A new report from the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) presents itself as an “independent” critique of Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The eleven-page memo ends up as an apologia for hard-line Israeli security policy, simpering towards Israel’s new autocratic friends in Saudi Arabia and, strangest of all, a long section criticising Corbyn’s opposition to the US administration of Donald Trump.
“Labour appears ready to back away from a ‘special relationship’ with the US,” warns BICOM. The pro-Israel lobby group then praises French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May for “conspicuous attempts to establish rapport.” Their example is the one to follow, apparently. “By contrast,” continues BICOM, Corbyn and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry have been “unreserved in their criticisms.” You can almost hear them tutting in the BICOM offices about this Corbyn fellow who dares to criticise the latest tenant in the White House.
BICOM needs to be reminded who and what Trump really is. He is almost certainly a Putinist traitor, for a start. He also brags about sexually assaulting women; he encourages the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic far-right; he openly praises authoritarian leaders like Presidents Sisi of Egypt and Duterte of the Philippines; and he has had numerous business dealings with organised crime figures.
Incredibly, Corbyn was criticised by BICOM for describing Trump as “reckless” and “erratic” on foreign policy. This, despite the fact that he has, in his short time in office, enabled a rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council so large that it risks sending Qatar into the full orbit of Iran; sat and watched a massive increase in the ratio of civilian-to-combatant casualties in Iraq and Syria; enflamed Islamophobia across the West; actively encouraged more mass land theft by Israel in the occupied West Bank; continued to facilitate the war in Yemen; praised a dictator in Egypt arguably worse than Hosni Mubarak; and veered from praising President Bashar Assad to suddenly bombing him. What is the point of being loyal to a transatlantic friend if he is so unpredictable and destructive?
Then BICOM complained that Thornberry had critiqued Trump’s reasons for “believing the Iran nuclear deal is not working,” when she said that this was merely “a figment of his fevered brain.” The lobbyists added that, “Such language no doubt plays into a broad based distaste for Trump amongst the electorate, but would surely undercut the goal of a ‘strong and friendly’ relationship if carried into government.”
The amoral nature of this briefing note is very disturbing. Despite Trump being an obvious bigot, the pro-Israel lobby still sides with him. It has to, in reality, because at some level the core ideology behind the State of Israel and that which is behind Donald Trump and the alt-right are similar; Trump wants an America free of foreigners to keep it safe.
His bigotry sits comfortably with Israel, which is the only state in the world which is praised for discriminating against people of other religions and ethnicity. Pro-Israel lobbyists necessarily believe the same thing as Trump; that ethno-states work. Nowhere was this similarity more evident than when Richard Spencer, the Trump supporter who coined the term “alt-right” admitted that his ideal ethno-state for America would be modelled on Israel.
It would be impractical and completely immoral to suddenly dismantle Israel. Yet with the rise of the far right across the world, everyone seems wary of states forming that discriminate on religion or race. Whether it is ethical to have a purely Jewish state, or some less divisive amalgam which reflects the multiple claims on Jerusalem by several faiths, should surely be up for serious debate.
Groups like BICOM don’t want you to ask these kind of questions, though. Its CEO, James Sorene, is a former spin doctor who once worked for Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, the Department of Health and the Home Office. From 1997 to 2000 he was Head of Public Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in London, where he was paid, more or less, to obstruct the truth about Israel from getting out into the media; this is what most over-paid Whitehall press officers do for a living. His spin about the work he has been involved in for nearly three years is oily and evasive: “We don’t lobby at all. What we do is to produce reports which are of such a high standard that they are palpably part of government decision-making.” That sounds like lobbying to me — indeed, to any reasonable person — no matter how much he tries to dress it up as something else.
It must be a tough gig though. Lobbyists don’t have a chance to change what they lobby for. They simply sell the messages that they are told to sell. The problem now is that Israel must, out of necessity, support Trump, which means that “we don’t lobby” pro-Israel lobby organisations like BICOM must do the same. It is supporting an Islamophobic and possibly anti-Semitic groper of women. You have to wonder at what point the State of Israel and its supporters will start to reflect on what that says about their own morality.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.