Priti Patel and Israel

A friend of mine recently asked me to respond to this article,¬†http://www.moonofalabama.org/2017/11/priti-patel-tool-of-the-zionist-lobby-resigns.html#more. It concerns the resignation of British International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, following revelations that she met with the Israeli Prime Minister and members of the Israeli army without disclosing it to the British Prime Minister, only to attempt to cover it up once her meetings had been made public. Following Patel’s resignation, Theresa May has appointed Penny Mordaunt as International Development Secretary- Mordaunt’s status as a woman and Brexiteer keeps a precarious balance in Cabinet.

The whole affair reveals May’s lack of authority following the loss of a Conservative majority since the last election. Under ordinary circumstances, Patel would have been sacked instead of resigning. She would also have been reprimanded far more harshly by May and other senior Cabinet members. Mordaunt’s nomination also shows a lack of authority, as May cannot afford to upset the Brexit wing of her party. The whole affair reflects poorly on the government, which is also mired in sex scandals.

Having said that, I’m very unsympathetic to those who wish to use the affair to score political points. Were Labour in a minority government and hit with scandals, it would respond in a similar way. Labour is just as divided as the Conservatives over Brexit: its surprising electoral success was made possible only by having considerable appeal to both Leave and Remain voters. Conservative minority government is proving difficult, but running any minority government in a country with an adversarial political culture and a majoritarian voting system will always pose significant challenges. I also don’t believe the affair reflects badly on Brexiteers. Remain-supporting politicians have been just as scandal-prone as their Leave counterparts- Clive Lewis being a case in point.

I’m afraid I strongly disagree with the article I’ve been asked to respond to. Partly because it makes lots of factual errors. It claims that Israel is intentionally funding Al-Qaeda, and that Priti Patel supports this. The reality is that Israel is using its presence in the Golan Heights to treat wounded Syrian rebels, fighting against the oppressive Assad regime. We can’t be certain of all of the motives of these rebels. But treating them is undoubtedly the right thing to do, particularly as many of those treated are civilians and not rebel soldiers. Israel believes it is in its interests to fund the rebels because Assad is backed by Iran, a country which funds anti-Israel terror groups. I personally am sceptical of the merits of intervention unless we are explicitly pursuing regime change in Syria. The funding of rebel groups may have the inadvertent effect of prolonging the war, leading to more civilian casualties in the long term. But Israel’s policy is understandable, given that it is threatened by Iran-backed militias Hamas and Hezbollah.

Unlike Patel, I don’t support the Modi government in India. However, her support for the Indian government is in Britain’s interests, particularly post-Brexit. One of the arguments for Brexit is that it will allow Britain to conduct free trade deals on its own. Now whether Britain is better off outside the EU is beside the point, given that leaving is virtually inevitable right now. The reality is, Britain will need favourable treatment from countries like India if we are to thrive outside the EU. A close relationship with the Indian government is the pragmatic means of increasing trade with a historically protectionist economy.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with the way the article refers to a ‘Zionist lobby.’ Partly because historically, that term has been used by anti-Semites to describe an international malicious Jewish influence on world politics. The fact is that Jews and Zionists have far less influence on global affairs than is often assumed. More importantly, that influence is highly heterogeneous; it is more accurate to speak of Zionisms than Zionism. Some Zionists simply support a Jewish state, and want to help Israel, perhaps because they have friends or family living there. Many Zionists would like to see the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Some Zionists are religious, and are more concerned with Israel as a fulfilment of prophecy than the politics of the nation. Even amongst those who are ‘pro-Israel’ as the term is normally used, there are divisions. Many pro-Israel advocates are very critical of the Netanyahu administration- the decay of relations with the US, a hardline policy towards Iran, a lack of peace with the Palestinians, the expansion of settlements etc. Some, of course, take a more conservative line. But the idea that there is a homogenous Zionist lobby which consistently argues an ultra-conservative line on Middle Eastern affairs is total nonsense. Also, if the so-called Zionist lobby was so successful in Britain, then why is a lifelong opponent of Israel now the leader of the Opposition? Corbyn’s rise shows that to an extent, there is an appetite for a different policy towards Israel. If the Zionist lobby controlled everything, he would never have been chosen in the first place.

Overall I’m glad Patel is out of the Cabinet. Her actions were wrong, and her political ambitions scuppered as a result. As a Remain voter, I can’t say I’m terribly sympathetic to her brand of quasi-nationalistic Conservatism. But the article uses this unfortunate scandal to suggest that everyone who is on the pro-Israel side of the Arab-Israeli conflict must somehow be immoral and corrupt. It completely ignores the diversity and subtlety of perspectives on the issue. It is conspiratorial and factually inaccurate. For instance, using an Al-Jazeera report to slam pro-Israel advocates is a nonsense. It would be like using a Fox News report to attack pro-immigration movements; Al-Jazeera is owned by the Qatari government, which is ideologically and irrevocably hostile to Israel. In politics, just as in everything, it is important to look at the facts, rather than assume anyone’s intentions.