CST Blog

Johann Hari: "servile" British governments

8 February 2011

Writing in The Independent on Friday 4th February, Johann Hari provided the latest example of grotesquely overblown claims in mainstream media about the strength of the pro-Israel lobby.

...we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey. 

The myth of Jewish power dominates antisemitism. If Jewish power tricks others to go to war, or imposes tyranny on its behalf, then for the good of society, surely Jews must be exposed and routed. (Hitler had a more Final Solution to this same problem.)

Hari does not, of course, go this far. He makes no mention of Jews: as either being the lobbyists, or not being the lobbyists. Rather, he simply says “its loudest and angriest lobbyists here”. What will his readers take him to mean? And who will they think he’s talking about?    

The plural, “our governments obey”, is also very important. It is not just this Government, or a particular previous Government. Rather, it is “our governments” that “obey”. Deliberately or not, the plural adds a conspiratorial punch. It is every government that is “servile” (here...and perhaps overseas? In America too?)  

So, Hari effectively leaves it all to the reader’s imagination

  • Who are these lobbyists? How can we recognise them?
  • Are they actually British? Are they Zionists? Can pro-Israelis be British, or will they always be a fifth-column?
  • What else do “our governments obey” them on? What can we, (authentic) people, do about this?

The real head-shaker in all of this is that Johann Hari and his editors have sternlyopposed antisemitism in the past and no doubt remain sincerely and utterly opposed to it.

I say that Hari and The Independent hate antisemitism, not for legal reasons, nor to heap sarcasm or scorn: but because I firmly believe that they do hate antisemitism. And yet, it fits their worldview to write and publish such risky nonsense, typifying in miniature, how large sections of the liberal-left commentariat

  • Grotesquely over-exaggerate the influence of a non-defined and amorphous pro-Israel lobby, that is more conspiracy myth than it is tangible reality
  • Are either ignorant about the enduring motifs and dangers of antisemitism; or simply dismiss those risks in their urgent mission to expose and combat the machinations of the all-powerful lobby
  • Utilise the kind of loose, dangerous, over-hyped language that they would recognise and condemn in other contexts, particularly if they were directed against Muslims, Blacks or homosexuals.

Of course, both the detail and context of Hari’s accusation about our servile governments obeying is greatly important. If the accusation is true, then both author and publisher have performed a public service and should be applauded.

Hari was actually writing about the upheavals in Egypt. His column was entitled "We helped to suppress the Egyptians". It notes how, “very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons...British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because its not formulated by us”

Hari then wrote how former MP Lorna Fitzsimons had assured “a conference for Israel’s leaders” that they could ignore British popular opinion as UK foreign policy “is an elite issue”. He says this is “repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business...access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.”

Hari’s mention of the Israeli leaders’ conference suggests where he’s leading, and “influential sectional interest groups” hints at the same destination: but, he’s not quite there yet, because he then explains that “our governments” give “three reasons” for their Middle East behaviour. Hs article covers each in turn, “Oil...Israel and the ‘peace process’...Strongmen suppress jihadism”.)

It is whilst covering the second of these three “reasons”, that Hari actually spits it out

...we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey. 

There are many reasons for the centrality of Egypt to the Middle Eastern peace process; and for Britain’s failure to oppose years of Egyptian eagerness to physically and politically seal Gaza. It is preposterous to simply lay this at the door of British governments' servility to pro-Israel lobbyists (and American financial aid to Egypt).

You need firm proof to start playing fast and loose with antisemitic conspiracy themes, particularly in an article that premises itself upon the notion of British democracy being betrayed on foreign policy issues. Britain plays a smallish role in Egyptian and Gazan affairs, but it is plain wrong to say that this is all anti-Palestinian, never mind that it is due to successive governments being servile to pro-Israeli lobbying.

Personally, however, I cannot think of any aspect of British government policy that would justify the extent of Hari’s accusation. Neither can I see how it fits with all manner of previous criticisms, explicit and implicit, that British governments, ministers, party leaders and prime ministers have made of Israeli policy. (Unless these are all simply smoke and mirrors.)

Still, who knows? Perhaps this servility is why Israel beat England & Wales to host the forthcoming European Under 21 football championships. Or, perhaps the servility is only employed for the really serious things in life: like wars, blockades and propping up the leadership of the Arab world’s leading country.     

The word “servile”, according to the Collins English Dictionary –

servile [?s??va?l]


1. obsequious or fawning in attitude or behaviour; submissive

2. of or suitable for a slave

3. existing in or relating to a state of slavery

4.(when postpositive, foll by to) submitting or obedient

[from Latin serv?lis, from servus slave]

There is simply no justification for an anti-racist journalist to use such absolutist rhetoric in an anti-racist mainstream daily newspaper. British governments do not behave like slaves to Israeli politicians and their UK based minions. It is ignorant, divisive and dangerous to say, or imply, otherwise.

It is worth noting that only last month CST had a similar (but not identical) complaint against The Guardian’s Comment is Free website, where an author accused America of

slavish subservience to Israel

The Guardian’s Readers Editor responded seriously to CST’s concerns. After proper discussion, they regrettably opted to keep the word “subservience”, but the word “slavish” was removed, as was a reference to

Israeli-American global domination

Of course, British policy in Egypt and Gaza does not amount to “global domination”, but surely that is what the British end of this would either be, or would aim to be: just a junior part in a bigger, global conspiracy.

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