The tall story we Europeans now tell ourselves about Israel
By Charles Moore
The UK Telegraph
Sir Peter Tapsell is, if the phrase is not a contradiction in terms nowadays, a distinguished backbencher. He first entered the House of Commons in 1959. Noted for his grand manner, he is the longest-serving Tory MP.
At foreign affairs questions in Parliament on Tuesday, Sir Peter rose. He wanted Margaret Beckett to tell him whether the Prime Minister had colluded with President Bush in allowing Israel to “wage unlimited war” in Lebanon, including attacks on civilian residential areas of Beirut. These attacks, he added, were “a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”.
Mrs Beckett firmly rejected the premise of the question – that Mr Bush had permitted “unlimited war” – and moved on, but I found myself winded by Sir Peter’s choice of words.
What is happening in Lebanon? After the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and the firing of hundreds of rockets against its people from across the Lebanese border, Israel is trying to crush the Hizbollah fighters who have perpetrated these acts. In doing so, it has also killed civilians. Some 500 people have died in Lebanon as a result.
What was the “Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”? There were many, of course. But Sir Peter was probably referring to the events of April-May 1943. The Nazis had earlier deported 300,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka. As news of their fate reached Jews in Warsaw, they decided to revolt against further round-ups. For about a month, they resisted. They were subdued: 7,000 of them were killed and 56,000 were sent to the camps.
Sir Peter surely knew this, yet he chose to speak as he did. Here is a man who has been in public life for more than 50 years (he was an assistant to Anthony Eden in the general election of 1955), and yet he compared Israel’s attack to the most famous genocide of the 20th century. What possessed him?
I ask the question, not because I am interested in Sir Peter – he is not an important figure in the current debate, though he may differ on this point. I ask, rather, because his remark seems to me a symptom of a wider unreality about the Middle East, one that now dominates. It tinged the recent Commons speech by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary. It permeates every report by the BBC.
You could criticise Israel’s recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else – a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.
Not only is this analysis wrong – if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? – it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and “unlimited war”.
As well as being morally imbecilic, this narrative is the enemy of all efforts to understand what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is so lazy.
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