In case anyone didn't know, there's a war been happening in full swing over these last few weeks. Over 1400 civilian victims. Massive damage through air strikes inflicted by an immensely powerful military machine claiming to be out to defeat terrorism, although the terrorists have been armed with relatively insignificant weapons. Mosques with congregants at prayer in them have been bombed. In some of the most horrific of the endless air strikes, whole families have been wiped out in a moment. There are those who claim the actual numbers of civilian casualties are even greater-- maybe over three thousand. It's almost impossible to get at the truth, because there's the tightest control of press access. And there's a large and smooth-talking PR machine working at justifying the military onslaughts in the name of defeating terrorism.
And now, over the past fortnight there have been levels of protest not seen in the British MSM and on British streets since the 2003 protests over the Iraq War brought over a million onto the streets of London in the largest political protest ever staged in Britain.
Yes, the numbers have been much smaller. But one of the demonstrations mustered over 100,000 people. And some smaller offshoots of the demonstrations taking place almost daily have grown violent, smashing up branches of Starbucks, based on urban myths that Starbucks profits go to finance the bombing. There has been a steep rise in attacks on Jews and Jewish organizations. Students, sometimes supported by academic staff have begun a series of occupations in some of our most prestigious universities, demanding various forms of sanctions, particularly divestment and an end to any academic co-operation, together with support for the resistance organizations, as they call the terrorists. One of our most prestigious schools, the London School of Economics, has caved in, issued a joint statement with the occupiers and agreed to set up a committee which will consider proposals for divestment submitted by the students and anyone else who cares to.
But the protests have gone way beyond that. Day after day, the BBC, Channel 4, ITN and the quality newspapers across the board in the UK have run one report after another carrying horrific stories of carnage against civilians. Normally placid leader writers, columnists and commentators have been beside themselves with rage. We have had a government minister claiming the BBC is being cowed by the Israeli government into refusing to publicize a fundraiser for desperate war victims. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric of the Church of England (headed by HM Queen Elizabeth) has spoken out against the refusal. The Religion Editor of the Daily Telegraph, in a normally sedate corner of the British press, has expressed his disgust and nausea. The Prime Minister and senior government ministers have expressed enormous concern and horror about levels of civilian casualties. Opposition spokesman have joined them in condemning the air strikes and the devastation wrought as utterly disproportionate and unjustifiable, particularly in the light of large numbers of child casualties. There are repeated calls from all political parties for an investigation of whether this use of such powerful and deadly weapons against a civilian population has constituted a war crime. In a debate in Parliament last week, the great majority of members who spoke condemned the use of disproportionate force. The leader of the third largest political party has called for the UK and the European Union to impose sanctions.
The curious thing is, that the protests, the media outcry and the Parliamentary outrage haven't been about the war at all. That is, the war I've described in my first paragraph. That's a war in which British forces are playing a full part, including launching repeated air strikes and devastating use of sophisticated ground weapons on civilian areas in which terrorists conceal themselves. That's the war in Afghanistan.
The protests and the outrage have all been directed at Israel's actions in its Cast Lead operation against the Hamas regime based in Gaza.
And it's even more curious that the near disinterest in what's happening to the civilians of Afghanistan at a time when British hearts are being so stirred for the people of Gaza has been virtually unremarked on in British media commentary.
Why is this?
Consider the fact that the whole of the UK is on one time zone; one news cycle. Till just a couple of decades ago, there was only one monopoly radio broadcaster, the BBC. Almost anyone over 40 who grew up in the UK grew up and set down their political compass according to the BBC's carefully constructed and loving self-congratulatory view of its role as an impartial and balanced purveyor of news. In terms of the resourcing of its news operations, funding through a hefty annual tax placed on every household using a radio or TV, it's always tended to set the terms of the debate. Because of the way in which the tax-based funding facilitates training, a huge proportion of broadcasters with other networks spent some of their formative years training at the BBC, and acquiring its left liberal mindset. The BBC until very recent years had a profoundly respectful and deferential attitude towards government and particularly the armed forces.
You only have to compare how the BBC has been reporting the role of British troops in the Afghanistan with its approach to reporting the actions of Israeli troops in Gaza to gain an appreciation of the utterly different approaches. When the BBC reports what British troops have been doing, it focuses on reporting the military aspirations, the fighting soldier's account of his values and experiences and the successes against terrorists. Bad news is when a roadside bomb blows up a British soldier.
When it comes to what's been going on in Gaza, BBC reporters overwhelmingly go for weeping parents and children, preferably against a background of ruined houses. Whether it's India or Israel, the BBC tends to slip into lecturing mode, much as mainstream UK politicians do.
The population of the UK may now be one of the most culturally diverse in Europe, but its elite--including the elite who get to mould the news agenda as reporters, commentators, editors and producers, tend to have attended a narrow range of schools and Universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge). Nobody actually tells them what to think or write.
But given their shared upbringing, their imbibing of respect for BBC and MSM traditions, they bring to reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the de haut en bas condescension and lecturing attitudes that are nimbly satirized in this clip. Many have additionally acquired through their undergraduate days a New Left Marxist slant to their elitist disdain, bringing with it a sympathetic understanding of the concept of terrorism as "resistance" and a shining belief that any group espousing it with the support of their local populace cannot be defeated. A New Left slant is going to slant any reporter or senior politician towards seeing any powerful nation as a potential war criminal simply by using powerful technologies against opponents who have what appear to be rudimentary weapons. And taking on the concept of "resistance" usually seems to involve becoming impervious to the concept that stationing your fighters and your weapons where children, families and other innocent civilians live is a war crime.
And is the presence of 3,000,000 UK Muslims who are thought to need appeasement the real reason for the pro-Palestinian slant? I really don't think so.
Back in 1982, the UK press and politicians went into a similar spasm over the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Islamist politics were nowhere to be seen.
Then again, you can find ministerial statements expressing grave concern about disproportionate Israeli actions. Horrific reports of yet more civilian casualties buried under the ruins. A Jewish anti-zionist MP and former minister making passionate speeches denouncing the "repulsive" government of Israel (Sir Gerald Kaufman, seen in the clip above, above saying virtually the same things in 2009) .
Oh, wait a minute. That was the UK press and the political elite reporting on the IDF action against Hamas and Fatah terrorist groups in Jenin, following a huge spate of suicide bombings which ended the lives of hundreds of Israelis, back in 2002.