In recent days we have been presented with yet another reminder that while Britain’s parliamentarians are, for the most part, only coldly disinterested in Israel and its welfare, there is also a determined fringe that harbors fiercely hostile views where the Jewish state is concerned. Indeed, these views are often displayed in colors that are undeniably hostile not only to Israel, but also to Jews generally. Whereas congressmen and the American public they represent are almost universally supportive of Israel, the British parliament increasingly risks becoming a rather sinister opposite of Congress on this particular issue.
The latest incident concerns Labour Member of Parliament for Easington Grahame Morris, who has tweeted a picture of demonstrators flying the Israeli flag along with the caption “Nazis in my village do you see the flag they fly.” In fact the demonstrators in question also appear to have been flying the Royal Air Force flag, in addition to the Israeli one, and while it may be true that in recent years Israel has come to receive a certain degree of unwanted attention from some British right-wing groups, such as the English Defense League, the accusation that these people are Nazis, and the association with the Israeli flag, clearly carries with it an overt insinuation.
Grahame Morris appears to be fully aware of the nature of his insinuation and so, in a rather transparent effort to protect himself from accusations of bigotry, includes in the same tweet a link to a page regaling the reader with an account of an Anne Frank event Morris recently opened. Apparently Morris has no sense of shame in using the memory of Anne Frank and those Jews murdered by the Nazis to persuade us that there is nothing racist about associating Nazis with the Jewish state.
This belief that having expressed regret about the Holocaust somehow frees one to then make the worst allegations against Jews today has been echoed by other parliamentarians. Speaking last year shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament David Ward caused outrage by claiming that Jews had not learned the lessons of the Holocaust. Ward stated “Having visited Auschwitz twice…I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Regardless of what precisely “the lessons of the Holocaust” may or may not be, Ward gave voice to a strange notion, common among some Europeans, that seems to imagine the death camps as having been something akin to academies of moral philosophy, and having been through them Jews and their descendants are now obligated to embody a level of conduct more pristine than anyone else.
Perhaps the year’s most explicit outburst of anti-Jewish racism on the part of a British parliamentarian came in June when Tory MP Patrick Mercer was caught by the BBC telling a reporter that a female Israeli soldier he had met didn’t look like a soldier, but rather, looked “like a bloody Jew.” Repeating the common trope of the Jew as bloodthirsty and murderous Mercer told the reporter that he had no doubt that had he given the Israeli soldier the wrong answer “I’d have had my head blown off.”
All three of these incidents took place over the past twelve months, but Westminster also has a number of infamous repeat offenders whose anti-Israel comments often betray an aggressive animosity that many would consider anti-Semitic. Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Jenny Tonge leads the way here. In 2003 Tonge compared the Gaza strip to the Warsaw Ghetto and in 2004 remarked of Palestinian suicide bombers that “If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself.”
For such conduct Tonge was rewarded by her party with the peerage that elevated her from the House of Commons to the Lords. From there Tonge continued her record, in 2010 giving legitimacy to the blood libel that accused Israelis of organ harvesting. Only then was the party whip finally withdrawn from the baroness. Her comments in 2006 when she spoke of how “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party” had apparently not been deemed sufficient to warrant that.
Jenny Tonge is admittedly an extreme example, yet she is hardly alone in that extremity. The far-left Member of Parliament George Galloway, formerly of Labour, has long been a particularly outspoken voice against Israel. Galloway, who in 2012 came out as having converted to Islam, has over the years gone out of his way to befriend such dubious regimes as Saddam Hussein’s Baathists in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, and more recently the mullahs’ theocracy in Iran. The far-reaching extent of his hatred for the Jewish state was made particularly apparent last February when Galloway stormed out of an Oxford debate upon the discovery that the student he was debating with was actually an Israeli.
It is of course impossible to know the extent to which the views of the individuals mentioned here might enjoy the sympathies of their more discrete colleagues. In recent years there has certainly been no shortage of similar outbursts by other members of parliament. Yet it would also be wrong to pretend that there is not still a small grouping of determinedly pro-Israel parliamentarians on both sides of the house.
The strongest anti-Israel expressions, however, are to be heard coming almost exclusively from one side: Britain’s parliamentary left. These members often tend to be largely suspicious of Western nations and the use of Western power in the world. Their belief in the need to champion the rights of non-Western victim groups renders them favorable of multiculturalism at home and sympathetic to Third World causes abroad. As such, they view Israel as a militaristic outpost of the West; guilty, from the point of inception, of having occupied and oppressed an indigenous people. As Baroness Tonge once quipped “America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel.”
Yet, this deep dislike of Israel stems not only from Israel’s alliance with America and the West, but also from the fact that it is a Jewish state. For the decidedly post-nationalist British left, Zionism is an anathema–the idea that a people as cosmopolitan as the Jews would have set themselves on the wrong side of history by establishing a nation of their own. The Jews were once favored by the left, when they were poor and widely discriminated against. But as Britain’s Minister for Education Michael Gove has explained of the left’s mentality, “when Jews are successful, assertive, self-confident or, worst of all, conservative, then they move, metaphorically, beyond the pale.”
Given the way in which those such as MP Grahame Morris would so casually associate the Israeli flag with Nazis, it would appear that there is a sense of growing confidence among the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish fringe in Britain’s parliament. But with such views flying around among lawmakers, there must be concerns about the future diplomatic relations between the two countries. And more than that, the questions about the future of the British Jewish community become ever more troubling.