Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jack Straw

The UK’s Pro-Iran Lobby

At a recent meeting of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, a strange tone dominated proceedings. Not only was the atmosphere unmistakably leaning toward an attitude favorable to Iran, but there were open expressions of anti-American and anti-Israel views from the parliamentarians. Some of the members seemed so pro-Iranian that they even made sure to take a good swipe at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary rival in the Islamic world. Nor were these expressions coming from fringe members of the House, but from Conservative and Labour politicians who have held some of the highest offices in the land.

Leading the way throughout the proceedings was former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw, who has inexplicably become one of the Islamic Republic’s staunchest defenders in recent years, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the country. Whereas he took the opportunity to lambast the pro-Israel lobby in America, Straw spoke warmly of “the big and vibrant Iranian diaspora in the United States.” Like some sort of travel agent he also reflected whimsically on his trips to Iran, insisting “people thought I was going to the Moon or something. It was absolutely amazing. In fact Tehran feels like Madrid or Athens rather than Cairo or Mumbai.” Straw is right, Tehran is nothing like Cairo or Mumbai; in those cities one doesn’t find people being publicly executed on charges of drug dealing and homosexuality. As for Athens and Madrid, Straw must have caught them on an off day.

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At a recent meeting of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, a strange tone dominated proceedings. Not only was the atmosphere unmistakably leaning toward an attitude favorable to Iran, but there were open expressions of anti-American and anti-Israel views from the parliamentarians. Some of the members seemed so pro-Iranian that they even made sure to take a good swipe at Saudi Arabia, Iran’s primary rival in the Islamic world. Nor were these expressions coming from fringe members of the House, but from Conservative and Labour politicians who have held some of the highest offices in the land.

Leading the way throughout the proceedings was former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Straw, who has inexplicably become one of the Islamic Republic’s staunchest defenders in recent years, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the country. Whereas he took the opportunity to lambast the pro-Israel lobby in America, Straw spoke warmly of “the big and vibrant Iranian diaspora in the United States.” Like some sort of travel agent he also reflected whimsically on his trips to Iran, insisting “people thought I was going to the Moon or something. It was absolutely amazing. In fact Tehran feels like Madrid or Athens rather than Cairo or Mumbai.” Straw is right, Tehran is nothing like Cairo or Mumbai; in those cities one doesn’t find people being publicly executed on charges of drug dealing and homosexuality. As for Athens and Madrid, Straw must have caught them on an off day.

He took quite a different attitude to the U.S. however. Straw claimed that “neocons in the Bush Administration” had derailed his efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran and pursued a policy that got Ahmadinejad elected as Iranian president: “they begat the Ahmadinejad regime.” But elsewhere Straw has also claimed that the same neocons in the Bush administration essentially had him fired as foreign secretary. Their channels of influence were beyond parallel it seems.

Where Straw really surpassed himself was when he treated the parliamentary committee to a diatribe about the influence of Israel and the “axis” of the Israel lobby, before indulging in some pop-psychiatry about the driving force behind American foreign policy:

What worries me, at the same time, is that there is an agenda by the right-wing in Israel, typified by Netanyahu and those to the right of him in the very fractious coalition he leads, and those in the United States, with the axis being the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It suits them to demonise Iran. I think that for a long time there has been a pervasive vulgarity to part of the narrative of American foreign policy. It requires there to be a demon. For a long time, the obvious demon was the Soviet Union, and that suited everybody. That collapsed and we have moved on to other demons. They need a demon. It is not about foreign policy analysis; they have a psycho-political need. Iran is that demon. The parody of Iran that comes across the Atlantic is extraordinary in my view.

These remarks are reminiscent of those that former Israeli MK Einat Wilf reported from Straw when she told of how, during one meeting, Straw had spoken of how “unlimited funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the U.S. are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s obsession with defending Israel were the problem.” Indeed, with these comments and the others mentioned here, Straw not only advocates for Iran, he even appears to be parroting Iranian conspiracies. Last year Straw penned a piece in the Times of London titled “Israel must learn that cruelty does not pay,” which is presumably what attracts Straw to the mullahs and their anti-cruelty regime in Iran.

This effort to explicitly demonstrate how much more virtuous than Israel the Iranians are seems to be a favorite of Straw’s. Apparently forgetting that Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or ignoring the vast body of intelligence that exists to indicate that Iran is in breach of that treaty, Straw said:

You can make that case against any international partner at all—you can easily make it against Israel, let me say, who signs up to all sorts of things and then doesn’t do them—but on the whole, the history of Iran is that where they sign up to texts, they implement them.

What the proceedings of this committee demonstrated, however, is that Straw’s views are not simply those of someone going head-to-head with Jimmy Carter to be known as the leading out-of-office crank. For also during the hearing, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn expressed his view that “the UK Government are right to develop relations with Iran; there is no question about that” and warned against what he described as the “rightwing” view in America that aims to isolate Iran. Corbyn spoke, almost hopefully, of how “there might be an interesting parting of the ways between the USA and western Europe somewhere down the line.”

Also adding to the chorus of Iranian sympathizes was former-Chancellor Norman Lamont, who claimed that Saudi Arabia and Israel had distorted Iranian president Rouhani’s words against him. Lamont added “I think both Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it is convenient for them, want to keep Iran as a country that is beyond the pale. They would face a challenge if there was any normalization of relations and then there would be another power in the area with some influence on the West.”  

British politicians, in their readiness to embrace Iran, seem to be forgetting the many British servicemen killed by Iranian-made IEDs, the British naval personnel kidnapped in 2007, or the storming of the British embassy in Tehran in 2011.   

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Nothing Legitimate About Anti-Semitic Slur

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for Straw’s charges, they are easily dismissed. Contrary to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory thesis, the vast, wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports the Jewish state is a function of American public opinion, not Jewish money. As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics and is primarily the function of religious attitudes as well as the shared values of democracy that unite the U.S. and Israel. Other lobbies (such as the one that promotes the oil interests or pharmaceuticals) have far more money. Hard as it is for some people to accept, the reason why American politicians back Israel’s democratically elected government is because opposing them is bad politics as well as bad policy.

Making such accusations is offensive rather than just wrong because, as Straw knows very well, talking about Jewish money buying government policy is straight out of the anti-Semitic playbook of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The purpose of such claims is not to argue that Israel’s supporters are misguided so much as that they are illegitimate.

That Straw is similarly frustrated with German refusals to try and hammer the Israelis is equally appalling. While Germany’s government has, contrary to Straw’s comment, often been highly critical of Israel, if Berlin has some sensitivity to Israel’s position as a small, besieged nation, it is because they understand that the underlying factor that drives hostility to Zionism is the same anti-Semitism that drove the Holocaust.

But the main point to be gleaned from this story is the way Straw has illustrated just how mainstream anti-Semitic attitudes have become in contemporary Britain. It is entirely possible that Straw thinks himself free from prejudice. But that is only possible because in the intellectual and political circles in which he and other members of the European elite move, these ideas have gone mainstream rather than being kept on the margins as they are in the United States. The ease with which Western European politicians invoke these tired clichés about Jewish power and money is a reflection of the way attitudes have changed in the last generation as the memory of the Holocaust fades and people feel empowered to revive old hate. Chalk it up to the prejudices of intellectuals, especially on the left, as well as to the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who have brought the Jew-hatred of their home countries with them.

Straw may not be alone in not liking the Netanyahu government, but he can’t get out off the hook for the anti-Semitic rationale for his views that he put forward. The pity is, he’s speaking for all too many Europeans when he speaks in this manner.

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Don’t Get the Word Out

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

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