Unchartered Waters

Photo by: AP

26/04/2010 09:18

British politics has been turned on its head over the past 11 days since the first televised leaders’ debate. And Israel has cause for concern.

With less than two weeks to go to the British general election, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being used to manipulate the electorate in some crucial voting districts containing disproportionately high Jewish or Muslim populations.

Even before the announcement of the May 6 election, the rhetoric had been vicious. Accusations of “Jewish” political financing and Israel pulling the strings behind Britain’s electoral scenes have been hitting the headlines.

Martin Linton, a Labor MP, recently gave a talk in Parliament to the Friends of Al-Aksa and spoke of Israel’s “long tentacles” that fund British election campaigns and which are trying to buy a Conservative victory in this one. Linton said that he failed to appreciate the Nazi-era symbolism of the Jewish octopus controlling the world with its long tentacles and apologized, but he stands by his thesis of “Israelis and pro-Israelis trying to buy a Conservative victory.”

At the same meeting Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish Labor MP, spoke of Lord Ashcroft owning one part of the Conservative Party and right-wing Jewish millionaires owning the other part.

These are, of course, unfounded and defamatory accusations that paint many British Jews as being more loyal to Israel than to Britain. Labor has deselected neither Linton nor Kaufman.

Such alleged funding has not, so far, proved a good investment, however, with David Cameron, the Conservative leader, recently making reference to “occupied east Jerusalem.”

Until very recently, the third party, the Liberal Democrats, were only in the late teens in the opinion polls and their leader, Nick Clegg, was relatively unknown, but British politics has been turned on its head over the past 11 days since our first televised leaders’ debate.

Clegg’s poll ratings have now soared into the low 30s, putting his party on par with the Conservatives, who just days ago were favorites to win an outright majority, and ahead of Labor, which has governed since 1997.

The Liberal Democrats will still come way back in third place on May 6 but could increase their intake of MPs substantially, making them the kingmakers courted by Labor and the Conservatives.

This likelihood of a hung Parliament could bring with it the electoral reform that the Liberal Democrats might demand for supporting Labor. Traditional Conservative and Labor domination of British politics will end should proportional representation take over.

IRONICALLY, IT was David Cameron who challenged Gordon Brown to televised debates, but it is Clegg who has outperformed. The last of the three debates will be broadcast this Thursday.

These unchartered waters in British politics should concern Israel. Clegg has already called for a ban on the sale of arms to Israel and his party contains many vociferously anti-Israel politicians, including Sir Menzies Campbell, Sarah Teather, Chris Davies and Baroness Jenny Tonge.

A hung Parliament could result in Clegg as deputy prime minister, or another Liberal Democrat as foreign secretary, in return for their supporting either Labor or the Conservatives should neither win an outright majority on May 6. Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat shadow foreign secretary, is chairman of the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine.

ON THE ground, the Liberal Democrats’ approach to Israel often depends on the ethnic or religious makeup of voters in a particular voting district. Take two neighboring voting districts in London.

Holborn and St. Pancras has a disproportionately high Bangladeshi community and the leaflets of the Liberal Democrat candidate scream “Stop Arming Israel.” My father received a polite, hand-delivered, letter from her that didn’t mention this, but that might be because he has a mezuza on his door.

Hampstead and Kilburn is more disproportionately Jewish and so the leaflets are more pro-Israel with pictures of the Liberal Democrat candidate’s recent visit to Israel, Hebrew writing included.

Then there is the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. MPAC’s Web site asks “is your MP a Zionist?” and then goes on to list 36 MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates that it deems “Zionist.” The main qualification is being affiliated to a Friends of Israel group of one of the three main political parties.

In 2005 Lorna Fitzsimons, now head of British Israel Communications and Research Center, lost her seat as a Labor MP due to MPAC. The 2006 Report of the All Parliamentary Committee into Anti-Semitism found that MPAC, to help unseat Fitzsimons, distributed leaflets stating “she had done nothing to help the Palestinians because she was a Jewish member of the Labor Friends of Israel.”

Fitzsimons is not Jewish. Sadly, in the current campaign, death threats against some “Zionist” candidates have already been reported.

With election day almost here, Jewish and Muslim voters can expect their sensitivities to be unashamedly manipulated right up to the ballot box to propel a political candidate into Parliament, or to reduce his chances.

The writer is a London-based freelance journalist, studying for a master’s degree in Near and Middle Eastern studies at SOAS. He blogs at http://www.richardmillett.wordpress.com.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post
and in JWeekly in San Francisco.

23 responses to “Unchartered Waters

  1. Michael Goldman

    Yet again I am more worried about the Jews living in in Europe than about Britain’s foreign policy.

    Anti Zionism is so often just a device for hiding Anti Semitism.
    Just remember.You can always come home.

  2. Daniel Marks

    Ditto that. You guys in the galut watch your backs. With G-d’s help, we’ll take care of ourselves. Sadly, however, I fear it’s not us there after, it’s you.

    Don’t give them excuses to accuse you of dual loyalties and don’t do anything “for our sakes” that might endanger you in any way.

  3. Is there some hidden meaning behind “Unchart*er*ed waters”? Don’t you mean “Uncharted waters”?

  4. Richard,

    There are a few points which you didn’t really raise in your blog. Firstly, with selection of candidates and composition of leaflets, these are functions of local parties and local activists, so choices are likely to be coloured by the local demographics. I doubt anyone (BNP excluded) in a Borough such as Barnet would select an anti semite. It’s pretty clear that all candidates in the Hendon ward for major parties would have policies which are acceptable.

    I would also argue that the more candidates who are elected who are supportive of Israel, the less likely extreme policies are likely to be implemented by the parties they represent.

    As a long term opponent of the far right for many years, my greatest concern is the alliance between the Conservatives and the European hard right. If Cameron formed the government, he may seek to exploit this alliance in the framing of treaties and who knows what quid pro quo’s may be made. I don’t think for one second Cameron is an anti semite, but in the harsh world of politics, he’s already shown that offending the pro Israeli lobby isn’t a problem for him. I think he’s playing with fire, engaging in this alliance.

    Another point you neglect to mention is that all parties have Friends of Israel groups. I would suggest that all concerned voters acquaint themselves with who belongs to these groups (in all parties). I would also seek to familiarise myself with the position candidates have taken on the various related issues and questions.

    In summary, I don’t think that the issue is black and white with any party. I would urge people to support candidates with good credentials and actively shun those with poor credentials. In areas where all candidates are similar, voters should consider how much sway the individual candidate is likely to provide and how much work they are likely to do to ensure they get their point of view across.

    I suspect that the for many MP’s support (or antipathy) for Israel is not a party issue. Voters should make sure that they do not blindly vote for anyone without assessing their position on this important issue. I’m not seeking here to promote a particular party or viewpoint, just urging the readers of this blog to make informed decisions.

  5. richardmillett

    Roger, i appreciate your points but the Lib Dems are just horrendously anti-Israel from the top down. How can Clegg call for the disarming of Israel? Please answer me that. He is your leader. Yet, he supports our troops fighting in Afghanistan. He is totally hypocritical. I don’t blame you for trying to take the heat off him and focus on local candidates but it really won’t work. Apart from a very few good eggs, your part is beyond redemption at this election. sorry.

  6. Blacklisted Dictator

    If a liberal democrat becomes foreign secretary,
    British Jewry should, en masse, consider making aliyah.
    The party should consider a name change to the “Ill-Liberal PR Democrats.”
    (Let us hope that like Clegg ends up like Charles Kennedy.)

  7. Richad,
    I would say that the best interests of Israel would be served by the election of members from the various Barnet constituency, as this way there would be a counterbalance to the more extreme viewpoints. For the record, I don’t agree with Clegg on selling arms to Israel.

    Blacklisted Dictator,
    I fully understand your concerns, but I would suggest that Israel needs friends and the best way to ensure they have them is to have a strong voice in countries such as Great Britain. If there was mass aliyah from this country, then we would have a powerful european nation, which has a strong nuclear presence and a top table at the security council without a pro Israeli voice in the electorate. I suspect that this would be a bad thing for the security of Israel. Before suggesting lobbying for such a move, I’d council serious thought toward the long term effects.

  8. Blacklisted Dictator

    Rog T,
    I have already been in touch with the Israeli embassy and have offered my UK passport for use on future Mossad missions.
    It is about time that British Jewry decided on which side of the fence they stand. Are they with the terrorists or with the appeasers?

  9. Blacklisted Dictator

    Does anyone know whether Gerrie Kaufmann has distanced himself from Sir Alan Sugar’s 400,000 quid?

    I am concerned that Tottenham have taken over Labour’s party. If The Yid Army is now in control will there be any hope of peace in the Middle East?

  10. Daniel Marks

    .”..It is about time that British Jewry decided on which side of the fence they stand. Are they with the terrorists or with the appeasers?” – Blacklisted Dictator

    I wholly agree with BD’s insightful declaration, and I urge all British Jews to be squarely on the side of Great Britain and more specifically on the side of British Jewry.

    Though I have no first-hand knowledge and I’m sure that you guys know much more than I do in this area, I understand the Moslem anti-Zionist/Semitic community is a growing force within British demographics and politics. A newspaper I read on Shabbat claimed that 50% of children born in London today are Moslems and I suspect that few of them shall, with the passing of years, be marching with the JLB, studying Torah at the JFS or even reading the JC. Nobody wants these young Moslem youths to grow up and see the financially comfortable but demographically dwindling (low birth and high intermarriage rates) Jewish community as their enemies or even rivals.

    Any short-term miniscule benefits to Israel’s Hasbara must , therefore, be vastly outweighed by serious long-term damage to the possibility of good future relations between your children and grandchildren (the Jewish ones) and their future fellow Islamic countrymen and friends.

    Personally, I’d recommend neither supporting nor attacking Israel or Israeli government policy publicly, but rather to keep your heads down and your noses clean as much as possible.

  11. Michael Goldman

    I must admit that whenever election time comes around, which is fairly often over here, I find myself in a bit of a quandry.
    Which of our esteemed leaders will benefit Israel and which will be of most help to our brethren in the United Kingdom?
    Inevitably I arrive at the conclusion that the Jews of Great Britain must all be off their collective rockers to remain in a country that so obviously hates their guts.
    I really feel that there must be a touch of insanity imbedded in all of you.
    You sit around writing articles about this or that politician who said something that offends your delicate sensibilities instead of simply realising that you are really not very welcome in the UK.
    Or else you consider seriously which of your leaders will best benefit Israel.
    You’re drowning in your own shit and you’re worried about which of your ponsy foreign ministers will be less Anti-Israel!?

    Rog T is obviously the worst kind of fool

    ” I would suggest that Israel needs friends and the best way to ensure they have them is to have a strong voice in countries such as Great Britain.”
    Yeah right. That’s why you live in the UK.
    Not for the bigger car,house etc but to help your poor brothers in Israel.
    Believe me nobody here cares who will be the next leader of your pathetic little Island.
    Your petty politics are laughable at best.
    Get a life and make sure your kids have one.
    Come and live in a country where you are really welcome.

  12. Daniel Marks


    Rog T is obviously the worst kind of fool

    “” I would suggest that Israel needs friends and the best way to ensure they have them is to have a strong voice in countries such as Great Britain.”
    Yeah right. That’s why you live in the UK.
    Not for the bigger car,house etc but to help your poor brothers in Israel.”

    How do you know Goldman? Maybe Rog T is quite sincere. What do we know about him?

    Perhaps he served in the Israeli army and then on being demobbed he consulted the Israeli government and asked where he could best serve his people and his country.

    “Well, Rog” answered the civil servant, “I suppose you could be a West Bank pioneer or you could build a new kibbutz in the Negev.”

    “Ye, that sounds great!” answered Rog.

    “You could..” continued the civil servant, “but what we really need now is for people to settle in the abroad so we can have a strong voice.”

    “Where should I go?” asked Rog disappointedly, “Which is the most important place to exercise my strong voice? Russia? China? Capital Hill in Washington?”

    The civil servant then consulted a map on the wall. “Well” he said, “We did need Ethiopia and Pakistan, but they’ve been taken care of. Actually the place that we most need your strong voice, Rog, is London.”

    Now Roger was mortified. “But I spent my whole childhood there and nothing ever happens in England. What influence does the UK have on world events?”

    “That is as it may be Rog” replied the CC a little less patiently, “But that is our decision. You are to spend your life in London, being our strong voice. At the same time feel free to get married, find a job, have kids etc”

    And Rog has been there ever since.

    Who is to say, Goldman, that that was not what happened?

  13. Michael Goldman

    I strongly resent your cynical attitude towards Rog T.
    Whereas he is obviously not the brightest light on the Christmas tree, his heart is in the right place even though it may be in the wrong continent.

  14. richardmillett

    Britain doesn’t hate the Jews. Most Brits don’t know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and don’t care. They just want to get on with their lives and have a strong economy, a good health service, good schools etc.

    It is the politicians that shamelessly exploit religion, ethnicity and conflict for their own political gain and they are the ones that try to spread the muck about Israel.

    This is because of oil interests and the ratio of Jews to Muslims in this country.

    The Lib Dems are just the total embodiment of that. I’m just not sure if Rog. realises how much damage Rog. the Lib Dems are doing for communal relations in Britain and yet they shamelessly call themselevs a “progressive party”.

  15. Michael Goldman

    Your attitude is hilarious.
    You live in a country which is obviously becoming more and more anti-semitic.
    Instead of reaching the obvious conclusion and getting the hell out, you prefer to philosophize about why this is so and who is to blame.

  16. Daniel Marks

    Britain doesn’t hate the Jews. Most Brits don’t know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and don’t care.

    I can agree with the second half of your statement Richard that most Brits “..don’t know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ..” but I’m less certain about the first part.

    You say that “politicians.. shamelessly exploit religion, ethnicity and conflict for their own political gain..” which has always been true, almost everywhere, but would they be able to do so in a country which had no absolutely no basic sympathy for antisemitism in the first place?

    Without going into history lessons, we all know that British antisemitism did not begin with the Liberal democrats or even with the growth of the Islamic community in Britain.

    Unlike Rog I live in Israel, seeing my life’s purpose as that of providing a strong voice for Great Britain in Maale Adumim, but I’m old enough to remember my childhood in London.

    Don’t get me wrong. I had a grand old time and memories I wouldn’t exchange for all the cosmetics in the Dead Sea, but can anyone deny there was antisemitism.

    One of my earliest memories is talking to a gentile youth at a swimming pool when I was still in primary school. He told me that he hated Jews and out of curiosity I inquired why.

    We were both seven or eight and he had been taught to hate Jews but had no idea why. He paused a while and then answered and his answer has stuck with me for more than four decades. He explained that he was sure that were he to be hungry and to ask my “mum” for something to eat, he felt sure to be refused.

    I was quite surprised and assured him that this was not the case. At the age of seven I was sure that I’d found a solution to antisemitism. My mum would give him some cake.

    I intentionally mention a trivial childish case when nobody was hurt. The times that friends and I were attacked by our fellow citizens often violently, just because we were wearing kippot are to many and just too painful to remember.

    Let’s not fall into the stereotypers trap of blaming the Lib Dems or even the Moslem community of the UK for all our woes.

  17. richardmillett

    I agree, Daniel. I am not blaming the Lib Dems. but they just exploit the hatred that exists. I say the Lib Dems. in general, although not every one of them, because it comes from the leader, Nick Clegg.

    You don’t have to wear a kippot to experience it though. I took a taxi journey a few months ago when the driver told me what he thought of Jews. He didn’t realise i was Jewish.

    When i was at a pro-Palestinian meeting, someone told me to go back to Poland.

    So while hatred of Jews isn’t widespread per se, Jews are considered expendable by some of the media and political classes for the latters’ own advatntage.

    It is these people that we have to expose for the total hypocrites that they are.

  18. Michael Goldman

    I urge you once again.
    Stop moaning about things you cannot change and come on home.

  19. richardmillett

    Michael, i appreciate your concern but we don’t let the buggers get us down. Hypocrisy should be uncovered. While these people rant on about Israel Israel Israel there are bigger issues to be taken care of like starvation in Africa, malaria, AIDS. It is not all about having to live in Israel, but supporting Israel so if things ever get as bad as they once were there is a Jewish haven.

  20. Michael Goldman

    Do you really believe that the existance of your “Jewish Haven” is in any way dependant on anything you or your fellow British Jews may or may not do in the Borough of Barnet ?

    I am however very pleased to hear that you have dedicated your life to taking care of the bigger issues of like starvation in Africa, malaria and AIDS.

  21. “Traditional Conservative and Labor domination of British politics will end should proportional representation take over”. That would depend on the system of PR. Besides, if we had more constituencies with an average of 70000 voters, we’d have less (if you see what I mean) constituencies. That would negate the nightmare scenario of Brown coming third in the popular vote next week. First past the post would then become “fairer”.

  22. richardmillett

    Hi Jeremy, yes, restructuring constituencies is the main electoral reform needed, it seems.

  23. Blacklisted Dictator

    There are just two things that, so far, have saved the UK from total oblivion…
    (1) No Euro.
    (2) No PR.

    Whether they will be enough is, however, uncertain.

    But less us pray that Clegg, like Charles Kennedy before him, drowns his post-election sorrows in anexcessive consumption of alcohol,
    and is unable to partake in TV debates ever again.