Why is Tony Blair still prime minister? One major reason is because he promised to push for peace between Israel and Palestine. Many MPs sided with Blair in the crucial Parliamentary vote before the invasion of Iraq, believing he could and would influence Washington over the issue. This was self-delusion; Blair leads the most pro-Israel government in recent British history.
A year ago Blair told Parliament that the US “should recognise the fundamental overriding importance of restarting the Middle East peace process, which we will hold [it] to’. The last phrase was the critical bit. But this required accepting not only that Blair could influence Bush but that Britain was at least even-handed in the conflict; some people even believed the UK was pro-Palestinian.
Yet before the invasion of Iraq, Britain was a strong defender of Israel. London has always blamed “both sides’ for violence as though both are equally guilty, ignoring the facts that one is illegally occupying the territory of the other and that Israel is responsible for far more deaths. Blair never condemns Israel, and he always toes the Israeli line that Palestinian suicide bombings need to cease before Israeli “reprisals’ can stop.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), meanwhile, has identified Israel for preferential trade treatment. And arms exports to Jerusalem doubled from 2000 to 2001, reaching £22.5m as Israel stepped up aggression in the occupied territories. Supplies included small arms, grenade-making kits and components for equipment such as armoured fighting vehicles, tanks and combat aircraft. In 2002 Britain began to block some items destined for Israel, and was reportedly considering them on a case-by-case basis. But Whitehall still approved the export of spare parts for US aircraft used to target Palestinians.
Over the past year the occupied territories have descended into greater violence, while the much-fêted Middle East “road map’ has effectively died. Some 50 per cent of Palestinians are unemployed, two thirds live below the poverty line, while a quarter of Palestinian children endure acute or chronic malnutrition.
Yet British policy continues as before. Britain has recently supplied Israel with machine guns, rifles, ammunition and components for tanks and helicopters, leg irons, electric shock belts and tear gas. A DTI official recently said there was “no question of treating applications for Israel more harshly or rigorously than [other countries]’.
When Israel bombed Syria in October last year, targeting an alleged “terrorist training camp’, the illegal action was condemned by France and Germany. The Foreign Office simply called on “all sides to exercise restraint’, and said that Israeli actions to “protect itself from terrorist attack& should be within international law’.
Although the government accepts that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal and calls for a “viable’ Palestinian state, it has done nothing serious to pressurise Israel. Currently, Britain is refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in reviewing the legality of Israel’s “security barrier’, even though it says it opposes the latter.
And Britain is resisting calls for the EU’s special trade and aid agreement with Israel to be cut off. By contrast, it has been very active in persuading the EU to agree to ban the political wing of Hamas and to place the organisation’s leaders on a terrorist blacklist. The UK has also reportedly taken the lead in calling for strict European curbs on charities raising funds for Hamas.
What explains British policy? The answers might be found in formerly secret files I recently discovered. A Foreign Office report from 1970 entitled Future British Policy Toward the Arab/Israel Dispute rejected both an openly pro-Israel and a pro-Arab policy. The latter was rejected “because of the pressure the US government undoubtedly exerts on HMG to keep us in line in any public pronouncements or negotiations on the dispute’.
The paper also rejected a strategy of “active neutrality’ that would have meant being more pro-Arab than the US: that would damage Britain’s “worldwide relationship with the US’. The Foreign Office argued, instead, for a “low-risk policy’ that would involve putting “private pressure upon the US to bring about a settlement’.
I believe that Britain is publicly trying to position itself as being “neutral’ (in line with the 1970 report) but has, in fact, tilted itself strongly towards Israel. Why is this? Another declassified file can help explain.
In 1969 the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) noted that “rapid industrialisation’ was occurring in Israel “in fields where British industry can readily supply the necessary capital goods’. It said: “Israel is already a valuable trading partner with a considerable future potential in the industrial areas where we want to develop Britain as a major worldwide manufacturer and supplier.’ But in the Arab world, the JIC said, “recent developments appear to confirm that the prospects for profitable economic dealings& are at best static and could, over the long term, decline’.
It seems that the economic opportunities Israel offers, together with the desire to maintain the special relationship with Washington, is more important to Whitehall than a few million mere Palestinians. This shows how basic British foreign policy priorities are and how little human rights feature in those priorities.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace