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Britain: a case study of how wealth corrupts

A new generation of protesters is targeting the warmongers promoting Israel’s ethnic cleansing who are determined to live outside the law, writes ALAN SIMPSON

 Student protest encampment at the Old College at the University of Edinburghon May 8 2024
FEARLESS: Student protest encampment at the Old College at the University of Edinburghon May 8 2024

DENNIS SKINNER once referred to David Cameron as “Dodgy Dave.” It may have seemed a disrespectful remark from an MP to the (then) prime minister, but Dennis was just telling it like it is. It’s only because Rishi Sunak’s government is so much further to the right that Cameron is now getting an easier ride. But his fundamental politics are just as corrupt.  

As you’d expect, Tony Benn put it more analytically: “I don’t think people understand how the Establishment became established. They simply stole land and property from the poor, surrounded themselves with weak-minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and have been wielding power ever since.”

You couldn’t ask for a clearer example of this than Cameron’s approach to Gaza. 

Some 450,000 Palestinians are being forced to flee Israeli’s bombing of Rafah, driven to a “safer” coastal area with no amenities whatsoever. This is Benjamin Netanyahu’s land seizure plan; a policy that moves Israel steadily from apartheid to genocide.

Cameron rejected calls for a British arms embargo on Israel until the slaughter stops, arguing: “It would just encourage Hamas.” What political flatulence. 

Hamas offered ceasefire proposals on 11 occasions, only to have them turned down. This included acceptance of proposals made by Israel itself. From the sidelines it is clear that this is all about land theft and ethnic cleansing. 

Cameron looks elsewhere when Israeli settlers set fire to trucks taking food and medicines to Gaza. He is “on the phone” when the IDF fires sniper bullets into designated UN vehicles. And he gets distracted when Israeli soldiers bulldoze Palestinian homes. Cameron’s silences support the land seizure and the plunder.

This is the hypocrisy that global anti-war protesters reject. It’s why today’s Establishment is hell-bent on marginalising and criminalising them rather than challenging the plunderers. For civil society, the risk is that remaining neutral erodes both dignity and democracy.

From the start, the far-right dubbed anti-slaughter protests as “hate marches,” even when the police described them as peaceful. So too with campus occupations.

Anti-semitism, anti-semitism, anti-semitism 

The relentless slandering of anyone mentioning Israeli atrocities has made others reluctant to speak out. The result is a disaster that plays only into the hands of Israel’s religious Taliban. 

When zionist rabbis defend the killing of Palestinian children, saying: “Today he is a baby, tomorrow he is a fighter, we will shoot them,” you know the crazies have taken control.

This is a mindset that has taken Israel down a path that systematically denies Palestinians equal access to the justice system, the planning system, healthcare and water. Don’t blame this all on Netanyahu. Our own decades of silence helped make the descent possible.

When Jewish radicals and peace activists originally argued for a two-state (or a one-state with equal rights) solution the West didn’t stand with them strongly enough to make it happen. Instead, we’ve ended up with Netanyahu begging Arab states to fund Hamas, then begging the West to arm his ethnic cleansing. Madness.

Real “friends of Israel” now face the uphill task of saving Israel from itself, or at least from its religious fanatics. Some of the wake-up tactics we need might begin with inverting those of Israel’s religious right, beginning with the Palestinian land auctions.

Land to the landless

Imagine what would happen if US students started to auction the estates of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) members. “For just a few bucks” estates could be auctioned to Palestinian families whose West Bank homes are currently being sold off to would-be Jewish settlers. 

Imagine the outrage of senators and congressmen on the Aipac payroll if their homes too were added to the auction list. Students could offer to squat the properties until Palestinian refugees arrived. I’m sure Aipac would love it. Britain could do the same to those acting as Israeli government lobbyists in this country.  

Then we might look at the media. Belgian TV at least interrupted coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest, posting a notice condemning human rights violations by Israel and their complete censorship of press coverage of the destruction of Gaza. In Sweden, mass protests assembled outside the venue, while over 1,000 artists called for Israel to be excluded. 

In Britain, press coverage focused instead on the issue of censorship, not slaughter. This is part of the series of disconnects that deflect public attention from bigger picture issues.

We may see odd images of settlers blocking the roads with boulders, stopping aid convoys getting into Gaza. But no-one runs such images alongside footage of IDF bulldozers and soldiers involved in the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes or ploughing through the bombed-out ruins of Gaza itself.

Britain’s press doesn’t make the connection. It isn’t that Israel lacks the means of keeping the aid roads open. It lacks the will. 

A new age of protest

The responsibility for oppositional indignation seems to have passed to a generation of young people; being radicalised in same way people once were by the Vietnamese and Iraq wars. Their (worldwide) protests may save the day but they, like their predecessors, are also being vilified. 

The US does have some great examples of campus protests being resolved by administrations willing to negotiate active disinvestment programmes.

Trinity College, Dublin, is doing the same. But such examples are outnumbered by protests broken up by heavy-duty policing. Moreover, new US legislation effectively makes criticism of Israel a crime in itself. Britain isn’t far behind.

Dana Abuqamar, a student in her final year at Manchester University, had lost 15 family members in Gaza by the time she spoke at a pro-Palestine rally in the city. But, as a result of speaking, her student visa has been revoked by the Home Office.

“I’m Palestinian and I feel unsafe!” doesn’t trigger the same institutional sympathy as cries of “I’m a Jew and I don’t feel safe.” You enter a dangerous space when those being bombed, starved and made homeless get redefined as the problem.

The visceral demolition of Jeremy Corbyn, on trumped-up anti-semitism charges, inflicted deep scars on Britain’s political landscape. Labour activists became fearful of making criticisms in case they too faced suspension or expulsion. Radical Jewish voices often left in disgust. This is a far cry from my early days in Anti-Nazi League activities. Then, Labour and Jewish activists led the challenge to the National Front.

Targeting the warmongers

Today’s Labour leaders struggle to get beyond moral hand-wringing. Instead, student-led opposition to Israel’s ethnic cleansing now offers the more substantial challenges. Their demands include: 

  • Active disinvestment by universities, unions and companies
  • Government suspension of arms sales to Israel until a ceasefire is in place
  • Suspension of all military co-operation with Israeli activities in Gaza
  • Prosecuting those who supply the weapons Israel uses against Palestinian communities.

Palestine Action has stepped in to this space. In Edinburgh, they blockaded the entrance to the Leonardo factory producing the laser targeting systems used by Israel’s F-35 fighter jets. In Leicester, activists broke through the roof of the Elbit factory that supplies the drones Israel uses to target civilians in Gaza. 

Elsewhere, protesters have disrupted the Barclays’ Bank AGM, objecting to the £2 billion of shares it holds in Israeli military corporations. 

In each case, the company response is that their actions are perfectly legal. It falls to protesters to dispute whether it is moral. And for this they will be prosecuted. The same goes for Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion and assorted climate protesters.

To live outside the law…

In one of his famous lines, Bob Dylan once wrote: “To live outside the law you must be honest”… If only. In Cameron and Sunak’s Britain this no longer applies. They pinched the line and rewrote it. 

In today’s Britain, to live outside the law you just have to be rich. 

It’s how societies crumble.

Alan Simpson was sustainability adviser to shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP (2017-20) and Labour MP for Nottingham South (1992-2010).

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