Benjamin Netanyahu at Davos in 2018. Photo: Flickr/Manuel Lopez Benjamin Netanyahu at Davos in 2018. Photo: Flickr/Manuel Lopez

Lindsey German on imperialist overreach and its global consequence

This has been an astonishing week that has marked a watershed in Israel’s war on Gaza. Even Israel’s closest allies have been forced to at least threaten sanctions to prevent it continuing its genocidal attacks on Gaza.

The deliberate targeting and killing of 7 aid workers, all but one foreign nationals, was the catalyst, but it accompanied a series of events including the Al-Shifa hospital being left in complete ruins, after sometimes lethal assaults on its patients and staff; the main source of news from Gaza, Al-Jazeera, being banned; and Israel bombing the Iranian consulate in Damascus, the consequences of which still haven’t played out.

This is on top of everything we have seen in 6 months of this brutal war.  An estimated 33,000 Palestinians are dead, although the real figure is likely to be much higher. This includes at least 200 aid workers and many journalists. Famine is stalking Gaza. Israel clearly does not want aid to get in because it is engaged in collective punishment of the Palestinian people. And it does not want news of its war crimes getting out.

This strategy badly misfired with the killing of the aid workers – most of them nationals from countries allied to Israel. These stories have dominated politics in Britain, the US, Canada, Poland and Australia as even loyal supporters of Israel are forced to condemn them. Few supporters of the Palestinians can have missed the contrast between the coverage of these deaths, tragic though they were, and that of the daily slaughter of the people of Gaza. But we should also recognise that last week’s events mark a turning point.

There is much talk here in Britain that David Cameron and the Foreign Office want an arms embargo, and that Rishi Sunak is the main barrier to one. However his resolve may be weakening as it is now openly discussed among Tory MPs. Further pressure has come from the letter of highly prestigious judges and legal figures questioning the legality of supplying arms to Israel and demanding it should stop. Even the densest Tory leadership will not want to get caught supplying arms and parts to a country being investigated for genocide, despite the bluster of Boris Johnson.

Cameron has said that support for Israel is ‘not unconditional’ but, as ceasefire talks continue to stall, the very least the British government should do is impose an immediate arms embargo. Yet Netanyahu’s government still acts with impunity and is defended by politicians here. Both MPs and the mainstream media repeat that Israel is ‘defending itself’ and that it is responding to the October 7th attacks. Keir Starmer is cutting a particularly pathetic figure, desperately trying to keep up with the Tories on this but terrified of being too critical of Israel. Labour’s membership loss since January is an indication of his failings.

Starmer, however, is on track to win the next election, something which is looking ever more difficult for Joe Biden. He is losing support from Democrats over Gaza, most recently in Wisconsin where a large minority registered their opposition to him at the primary. Biden is still approving arms to Israel, including fighter jets. He has however had to threaten Netanyahu in stronger terms than before.

So, six months on from the October 7th attacks, this is the weakest and most isolated that Israel has been since the war started. It is now an openly pariah state, and the evidence of war crimes is piling up. One very important element in Israel’s isolation and the crisis for our politicians is the level of protest seen here in Britain and worldwide. The demand to stop arming Israel is becoming much more central to the movement. According to polls, this demand and calls for a ceasefire are supported by the majority of people in Britain. Both Tories and Labour are isolated on these questions.

The movement here is remarkable, with 11 national demonstrations all in six figures, suggesting a huge level of mobilisation and commitment. Every week there are actions for Palestine, whether meetings, vigils, protests at arms factories, demonstrations, or student occupations. The Palestinian ambassador addressed the conference of NEU, the largest teachers’ union, and a big fringe meeting took place in the hall.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the movement internationally and the solidarity with the Palestinian people is changing politics overall. The crimes of Israel are there for all to see, but so too the role of the imperialist powers in maintaining the continued oppression of the Palestinians. The Arab states are implicated in this, with countries from Egypt to the UAE doing little to challenge, and sometimes helping, Israel’s war aims. This is despite the support for the Palestinians among the people of the Middle East.

Israel faces opposition internally, as evidenced by very large demonstrations calling for the return of the hostages and opposing Netanyahu’s war strategy. Hamas may have been weakened but it clearly has not been defeated, and the IDF has suffered big losses. But so far very few of those protesting oppose Israel’s occupations and repression of the Palestinians. This was also true of the protest movement last year before October 7th.  These views have their roots in the nature of the Zionist state and its foundation through the displacement of the Palestinian people.

It is obvious that the two-state solution, which western politicians pay lip service to, is not going to happen. Gaza is all but destroyed, the West Bank riddled with illegal settlements. Justice for the Palestinians demands one democratic secular state ‘from the river to the sea’ where Jews, Muslims and Christians live together as they have done in the region for hundreds of years. That is a very different proposition from the apartheid state we have at present. It requires that every one of its citizens are treated equally and that the descendants of those Palestinians driven off their land have the right to return.

Politicians prepare us for more wars

Two former Tory ministers, Ben Wallace and James Heappey, want us to do more to prepare for world war. They join a growing clamour internationally as the failed strategy of the imperialists only makes them double down on the need for more weapons to fight ‘enemies’ who only a few years ago were their friends. Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, declares that we are in a ‘pre-war era’, echoing a similar phrase from Tory minister Grant Shapps only a few months ago. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is considering introducing national service or conscription. Tory MPs are urging the same course of action here.  Demands to increase arms spending grow.

The root of their concerns is the dire international situation that they have created. The ‘war on terror’ legacy is one of defeat for western powers, destruction of whole countries, the growth of Iran as a major regional power, and the Israel war. While China and Russia supported the US over Afghanistan, that support has noew turned to opposition internationally, with a new cold war looking increasingly hot, and a global arms race.

The Ukraine war, which is a proxy between Nato and Russia, is going very badly. Ukraine is suffering terribly, with huge casualties on both sides. President Zelensky signed off laws last week to lower the age of conscription and to get those who previously did not qualify for military service to have to be reconsidered. This reflects the lack of enthusiasm for a war where many are being killed or injured with no end in sight of the trench warfare which characterises it.

The justification for more arms spending and conscription comes from the supposed threat of Russia. But Putin’s armies have gained very little ground – a matter of a few kilometres – in the last year and cannot even conquer Ukraine, let alone invade Britain or another Nato state. Preparing for war when the US already has much greater military power than its next four rivals put together only does one thing – it makes war more likely.

It is also fuelling an arms race which is benefiting the shareholders of the big arms companies, and which is making the world more dangerous. As ‘dumb bombs’ and F16s have been poured into Israel, so tanks and ammunition are sent in record numbers to Ukraine. Those on the left who call for ‘arming Ukraine’ are doing a grave disservice to the people of Ukraine and Russia. Only a ceasefire and settlement can stop the horror of this war.

The double standards are glaring. Putin cutting off water and electricity to Ukrainians was immediately denounced as a war crime, whereas Starmer and Sunak justified it over Gaza. The west has supplied limitless weapons to the attacker in Gaza, not to those under threat.

With the western powers pursuing their cold war with China, there are talks to try to bring major military power Japan into the AUKUS pact. Rosa Luxemburg described the choice facing humanity as socialism or barbarism. The barbarism is already beginning – and opposing war also raises the need for socialism as its alternative.

This week: I’m preparing for a London demo on Palestine next Saturday, and for some local activities. I will be donating to the Counterfire crowdfunder when it is launched on Tuesday – please do so if you can. I will also be booking for the next Revolution event on 21st April. And I’m looking forward to reading the latest Socialist Register – pleased to have contributed a chapter to what is an important overview of the state of war, peace and imperialism.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.