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In the summer of 2006, while guiding 40 British school children across northern Israel, I found myself caught up in the Middle East conflict when Hizbullah rockets fired from southern Lebanon began raining down. For the next 48-hours an old bomb shelter in Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi provided safety and refuge from the relentless bombing, while frightened 16-year-olds from London, Leeds, and Manchester frantically tried calling home.
And yet back in Britain - far removed from the stark reality faced by the teenagers under my care - commentators from the Left immediately set upon Israel with a torrent of criticism. Indeed the pointed language employed, the distorted analogies drawn, and the malicious accusations made, were ultimately indicative of a wider phenomenon that has dramatically altered Britain's political landscape: the hypocrisy of the Left when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Indeed as coverage of events in Israel-Lebanon reached a peak, almost unreported in the British media was a telling parliamentary side debate - attended by a colleague of mine - regarding the Balen Report on alleged anti-Israel bias in the BBC. The side debate amply illustrated the true colors of powerful figures within the British Left.
It took the Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge, who in January 2004 was infamously relegated from her party's front bench for remarks that lent credence to suicide bombings, mere seconds to dismiss the report in its entirety. The truth, Baroness Tonge proclaimed, is so irreducibly obvious, so simple, that any deviation from this self-evident norm is heretical: "The reality is so simple my seven year-old grandson understands it. Israel is wrong and has been since it occupied a foreign land in 1948. The abused Palestinian people were, are, and continue to be the victims."
SUCH STARK moral absolutes belie the Left when it comes to understanding the complex and emotive conflict that has bedevilled the Middle East. We know that any solution will require painful compromise from both Arabs and Israelis. What it does not require is the simplistic approach of the British Left that offers unconditional support to the actions of only one side. If some on the Right have become associated with support for Israel, many on the Left have become allied with the negation of Israel's very existence. For every Jenny Tonge you can add a George Galloway, a Norman Finkelstein and a Noam Chomskyâ€¦ politicians and academics hell-bent on the realization of an impossible end to the conflict - the destruction of the State of Israel.
It is a loss for Britons across the political spectrum when a great political orientation with such proud historical origins has become so confused that it can only produce a dichotomy of right and wrong with no place for the real world's shades of grey. The Middle-Eastern utopia promulgated by the likes of Tonge and Galloway will remain forever unattainable if they continue to affix their cause to an injudicious faith in - and justification of - violent religious fundamentalism.
AND THE Left's shameful flirtation with the far-Right is hardly novel. London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, has embraced the Muslim Council of Britain which openly consists of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood's chief theologian, believes that Muslims who decide to convert to another religion should be put to death and has stated his support for female genital mutilation, wife beating and the killing of Israeli children. Sad to say, in July 2004 Livingstone welcomed al-Qaradawi to the UK.
While it may be the case that Tonge, Galloway, and Livingstone represent the extremes of the Left, few can deny their wider influence. Moreover their skewed understanding of "anti-imperialism" as a value above and beyond all others is deeply disturbing. One would think that there are other, perhaps more important values, which of course many in the mainstream Left continue to hold - including a commitment to human rights - that the extreme Left seems to have forgotten. Especially when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The writer was born and raised in London. In 2007 he graduated with honors from Queens' College, University of Cambridge, with a B.A. in History. He is currently a Legacy Heritage Fellow.
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