No One to Vote For? British Politics' ‘Israel Problem’

The U.K. Labour Party’s hostility toward Israel has triggered a Jewish celebrity’s very public defection. But supporters of Israel won’t find much comfort in other U.K. political parties either.

Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane
A Gaza war protest in London, July 26, 2014.
A Gaza war protest in London, July 26, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Dennis MacShane
Denis MacShane

One of Britain's favorite TV stars, Maureen Lipman, has written a splendid splutter of anger about her beloved Labour Party to explain why after 50 years of loyal Labour membership she would not vote for its leader, Ed Miliband following the symbolic and over-hyped vote in the House of Commons by Labour MPs on recognizing Palestine.

Her article in the monthly Standpoint journal (the only serious U.K. political-literary magazine without a permanent disfiguring bias against Israel) is fun to read. She complains about Miliband, a secular Jew, eating a bacon roll on television. She protests that as the world wakes up to what Islamist terror means in the form of IS beheading anyone it doesn’t like, surely Britain’s Labour Party doesn’t have to turn its back on a country that is daily confronted with terrorist attacks and has to live with a permanent global campaign to deny its right to exist.

She concludes: “Come election day (in May 2015) I shall give my vote to another party. Almost any other party. Until my party is led by mensches.’ So the question arises: Which U.K. party can Maureen vote for?

If Labour (and Tory) MPs voting for recognition for Palestine - outside the bounds of negotiated two-state settlement - was bad enough, what does Maureen make of Conservative leader David Cameron describing Gaza as a 'prison camp', even though it had long been evacuated by Ariel Sharon and handed over to Palestinians? Was Cameron wise to enter into an alliance in 2009 with Polish MEPs whose leader had said: "I will say sorry for what happened to the Jews in Poland when the Jews apologize for what they did to Poles"?

Speaking on the BBC's The World At One Sir Alan Duncan, a senior Tory MP and former minister, supported the vote to recognize a Palestinian state and said that U.S. policy on Israel was controlled by "financial interests." He didn't quite say Jews - but we got the message.

On to the U.K.’s third-largest parliamentary party and coalition partner in the current Tory-led government. Might Maureen vote for the Liberal Democrat Party, home to a peer, Jenny Tonge, who has out-Hamassed Hamas propagandists in support of attacks on Israel? The Liberal Democrats currently boast an MP - David Ward - who said he would fire rockets into Israel. Naturally the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did not discipline him.

Alternatively Maureen can vote for the Greens, whose MP and former leader, Caroline Lucas, blamed the murder of Jews in Mumbai on Israel and who has been consistently hostile to the right of Israel to live free of terror attacks.

Then there is UKIP, whose leader, Nigel Farage, has forged an alliance in the European Parliament with Poland’s Congress of the New Right, an openly anti-Jewish Polish party whose leader talks of the 'Holocaust industry."

Moving even further toward the fringes, there is the Respect Party, whose single MP is Saddam Hussein’s old chum, George Galloway. He has been calling for Israeli-free cities in the U.K.. Anyone remember who first used the term Judenfrei?

The Scottish Nationalists’ anti-Israel positions are well-known and the SNP boss, Alex Salmond, has called for an arms embargo on Israel. As Scotland’s First Minister has done nothing to stop anti-Jewish campus attacks in Edinburgh University.

In short, poor Maureen Lipman may well have difficulties in finding a party she can vote for if she wants unqualified, out-and-out support of Israel at all levels as a condition for casting her vote. Even though I have not checked the line on a Palestine state of the wildly eccentric Official Monster Raving Loony Party, and I assume the Flat Earth Party has cut out Israel from its map of the (non) globe.

Six years ago I wrote a book, 'Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism." I hoped I was describing a high watermark. Instead anti-Jewish hates and prejudices have reached new heights; and Israel is sliding toward the same status that South Africa enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago.

Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Labour PartyCredit: Bloomberg

The one thing pro-Israel supporters should not do is to retreat from engagement with democratic politics. More people should be in parties to expose and denounce anti-Jewish bigotry, and to find smarter ways of explaining the history and politics of the region so that at least one MP in the British Parliament actually knows what is in the Hamas Charter, as well as being better informed about how the rabid hate of Jews, not just Israel, is central to all Islamist politics, and is sadly now infecting European politics as bigotry, xenophobia and prejudice replace reason and tolerance.

Denis MacShane is the U.K.’s former minister for Europe. Follow him on Twitter: @denismacshane

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