The closest fought UK General Election for many years has produced an unexpected victory for David Cameron and the Conservative Party. With predictions of a hung parliament built around Westminster fears of a tartan invasion by Scottish National Party MPs, the result of a clearly failing first-past-the-post electoral system is likely to fuel calls for electoral reform. Millions of votes for minority parties were, to all intents and purposes, wasted. This, though, is not the only negative aspect of the poll. It is bad news all round for peace in the Middle East, and the first to feel the effects will be Britain’s 2-million Muslim citizens.
Far from his post-poll claim to want to “govern for all of the UK” – a clear reference to the SNP triumph north of the border – David Cameron’s record in office suggests that the next term of Tory-led government will be possibly the most divisive ever. Cuts to public services and tax breaks for the wealthiest sections of society have hit the majority of Britons badly; threats to the Human Rights Act suggest that those in the greatest of need will not get the help they deserve. His is not One-Nation Conservatism by any means and if a week is a long time in politics, at this moment the next five years seems like eternity.
His government’s anti-terrorism policies are interpreted widely by Muslims in Britain as being aimed directly at them, despite official claims to the contrary. In Home Secretary Teresa May, Cameron has had an ideological soulmate all too ready to ignore expert advice and pursue a discredited Prevent policy to curb “radicalisation” and “extremism”. As the sole arbiter on what such terms actually mean, this has given the government a free hand to target anyone with political opinions at odds with its own, especially with regards to events in the Middle East. Rather than uniting British people, the Tories’ juxtaposition of Muslims’ conservative religious beliefs and practices with “extremism” has sown fear and suspicion among ordinary people seeking to build their lives in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Britain’s Muslim citizens are now viewed as a “fifth column” within society, a view inflamed by the right-wing media and at odds with the supposed “British values” promoted by the government. Political and religious dissent have been at the heart of British identity for hundreds of years, but this fact seems to have bypassed the right-wing; the grasp of history is shaky.
Hence, Muslim community groups, mosques, charities and individuals have all fallen victim to the Cameron government’s anti-Muslim, anti-Islamist and pro-Israel zeal. During the election campaign, the prime minister raised the Palestine-Israel issue only in constituencies with large Jewish communities; this signalled an intent that only the pro-Israel aspects of the conflict will be addressed seriously by his government, and that the only people with a valid interest in Palestine-Israel are British Jews. It is no coincidence that David Cameron has been described as the “most pro-Israel British prime minister ever”, more so than Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill; his support goes way beyond the drive for votes and campaign donations.
Shortly after his election as prime minister in 2010, Cameron said, “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” This gave many pro-Palestine campaigners hope that here was a politician who would bring some justice to the Palestinians and curb Israel’s excesses. Little were they to know that this was to be as far as his compassion for the people besieged in the Gaza Strip by Israel would go; even his criticism of aspects of Israel’s bombing campaign last year, in which more than 2,000 people, largely civilians, were killed, was not backed-up with political or other action, such as sanctions or an end to arms exports to Israel, which continue unabated. As recently as last month, he sought to justify Israel’s offensive as “self-defence”. It has now surfaced that soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces were ordered to shoot at everything that moved, including civilians, whether they were a threat or not.
That has not moved David Cameron. As far as he is concerned, Israel is entitled to defend itself against “Hamas rockets”; its security is paramount, trumping even international laws and conventions which give people under military occupation the right to resist by any means possible, and do not give the occupying power any legal right to claim “self-defence” against such resistance. This is inconvenient legal small print as far as the prime minister is concerned; indeed, as far as the whole pro-Israel lobby is concerned. They claim that Israel is “the only democracy” in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that Hamas was elected in free and fair democratic elections in 2006, a result rejected by Britain and the West, no doubt at the lobby’s insistence.
Such disregard for democracy has been repeated by Britain’s government under David Cameron with its backing for Egypt’s military coup against the country’s first freely-elected President, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013. Cameron and his ministers have turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses of the regime led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi over the past two years. Given that Israel now has its own most extreme right-wing coalition government cobbled together by Benjamin Netanyahu, one shudders to think what further excesses he will be allowed to get away with. The Israeli defence minister has confirmed that Israel will “bomb civilians” in any future hostilities, while the new “justice minister” is on record calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed so that they cannot produce any more “little snakes”. Although David Cameron could claim to have been too busy with his re-election to comment on these claims, that didn’t stop him from backing Israel’s “rights” to Jewish audiences across North London. The Palestinians can kiss goodbye to any lingering hopes of a viable two-state solution; the already moribund “peace negotiations” will go nowhere. In fact, they can probably expect no practical help from the British government beyond financial aid given to the corrupt Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
This is shameful, for Britain has a moral and, some would argue, legal responsibility for the creation of Israel in Palestine and thus the consequent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestinians; we have a duty to do something to help them. The government, surely, should do more than just prop-up a rogue Israeli state with political, economic and military support, and a Palestinian Authority with what amounts to pension payments for its officials. In the immediate aftermath of the election, and a government in Westminster driven by neo-conservative ideologues and fully supportive of the extreme right in Israel, there can be little cause for optimism that peace and justice will be seen anytime soon in Palestine’s festering refugee camps. The General Election 2015 may have produced some shocks, but this aspect, at least, should come as no surprise. Or will it?
Prime Minister David Cameron could use this anniversary of VE Day to unite Britain against the rise of the far-right. Today we remember that the British people from across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, including many Muslims, fought against fascism in Europe and won. There is some irony in the fact that 70 years later we are on that same slippery slope with neo-conservatism as its driver instead of Nazism. Mr Cameron can halt the slide; he can be a real friend of Israel and explain where it’s going wrong; he can be a real friend of international laws and conventions introduced at the end of that great conflict in the late forties by implementing them; he can be a real friend of all citizens in this country struggling for social justice. He can do all of these things, or he can do nothing, and let a pernicious ideology dictate which way he is going to go and how he will govern Britain. He has been given a clear mandate by the electorate, now it’s up to him. We hope he chooses wisely.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.