Comment: Selective approach to moral indignation

Lady Warsi has announced that she is has resigned from the government because she can no longer support government's policy on the recent Gaza conflict. Picture: Getty
Lady Warsi has announced that she is has resigned from the government because she can no longer support government's policy on the recent Gaza conflict. Picture: Getty
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Outcry over Israeli action in Gaza should be equally vociferous against other regimes in the Middle East perpetrating atrocities, writes Allan Massie

Lady Warsi, minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, former chairman of the Conservative Party, and Britain’s first female Muslim cabinet minister, has resigned in opposition to the government’s policy on Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

She is appalled by the slaughter, and believes that the Israeli government should be brought before the International Criminal Court and charged with war crimes. Her principled resignation will be widely admired, and her stance applauded.

Israel still has many friends in Britain, but they are fewer every day. Condemnation of Israel’s latest military actions is general, and it is fair to say that only the “Israel Right or Wrong” lobby is not horrified by the death toll in Gaza, and particularly by the number of children killed. The Israeli argument that the assault on Gaza was a legitimate response to Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities is rejected

The indignation is understandable. Few are persuaded by the question posed by Israel’s defenders: what would we do if rockets were being fired at London or Glasgow? On the contrary, many seem to think that any military response to these attacks is unacceptable. Israelis, scuttling to shelters, should just grin and bear it.

Now I hold no brief for the present Israeli government. I think it’s deplorable and one which is acting against the long-term interests of Israel. It seems to have abandoned any belief in the Two State solution, and to believe that Israel can maintain its grip on the West Bank and its imposition of what has with some reason been called “a prison camp” on Gaza indefinitely. This is not a belief which Israel’s defenders here, or those of us who wish Israel well, should encourage. The value of any short-term gains is outweighed by the damage done to Israel’s reputation and, almost certainly, to its security in the long run. At the very least any advantage gained by the present assault on Gaza is likely to be short-lived.

Yet it should be said that our indignation – Lady Warsi’s indignation – is curiously selective. What is happening in Gaza is not the worst thing happening in the Middle East today, and awful as Israel’s war may be, it pales into insignificance when compared to the continuing civil wars in Syria and Iraq. Israel makes war with a certain degree of restraint. It sends warnings of the targets it is aiming at, and it permits humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. It certainly isn’t waging all-out war.

Some 1,800, perhaps 2,000, people have been killed in Gaza. Last week, Isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) proudly released a video showing its execution of hundreds of captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit – Saddam Hussein’s’ home town. This week Isis has taken the towns of Zumar and Sinjar in north-east Iraq. Sinjar was housing refugees belonging to Iraqi minority groups who had fled the fighting elsewhere. It is also home to many Christians and to Yazidis, a religious sect allied to Zoroastrianism; its members are absurdly regarded by Sunni jihadists as devil-worshippers. As many as 200,000 people may have fled. The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Nikolay Mladenov, says that a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding. The refugees, fleeing into the desert and mountains, are in urgent need of medicine, food, and water. Their plight is considerably worse than the plight of Gaza residents, but it receives little notice here, and one can’t help thinking that this is, in part at least, because Israel is not responsible. Isis incidentally has just seized territory in Lebanon for the first time. One can’t doubt that executions of prisoners will follow.

All over the Middle East Christians are suffering persecution, being killed or driven from places where their ancestors have lived for generations. Many of these Christians are members of indigenous Churches which have been established in these parts since Biblical times. The Syriac Catholics, for example, worship in a language which derives from Aramaic, the tongue spoken by Jesus. Christianity in the Middle East flourished in the days of the Roman Empire, was tolerated by the Arab Caliphate and its successor, the Ottoman Empire. It is now in the process of being eradicated. Communities which have contributed to the rich tapestry of Middle Eastern culture are being subjected to ethnic, sectarian, or simply religious cleansing. Individuals are being murdered, the faithful being driven into exile and their churches and holy places ransacked, despoiled and destroyed.

It is monstrous, dreadful, appalling. Choose any such epithet you please, and it will still be inadequate to describe what is happening. But the indifference of the West, and particularly of the left-liberal West, is itself shocking. People who carry banners calling for a Free Palestine, Free Gaza, have nothing, it seems, to say about the worse horrors now taking place in other parts of the region. One can only conclude that this is because the vicious and criminal perpetrators are not Israelis.

Partly, this display of selective indignation may be justified by the belief that it is possible to put such pressure on Israel that its government will change tack, while nobody can even hope that western disapproval will have any effect on the fanatical jihadists of Isis. Partly, it may even be seen as a compliment to Israel: we judge Israel by higher standards than we judge Arab armies and regimes. This may properly be described as racist, though those who condemn Israel and pay no heed to Islamist atrocities would be horrified to be told that the double standards they display are evidence of racism. Be that as it may, three things are clear. First, ghastly as the Israeli assault on Gaza has been, it was not unprovoked. Second, its horrors, however real and undeniable , are mild in comparison with the atrocities committed by Islamists to which we seem indifferent. Third, as a result of Israel’s actions and the liberal condemnation of them, the vile disease of anti-Semitism is again spreading through the western world.