When the barbarity of Hamas is duplicated by an important economic partner and strategic ally of the West, be unsurprised that Rishi Sunak has had nothing much to say about the deaths of Gaza civilians beyond that Israel has a right to defend itself.
Yet there is something unconvincing, an incompleteness, in mainstream explanations for his refusal to back a ceasefire, for his unquestioning loyalty to Israel.
Of course, there will be his fear of losing the UK votes of supporters of Israel and of its current hard-right government, particularly in a general election. And there is the Tory party’s historically lukewarm interest in human rights and justice issues.
However, a more persuasive explanation for his unwavering support for Israel seems likely to be something on which news outlets have been jarringly silent since last month’s terrible Hamas attack. Notably the BBC, because of their theoretically special relationship with the British public.
It’s almost inconceivable that any serious analysis of the Tory leadership’s rock-solid ‘we’re backing Israel’ position would not have found itself confronting a new, and major, UK-Israel defence, security and technology agreement signed earlier this year, and designed to build on an existing trading relationship with Israel worth £5 billion. It’s a deal hardly anyone is aware of.
International trade agreements may not make for the sexiest news stories. But in the post-7 October political context this particular pact becomes of irresistible relevance. The fact that news organisations, and in particular the BBC, have diligently ignored the slightest reference to it since the Hamas attack raises a range of questions, not least rather serious ones about the orientation of news-management.
Before the latest Hamas-Israel conflict, the UK’s Department for International Trade raved about the merits of this new agreement, and pointedly referred to a British bounce-back following Brexit.
It would “build on the current UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement, which replicates the scope of existing trade agreements between the EU and Israel”, it said.
“Israel’s economy” it added, “is growing rapidly, with its service sector growing by 45 per cent over the last 10 years. A new (agreement) will allow us to take advantage of this growth, generating ever more opportunities for UK firms to export their goods and services…”
And: “The UK is proud of its deep and historic relationship with Israel. As open, innovative and thriving economies, the UK and Israel are close allies and strategic partners.”
Since then, not a word. After all, Rishi Sunak would hardly want to upset the apple-cart. But neither did he, nor his media allies, want to say anything much to complicate the government’s simple narrative about Israel having the right to defend itself.
And the public’s right to the full picture? As Sir Humphrey, of Yes Minister fame, might have said: “It’s not our job to clutter up people’s minds with things they really don’t need to know.”
Sir Keir is playing politics with the people of Gaza
Do not squint in disbelief when Keir Starmer says a humanitarian pause in Gaza is “the only credible approach that has any chance of achieving what we all want to see in Gaza - the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering.” Do not make the mistake, he would have us believe, of thinking that a ceasefire would better alleviate the agonies of civilians tormented, killed, horribly wounded, their lives torn apart, by bombing and artillery shelling.
Instead believe these non-combatant victims would prefer just a lull in death and destruction, that they are so used to mass bloodshed they would positively welcome a return to mayhem after a few hours, a couple of days, of relative peace. Don’t we all hanker after continuity in our lives?
In choosing his words with precision, Starmer ties himself in knots unknown to even the most logically-minded of boy scouts. A ceasefire, he argues, would leave Hamas’s infrastructure intact, enabling them to carry out future attacks. This is speculation. It is not speculative to state that an end to bombing would save the lives of civilians who, under the laws of armed conflict, should have been left unscathed.
Then, careless of Keir’s plausible guesswork, along comes David Blunkett and lets the cat out of the bag. The former Labour home secretary tells us Starmer is right to align himself with the prime minister and with British allies in calling for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid into Gaza, rather than a ceasefire, because it showed the party was a “government in waiting”.
So there we have it. Align yourself with all the right people and you’ll win the election. On the way, Labour averts vitriolic attack by the Daily Mail, thereby hopefully retaining the invaluable votes of the Israeli camp.