OPINION: Israel’s standing amid conflict and commerce

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OPINION: Israel’s standing amid conflict and commerce

In spite of the hammering Israel is taking in the court of world opinion, its work as tech champion and trading partner of the UK is returning to a kind of normality.

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

At an incidental meeting with a Jewish colleague, now retired, I was taken back by his vehemence. As a frequent visitor to Israel, both as a reporter and friend of the country, he was disparaging about the way Benjamin Netanyahu’s war against Hamas was being conducted. 

Israel had been ensnared into a trap set by Hamas with the unforgiveable atrocities of 7 October. He understood after the horrors of the Shoah that the words ‘never again’ were ringing in the ears of the leaders of Israel and its citizens, creating a great unity of purpose in avenging evil, securing the freedom of hostages and freeing Israel and the world of a terrorist organisation.

But the conduct of Israel’s campaign was unleashing something far worse. It had destroyed Israel’s credence as a democratic state; given Israeli extremists in West Bank settlements licence to go on a rampage and made life less safe for Jews in Britain, the United States and around the world. It would take ‘100 years’ for the damage to be repaired.

Personally, I wanted no truck with any of this narrative. Israel as a sovereign state has suffered the most egregious surprise attack of modern times. It was one many times more proportionally deadly than the 9/11 assault on New York, which led to the reshaping of the whole Middle East map.

Israel had no choice but to seek to eradicate the danger to its existence. As for the impacts on western Jewry: Israel is its permanent sanctuary and marches and hate speech – with robust leadership and political support – can and should be resisted. But it is the diaspora’s responsibility, not that of Jerusalem.

Alex Brummer

In spite of the hammering Israel is taking in the court of world opinion, its work as tech champion and trading partner of the UK is returning to a kind of normality. At the House of Lords this week, Lord (Ian) Austin, the UK’s trade envoy to Israel, hosted a reception for leading-edge Israeli climate change pioneers.

The packed meeting for Climate First attracted back to London from Tel Aviv the UK’s ambassador Simon Walters, who underlined the need to keep UK co-operation on science and tech on track; this in spite of some unhelpful diplomatic coolness from his boss Lord (David) Cameron. Among those attending the event were Shell’s top climate transition official in the UK, representatives of the London Stock Exchange and others from the good and the great.

A full schedule of sessions with leading UK energy groups, including power group Centrica, was scheduled with the aim of promoting Israel tech. Among the more innovative and proven technology is a ‘drone’ monitoring system which can evaluate the performance of 300 windfarm pylons in a day, revolutionising current practice.

Stripping back the elements of my conversation with my colleague and about the damage being done to Israel’s standing, it occurred to me that one needs to understand better the source of his narrative.

Broadly speaking, UK media has been good at explaining Israel’s case taking on the antisemitism distortions in the public debate. Even those papers considered to be over-sympathetic to Gaza and Hamas have strong, moral counter-vailing voices.

As an admirer of much of what the BBC does, I cannot but think that its Gaza coverage has been beyond the pale: the use of uncensored images, picked up from Al Jazeera and other Arabic TV stations, the failure to interrogate Palestinian voices on allegations of genocide which meet none of the legal criteria, the hostility to Israeli spokespeople and the sheer dishonesty of some of the coverage – all this is galling and reeks of double standards.

Many BBC reporters clearly feel passionately about the humanitarian damage. Who couldn’t be sympathetic amid pictures of malnutrition among children in Rafah? That is enough to weigh on the mind of even the most unwavering Israel supporters.

Nevertheless, badgering questioning on the Today show on Radio 4 and on Newsnight and repetitive images of battle-scarred Gaza streets and wide-eyed belief in the words of the enclave’s health ministry and UN agencies are hugely corrosive.

Against such a hostile background, we can be thankful the wheels of UK-Israel commerce are beginning to turn again.

  • Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail
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