out alleged “anti-Semitism” after the resignation of the Chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club.

In the case of the Lib Dems, one seasoned actor put it to me that senior Party figures are simply scared of being “done over by the Jewish Chronicle”.

I cannot speak for the Lib Dems, but after several years studying the Israeli-Palestinian situation and engaging different actors, I believe that the fear factor bears upon the way British public figures, including politicians, religious leaders etc., and even people in professional and business life, approach the topic. It is a sorry state of affairs but I think it provides an opportunity.

If we can only let go of fear, Lib Dems can frame a distinctive and convincing message, one that responds to widespread human rights concerns and our own interest in calming the situation in a convulsed part of the world.

While recognising the complexity of the Syrian crisis, I feel Lib Dems could make some distinctive statements on other aspects of Middle-Eastern policy. As a minimum we should acknowledge that British approaches and alliances have contributed to the rise of the Jihadism and international terrorism. This does not just concern the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, but behaviour reaching back to the 60s where we have been too ready to leverage Islamists and Islamic Governments like those of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the pursuit of geopolitical interests.

* Jonathan Coulter works on agricultural and food market development, mainly in Africa. He joined the Party in 2015 and is a member in Bromley.

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  • “The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward clash between a settler-colonial movement and indigenous people”

    So what classification of indigenous is being relied upon here? As I understand it the Palestinian people, who have been treated terribly, are not mainly indigenous but rather an earlier group of colonists. The problem with labels such as this (outside of the obvious examples such as the America’s and Australia) is that they become dependent on a date in time that suits an argument….

  • Simon McGrath 26th Mar '16 - 7:16pm

    “So why on earth has the Israeli/Palestinian situation proved so intractable? ” Israel hasn’t helped but the fact that many of its neighbour have no interest at all in settling is clearly a factor. Contrast the way they are happy to let Palestinians rot in camps for 60 years with the way Israel has resettled and integrated Jews driven out of Iran and many of the Arab countries

  • Jonathan Coulter 26th Mar '16 - 7:34pm

    Steve Way, to answer your question, I mean “indigenous” in a relative sense. For example, English-speaking people descended from Anglo-Saxons and others, are indigenous to East Anglia, vis-a-vis the Welsh or the Bretons who may claim their ancestors lived there up to the departure of the Romans. Similarly the Palestinians as indigenous vis-a-vis Ashkenazi and other Jews whose forebears arrived since the latter 19th century. The comparison between the Welsh and Jews is not so far-fetched, as the latter also have their return story; until the latter Middle Ages, many Welsh people thought that Arthur would return to drive the English back into the sea, whence they came.

  • I think you prove my point with your Welsh analogy, many Jewish people dreamt of driving others out of “their” land. I think any reliance on who is indigenous plays into the hands of the intransigent on both sides. Both will make claims based upon genetics, anthropology and history to say the land is theirs.

  • Daniel Morgenbesser 26th Mar '16 - 8:42pm

    Jews have been there for 2000 years and there was never a country Palestine, it was a British Mandate. Also, the settlements are not illegal. See 1967 war.

  • Matt Severn 26th Mar '16 - 8:58pm

    I think this is a rather concerning article. Firstly that you imply that Jewish people have no right to live in the area of Israel, when Judaism is rooted there and secondly that you would give an horrific event like the Holocaust a cursory mention (in brackets like an afterthought !) instead of acknowledging it as one of the stand out moments of horror in the 20th century.
    The Liberal solution is the 2 state solution. Palestine deserves to be its own proper country , but so does Israel. Peace and understanding between communities is the only answer. I reject illegal settlements of course. violence, destruction and terrorism on either side are wrong.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Mar '16 - 9:08pm

    Matt Severn is spot on. The liberal solution is a negotiated peace and not suggesting one group of people have no right to be in Israel whatsoever, whilst recognising that the settlements are wrong.

    I’m interested in sanctions on Israel for settlement building but we must take a hardline position on Israel’s right to exist. Some people seem to think that the democracy of Israel has no right to exist and we cannot stand for that.

  • I can’t find fault with your opinions here, Jonathan. What is happening in Palestine/Israel is a tragedy of immense proportions. Aside from finding the political will from the Israeli side to seek a just peace – which right now they have no interest in – they’d much rather ‘manage the conflict’ – keep the brutal Apartheid, so they can carry on stealing land and resources, we equally have to find it in those powers (chiefly the US) who are supporting them – providing the Israeli’s with impunity to do, well, whatever they feel like doing. So long as that impunity is provided – so long as international law is not upheld, then it’s difficult to see how change will come. Hence, the necessity of the BDS movement.

  • “Israel hasn’t helped but the fact that many of its neighbour have no interest at all in settling is clearly a factor”

    As far as i’m aware, virtually the whole – if not all, the Arab world 56/7 countries have held out the hands towards Israel. Offered complete normalisation/friendship. They did that in 2002 with the Arab peace plan. Israel has rebuffed the offer.

    They have no interest in a just peace. It’s time we realised that and acted on it. If Israel continues to refuse to honour international law, then sanctions should be applied. Isolation. They’ll soon change their tune then. Whatever will be, it’s clear pressure needs to be applied.

  • Jonathan Coulter 26th Mar '16 - 10:23pm

    Thanks Matt and Eddie, but if you re-read my article you will find that I do not suggest that Jewish people have no right to live in the area.

  • I would agree that a two state solution is the answer, with there being no doubt that Israel has the right to exist.
    The settlements in occupied Palestine need to be removed and cannot be justified. They undermine Israel’s otherwise good democratic position.

  • This article appears to be ignoring the distinction between opposition to the actions of the Israeli government and antisemitism. When one does this it becomes easy to dismiss all claims of antisemitism with a trivial wave of the hand (or in this case a flourish of quotation marks).

    What’s not so easy is to accept that actually there are people in our society who are antisemitic and that it is every bit as bad as any other form of racism. This particular variant of racism frequently hides behind otherwise valid and legitimate criticism of the Israeli government. That often makes it difficult to know whether critics are simply legitimate political opponents of that government or whether they are also (or even just) racists dressing up their hatred in political rhetoric.

    I am not a practising Jew, nor am I a supporter of the actions of the Israeli government, neither do I see antisemites hiding behind every lamppost. Nevertheless I recognise that it is alive and well in the world today. Witch hunt or not, until one understands that Jews around the world do have something very real to fear from antisemitism, one cannot begin to understand the phenomenon that created Israel in the first place and that has always been a critical motivating factor behind the actions of successive Israeli governments and of their supporters in the diaspora.

    This lack of understanding amongst its leadership is the reason why the Labour party is in danger of becoming a happy hunting ground for antisemitism. Let’s not risk doing the same thing ourselves.

  • Good article Jonathan and good to be reminded that the Israeli/Palestinian issue is not really that complicated. It all boils down to international law and human rights. If Israel would stop its continued colonising of the Palestinian territories and withdraw to 1967 borders then it would cease to be in breach of the Geneva Conventions of 1947 and the Palestinians and neighbouring countries would be delighted. The question is how to pressure Israel to stop its hostile and provocative actions and force it to enter negotiations with serious intent.
    First thing to realize is that it’s no use waiting for the Americans. Obama and Kerry have made great efforts with Netanyahu and failed because the latter knows that Obama won’t be able to do anything about it when Netanyahu ignores him. That is the reality of the American domestic political scene, notwithstanding the groundswell of support for Jewish Voice for Peace and other US pressure groups for a just solution to the situation. The front runners for the American Presidency are falling over themselves to support the Netanyahu government and there will be no serious US initiative for at least 12 months.

  • Peter Davies 27th Mar '16 - 11:05am

    The Middle East is the reductio ad absurdum of the concepts of nationhood and collective rights. The solution when it comes will not be based in history. A good but more tractable example is Northern Ireland. The solution did not bring justice for the dead. It did bring hope to the living.

  • I have seen what the “Israeli’s” have been doing to the Palestinians for many years; watch “The Nakba” and Al-Jazeera. They treat them as lower life forms; and the similarity with the way the Jews were treated during the second world war is very depressing. They believe that their “God” thing gave them that land and they are the “Chosen Ones”. The whole madness is kept going by religion in the USA and elsewhere. As religion does not make sense- we will get nonsense!
    The problem is that all religions will support the existence of other religions – Islamic madness for instance, to give themselves credence.
    I am disgusted in our government and all parties for just turning a blind eye to the atrocities.
    A two-State solution is the obvious way – but they want it all!
    We should sanction and shout about every terrible deed!

  • A.C. Trussell “A two-State solution is the obvious way – but they want it all!”
    The present Israeli government is steadily taking it all and international pressure is the only way to stop them. In the absence of any progress by the USA this presents an opportunity for European moral and political leadership. The current French peace initiative should be supported wholeheartedly. It should be accompanied by recognition of Palestine as a state by European powers so that Israel realizes that the rest of the world is serious about 1967 borders.
    It is time also to ban all trade with settlements from Europe. The Foreign Office advice ( to those who might trade with settlements is clear in warning people not to, and this is not just purchase of products but also extends to tourism and other service. It is time to go further and ban all trade with settlements –they are after all built on stolen land and their income is derived from the proceeds of crime. Trading with them is complicity with their crimes.

  • Conor Cusack 27th Mar '16 - 4:35pm

    Thank you mr Coulter. A very interesting article which has made me recollect what was the catalyst to becoming an activist for Palestinian rights.

    I visited Israel and lived there for a year in 2010. I wasn’t politically active then and it was only upon visiting the West Bank that this started to change. What shone through particularly strongly is how the Israeli settler project in the occupied West Bank is not actually about security. It’s a colonial land grab. You can see that from the way the separation wall encircles reserves of water, cuts through towns, surrounds the holy city of Bethlehem so that it’s all but cut off.

    The scenes of desperate Palestinian men queuing from 3am to have a chance of one of the few permits to work, or even less likely, to be allowed to see family on the other side, will stay with me. 

    The walls and cages reminded me of how we treat animals in a battery farm. To deny people dignity and subject them to this daily humiliation is a disgrace. 

    It’s only hardened my resolve to help in any way I can.

  • Jonathan Coulter is right to question why peace has never been achieved between the occupiers and the oppressed. Unless Israel is forced to the bargaining table by the West stopping its funding, there will never be an incentive.

    Israel isn’t interested in peace and Netanyahu stated that the occupation will never while he constantly expands settlements to complete the Greater Israel project. Our politicians are not interested in the Palestinians when most of them belong to whatever Friends of Israel and only hear the distorted version when visiting Israel.

  • Jonathan Brown 27th Mar '16 - 6:12pm

    Good article Jonathan. Getting to a just and sustainable resolution to the conflict, involving the upholding of security and human rights of Jewish Israelis and Palestinians (including Christians, Druze and others) will be complicated, but it would be less complicated if we remembered that, as you say, this is a conflict between a settler-colonial movement and an indigenous people at root.

  • Jonathan Brown 27th Mar '16 - 6:20pm

    I should have added: As well as taking a firm stance in favour of supporting the legal rights of the Palestinians, I would like us to work more pro-actively with the pro-peace Jewish groups both in the UK and abroad: Yachad, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, etc.

    As well as being the right thing to do, it would help bolster the courage of our leaders in the face of being “done over by the Jewish Chronicle”, to whatever extent that may be the case. And should also help strengthen the pro-peace Jewish movements.

  • Adam Waterhouse 27th Mar '16 - 6:23pm

    “This article appears to be ignoring the distinction between opposition to the actions of the Israeli government and antisemitism. When one does this it becomes easy to dismiss all claims of antisemitism with a trivial wave of the hand (or in this case a flourish of quotation marks).” Actually, I do agree with this comment by Alan Levy, but the reason that people are starting to dismiss accusations of “anti-Semitism” is because the majority of such accusations are cynical and politically motivated and not motivated by concern for anti-Semitism as originally defined – hatred of Jews as Jews. The definitive go-to source on this topic is “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” by Norman Finkelstein (and his talks on “The New Anti-Semitism). So whist it’s valid to make the point that actual anti-Semitism should still concern people, anyone failing to make this point within the context of an appropriate condemnation of the abuse of the term “anti-Semitism” is failing to acknowledge or identify the main reason that people are becoming cynical about the use of this term.

  • paul barker 27th Mar '16 - 8:33pm

    Reading comments on Labour List last week I read a comment joking about The Holocaust & several others defending it. That was an extreme case but casual Anti-Jewish remarks are common across The “Left” & even among people who think of themselves as Liberals. Confusion between Jews & Zionists are common & often deliberate on both “sides” of this endless War.
    Of course the big obstacle to Peace is that Israel has The USA on its side & The Palestinians dont really have anyone & Yes “Europes” reluctance to get involved allows the stalemate to continue but the simplicity stops there. One big problem to any 2 State solution is that one or both sides must allow free passage through their Territory for the others. Its never going to be easy even if we can get Europe as a whole to pull our weight.

  • Jonathan Coulter 27th Mar '16 - 9:59pm

    Thank you all very much for your comments. The main points of my paper are that: (a) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a product of our own failure (and that of our allies), to address one of the World’s most obvious injustices, one which has for decades been stirring up anger in a supremely volatile area of the World, and; (b) this is largely a consequence of fear within political parties and wider society. This is something I think we should blame first and foremost on ourselves, rather than upon Israelis and Palestinians. I shall be grateful to know if you have anything further to say on this.

  • Miranda Pinch 28th Mar '16 - 9:39am

    Jonathan refers to ‘the fear factor’. I can attest to the fear of being featured in the Jewish Chronicle on 3 occasions. The first due to a misquote by Christian Aid and I still get it thrown at me. The third was in response to the source of an article I posted, which was claimed as anti-Semitic. Even the most reputable of publications has a variety of comment, some of which can be accused of being anti-Semitic so taking that to its logical conclusion, very few articles would be acceptable from any source!
    I have often heard fear expressed by politicians, journalists, clergy and human rights workers who have been variously successfully attacked just for speaking truth to power. I was annoyed during the coalition, that Nick Clegg did not stand up more for human rights in Palestine. We were in an exceptionally strong position to do so as we had little to lose and everything to gain by showing integrity and grit.

  • Miranda Pinch 28th Mar '16 - 9:40am

    But there is fear that is rarely mentioned. I recently spent time with two Palestinian female Muslim friends, one in Nablus and the other in Hebron. Both have very young children and both are now terrified of travelling anywhere. Since late last year, things have got much worse for Palestinians and they both believe that they could be killed at any time and that they have absolutely no protection and that Israelis have total impunity.
    While I was in Hebron I learned of a 34 year old Palestinian woman who had been killed in her car and was accused of intending to run over Israeli soldiers. She had 4 children at home, the oldest was 14 years old and she had a husband working in Israel. I saw photos of the car and the windscreen around her head was riddled with bullets. In this country a car heading dangerously towards soldiers would have its tyres blown out and there might be bullets in various parts of the car. The pattern of the bullets on the car in question showed precision aiming entirely at her head. Afterwards, the soldiers said they found a knife in her car…
    As long as any Israeli soldier or settler says they feel in danger, they are allowed to shoot to kill. No wonder, most ordinary Palestinians now live in fear of, not just travel, but of Israeli incursions into their relatively ‘safe’ areas in Area A of the West Bank and both my friends had examples of terrifying experiences.
    Fear is used as a weapon to prevent freedom of speech and debate and as a way to control populations.
    The only way to combat such terrorism is to face it and to stand up to it. It means self-sacrifice to varying degrees and I know people whose careers and lives have been seriously affected, including some Israeli activists who must be some of the bravest people on earth, but it is only by standing firmly together that such fear tactics can be defeated.

  • Helen Robinson 29th Mar '16 - 9:42am

    Unfortunately, this is a very poor article with a bad grasp of history that comes to a disturbing conclusion. The Israel Palestine conflict is not, as has been suggested, a straightforward clash between a settler colonialist movement and indigenous people and Israel is not just a bunch of European colonists imposed on a native population. Is the author unaware that more than half of the Jewish population of Israel are Mizrahi (Eastern) in origin, displaced from other ancient communities of the Middle East, many of whom fled with their lives but little else? Are they colonialists?

    The impetus for modern Zionism was the horrific murders of the Russian pogroms of the late 19th century that led some to conclude that a Jewish homeland was the only answer to what much of Europe saw as its Jewish problem. But the Jewish yearning to return to Zion is not new, it is common to Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and there was always a Jewish presence in Palestine (depleted over the centuries mainly by persecution) and particularly in Jerusalem where Jews were at times a majority. The push factor of persecution from the 1880s onwards (and the fact that few countries were keen to accept Jews) did lead to a huge expansion in the Jewish population of Palestine at the same time that the country’s Arab population was also increasing at a very fast rate.

    But the bad history is one thing. The thrust of the rest of the article is something else. The author believes that supporters of Israel have a stranglehold on the major political parties. The Tories are under the influence of Conservative Friends of Israel and – so the author suggests – may be even be frightened of them. Labour is the victim of a “strident campaign”, not to say “witch hunt”, by guess who, the usual suspects. No possibility that there might actually be a few nasty anti-semites in their midst and Jewish students might have a few problems at universities with them. And the Liberal Democrats, as evidenced by a “seasoned actor” walk in terror of that maker or breaker of careers, the all powerful Jewish Chronicle with its 22,000ish circulation.

    In this “sorry state of affairs”, Jews/Zionists have captured the foreign policy not just of the political parties, but religious leaders, professional and business people. The age old conspiracy theory out in the open and expounded on Liberal Democrat Voice. Bravely done.

  • Miranda Pinch 29th Mar '16 - 11:18am

    Helen. You say most Zionists tend to be Jews. Sadly you are wrong. The State of Israel came about because of the efforts of Christian Zionism of which there is huge amount in the USA and a surprising amount in the UK. Balfour and his supporters among them. The worst of the Jewish settlements in the Hebron area of the West Bank are funded by American Christian Zionists and they play a major part in American politics.
    Secondly, just because people are fleeing on atrocity does not give them the right to be the cause of an atrocity for others. I speak as the daughter of a Jewish refugee.
    Most Arab countries had large and accepted Jewish populations until quite recently and were much more accepting and welcoming to them than Europe. In fact all 3 Abrahamic faiths rubbed along quite well together in most of the Middle East including Palestine until ‘The West’ decided to divvy it up, especially Britain and France.
    Taking your points one at a time Helen, yes there are indeed nasties in the Labour Party, just as there are in every Political Party and indeed in every ethnic and religious group. It is impossible to shut them out entirely. It is interesting to note that the Conservatives only have a Friends of Israel and are no friends of the Palestinians at all except for a few slowly appreciating that the narrative they have been sold is decidedly flawed.
    You show contempt for those of us who try to stand up for equality in the region and I can tell you, get out the violins, that apart from featuring the the JC, I have received personal abuse via email, the telephone and directly from a certain local bunch of Jewish Zionists. When I ask them about any sort of equal rights for Palestinians they go silent.
    So who, I wonder, is the bully? Sorry Helen your response is as ill-informed as you accuse us of being.

  • Jonathan Coulter 29th Mar '16 - 12:08pm

    I question Helen’s point starting with: “Israel is not just a bunch of European colonists imposed on a native population – – -”. It was Europeans who launched the Zionist project, at the time of the Pogroms. The massive emigration of Arab and Middle-Eastern Jews occurred after the creation of Israel, some of it encouraged or induced by Israel itself. While it is true that many Jews had an age-old yearning for Zion, it is also true that for many centuries the Welsh had a belief that Arthur to come back and force the English “back into the sea whence they came”. However, I do not think we should build our international policies on such traditions and/or myths. This brings me back to my original assertion, that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is not so much a problem about Israelis and Palestinians, but about our own (Western) failure to work out and implement coherent policies, to “get our ducks in row”, so to speak.

    Contrary to what Helen implies, I think it is important that we debate the influence of the Zionist/Israel lobby on LibDem Voice, as dispassionately as possible and on the basis of evidence. In fact, there are reality well-researched investigations into this lobby, for example Mearscheimer and Walt’s book on “the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” (2007), and the 2009 Channel 4 Dispatches Programme on “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby”. At an observational level, I find it amazing that anybody can deny the influence of the Israel lobby, after seeing Congress invite President Netenyahu to come and attack Barack Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran, and then give him 29 standing ovations.

  • Israel as a “settler-colonial movement”. The Zionists having “massive and highly effective lobbying”. The investigation into revolting anti-semitism by the Oxford University Labour Club as simply a “witch-hunt” conducted by the Jewish Chronicle.

    On top of the likes of Jenny Tonge and David Ward, it’s not just Corbyn’s Labour that has a Jewish problem.

  • Helen Robinson 29th Mar '16 - 3:50pm

    Jonathan, we can agree that the impetus for modern Zionism came from the pogroms of the 19th century (and the Dreyfus case), although there remained Jews in Palestine throughout the centuries after the Roman expulsion. It is just that they kept getting fewer because they were murdered by practically every new invader. In Jerusalem in the early 19th century for instance, they were at times the majority. Every wave of persecution led to a new wave of immigration to Palestine but it was in the 1930s (for obvious reasons), that immigration really increased and at a time when other countries were closing their doors. It is vital to get the history right and it is a lot more complex than some kind of catch-all “settler colonial” template.

    Miranda Pinch, I am afraid you are simply wrong in believing that Jews in Arab lands “rubbed along quite well together” with the majority population. Always second class citizens, they were entirely dependent on the goodwill of the ruler of the day. If he was benign then life was okay, but if not, then it could be murderous. I recommend you read Martin Gilbert’s “In Ishmael’s House” to understand this better. The backlash against Israel’s creation made life intolerable for most of these ancient communities but it was already bad. In Baghdad where Jews had lived since Babylonian times and been a substantial proportion of the population, most fled with nothing. But even before 1948 there had been the “farhud” massacre of 1941 of over a hundred and possibly several times that number during the festival of Shavuot.

    As for the present Jonathan, you stated very directly that all the main political parties, some numbers of religious leaders and people in professional and business life are influenced by a “fear factor” generated by supporters of Israel (who I am afraid Miranda are overwhelmingly Jewish).

    Of course there is a lobby in this country which argues Israel’s case and why should there not be? Citing a piece of controversial research which in any case only applies to the United States and one television programme does not prove an argument however. To suggest supporters of Israel have such powers that practically the entire British Establishment is in their thrall is not brave but rather resonant with the traditional anti-semitic narrative and conspiracy theories that I would have expected Liberal Democrats to have been the last people to endorse.

  • Miranda Pinch 29th Mar '16 - 5:30pm

    Helen Robinson, the problem with your refutation of my history is that everything is relative. It is true that under the Ottoman Empire Christians and Jews paid a special tax, but they still faired quite well in the region and, compared to the treatment of Jews in Europe, those Jews living there were very well off indeed. I therefore stand by my statement about their rubbing along well together. In fact it was Islam who often protected the Jews from Christians!
    I think you will find that it was after the Sykes/Picot Agreement of 1916 that things really began to change for Jews in the region and in particular after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
    And yes and no, Helen to what you say about Zionists. In the UK the Israeli lobby is largely Jewish. In the USA, you will find, as I said, a huge number of Zionist Christians who are particularly influential in the Republican Party. However, my history was correct and Balfour and his mates were indeed Christian Zionists.
    I suggest you take a look at the history behind the Balfour Declaration on

  • Adam Waterhouse 29th Mar '16 - 10:57pm

    Zionism as a political project is incompatible with a belief in universal human rights. You can’t, at one and the same time, claim to believe that everyone should have the right to live in freedom and dignity and yet also believe that people of Jewish descent have the right to oppress and dispossess Palestinians. Such a belief is nothing more than primative tribalism no matter how much intellectualisation, sophistication and rationalisation it might be dressed up with. The Palestinians are a community of people who are denied the right to live as a community of people and this is one of the least understood or reported upon aspects of this issue. I have a Palestinian friend living in Jordan who has members of her wider family living in Gaza, the West Bank, and within the “Green Line” (Israel’s legally defined borders) who are completely unable to meet up with one another for social events in the way that we are able to take for granted. In this way Israel commits terrible human rights abuses against the Palestinian people every single day. I would urge everyone to read this article by Holocaust survivor Dr Gabor Maté on the beautiful dream which has become a nightmare:

  • Jonathan, thank you for this thought-provoking article. As you rightly and refreshingly say, the tragedy of the Israel/Palestine ‘problem’ is fundamentally one of settler colonial oppression.

    I must therefore ask why Helen Robinson raises pogroms in 19c Russia and Eastern Europe as quasi justification for Jewish people from those areas to force out the indigenous people in an already occupied land. Almost 80% of Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed and have been denied their internationally recognised right of return.

    Helen also brought up the Jewish community in Iran, claiming that they were forced out by anti-Jewish sentiment. I urge Helen and anyone else interested to read this article The Jews of Iran and/or book written by Naeim Giladi, an Iranian Jew who was a young activist at that time , who became an Israeli citizen before finally finding out the truth behind the so called anti-Jewish massacres in Baghdad. These attacks were carried out by zionists wanting additional Jewish immigration to the newly declared Israel.

    The truth must out. It is not anti-semetic to state facts. It is wrong not to work towards a just settlement for the Palestinian people. Thank you.

  • Helen Robinson 30th Mar '16 - 9:00am

    Marji Minds, I never mentioned Iran. For your future reference, Iranians are not Arabs and I am not sure they would thank you for mixing them up. It occurs to me that you may have confused Iran with Iraq. They are two very different countries.

    I did not raise the Czarist pogroms of the late 19th century as justification for the founding of Israel, I was trying to explain the background. How can we tackle the problems of the present if we do understand the history?

    Adam Waterhouse, if Zionism is incompatible with human rights it is strange that Israel is the only country in the region (I think we must now exclude Turkey) where there is a free press; where all its citizens including the 20% who are not Jewish have the vote; where there is an independent judiciary (and an Arab, Salim Joubran is a member of the Supreme Court); where Arabs are members of the professions and attend the universities; where there is freedom to worship any god or none; where discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is illegal and same sex couples can adopt; and where there are large annual gay pride marches in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Were you to have a baby (I presume unlikely), you would lie in a hospital bed where your neighbour, certainly in the north of Israel, might well be an Arab mother also giving birth. Israel is far from perfect and there is discrimination but it is better by miles than anywhere else in the region.

    Strangely enough I thought those were the kinds of things Liberal Democrats would instinctively support.

    Finally, Miranda Pinch, I have no problem in accepting that Arthur Balfour (and some of his circle) was indeed a Christian who became a Zionist. The two are not necessarily incompatible although like you, I find much of American Christian Zionism unappealing. The website you pointed me to seeks as I understand it to further the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. However, if you idealise the history of the side you clearly passionately support, you will neither understand the present nor advance the cause of peace. You are clearly attached to this rather quaint “rubbing along together” idea you have about the history of Jews in Arab countries and that they were fine except for having to pay the “dhimmi” tax but I am afraid this is based largely on wishful thinking.

  • Miranda Pinch 30th Mar '16 - 10:07am

    Helen, you accuse me of having rose-tinted spectacles regarding the Ottoman Empire, when I explained that history is relative. So how would you describe the treatment of the Jews in Europe over the last two centuries?
    I suggest you read this article from the Jewish Chronicle. It might help you to put history into a better perspective, both European and Middle Eastern.
    I quote from the article:
    “to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.”
    I also notice that your rose-tinted view of Israel makes no mention of occupation, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Bedouin in Israel or the differences between the money spent and building permits, education, roads etc. in Arab and Jewish areas of Israel. No one here has suggested that Israel is not a good place to live for many of those within its ‘borders’, except that it currently has no fixed borders and is building on the lands belonging to others. A place where Palestinian mothers frequently give birth to babies at checkpoints created by Israel – a great place to live!

  • Jonathan Coulter 30th Mar '16 - 11:20am

    From time to time, I try to keep this thread focused on the key arguments in the original article, rather than a discussion of everything good and bad about Israel. Helen points to the positive side of Israel, but had the colonial powers remained in Kenya and Algeria, we would probably say similar things about the situation there. When Europeans take over third world countries they seek to introduce liberal institutions, such as a free press, but they still produce settler-colonialism, involving discrimination, dispossession and violence.

    I hope people will keep to the main arguments I put forward in my original article, and particularly our need to openly discuss the fear factor to which Miranda has vividly attested. This will help us deal rationally with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a way that promotes human rights and world peace.

  • Adam Waterhouse 30th Mar '16 - 5:59pm

    Helen, you are just rolling out the typical Zionist talking points and ignoring the point that I made. Members of the same family in Gaza, within the Green Line, the West Bank and Jordan are unable to meet up with each other for birthday’s, weddings, funerals, etc. The Palestinians are a community of people – families and friends – who are denied the right to live as a community of people and forced to live in isolated enclaves completely cut off from each others. A belief in universal human rights entails a belief in Dignity, Equality, and Justice for everyone (the motto of Jewish Voice for Peace in American of which I am a (non-Jewish) member). Zionism, at least as currently understood and implemented, is incompatible with a belief in equality and typically places a higher premium upon the feelings and sensibilities of Israelis and pro-Zionist Jews than it does upon the lives and basic human rights of Palestinians (a bias which is also reflected by vast swathes of the Western press). It is for this reason that I say that Zionism is incompatible with a genuinely held belief in universal human rights – since you cannot claim to support universal human rights if you want to make exceptions.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Mar '16 - 10:59pm

    After Camp David the USA directed a large proportion of their international aid to the region. How much does the USA pay Egypt? Whose interest is it to pay so much?
    It was thought that Obama could be elected without needing large numbers of Jewish votes, but it was proved wrong.

  • jenny tonge 8th Apr '16 - 7:04am

    Thank you Jonathan for starting yet another very useful debate and to all its contributors.
    What concerns me most is the INJUSTICE which the Palestinians have suffered since the creation of the state of Israel.
    If only we could get the leader of the LibDems to get engaged! It would give our party a distinctive edge and we would get much support too.
    Most people I talk to,are weary of the decades of debate and peace processes and want action. The problem goes to the very heart of what is happening in the Middle East. It is not just oil!
    I can only carry on asking questions, making speeches when invited, being ostracised by the party leadership and being accused by the Jewish Chronicle and the Israel Lobby.
    C ‘est la vie.

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