This is a guest post by Tom Wilson
Earlier this week The Guardian and Al-Jezeera’s rather grandly titled ‘Palestine Papers’ were the subject of a major event organised by the pro-Hamas organisation Middle East Monitor (MEMO). Indeed the Guardian’s Seumas Milne was scheduled to speak but like Clare Short was at the last-minute sadly unable to attend. An insight into the kind of worldview that MEMO pushes can be gained from a peruse of the website of this deceptively neutrally named organisation. News stories on the website include such titles as ‘Israel’s Mossad is accused of kidnapping a Palestinian engineer in Ukraine’, ‘Israeli internal security officers accused of “attempted rape” of a child prisoner’ and my personal favourite ‘Extend the hand of friendship to Islamists and it will be welcomed’.
Despite the official subject of the five-hour long event the panelists spoke remarkably little about the Guardian’s leaked papers, preferring instead to dwell on the familiar claims about the all-powerful Jewish lobby and the urgent need for a one state solution and the end to Israel as a Jewish State. Predictably all of the speakers expounded on the wisdoms of working with Hamas and the wrongs of the Western nations giving support to Israel and even the Palestinian Authority. It was the usual rhetoric for the most part with the occasional anti-Jewish remark thrown in from time to time and yet given the apparent gravity of the subject up for discussion the panelists somehow seemed strangely flat.
Hannah Arendt might have known a thing or two about the banality of evil but these speakers were on the whole just tediously repetitive, perhaps almost tired of repeating the same farfetched lines year in year out. Far more interesting at times was the behaviour of some of the audience members around me. Particularly concerning was when some of them started trying to interrupt and shout down a question from a lady affiliated with Independent Jewish Voices. Seemingly unaware of the organisations pro-Palestinian stance they must have just heard the ‘J’ word and assumed the worst.
One should of course be careful when alleging anti-Jewish sentiments. Several of the panelists were at great pains to stress that they and other critics of Israel were being victimised by false allegations of anti-Semitism. Indeed former CIA political analyst (and Counterpunch contributor) Kathaleen Christison, who said the only just solution was the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish State, before hastily adding that she had nothing against Jews as individuals, went so far as to claim that in the US discussion of Israel has been taken off the agenda for fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. The Chair of the event Lord Andrew Phillips whole heartedly agreed, claiming ‘we have a bit of that starting here I’m afraid’, the irony seemingly lost on him that he was claiming Israel isn’t being talked about while at an event dedicated to the subject.
Yet considering what Lord Phillips was to go onto say he should hardly be surprised if onlookers question where his feelings towards Jews lie. Talking about the Jewish community in America Lord Phillips casually remarked that while ‘the Jews aren’t lacking in intelligence, they may be deeply prejudiced, many of them’. True he did go onto acknowledge the existence Jewish voices critical of Israel both in America and in Britain but in the latter case he followed this by scoffing ‘It’s a very divided community’. Despite this apparent division Lord Phillips still expressed his belief that there is a ‘very powerful Jewish lobby in this country’. Not a Zionist lobby you may note, Lord Phillips was very consciously talking in terms of a ‘Jewish lobby’. Still this is the man who during the same event described the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as ‘a very impressive man, a moderate man’ before justifying Hamas’ refusal to recognise Israel and thundering ‘you never hear the end of corporal Shalit’.
For its part The Guardian did receive some praise. Christison followed her speech about how American politicians and political publications fear the power of the Israel lobby by speaking approvingly of The Guardians analysis on Israel. Former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Lewelly [see Lewellyn’s recent letter in the Guardian] who during his speech came out condemning just about every round of peace talks that have ever taken place and dismissed Hamas missiles as ‘those pathetic rockets’ also praised The Guardian as the exception within an otherwise apparently pro-Israel British media. His own former employer the BBC he lambasted as having a shameful record and even went so far as to remark that ‘you could learn more from watching The Promise than 100 BBC reports’, this probably says far more about The Promise as a source anti-Israel propaganda than it does the BBC as a source of Middle East news.
If anything positive can be drawn from this sorry line up of hate speech it’s that it was all being directed towards the converted. Many of the audience members had decorated themselves with free Palestine badges and keffiyeh’s and were visibly outraged when Britain’s former Ambassador to Libya Sir Richard Dalton dared to argue that Israeli democracy is real. However the anger quickly turned to applause when Dalton hastily added that EU’S ties with Israel should be cut and that the British government should withdraw its backing of Tony Blair as the Quartet’s Middle East representative. When the panelists weren’t chastising Israel they were laying into America, some such as Kathaleen Christison purported that ‘Israel is part of the very being of the United States’ and therefore the primary factor in its Middle East policy, or others who portrayed Israel as a pawn in America’s quest for oil. Even the European countries didn’t escape blame and stood accused of supposedly funding the occupation through their support of the Palestinian Authority. Once again the West and its liberal democracies were held responsible for the majority of the world’s ills with the assault on Israel standing at the heart of their attack.
Events such as this one remind you why the Reut Institute recently described London as being the hub of hubs for the delegitimizasion of Israel.
(Tom Wilson is studying for a PhD in Israeli politics at London’s UCL. As well as being Co-Chair of the UCL Jewish Society, Tom is also a researcher for Beyond Images and is the London representative for the conflict resolution and democracy promotion group StandforPeace)