Israel’s shameless mouthpiece


Dr. Hanan Chehata E-mail Print


MEMO, August 29, 2010

In yet another revealing speech, this time delivered at a symposium at
IDC University in Herzliya, Tony Blair has exposed himself for what he
truly is; not a "peace envoy" by any stretch of the imagination but a
shameless mouthpiece for the State of Israel. Just days before direct
negotiations are due to take place in the Middle East, in which he is
supposed to be taking a neutral stance representing the Quartet (UN,
EU, Russia and the USA), Blair has taken it upon himself to set aside
any pretence of impartiality and reaffirm his "passion" for Israel. He
has taken on the role of Israel’s defence attorney to plead with the
world to try to empathise with Israel and to understand Israel’s point
of view when it commits atrocities, human rights abuses and breaches of
international law. He acknowledged that Israel is often perceived as
"arrogant, overbearing and aggressive" but instead of examining why
that might be such a widespread perception he went on to defend
Israel’s crimes. Not for one moment, however, did he stop to ask anyone
to consider the Palestinians’ point of view.

In this one short speech there were so many blatant attempts by Tony
Blair at misdirection and misinformation that it is hard to know which
was his most serious breach of professional decorum and where to start
pointing out his now publicly-admitted bias; but regardless of where
you start pretty much every statement he made was a crude attempt to
spin the Israeli narrative. His whole speech was geared towards
defending Israel and condemning the critics of Israel. He raised a
whole host of issues which he seemed to have on a checklist and went
through them one by one, making an attempt, and a very poor one at
that, to defend Israel’s illegal actions.

The Freedom Flotilla

In reference to Israel’s military assault on the Freedom Flotilla to
Gaza in May, for instance, Blair complained that critics of Israel
"won’t accept that Israel might have a right to search vessels bringing
cargo into Gaza." Well of course not! Critics of Israel are concerned
with international law, and under international law Israel had
absolutely no right to board a boat in international waters, kill nine
unarmed civilians in cold blood and then kidnap hundreds of
humanitarians and peace activists on board the ships and take them
against their will to Israel where they were physically and mentally
abused. "Might have a right," Mr. Blair? Who are you kidding?

Blair did not offer a single word of condemnation over Israel’s
actions. Instead, he whined about those who criticise Israel. He has
clearly chosen sides, irrespective of the fact that Israel is currently
under investigation for its actions which have been condemned widely as
a blatant and illegal act of piracy. Although he did mention the
"multiple probes" into the flotilla attack, he did so without
mentioning that one of the reasons for multiple probes is Israel’s
refusal to co-operate fully with one, impartial UN enquiry.

It is obvious that Blair’s friendship towards Israel makes him want to
give it carte blanche to act as badly as it wants, with impunity.

Gaza: 300,000 Palestinian toddlers under the age of 4 are a threat to Israeli security

Blair’s comments on Gaza were also both shocking and revealing. "You
can justify restrictions in Gaza taken for reasons of security," he
said, adding that "with a Gazan population, [1.5 million] half of whom
is under the age of 18 and 300,000 of whom are under the age of four,
security is the only arguable basis upon which to put such
restrictions". That’s right; he suggested, quite seriously, that the
justification for imposing an illegal siege on 300,000 new born babies
and toddlers is legitimate security. Amazing. As an ex-Prime Minister
of Britain and a current "peace envoy" you would think that at the very
least he would point to the inhumanity of imposing a siege on 750,000
children under the age of 18 of whom 300,000 are under 4, but no;
instead he justifies it by "security" concerns.

"Security", of course, is Israel’s mantra whenever it breaches
international and humanitarian law. The apartheid wall is for security;
dawn raids on Palestinian family homes are for security; the hundreds
of checkpoints are for security; the exclusive roads for Israeli
settlers are for security; the whole oppressive apparatus of the
occupation exists for Israel’s security. But how legitimate is the
claim that Israel’s security is at risk? Let’s look at the figures
Blair quoted in his speech to justify Israel’s security concerns.

"Israel," he said, "lost 1,000 citizens to terrorism in the intifada.
That equates in UK population terms to 10,000." If Blair wants to play
the numbers game then why didn’t he also acknowledge that around 6,000
Palestinians were killed during that same period, which would equate to
60,000 Britons? During "Operation Cast Lead" Israeli soldiers killed
more than 1,400 Palestinians in just 22 days compared to 3 Israeli
civilians killed by rockets and 6 Israel soldiers who were killed in
the assault, 3 of them by Israeli friendly fire. If Blair wants to
argue in terms of quantitative death tolls wouldn’t that mean that
Israel should be the country under siege and confined to the largest
open prison in the world?

One Israeli soldier in captivity versus thousands of Palestinians held by Israel without charge

Once again, a single Israeli name managed to find its way onto the lips
of a world leader in Blair’s speech: Gilad Shalit. Sergeant Shalit is
an Israeli soldier who was on active duty when he was captured by
Palestinians. In international law he is regarded as a legitimate
target for people living under and resisting an illegal military
occupation. Israel, however, holds thousands of Palestinian civilians
men, women and children – in detention, most without charge. What is so
special about Shalit that merits his mention by the former Prime
Minister of Britain? Why was his name on the lips of the Middle East
Peace Envoy but not the names of any of the children currently being
held in flagrant violation of international law, without trial and
without due process, in Israel? Why did Tony Blair not mention any of
the hundreds of children who have made increasing numbers of
allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse at the hands of their
Israeli captors?

You have to question why Blair’s rhetoric, and so many others like him,
is so unbalanced. What was his incentive for mentioning Shalit but
ignoring the thousands of Palestinians? Was it money? Power? Prestige?
All of the above? Is there really a price worth paying to sell your own
soul? Clearly there is for Tony Blair. At a time when Israeli citizens
are themselves beginning to reject and disown the acts of the Israeli
state carried out in their name, why does Blair feel the need to be its
unflinching supporter?

We should not really be surprised that Blair defends the actions of
Israel given that he sanctioned the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan
leading to the loss of thousands of lives. But having led the war cry
against those states, any Blairite criticism of Israel for its human
rights violations would be seen as hypocrisy. There is almost a sense
of self-justification through his staunch defence of Israel.

Blatant hypocrisy

Tony Blair urged the world not to hold Israel to standards that they
would not expect to be held to themselves. He said: "Don’t apply rules
to Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own country.
In any of our nations, if there were people firing rockets, committing
acts of terrorism and living next door to us, our public opinion would
go crazy." If equal standards are the benchmark then why does the world
– and Blair himself expect the Palestinians to put up with things on a
daily basis that we would never accept? Like military occupation; a
siege; an apartheid wall; checkpoints; settlements; fanatical and armed
settlers; house demolitions; ethnic cleansing. Blair is deluded if he
thinks the British public would accept such a state of affairs in our
own country and not a) be utterly horrified if the rest of the world
did not lift a finger to help us; b) rage against the injustice of it
all; and c) resist the occupiers.

"There has been real progress over the past year"

Glossing over the reality of the situation on the ground, Blair claimed
that "there has been real progress in the past year" in terms of
improving the daily lives of Palestinians. This simple statement shows
just how out of touch our ex-Prime Minister is with the daily reality
of life for Palestinians. For a peace envoy to the region, that is
simply inexcusable.

So let’s spell it out for him. Water in the occupied West Bank is still
being expropriated by the Israeli authorities every day with the
average Israeli getting eight times more water than Palestinians; the
diversion of the resources from land that is occupied to the land of
the occupier is illegal in international law. Fields of crops are still
being stolen from Palestinian farmers. Palestinian children are still
being rounded up in dawn raids and subjected to abuse for "offences"
such as throwing stones at the apartheid wall. All Muslims under the
age of 50 are still being excluded from going to pray at the Al-Aqsa
Mosque, the third Holiest site in Islam, even as he spoke, during the
Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Construction of illegal Israeli
settlements is still taking place while demolition orders for
Palestinian homes and mosques are still being issued. Is this what
Blair calls "progress"? Is this the Israeli democracy that Blair is so
proud to support?

Just how democratic is Israel?

Why exactly should we all be friends of Israel? Blair has his own
reasons, perhaps linked to personal and financial gain. Now a
multimillionaire, being the loyal friend of Israel has clearly served
him and his coffers well. But what about us, the general public he is
trying so desperately to persuade? Why should we embrace Israel and
turn a blind eye to its wrongdoings? Blair cited a few reasons, each of
which is fundamentally flawed.

First up, the old chestnut that Israel "is a democracy". Well, if the
only reason to be friends with a government or state is that it is
democratic, why isn’t everyone friends with the democratically-elected
Hamas government in Gaza? After all, they won the election in 2006 in
what the UN and the rest of the world have conceded was a free and fair
election. This one simple fact immediately blows Blair’s "democracy"
argument out of the water. In any event, democracy alone is clearly not
reason enough to befriend a nation and turn a blind eye to its
criminality; on the contrary, it is every reason why it should be
brought to account.

Furthermore, how democratic is Israel? It is a nation that has
imprisoned over 50 democratically-elected members of the Palestinian
parliament and has forced exile upon others. Three
democratically-elected Palestinian legislators have been forced to seek
sanctuary in a Red Cross Camp in Jerusalem because if they take a
single step outside the compound the Israeli authorities have
threatened to arrest, imprison and then expel them from their ancestral
homeland. They have been confined to the compound for almost two months.

Even members of the Israel Knesset are subject to treatment most
unbecoming of a so-called democratic state. MK Haneen Zoabi, for
instance, has been stripped of her parliamentary privileges and is
being threatened with the loss of her Israeli citizenship because she
showed empathy with the humanitarian struggle of the people in Gaza and
took part, peacefully, in the Freedom Flotilla in May (which she saw as
her democratic duty). She has been subjected to abuse and threats from
fellow Knesset members as well as death threats from the wider Zionist
community for doing no more than exercising her democratic right to
have an opinion contrary to the Zionist norm in Israel.

Furthermore, just pages away from where Tony Blair’s speech received
front page coverage in the Jewish Chronicle (27 August) is an article
by Hagai El-Ad decrying "Israel’s slide from democracy". He points to
the fact that "the Knesset is passing more and more anti-democratic
laws than ever before – targeting the Arab minority; predicating basic
civil rights on declarations of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state;
and limiting the ability of citizens to protest against government
style policies… The rules of democracy are crumbling." It seems that
Blair’s allusion to Israel’s democratic nature is not a particularly
strong one on which to base his unwavering support for the Zionist
state.

Blair also argued that the Israeli press is free, a point many would
contend in the light of a growing culture of Israeli censorship.

A blind friend of Israel

Blair argued, very dramatically, that critics of Israel "wear Nelson’s
eye patch of scrutiny when they lift the telescope to the Israeli
case", a reference to the great British admiral putting his telescope
to his blind eye and saying, "I see no ships" during a naval
engagement; Lord Nelson’s descendents should would surely sue if they
could. Moreover, isn’t that exactly what Tony Blair is doing with his
selective discourse about the public perception of Israel in which he
did not refer to illegal settlement building. Nor did he refer to any
of the other reasons why Israel is so heavily – and rightly –
criticised, he simply waxed lyrical about the great and democratic
Israeli state. His eulogy included "what we admire about the Jewish
people: their contribution to art, culture, literature, music, business
and philanthropy." No one is denying that Jewish people have made
contributions to culture, etc., but what has that got to do with
Israeli soldiers posing for photographs with blindfolded and bound
elderly Palestinian prisoners or the arrest and abuse of young
Palestinian children in Israel? Surely the contributions of Jews across
the centuries are reasons why the actions of the state created in their
name are so shocking? Blair’s is a subtle attempt to equate the issue
of Jewish contributions to world civilisation with support for the
state of Israel thus indirectly conflating the issue of anti-Semitism
with criticism of Israel; a standard tactic of so many Zionists today.

Blair sounded more like a spokesperson for The Friends of Israel (the
group set up by Spain’s former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and led
by David Trimble and John Bolton among others all of whom have made it
their mission to promote Israel) than a Quartet peace envoy.

De-legitimisation

Along with so many other Zionists at the moment, Blair seems to have a
bee in his bonnet about the idea that Israel is being "de-legitimised".
Instead of asking why this might be the case he said "we" should
"highlight the fact that de-legitimisation is happening, and be
vigorous about identifying and countering instances of it." However, it
is Israel that is de-legitimising itself. After all, what does it mean,
to de-legitimise? It means to take something legitimate, legal and
right, and to make it seem illegal or wrong. But no-one is doing that.
The focus of the vast majority of the critics of Israel is to criticise
its illegal acts, not its legal ones. For instance, Israel is being
criticised for the continuous building of illegal Israeli settlements;
Israel is being criticised for the continued construction of the
illegal apartheid wall (deemed as such in the International Court of
Justice Advisory opinion in 2004) and so on. So what Blair is really
calling for is for us all to legitimise the illegitimate. To make the
illegal seem legal and to make the immoral seem moral. What gives Tony
Blair the right to demand that we do this on Israel’s behalf? Critics
of Israel want to see Israel abide by international law, clear and
simple and yet Blair is calling for us all to let Israel slip even
further away from accountability.

Direct negotiations and peace?

There does not seem to be much hope for the new round of peace talks if
Tony Blair, who is supposed to be an impartial envoy, has already
declared whose side he is on and has said, "I am a passionate believer
in Israel". He referred to peace and the concessions that the
Palestinians need to make but not once did he mention the
internationally-accepted and UN-accepted framework for peace which must
include Israel giving back stolen Palestinian land. He talked about
improving life for Palestinians but did not address what Palestinians
themselves really want. They do not want charity, hand-outs or relief;
they want their independence, their statehood, their own nationality
and the right to return to their homeland; they want freedom. As long
as Blair and others like him do not address the real issues, talking to
all parties, including Hamas, there is no real chance for peace.

An experienced instigator of war and a staunch supporter of alleged war
criminals, Blair has made millions of pounds from his position. Given
his now openly admitted bias in favour of Israel, every word he utters
about peace from this day onwards is totally meaningless; Tony Blair is
a harbinger of war and criminality, not the bringer of peace. The
Quartet must, therefore, if it is to retain any credibility at all,
sack him and appoint a new peace envoy who is neutral and in favour of
justice for all who have been wronged, including Palestinians.

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