Labour’s stance on Israel is the single biggest reason I’d never vote for it
My trip last year to Tel Aviv was a fantastic trip that offered an illuminating example of what a sovereign nation that takes its borders seriously looks like. Some think that Israel and Palestine don’t matter to ordinary British voters. I say that Labour’s stance on the matter is first on my list of reasons why I could never vote for it.
Remember the Labour party conference last year? No? I might have missed it myself were it not for the mass waving of Palestine flags, and Jeremy Corbyn’s promise that one of the first acts of a Labour government would be to recognise Palestine. Though dangerous and ill-informed, this policy is not, as many claimed at the time, irrelevant. It’s an issue that touches on more than just the land and people in question.
I visited Israel for the first time last February with a friend, intending to run the Tel Aviv marathon. My forced withdrawal due to injury was the only disappointment in a fantastic trip. After many conversations and nights out, some fascinating tours and a lot of hummus, I returned to the UK more determined than ever to support this remarkable country.
If Tel Aviv were not in Israel, those Palestine flag-waving Labour supporters and other left-wing types would flock to it. For those seeking great beaches, a vibrant nightlife, fantastic food, including a wide range of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, in a safe, secular and gay-friendly city bathed in Mediterranean sunshine for nine months of the year, Tel Aviv is unsurpassed. Along with lots of museums and parks, a growing cycle lane network, and, of course, plenty of history, it has that other great left-wing staple, diversity. Everyone we met had a fascinating family tree, from Armenians mixed with Russians and Arabs, to Prussian Poles and even a few Brits. Funny and friendly, even when we forgot to tip, they are determined yet modest in their patriotism, but nevertheless more than a little wary of danger. “Every Jew here”, a woman told me, “has a plan B.”
What most Jews in Tel Aviv don’t have is a grandparent born in Israel. Built on the northern boundary of the ancient city of Jaffa, once famous worldwide for its oranges, and home to a people whose roots in the land go back three millennia, Tel Aviv is not much older than the country itself, which last year celebrated its 70th birthday. It goes without saying that not every world leader sent a card.
The modish and ill-informed hatred of Israel is, curiously, often strong amongst Celtic nationalists. A Welsh friend, for example, who has travelled all over the world to watch his beloved national football team refuses to go to Israel. I find this terribly sad. He, like many of his countrymen, dreams of an independent Welsh-speaking Wales, yet won’t acknowledge the homeland of a similarly small nation, one not only born of a beleaguered and repressed people and surrounded by larger and often aggressive neighbours, but also united through Hebrew, an ancient language that had been dormant for centuries until the founding of Israel.
Like the USA, Australia and many other countries, Israel was created through a combination of emigration, settlement and land purchases, and on the other hand, yes, displacement, coercion and violence. However, while Europeans are relatively new arrivals to the aforementioned former colonies, there have always been Jews in Palestine (so named by the Romans to annoy the unruly Jews). To gladly visit the USA while boycotting Israel seems to me a tad incoherent.
Beyond the great questions of disputed land and anti-Semitism, Israel vexes many in Britain and the EU simply because it protects its borders and takes a dim view of attempts by terrorists to violate them. It has other reasons to be strict. A small country with limited fresh water, Israel cannot allow its population to swell from mass immigration and ‘refugees’, and recently carried out a brusque though reasonable large-scale expulsion that would be almost impossible in western Europe, not least because most of the unwelcome immigrants were black Africans. By contrast, and for the sake of balance, remember that in 2005 Israel vacated the Gaza Strip, at significant financial cost, and very much against the wishes of the Israelis living there. We have all seen images of Israeli troops aggressively searching elderly Palestinian women, and repressing gangs of Palestinian youths. Who remembers troops in those same uniforms dragging dozens of fellow Israeli citizens from their homes in Gaza? And do I need to remind anyone of what Hamas has done since this exchange took place? There could be no starker evidence for Israel that relinquishing land does not guarantee peace.
Israel is also quite picky with ostensibly peaceful tourists, even before one encounters the chaotic immigration zone of Ben-Gurion airport. I wish, prior to departure, every would-be visitor to the UK were interrogated by a British security official as thoroughly as my friend and I were, separately, at Luton airport before our flight to Tel Aviv. And speaking of airports, the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels in 2016 could not have happened in Israel, and not only because large-scale Muslim immigration is, shall we say, not encouraged. (Many people I spoke to were baffled, some even laughed, at the rapid growth of Islam in Britain and the EU.) Rather, three young Arab men sitting nervously in a taxi would not have got near the departures hall of the country’s main airport. Security is a serious business, free from political correctness and concerns about ‘discrimination’. In Tel Aviv, even the central bus station has metal detectors and baggage scanners. As my friend and I queued at check-in for our return flight, an attractive young female security agent politely interrogated me, laughed charmingly at my jokes, and then put a sticker on my boarding pass that took me to the intensive security queue.
Israel also knows that peace, prosperity and security are only possible with total sovereignty, which is one reason why, despite membership of UEFA and the Eurovision Song Contest (the next round of which will be held in Tel Aviv), it would never join the EU. Part of me, though, wishes it would apply, just for the resulting apoplexy in the EU Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats Group.
Some think that Israel and Palestine don’t matter to ordinary British voters. I say that Labour’s stance on the matter is first on my list of reasons why I could never vote for it.