Opinion: The automaton body-politic

Not for nothing was England once known as ‘Perfidious Albion’ – it would change policy stances more often than a modern quick-change model on a catwalk. Ah yes, those days when foreign policy was as reliably firm as blancmange in a microwave set on high. But not nowadays, of course.

No, Foreign Secretaries and their FCO policy officials who devise and draft policy these post-Great Game days can be relied upon to issue policy that is robustly embedded in the nine points of policy-making as set down by the Cabinet Office and the Better Regulation Executive (BRE). To which all Government Departments abide by, thanks to the Civil Servants who, like me, have attended the National School of Government’s long policy course, and who bring their newly learned policy formulation skills back to their Departments.

For example, one of the nine points is the evidence base. If the cake is burnt, next time turn oven down, if the crèche is getting closer, pull up joystick and avoid crashing plane into school etc. Evidence-based policy making, therefore, even with the advent of the new ‘One In, One Out’ (Oi-you!) sunset of regulational burdens, is still A Good Thing.

So why is it then, that successive post-World War 2 UK FCO policy officials  have been so spectacularly good at learning policy formulation, yet are  so persistently bad at applying what they learn? This new coalition Government did cause me to  hope that Things would Change. Alas, the nine points of policy making are shown the door yet again, after the briefest warming of chapped theoretical hands by the new bluish-yellow fire.

Take, for example, any state or foreign government where such things as rule of law, unlawful imprisonment without charge or trial, no freedom of movement  and so on- you know the rest – are routinely scorned. The FCO  policy reaction is, naturally, ramped up by degree, according to the lack of response from the said foreign power. Critical dialogue I think it’s called – being a ‘critical friend’.  If that doesn’t work, then there is the nuclear option of immediate sanctions, trade embargoes and the like.  The evidence base for this policy is that it actually works, as a last-resort foreign policy option – South Africa is the example here of course.  And for persistent infringement of international humanitarian law and human rights law, there is the entirely moral example of UK sanctions against the Burmese junta for their treatment of the heroically modest Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Good stuff.

But there is one country alone on this planet where uttering its name causes the FCO policy body to suddenly do the opposite and snap into all the alertness of a mesmerised automaton; mention of which country makes the FCO chuck out all nine points of policy-making as though each were nine reincarnations of Thomas a Becket. A country where rule of law applies to one race only, where there are 27 laws on the country’s statute books that favour one race over another, where the other race has no freedom of movement, freedom of expression, or freedom of association; where child arrests and detention without charge or trial are routine, and where shooting dead of nosy but totally innocent foreign nationals is shrugged off.

And, predictably, the foreign policy of our Roosevelt-like ‘New Deal’ Government is now reassuming automaton mode in relation to the country in question, with Nick Clegg having to significantly neuter a morally upstanding and utterly just Party policy approach agreed at the 2009 national Conference. Why? The price of a seat probably – who knows? Either way, the body politic is now once more a zombie, dead to the nine points of policy-making, especially the evidence base.

The morally indefensible FCO policy response to Ministerial Correspondence and DWO (Deal With Officially) correspondence on questions pertaining to the country in question, about sanctions, international humanitarian law and human rights law, racial discrimination and so on, is that evidence-based policy-making does not and must not apply to the country in question. Because, the line goes, sanctions don’t work (Burma? South Africa?) and anyway this country is our ‘strategic partner’. Ah, so that’s all right, then.

This two-faced stance is one of such monumental hypocrisy  that one could be forgiven for thinking the FCO policy drafters are in the pay of the Devil himself. So what?

Well, there is a moral price we all pay for our country’s foreign political  perfidious moral blindness and totally illogical automaton approach, because the craven and obsequious policy stance towards this country, causes continued anger among Muslims worldwide and, as a policy official myself, the FCO policy approach towards this country simply beggars policy belief.

So the FCO’s fawning approach to the country in question has wider implications for UK plc. As someone about to go off to Helmand soon again, what answer do I give to Muslims there who ask me, as they did when I was there last year, why the UK Government condemned South Africa, condemns Burma, yet turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to Israeli breaches of international humanitarian law, UN Resolutions and human rights law, thereby supporting Israel in its illegal occupation of Palestine? How do I explain the FCO policy rationale to them, Mr Hague?

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  • Oh, its Israel.
    It s odd really cos there is a country without elections or women’s rights (or human rights) or independent courts. only one religion allowed, where women can be beheaded for adultery.

    that does sound like a bad place. But its saudi arabia.
    you could tell them that we support democracy and the rule of law. that Turkey and Indonesia are good examples of democratic Muslim countries which the Arab world should seek to emulate.

  • Why target Israel and not ghastly regimes like Saudi Arabia? Say what you like about the former but I’d much rather live there than the latter.

  • It’s never a good thing when you have to rely on the comments section to help you understand exactly what the article was talking about.

  • A rebuke well fielded. Thanks for the summary, and ‘getting the gist’ certainly enabled me to appreciate the nuances of your original post.

    I have to say I agree, although isn’t it true that for these matters to ever be dealt with effectively, they need to be tackled through international co-operation and one country’s policy is never going to have a significant effect on the behaviour of another country?

  • A great article, lets hope that ‘evidence based policy making’ catches on.

  • I would be wary about using the word “Zionist” given that nowadays it is a word used by anti-semites in place of “Jewish” to hide their anti-semitism.

  • Richard, you should be very careful in the way you use the word “Semite” as nowadays it is a word used by people who blindly defend Israel by calling people anti-Semites in apparent ignorant bliss that a Semite is not necessarily a Jew.

    Top marks though for having both sought to suppress the entirely valid use of the word Zionist in the context of this discussion, whilst at the same time distorting the use of the word Semite. Two birds, one stone and all that.

    In the context of the article written by Kerry, the fact that he is referring to the State of Israel and not Jews (we all know that Israel contains Muslims, Druze, Christians and, shock! horror! Atheists!), the use of the word Zionist is entirely appropriate. One can be a Zionist and not be Jewish. If you have difficulty understanding this you should look up the definition of Zionist and/or stop frequenting websites where the word Zionist is interchangeable and is taken to mean the same thing as with the word Jewish

    Zionism is a movement that many Jews do not support, and one which many non-Jews do support. One should not and cannot say that a Zionist is a Jew. Therefore, criticism of Zionism (like criticism of Conservatism, or Liberalism, or, erm, Labourism) is not an ethnic or religious slur, because Zionists come from many different ethnic, national and religious backgrounds.

    You probably already knew this, didn’t you?

    As this appears to be the second comment you have made (apologies if you are not the same Richard who commented earlier) without addressing the fundamental points of the article, I’d appreciate it if you either made a enter into the debate with regards to the content of the article, or else stop spamming this comment thread.

  • Great article Kerry. One despairs of this subject getting a proper airing, and the craven attitude of the other members of the Quartet towards the US in this matter is nauseating and humiliating.

    A thought: I am often struck by how infrequently one sees a proper and thorough treatment of the origins of the Israel/Palestine dispute in the British media. I’m not a great believer in conspiracy theories so presumably it’s cowardice. So keep up the good work!

  • Sadly some of the responses to this very good article show a woeful lack of knowledge about the situation. As a Jew myself, with a mother and grandfather who were both holocaust refugees, both of whom were very much against and even ashamed of Israeli policy towards the indigenous people of Palestine, I must first point out that the Palestinians were innocent of the holocaust, but lost their land and are in the mess they are in now largely because of the terrible foreign policy of this country. However, given the plight that the Palestinians found themselves in after 1967, the first suicide bombing did not take place until 26 years after that illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza AND 50% of those suicide bombers came from families who homes had been destroyed by Israeli policy in the occupied territories. It was not Hamas who broke the cease fire in Gaza that led to the war just over 18 months ago, it was Israel who, with the acceptance of the world, repeatedly assassinated the legally elected government officials along with their wives and children and who still refuses to negotiate with them by calling them terrorists. It was Israel and other Western countries that encouraged the creation of Hamas in the first place. Yes, there has been violence and I am against violence whoever it is from, but if you deprive a people of hope and destroy their homes and livelihoods with the intention of ethnically cleansing the land by driving them out, then it is not surprising that some of those people react badly. When an 8 year old Palestinian child is arrested for allegedly throwing stones for which he is released later without charge, but suffers abuse at the hands of soldiers and settlers who leave him blindfolded and tied up sitting on a bucket, jeered at by settlers and deprived even of the toilet for over 8 hours, who now cannot hold his bladder and screams in the night, do you really believe that such a child and all the others who see their homes bulldozed and their families destroyed, will be the next generation of peace makers? You compare Palestine with Saudi Arabia. As an English Christian, are you the same as a Russian just because you both happen to be white and Christian? Are all Christians the same? Do all Jews believe the same things? Of course not. In the same way, Palestinian Muslims are not all the same and their culture is very much their own. Most of the Palestinians I lived with for 3 months in Hebron were ordinary people like you and me who, to coin a phrase “just want to get their lives back” and be allowed some dignity and human rights. Finally, just because there are other countries around the world with terrible human rights records does not mean that we should abandon a people who this country betrayed and that America and the UK now allow Israel to abuse. To do nothing for fear of being called an anti-Semite is to condone that abuse, and even to encourage it.

  • What Miranda said.

  • “Top marks though for having both sought to suppress the entirely valid use of the word Zionist in the context of this discussion, whilst at the same time distorting the use of the word Semite”

    Where have I sought to suppress the use of the word? I merely made the point that using it makes it easier for apologists of Israel to hurl the anti-Semitism charge. In case you hadn’t noticed many of Israel’s unsavoury critics on the far right do use the word Zionist when they mean Jewish. I am well aware that the author doesn’t mean it that way but unfortunately that won’t stop misinterpretation (deliberate or accidental).

    “As this appears to be the second comment you have made (apologies if you are not the same Richard who commented earlier) without addressing the fundamental points of the article, I’d appreciate it if you either made a enter into the debate with regards to the content of the article, or else stop spamming this comment thread.”

    Get off your high horse you pompous clown. The purpose of my first post was to ask why Israel in particular is being targeted when there are worse regimes in the region. I was genuinely curious. I just find it odd that Israel seems to come in for such much criticism in comparison to the undemocratic and illiberal Arab regimes next door.

  • Hi Richard
    Why is Israel being targeted? My question is why has Israel not been targeted more? We have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. We are threatening Iran. yet we allow a volatile military state with atomic weapons, a terrible human rights record and a dis-stabling effect on the middle east if not the world to continue unabated. Israel may call itself a democracy, but when a whole group of people are denied any real part in the process and are treated as second class people (I can’t even use the term ‘citizens’) with a view to driving them off the land, then I have to ask why the world stands by and just allows it? sadly this country created most of the mess. It is about time we stepped in to help the indigenous people our policies have helped to destroy.

  • chris burns-cox 11th Aug '10 - 11:46am

    Good article that needs wide dissemination.
    The Zionist control of the UK/US/Israel empire is strong enough to prevent the opinions of decent people from carrying any weight politically. Look, for example, at Mr.Clark’s promise to change the law on Universal Jurisdiction.
    UK citizens are deeply shamed by their perfidious government and has the UK foreign office got anything right since the end of the old empire?
    How do the conservative friends of Israel obtain such power and so obviously – seen when you look at select committees on security et al?
    The truth is slowly coming out and extra-Israel Jews are beginning to show lack of support for Israel – especially the young ones.

  • Israel bashing has rarely seemed as delusional and obsessive as Kerry Hutchinson’s post. Working through the opening obsession with process he seems to think that
    a) The FCO don’t criticise Israel as much as he wants and have “a fawning approach”
    b) The Party’s policy on the subject isn’t being reflected by the coalition government.

    This is so obviously at variance with reality it’s almost comic. Perhaps he wrote it a while ago before the would be the recent gaffes/revelations about some of our diplomats blogging against Israel or before Cameron took the opportunity to attack Israel while sucking up to the current Islamist Turkish Prime minister which followed other criticisms from William Hague. But the FCO’s long standing anti Israel attitude hasn’t been exactly a secret, the Middle East section wasn’t nicknamed the “camel corps” for nothing.

    That’s delusional enough but the obsessive nature of it is shown by the ludicrous description of Israel as a massive human rights violator before actually naming it. As pointed out in previous comments this just leads to obvious and correct comparisons with other countries which totally demolish the argument.

    Rule of law? What other country in the region (and how many in the world) has as independent a judiciary and a supreme court which regularly overrides the government? Saudi Arabia?
    Discrimination? What other country in the region gives all its citizens a free and fair vote and where minority ethnic groups can and do elect members of parliament. Syria?
    Which other country in the Middle East allows freedom of worship to all religions? Saudi Arabia?
    The undeniable fact of the matter is that Israel is a liberal democracy in a sea of dictatorships; imperfect as such, just as the UK or USA are, but in a different league on these issues to most countries in the world let alone the region and it’s only the Israel bashers obsessive focus that can’t acknowledge that.

    And if you still don’t think it’s obsessive ask how many conference motions, articles in Liberal Democrat news or Voice etc. have there been on this issue compared to the much larger issues of Tibet, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Sudan etc?

    Our Party’s policy on the subject effectively calling for sanctions against Israel, while not doing anything about Iran supplying Hamas and Hezbollah, is effectively taking sides against a liberal democracy in favour of openly racist genocidal clerical fascists. It is as moronic as the motion from the previous year when it was suggested that the Arab League be added to the Quartet to oversee the Peace process, a body as objective on this issue as the Zionist federation. We got away with this sort of ludicrous hypocritical inconsistency in earlier days because the media didn’t pay any attention we don’t have that luxury now but the worrying thing is we have a Prime Minister whose view of Foreign policy may be just as ignorant..

  • Dear John
    Your response shows that you have read little of the debate following on from the article. I find your rhetoric sadly ill-informed.

  • “I am well aware that the author doesn’t mean it that way but unfortunately that won’t stop misinterpretation (deliberate or accidental).”

    If you are well aware of the mis-use of the word Zionist, and if you are aware that, in this context at least, it was not meant as a racial or religious slur, do you not think that Kerry, who wrote the piece directly addressing Israel (not Zionists or Jews), was aware if that fact? Warning people away from use of the word Zionism plays into the hands of Zionists, does it not? So warning people not to use the word Zionist – which you know to be completely valid in the context in which it has been used – seems like an irrational suppression of that word to me.

    “The purpose of my first post was to ask why Israel in particular is being targeted when there are worse regimes in the region.”

    Is it not a fallacy that one must correct the wrong-doings of “worse regimes” before moving on to the “less worse” regimes?

    Israel is being criticised in this article because it was the authors wont to do so. If you want to read articles that are critical of Saudi Arabia I’m sure that there are lots out there for you to peruse. The opinion of the author on the State of Saudi Arabia is not relevant to the article he wrote, therefore he did not express his opinion on Saudi Arabia. This does not mean that he thinks Saudi Arabia is a perfect democracy that is somehow “less worse” than Israel, it just means that he doesn’t want to discuss it in relation to his thoughts about Israel.

    I might not like both apples and cheese, but that does not mean I must always mention cheese when the topic of conversation is apples.

  • I second what Miranda said to John. For anybody who cares to research the situation in Gaza and West Bank, the multiple fallacies on display in Johns comment are easily rebuffed.

  • Kerry Hutchinson 11th Aug '10 - 11:45pm

    In response to Mr Allen’s claim that Israel is the only democracy of the Middle East, I wonder if he grasps what that description means. If he did, he would readuily agree that Israel comes anywhere near being a democracy. Here’s why:

    I know of no Western-style democracy that imprisons children without trial, seizes land belonging to others despite the owners showing legal title deeds to the land, dispossessing the owners then giving it to colonisers, or that demolishes family homes or throws out families who legally own their properties (the Sheik Jarrad incident is but one).

    I know of no other Western-style democracy that illegally occupies another people’s territory, denying access to aquifers and other water supplies, denying freedom of movement or freedom of assembly, and denying the right of travel internally or abroad.

    What other Western-style democracy uses white phosphorus and anti-personnel munitions against civilians, or whose Defence Force kills foreigners (Corrie, Hook, Hurndall et al) then denies responsibility, and kills unarmed civilians in international waters? Or arrests and detains without trial, legally elected members of parliament?

    I cannot think of one democracy that allows gangs of ‘Settler’ thugs to attack innocent victims, burn crops, uproot trees and destroy property whilst the State Police look on and take no action.

    Mr Allen might usefully read a definition of political and social terminology. Or alternatively spend a day and a night in Old Hebron or Jenin or anywhere in the Occupied West Bank to see why Israel cannot possibly claim to be ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.

  • Kerry Hutchinson 11th Aug '10 - 11:47pm

    My apologies it is veey late – my first sentence should read that he would readily agree that Israel comes nowhere near being a democracy. Serves me right for staying up so late and typing without my glasses. In the words of Dixon of Dock Green – ‘G’night All’.

  • You ask for a definition of democracy

    From the OED online
    “A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives:”

    From Wikipedia (I know but it will do)
    “Liberal democracy (bourgeois democracy or constitutional democracy) is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, the elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive. Political pluralism is usually defined as the presence of multiple and distinct political parties”.
    Liberal democracy” does not respect absolute majority rule (except when electing representatives). The “liberty” of majority rule is restricted by the constitution or precedent decided by previous generations.” (e.g. the Israeli supreme court)

    I haven’t come across a definition of democracy which defines it as a form of government which does whatever any particular external lobby group or individual wants all the time; especially when they may include those who wish to destroy said state and everyone in it.

    Both definitions seem reasonable to me and both are quite clearly fulfilled (overfulfilled when it comes to the number of parties) by Israel and it is just silly to pretend otherwise.

    You may disagree with the decisions of such a state but that’s an entirely separate matter.

    As for some of the criticisms raised your memory is short when it comes to detention without trial, restriction of freedom of assembly and movement etc because of course the UK government has and does all these things with far less reason than Israel what are control orders after all? And after the revelations in the last week about our operations in Afghanistan I don’t think we are in a position to pontificate on the ethics of war tactics by democracies.

    As for a democracy that illegally occupies another peoples territory well I assume you are referring to Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus.

  • I started studying the situation in Palestine/Israel over 10 years ago after business visits to Lebanon and buying at the airport Hanan Ashrawi’s book “This side of peace”. I have not been able to come to any conclusion other than that stated by Miranda: Palestine was stolen from the Palestinians by the Jews (Zionist Jews if you wish). I agree with Jenny Tongue (disgracefully sacked by Nick Clegg): if my country is invaded and occupied then I would fight and teach my children and grandchildren to do the same. If necessary in desperation we would become suicide bombers.

    John Pilger puts it very well in the New Statesman during the Gaza invasion:

    They know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, “Israel’s right to exist”. They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine’s right to exist was cancelled 61 years ago and that the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous “Plan D” of 1947-48 resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Israeli army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as “ethnic cleansing”. Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon: “What shall we do with the Arabs?” Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, “made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, ‘Expel them'”.

    The order to expel an entire population “without attention to age” was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister promoted by the world’s most efficient propaganda as a peacemaker. The terrible irony of this was addressed only in passing, such as when the Mapam party co-leader Meir Ya’ari noted “how easily” Israel’s leaders spoke of how it was “possible and permissible to take women, children and old men and to fill the road with them because such is the imperative of strategy. And this we say . . . who remember who used this means against our people during the [Second World] War . . . I am appalled.”

  • Kerry Hutchinson 22nd Jul '14 - 5:50pm

    So. 4 years on and Iasraeli Forces appeal to Palestinian civilians to leave before the DIME munitions and other bombs fall (Israel being the most moral Army in the world, let’s not forget.). But where on Earth are the thousands supposed to leave for? They can’t fly out – Israel trashed the EU-funded airport. They can’t leave by sea – Israel destroyed the EU-funded harbour, and they can’t leave by land – Israel has long since sealed off Gaza from the adjacent land. Israel’s security and domination policies remain as incoherent as ever, and its systematic repression of indigenous Arabs who lived here before they did, ensures the IDF itself will breed future generations of those willing to fight the Occupier. Mazal Tov!

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