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Israel's shameless mouthpiece

Israel's shameless mouthpiece

In yet another revealing speech, this time delivered at a symposium at IDC University in Herzliya, Tony Blair has exposed himself for what he truly is; not a "peace envoy" by any stretch of the imagination but a shameless mouthpiece for the State of Israel. Just days before direct negotiations are due to take place in the Middle East, in which he is supposed to be taking a neutral stance representing the Quartet (UN, EU, Russia and the USA), Blair has taken it upon himself to set aside any pretence of impartiality and reaffirm his "passion" for Israel. He has taken on the role of Israel's defence attorney to plead with the world to try to empathise with Israel and to understand Israel's point of view when it commits atrocities, human rights abuses and breaches of international law. He acknowledged that Israel is often perceived as "arrogant, overbearing and aggressive" but instead of examining why that might be such a widespread perception he went on to defend Israel's crimes. Not for one moment, however, did he stop to ask anyone to consider the Palestinians' point of view.

In this one short speech there were so many blatant attempts by Tony Blair at misdirection and misinformation that it is hard to know which was his most serious breach of professional decorum and where to start pointing out his now publicly-admitted bias; but regardless of where you start pretty much every statement he made was a crude attempt to spin the Israeli narrative. His whole speech was geared towards defending Israel and condemning the critics of Israel. He raised a whole host of issues which he seemed to have on a checklist and went through them one by one, making an attempt, and a very poor one at that, to defend Israel's illegal actions.

The Freedom Flotilla

In reference to Israel's military assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in May, for instance, Blair complained that critics of Israel "won't accept that Israel might have a right to search vessels bringing cargo into Gaza." Well of course not! Critics of Israel are concerned with international law, and under international law Israel had absolutely no right to board a boat in international waters, kill nine unarmed civilians in cold blood and then kidnap hundreds of humanitarians and peace activists on board the ships and take them against their will to Israel where they were physically and mentally abused. "Might have a right," Mr. Blair? Who are you kidding?

Blair did not offer a single word of condemnation over Israel's actions. Instead, he whined about those who criticise Israel. He has clearly chosen sides, irrespective of the fact that Israel is currently under investigation for its actions which have been condemned widely as a blatant and illegal act of piracy. Although he did mention the "multiple probes" into the flotilla attack, he did so without mentioning that one of the reasons for multiple probes is Israel's refusal to co-operate fully with one, impartial UN enquiry.

It is obvious that Blair's friendship towards Israel makes him want to give it carte blanche to act as badly as it wants, with impunity.

Gaza: 300,000 Palestinian toddlers under the age of 4 are a threat to Israeli security

Blair's comments on Gaza were also both shocking and revealing. "You can justify restrictions in Gaza taken for reasons of security," he said, adding that "with a Gazan population, [1.5 million] half of whom is under the age of 18 and 300,000 of whom are under the age of four, security is the only arguable basis upon which to put such restrictions". That's right; he suggested, quite seriously, that the justification for imposing an illegal siege on 300,000 new born babies and toddlers is legitimate security. Amazing. As an ex-Prime Minister of Britain and a current "peace envoy" you would think that at the very least he would point to the inhumanity of imposing a siege on 750,000 children under the age of 18 of whom 300,000 are under 4, but no; instead he justifies it by "security" concerns.

"Security", of course, is Israel's mantra whenever it breaches international and humanitarian law. The apartheid wall is for security; dawn raids on Palestinian family homes are for security; the hundreds of checkpoints are for security; the exclusive roads for Israeli settlers are for security; the whole oppressive apparatus of the occupation exists for Israel's security. But how legitimate is the claim that Israel's security is at risk? Let's look at the figures Blair quoted in his speech to justify Israel's security concerns.

"Israel," he said, "lost 1,000 citizens to terrorism in the intifada. That equates in UK population terms to 10,000." If Blair wants to play the numbers game then why didn't he also acknowledge that around 6,000 Palestinians were killed during that same period, which would equate to 60,000 Britons? During "Operation Cast Lead" Israeli soldiers killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in just 22 days compared to 3 Israeli civilians killed by rockets and 6 Israel soldiers who were killed in the assault, 3 of them by Israeli friendly fire. If Blair wants to argue in terms of quantitative death tolls wouldn't that mean that Israel should be the country under siege and confined to the largest open prison in the world?

One Israeli soldier in captivity versus thousands of Palestinians held by Israel without charge

Once again, a single Israeli name managed to find its way onto the lips of a world leader in Blair's speech: Gilad Shalit. Sergeant Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was on active duty when he was captured by Palestinians. In international law he is regarded as a legitimate target for people living under and resisting an illegal military occupation. Israel, however, holds thousands of Palestinian civilians   men, women and children – in detention, most without charge. What is so special about Shalit that merits his mention by the former Prime Minister of Britain? Why was his name on the lips of the Middle East Peace Envoy but not the names of any of the children currently being held in flagrant violation of international law, without trial and without due process, in Israel? Why did Tony Blair not mention any of the hundreds of children who have made increasing numbers of allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse at the hands of their Israeli captors?

You have to question why Blair's rhetoric, and so many others like him, is so unbalanced. What was his incentive for mentioning Shalit but ignoring the thousands of Palestinians? Was it money? Power? Prestige? All of the above? Is there really a price worth paying to sell your own soul? Clearly there is for Tony Blair. At a time when Israeli citizens are themselves beginning to reject and disown the acts of the Israeli state carried out in their name, why does Blair feel the need to be its unflinching supporter?

We should not really be surprised that Blair defends the actions of Israel given that he sanctioned the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan leading to the loss of thousands of lives. But having led the war cry against those states, any Blairite criticism of Israel for its human rights violations would be seen as hypocrisy. There is almost a sense of self-justification through his staunch defence of Israel.

Blatant hypocrisy

Tony Blair urged the world not to hold Israel to standards that they would not expect to be held to themselves. He said: "Don't apply rules to Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own country. In any of our nations, if there were people firing rockets, committing acts of terrorism and living next door to us, our public opinion would go crazy." If equal standards are the benchmark then why does the world – and Blair himself   expect the Palestinians to put up with things on a daily basis that we would never accept? Like military occupation; a siege; an apartheid wall; checkpoints; settlements; fanatical and armed settlers; house demolitions; ethnic cleansing. Blair is deluded if he thinks the British public would accept such a state of affairs in our own country and not a) be utterly horrified if the rest of the world did not lift a finger to help us; b) rage against the injustice of it all; and c) resist the occupiers.

"There has been real progress over the past year"

Glossing over the reality of the situation on the ground, Blair claimed that "there has been real progress in the past year" in terms of improving the daily lives of Palestinians. This simple statement shows just how out of touch our ex-Prime Minister is with the daily reality of life for Palestinians. For a peace envoy to the region, that is simply inexcusable.

So let's spell it out for him. Water in the occupied West Bank is still being expropriated by the Israeli authorities every day with the average Israeli getting eight times more water than Palestinians; the diversion of the resources from land that is occupied to the land of the occupier is illegal in international law. Fields of crops are still being stolen from Palestinian farmers. Palestinian children are still being rounded up in dawn raids and subjected to abuse for "offences" such as throwing stones at the apartheid wall. All Muslims under the age of 50 are still being excluded from going to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third Holiest site in Islam, even as he spoke, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Construction of illegal Israeli settlements is still taking place while demolition orders for Palestinian homes and mosques are still being issued. Is this what Blair calls "progress"? Is this the Israeli democracy that Blair is so proud to support?

Just how democratic is Israel?

Why exactly should we all be friends of Israel? Blair has his own reasons, perhaps linked to personal and financial gain. Now a multimillionaire, being the loyal friend of Israel has clearly served him and his coffers well. But what about us, the general public he is trying so desperately to persuade? Why should we embrace Israel and turn a blind eye to its wrongdoings? Blair cited a few reasons, each of which is fundamentally flawed.

First up, the old chestnut that Israel "is a democracy". Well, if the only reason to be friends with a government or state is that it is democratic, why isn't everyone friends with the democratically-elected Hamas government in Gaza? After all, they won the election in 2006 in what the UN and the rest of the world have conceded was a free and fair election. This one simple fact immediately blows Blair's "democracy" argument out of the water. In any event, democracy alone is clearly not reason enough to befriend a nation and turn a blind eye to its criminality; on the contrary, it is every reason why it should be brought to account.

Furthermore, how democratic is Israel? It is a nation that has imprisoned over 50 democratically-elected members of the Palestinian parliament and has forced exile upon others. Three democratically-elected Palestinian legislators have been forced to seek sanctuary in a Red Cross Camp in Jerusalem because if they take a single step outside the compound the Israeli authorities have threatened to arrest, imprison and then expel them from their ancestral homeland. They have been confined to the compound for almost two months.

Even members of the Israel Knesset are subject to treatment most unbecoming of a so-called democratic state. MK Haneen Zoabi, for instance, has been stripped of her parliamentary privileges and is being threatened with the loss of her Israeli citizenship because she showed empathy with the humanitarian struggle of the people in Gaza and took part, peacefully, in the Freedom Flotilla in May (which she saw as her democratic duty). She has been subjected to abuse and threats from fellow Knesset members as well as death threats from the wider Zionist community for doing no more than exercising her democratic right to have an opinion contrary to the Zionist norm in Israel.

Furthermore, just pages away from where Tony Blair's speech received front page coverage in the Jewish Chronicle (27 August) is an article by Hagai El-Ad decrying "Israel's slide from democracy". He points to the fact that "the Knesset is passing more and more anti-democratic laws than ever before – targeting the Arab minority; predicating basic civil rights on declarations of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state; and limiting the ability of citizens to protest against government style policies… The rules of democracy are crumbling." It seems that Blair's allusion to Israel's democratic nature is not a particularly strong one on which to base his unwavering support for the Zionist state.

Blair also argued that the Israeli press is free, a point many would contend in the light of a growing culture of Israeli censorship.

A blind friend of Israel

Blair argued, very dramatically, that critics of Israel "wear Nelson's eye patch of scrutiny when they lift the telescope to the Israeli case", a reference to the great British admiral putting his telescope to his blind eye and saying, "I see no ships" during a naval engagement; Lord Nelson's descendents should would surely sue if they could. Moreover, isn't that exactly what Tony Blair is doing with his selective discourse about the public perception of Israel in which he did not refer to illegal settlement building. Nor did he refer to any of the other reasons why Israel is so heavily – and rightly – criticised, he simply waxed lyrical about the great and democratic Israeli state. His eulogy included "what we admire about the Jewish people: their contribution to art, culture, literature, music, business and philanthropy." No one is denying that Jewish people have made contributions to culture, etc., but what has that got to do with Israeli soldiers posing for photographs with blindfolded and bound elderly Palestinian prisoners or the arrest and abuse of young Palestinian children in Israel? Surely the contributions of Jews across the centuries are reasons why the actions of the state created in their name are so shocking? Blair's is a subtle attempt to equate the issue of Jewish contributions to world civilisation with support for the state of Israel thus indirectly conflating the issue of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel; a standard tactic of so many Zionists today.

Blair sounded more like a spokesperson for The Friends of Israel (the group set up by Spain's former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and led by David Trimble and John Bolton among others   all of whom have made it their mission to promote Israel) than a Quartet peace envoy.


Along with so many other Zionists at the moment, Blair seems to have a bee in his bonnet about the idea that Israel is being "de-legitimised". Instead of asking why this might be the case he said "we" should "highlight the fact that de-legitimisation is happening, and be vigorous about identifying and countering instances of it." However, it is Israel that is de-legitimising itself. After all, what does it mean, to de-legitimise? It means to take something legitimate, legal and right, and to make it seem illegal or wrong. But no-one is doing that. The focus of the vast majority of the critics of Israel is to criticise its illegal acts, not its legal ones. For instance, Israel is being criticised for the continuous building of illegal Israeli settlements; Israel is being criticised for the continued construction of the illegal apartheid wall (deemed as such in the International Court of Justice Advisory opinion in 2004) and so on. So what Blair is really calling for is for us all to legitimise the illegitimate. To make the illegal seem legal and to make the immoral seem moral. What gives Tony Blair the right to demand that we do this on Israel's behalf? Critics of Israel want to see Israel abide by international law, clear and simple and yet Blair is calling for us all to let Israel slip even further away from accountability.

Direct negotiations and peace?

There does not seem to be much hope for the new round of peace talks if Tony Blair, who is supposed to be an impartial envoy, has already declared whose side he is on and has said, "I am a passionate believer in Israel". He referred to peace and the concessions that the Palestinians need to make but not once did he mention the internationally-accepted and UN-accepted framework for peace which must include Israel giving back stolen Palestinian land. He talked about improving life for Palestinians but did not address what Palestinians themselves really want. They do not want charity, hand-outs or relief; they want their independence, their statehood, their own nationality and the right to return to their homeland; they want freedom. As long as Blair and others like him do not address the real issues, talking to all parties, including Hamas, there is no real chance for peace.

An experienced instigator of war and a staunch supporter of alleged war criminals, Blair has made millions of pounds from his position. Given his now openly admitted bias in favour of Israel, every word he utters about peace from this day onwards is totally meaningless; Tony Blair is a harbinger of war and criminality, not the bringer of peace. The Quartet must, therefore, if it is to retain any credibility at all, sack him and appoint a new peace envoy who is neutral and in favour of justice for all who have been wronged, including Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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