Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Alas poor Iain, I knew him Mr Dale intent on becoming a rather mangy attack dog?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Iain Dale has accused our Party of being anti-Israel. What is a nice boy from North West London who started his political life in one of the country's most Jewish constituencies with a Local Party who used to spend much of their meetings talking about Prague before the war - because many of them appeared to have lived there - to do?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceI've generally taken a pro-Israeli stance. I attended North Kensington Reform Synagogue for a number of years, an unusual shul by the very diversity of its membership and, in particular, its leadership, and those who know Beit Klal Yisrael will know exactly where I'm coming from when I say that. I'm far from being a knee-jerk Zionist but I start from the basis that an Israeli state free from fear of attack is an obligatory goal for any plan to 'resolve' the Middle East issue. The 1947 borders are sacrosanct, unless a swap of territory can make both an Israeli and a Palestinian state more secure and is agreeable to both sides.

So, if Iain is right, I should really be ashamed of my membership of the Liberal Democrats. Well no, not really. My support for Israel is not blind, and I am aware that a long series of ignoble decisions to ignore illegal building in, and occupation of, territory that would form an integral part of a Palestinian state have made peace much more difficult to attain. It is a very short step to understanding why the extremists on both sides have been able to so easily persuade enough people to take action which merely inflames those sections of their communities into supporting acts which they would otherwise condemn.

So, when Iain asks, "Are the LibDems Becoming the Anti-Israel Party?", I realise that all he is doing is taking part in the usual cheap shot attacks that discredit politics and demonstrate why his involvement in 'Total Politics' is a potentially double-edged sword in terms of its future success.

To suggest that the comments of an individual member of our group in the European Parliament are indicative of an anti-Israel stance in the Liberal Democrats is absurd, as absurd as suggesting that the alleged violent acts of a Conservative MP (Andrew Pelling) were indicative of a pro-physical violence stance in the Conservatives. For the record though, I'll note that I don't hold much truck with the approach that Chris Davies takes which, whilst mostly reflective of our Party's stance, places it in a context that many of us would find unfamiliar. Half of a story is not better than none, might I suggest?

Nick Clegg, in calling for a cessation of arms sales to Israel, touches on a sensitive issue. If you believe that a sovereign nation has the right to defend itself from attack, then Israel is within its rights to launch attacks on military targets within the Gaza Strip, indeed the United Nations Charter permits such acts. However, if you believe that the Israeli actions have gone beyond proportionate, and risk the deaths of too many innocent bystanders, then one way of preventing it is to prevent the supply of further armaments.

I've always taken the view that fighting conventional wars against terrorist organisations is fairly futile. They do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions, think nothing of using innocent civilians as shields for their attacks and, when attacked, are content to melt back into that very civilian population until another opportunity for terror appears. The Israeli government and military appear not to share my view, and the result is a level of civilian casualties that is being waved as a shroud to persuade Arab opinion of the evil of the Israelis. It isn't a hard sell.

In terms of cynicism, Hamas are hard to beat. They appear to be doing everything to maximise the impact of Israeli attacks, and suggestions that they have at times prevented the injured from being evacuated to Egypt indicate their desire to blacken the reputation of Israel regardless of the cost to individual victims. If the rocket attacks stopped, international pressure on Israel to stop its attacks would become impossible to resist but the number of 'martyrs' would also stop climbing and the radicalisation of Palestinian youth become that little bit more difficult.

So,by joining the calls for a ceasefire, and proposing action which might bring such a ceasefire closer, are Liberal Democrats taking an anti-Israel stance? No, I think not. Is it likely to be successful? Actually, I doubt it, but it is better to try than to do nothing. If anything, it's a bit idealistic, but what's wrong with a little idealism in a war-weary world?

I do despair of Iain sometimes. He has a first-class mind in a second-class political party, and if he concentrated on the argument rather than the partisan soundbite, would have even more of my respect than he does now. Or is he now so desperate to become a Conservative MP that he is willing to sacrifice his principles from time to time to achieve that? It may be naivety on my part, but wasn't politics once an honourable profession? Wouldn't it be better if someone whose opinions are taken seriously set an example? Over to you, Mr Dale...


Paul Walter said...

Great post Mark

Iain Dale said...

Mark, I think the point I was making in my article was a perfectly valid one. I have yet to see any comment from a LibDem spokesman showing any degree of understanding or empathy with the situation Israel found itself in. I was pointing out the LibDem Friends of Israel has a rather tough task on its hands, something which ought to be fairly self evident I suppose.

What I said may be seen as a party political attack, and I suppose it was, but I do think the LibDem approach has lacked any semblance of balance. At least William Hague and David Miliband have tried to keep a semblance of impartiality - too much IMHO, but there we go.

You say I just quote one LibDem MEP (porbably the best known one at that) but there are loads of other examples - Jenny Tonge, various LibDem blogs (one of whom refered disparagingly to "The Jews" yesterday). I have yet to see a single LibDem blog or politician speak out with any degree of understanding of Israel's situation. I think it is entirely legitimate to point that out.

You say "I've always taken the view that fighting conventional wars against terrorist organisations is fairly futile." But you fail to offer any alternative, by which you imply you think Israel should just sit back and accept that dozens of rockets every week will be fired onto its civilian population.

You say I am desperate to be a Tory MP. I don't know how often I have to point this out, but if I were desperate to be a Tory MP, do you not think I might have actually applied for a seat? The last one I applied for was well over a year ago. Draw your own conclusions.

And for you, Mark, to accuse me of playing a party political card is a little bit pot and kettle, don't you think?!!!

Oranjepan said...

Is this Iain Dale chap a nutter?

He's trying to have it every which way and all at once!

The evolution of military tactics has always been a balance between technological advancement and it's human counterweight.

So unless and until Israel can develop a sufficiently 'smart' response to low-tech attacks (ie a micro-SAM defence shield for every house?), or find it politically justifiable to completely obliterate all potential attackers (impossible without forcing their opponents into a pitched battle), then the best that can be hoped for is to minimise the actual levels of violence while this anti-war dissipates.

So, I'm with you, Mark, in that taking the battle to the terrorists is futile. Just like trying to tell Aghanis how they should run their country at the butt of a gun is futile: they know everyone eventually leaves.

I don't think showing empathy or understanding is helpful in a situation like this, at least not at a political level. We need to be candid, honest and frank, just like only good friends can - and especially so with ourselves, otherwise we will lose all credibility.

Any 'war on terror' is a distraction from the failed politics of the party in power.

I'd be interested therefore in your view, Mark, of the internal power struggles between Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu etc. Where is the liberal party offering a serious solution?

Anonymous said...

But you fail to offer any alternative, by which you imply you think Israel should just sit back and accept that dozens of rockets every week will be fired onto its civilian population.

Idk, how about accepting that decade of peace that Hamas offered?

Oh, but of course, that would mean purging the settlers. Far better to continue the war and keep the Right happy...

And for you, Mark, to accuse me of playing a party political card is a little bit pot and kettle, don't you think?!!!

An ad hominem. I wonder why it was that Mark called you a "First class mind", because I truly fail to see how you have done a thing to earn it.