June 04, 2010

Israel's falling star

Mike Marqusee's site is a mine of info on various subjects and he's always a good read on Palestine. Yesterday he published a piece on how Israel has gone down in the estimation of even its most supine friends in the UK parliament and why he believes that that has happened:
Wednesday’s Commons debate on Gaza was a remarkable illustration of just how weak Israel’s position has become in this country, as in others. Hague’s statement was probably more forceful than David Milliband’s would have been were he still Foreign Secretary. But it was strongly criticised as not going far enough by at least twenty MPs from nearly every party in the House. Defence of Israel was left to the DUP; even Louise Ellman and Denis Macshane, committed defenders of Israel, could not bring themselves to challenge the consensus that the assault on the Gaza flotilla was an outrage (they confined themselves to attacks on Hamas). The legion of MPs who’ve enjoyed expenses paid visits to Israel were silent.

Following Milliband’s strained effort to establish some significant difference between himself and Hague, more substantive responses came form Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and others who called for sanctions against Israel. They pointed out that Israel had ignored international condemnation on numerous previous occasions, and that it was the failure of governments to move beyond condemnation that had led the Israelis to believe they could act against the Gaza boats with impunity.
Just an aside here, a noticeable feature of the return to power of the official right are some significant moves to the left. Various right wing policies of the outgoing Labour government have been ditched by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. And see in the quote above how it was two Labour MPs who tried to defend Israel's latest disgrace by distraction rather than by reference to the atrocity itself.

Anyway, what has made Israel's star fall so far in the eyes of its natural supporters?
A major factor in the shift is of course the sheer indefensibility of Israeli behaviour. But that would not be perceived as it now is had it not been for the long-term, patient, grass roots campaigning by pro-Palestinian activists, who come from a wide range of political, religious and ethnic backgrounds. It is the international solidarity movement that has put sanctions on the agenda. It is the international solidarity movement that has ensured the blockade of Gaza has not been forgotten; pressure on Israel to end the blockade is now growing because actions taken by that movement have forced it on to governments’ agendas. The bravery and sacrifices of the people on the boats, along with so many others in previous actions, has made a huge difference. Without it, public awareness and debate would be entirely other than it currently is. Those who have advised a sotto voce approach to Israel have been proved wrong. In contrast, huge credit belongs to those who have forced the issue – from the volunteers on the aid boats to the students at Berkeley California who waged a determined campaign for disinvestment in deficne of a wave of insult and misrepresentation. Those who have persisted, often at considerable personal cost, in challenging the complacency and indifference of others are the reason why Israel is now in the dock as it has never been before. This Saturday’s demonstrations in London and elsewhere will show that their ranks are swelling.
But what was Israel playing at?
Had the intention merely been to stop the boats reaching Gaza, than entirely different tactics would have been employed. It is not an accident that the attack took place in international waters. That was part of the message the Israelis wanted to send: that they can reach out and punish their enemies even outside their own jurisdiction, that they regard supporters of the Palestinians, from whatever country, as fair game. It was meant to be a warning to the rest of us, but it has backfired. Far from being intimidated, activists will now redouble their campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions. And they are likely to meet a more sympathetic response than ever.
So is this the beginning of the end for Israel? I'm sure there's life in the old dog yet but this does seem to be a turning point.


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