Michael Freedman

Israel-Gaza: A test of quaint old British ‘fair play’

On the muddled Britons who agree Israel must use force but aren't comfortable seeing death and destruction

Here’s an interesting disconnect in the “thinking” of the British public. Recent polls produced the following results:

Forty-one percent think that David Cameron should have been more critical of Israel whereas 38% say David Cameron has got the balance right between supporting and criticising Israel. This is followed by 13% who don’t know and only 9% who think that the Prime Minister should be more supportive of Israel.

Bear in mind that most pro-Israel people believe his actions have been pretty supportive so far, and any further action would be unrealistic. In other words, the majority of the British public, contrary to the way it is being portrayed by the media and certain loudmouthed politicians, are actually behind the Tories on this. All the more reason why Baroness Warsi was hopelessly out of touch on, well, basically everything.

Meanwhile though, another poll shows that 62% believe that the Israeli government is committing war crimes (incidentally 65% say Hamas are too, 69% say Assad does, and about half say Blair and Bush did, so Bibi is in good company), and a third poll showed that 52% of see Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip as “unjustified”.

In his public statements, David Cameron has openly endorsed Israel as the wronged party with a right to defend itself, and been guarded in any criticism of its tactics, quite reasonably trying not to accuse before facts are known. A clear majority of people actively or passively endorse this view, whilst at the same time, a clear majority believe Israel is carrying out war crimes.

This means that about one in four people in the UK (62%-38%, assuming no overlaps) simultaneously agree that this is a complicated war in which Israel is doing what it can to defend itself, and that Israel is carrying out war crimes. Even stronger are one in 10 people (62%-52%) who effectively believe Israel is carrying out “justified war crimes”!

Now this obviously makes little logical sense, but it perhaps demonstrates what might at least be a subconscious understanding of the asymmetric warfare Israeli is forced by its evil opponents to fight – basically damned to either commit war crimes or not defend its populace.

Added to this, general attitudes to the Israel/Palestine issue see 27% pro-Palestinian, 14% pro-Israel, and the big 59% middle ground of both, neither, don’t know.

In other words, there’s a big middle ground who may feel instinctively uncomfortable at seeing the death and destruction, feel Israel could be doing more and is not as moral as they might like, but also have no idea what else Israel is supposed to do, and are actually still open-minded on the wider dilemmas.

This nuanced group is precisely where better access to facts can have the biggest impact, and it’s remarkable that there are so many such people still left, after the particular type of “groupthink”, propaganda and veiled threats they have been subjected to.

Brian of London‘s response to my original posting of the above statistics and analysis was pithy:

Basically war has been declared a crime. There is no circumstance under which it is permitted to kill in self defence. This extends right from countries down to individuals.

This is where the damage has been done: they’ve made people think war was unnecessary because you could negotiate everything into a nice sensible solution and then have a cup of tea. And now they’re going to try to work out how to sit down with IS.

Another respondent pointed out that

The slaughter of British soldiers on the streets of London has not woken them up, nor has IS’s beheadings and genocide. Too many people in the West fail to understand that the freedoms they take for granted are only upheld by the ability and willingness to exercise massively lethal, brutal force in defending those freedoms and to kill as many of the enemy as is necessary to win.

I can see the basis of these points of view, but I believe this middle ground deserves a little more credit. They are saying they prefer to believe that all war is a crime but also implicitly recognise Israel basically has no choice. They are also fully aware of the brutality of Islamism unchecked, and that this reality has been and will be visited on them in the streets of British cities.

However, they are hoping to have others do their dirty work in the long term, whilst in the short term they hope to protect themselves with the claim that they were playing fair and treating both sides equally at worst, if not actually marching in the streets with their flags, as if Hizbollah yellow and Hamas green won’t eventually turn IS black and eventually infidel blood red.

The British public can no longer be considered so naive that they really believe the outdated notion of fair play and assuming all parties are up for a civilised discussion will bring a resolution to this conflict or long-term protection to them.

The muddled public opinion revealed in these statistics demonstrates a (probably unconsciously) very clever hedging of bets, allowing the luxury of self-righteousness over Israel’s terribly un-British behaviour, whilst secretly being quite happy for others to do their dirty work. As the famous George Orwell maxim goes (this is the real quote, by the way – the one you all know is a paraphrase):

Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.

Take note, hasbara strategists, because the pro-Hamas/anti-Jew (sorry, I mean pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist) contingent sure have. They understand that elements of the British public are happy to abjure violence (and of course anti-Semitism) whilst simultaneously letting their proxies do battle against the evil Zionists – in Israel, at the Tricycle Theatre, on the wall of a synagogue or two.

We have to reverse the argument and demonstrate to the British centre ground that the oft-quoted lines by Golda Meir and others about how we try to abjure violence and are desperately sad at having to use it, even as a last resort and for our own survival, remain true for us in every moment of every battle and conflict.

Also take note, Tory Party, because Warsi, Clegg, Miliband etc have actually tracked further to the left than the electorate. Demonstrating a sensible and nuanced line (which invariably actually favours Israel in practice) is not going to cost you votes in 2015, and might even gain you some.

It will certainly reassure a Jewish community that is increasingly living in fear because the other side is strident and even violent in promoting its viewpoint.

The British public are apparently happy with the seemingly neutral position of “not in my name (but probably in my self-interest)” – this seems to be the best we and they can do right now. However, as Edmund Burke is often misquoted as saying, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. The original quote is actually much more telling:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

May this turn out to be a warning to the the well-meaning and upstanding British public, that doing nothing will not suffice, and to choose their associations with great care, for a contemptible struggle is upon us, and we — Jews and Israelis — may well remain unpitied, but never again will we be a sacrifice.

About the Author
Michael is Executive Director of Asquith Israel Merchant Bank, which seeks to go "Beyond the Start-Up Nation" by investing long-term in Israeli growth companies.