Israel: Signs of desperation
Identifying the United Kingdom as the center of an effort by Islamists and the hard left to delegitimize Israel, the Israeli think tank, the Reut Institute, is exhorting British Jews to help to build a "political firewall" around Israel against attacks on its right to exist. At the same time, Israel's strident Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is ordering Israeli embassies all over Europe to adopt measures to improve Israel's standing in Europe, including the recruitment of 1,000 "allies" who will be encouraged to speak up for Israel in the media and at public meetings.
Israel's implicit assumption is that Europe is in the throes of a fresh upsurge of anti-Semitism that often masquerades as "principled" anti-Zionism and that is being fuelled by anti-Zionist Islamist propaganda. That Israel's sullied image might have anything to do with its own unsavory conduct does not seem to occur to Israeli politicians and PR specialists. They are apparently incapable of comprehending that great numbers of individuals have formed a view of Israel's behavior that has nothing to do with hatred of Jews. The truth is that Israel's massively destructive 2009 assault on Gaza, together with this year's storming by Israeli commandos of the Turkish Gaza aid flotilla, brought to a head a growing sense across the civilized world that Israel not only rides rough shod over international law but tramples on elementary principles of human decency. The Israeli journalist, Aluf Benn, has remarked that not even Abba Eban, the most persuasive spokesperson Israel ever had, could now rehabilitate the Jewish state's reputation, so compromised in international eyes has it become.
The increasingly negative public perception of Israel poses awkward problems for the leader of Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, Prime Minister David Cameron. Nothing if not presentation-conscious, Cameron is anxious not to be associated with the blanket support of Israel offered by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, as was indicated by his description of Gaza as a "prison camp". Yet he presides over a national political culture whose readiness to bow to Israeli and Zionist pressure long ago assumed the character of a conditioned reflex. Speaking at a recent dinner to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the British Board of Jewish Deputies, his friend and colleague, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, left his listeners in no doubt about the depth of the British government's commitment to Israel. The chancellor was, incidentally, sharing the platform with none other than Blair, whose insistence that Israel's security issues were the security issues of the whole of the Western world provoked the kind of audience response normally reserved for rock stars.
Osborne and Blair's lavish praise of a state whose behavior is so widely abhorred went unnoticed by the mainstream British media. David Cameron must be hoping that similarly exiguous attention is accorded to his government's stealthy efforts to placate Israel and British Zionists by diluting Britain's commitment to the international law of "universal jurisdiction" which has made it possible for private citizens to obtain a warrant from a magistrate on provision of appropriate evidence for the arrest of visiting Israelis believed to be guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last year, the former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to London, knowing that she faced possible arrest on this basis. Proposals in the British government's current Police Reform Bill would make it much more difficult to invoke the law of universal jurisdiction against visiting Israeli dignitaries, however strong the grounds for doing so. The proposals in question have the potential to dramatize the sharpening polarization over Israel between government and public opinion, indicating as they do that elected British representatives are prepared to flout international law on Israel's behalf.
Visiting London last week, the UN Special Rappoteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, Professor Richard Falk, underlined the centrality of international law for the Middle East conflict at a moment when it is increasingly apparent that the "locus of the conflict" has slipped from governments and the United Nations to the peoples of the world. Remarking that the Palestinian cause now occupies the high moral ground as never before, Falk affirmed his belief that it is inexorably succeeding the struggle against apartheid South Africa as the pre-eminent moral struggle that unites people of conscience everywhere. One of the meetings Falk addressed took place at London University, and it is university campuses in Britain and elsewhere that could play a major role in establishing justice for the Palestinians as an anti-apartheid-style mass movement that Western governments can no longer ignore. Students in British universities are currently protesting against government plans to raise tuition fees but there is a growing sense that they are becoming radicalized over larger issues of injustice in ways not seen since the 1960s.
Israel's frantic PR offensive against those who would delegitimize it smacks of rising alarm that the Jewish state is in peril of occupying the same place in global political consciousness that apartheid South Africa once did. Yet if Israel truly wishes to be seen as a legitimate state it will hardly achieve that objective with confrontational talk about building "firewalls".