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What does the UK’s new cabinet mean for Israel and Palestine?

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Anger has erupted across the United Kingdom, and for good reason. After months of uncertainty, a new leader has been thrust upon us, chosen by an elite group comprising less than 0.3% of the population. Scots are renewing calls for independence and the air is thick with talks of a deal, or no deal, ahead of Brexit. Often portrayed more as a buffoon than a politician, Boris Johnson has long awaited the day he stepped into 10 Downing Street, and is far from the stumbling joker he is often portrayed to be. But what does his new cabinet mean for Israel, Palestine, and the region as a whole? The new PM, and his choice for Cabinet, could spell disaster for hopes for stability and peace in the near future.

Dominic Raab’s track record is a possibly hopeful. Appointed as Johnson’s Foreign Secretary, the FCO veteran and son of Holocaust survivors spent time at Birzeit University in the 1980’s, before working for a Palestinian negotiator of the Oslo Accords. In theory, as the government official responsible for the UK’s foreign policy, he is one the one to watch. In a 2010 blog post entitled ‘Gaza Besieged, Israel Isolated’, Raab reflects on his time spent in the West Bank, the raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, in which 9 activists were killed trying to end the blockade, and the need for strong leadership, which he stated as ‘sorely lacking by both sides’.  In 2013, he argued against the UN recognition of a Palestinian state, calling for “political leadership, not a legal mirage”, but last year following Israel’s Nakba Day assault on Gaza protesters in which over 60 were killed Raab said Israel showed a “totally disproportionate use of force” and seemed to indicate that sanctions might be appropriate.

Raab has also been an impassioned critic of the Labour Party, and attacked its members over the ongoing controversy surrounding claims of antisemitism within its ranks, citing it as “beyond the bounds of tolerant debate” and referring to Corbyn’s Labour party as “a great stain on our country”. He has also remained within the general UK consensus against the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and given his history in the West Bank, it would be hoped that he may breathe new life into UK efforts to hold Israel accountable.

The wider Cabinet, however, has even stronger views in favor of Israel. Michael Gove, the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is an outspoken supporter of Israel, going as far to support the US embassy move to Jerusalem last year. While his title is archaic and may seem of little importance, Gove should not be underestimated as the chief adviser to the new PM on policy implementation, he now wields unprecedented influence on the leader of the country.

Newly-appointed Home Secretary Priti Patel is another who may swing the Cabinet in favor of a pro-Israeli stance. Previously Secretary of State for International Development from 2016 to 2017, Patel resigned in October 2017 over unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu himself, unbeknownst to the UK government.

Alok Sharma, now in Patel’s previous role for International Development, condemned the Israeli siege on Gaza, in which he penned a letter to concerned constituents stating that although Israel has a right to defend itself, “we desperately need Israel to show greater restraint”. A supporter of a two-state solution, Sharma maintains his support of arms sales to Israel under the premise of self-defense, also adding that such weapons would not be sold to a state “if there was a clear risk that any exports might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”. Given that the UK only recently ended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, such assertions must be taken with a pinch of salt.

As for the Prime Minister himself, Mr. Johnson’s stance on Israel and Palestine is most worrying. A self-described “passionate Zionist”, the Conservative leader worked on a kibbutz in the Northern Galilee in his youth. During his time as London Mayor, the city brought itself ever closer to Israel, leading him to boast proudly of the UK’s new status as Israel’s biggest trading partner in Europe. As a proponent of the two-state solution and regular columnist for The Telegraph, Mr. Johnson has not kept quiet, but has shifted his stance between fervent support for the Jewish state, and balanced criticism. At times, he has conceded to the reality facing Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories, stating that “the vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration- intended to safeguard other communities- has not been fully realised”. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he also criticised the “disproportionate” use of Israeli violence against Gazan civilians, but has remained largely silent aside from this instance. On the whole, it is most likely that the Prime Minister will only warm up to Israel, much like our friends across the pond. The comparisons made between Trump and the new Prime Minister, while made in jest, may have some truth to them, and it’s more than blond locks. Sharing a conservative background and the tendency to publicly share his Islamophobic views, Johnson heralded the US embassy’s relocation as a “moment of opportunity” for peace.

The political instability that has held the UK for the past several months has dealt a severe blow to domestic faith in the government, and Parliament as a whole. Brits across the country are worried about the state of human rights in the post-Brexit era. However, with the track record of our newly appointed Ministers, the damage may soon be felt much further from home.

Anna Duff

Anna Duff is the pseudonym for a UK-based writer and human rights activist.

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17 Responses

  1. Ossinev on July 31, 2019, 1:50 pm

    Raab`s blog is a master class in self delusion. What is missing is the simple fact that Zionist Israel has never had any intention of faciltating genuine peace with the native people of Palestine whose lands they have stolen. All the “negotiations” about “peace” and a ” two state solution” preupposed and stil do presuppose that this intention is there. It has always been a carefully constructed and nurtured charade to reassure Western Democratic populations.As for the tiresome never ending puke inducing mantra of “Israelis have the right to defend themselves “there is never any hint or admission from these pseudo liberals that the native Palestinian people have always had the right to defend themselves. Any form of Palestinian defence in the Raab mindset and the mindsets of his ilk is always but always categorised as “terrorism”. Funny that the question is never asked. “Do the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves ?” I think that the responses would be knicker twisting panic.

  2. Bumblebye on July 31, 2019, 6:52 pm

    I don’t hold an ounce of hope in Boris’s bunch of bananas (aka ‘Cabinet’). It’s a massive lurch to the right (and May was quite far right herself) for the british government. Don’t forget, the israeli govt considers itself first in line for trade deals post-brexit, and this lot are putting everything in for a no-deal outcome.

  3. RoHa on July 31, 2019, 9:43 pm

    But at least good old Boris will stop this shilly-shallying and deliver Brexit quickly.

    Oh.

    Wait.

    https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1159866/Brexit-news-Boris-Johnson-latest-no-deal-transition-customs-union-single-market

  4. Misterioso on August 1, 2019, 8:57 am

    A quick look at Britain’s just elected “Trumpish” leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/07/23/why-boris-johnson-is-even-more-dangerous-than-trump/
    “Why Boris Johnson is Even More Dangerous Than Trump” By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, July 23/19

    EXCERPTS:
    “Is the rise of Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister the product of a soft coup? Does Donald Trump’s racist demonisation of four non-white congress members prove him to be a ‘fascist’ leader like Mussolini and Hitler? The two questions should be answered together because political developments in Britain tend to emulate those in the US, and vice versa, though the latter is less frequent. The Thatcher-Reagan years in the 1980s were an example of this cross-infection and it happened again in 2016, when the British electorate voted narrowly for Brexit and American voters (though not a majority of them) chose Trump as president.

    “I used to be wary of alarmist talk of ‘soft coups’ and analogies with the rise of demagogic populist nationalist leaders in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. But the parallels and similarities between then and now are becoming more menacing by the day. Observers who forecast that Trump and Johnson would face too many political obstacles to gain power got something very wrong.”

    “Voters in England have always been suckers for politicians who present themselves as bit of wag. Nigel Farage cultivates this sort of public persona with his pint of beer and jocular approach. Johnson and he are part of a tradition of political figures who specialise in Falstaffian bonhomie, persuading voters that – suffer though they may from some very human flaws – they are the salt of the earth. Successful examples of this tactic include George Brown, the notoriously drunken deputy leader of the Labour party, and the Liberal MP Cyril Smith whom, police confirmed after his death, had sexually and physically molested children as young as eight years old (there had been 144 complaints against him, but no prosecution.)

    “Johnson and Trump get away with it because people do not take them seriously enough until it is too late. But they press the same political and emotional buttons as the fascist leaders of the 1920s and 1930s. Like them, they lead nationalist populist movements fuelled by opposition to globalisation, which Hitler blamed on the Jews and the Eurosceptics blame on Brussels. ‘We want to build a wall, a protective wall,’ said Goebbels.

    “It is worth looking at a copy of The New York Times dated 31 January 1933 – the day after Hitler became head of government – which is a classic example of a decent but complaisant person miscalculating the risks ahead. The writer points to the domestic opposition the new German leader would face ‘if he sought to translate the wild and whirling words of his campaign speeches into political action.’

    “The article looks forward to a ‘tamed’ Hitler of whom it says many Germans are hopefully speaking. Overall, it plays down grim expectations, saying: ‘Always we may look for some such transformation when a radical demagogue fights his way into responsible office.’ Judgement should be reserved until it is certain that the new man in power is ‘a flighty agitator’ who would force the German people ‘to take a leap into the dark.'”
    _______________________________________________

    Boris Johnson is also a classic Islamophobe:
    Letters to the editor, Tuesday 16 July, 2019 – The Guardian.

    “Western civilisation’s immense debt to Islam”

    “Readers take issue with Boris Johnson’s view that Islam kept the Muslim world centuries behind the West”

    •“Boris Johnson is painfully ignorant of the immense cultural, economic, and scientific contributions of Muslims (Islam kept Muslim world centuries behind the west, Johnson claimed, 16 July). Western civilisation owes an immense debt to Islam, whether in the form of algebra, the saving of ancient Greek heritage or the free-market economics of Ibn Khaldun.

    “Johnson is correct that many Muslim-majority nations are beset by social and political problems. Yet the same holds true for numerous Christian-majority nations such as Russia, Honduras, Haiti and South Africa. He also makes a ‘false equivalence’ argument in comparing stable western democracies to war-ravaged countries like Bosnia, seemingly blaming Muslims there for being attacked. Curiously, Muslim extremists promote the same arguments as Johnson, albeit for different aims. Neither depiction is true or helpful.

    “Another pathetic observation by the next British PM concerns the Ottoman empire. Johnson takes one oddity of the Turkish dawlah – the resistance to the printing press – and passes over achievements of the sultans such as religious tolerance and the architectural feats of Sinan. He claims this one act of backwardness negates the entire history of Islam, although resistance to technology is apparent even in British history, the luddites a classic case in point.

    “Johnson’s authority for his ignorance is Winston Churchill. If Churchill said it, it must be true. However, Churchill was neither a historian nor a sociologist. He was a myth-maker whose literary skills were devoted to ‘demonstrating’ the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race over all others. To achieve this sleight of hand, Churchill had to simultaneously denigrate other cultures, including Islam. It seems that Great Britain under Johnson will be beset by similar doses of myth, fantasy and supremacist doctrines.
    Dr. Colm Gillis
    Hethersett, Norfolk

    • “Before deprecating Islamic civilisation as inferior to western, the Tory contender should surely acknowledge the outstanding examples of high Arabic society and culture seen in such places as mudéjar (Moorish) Spain, notably Granada’s Alhambra Palace, Córdoba’s Mezquita mosque and Seville’s Alcázar as well as in cities beyond, like Palermo, Fez and Damascus.

    “Not only did these Islamic civilisations lead in the fields of astronomy, science, medicine and farming irrigation when most of Europe was still in the dark ages, but they also encouraged Muslims, Christians and Jews to live and trade together in harmony for centuries.

    “Sadly (as surely the scholarly Johnson must know), much of this rich tapestry was swept away by invading armies from either Turkey in the east or Christian Castile in the north. Given such wanton ignorance, is Boris Johnson really fit to unite and lead an increasingly multicultural Britain?
    Paul Dolan
    Northwich, Cheshire

    • “Given Boris Johnson will not be long at 10 Downing Street, perhaps he should apply for the master of studies at his old university in Islamic studies and history. On the other hand, I doubt he has the linguistic skills to get in. The great Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun, in 1377, in his preface to the Muqaddimah, wrote: ‘The inner meaning of history … involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events.’ The ‘how and why’ of Boris Johnson and his many wayward events over the years speak for themselves. What did Mr. Johnson learn during his four years at Balliol College, Oxford?
    Bruce Ross-Smith
    Oxford

    • “It is astonishing that Polly Toynbee, in commenting on the Laffer curve (Journal, 16 July), should describe Ibn Khaldun as ‘an obscure 14th-century Islamic scholar.’ Her grandfather, the world historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, described Ibn Khaldun’s introduction to his history, the Muqaddimah, as ‘undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place.” Ibn Khaldun is regarded by both western and Islamic scholars as one of the world’s great minds. Clearly there has been, down the generations, a narrowing of view and understanding.
    Francis Robinson
    Egham, Surrey

    ________________________________________________________________________________

    Also regarding Boris Johnson: “The Ham of Fate,” by Fintan O’Toole, New York Review of Books, August 15/19:

    https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/08/15/boris-johnson-ham-of-fate/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Johnson%20Iran%20tenants&utm_content=NYR%20Johnson%20Iran%20tenants+CID_4702ef4390ea9155aafe9e2729c5db2b&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=The%20Ham%20of%20Fate

  5. Misterioso on August 1, 2019, 9:23 am

    More on Boris:

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/david-cronin/boris-johnson-whitewashes-britains-crimes-palestine?utm_source=EI+readers&utm_campaign=6f97fbaac7-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e802a7602d-6f97fbaac7-290645253

    “Boris Johnson whitewashes Britain’s crimes in Palestine” by David Cronin, Electronic Intifada, July 9/19

    “Boris Johnson – the man likely to be Britain’s next prime minister – is widely seen as an elitist buffoon.”

    “By searching a little, it is nonetheless possible to find at least one incisive comment that Johnson has made.

    “He has described the 1917 Balfour Declaration as ‘bizarre,’ ‘tragicomically incoherent’ and ‘an exquisite masterpiece of Foreign Office fudgerama.’

    “Johnson appeared to understand the absurdity of how Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary during the First World War, supported establishing a ‘Jewish national home’ in Palestine, while pretending that the step would not harm the indigenous Palestinians.

    “’Another way of putting it might be that the British government viewed with favor the eating of a piece of cake by the Jewish people, provided that nothing should be done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish communities to eat the same piece of cake at the same time,’ Johnson has written.

    “Though perceptive, the comment is contained within an apologia for imperialism. It features in Johnson’s biography of Winston Churchill – a leader with whom he has long been obsessed.

    “When the comment is read carefully, it becomes apparent that Johnson is not really concerned about the rights of Palestinians – or ‘non-Jewish communities’ as he describes them, echoing the Balfour Declaration itself.

    “Instead, he is noting that the Balfour Declaration contradicted an earlier pledge granted by Henry McMahon, a senior British diplomat, to Hussein, the custodian – or Sharif – of Mecca.

    “Under that 1915 promise, Britain would support the establishment of what Johnson calls a ‘big new Arab state stretching from Palestine to Iraq and to the borders with Persia’ in the hope that doing so would weaken the Ottoman Empire.

    “Wisdom and impartiality?”

    “The result of these conflicting commitments was, according to Johnson, a ‘mess that Churchill had to clear up.’ Churchill rolled up his sleeves – at least metaphorically – as Britain’s colonial secretary in the 1920s. Visiting Jerusalem in that capacity, Churchill displayed ‘Solomon-like wisdom and impartiality,’ Johnson writes.

    “Far from being impartial, Churchill was an ardent supporter of the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist colonization project which it endorsed.

    “When the project encountered resistance Churchill advocated stern measures so that Palestinians would not succeed in ‘frightening us out of our Zionist policy.’

    “His response to unrest included setting up a gendarmerie and sending it to Palestine.

    “The gendarmerie was comprised of men who had served with the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries.

    “Based in Ireland during its War of Independence, those forces had deployed such tactics as burning down homes, pubs, shops and factories.

    “The numerous civilians they killed included my great granduncle Patrick Hartnett, a postman in County Limerick.

    “Churchill used genocidal reasoning to defend the Zionist project. Incoming settlers were, in his view, ‘civilizing’ Palestine in a way that its indigenous people could not.

    “’I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time,’ Churchill stated at one point. ‘I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the Black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate a more worldly wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.’

    “In his aforementioned biography, Boris Johnson claims that Churchill ‘believed in the greatness of Britain’ and ‘that led him to say some things that seem quite bonkers today.’

    “Toxic”

    “Alas, Johnson himself proves that it remains possible to be prejudiced and attain high office.

    “He has, at various times, used highly offensive language against Africans, Muslim women and the LGBTQ community.

    “Perhaps because he has worked as a journalist, Johnson has been given an easy ride – sometimes quite literally – by his former colleagues in the London media.

    “His very real racism has not sparked anything like the relentlessly hostile coverage that the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn has encountered over concocted allegations of anti-Semitism.

    “Johnson appears to have conveniently forgotten how he once labeled the Balfour Declaration ‘bizarre.’

    “In 2017, Johnson held the post of foreign secretary – like Arthur Balfour 100 years earlier.

    “Marking the centenary of the declaration, Johnson praised it as ‘an historic event, which led to a giant political fact.

    “The ‘giant’ fact in question was, needless to say, Israel’s foundation. According to Johnson, that was ‘one of the most stunning political achievements’ during the 20th century.

    “Despite fancying himself as a historian, Johnson did not use the occasion to explain how Israel’s foundation came about through decades of brutality, often administered directly by Britain.

    “It is logical that someone who reaches for superlatives when speaking of Israel should be hostile to Palestinians and the Palestine solidarity movement.

    “With his customary brio, Johnson has dismissed activists who urge a boycott of Israel as ‘corduroy-jacketed, snaggle toothed, lefty academics.’

    “Provided he wins an internal party vote this month, Johnson will head a Conservative government that has already signaled its desire to increase trade with Israel.

    “Undoubtedly, Johnson has a more colorful turn of phrase than his recent predecessors. Still, he will be a typical prime minister.

    “He will follow an ignominious British tradition of trampling on the oppressed.”

  6. Elizabeth Block on August 1, 2019, 10:45 am

    The Toronto Star had an editorial cartoon, showing a Trumpish Boris, with the caption “Make Britain Great Again.”
    I doubt it. I think he’s more likely to make Britain back into England. The northern Irish, who thought Her Majesty’s Government would always have their backs, know better. The Scots may well demand another referendum.
    And as for the Welsh, well, who knows? Years ago I saw a cottage in Wales where someone had written “Free Wales” and someone else had crossed off the W. Just possibly things have changed.

  7. Sibiriak on August 21, 2019, 3:53 am

    RoHa; But at least good old Boris will stop this shilly-shallying and deliver Brexit quickly.
    ———————————

    And Brexit does have its bright side:

    Talk of Moving UK’s Embassy in Israel

    Following U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers in London last week, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has been asked to speed up contingency planning for the U.K. to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with an eye to an “early announcement” post Brexit.

    The U.K. is currently bound by an EU common foreign policy position not to follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. As things stand, that prohibition will fall on Nov. 1 […]

    * * *

    Three Benefits Seen

    Firstly, they anticipate that Labour opposition to the move can be used to yet again raise accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader.

    Secondly, it provides good “red meat” to Brexiteer support in marking a clear and, they believe, popular break from EU foreign policy, at no economic cost.

    Thirdly, it seals the special link between the Trump and Johnson administrations and sets the U.K. apart from other NATO allies.

    Bolton also discussed the possibility of U.K. support for Israeli annexation of areas of the West Bank to “solve” the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied territory.

    https://consortiumnews.com/2019/08/21/talk-of-moving-uks-embassy-in-israel/

    • RoHa on August 21, 2019, 9:59 am

      It seems we cannot have the good without the bad. Boris wants to free Britain from Brussels, but then chain it to Washington.

  8. echinococcus on August 21, 2019, 12:43 pm

    “Chain” the barking American poodle to Washington? Let’s not be ridiculous — GB, or whatever the English call their place nowadays, has forfeited all independence long ago. It’s nothing more than an American territory without a vote, just like Guam, the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Even considering that Europe is now a shitheap with a lot of post-Warsaw-bloc American colonies, the loss of the Trojan Horse that is Brexit still represents a blessing.

    • RoHa on August 22, 2019, 12:41 am

      Would you accept “chain it more tightly”?

      • echinococcus on August 22, 2019, 9:08 am

        How about “finally conforming to Truth in Labeling practices”?

  9. amigo on August 22, 2019, 3:20 pm

    Boris harbours racist and supremacist views of Irish People.
    A week or so ago he made the following comment about the Irish Taoseach (pm) Leo Varadkar.

    So what.s with this Varadkar guy.Why isn.t he called Murphy .like the rest of them.

    I wonder what his true feelings are about Jews.

    • gamal on August 22, 2019, 4:53 pm

      “Why isn.t he called Murphy .like the rest of them”

      Or Markievicz , the most famous Irish name, “Two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful…” and

      why aren’t I called Raoul some questions really answer themselves… no point in asking.

      I have only ever heard woody guthries “Two Good Men” sung by Irishmen, and I never report back to base as I am tripping balls..in the Irish manner not what i am supposed to be doing, they serve Mojitos now in Clonakilty…Murphy’s is still the drink of the committed Corkman, I am going to breach a cask in honour of true Irishness which happens in Munster mainly little bit in Clare too I Heir.

    • oldgeezer on August 22, 2019, 5:22 pm

      Boris needs to stick to his gig with Natasha

  10. MHughes976 on August 23, 2019, 3:56 pm

    One of Johnson’s publications – I think in a collection called ‘Have I got views for you’ – contains a long essay on the Jewish origin and proto-Zionist nature of a main element of the plot of Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the Trojans are divinely instructed ‘to search for their ancient mother(land)’ (Italy), which they then appropriate by force with the ultimate effect of peace in the whole Mediterranean world. As I remember, he interprets this as an exposition, at the heart of Western culture, of an idea of which Jews are the original, best and most entitled exponents. There are other and different interpretations of the great poet but I found Johnson’s argument memorable.
    Johnson’s moves amid a very Zionist ethos. I was commenting on another website the other day and mentioned that Johnson is prone to bluster, which I might have thought that many of his admirers would not deny. In return I was called ‘a self-hating Brit’ – and we know what ethos and what school of rhetoric produced that term, don’t we?

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