The Independent columnist Johann Hari is someone I don't always agree with, but that's the nature of freedom of speech and democracy. He's just as entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. I can't help thinking he's right, though, in his article "The shameful, bloody silence at the heart of the election" (16 April). He draws attention to the topic that none of the British politicians standing for election on behalf of the main parties wish to talk about: "In this election campaign, there is a big blood-splattered hole we are all supposed to ignore. We are at war. It is a war that 64 per cent of Brits believe is 'unwinnable' and should end now. It is a war that has killed 281 British people and an untold, uncounted number of Afghan civilians. It is a war that costs ÂŁ4.5bn a year… Yet the three biggest political parties are shouting their slogans over the hole as if it does not exist."
Foreign policy is the contentious topic that politicians try to gloss over because they don't want us to discuss it. And it's not just about Afghanistan, although that's pretty serious stuff. If we were given the chance to have a serious discussion, we'd probably come to the conclusion that it is Britain's foreign policy that is responsible for the "radicalisation" of young British Muslims. The outgoing government has spent millions trying to convince us otherwise, of course, and a lot of Muslim organisations and individuals have benefited from this fallacy as part of the "moderation" offensive.
The issue of Israel-Palestine is at the heart of discontent with Western, not just British, policy in the Middle East. One overused word describes the policy perfectly: hypocrisy. Syria sends outdated 'Scud' missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon; outrage in London, Washington and Tel Aviv. Israel has long-range missiles with nuclear warheads; silence. Iran is, our governments insist, trying to develop nuclear weapons; "we" must impose sanctions to prevent this otherwise Israel will be threatened. Israel already has the nuclear capability to destroy every capital city in the Middle East, including Tehran; silence. Iran's leaders are lying about their nuclear intentions; they must be stopped before they can attack Israel. Israel doesn't even admit that it has nuclear weapons, never mind feel the need to lie, and its aggressive expansionism makes it the only state in the Middle East that has occupied the land of four neighbouring states at one time; silence. You get the picture.
Ask the election candidates who show up on your doorstep, promising you the earth, what they will do about Israel, its illegal occupation of Palestine and its contempt for international law, UN resolutions and anything else which doesn't suit its far-right political agenda. The chances are that you will be spun a tale about Palestinian "terrorism" and the Israelis' "right" to defend themselves. Ask them if the French Resistance in World War Two were terrorists for opposing the occupation of their land. Ask them why every leader of the major political parties in Britain felt it was necessary to pledge support for â€“ if not allegiance to â€“the state of Israel with indecent haste after taking office. Ask them why they feel â€“ as they probably will â€“ that Israel has a right to exist on a land that it has stolen from the Palestinians; and why Israel's illegal military occupation of Palestinian land is allowed to go on year after year after year.
If by this time a candidate is still standing on your doorstep, he or she probably deserves your vote. Like the war in Afghanistan, you see, this is one topic that they don't want to discuss because it is so blatantly, well, hypocritical, that they are plainly embarrassed. And it takes a lot to embarrass some of our politicians, as the expenses scandal demonstrated. Johan Hari is right, foreign policy is off the election agenda.
Why should that be? Well, as reported in MEMO at the time and now picked up by Johan Hari (better late than never), at the Herzliya Conference in Israel earlier this year, former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons â€“ the CEO of the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), which seeks to create "a more supportive environment for Israel in the UK" "reassured the massed ranks of the Israeli establishment that growing British disgust at the military occupation of Palestinian lands was nothing to worry about because 'public opinion does not influence foreign policy in Britain. Foreign policy is an elite issue.'" That's right: "an elite issue".
In other words, as Hari says, "Don't worry [Israel]; Britain isn't a real democracy â€“ its foreign policy serves the interests of geopolitics and corporations and elites, not those messy, fickle, inconvenient majorities." Conservative Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones made similar soothing sounds at the same conference as Lorna Fitzsimons, setting out how a Tory government under David Cameron will work for the benefit of Israel. At the launch of the Tory manifesto, the arch-Zionist neo-con Michael Gove was (far-) right behind Cameron, in a telling who's who in the pecking order position. On the other side of the same coin, Gordon Brown's Labour Party is about as far right-wing as it is possible to be without being a Tory. It is not insignificant in this context that Gordon Brown is a self-declared "long-standing" supporter of what he has called "this magnificent homeland"; the Zionist state of Israel to the rest of us.
The Liberal Democrat Party is, as far as I know, the only major political party in Britain with a specific policy on Palestine, which "calls for substantive action in response to Israel's" invasion of Gaza last year. Unless a miracle happens and the Liberal Democrats win the election (but I'm not holding my breath) the foreign policy on Israel-Palestine looks set to be more of the same, if not worse under Zionist Labour or Zionist Conservatives. As President Obama in the US appears to be taking more of a stern approach to Israel, like a doting parent trying to rein in the spoilt brat of a child who has been pampered and showered with every indulgence possible, could it be that this election in Britain will see Israel's centre of support switch ever so subtly from Washington to London? Britain has a historic responsibility for the situation in Palestine, from Balfour in 1917 through the Mandate period and the premature pull-out in 1948, right up to last year's invasion of Gaza with the Israeli military using spare parts supplied by British companies sold under a British government licence. If there is going to be a negotiated peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, how apt that it could be brokered by the country that has the most to be ashamed of in the whole sorry saga. However, the pernicious and widespread influence of Zionism being what it is, I shan't hold my breath on that one either.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.