Although Britain has managed to maintain useful relations with Israel even as it has expanded strong partnerships with most Arab states -- a policy of hedging that enabled Britain to have at least some influence with parties on all sides -- demographic changes in Britain, assisted by other developments, suggest that the "hedging" strategy is reaching its limits.
Some within the British government suggest that altering the perception among British Muslims that England subscribes to an "arrogant," "interventionist" and "pro-Zionist" foreign policy will diminish the incidence of domestic Muslim terrorism, and placate Muslim constituents. This obsequious strategy neglects the basic premise of Islamism: that even benevolent infidel regimes are enemies unguided by Allah's divine will and must be fought through jihad. British policy that sees the Arab-Israeli conflict as a prime mover of terrorism also ignores the stated goals of Muslim extremists regarding global Islamic domination.
If relations between Israel and the UK have always been characterized by ups and downs, what are we to make of the current rift? Has England's attitude towards Israel has changed permanently, or is this is just another period of temporarily strained relations that will self-correct? Evidence suggests the British domestic situation has changed in important ways that are spilling over into foreign affairs.
For one thing, the cultural climate is poisoned against Israel by British media and intellectual culture. Britain is at the very center of the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement. Not only have teachers and labor unions repeatedly taken up proposals to isolate and punish Israel, but Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel speakers have been shouted down or disinvited from various forums such as universities, while pro-Hamas speakers have been welcomed by members of Parliament. Careful study of the taxpayer supported BBC and other influential media such as the London Review of Books has demonstrated their complete disregard for balanced, or even accurate, presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and tendentious reporting and analyses present Israel in the worst conceivable light. Israeli efforts to defend itself are derided as propaganda; countless attacks, large and small, are made against Israel --E while extremist views and violence from Hamas, Fatah and other Arab and Muslim sources are systematically ignored by the media. A number of prominent political figures such as Baroness Jenny Tonge from the Liberal Democrat party have an animus against Israel bordering on antisemitism. Tonge not only supported Palestinian suicide bombers, but was sacked by Nick Clegg after accusing Israel, falsely, of stealing organs from Haitian earthquake victims. More recently she stated that Israel's treatment of Palestinians was the "root cause" of world terrorism, disregarding the Iran-Iraq war; the crisis in Darfur; current Egyptian, Nigerian and Iraqi persecutions of Christians; Somali piracy, and other controversies that have nothing to to with that issue. Former Member of Parliament George Galloway has openly defied British law and provided money and supplies directly to Hamas in Gaza -- with no repercussions.
Through these means, and often a guilt-ridden "anti-racism," a significant portion of British public opinion has been turned against Israel, also partly possibly by the disappearance of traditional religious faith and its replacement by the cult of "human rights" – often composed of groups which deliberately distort or disregard evidence, as with Human Rights Watch, or preparatory committee the Goldstone Report, in favor of advancing highly politicized -- and often secretly racist (anti-Semetic, disguised as anti-Zioniost) -- agendas.
If the British need to do business has required deals with the devil, British national interest , since the period of decolonization, has required indulging unsavory regimes in the in the name of balance of trade. The Blair government's summary ending of criminal investigations of British aerospace officials, who were accused of providing more than a billion pounds sterling in bribed to Saudi royals in exchange for defense contracts, is only the largest and most craven example; the recent murder trial of a Saudi prince who killed his male lover assistant in a London hotel could not be covered up.
The British attitude of post-Colonial guilt toward itself also plays a role in today's politics -- evident in its wholly negative attitudes toward its own past. Pride in national history and a sense of unified identity, although present at the grassroots level, are largely rejected by intellectuals and idea-making classes in favor of national guilt and expiation and through official multiculturalism. The spectacle of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown going on television in 2005 and stating, "I think the days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over. I think we should celebrate much of our past rather than apologize for it and we should talk, rightly so, about British values" illustrates self-loathing as a distinct policy issue.
British policies are also increasingly a byproduct of England's multicultural demographics. There are now well over two million Muslims in Britain, with a population growth rate ten times that of the rest of British society. Broad swaths of this Muslim population, composed mainly of migrants and their descendants are primarily from Pakistan and India, have little connection to British values and tradition, and for many, their primary loyalty lies with the ummah (global Muslim community) rather than with England. This loyalty not only translates into uncritical and nearly uniform support for the Palestinians as a Muslim cause, but also into unqualified hatred and demonization of Israel and its supporters among a substantial bloc of voters, for whom only the complete dismantling of the Jewish state would be satisfactory. Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties campaigned aggressively for Muslim votes in recent elections.
Further, the 7/7 bombings in London demonstrated that unintegrated Muslim youths in the UK are ripe targets for radicalization and violence. A British Muslim university graduate, Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly, recently blew himself up in Stockholm after having been radicalized in London. US-born, Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, among others, has recognized the centrality of Muslims in London to global jihad; he is quoted as saying, "The two capitals of the war against Islam, Washington DC and London, have also become among the centers of Western jihad. Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea."
London is a major center for Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi terror-supporting charities, and a host of other organizations. Studies by the British Office of the Home Secretary, the CIA and the Heritage Foundation suggest that elements within the British Muslim population constitute not only a direct threat to Britain, but also to the United States and the free world. British authorities have come down hard against terror plotters but continue to allow Muslims to dominate prisons, preach hatred of Jews and the West in mosques, and to teach hatred in religious schools. British authorities have, moreover, been unable to expel terror suspects who claim asylum status.
One of the latest, and perhaps most mystifying example of this growing extremism was the exoneration of the self-styled "de-commissioners": seven radical pro-Palestinian activists who went on a violent rampage -- causing £180,000 of property damage inside a Brighton weapons factory that was allegedly supplying arms to Israel during Operation Cast Lead. If the jury's decision to find the defendants not guilty, based on the "lawful excuse" defense -- committing a crime to stop a more serious crime, in this case, Operation Cast Lead -- looked like a miscarriage of justice, even more disturbing was the role of Judge George Bathurst-Norman. His statements during the trial reflected a disregard for judicial norms and for the separation of powers doctrine, which demands that the judiciary interpret Parliament's intentions, and not try create foreign policy. The Judge's outspoken animosity toward Israel, in which he compared Israel's actions in Gaza to the Nazi regime, was also biased: "You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time," he declared at one point. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas applauded the decision to exonerate the de-commissioners: "I am absolutely delighted," she stated, "that the jury has recognized that the actions of the de-commissioners were a legitimate response to the atrocities committed in Gaza."
The potential ramifications of this decision are immense. As legal precedent, the decision blurs the line between peaceful protest and violence to achieve a political purpose. The decision effectively holds that British citizens may act as judge, jury and executioner with respect to actions committed by foreign nationals on foreign soil, disregarding under the "lawful excuse" defense, the question of whether violence toward foreign nations is permissible. The case not only erodes the British government's monopoly of force in an unpredictable, dangerous and irresponsible manner, but also voids notions of property rights and criminal trespass.
The exploitation of the British legal system by private citizens to damage Israel and Israeli-British relations is not, unfortunately, a new phenomenon. Pro-Palestinian British activists have pioneered "lawfare" -- using the law maliciously and recklessly for a political or military purpose -- to intimidate, harass, and, they hope, detain Israeli leaders who set foot on British soil. England's recent universal jurisdiction statute permits anyone to apply for an arrest warrant to prosecute "war crimes" performed by an alleged suspect, regardless of where on the planet the crime was committed. As evidentiary rules are more lax for arrest warrants than for prosecutions, this procedural weakness has led to systemic abuse.
Two recent news items should cause concern for supporters of Anglo-Israeli relations. First, the name Muhammad (including its various permutations) was the most popular baby name in England and Wales in 2009 – a clear sign of growing Muslim presence and religiosity in Britain. Second, yet another Israeli diplomat cancelled his trip to England after having been warned by the British Foreign Ministry that he could be arrested upon landing: this time it was Deputy prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor, whose alleged crime was his advisory role earlier this year of the Israeli interception of the hostile Turkish flotilla ship, the Mavi Marmara, which had refused to be inspected for weapons or other goods that might have been harmful to its neighbor, on its way to Gaza. These incidents appear unrelated, but are parts of a larger story: the growing rift in British-Israeli relations. It is perhaps best evidenced by British Prime Minister David Cameron's verbal assault on Israel, deriding its conduct during the Mavi Marmara incident and the situation in Gaza during his visit to Turkey. Other ominous signs have emerged, such as well-known "Israel-basher" Nick Clegg's appointment in the UK to the post of Deputy Prime Minister. The British government also expelled an Israeli diplomat after forged British passports were used during the recent assassination, allegedly by Israel, of Hamas operative Muhammad Mabhouh, in Dubai. The British Ambassador to Lebanon, Francis Guy, lamented on his blog the death of Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah – an enthusiastic supporter of suicide bombings against Israel. These have taken place against the continuing backdrop of Israeli officials being unable travel to England as a result of dubious arrest warrants procured under Britain's universal jurisdiction law. The list goes on. An arrest warrant was secured for Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni in Decemnber 2009 for alleged "war crimes" committed also during Operation Cast Lead. As Dan Meridor, Major General Doron Almog, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, General Moshe Ya'alon and others can attest, that law is still on the books. While British officials including Foreign Secretary William Hague have gone on record stating this loophole will be closed through a legislative amendment mandating the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued, parliamentary debate has thus far stalled all efforts. Changes to universal jurisdiction are by no means assured: as veteran member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman, a bitter critic of Israel, stated in protest to chaging them during a parliamentary debate, "the Israelis are answerable to no one. Now, one of the few sanctions on those crimes will be removed. As a result of the Bill, Israeli politicians will be literally allowed to get away with murder."
While these developments are worrisome for supporters of the Jewish state, who depend on England as a European advocate for Israel in an increasingly hostile international environment, a look at the historical relationship between these two states and pre-1948 Israel reveals fluctuations of far greater magnitude than those seen today. A historical view also demonstrates Britain's interest in maintaining influence in the region by never tilting too far to one side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although Britain's Lord Balfour, whose 1917 declaration supporting a Jewish National Home in Palestine, was a pillar for Zionism, conditions changed after Arab opposition to the infamous White Paper of 1939, which rejected the two-state solution and severely curtailed Jewish immigration to what was then called British-Mandated Palestine at a time when Nazi Germany was about to unleash genocide upon the Jews of Europe. The nadir of British- Zionist relations pitted Jewish paramilitary groups against the British military during the last years of the Palestine Mandate. The trauma this caused the British establishment cannot be understated.
Although Britain delayed recognition of Israel for eight months after its independence, relations warmed again during the 1950s and 1960s. Britain was a chief weapons supplier to Israel, and even joined forces with both France and Israel against Egypt during the 1956 Suez War. This ebb and flow continued throughout the rest of the 20th century. Britain declared an arms embargo on Israel and the entire region during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and again, on Israel specifically, during the 1982 Lebanon War – only to see Margaret Thatcher, in 1986, become the first sitting British Prime Minister to visit Israel.
At the same time, the occupants of 10 Downing Street have generally been allies of Israel. With Churchill, Thatcher, Blair and Brown, Israel became accustomed to strong ties with the British executive branch, and even, at the same time, to their occasional condemnation of Israeli actions: Margaret Thatcher decried Israel's 1981 bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant as "a grave breach of international law;" and Tony Blair deplored Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. "We condemn," he said, "the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, just as we condemn all terrorism, including that perpetrated by Hamas."
Current Prime Minister David Cameron has joined in this tradition. In a July 2010 meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Cameron described Gaza as a "prison camp," while carefully neglecting to mention the eight years of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel; the increasing amounts of humanitarian and non-humanitarian aid that Israel allows into Gaza, as well as Hamas's continuing smuggling of weapons and preparations for an existential war against the Jewish state. He also called Israel's raid on the Turkish flotilla "unacceptable" -- overlooking the armed force aboard the Mavi Marmara that initiated the attack on the Israeli commandos. Although some argue that Cameron was either recklessly simplistic in his choice of words, or that his remarks were symptomatic of a British Middle East strategy that sacrifices friends for short-term gain and political expediency, a deeper analysis suggests they are another manifestation of trying carefully to balance British influence in the Muslim world and relations with Israel.
Cameron missed the opportunity to inform Turkey about the negative consequences of the domination of Gaza by Hamas, but this would probably have embittered Turkey further. Acting as a friend of Israel, which remained adamant in its refusal to apologize, Cameron's comments can be seen partially as a conciliatory effort aimed at mending relations between Turkey and Israel: in the same speech, Cameron explicitly addressed the continued "friendships" between all parties. "No other country," he said, referring to Turkey, "has the same potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world… I urge Turkey -- and Israel -- not to give up on that friendship." Nick Clegg's recent speech to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group, in which he called for "a full and proper recognition of Israel by all the parties to the conflict" and the end of universal jurisdiction can also be seen in this light.
If Britain cannot officially take back control of the rule of law, it will find its role in the Middle East peace process increasingly marginalized, not to mention its role as a sovereign European nation.
Further isolation of Israel and the undermining of its sovereignty may have the paradoxical effect of producing an even more recalcitrant Israeli government. Without even partially reliable partners in the West, Israel could slide towards a policy of "Fortress Israel," which would not take heed of any international opinion. Although Israel might be hard pressed to sustain itself without international support -- or in fact, with international rejection from ICC rulings, multilateral sanctions or worse, Britain's casting away of any semblance of impartiality or regard for Israel's legitimate concerns may have precisely that effect, thereby confirming the worst inclinations in both nations.
Britain's hedging policy will continue to serve the interests of Middle East peace only as long as it remains a modest pendulum that swings to both sides in accordance with the traditional British notions of fairness and equity. Exerting political pressure on the British government to rein in the radical elements that are threatening to derail Israel's relationship with the West is therefore vital. The rise of militant Islam within Britain's borders, jurists like Judge Bathurst-Norman and politiians like Tonge and Kaufman could be the canary in the coal mine that signals a momentous and perhaps irreversible shift toward permanent hostility toward Israel and its supporters. England should be urged to ensure that its domestic issues do not spill over into the realm of international diplomacy.