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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

British historian decries Foreign Office bias against Israel

Melanie Philips reproduces a remarkable speech given by historian Andrew Roberts, going over the history of British-Zionist relations and showing how the British Foreign Office, even worse than the US State Department, has always tilted towards the Arabs. Here are some highlights:
One area of policy over which the FO has traditionally held great sway is in the question of Royal Visits. It is no therefore coincidence that although HMQ has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor one single member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. Even though Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, who was recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" for sheltering a Jewish family in her Athens home during the Holocaust, was buried on the Mount of Olives, the Duke of Edinburgh was not allowed by the FO to visit her grave until 1994, and then only on a private visit.

"Official visits are organized and taken on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth office," a press officer for the royal family explained when Prince Edward visited Israel recently privately - and a spokesman for the Foreign Office replied that [quote] ‘Israel is not unique" in not having received an official royal visit, because [quote] ‘Many countries have not had an official visit.’ That might be true for Burkino Faso and Chad, but the FO has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the Queen on State visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan & Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get round to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East. At least she could be certain of a warm welcome in Israel, unlike in Morocco where she was kept waiting by the King for three hours in 90 degree heat, or at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda the time before last, where they hadn’t even finished building her hotel.

The true reason of course, is that the Foreign Office has a ban on official Royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimization of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists. Which brings us on to Mr Oliver Miles.

One of the reasons I’m proud to be an historian is that there are scholars of the integrity and erudition of Prof Sir Martin Gilbert and Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman who also write history. If people as intelligent, wise and incorruptible as they choose to be historians, then it must be an honourable profession. Let me quote to you, therefore, word-for-word, what a former British Ambassador to Libya and Greece, Mr Oliver Miles, wrote in The Independent newspaper less than a fortnight ago, commenting on the composition of the present Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War:

‘Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media. … All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.’

Ladies and gentlemen, if that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private? For the balance that Mr Miles is talking about here is clearly a racial balance, that only a certain quota of Jews should have been allowed on to the Inquiry.

Of course there’s a reason why ‘Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream media’, of course, and that is because it is a disgraceful and disgusting concept even to notice the racial background of such distinguished public servants, and one that wouldn’t have even occurred to most people had not Mr Miles made such a point of it.

Because there are 22 ambassadors to Arab countries, and only one to Israel, it is perhaps natural that the FO should tend to be more pro-Arab than pro-Israeli. [There is] an FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on.

It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans – twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Read the whole thing.