Save Palestine by rediscovering the British Liberal tradition

Right now, as events unfold in Gaza, a test case is emerging for British Liberalism, and European Liberalism more broadly, the response to which will say a lot about the state it is in within Western Europe. That test case is the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

For too long, some liberals have been indifferent to the persecution of Palestinians by the Israeli state, with the honourable exception of the Liberal Democrats. A lack of forceful criticism or forbidding expression of objection to the actions of the Israeli state, in the case of Emmanuel Macron, is to the disgrace of the noble cause of liberalism. That is why British liberals need to rediscover their liberal heritage to save the reputation of liberalism as something more than what cynics dismiss as mere talk.

Some of the online sharing by relatively ordinary supporters of Israel in recent days has been astounding, but reflect the depth to which a substantial number of people have decided to embrace contempt for the existence of Palestinians.

Among the online notions is that, because the Palestinian Mandate was under British stewardship, there was no such thing as Palestine. This is just warmed up version of the view of Golda Meir, (former Prime Minister of Israel), who said:

When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? … It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

Sorry Golda, but natural rights do not require the existence of a state. As British liberal John Locke could argue, the right to property comes from mixing labour with natural resources. He was of the view:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions… (and) when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

For the reason of depriving Palestinian olive tree growers of their source of living, Locke would likely be very critical of Israeli settlers if he were alive today.

John Stuart Mill, a fierce proponent of free speech, would more than likely horrified by the seemingly unjustifiable assault on the free press in Gaza by missiles that levelled the offices of Associated Press and Al Jazerra.Mill would probably agree with AP that the strike was “shocking and horrifying.” This gets to the broader critique of Israeli state power that some need to stop taking the justifications of the Israeli Defence Forces at face value, and show vigour in questioning them. If the IDF cannot prove the AP offices housed HAMAS military intelligence then what has to be faced up to is they do not want to hear criticism. They should be open to critique because it clarifies partial truths and corrects them which are false.

If liberals reclaim the intellectual heritage of John Locke and John Stuart Mill they will do more to help bring an end to the Palestinians suffering than FATAH and HAMAS ever did. To do this, people like Macron need to be pushed aside to face down Israeli state abuse of the Palestinian people.

* Shane Burke has had extensive dealings with Liberals in the United Kingdom. He is an aspiring writer on issues related to Liberalism. He is not a member of the Liberal Democrats.

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  • nigel hunter 18th May '21 - 11:28am

    The 2party state idea must not be killed off.
    Interesting article on what is going on—The New York Times.After years of quiet,Israeli,Palestinian conflict exploded.Why now?.August15th 2021vested interests.and is exploited by Patrick Kingsley
    It goes well back into history

  • John Marriott 18th May '21 - 11:48am

    Before Mr Burke sounds off about ‘Palestine and the British Liberal tradition’ he ought to take a look at the career of the prominent Liberal Party politician, Herbert later Viscount Samuel, particularly with reference to his championing a homeland for the Jews, both during and after WW1, both through his links with the Zionist movement and as the first High Commissioner for Palestine in 1922, a position that he had been advised, by none other than British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to turn down.

  • So … what’s the prescription here?

  • Israel has its Liberal parties – New Hope, Yesh Atid and Hosen (Blue and White). Balad is a secular party that promotes liberal values in its aim to eliminate discrimination against Arab citizens and redefine Israel as a state for all its citizens rather than a “Jewish and democratic state”.

    Up until a week ago it looked as if Netanyahu’s time in office was up with a new government for change headed by Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid centrist party being formed with the support of Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Raam party. Yair Lapid. was given the mandate by the Israeli president to attempt to create a governing coalition,The current outbreak of violence appears to have derailed that possibility
    Yamina party chairman Naftali Bennett announced that the “change government has fallen out of favor with Yamina and has withdrawn from the proposed coalition.
    Bennett is now trying to promote a broad unity government with the Likud, including New Hope, Ganz and Blue and White, and even Yesh Atid. Yair Lapid. Lapid, is not interested in Bennett’s idea. He held a press conference to say that he will continue his effort to form a new government without Netanyahu and that based on the mandate, he has until the first week of June to do it. There could even be a 5th election if no agreement can be reached.
    Israel is split between Liberal and Conservative views as are most countries. The role of the International community is not to define their politics, but to insist on compliance with International law and conventions including in both human rights and in its the conduct of military operations. backed up with sanctions when necessary to dissuade continued non-compliance.

  • The tragic destruction and loss of life in Gaza is about many things including illegal land occupation, terrorism, excessive use of force and much else. Both sides must back down and the West, led by the US, must find and insist on a lasting resolution. The US has the influence to persuade israel but perhaps not the political will. Hamas does not help matters by provoking obliteration of its constituents.

    Now, what were you saying about Liberalism and what does that have to do with it?

  • Helen Dudden 18th May '21 - 8:51pm

    It is very disrespectful in my view, to speak in a way that you did about the former Prime Minister of Isreal.

  • Arthur Clive Trussel 19th May '21 - 8:25am

    Just to mention the statement of Golda Meir: ” we came and threw them out and took their country away from them.” She seems to contradict herself – “took their country away from them” – is saying it was a country and their’s (Palestinians), in the first place.

  • The British government bleats that it supports the the two-state solution, while refusing to recognise the Palestinian right to statehood, and responded to Layla Moran’s urgent question in Parliament last week that it was quietly doing lots behind the scenes. James Cleverly, at the dispatch box in place of the absent Foreign Secretary, assured the House and other listeners that Britain has a ‘powerful’ influence on Israel.
    Last night a smiling, relaxed Israeli Prime Minister broadcast a message to the world which put that assurance in its proper place. The IDF was going to teach the Palestinians a lesson about the price Israel extracts for the violation of Palestinians’ role as an oppressed and subjugated people which they would never forget. He went on to inform other countries in the region that they too should be watching Israel use its military might to crush dissent in Gaza. They could be next. If the British government has indeed found the courage to challenge Israel behind closed doors, it has been treated with utter contempt. The tens of thousands around the world who have marched in solidarity with the Palestinians likewise.
    Incredibly, the job of bringing a halt to the violence has fallen on the corrupt regime in Egypt, Britain and Biden’s USA having abdicated responsibility. Calling out Netanyahu, and he did it in a powerful, impassioned speech broadcast by Al Jazeera last night, fell to ex-Pink Floyd guitar player Roger Waters.
    I hope Liberal Democrats really are the “honourable exception” Shane Burke says we are. If so, we should be demanding immediate recognition of Palestinian statehood, and the offer of London as the place for talks – not just about a ceasefire, but about an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine.

  • IAN G L JONES 19th May '21 - 11:03am

    If we are to help those living in the Middle East, especially those in Palestine, Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, then we have to face up to the the historic forces that underpin today’s political reality and then inch our way forwards through a real and metaphorical minefield.
    These forces include the centuries of anti-semiticism manifested in progroms, the ‘Shoah’ or Holocaust, and the continued prevelance of anti-semiticism today. Additionally we have the repercussions from political decisions made by Western colonial powers when redrawing the map of the Middle East. We should also include the more recent negative developments of Identity Politics and its focus on our differences rather than our similarities.
    I return to Vasily Grossman in ‘Life And Fate’ to better understand where we are and how to seek a way forwards. “Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right.”

    Joining together to win or defend their rights to exist would seem to define the ongoing conflict between the ‘States of Israel and Palestine.’ However, Grossman would suggest that both sides have made a ‘fateful error’.

    “But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a Party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”

    There are individuals on both sides of this conflict who recognise their equal rights to exist and we should support their struggles to be heard. Strenuous efforts must be made to secure a cease fire. The government of the State of Israel is in breach of United Nations judgements on building in occupied territories. This has been ignored for too long which has resulted in a loss of trust in the UN by Palestinians and others.
    Have we become frightened of discussing or engaging with this conflict? Perhaps so, but in failing to engage we contribute to prolonging the suffering on all sides. The conflict maybe between two States, but it’s played out on the mutilated bodies of individuals who once had modest peculiarities and the right to live with those peculiarities. It is time we faced up to our responsibilities to them and for them.

  • BBC News, today “Of the 219 people who have been killed in Gaza, at least 63 are children, according to its health ministry. 2 children have been killed in Israel.”

  • Alex Macfie 19th May '21 - 5:01pm

    Joe Bourke: New Hope is described on Wikipedia as a “center-right to right-wing political party”. It appears to have an electoral pact with Yamina, another right-wing group of parties (the name means “reightwards). So I don’t think NH can be called “liberal”.
    Blue & White “sold out” its liberalism by joining a coalition with Likud, which may be why it lost ground in the last election (might as well vote for the real thing).
    Yesh Atid does look like a genuinely liberal party. Its leader Yair Lapid is the son of the late Tommy Lapid, leader of the former Shinui party (also a liberal party) in the 2000s.
    “The role of the International community is not to define [Israeli] politics” perhaps, but part of our role as a party is to support liberal parties in the region, with the hope that they will gain sufficient ground to oust the hotheads in both camps. Only when moderates are in power in both Israel and Palestine will there be any possibility of peace in the region. Neither Hamas nor Netanyahu’s coalition want peace there, and they are working together to stop it happening.

  • nigel hunter 19th May '21 - 5:37pm

    Talk is cheap. Palestine should be recognised and the circle of hate on both sides has to come to an end.Liberalism has a sort of ‘nice’ ‘soft’ feel about it but talk achieves nothing till both sides come together.A firm united, VOCAL. stancef could allow people to .recognise our position. Those who shout theploudest get noticed.It is time we had that firm resolve

  • Ian Jones: it’s interesting that you have brought Life and Fate into this. To me, Grossman saw the defence of Stalingrad as the clash of two ideologies, Nazi belief that if individual people could be made to regress into delusional feelings of omnipotence, society would be honed to perfection by the ‘survival of the fittest’ principal, and the Russian experience of emerging from feudalism, in which communism promoted the exact opposite, a society where infantile narcissism was replaced by adult awareness and concern for others.
    The historical context you refer to earlier may be a necessary component in understanding the origins of the conflict in Israel/Palestine, but the reasons for the condemnation Israel is reaping around the world could be much simpler. Israel is a military super-power and Hamas is not, and we do not accept that a country capable of delivering a crushing military defeat is right to do so, merely because it can. There is an absolutely necessity that when the fighting stops the underlying territorial dispute is brought to a conclusion, and that will have to mean the creation of a viable Palestinian state. When this has been achieved, the ability of right-wing ideology to thrive in Israel the way it does now will disappear, and the benefits of peace with Palestine will be shared by the people of Israel.

  • Andy Daer, Not to divert the thread from its true purpose, but when you say “communism promoted the exact opposite, a society where infantile narcissism was replaced by adult awareness and concern for others,” clearly didn’t apply to alleged cowards who were put in penal units “Shtrafbat” and forced to fight until they were killed. Nor after WW2 did it apply to Jews in general, with the evil trial of the poets, which led to the execution of all 15 in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, 12 August 1952.

    To me, very little of Russian communism could be described as “adult awareness and concern for others.” Russia was and still is an authoritarian dictatorship and the Jews, like other minorities, were considered to be unreliable, and were often persecuted mercilessly.

    The extent to which Israel today can be considered an elected authoritarian dictatorship is an important question. To me, any country with a leader in power for 12 years is automatically suspect, especially when only supported by 25% of the electorate. Add to that a political system that is so influenced by ethnic and religious factors, masses of minor parties and the opportunity to use of conflict and division as a means to continue in power, and you have a recipe for gaming the system to the advantage of the incumbent.

    Saving Palestine, Saving Israel, indeed Saving anyone, anywhere from authoritarianism is a good Liberal objective. Working out how to do it, is the difficult bit.

  • nigel hunter 19th May ’21 – 5:37pm…………Talk is cheap. Palestine should be recognised and the circle of hate on both sides has to come to an end………

    The pro-Israel lobby is too strong in the US/UK for such an action..I remember how, when Ed Miliband (a Jew himself) even suggested that he supported a Palestinian state, the Jewish “Board of Deputies’ were ouraged and Maureen Lipman stated that she would never vote for a party led by him..
    In the 2014 debate to recognise Palestine as a state (passed by 274-12) Sir Malcolm Rifkind,said it had been British policy for generations that a state is recognised “when the territory in question has a government, an army and a military capability”.

    Sadly, that attitude rules out your suggestion..

  • Peter Hirst 25th May '21 - 5:51pm

    Understanding how and why the present situation persists might help to improve it. We all do bad things and it is by comparing our acts with others that we might gain some shame or justification for our acts. I’m not condoning or criticising anything but considering why what some might see as correct policies are not taken.

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