Britain and Israel:
Some ‘unvarnished’ facts
Published: 6 May 2011
Briefing Number 282
Summary: British Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2010 that one of the foundations for peace in the Middle East must be the willingness of all parties to speak “unvarnished” truth about the conflict. In that spirit, this new Beyond Images Briefing lists twenty “unvarnished” facts about Britain and Israel. We cover British government policies, Hamas in British political life, British media, British public opinion, non-governmental organisations, and boycotts, ‘Israel Apartheid’ campaigns and the so-called ‘delegitimisation’ of Israel in the UK.
Content (with a clickable index)
- Britain upgrades diplomatic status of the Palestinian Authority
- Britain supports one-sided UN Security Council Resolution
- Britain abstains over the Goldstone Report at the UN General Assembly
- Britain is publicly silent on the ‘Right of Return’, and PA incitement
- Palestinian leader singles out UK for praise for its anti-settlement policies
- Denis McShane MP on the climate of opinion in the UK Parliament
- The Foreign Affairs Committee calls for “engagement” with Hamas
- The International Development Committee calls for “dialogue” with Hamas
- Hamas gains respectability in liberal Britain: Jeremy Greenstock, the ICA
- Thinktank identifies Britain as hub for Hamas propaganda
- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad broadcasts Christmas message on Channel 4 TV
- Cartoons and photographs: Ariel Sharon, The Times, The Telegraph, Metro
- The BBC Governors rejection of allegations of bias, and the word ‘terrorism’
- Just Journalism on Financial Times editorials; Camera on The Economist
- Peter Kosminsky’s drama ‘The Promise’ on Channel 4 TV
- YouGov public opinion survey on British attitudes to Israel
- BBC World Service and Economist Intelligence Unit public opinion surveys
- NGOs organised in the UK and working together to condemn Israel
- Britain as a hub for delegitimisation: Ron Prosor, Natan Scharansky
- Grassroots boycott campaigns and ‘Israel Apartheid’ campaigns
British Government policies
1. Britain upgrades the diplomatic status of the Palestinian Authority, coinciding with its intensified drive for unilateral statehood, and despite the PA’s refusal to negotiate with Israel: In February 2011 the British Government upgrades the diplomatic status of the Palestinian Authority. This coincides with intensified PA efforts to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally via the UN General Assembly in September 2011, and soon after the PA walks away from two-state solution negotiations with Israel. Following a meeting in early May 2011 with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sources close to Prime Minister Cameron hint that Britain may recognise a unilaterally declared Palestinian state on all the West Bank in September 2011 (reported on YNet News, and in The Guardian, 5 May 2011). These events occur on the day that a ‘unity agreement’ is entered into between Fatah and Hamas: Hamas restates that it rejects a two-state solution and negotiations with Israel, condemns the killing of “holy warrior” Osama bin Laden, and refuses to renounce violence. Cameron tells the House of Commons that Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas, despite “all sorts of difficulties”, should be a “step forward” (Jewish Chronicle, 6 May 2011). These British moves follow shortly after the Fatah Revolutionary Council, which is the leading force in the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority, again refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state because ‘Jewish state’ is, in their words, a “racist” concept (the relevant resolution was reported by Arab affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post, 28 November 2010). The British Government makes no public comment. Meanwhile, at a press conference David Cameron describes his support for Israel as “unshakeable” (BBC News, 5 May 2011).
2. Britain supports a UN Security Council Resolution which one-sidedly condemns Israel for the deadlock in the peace process: In February 2011 Britain supports a proposed Resolution in the UN Security Council in New York which is promoted by the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority and which describes all Israeli settlements as “illegal” and a “major” obstacle to peace. The proposed Resolution omits to mention any policies or actions of the Palestinians which might be ‘major obstacles to peace’, for instance their refusal to negotiate with Israel, media incitement to violence, missile attacks from Gaza, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and the past Palestinian rejection of Israeli offers of territorial withdrawal and settlement evacuation. The USA alone vetoes the Resolution, calling it “one-sided” (BBC, Jerusalem Post, other reports, 19 February 2011). British Prime Minister Cameron tells an audience in Qatar, and MPs in Parliament, that he is “proud” that Britain voted for the proposed Resolution.
3. Britain abstains over the Goldstone Report at the UN General Assembly: In November 2009 Britain abstains in a vote at the UN General Assembly which endorses the Goldstone Report, sponsored by the UN Human Rights Council, into Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza. The USA, Canada and Australia vote against the Report. So do seven European countries: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Macedonia. The US Congress condemns the Goldstone Report and the manner in which it was drawn up as “irredeemably biased” (3 November 2009, 111th Congressional session, House Resolution 867), but British Foreign Secretary Miliband calls its allegations “credible and serious” (Parliament Today, 2 December 2009). In January 2010 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agrees with an MP’s question in Parliament that Israel “undoubtedly” committed war crimes (Parliament Today, 6 January 2010). Even after Richard Goldstone retracts his main accusation against Israel, in April 2011, Britain refuses to disassociate itself from the Report. In March 2011 Britain votes in favour of another resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning Israel as the “occupying power” of Gaza (Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005).
4.The British Government remains silent on uncompromising demands by Palestinian ‘moderates’ for a ‘right of return’ into Israel, and in the face of continuing incitement against Israel in PA media and political culture: British government ministers remain silent following public statements by leading Palestinian ‘moderates’ Saeb Erekat and Nabil Shaath that the Palestinians are not prepared to compromise over the Palestinian ‘right to return’ into Israel and that the right is ‘non-negotiable’. Erekat’s statement appears in The Guardian (Comment is Free, 10 December 2010) and provokes an outcry across the Israeli political spectrum. Shaath’s statement is made at a press conference reported by the Jerusalem Post (23 April 2011). No British ministers declare publicly that the stance of Erekat or Sha’ath is an ‘obstacle to peace’. Meanwhile, British government ministers are virtually silent over persistent Palestinian media incitement against Israel, the obliteration of Israel in Palestinian books (including schoolbooks), and the honouring of Palestinian suicide bombers in Palestinian political culture (exhaustively chronicled in Palestinian Media Watch – see www.palwatch.org). British financial support for the Palestinian Authority continues without the Government making any visible linkage to the inflammatory output of PA-controlled TV and radio. Meanwhile, at a Jewish community dinner in London, Prime Minister Cameron states that his “belief in Israel” is “indestructible”.
5. Successive British governments affirm the position that all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, are illegal, and the Palestinian Prime Minister congratulates Britain for being the leading anti-settlement force in Europe: Successive British governments take the position that all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Britain also considers the building of Jewish neighbourhoods in ‘East Jerusalem’ to be illegal settlements, which could include building in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Britain rejects Israel’s long-standing claim that the West Bank territories are ‘disputed territories’ under international law. British ministers demand a return to the pre-1967 armistice lines, while vaguely hinting at land swaps, but give the Palestinians no reason to agree to land swaps. In November 2008 Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad singles out Britain as a “model” in Europe for its anti-settlement policies, and calls on other EU states to follow Britain’s lead (Jerusalem Post, 27 November 2008).
6. Senior Labour MP Denis McShane says that Israel has “few friends in British politics...”: Denis McShane is a Labour MP, a former Minister for Europe, and chaired the all-party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-semitism. He is broadly supportive of Israel. In November 2009 Channel 4 TV broadcasts a documentary about an alleged ‘Israel lobby’ in the UK. Following public protests about the programme, McShane states that “if there is a Jewish / Israel lobby in the UK it is not very successful. Israel is almost treated as a pariah state in the media, and has few friends in British politics..” (quoted in Jerusalem Post, 15 November 2009). Two days later McShane writes: “Why, if the Jews have such lobbying power, are they so spectacularly unsuccessful? Israel has the worst press of any UN member state in the British media. The House of Commons is far more likely to hear a denunciation of Israel than any criticism of any neighbouring Arab country, let alone the openly anti-semitic Hamas....” (Independent newspaper blog, 17 November 2011)
The rise of Hamas in British political life
7. British MPs specialising in foreign affairs twice call on the British Government to “engage” with Hamas: In 2007 the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the British Parliament, comprising Members of Parliament from all political parties, issues a report about Gaza and other regional issues. The Committee calls on the British Government to “engage” with what it calls the “pragmatic wing” of Hamas and it condemns Israel for carrying out “collective punishment” against Gaza Palestinians (Eighth Report of the Select Committee, 13 August 2007). In July 2009 the same Committee states that the EU’s policy of non-engagement with Hamas is “not effective” and they call for British engagement with “moderate elements” in Hamas (source: BBC News, 26 July 2009).
8. MPs specialising in international development call for “dialogue” with Hamas: In 2009, the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament, comprising Members of Parliament from all political parties, issues a report on the UK and the international community. The MPs state that it is “important to bring Hamas into dialogue and into the peace process”. The MPs make no demands of Hamas in the report, such as renouncing the Hamas Charter, or renouncing Hamas’s past track record of killings of Israeli civilians (Source: The UK Government and the international community, August 2008). At the time of publication of the Report, Hamas alone had carried out around 26 suicide bombings in Israel and dozens of foiled attacks, killing at least 450 Israeli men, women and children and injuring and traumatising thousands (source: Beyond Images Briefing 169, 27 March 2006, and Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website)
9. Hamas steadily gains respectability in mainstream liberal Britain: Sir Jeremy Greenstock is a former British Ambassador to the UN, and he is frequently interviewed on the BBC World Service and on other media about Israel and the Middle East. He writes that “Hamas has no charter for the destruction of Israel in its political programme” and describes Hamas rocket attacks and bombings as “resistance to occupation” (Guardian, 16 January 2009). The Economist newspaper describes Hamas as “still rejecting fully-fledged peace with Israel” (6 October 2007), implying that Hamas has accepted ‘partial peace’ with Israel. In October 2008, Hamas spokesman Usamah Hamdan gives a live, in-depth presentation and interview at the prestigious Institute for Contemporary Arts in Central London. The event is called ‘Talking to Hamas’ (source: ICA promotional literature, October 2008). In October 2009, the BBC Trust, which is a senior regulatory body of the BBC, publishes a statement in response to a viewer complaint that Hamas has a ‘Right of Reply’ under the BBC’s Code of broadcasting ethics if it is criticised on the BBC (source: Beyond Images Briefing 246, dated 8 November 2009)
10.Britain is identified as centre for Hamas propaganda: In March 2008 Israeli thinktank The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (‘Malam’) publishes a comprehensive report which identifies the UK as a “major source of publishing and distribution of Hamas incitement...” It claims that “Britain does not stop the distribution of hateful propaganda against Israel and the West and publications glorifying suicide terrorism”. The carefully documented Malam report, written by Arabic-speaking expert analysts, highlights online publications by Hamas for adults and children, which “inculcate into children admiration for terrorism”. Malam concludes that “Hamas.... enjoys relative freedom of action on British territory, particularly in the sphere of propaganda”(See: www.terrorism-info.org.il)
11. Channel 4 TV gives Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a platform to broadcast a Christmas Day messages to its viewers: In September 2008 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York. He states that “the dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule number, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner....”. He accuses Zionists of being “murderers” who have followed a policy of “invasion and assassination” of Arabs for 60 years, and labels the “Zionist regime” a “cesspool” which is “on a definite slope of collapse”. Denis McShane (see 6/above) calls the speech “probably the most consistently anti-semitic speech since the Third Reich”. In December 2008, just three months later, Britain’s Channel 4 TV invites Ahmadinejad to deliver a Christmas message of “goodwill” to viewers. Ahmadinejad’s message is broadcast in the UK on Christmas Day.
12. Newspaper cartoons and photographs: In 2003, a cartoon depicting then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with blood dripping from his mouth, and eating a Palestinian child while grinning grotesquely, wins a British national press award for best political cartoon of the year. The cartoon had first appeared in The Independent newspaper. In 2007 a series of photographs by The Times’ Peter Nicholls on “the pain and fury” in Beirut as consequence of Israel’s “devastating” air strikes in Lebanon in 2006 win a prestigious Canon news photography award (Times, 12 April 2007). Photographs of the 4000 Hizbollah rocket attacks against Northern Israel in 2006 do not feature in the winning entries. In July 2008, the right-of-centre Daily Telegraph newspaper publishes a cartoon called ‘Danger on the Streets’ (Daily Telegraph, 11 July 2008). It depicts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Iranian President Ahmadinejad as street thugs in jeans, loitering in semi-darkness on a street corner. Each is brandishing a long dagger, and scowling at the other. The cartoon is published at a time of heightened public concern in the UK over knifings in the street. Metro is London’s free daily newspaper, and is read by hundreds of thousands of Londoners on their way to work. A photo appears in its news section of two Palestinian children in Hebron, each around 7 years old, “playing out a confrontation” between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian child, to mark the first day of the Muslim religious holiday of eid al-Fitr. The Palestinian boy is being shot in the head at point blank range by the Israeli boy (Metro newspaper, 21 September 2009).
13. The BBC Governors accept the findings of an independent expert panel that there is no bias at the BBC and that the BBC should cover Palestinian life under occupation more fully, and they decide against use of the word “terrorist”: In 2006, the BBC governors accept the finding of an independent panel of media experts that there is “no systematic or deliberate bias” against Israel in BBC coverage (Source: see Independent Panel Report on Impartiality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 2 May 2006). The experts conclude that the BBC needs to provide more context on “the difficulties faced by Palestinians in their daily lives”. The Governors accept a recommendation to appoint an extra BBC correspondent to be based in the West Bank. The experts also state it “might not always be appropriate” for the BBC to seek balance in its coverage as the Palestinians are ”wholly under occupation” and Israel is “the occupier”. The BBC Governors accept this finding too. The experts recommend that the BBC should use the word “terrorism” to describe random violence against Israeli civilians. However, this recommendation is rejected by the BBC Governors. Instead they confirm that the BBC will continue as a matter of policy not to use the word “terrorist” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or any other) because that word “can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding” (Source: see Beyond Images Briefing 178, 10 July 2006)
14. Financial Times editorials are shown to be persistently slanted against Israel; The Economist publishes fantasy as factual news: Media monitoring group Just Journalism (www.justjournalism.com) surveys 121 editorials published about Israel in 2009 in the globally recognised UK newspaper The Financial Times. Just Journalism concludes that the FT “views Israel as primarily responsible for the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while downplaying other factors such as Palestinian terrorism...”. The FT describes Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as a “cynical ploy”. Meanwhile, US-based media monitoring group Camera highlights a claim by The Economist (www.economist.com) in a news report from Jerusalem that “traffic lights flick green only briefly for cars from Palestinian districts while staying green for cars from Jewish settlements for minutes....” – ie accusing Israel of operating racist traffic lights. On a speaker tour of Britain in March 2009, Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz describes the British newspapers The Guardian and The Independent as “the most hostile newspapers to Israel in the world” (source: personal attendance)
15. Channel 4 TV broadcasts Peter Kosminsky’s drama series The Promise: British broadcaster Channel 4 screens four part TV series The Promise in February 2011. Jonathan Freedland from the Guardian, a forthright critic of Israeli policies, says publicly after just one episode that he “cannot bear” to watch the programme. Booker Prize winning writer Howard Jacobson calls it a “ludicrous piece of brainwashed prejudice”, and “over-simplified” drama which “creaks with bad faith” (Jewish Chronicle, 29 April 2011). Israeli extremism from the 1940s to today is magnified and portrayed as normative. Arab extremism is ignored completely. Jews are portrayed as callous, manipulative, deceitful and cruel. Arabs are portrayed as warm, sincere and charming. However, the writer and director of The Promise, Peter Kosminsky, and senior management at Channel 4, brush aside criticisms of the programme by Jewish community leaders, extolling its qualities and balance, and citing the high viewing figures and critical acclaim it has received. Media regulator Ofcom rejects all 42 complaints it has received. The Promise is nominated for a prestigious BAFTA award for best drama series of the year, and it is broadcast in France.
Some surveys of British public opinion regarding Israel
16. YouGov survey: Israel is among the world’s ‘least democratic countries’: In 2005, respected polling company YouGov polls a cross-section of 2058 British people for their attitudes to 24 countries around the world, including Russia, China, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Canada and Israel. Twelve specific criteria are examined. Israel comes out top of the list of 24 countries where people would “least like to live”. The British people questioned also consider Israel to be “the least deserving of international respect” of the 24 countries covered, and that Israel is “among the world’s least democratic countries” (source: YouGov poll reported in Daily Telegraph, 3 January 2005)
17. Israel ranks poorly in public opinion surveys from the BBC World Service and the Economist Intelligence Unit: A succession of annual BBC World Service surveys of public opinion reveal extremely low ratings for Israel. In 2007 the annual survey of 28,000 people ranks Israel, together with Iran and the USA, as the countries with the most negative influence in the world. In 2008 Iran and Israel receive the most negative ratings (17,100 people are surveyed that year). In 2011 the same BBC World Service survey shows that only 14% of British people have a positive view of Israel, with 66% having a negative opinion. The number of people expressing negative views rose 16% in a year (2011 report covered in news section of Hamodia newspaper, 17 March 2011). In the survey overall, Israel comes out fourth from bottom out of 27 countries, with only Pakistan, Iran and North Korea beneath Israel. Meanwhile, in a separate survey called the World Peace Index, which is supported by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Israel comes 141st out of 144 countries on a list of the world’s most peaceful countries. Countries which rank higher include Zimbabwe, Sudan, Lebanon, North Korea and Iran. The only countries which Israel beats are Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia (Jewish Chronicle, 31 July 2009).
Non-Governmental organisations in the UK
18. A coalition of NGOs works together in the UK to condemn Israel: In March 2008 a coalition of British-based NGOs publish a report describing the situation in Gaza as the “worst since 1967”, and blaming Israel as the “occupying power” in Gaza. The report is silent on the Hamas Charter and the statements of Hamas leaders, ignores Israeli medical assistance to the Palestinian population, and ignores the fact that Israel physically withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and destroyed all settlements there. The NGOs include Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save The Children UK and Christian Aid. This NGO ‘coalition’ is organised in the UK and publishes a further report later in the year again condemning Israel and criticising the international community for not bringing sufficient pressure on Israel. In 2009 leading UK charity War on Want launches a book called ‘Israel Apartheid: A Beginners’ Guide’.
‘Delegitimisation’ of Israel in British public life
19. Britain is identified as a global hub of hostility towards Israel, and as a hub for ‘delegitimisation’: Israeli Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor writes that the UK is “a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment” (Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2008). Iconic Israeli statesman Natan Scharansky states at a conference in the UK Houses of Parliament that “if you look at the ‘new anti-semitism’ [ie demonization of Israel] the leading force is the UK....” (Jewish Chronicle, 27 February 2009). The head of the influential Israel-based thinktank Reut describes London as a “mecca of delegitimisation” of Israel (Gidi Grinstein, Ministry of Foreign Affairs conference, September 2010). In October 2007 John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of ‘The Israel Lobby’ which alleges a sinister Israel lobby in US public life, which works against US interests, enjoy a sell-out audience for their presentation at leading British international affairs thinktank Chatham House. And a report from The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (www.jcpa.org) on global delegitimisation of Israel, published in December 2010, states that Britain is a “hub” for delegitimisation, from where it “reaches out to the rest of the world.....”
20. Grassroots boycott and ‘Israeli Apartheid’ campaigns multiply in the UK: Campaigns to boycott Israel proliferate at grassroots level in the UK, including among church and other faith groups, lawyers, academics, student unions, performing artists, architects, trades unionists and many other groups. ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ events grow in size and impact each year on campuses across the UK, and many pro-Israel speakers face intimidation and hostility when they try to speak on UK campuses. In February 2006 students in a packed chamber at the Cambridge University student union vote that Zionism is a danger to the Jewish people. In the same year, Oxford University hosts its first ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ which later becomes an annual event. In February 2007 the Guardian newspaper publishes a 16-page expose of ‘Israeli apartheid’, spread over two days. In 2010 Unison, which has 1.3 million members and is the largest workers’ union in the UK, votes for a complete boycott of Israel. The successful motion accuses Israel of being a “war state” which carries out “ethnic cleansing”, has “no appetite for peace or coexistence” and is building an “apartheid wall” (Report: Jerusalem Post, 24 June 2010). Earlier, Ronnie Fraser, chairman of the Academic friends of Israel, wrote: “More than any other country in the world, it is the UK that has embraced the Palestinian call for academic, trade union, media, medical, architectural and cultural boycotts of Israel....” (Source: The Academic Boycott of Israel, JCPA paper, September 2005)
Related beyond Images Briefing