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Reason to be ashamed

This is a cross post by Luke Akehurst from Progress

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians brings out the best in some politicians, inspiring them to dedicate large chunks of their time and political capital to the task of mediating between the two sides, designing peaceful solutions and advancing diplomacy. Others are inspired by compassion, empathy or an understanding of one or both sides’ national narratives to stand in solidarity with one or other party in the conflict, helping to explain their cause with eloquence and passion.

Then there are some politicians who do not quite rise to the occasion and, rather than making a brave stand, end up running along behind what they perceive to be public opinion, making statements that do not help the public understand a complex conflict because they resort to trite and sanctimonious phrasing to describe Israel’s decisions which they would never use to describe the difficult calls they themselves have or would make in government.

Then there are people whose interventions are just crass or embarrassing. The frontbencher who helped anti-Israel boycott protesters shut a branch of Sainsbury’s – for having the temerity to stock Israeli produce, some of it from settlements in the disputed West Bank, some not – in their constituency springs to mind. I have no idea how such a gesture is supposed to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East as opposed to looking like an endorsement of organised mob thuggery that inconvenienced and caused fear, distress and intimidation to customers and shop workers. This is the sort of juvenile stunt I would expect from a branch of the Socialist Worker Student Society, I do not expect it from Shabana Mahmood MP who is otherwise an extremely capable and intelligent asset to Labour’s team and likely to be an effective government minister in a year’s time.

But the prize for crassness and embarrassment and general unhelpfulness to peace and understanding in reacting to the Gaza conflict must surely go to Grahame Morris, Labour member of parliament for Easington, for asking the prime minister this:

Will British citizens fighting in the Israel defence forces be treated in the same way as those returning from Syria and Iraq?

False analogies that invert the truth about Israel are sadly common currency for those that seek to delegitimise and demonise the Jewish State. The worst examples of this we see include the offensive comparisons between Israel and the Nazis made by people including Liberal Democrat MP David Ward. Holocaust Inversion seeks to portray the Jewish people who were the victims of genocide as perpetrators of one.

And now Morris is seeking to portray the IDF as comparable to Isis. This inverts the truth. Israel was the first victim of Islamist terrorism, with hundreds of its civilians killed by suicide bombings in pizzerias, nightclubs, hotels and buses. The IDF’s actions in Gaza, whether you agree with them or not, were an attempt to deal with Islamist terrorists firing rockets at civilians and digging tunnels to launch attacks on civilian communities. Hamas and Isis may not be the same organisation but they share much of the same ideology, including a genocidal hatred of Israel and Jews.

Morris, and anyone else, is entitled to criticise Israeli government policy and the IDF’s actions if they disagree with them.

But to draw a comparison between Israel and its armed forces and Isis, a terrorist organisation that is seeking to create a medieval theocracy, butchering any minority group that does not convert to its extreme version of Islam, and publicly beheading journalists, goes way beyond acceptable discourse.

For Morris’ benefit the facts are:

  • Israel is a democracy that shares our values and way of life.
  • The IDF are the armed forces of a democracy and accountable to an elected government and the law. Isis and Hamas are proscribed terrorist organisations that deliberately target civilians.
  • Israel is our ally, with whom we share vital defence, security and intelligence information, and equipment, which has saved British lives from terrorism at home and abroad.
  • The vast majority of IDF troops are young conscripts doing their national service, or reservists called away from their jobs, homes and families to protect them.
  • A small minority of IDF soldiers are foreign volunteers who are inspired to protect the Jewish State and what it stands for.
  • The Isis volunteers returning to the UK from Syria and Iraq represent a terrorist threat here in the UK; people who have served in the IDF do not.

I am embarrassed that a Labour MP would make this sort of fatuous comment in the Commons. Morris should be ashamed of himself.