The news that a majority of voters in Britain have opted to leave the European Union has produced a lot of surprise, shock and anger, and that’s just within the UK itself. The result has given a major boost to far-right extremists who see it as a mandate for their politics based on anti-immigrant, Islamophobic hatred. Time will tell what effect this will have on British citizens, some of whom clearly had little understanding of what they were doing (the case of Cornwall is a good example; in receipt of millions of Euros in EU subsidies, the county council is pleading for these to be protected when Britain leaves; quite astonishing). However, given Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation, there is also likely to be a major effect on Britain’s foreign policy, not least in the Middle East.
Although he is, of course, a supporter of the Zionist state of Israel — one of its “staunchest allies” according to Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard — Cameron has on occasion been critical of the regime in Tel Aviv; notably, he once described the Gaza Strip as “a prison camp”, and Britain still maintains official opposition to Israel’s illegal colonial-settlements. Nevertheless, with Cameron stepping down, the way is open for people like the more the brazenly neo-conservative Zionist Michael Gove to take power. Gove is unashamedly pro-Israel, as my colleague Yvonne Ridley pointed out earlier this year. “There are few politicians more servile and loyal to Israel than Britain’s Justice Secretary,” she wrote. “So servile,” in fact, that he is prepared to “airbrush Israel’s apartheid crimes” out of the picture, to the extent that his pro-Israel utterances have been at odds with Britain’s foreign policy.
Gove describes himself as a “proud Zionist” and has a track record of attacking anyone not following the Israeli narrative. As far back as February 2008, he “slandered” (the word used by a fellow parliamentarian) me in the House of Commons when he was in opposition. My crime, in his eyes (apart from being deeply involved in the education of British Muslim children), was that I had “called ‘political Zionism a threat to world peace’…” and “said of ‘Zionist control of the media’ that there is no smoke without fire”. Putting aside the fact that he actually misquoted me, Gove set out his pro-Israel stall very clearly. My pro-Palestine activism was enough for him to try to discredit a major Muslim-Christian education initiative, although the record of his speech in Hansard shows that he omitted to mention that Christians and their schools were also involved in the Bridge Schools Inspectorate which so provoked his ire. Such economy with the truth was evident in the “Leave” campaign spearheaded by Gove and Boris Johnson.
Johnson is the ex-Mayor of London and a Conservative Party MP who had a trip to the occupied West Bank cut short last year after he made pro-Israel remarks and criticised the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. As mayor of London, he was planning to host a “Festival of Tel Aviv” in London next year, an almost unbelievable proposal given Israel’s appalling human rights record and daily breeches of international law, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. Incredibly, his successor Sadiq Khan has said that this “festival” will still go ahead.
Johnson is an early front-runner to take over the leadership of the Conservative Party from David Cameron and thus lead the Tory government. This is a real possibility, unless concerns for democracy dominate and a general election is called to give the next prime minister a genuine mandate to govern Britain, but don’t hold your breath. Johnson’s “casualness with the facts during the campaign” in order to garner votes suggests a less than honourable approach to attaining high office; anything goes, it seems, to get Boris into Downing Street.
It is an odd paradox that the non-Jewish Gove and Johnson not only led the Leave campaign but are also ardently pro-Israel. According to Anshel Pfeffer writing in Haaretz recently, British Jews — most of whom support the state of Israel — would be doing “the most un-Jewish thing” by voting “Leave”. Pfeffer reminded them that they are largely descended from refugees who fled from other parts of Europe and found a safe haven in Britain; they were the forerunners of the current “immigrants” whose plight dominated virulently racist Leave rhetoric. Could this backing for the Remain campaign among those whom Gove and Johnson might see as their core supporters rebound against the “Brexit government”? Perhaps, but such considerations may well play second-fiddle for the ideologically-driven Gove.
All in all, then, with such virulently pro-Israel candidates waiting in the wings to succeed Cameron, and far-right extremists — in an irony lost on the pro-Israel lobby — waving Israeli flags at anti-Muslim rallies, the future for Britain’s role in Palestine-Israel looks set to be at best indifferent to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and completely hostile at worst.
If past experience is any pointer to the future — and it often is — then Israeli exceptionalism will still take priority over international law; Israel will continue to act with impunity and treat with contempt the laws and conventions that the rest of the world abide by. Britain’s ostensible opposition to Israel’s illegal colony-settlements will still be meaningless as more settlers flood the occupied Palestinian territories, killing for ever even the most optimistic hopes for an independent State of Palestine; there simply won’t be any land left upon which a viable state can be built. None of this will change post-Brexit; if anything, it will get much worse.
The Palestinians can thus expect little — if anything at all — from a Brexit government in Westminster and the alarm bells should be ringing in Palestine. This should also be a major concern for every reasonable person who wants to see a just and peaceful solution for the asymmetrical conflict between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupiers of their land.
On 23 November 2019, EuroPal Forum and Middle East Monitor co-hosted a conference at the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury in London on the relations between Europe and Palestine. A first of its kind, the conference brought together individuals at the forefront of discourse on Palestine in
As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules that European Union countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, MEMO and EuroPal Forum are hosting a conference to discuss the EU’s position on major issues related to the occupat