Sunak's message to Israel: Carry on with the slaughter
Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s most feted post-war prime minister, was fiercely pro-Jewish and a powerful enemy of antisemitism.
But she was never afraid to call out Israeli war crimes, and did so repeatedly.
When the Israeli army stood by in September 1982 as Christian Phalangists slaughtered Palestinian refugees and Lebanese citizens in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps, she described the massacres as "an act of pure barbarism".
And, as historian David Cronin has exposed in an illuminating article for Declassified, she wrote to then US President Ronald Reagan of “an urgent need for a balanced policy”, adding that “unlimited support for Israel can only lead to growing polarisation and despair in the Arab world”.
This is nonsense.
The historical record shows that Thatcher would have arrived in Tel Aviv swinging her handbag. Of course, she would have extended her deepest sympathy to Israel for the attack on 7 October. But she would also - as a strong supporter of Israel - have given Netanyahu a stern lecture on morality, international law - and global statesmanship.
What a contrast with pitiful Sunak, who has come to Israel as Netanyahu’s poodle.
Sunak made a mistake when he expressed Britain’s “unequivocal” support for Israel, thus giving Netanyahu, leader of the most far-right government in the country’s history, carte blanche to order war crimes.
Sunak’s reckless language means that Britain is already complicit in the carnage committed across Gaza by Israeli bombing over the last 12 days, the destruction of hospitals and civilian infrastructure, the targeting of schools, the wiping out of entire families, and the slaughter of approaching 4,000 Palestinians.
To be fair, this policy of giving Israel impunity to commit war crimes did not start with Sunak.
It was reaffirmed recently by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson who, in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel in April 2021, announced that he would block an International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.
In a further show of support for Israel, on 18 October, Sunak ordered Britain to abstain on the United Nations resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses” in order to deliver essential aid to save lives in Gaza.
Sunak’s government is seemingly untroubled by Gallant's claim that Israel was fighting 'human animals'
Netanyahu would have got the message: carry on bombing.
I have studied Sunak’s comments to the media and speeches in parliament. There has not been one mention, let alone condemnation, of Israel’s declared policy of collective punishment, as formally set out by Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, with his announcement of a “complete siege of the Gaza Strip” with “no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed”. Even though such action is illegal under international law.
Sunak’s government is seemingly untroubled by Gallant's claim that Israel was fighting “human animals”.
Gallant has since made the terrible statement that Israel “will eliminate everything” in Gaza. No condemnation from Sunak or his government. Many Palestinians understandably see this as genocidal language.
Gallant, remember, is the minister in charge of Israeli troops.
He is sending a murderous message to the soldiers under his authority who, if Israeli plans go ahead, will soon be entering the densely populated Gazan enclave, home to 2.3 million people.
Meanwhile, Sunak has already deployed a naval task force - including a company of Royal Marines, two ships and three helicopters - to the Eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel.
According to a British government statement, this military package will “reinforce regional stability”. Yet Sunak imposed no conditions in return for this support. No demands for restraint. No reminders of Israel’s solemn duty to protect civilian life.
When asked by Matt Frei of Channel 4 News whether he would be urging restraint on Israel, Sunak wouldn’t even answer.
This is especially remarkable given the outbreak of dehumanising language among Israel’s political and media elite over the past few days.
The activist Yehuda Shaul has compiled a collection of such quotes. They are beyond chilling. Likud MP Revital Gottlieb calls on Israel to “bring down buildings! Bomb without distinction! Flatten Gaza. Without mercy!”
Another Likud MP, Ariel Kallner, calls for "Nakba to the enemy now”.
This deranged discourse has raised no concern from Sunak’s Downing Street. Not even an eyebrow. There’s been no rebuke, and it’s easy to see why. The most senior politicians in Israel are at it. Up to and including President Isaac Herzog himself. “Nobody is innocent in Gaza,” according to him.
Fair game for slaughter
Think of the licence to kill this grim statement from Israel’s head of state sends out to Israeli troops ahead of the looming invasion.
According to Herzog, Gaza's civilians are fair game for the slaughter.
There’s no evidence this troubles Sunak, who met Herzog on his visit to Tel Aviv. Sunak’s message: carry on with the slaughter.
Israel has killed more than 1,500 children in Gaza since the latest bombing began. Not even a passing mention.
In the West Bank, Palestinians are under systematic settler attack amid fears of a wave of ethnic cleansing. No mention.
At one point, Sunak even extended his sycophancy towards Netanyahu into servility, telling the Israeli prime minister at their joint press conference that “I know that you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians” - a lie which insults the memory of the thousands of Palestinians killed or injured in Israeli bombing raids over the last 12 days.
Ever since the Second World War, Britain has claimed to stand up for what we fondly call liberal values. Sunak has made these values worthless
All this means that Sunak’s visit to Israel is a shaming day for Britain. It marks the moment that all my country’s claims to represent fairness, decency and the rule of law - admittedly always hypocritical and self-interested - have been abandoned.
Sunak’s moral vacuum alarms even the dictators and despots whom Britain counts as allies across the wider Middle East. The British prime minister apparently plans to make a series of visits across the region in the days ahead.
Exactly where is being kept secret, officially for security reasons. The real reason, it is not difficult to guess, is that Sunak is no longer welcome and fears being snubbed.
Ever since the Second World War, Britain has claimed to stand up for what we fondly call liberal values. He’s made these values worthless. It is hard to exaggerate the scale of this betrayal.
I also think that Sunak’s moral negligence is a tragedy for Israel itself. The last thing Israel needs at this dark moment is a blank cheque to commit further war crimes.
Sunak had an opportunity, as a true friend of Israel, to urge restraint. He has not taken it.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.