Imagine that in considering its responses to Palestinian shooting attacks against Israelis in Judea and Samaria, or Hezbollah’s offensive tunnels in northern Israel, or Hamas’s rocket barrages into southern Israel, Israel was required to take British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s positionsinto account.
How would Corbyn’s leadership of Britain – the US’s closest ally and Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe – affect Israel’s maneuver room?
Following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s far-from-resounding victory in the no-confidence vote her Conservative Party colleagues conducted against her, this question needs to be considered urgently.
May’s victory Wednesday did not stabilize the political situation in Britain. The fact that 117 Conservative lawmakers voted to unseat her, and the fact that May felt compelled to commit not to seek reelection in 2022, showed how tenuous her grip on power is today.
Whether the government falls over the Brexit vote in March, or limps into the 2022 elections, one thing is clear enough: The Tories’ divisions work to Labour’s advantage. The weaker and more incompetent the Conservatives appear, and the more incoherent their governing ethos becomes, the stronger and more competent Corbyn and his Labour Party will look and the more compelling its message will become.
As a consequence, the time has come for Israel to take a long, hard look at the implications for Israel of a Corbyn government.
Generally speaking, most of the conversations about the implications of a Corbyn government revolve around the fate of British Jewry.
And this makes sense. Over the summer, pollsters found that nearly 40% of British Jews will consider emigrating if Corbyn becomes prime minister.
It is certainly reasonable to assume that if and when Corbyn becomes prime minister, there will be a wave of British aliyah unprecedented in scale. And Israel must prepare for their arrival, just as it must prepare for the arrival of a tens of thousands of Jews from France, Germany and Belgium.
But the prospect of mass migration of Jews out of Britain in response to Corbyn’s rise to power is but one aspect of the overall and entirely negative impact a Corbyn government will have on Israel.
Britain isn’t Turkey. Britain is a global power and a key player not only in Europe, but throughout the world. It is America’s closest ally and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
With Turkey, Israel took a major hit and continues to suffer the aftershocks of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s transformation of Turkey from a key strategic ally of Israel’s into a large and rapidly expanding threat to the Jewish state. Yet for all the damage Erdogan has caused and continues to cause Israel, the hit Israel took with him is nothing compared to hits it will take from Britain if and when Corbyn forms a government.
First of all, there is the issue of Israel’s bilateral ties to Britain. Last month, Liam Fox, Britain’s secretary for international trade, visited Israel to conduct negotiations toward a post-Brexit bilateral free trade deal with Israel.
Britain is Israel’s largest European trading partner. Trade between the two countries has increased massively over the past several years. Last year bilateral trade stood at $9 billion. In the first half of 2018, British exports to Israel increased 75% over the same period in 2017.
All of this will be jeopardized if and when Corbyn comes to power. In a speech in 2015, Corbyn expressed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. In his words, “I think the boycott campaign, divestment campaign, is part and parcel of a legal process that has to be adopted.”
HE ADDED, “I believe that sanctions against Israel, because of its breach of the trade agreement, are the appropriate way of promoting the peace process.”
At the Labour Party conference in September, Corbyn pledged to recognize “Palestine” as soon as he forms a government.
The economic hit that Israel is liable to take from reduced trade with Britain is dwarfed by the blow a Corbyn government will cast on its military and intelligence interests.
At the Labour Party conference, Labour members voted in favor of a motion to ban military sales to Israel. The measure didn’t come out of nowhere. Corbyn speaks frequently about banning such sales. This past April, shortly after the Hamas regime in Gaza initiated its operations against Israel along the border wall separating Gaza from Israel, Corbyn called for a review of British arms sales to Israel and attacked Israel’s efforts to keep the rioters from overrunning its territory as “illegal and inhuman.” He referred to the Palestinian rioters as “unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.”
He also called on the May government to support an “independent and transparent” UN investigation of the border clashes.
From 2015 through 2017, UK weapons sales to Israel totaled $445 million. Much of Britain’s arms exports are not stand-alone systems.
Rather, they are components in larger US platforms. For instance, 15% of the F-35 is made by British firms BAE and Rolls Royce. Components of F-16s and drones are likewise produced in Britain.
Does Israel have a ready alternative supplier to replace the British if and when Corbyn takes over?
Then there is the issue of intelligence cooperation. There are contradictory indications in everything related to intelligence cooperation between Israel and Britain. On the one hand, British and Israeli intelligence officials have acknowledged close cooperation between their agencies. On the other hand, documents published by Edward Snowden exposed widespread British espionage against Israel. Israeli targets exposed by the Snowden documents include Israeli diplomatic personnel in key African countries, MASHAV-Israel’s agency for international development, Israeli scientific research centers, particularly at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and defense firms.
There is nothing surprising about Britain’s spying. Britain has traditionally had a love-hate relationship with Israel, where it cooperates with Israel at the same time it undercuts it.
And yet, for all of Britain’s two-facedness, there is still a difference between an untrustworthy ally that knows your intelligence capabilities and operations and a hostile power having that information. This is doubly true in Corbyn’s case given his pronounced support and friendship for Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Russia.
Corbyn’s most powerful adviser is his communications guru Seumas Milne. Milne, who served in the past as opinion editor at The Guardian, is ferociously anti-Israel. Among other things, Milne has argued that Israel has no right to defend itself, and that Palestinian terrorism is justified. Officials in Jerusalem see his relationship with Corbyn as a sign that if and when Corbyn rises to power, diplomatic relations between the two countries will effectively end.
And ending Britain’s ties with Israel is just the tip of the iceberg. The UK is a global power. The first place his impact will be felt is among members of the British Commonwealth, particularly Australia and Canada.
In Australia’s case, this week most of the discussion relating to Australian-Israel relations revolved around the dispute brewing between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government on the one side and Australia’s foreign policy establishment on the other. Morrison and his colleagues wish to recognize that Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem. The foreign policy establishment opposes the move vociferously.
BUT WHILE we have been focused on this issue, we have ignored a larger issue. Over the past three years, Australia’s Labour Party has been following the lead of Corbyn’s Labour Party, particularly with regard to Israel.
Under the influence of former foreign minister Bob Carr, the largest branch of the party in New South Wales voted last year to recognize “Palestine.” The NSW branch has also voted to ban members from traveling to Israel on trips organized by pro-Israel groups. The Labour Party is expected to win the next Australian elections.
If and when Corbyn rises to power, the Australian Labour party is likely to be even more radicalized, particularly with regard to Israel.
A Corbyn government will likely have a similar effect on Canadian politics.
Beyond the Commonwealth, and far more importantly, stands America. Britain has more influence on American politics and culture than any other foreign power. Traditionally, British leaders have used their influence in the US to push administrations away from Israel.
For instance, immediately after the September 11 attacks, then-British prime minister Tony Blair flew to Washington. He was the first foreign leader to meet with then-president George W. Bush. Blair’s visit had a singular impact on US policy toward Israel at the dawn of the US war against Islamic terrorism. Thanks almost entirely to Blair’s lobbying, Bush agreed to exempt Palestinian terrorism against Israel from his general rebuke. Blair convinced Bush that Palestinian jihadists who waged a terrorist war against Israel were not as objectionable as al-Qaeda jihadists were. The consequences of Blair’s efforts are still being felt – as the victims of this week’s Palestinian terrorist attacks make clear.
A prime minister, Corbyn will have a profound impact on the balance of forces in today’s Democratic Party. There can be little doubt that his rise will empower radical, extreme Israel haters in the party at the expense of more moderate forces. If a prime minister Corbyn is met in Washington by a Democratic president, his influence on US-Israel ties will be profoundly damaging.
Liberal American philosopher Michael Waltzer has argued that leftist foreign policy in the US stems more from attitudes and prejudices than from a significant, rational view of the world. There are two main twitches that underpin the foreign policy of the American Left: anti-Americanism and support for empowering international institutions at America’s expense.
Given Corbyn’s oft-stated intention to unleash the UN against Israel, Israel can expect for the UN to become even more peripatetic and hostile in its anti-Israel operations in the era of a Corbyn government. Britain, a permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council is liable to submit draft resolutions condemning Israel on a regular basis. Other UN institutions from UNESCO to UNICEF to the World Court can be expected to intensify their operations against Israel on multiple fronts. And if a Democratic president serves parallel to Corbyn, the implications for Israel are liable to be disastrous.
On Wednesday, May responded to Corbyn’s attacks against her for her handling of Brexit by saying, “The biggest threat to the UK is not Brexit, it is a Corbyn government.”
It’s possible that enough British voters agree with her to ensure that the Conservatives will win the next elections. But it is possible that they won’t.
Israel cannot wait to find out. Israel needs to act now to prepare itself for the day after a Corbyn government is formed. Because without a doubt, Corbyn intends to use his power to harm Israel. And as the prime minister of Britain, he will have significant means to achieve his goal.