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Artillery Row

The failure of the centrists

Britain’s mainstream liberals are losing it over Israel and Palestine

Are the recent massacres of Israelis by Hamas terrorists driving the British liberal elite to a nervous breakdown?

It’s more than understandable to be horrified by the attacks, which saw villages, a music festival and military bases seized by terrorists from Gaza. Well over 1,000 Israelis were killed, many of them civilians; women, children and the elderly among them. Savage videos of screaming women being kidnapped and bodies mishandled shocked the world.

Therefore it is right and proper that Britain has offered its sympathies. We have an interest in ensuring that any kidnapped British-Israelis are rescued, that those killed are avenged, and that any British people in Gaza — such as the First Minister of Scotland’s mother in law — or in Israel are kept safe.

Yet the response from many in the British elite has been entirely out of proportion with these modest objectives.

Keir Starmer said on LBC that Israel has the “right” to withhold water and electricity from Gaza. He’s subsequently walked the statement back but you’d think the former human rights lawyer would know to oppose collective punishment. Emily Thornberry, Shadow Attorney General, said much the same thing

The government has been equally strident. The Prime Minister claimed that Britain is one of Israel’s strongest allies — which is sweet but untrue, another American meme which we’ve uncritically adopted — and deployed a Royal Navy task force to support Israel. 

While the US has deployed naval forces there too, they’ve done so with the numbers needed to head off any Iranian attempt to support their Hamas allies. Our puny force lets us pretend we’re doing something but has limited utility and risks associating us with Israel’s inevitable ground assault, which is bound to cause mass civilian casualties.

In some ways that isn’t entirely Israel’s fault: Hamas hides among the population in Gaza, there’s some evidence of them blocking Gazans who tried to flee, and the largest hospital in Gaza is literally home to a Hamas HQ where they tortured people. 

Despite this overt assistance, several journalists have said that Britain isn’t doing enough. On Newsnight Hadley Freeman claimed the British only offer “qualified sympathy” because they aren’t putting up Israeli flags in their windows. Perhaps she is forgetting that after the Manchester Arena bombing — when a Libyan Islamist blew up little girls at a music concert — the media rushed to encourage people to sing “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. Or how the murder of David Amess MP by a Somali Islamist living in social housing, was turned into a lesson on the dangers of mean tweets. 

Stephen Pollard took to the pages of the Jewish Chronicle to complain that other faiths had failed to put on commemorative events. But how often do they do that? The reality is that for years the government responded to Islamist terror with a deliberate policy of flowers and platitudes. 

Similarly, Dan Hodges responded to Jewish schools closing on Friday because they felt they were under threat by calling for the Army to be deployed. So far as I know, there have been no actual threats to the schools, but using troops to keep order isn’t completely mad. Yet you’d hope there might be some reflection though on how we got to the point where children might need soldiers to keep them safe — or why the plight of the Batley teacher, who was driven into hiding by Muslim protesters after allegedly showing his students a picture of Muhammad, never received that level of support.

What many of them were tiptoeing around were the pro-Palestine protests which sprung up across Britain. It’s certainly odd that people responded to a terrorist attack against Israel by focusing on Palestine, before the inevitable Israeli reaction had even begun. Odder too that some of the protestors had sympathies which clearly went beyond sympathy for Palestine and into full-blown support of Hamas.

It was that which surprised celebrity and campaigner Rachel Riley, who went out to buy a dessert in Acton, only to be confronted with people who were clearly happy that Israelis — civilian or not — had just been killed. 

That sense of liberal shock was most palpably expressed by Matthew d’Ancona, who asked “What is the matter with us?”. Who is us though? Middle class dads wearing bootcut jeans? I think not. To be sure, the protests had a smattering of the usual far-left crusties and trendies wearing whatever is popular on END.com but by far the majority of it was made up of people who were visibly of recent immigrant stock and often identifiably Muslim. 

When a lone pro-Israel protestor appeared at the big London protest, the people who chased him shouted “Allahu Akbar” — not famously a far-left or far-right slogan. Right-wingers on Twitter have had great fun replying to tweets by frightened liberals with screenshots of their old pro immigration tweets. They’re not wrong. Insofar as Britain has an anti-semitism problem, it is largely an immigrant problem. 

That this is a surprise to so many supposedly urbane people is itself rather surprising. Polls in Muslims countries almost invariably find high levels of hostility to Israel. A 2010 Pew poll found 78 per cent of Pakistanis have an unfavourable view of Jews, compared to 5 per cent favourable. It is hardly unexpected that when they emigrate to Britain many will retain their prejudices. 

Knee-jerk government claims that they’d look at deporting Hamas supporters might reassure some of these liberals but the government has no ability to do this. We can’t deport Gambian rapists, so the idea that we’ll kick out soft Islamists for saying horrible things is risible. Plenty of the liberals demanding it were also among those who wanted Shamima Begum — who went to join a terror group rather than just praise one —  to be brought home. 

Nor is integration, a pleasant term whose advocates rarely spell out what it would involve, a reasonable alternative when net migration is running at 600,000 a year. Numerous studies have found immigrant communities living in parallel societies, without anything being done. 

The banners suggesting that Hamas terrorism is decolonisation in action, or the way in which BLM backed them, pose further awkward questions. Ever since 2020 our society has shifted towards an identity-based view of our history and society. Now some liberals are realising that this wasn’t just a cry for social justice but a revolutionary cause and that if they don’t wake up soon they’ll find themselves like the Girondins walking to the guillotine while they sang the Marseillaise. The horrors they see on London’s streets are the children of their own preferred policies. 

Moving around Royal Navy ships or pontificating about deportations which won’t happen will change nothing: only a sharp change to Britain’s levels of immigration and an end to liberal delusions about the world.

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