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January 30, 2009

Gaza Aid, the BBC, and Early Day Motions: William D. Rubinstein analyses British attitudes to Israel, post-Gaza

Posted by William D. Rubinstein

William D. Rubinstein - professor of modern history at the University of Wales-Aberystwyth and author of Israel, the Jews, and the West: The Fall and Rise of Antisemitism - argues that ideology is alive and well when it comes to attitudes to Israel.

A storm - probably in a teacup - has recently blown up over the refusal of the BBC to broadcast a charity appeal, by a range of aid agencies, to raise funds for the damage caused in Gaza by the Israeli incursion. An examination of the dimensions of this storm is interesting for what it says about ideology and the Middle East.

The BBC was in my opinion perfectly justified in refusing to broadcast this particular aid appeal. It was, specifically, to assist in Gaza. It was not - and this is the crucial point - to assist those Israelis affected by Hamas's launching of nearly one thousand rockets into southern Israel. If the intention of this appeal was to assist both sides affected by a war impartially, as one assumes any charity exists to do, there would be no conceivable objection to it, and it seems reasonable to assume that such an appeal would have been broadcast by the BBC with little dissent.

As things stand, anything more one-sided and partisan than an aid appeal for one side in a conflict in which both sides were affected with human suffering (and was actually started by Hamas, which broke a long-standing truce) is difficult to imagine. One pertinent question, incidentally, is why Hamas was unable to smuggle in food and medical supplies to the people of Gaza, when it was able to smuggle in, through its network of tunnels and other sources, probably thousands of rockets to be launched against Israel, and probably tons of other weapons.

The senior management of the BBC in this case has seemingly grasped the central point that its television and internet reportage on Gaza, and especially the commentary of its senior reporter there, Jeremy Bowen, was utterly and wholly biased in a pro-Hamas direction and in an anti-Israel direction, a point verified again and again by many studies of our own BBC.

This bias took many forms, especially a near total failure to report sympathetically on the effects of this war on ordinary Israelis, and an even more total black hole of reportage on the actual nature and practices of Hamas in Gaza. Hamas is a fundamentalist, exclusivist, quasi-fascist ruling elite which has taken Gaza back to the Dark Ages by imposing Sharia law there and to more recent dark periods of history by shooting its Palestinian opponents. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, as well as the imposition of fundamentalist Islam in its most primitive form on its own people.

Needless to say, the Western left, with its unerring attraction to the monstrous and to anything which proclaims itself to be anti-Western, has seized upon the Gaza incursion with glee, in its usual fashion. The dimensions of support for Gaza are well illustrated by examining a number of recent Early Day Motions in the House of Commons, which have also received a good deal of press. An "Early Day Motion" is a formal written statement of support for something which is moved and signed by one or more M.P.s. Their nominal aim is to form the basis of a debate in Parliament, but the overwhelming majority are simply moved, signed, and forgotten - many hundreds each year, on an enormously wide range of subjects.

There were two relevant recent Early Day Motions, one which "expresses outrage at Israel's overwhelmingly disproportionate use of force in Gaza" and another which criticises the BBC for failing to broadcast the Gaza appeal. The first of these attracted 134 signatures, and the breakdown by party affiliation is instructive: Labour 92, Liberal Democrats 26, Conservatives 5. (The others came from minor parties like Plaid Cymru.) It was, in other words, a Motion largely from the rentacrowd left, and was, for all practical purposes, wholly boycotted by the Tories. (The five Tory signatories were Peter Bottomley, Richard Shepherd, Nicholas Soames, Hugo Swire, and Ian Taylor; Derek Conway, "Independent Conservative", also signed.)

The breakdown of support criticising the BBC for its failure to broadcast the Gaza appeal was of like ilk: Labour 104, Liberal Democrats 34, Scots Nationalists 7, Conservatives 10. (John Bercow, Peter Bottomley, John Gummer, Robert Key, Peter Luff, Anne Main, Mike Penning, Nicholas Soames, Robert Walter.) For all practical purposes, both of these Motions were virtually boycotted by the Tory party, whose M.P.s in large measure fully understand what is going on; many doubtless detest both groups like Hamas and the current direction of the BBC. The BBC's internet reportage of these Motions, incidentally, described them as having “all party support,” a claim which is evidently highly misleading.

Ideology may well be dead in mainstream British politics - a debatable point - but it seems alive and well in debate on the Middle East and on international terrorism.

William D. Rubinstein is professor of modern history at the University of Wales-Aberystwyth. He is the author of Israel, the Jews, and the West: The Fall and Rise of Antisemitism.

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