Thursday 29 February 2024

The Real Extremists

Published before the British-armed troops of Itamar Ben-Gvir lured the people of Gaza City with food aid and then opened fire on them to lethal effect, Owen Jones writes:

A new consensus has emerged in British politics: peaceful protesters are dangerous, hateful extremists, but apologists for the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians are mainstream, respectable moderates. From his prime ministerial bully pulpit, Rishi Sunak declares there is a “growing consensus” that “mob rule is replacing democratic rule”. The world has been turned upside down, and you are entitled to ask why.

How this all unfolded is instructive. Last week, the Scottish National party used one of its three annual opposition days to table a motion demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Labour was in a bind: under pressure from voters who are opposed to Israel’s brutal war, a huge parliamentary rebellion beckoned, with shadow ministers prepared to resign.

But Keir Starmer would not accept the SNP motion. Why? Because it referred to Israel’s “collective punishment” of people in Gaza in response to the 7 October Hamas atrocities. That wording acknowledges the commission of a war crime – collective punishment – which would logically demand action from the British state, such as an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel. Such pressure is the only realistic means Israel’s allies have of shifting its behaviour at this stage, but Labour is clearly not prepared to go that far. It can offer only provisional condemnations, which Benjamin Netanyahu knows are designed for domestic public consumption and can be safely ignored.

Labour has 17 annual opposition days, meaning it does not lack opportunities to present its own position in the Commons. It called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, as opposed to the SNP’s “immediate ceasefire for all combatants” but, crucially, included no reference to collective punishment.

According to parliamentary protocol, Labour’s ruse should have been discarded, but Labour MPs – when they weren’t giving speeches and raising points of order in the direction of their whips to stall for time – gathered around the speaker claiming, according to the Sunday Times, “Keir is going to fix the speaker”.

After a visit from Starmer, which itself defies normal parliamentary procedures, the speaker ignored the advice of his own clerk and accepted both Labour and Tory amendments. Senior Labour sources briefed the BBC journalist Nicholas Watt that unless the speaker bent to their will, the inevitable Labour majority at the next election would remove him from the chair. In common parlance, this is known as blackmail, though the speaker’s office denied it. His alternative explanation, that he wanted to widen the debate, was alas somewhat undermined by the SNP being deprived of any vote on its motion, but he promised to compensate the party by granting it a new debate this week. The punchline? He then reneged on this pledge. The speaker, by the way, is himself a former Labour MP.

You may find this politicking morally abhorrent, given that it boils down to a refusal by Labour to pin the self-evident crime of collective punishment on Israel. After all, Gaza has been so comprehensively destroyed that it is a different colour and texture even seen from space, and starving dogs have been reported eating decomposing human remains. So Hoyle offered an alternative explanation. He buckled to Labour pressure because he feared a terrorist attack on MPs.

Does this make sense? No. Is the question of MPs’ security important? Yes. Is it being conflated with legitimate scrutiny and the age-old right of citizens to place collective pressure on their MPs? Also, yes./ And so Labour’s cynical manoeuvre became a moral panic about the right to protest. Protesting is a basic pillar of democracy, secured at great cost and sacrifice by our ancestors, and it is already crumbling owing to new Conservative laws – and now a new clampdown beckons.

But the question then arose: which protesters are the menace? In a society riven by Islamophobia, the sizeable contingent of Muslim protesters became the inevitable targets. But if the protesters are so dangerous, why no mass arrests? Enter the former home secretary Suella Braverman, who resolved this logical flaw by suggesting Islamists were actually running the country. The former Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson narrowed the conspiracy down to London, with the specific implication that the city’s mayor is some kind of Islamist sleeper agent.

The Tories must own their rampant racism. But all of this arose from a deliberate attempt to portray the real dangerous extremists as those opposed to the bombing, shooting and starving of tens of thousands of civilians to death. Why is this happening? Because most of our political and media establishments are increasingly exposed as complicit in one of the greatest crimes of our age.

A new detailed study suggests that between 4% and 5% of Gaza’s people will be dead by August. Israeli soldiers are shooting parents in front of their children, blowing up paramedics sent to save terrified children who are themselves then killed, and repeatedly wiping entire bloodlines from the civil registry.

As per the UN’s special rapporteur on food, they are deliberately starving Gaza, and children are already perishing of hunger, while families make bread from animal feed to survive. A UN panel has said there are “credible allegations” of sexual assault, including rape, against Israeli soldiers; two mothers are dying an hour; and women make sanitary products from scraps of tent. Israeli soldiers have been posting potential violations of international law, such as the destruction of civilian property, on TikTok for their comic amusement; and posing with stolen possessions: children’s bicycles, women’s underwear, children’s toys.

Our political and media establishments know that a proper reckoning would strip them of moral legitimacy. They cannot claim ignorance, because Israeli leaders and officials loudly told the world exactly what they would do – they would starve “human animals”, release “all the restraints” on troops, treat civilians as collectively responsible and as “Nazis”, and erase “the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth”.

But don’t forget: the real extremists are the people who opposed this.

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