Why have so many politicians chosen to remain indifferent to the plight of Palestinians?
Sympathy and support are continuing to grow for the plight of Palestinians amongst Brits, particularly amongst the younger generations, as the Israeli occupation expands and becomes more brutal. A YouGov poll from this year showed that of the 2,037 members of the British public sampled, 23% are more sympathetic toward Palestinians, compared with 10% who sympathise with Israelis. This is augmented amongst 18-24-year-olds, whereby 37% side with Palestinians, in contrast to a mere 4% sympathising with Israelis. The desire for the British state to recognise Palestine as an independent state is also high amongst this demographic, with 40% in support and 8% opposed. That being said, why is the Western political landscape still heavily tilted towards support for the Israeli occupation?
The UK, a former colonial power in the Israeli occupied region during the early to mid 20th century, has supported Israel immensely through a bilateral arms trade – as seen in the £46m spent by the Ministry of Defence on military equipment from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) between 2018 and 2020. Likewise, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found that between 2016 and 2020, the UK exported some £400m worth of arms to the IDF. These very same arms and components were used in the airstrikes on Gaza in May 2021, killing over 232 people, 65 of which were children. Furthermore, Conservative cabinet minister, Michael Gove, has recently proposed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill, intended to ban councils from imposing boycotts on Israeli imports. “These sanctions not only undermine UK foreign policy but lead to appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse”, Gove claims. This has repeatedly been used as a ‘strawman’ argument by many Conservatives to ward off any criticism of the military occupation which they have benefitted from in the past. Therefore, for many people, rejecting the Israeli state’s Zionist regime does not mean they are inherently against Israel’s population. Instead, for many, this issue is secular and rooted in humanitarianism, and the desire for Palestinians to gain their own state.
The US and its European allies have been resolute in their sanctions against Russia and support for international war crime investigations in the wake of their invasion of Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron declared that war crimes had been committed in Ukraine, prior to the UN’s (United Nations) investigation. Following this, the EU called for and established a tribunal to investigate war crimes committed in the region. However, a change in attitude can be noticed when the issue of sanctions relates to a country outside Europe. Despite Amnesty International calling for the UN Security Council to sanction Israel for violating international law (by enforcing apartheid and committing crimes against humanity), the West has turned a blind eye.
Young people are beginning to realise that hypocrisy is rife within the western political establishment, that the Palestinian struggle deserves as much attention as the struggle of the Ukrainians, and violations of international law are not limited to European soil. As the ex-Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said, “the least we can do as a country is recognise the state of Palestine […] to show that we are serious in speaking against the abuse of human rights […] and an end to the occupation.”