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OPINION

Bombshell effect: How the war in Israel ignited a political crisis in Britain

For nearly a month, the United Kingdom has been caught in the fervor of the Israeli war's aftermath: massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations surge through the streets of London, the political establishment finds itself fractured, and the first casualties have already been witnessed within the government. Andrey Ostalsky, a British observer, posits that the resonance of the events in Gaza within England is largely due to the intricate history of Britain's relationship with Palestine. The sizable pro-Palestinian rallies, he argues, are the outcome of adroit manipulation of public sentiment by organizers who represent a volatile amalgamation of left-wing radicals and right-wing Islamists. Against this backdrop, right-wing radical politicians, backed by significant electoral support, have also stirred into action.

RU

For nearly a month, the United Kingdom has been caught in the fervor of the Israeli war's aftermath: massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations surge through the streets of London, the political establishment finds itself fractured, and the first casualties have already been witnessed within the government. Andrey Ostalsky, a British observer, posits that the resonance of the events in Gaza within England is largely due to the intricate history of Britain's relationship with Palestine. The sizable pro-Palestinian rallies, he argues, are the outcome of adroit manipulation of public sentiment by organizers who represent a volatile amalgamation of left-wing radicals and right-wing Islamists. Against this backdrop, right-wing radical politicians, backed by significant electoral support, have also stirred into action.

Split in the ruling party

The seismic tremors within the political landscape have manifested prominently with the dismissal of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Suela Braverman, and the reintegration into the government of former Prime Minister David Cameron, now serving as the Foreign Secretary. However, these are not just routine cabinet reconfigurations; they signify profound tectonic shifts.

Remarkably, Braverman was indeed fired—an uncommon occurrence in the refined realm of British politics, where ousted ministers typically tender graceful resignation letters to the Prime Minister, adorned with insincere expressions of gratitude and well-wishing.

The catalyst for Braverman's departure was her article in The Times, not only uncoordinated with the Prime Minister but intentionally and boldly contradicting Downing Street's counsel to “moderate the tone.” She was explained that the article's sharp criticisms of the police was deemed unacceptable, particularly at such a pivotal juncture. Braverman went as far as to accuse London law enforcement of displaying favoritism towards participants in what she termed “hate marches,” denoting the weekly demonstrations. Some interpreted the article as an endeavor to subject the police not only to governmental authority but personally to the Home Secretary and the ideologies of the right. Yet, in Britain, there has long existed an understanding between the police and the government, stipulating that politicians refrain from meddling in operational matters, leaving specific decisions to the discretion of seasoned professionals.

Braverman went as far as to accuse London law enforcement of displaying favoritism towards participants in what she termed “hate marches”

The scandal surrounding the article in The Times proved to be the last straw, testing the Prime Minister's patience. For months, moderate Tories had been vociferously decrying the inclusion of the ambitious, uncontrollable, and unpopular Suela as a colossal mistake on Sunak's part. Her extreme intolerance towards immigrants, both legal and illegal, earned her the moniker “Cruella” among the more moderate Tories. Suela's scandalous statements had previously sparked widespread public outrage, including attacks on the homeless, whose challenging existence she labeled a “lifestyle choice.”

Yet, in my view, within Braverman's generally biased article, there was a kernel of truth—though it didn't justify her tone and clearly had provocative intentions. The demonstrations occurring every Saturday in London and other British cities for almost a month shouldn't unjustly be labeled as “hate marches.” Most participants are not malicious anti-Semites but individuals convinced that they are advocating for goodness and humanism, striving to end the cycle of violence.

However, amid the demonstrators, voices of genuine hatred were heard, and posters with the Star of David transforming into a swastika were visible. Few in those crowds understood the true meaning behind the often-chanted slogan “From the river to the sea.” It sounds poetic in Arabic, “Min an-nahr ila al-bahr,” but its essence is far from beautiful and should evoke deep concern among reasonable people. It signifies that the entire territory of present-day Israel should become purely Arab land, devoid of Jews. In essence, it is a call for genocide and a new Holocaust. Nevertheless, many “useful idiots” in the demonstration columns mindlessly echoed the inhumane slogan.

The chant “from the river to the sea” signifies that the entire territory of present-day Israel should become purely Arab land, devoid of Jews

Who organized and attempted to lead the demonstrations? Firstly, several small (but vocal) Muslim organizations, known for their fiercely anti-Israel views bordering on anti-Semitism, or outright anti-Semitic. Secondly, leftists from the Momentum movement—a product of the Jeremy Corbyn era—now expelled from the Labour Party but finding new purpose in organizing such protests and demonstrations.

Through their joint efforts, they succeeded in confusing citizens who are not well-versed in Middle Eastern issues, convincing them that they were advocating for peace and justice, portraying Hamas as freedom fighters, and even as victims of Israeli aggression. It bears a striking resemblance to how the Kremlin managed to convince a significant portion of its population that Ukraine attacked Russia, not the other way around.

The overwhelming majority of demonstrators do not grasp that Hamas does not represent the national interests of Palestinians. The Islamist group categorically denies any possibility of peaceful coexistence with Israel, whose destruction, rather than the creation of an independent Palestinian state, is one of the movement's main goals. Hence, there is no mention of “Palestine” in the name Hamas, which is officially known as the “Islamic Resistance Movement.”

Well-intentioned British pacifists waving Palestinian flags seem oblivious to the fact that ideologically and theologically, Hamas is very close to ISIS and Al-Qaeda, as it belongs to the same extreme, fanatical strand within Sunni Islam. This belief system rejects nation-states and demands the reestablishment of a medieval caliphate, where Palestine is just one of its lands, but, of course, without Israel and without Jews—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

British pacifists waving Palestinian flags seem oblivious to the fact that Hamas is very close to ISIS and Al-Qaeda

In the caliphate, the strictest interpretation of Sharia law must be established, without any Western nonsense like human rights, gender equality, or, God forbid, freedom of speech, assembly, and especially religion. Meanwhile, some members of the LGBT community enthusiastically marched alongside those who aimed to create a state where gays would be considered depraved monsters subject to immediate physical annihilation.

The controversial article in The Times served as a pretext, but there was a deeper reason behind Sunak's decision to part ways with Braverman, beyond her unpopularity. The striking return from political obscurity of former Prime Minister David Cameron is evidence of this. Many view Rishi Sunak's move as an attempt to distance himself from the far-right faction within the Tory party that has long dictated its terms to the government.

Braverman was a prominent advocate of this faction in the cabinet. Her subversive activities vividly demonstrated that this group, envisioning itself as a puppeteer behind the scenes of power, was not willing to leave Sunak in peace and would obstruct him from implementing the policies he deems rational. Fanatical ideologues often fail to comprehend pragmatism.

However, appointing Cameron carries serious risks. Undoubtedly, he is a politician of the highest caliber—well-educated, serious, experienced, and not lacking in charm. Of course, he is well-suited for the role of Foreign Secretary. But popular? That's a stretch. Leftists, liberals, and many centrists can't forgive him for the Brexit referendum.

It was an honest mistake, but one of those the French say are worse than a crime. Cameron never hid that he himself vehemently opposed Britain leaving the EU. Yet, he strangely believed that in the referendum, the British would support his position. He catastrophically miscalculated, displaying truly unforgivable overconfidence.

So, while his presence in one of the most crucial ministerial positions may improve the quality of governance, it won't gain Sunak support from the left or the center. On the right, Cameron has always been despised as a liberal who betrayed conservative ideals. Society at large is not thrilled either; according to a YouGov poll, only 22% of voters consider Cameron's appointment the right decision, while 44% think it's wrong.

Cameron's presence in the cabinet won't gain Sunak support from the left or the center

Cameron could indeed argue in response to the right that it is they who have betrayed conservative values, attempting to orchestrate a kind of revolution and establish a fundamentally right-wing, anti-democratic regime in the country. This move relied increasingly on the northern proletariat, feeling abandoned and forgotten by the establishment, as well as the residents of the prosperous southeast. On this basis, in the north, hatred towards immigrants and xenophobia, as well as resentment towards the liberal urban intelligentsia, are flourishing. In essence, the right-wing Tories and the “forgotten” working class share common enemies and common prejudices.

The Sunday Telegraph's chief editor, Allister Heath, published something akin to a manifesto for this faction, earnestly calling to reject all liberal decade old legacies and the country's system of international obligations to address the “immigrant problem.” Effectively, he advocated for withdrawing the country from the Western alliance.

In harmony with the dismissed Braverman, he asserts that the “prime minister allowed himself to succumb to 'magical thinking'—belief that the problem of (legal and illegal) immigration can be solved without offending 'polite opinion.'“… “This is impossible: it is necessary to dismantle an entire legal superstructure, refute an entire ideology,'“ writes Heath. He specifies, “The time has come to make a decision. Can Sunak defeat the elite, many Conservative Party members of parliament, and the entire civil service? Or will his struggle end in empty rhetoric and maneuvers, guaranteeing the biggest defeat for the Tory party since 1906?”

This is an overt call to Sunak to submit to the dictates of the right faction and break ties with liberals, which Heath sees as the only way to save the Conservative Party's power and the current prime minister's personal career.

Crisis in the opposition

Meanwhile, a crisis over the Middle East events has erupted within the Labour Party. Its leader, Keir Starmer, refused to support a parliamentary resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He explained his position by stating that such a truce would give Hamas the opportunity to regroup and potentially launch new attacks on Israeli territory. The Sunak government shares this viewpoint. Hamas openly admits that they will seize any opportunity to carry out new attacks and harm Jews.

The Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, refused to support a parliamentary resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

The opposition leader fully agrees with the Prime Minister that Hamas intentionally uses the civilian population of Gaza as “human shields,” thus bearing the main responsibility for their deaths and suffering. Both Starmer and Sunak actively call on Israel to adhere to all norms and rules of warfare, doing absolutely everything possible to minimize the number of casualties among civilians. They also propose organizing brief pauses in military actions for delivering aid to sector residents, evacuating the civilian population, and so on.

Many in the Labour Party found their leader's position too “pro-Israeli.” As a result, 56 MPs—about a third of the entire Labour faction—violated party discipline and voted for a ceasefire resolution put forward by members of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons. Some prominent figures even resigned from their positions in the shadow cabinet in disagreement with the leader.

Many British Muslims are also outraged. In the 2019 elections, over 70% of them voted for Labour. Now, according to some predictions, only about 5% are willing to remain loyal to Starmer's party. The rest either plan to boycott the elections altogether or vote for candidates from other parties or independent candidates. In the UK, there are 500,000 Muslims—almost ten times more than Jews—and in some constituencies, their votes could be decisive.

Discord in society

Overall, the views on the conflict in British society diverge from the unified position of the government and the main opposition party. However, it is not a critical divergence. As polls show, participants in loud pro-Palestinian demonstrations do not represent the country's population. According to recent sociological data, 66% of Britons overall view Israel's military operation with understanding, unambiguously condemning Hamas actions—though exactly half of them, apparently influenced by heart-wrenching television reports, now advocate a ceasefire. Another 24% support a temporary halt in military actions to deliver aid to Gaza, something akin to what both the government and Labour leadership propose.

66% of Britons overall view Israel's military operation with understanding, unambiguously condemning Hamas actions

Here are more detailed data from sociologists, revealing a concerning generational gap in views: Britons aged 18-34 are more likely to want the UK government to support Palestinians (23%) than Israelis (7%). Meanwhile, 22% of Britons aged 55-75 support Israel, and only 4% in this age group advocate support for Palestinians. It seems that Israel is losing the information war—at least among the youth.

Interestingly, London's relations with Jerusalem, especially under the Netanyahu government, haven't been particularly warm. There's a significant history behind this. The memory of terrorist acts by Jewish militant organizations (primarily the Irgun) targeting the British and resulting in numerous casualties is not forgotten. Moreover, Netanyahu and Likud don't let this be forgotten, organizing commemorations of the King David Hotel bombing on July 22, 1946, which killed 91 people, and sparking protests at the British embassy. The extensive celebration in 2006 and the anti-British text on the memorial plaque installed on the hotel at that time were particularly negatively received.

Nevertheless, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, endorsing the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine,” followed by the Peel Commission's 1936 report approving the partition of Palestine, and finally, the 1946 Anglo-American Agreement, paved the way for the establishment of the Jewish state. Many Arabs often remind the British that the problem arose because of them. It might seem that Israel should be grateful to the British, but paradoxically, there are many people there who harbor resentment towards Britain, accusing the United Kingdom of restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine at times and leaving Israel alone after World War II to face its Arab neighbors, who united to destroy it.

Israel should be grateful to the British, but paradoxically, there are many people there who harbor resentment towards Britain

Almost all recent British governments have disapproved of the practice of building Jewish settlements in areas where, according to UN resolutions, a Palestinian state is supposed to be established someday. In London, it is believed that Netanyahu and his party quietly support such construction, leading to making the establishment of a Palestinian state practically impossible.

Netanyahu's right-wing tendencies, particularly his attempts to amend Israel's constitution to strengthen executive power and weaken the judiciary, are not met with favor either. However, despite these reservations, the British political establishment deems it necessary to fully support Israel in the fight against terrorism, considering its actions as legitimate self-defense. The logic here is that leaders like Netanyahu come and go, but the democratic state of Israel remains, and it is the West's duty to help it defend itself against those who threaten its security, if not its very existence.

Margaret Thatcher, in her time, discovered hidden anti-Semitism among some aristocrats holding prominent positions in the Conservative Party. She eliminated such stereotypes from the Tories, and since then, such manifestations have not been visible or audible. Thatcher herself, who in her youth saved a young Austrian Jewish girl fleeing the Nazis, never hid her sympathies for Jews and Israel. However, like most Western leaders, she believed that respect for Jews, warm sympathy for Holocaust victims, did not preclude criticism of some actions of Israel.

Thatcher believed that the Jewish state needed to “exchange land for peace.” In her memoirs, she wrote that she would like Israel's emphasis on the human rights of Russian refuseniks to be combined with a proper assessment of the difficult situation of stateless and landless Palestinians.

In London, there is an awareness that the sharp escalation of the Middle East conflict has been a huge gift to Putin, diverting the attention of Western public opinion from the war in Ukraine. Some even suspect that the Kremlin may have had a hand in it, with the help of its Iranian ally. Not by chance, just three days after his sensational appointment, David Cameron headed to Kyiv, not the Middle East, to emphasize continuity in supporting Ukraine in its confrontation with Putin's aggression.

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