Thursday 4 April 2024

The Hounding of Alan Duncan

The Israel lobby exists. Stating this shouldn't be controversial, but it is. In the UK, as elsewhere, there are several organisations whose purpose is to sell the Israeli state, its occupation of Palestine, and its colonialist project to political, business, and media elites. There is nothing uniquely sinister or unusual about this in itself. All states allocate resources to promote themselves in the polities of other states, including the UK. But what appears to be different is how, in the case of the Conservative Friends of Israel, we have an organisation that counts 80% of Tory MPs as its members and apparently wields real power over the direction of the government's foreign policy.

Or does it? This is certainly the contention of Alan Duncan, who is under investigation by the Conservative Party for remarks made on Thursday during his interview with LBC. In a careful choice of words, he argued that several ministers and members of the House of Lords were effectively lobbyists for Israel and, in particular, Benjamin Netanyahu's government. He attacked Lords Polak and Pickles, Oliver Dowden, Tom Tugendhat, Michael Gove, Suella Braverman, and Priti Patel for variously doing the bidding of a foreign power, denying there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza let alone war crimes taking place, and for backing the erection of illegal settlements on stolen land. "I think the time has come to flush out those extremists in our own parliamentary politics and around it", he concluded.

The statements accompanying the announcement of his de facto suspension from the Tories reminded one of the "rebuttals" Owen Jones attracted upon his resignation from the Labour Party. Duncan had uttered an "antisemitic trope", according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism. Andrew Percy, the vice chair of CFI added "Alan Duncan is a ridiculous character and accusing a Jewish parliamentarian of working for Israel at a time of record levels of antisemitism not only puts that individual in danger but also risks fuelling Jew hate here in the UK." In other words, there was no response to the substance of Duncan's criticisms, nor is there ever going to be. In both instances accusations are levelled to avoid this. It cannot be conceded that Duncan might have a point.

But for all that, Duncan is wrong. Neither Israel nor the Israel lobby controls, directs, or determines British policy. The truth is far more damning. As remembered at the outset of the present crisis, the United States, the UK, and other Western states stands four square with Israel as it massacres Palestinians because it is central to their interests in the region. Not long after Israel was founded the Americans and the British were quick to realise it had a destabilising effect on the Middle East, and could be used to undermine efforts at pan-Arab unity, which was regarded uncongenial to Western control over oil production. Thatcher in particular was keen on Israel as an anti-communist Cold War ally versus neighbouring Arab states that had warm relations with the Soviet Union. Now with the West weaning itself off fossil fuels, Israel is useful for punishment beatings of Iranian and Russian clients and ensuring US hegemony continues to reign. It is the West's meat shield in the region, and if that means turning a blind eye to land theft, apartheid, and the cold blooded massacre of tens of thousands.

Duncan is in trouble because he spoke out of turn about Israel, but here Israel is acting as a shield as well. Going on about the power of "the lobby" implies that it is a malevolent actor cynically pushing the buttons and pulling the foreign policy levers, as if the British state is a wide-eyed innocent that wants nothing but good in the world. Politicians and opinion formers are attracted to Israel lobby organisations because of the cash they lavish, the jollies they organise, and the pass they afford for ideological soundness, but this obscures the weight and direction of the relationship. Israel is more a creature of and dependent on British foreign policy and sponsorship than the other way round, and its lobby works to influence politics and government to carry on servicing this dependent relationship. Polak, Tugendhat, and Braverman are not servants of Israel: they are faithful shils of the British state who recognise how useful Israel is, warts and all. The danger lies not in exposing these awful people as "agents" of a foreign power, but in the open acknowledgement that their minimisation of or outright denial of genocide grows from interests organic to the British establishment.

Duncan has not "exposed" the depth of Israel's influence, but he is asking uncomfortable questions about the decades' old central strategic orientation of the state - and one that continues to enjoy cross-party support, despite it being awash with the blood of innocents.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Phil please write a post about this:

Jim Denham said...

The anti-Israel left has always been confused as to whether Israel is a manipulative rogue state, luring “the West” (specifically, the US and UK) into undesirable military and diplomatic conflicts, or whether it is simply “the West”’s aggressive watchdog and enforcer in the Middle East.

Supporters of theories about the mysterious power of “The Lobby” are clearly in the former category. I haven’t seen his LBC interview, but if reports (including yours) of what Alan Duncan said are accurate, then he is clearly in that camp as well. Duncan has long been an unashamed representative of the old Tory Arabist tradition (whose best known representative these days is the journalist Peter Oborne).
Strangely, you seem to argue that “it cannot be conceded that Duncan might have a point”, before going on to state that “for all of that, Duncan is wrong”.
You write that “Not long after Israel was founded the Americans and the British were quick to realise it had a destabilising effect on the Middle East, and could be used to undermine efforts at pan-Rarab unity, which was regarded uncongenial to Western control over oil production.”
In fact, the US didn’t become a firm supporter of Israel until after the 1967 war, and US foreign policy has always been divided between hawkish pro-Israel people and the “even-handed” school, which believes America's most vital interests lie in the oil-producing Arabian Gulf and is reluctant to jeopardise those interests by being too close to Israel.
As for Israel being “more a creature of and dependent on British foreign policy and sponsorship than the other way round”:
It is true that the first British Military Governor in Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, hoped that the Jewish settlers might create a "little loyal Jewish Ulster" and help Britain maintain its hegemony in surrounding Arab lands. But it didn’t work out like that: Britsih policy in the 1930’s turned against Jewish migration to Palestine and Storrs himself would become a keen anti-Zionist in the 1940s.
In Israel's war of independence, 1948, the strongest Arab forces were commanded by British officers, and the British Labour government tilted towards the Arab side.
A number of RAF planes were shot down by the Israelis in January 1949. Britain changed the arms embargo which it, like the US, had imposed both on the Arab states and on the incipient Israeli state, now to embargo only Israel. Israel had got the arms supplies it needed via Czechoslovakia, thanks to Stalin's calculation that victory for Israel would disrupt British hegemony in the region.
Since 1967, the US has had close ties with Israel, seeing it as its only reliable ally in the region (the Saudi monarchy is an ally: but what happens when it falls?). But at no point has Israel been willing or able to simply enforce the US's or Britain’s interests in the Middle East. When the US (with British support) went to war against Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003, it wanted every ally to contribute forces - except Israel, whose involvement in the coalition would be sure to rally Arab support round Saddam Hussein.

In short, historical facts as well as considerations of general theory makes nonsense of the idea that the Jews in the region, before and after the creation of Israel, have had some special essence which, through all twists and turns of their own and of global politics, assured them of the support of all imperialist powers. If you think about it, that idea is scarcely less antisemitic than the idea of the "Israel Lobby" being the world's great but mysterious Axis of Evil.

Rodney said...

There’s a risk here of dismissing how much influence an interest group can have because a political party or leader has or had goals that overlap with that group. Take, for instance, the corn lobby in the US. In light of worries of a looming food shortage Nixon instituted food subsidies to increase domestic production. Then (to oversimplify) the green revolution happened, farmers and agri-business used their subsidies to lobby and bribe congress and to keep and increase the subsidy, especially for corn, and eventually we got high fructose corn syrup in everything and an obesity crisis.

While you can debate whether Nixon would be too upset about the existence of the corn lobby, he clearly didn’t set up those initial subsidies with the aim of heavy overproduction of corn and a public health crisis. The corn lobby built up from the start he gave them, bought politicians, supported them against less pro-corn rivals and had the FDA promote a corn heavy diet as the healthy ideal.

Similarly while Thatcher would probably be a-ok with the genocide in Gaza her initial support of Israel as a bulwark against pan-Arabism and the Soviet Union almost certainly wasn’t with outright genocide of Palestinians in mind. The Israel lobby has bought their own politicians, worked hard to promote friendly journalists, politicians, civil servants etc and undermine critical ones to the extent we’re now at a point where the UK and US are supporting Israel to a level that is potentially detrimental to their own interests.

This of course does not mean Israel is in control of the US or UK but that does not preclude that it has a level of influence strong enough for there to be politicians in hoc to them due political and financial support, other favours and potentially blackmail. All of which could be just as true of the corn lobby in the US, they don’t need to be all powerful to have had a considerable influence on environmental and agricultural policy and even the average person’s diet.

An elite interest in both subsidising farmers and backing Israel emerged organically but it is only due to concerted and effective lobbying that that interest persisted as elite common sense and politicians, civil servants, journalists etc who supported those interests were able to maintain and expand that paradigm. That an elite consensus exists in support of Israel does not necessarily mean the Israel lobby exerts little influence, it could be a sign of their long term success.

Anonymous said...

Stating that Israel has been and is currently aligned with imperialist powers shouldn't be controversial. Acknowledging that the international Zionist movement was linked to the global capitalist movement and the imperialist political center of power is just a statement of fact, and is very different from invoking some sort of antisemitic troupes, although some might attempt to blur the lines.

For the Western powers, Israel offered them a way to indirectly rule the Arab world, protect its interests, and stop the rising Arab national liberation struggles.
Palestines strategic location was a big motivator for colonial regimes interests in the area. When the Ottoman Empire was in decline, imperialist countries attempted to infiltrate it, especially the 'Near Eastern' parts. The goal of these regimes was to secure trade routes and allowing capitalist commercial convoys to cross and pass through the Palestinian and Syrian lands.
In the early 1840s, British imperialists like Viscount Palmerston called for Jewish settlement in Palestine as a guarantee to defend British imperialist commercial interests and secure freedom of roads to India.

Fast forward to just after World War 2, America became more forcefully involved in the region, and was behind the UN decision to partition Palestine and establish Israel. Fearful of causing Arab hostility against it, the US wanted to keep its funding of Israel hidden. In agreement with the United States, West Germany took up the funding process in those years, whether openly with compensation or secretly with weapons, and the United States did not appear on the scene. It was revealed only with the June War, and since then, it has not hidden its special relationship with Israel nor its full commitment to it.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

There is an Israel lobby. It is different from most lobby groups because it is directly linked, embedded in, a military intelligence network. Lobby groups all offer information, money, and status in return for acting as spokespeople, supporters and enablers. They all have an objective and use every feasible means to achieve it. In the case of Israel the military and intelligence connections mean that includes many tactics that would not be possible for other lobbyists.

There is no need for conspiracy theories, nor for supposing that the issue is A vs B. As in A being a deep lying manipulative sinister foreign state attempt to suborn our government, and B a deep lying manipulative attempt by our government to use another state for its own purposes. Both could be true. In reality, its one state trying to ensure its interests are served, and another doing the same. The means used are many and varied, but include trying to get as many significant actors on their side as possible, and trying to control the agenda and paint the most favourable picture they can.

What is interesting is how the Israel lobby has fallen into the trap of believing its own bullshit, and of finding a useful tool and thinking it can be applied in every case. In this case, the hammer is the label of anti-semitism. But trying to persuade the entire population of the West that large scale indiscriminate slaughter and mass starvation is proportionate self defence, and anyone who disagrees is antisemitic has proven a step too far.

The enterprise was bound to come unstuck because it had lost touch with reality. It saw the screen it had erected as the real world. The question was how many Palestinians bodies would it take to break through. The shame is that it has taken half-a-dozen Westerners deaths to shatter the screen. We know now that there was probably no 'too many' figure for Palestinians, that there would never be a point where genocide became so obvious our leaders would have to admit it was happening, but that killing western aid workers was a step too far. It couldn't be twisted or explained away (although they will try).

Anonymous said...

It has to do with power and politics not the Conservative Party any more more or less than the Labour Party per se.

Anonymous said...

No mention of the Suez...?

The West's tenuous hold on that shipping route, and the absolute dependence of that hold on its alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, has never been more obvious. Neither has the determination of Russia and China, working by proxy through Iran, to render the entire region a no-go area for any Western flag.

And right now that decades-strong Western foreign policy appears to be disintegrating before our eyes. Saudi Arabia failed to control Yemen, and now the major Western powers are at war there to even keep the Suez relevant to us. Israel, meanwhile, is off the rails. Unless they find the balls to force Bibi to fall onto his blood-soaked sword, and really soon, their only path to saving Israel is going to be via a runaway escalation of authoritarianism at home; sufficient to make Western public opinion about Israel irrelevant to the Western powers' ability to continue using it as a weapons laboratory. They're not stupid enough to be sure they can pull that off, which is why it's presently baby steps only in that direction.

Meanwhile, rumours abound of plans to build a rival to the Suez through Gaza... Blackly funny given that Iran has already demonstrated how utterly pointless that would be, unless the Western powers can achieve military dominance across the entire region. Using all those resources that we need elsewhere in order to keep Putin out of Europe.

The Ever Given is looking like Chekov's Gun right now. And the Ukraine invasion is looking a bit like the opening salvo in WW3...

Boffy said...

" their only path to saving Israel is going to be via a runaway escalation of authoritarianism at home; sufficient to make Western public opinion about Israel irrelevant to the Western powers' ability to continue using it as a weapons laboratory."

Saving Israel? Israel is not under any serious threat, despite the claims of the Zionists, required for their ridiculous, social-patriotic, bourgeois defencist arguments for its right to self-defence, as cover for its genocide against Palestinians. Its Palestine and Palestinians that are facing extinction, as the Zionist state completes its mission of establishing a Zionist state from the river to the sea. The Palestinians look as doomed as the North American Indians, or the Australian Aborigines etc.

The totalitarian measures in Israel, such as banning Al Jazeera, and measures against other journalists and so on, not to mention its assassination of journalists, as well as the spread of Bonapartist, authoritarian measures in the imperialist heartlands are not based on a requirement to save Israel, but to cover for its genocide against Palestine, which was inevitable in the age of imperialism, and the need to build ever larger states, and blocs of states.

Once the Zionists have eradicated the Palestinians, via the kind of "final solution" carried out against other indigenous peoples, then the US plan to build closer ties between the Zionist state, Saudi etc., in a US friendly, economic bloc, will be able to go ahead.

Sean Dearg said...

Israel is under threat - mostly from itself. As a project setting up a state of 7 million by seizing land in an area surrounded by hostile neighbours, and maintaining that hostility by a campaign of oppression and aggression, was always doomed. Israel only survives now through American support. Once America is no longer the dominant superpower, who will they turn to? The question is how long can it survive, and, given that it possess nuclear weapons, how many others will it take with it as it collapses? In their desperation, they will trigger a nuclear war which could lead to WW3 and destroy the human race.

@Boffy imagines a US friendly bloc, but the USA is already weakened and quite soon the Saudis will see that their future cannot be tied to America. They will stay friendly, but gradually shift their focus towards China and the pacific. The days of the American hegemony are fading. Climate collapse or nuclear war will finish it off, even if economics doesn't.

Boffy said...

1. Israel has not only survived 75 years, but grown stronger and expanded its territory during that time, so the project can hardly be described as "doomed".

2. "Hostile neighbours"? That gives far more credence to the bourgeois Arab ruling classes of those neighbouring states, most of whom are also tied to US imperialism, and have been seeking to normalise relations with Israel for their own economic advantage, and which have given scant consideration for the Palestinians.

3. US imperialist dominance is not going away any time soon, nor its support from European imperialism. So the question of who Israel will turn to does not arise.

4. As it does not arise, and the Palestinians will be all but liquidated in the intervening period, enabling a further expansion of the Zionist state, its own economic development and stabilisation is facilitated, whilst the likelihood is that it will further expand into Lebanon, whilst Syria continues to stagnate, and closer ties develop between Israel, Egypt, Saudi etc.

5. The idea of collapse is simply reactionary, petty-bourgeois petulance expressed as wishful thinking in the face of impotence. Its not going to happen short of a socialist revolution.

6. The same is seen in the claim about the US. It certainly is not omnipotent, and militarily its failed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, to an extent. But the US economy still dominates, massively, and is currently on a tear, as the latest data shows in relation to its GDP and employment growth. Placing your faith in the imperialists of China rather than in the working -class about says it all of the impotence of the reactionary petty-bourgeois nationalism that has dominated what passes for the Left over the last 80 odd years.

Anonymous said...

Boffy, Israel is under the same serious threat that Ukraine is - the threat that the weapons drip which keeps it alive will become politically unmoored at source. In the US those two threats come from different sides of the political aisle, but their core nature is the same.

Right now we are well on the way towards everyone being able to clearly see the genocide of the Palestinians for what it is. Once everyone finally believes it, we can expect that about 33% won't care (and some of those will pretend that it didn't happen in order to avoid admitting that they don't care), and the other 66% will be horrified. For Western political regimes to keep the weapons flowing, they'll have to suppress the 66%.

If you don't believe those numbers, then perhaps it's you who is lacking faith in the working class?

Boffy said...

Ukraine as opposed to Eastern Ukraine, is not under serious threat. Russia has no chance (and little interest) in trying to occupy the whole of Ukraine. Ukraine could negotiate a peace deal with Russia, and probably will in the not too distant future. As Georgia did in nearly 20 years ago, following its proxy war with Russia over South Ossetia, when Russia could have more easily taken over the whole of Georgia, and had its tanks in Tbilisi before removing them voluntarily when its objective was met.

The situation with Israel is totally different. It is facing a tiny and powerless opponent - the Palestinians, and in Hamas an even smaller and powerless opponent, whose ideology and methods have strengthened Zionism, and the Zionist state, whilst further undermining the position of Palestinians. The Zionist state requires far less support and weapons to over run Gaza, and then move on to the WB, followed by parts of Lebanon etc., than Ukraine needs even to continue its proxy war on behalf of the US against Russia, in Eastern Ukraine.

There is absolutely no chance that the US is going to stop its arms sales and military support for the Zionist state, which is required on a much smaller scale. If you think public opinion will change that think again. Trump is Netanyahu's political clone, and if he wins, US belligerence in support of the Zionists will increase. Hence the Zionist continued provocations against Iran/Syria/Hezbollah (much as with the NATO provocations against Russia, stepped up shelling and oppression of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and goading of Russia to invade) prior to them actually doing so.

The Zionists require Iran to be drawn in, to justify a wider war, to distract attention from the bad PR in Gaza, and to give the pretext for another big land grab as in 1967. Iran and Hezbollah are resisting being forced to respond, because they know they will get their ass kicked by the Zionists and US, and their allies. The workers of the region should resist that too, as with the thousands of young Ukrainians now opposing being drafted, and trying to escape, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. Their better option would be take the arms, organise and turn the guns on Zelensky and his reactionary, imperialist regime, just as should the workers in the Middle-East. The main Enemy Is At Home, as Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht realised.

Boffy said...

"If you don't believe those numbers, then perhaps it's you who is lacking faith in the working class?"

I have faith in the working class, but currently it does not have a revolutionary consciousness, and its political leadership is dominated by petit-bourgeois nationalist ideas about national self-determination, which is utopian and so reactionary, in the era of imperialism. What use is 66% of even the electorate opposing war, if it does not control the state? Remember those huge Iraq War demos? As Trotsky put it,

"Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!"

(Trotsky - An Open Letter to the French Workers)

Boffy said...

Incidentally, if you want to see why Ukraine is not at risk, look at its role on behalf of US imperialism in Africa, where it has sent troops, currently, to support the Sudanese government, just as the Wagner Group are in Sudan supporting the rebels. Ironically, Iran is supplying the same kinds of drones to the Sudanese government, supported by the Ukrainian imperialist forces, that it is supplying to Russian imperialism, which it uses against Ukrainian/NATO imperialism in Ukraine.

Which of itself, as Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky et al is what is always seen amongst the imperialist bandits looking after their own immediate interests, against those of the working-class, which is why socialists should advise workers to stay a million miles away from them, and their wars, and instead organise the class war against their own ruling class wherever it might be. The Main Enemy Is At Home.

Anonymous said...

Israel never needed all those weapons to defend against Hamas and the Palestinians, of course, but against their other neighbours.

Anyway, it looks as though Iran has just rubber-stamped the genocide of the Palestinians. Either Iran's own "enemy at home" thinks that they can profit handsomely by doing so, or they're not very smart over there. Or both.