Why it’s wrong to say the “Israeli lobby” controls Britain

Sunday 03 March 2024 https://socialistworker.co.uk/

It’s more accurate to say that Israel is used as an important part of the West’s wider imperialist project

Joe Biden visits Israel, rejecting claims that Israeli lobby controls Britain

Joe Biden meets Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Picture: US Embassy Jerusalem)

Is the British government’s support for Israel due to an “Israeli Lobby”, or is it about something much deeper? The surge of solidarity with the Palestinian people amongst ordinary people in Britain has made millions more aware of Britain’s complicity in Israel’s genocide. It’s easy to see that our government, which has directly handed £574 million worth of arms to Israel since 2008 and tries to crush Palestinian solidarity and protest, does all this to serve its ally in the Middle East. 

But trying to answer the question of why the British state backs the Israeli state so completely is where activists can sometimes trip up. Instead of identifying Israel’s part in the West’s imperialist project, some imagine that an “Israeli Lobby” is controlling and influencing Western leaders to do its bidding. Unfortunately this theory can play into the hands of our enemies, especially when the term “Israeli lobby” is swapped with the term “Jewish lobby”

It can echo antisemitic tropes about how a small number of Jews secretly control everything from the media to politics. To avoid falling into this trap, Palestine activists must reach for a deeper understanding of the real motivations behind Western backing for Israel. For Britain and the West, Israel is still a vital watchdog used to try and maintain imperial control in the Middle East.

Israel acts as a last line of defence for Western imperialism in the Middle East, happy to do the West’s dirty work. So Israel is viewed as key to furthering Western interests and so must be seen as a component of a United States-led imperialist bloc. This doesn’t mean we deny that the Israeli state and its lobbyists work hard to maintain support from Western backers. 

It only takes a quick look at a list of the donations British politicians accept from states, lobby groups and organisations to discover how many accept money and trips from pro-Israel groups. Disgustingly several Tory MPs have accepted trips to Israel since the terror state’s attack on Gaza began last October. 

One of them was Tory MP for Hendon, Matthew Offord. He accepted a trip to Israel, worth £2,000, in November of last year from Elnet UK—an organisation which works to solidify Britain’s relationship with Israel. Offord was joined on the same trip by Tory MP for Brigg and Goole, Matthew Percy. Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick also took a trip to Israel, paid for by the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), with five other Tory MPs late last year. 

The Labour Party is no better. In 2020, in the run-up to the Labour leadership race, Keir Starmer received £50,000 from Trevor Chinn, an executive member of the British Israel Communications and Research Centre. Every Labour leader has been an ardent supporter of Israel—apart from one. 

Jeremy Corbyn stood out as a pro-Palestinian voice within the Labour Party and was ousted following accusations of antisemitism. Some believe that the Israeli lobby was wholly to blame for the witchhunt of Corbyn. But believing that pro-Israeli lobbyists were the sole reason why Corbyn was ousted from the party lets the Labour Party off the hook.

This idea ignores the true nature of the Labour Party and the reasons why so many of its leaders worked to get rid of Corbyn. The Labour Party has always stood with the imperialists and seen itself as a mediator between workers and the bosses. This was why the Labour right was so hostile to Corbyn and wanted him gone. 

The Labour Party supported the Zionist state from the beginning, not because of lobbyists, but because it saw how important Israel was for maintaining Western imperialism. Starmer can boast that Labour supported the creation of a state of Israel even before the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Support for Israel and imperialism is knitted into the politics of the Labour Party.

It’s not something that the Israeli lobby particularly needs to buy or push for. Yet there is no doubt that the terror state and its lobbyists pump billions into Israel’s propaganda machine, its cultural exports and diplomacy. The task for the Zionists has always been to try and convince the rest of the world that it is a modern democracy like any other. 

Every effort is pumped into normalising relations with other states and obscuring its crimes against the Palestinians. It’s why the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in Israel desperately tries to fund efforts to crush the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. But to say that an Israeli lobby is in control of what Western governments do or say is to get things the wrong way around. 

In reality Western imperialism has been behind Israel’s very existence from the beginning. It could not continue, let alone persist in its brutalisation and displacement of Palestinians, without financial aid and backing from the West. The Israeli state will also be aware that the West has shifted some of its support to the ruling classes in the Arab world—especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

So it’s unsurprising that Israel is constantly trying to demonstrate its worth to Western powers, whether that is militarily or through other means. The donations and trips that Israeli lobbyists offer to MPs and politicians show that Israel still sees Britain as an important backer. Even though Britain might not be the imperialist power it once was, it can be relied on to back up and follow US interests. 

So whoever is in office, whether that is Labour or the Tories, they will see their interests served best by going along with the US as its junior partner when it comes to Israel. At times Israel’s interests and Western interests do not align. The West’s objective is to maintain Israel as a watchdog, while the objective of the Zionist project is to expand its grip on Palestine. 

One fracture between Israel and the West has been over settlement building in the West Bank. Some of the most warmongering, pro-Israel Tories, including Home Secretary James Cleverly, have vocally opposed settlement building. This is a part of the Zionist project that Western leaders want to be seen to oppose. It hides the West’s complicity in broader Israeli terror and keeps alive their assurances that a two-state solution is possible. 

Yet while they might make the occasional speech about how settlement building is bad, they still pump money into the Israeli state that facilitates it. Tension might exist between Western states and Israel, and sometimes the Zionist state might rile its backers, but it can still be reined in. It happened in 2021, following the Unity Intifada, the most unified, coordinated act of resistance by Palestinians for decades, when Israel decided to create a bloodbath in Gaza. 

Concerned about resistance from below in Palestine and in the region, Biden called for a ceasefire. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli state did what they were told. We mustn’t overestimate Israel as an enemy. 

We have to keep saying that, in reality, one word from Biden could mean that Israel would be forced to stop its assault on Gaza tomorrow. One threat of withdrawing funding by Israel’s Western backers could make it stop. We also have to say that a warped understanding of why the West backs Israel can have ramifications for the Palestine movement. 

If the logic is that Israel has so much influence over Western leaders, then what hope is there that protests and resistance can drive Western imperialists to withdraw their support? What hope is there that what we do here can make any difference? The pro-Palestine movement must reject the idea that an Israeli lobby is at the heart of the West’s support for the terror. We rage, against Israel and at an imperialist system that has made the horror of the Zionist project possible.