Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Britain: fair-weather friend at best

From a remarkable address at the annual dinner of the Anglo-Israel Association (AIA), 12/12/09, by historian Andrew Roberts (go to Melanie Phillips' Spectator Blog for the full transcript):

My Lords, Ladies & Gentlemen...

...it seems to me that for all the undoubted statesmanship implicit in Arthur Balfour’s Declaration of November 1917, promising ‘a National Home for the Jewish People’, it doesn’t mean that Britain has ever been much more than a fair-weather friend to Jewish national aspirations...

...Sure enough, at the Versailles Conference and its ancillary meetings up to 1922, although Britain was given the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, the Jewish National Home was not established. ...the FO...feared that allowing the de facto creation of a Jewish State would alienate Arabs....

...Instead there was the notorious 1939 White Paper, which severely limited Jewish immigration into Palestine at precisely the period of their greatest need, during the Final Solution. ...The White Paper was published on 9 November 1938 – the very same day as the Kristallnacht atrocities in Germany ....The Manchester Guardian described it as ‘a death sentence on tens of thousands of Central European Jews’, which in sheer numerical terms was probably an underestimation. Although the Labour Party Conference voted to repeal the White Paper in 1945, the Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin – a bitter enemy of Israel - persisted in it, and it was not to be repealed until the day after the State of Israel was proclaimed.

In late April 1948, Bevin ordered that Arab positions in Jaffa needed to be protected from the Jews [quote] ‘at all costs’, and when Israeli independence came the next month, the departing British sometimes handed over vital military and strategic strongpoints to the five invading Arab armies, the most efficient of which, Transjordan’s Arab Legion, was actually commanded by a Briton, Sir John Glubb. And then on New Year’s Eve 1948 the British Government actually issued an ultimatum to Israel threatening war if Israel did not halt its counter-attacks on Egyptian forces in the Gaza Strip and Sinai. Britain was the only country in the UN that came to Egypt’s aid in this regard.

...When in May 1967 Nasser announced the blockading of the Straits of Tiran, closing Israel’s commercial lifeline to the east ...Harold Wilson was proud of his pro-Israeli sentiments, [but] his foreign secretary George Brown and the FO certainly did not reciprocate them. Britain compounded its generally lukewarm attitude during the Six Day War by sponsoring Resolution 242 at the end of it, which called on Israel to withdraw [quote] ‘from territories occupied’, in a resolution that was so badly worded by the FO that Arabs and Israelis have been able to argue over its proper meaning ever since.

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973 saw even worse bias by the FO in favour of the Arabs and against the Jews. Announcing an arms embargo ‘equally’ between the belligerents, the Heath Government effectively stopped Israel buying spare parts for the IDF’s Centurion tanks, whilst allowing them to be bought by Jordan, the only other country affected, because it was not (officially at least) a belligerent. Egyptian helicopter pilots continued to be trained in Britain, with the foreign secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home lamely telling the Israeli Ambassador that it was better for the pilots to be training in Britain than fighting at the front. Heath even refused to allow American cargo planes taking supplies to Israel to land and refuel at our bases on Cyprus.

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher seemed to offer a new warmth to Anglo-Israeli relations ...yet even she was stymied by the FO, especially over Intelligence cooperation with Mossad...

After 9/11 Tony Blair seemed to appreciate how Israel was in the very front line in the War against Terror, and he thus bravely refused to condemn Israel’s acts of self-defence in Lebanon, but since then Britain’s contribution to the EU’s strand of negotiating over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been, frankly, pathetic.

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.

... 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.

...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...

...Very often in Britain, especially when faced with the overwhelmingly anti-Israeli bias that is endemic in our liberal media and the BBC, we fail to ask ourselves what we would not do placed in the same position? The population of the United Kingdom of 63 millions is nine times that of Israel. In July 2006, to take one example entirely at random, Hezbollah crossed the border of Lebanon into Israel and killed 8 patrolmen and kidnapped 2 others, and that summer fired 4,000 Katyusha rockets into Israel which killed a further 43 civilians. Now, if we multiply those numbers by nine to get the British equivalent, just imagine what we would not do if a terrorist organization based as close as Calais were to fire 36,000 rockets into Sussex and Kent, killing 387 British civilians, after killing 72 British servicemen in an ambush and capturing a further eighteen? I put it to you that there is absolutely no lengths to which our Government would not go to protect British subjects under those circumstances, and quite right too. So why should Israel be expected to behave any differently?

There has hardly been a single year since Brigadier-General Deedes established AIA in 1949 when a speaker has not been able to say that Israel faced a crisis, and on some occasions – in 1956, 1967, 1973 and especially in the face of the present Iranian nuclear programme today – these were existential. At a time when Barrack Obama appears to be least pro-Israeli president since Eisenhower, the dangers are even more obvious. For there is simply no way that Obama will prevent Ahmadinejad, perhaps Jewry’s most viciously outspoken and dangerous foe since the death of Adolf Hitler, to acquire a nuclear Bomb.

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat – in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades - work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel.

Although History does not repeat itself, it’s cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.
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