Johann Hari: “servile” British governments

Mark Gardener over at the CST blog writes:

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 [ˈsɜːvaɪl]


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 servīlis, 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.

11 Responses to “Johann Hari: “servile” British governments”

  1. mark gardner Says:

    Thank you for posting the article. I’m increasingly concerned by the number of things appearing in mainstream media that are of this ilk – not directly about Jews, but using deeply meaningful words like “servile”.

    Its even more disconcerting when someone like Hari who’s written strong stuff against antisemitism (3 examples linked to in above article) – and, yes, strong stuff against Israel too – should nevertheless happily use such terminology.

    I intend to keep noting such examples, as Engage did previously with ‘the Livingstone Formulation’ and its variants.

  2. Shmuel Says:

    “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”

    This is a popular line at Engage.

    It is akin to saying that John hates bicyclists; therefore he does not ride a bicycle. But the photo in your pocket clearly shows John riding a bicycle.

  3. vildechaye Says:

    This article is good, but it left out something important. To me, one of the most interesting portions of Hari’s sentence was the bracketed “self-harming” bit. It is so revealing. Hari must think a lot of himself to think he knows better what is “self-harming” to Israel than its own voting population. Even the fact that it’s bracketed is revealing, it indicates a need to lecture Israel about its govt. extraneously, given that the topic isn’t about the Israeli govt. at all but rather about supposed British servility to it.

    Overall, the sentence reveals a lot of chutzpah, pushing a modern version of “Jews — oops, Israelis — control the world and its most important governments” while lecturing Israelis on their voting choices.

  4. Adam Levick Says:

    Excellent post. As an FYI, we commented on Whitbeck’s column in the Guardian – and his use of the words “slavish subservience”.

    Here’s one:

  5. Tweets that mention Johann Hari: “servile” British governments « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Akusia, Engage. Engage said: Johann Hari: “servile” British governments: Mark Gardener over at the CST blog writes: Writing in The Independen… […]

  6. mark gardner Says:

    Shmuel, I understand what you’re saying, and I think that the infamous New Statesman ‘kosher conspiracy’ cover said it all –

    something that was so obviously antisemitic that even anti-Zionist Jewish activists agreed that it was an outrage: yet New Statesman editor etc who are oh-so-clever, and oh-so-opposed-to-antisemitism, didn’t see it for what it was, and thought it was so clever and brave to publish.

    • Shmuel Says:

      Mark, my main point is that antisemitism is what someone does, not who someone is.

      If you ride a bicycle, you are a cyclist, even if you don’t identify as one per se. Even if you are “opposed” to cycling, if you ride a bicycle, then, well…

      From where I sit, British academics seem overly concerned with defending the “anti-racist credentials” of those that participate in bigotry. Is this a form of politeness? Because to me it seems silly.

  7. mark gardner Says:

    Shmuel, your point is well made, and exists along with the absurdity that I tried to point out in my article: namely, that sincere anti-racists don’t have a clue about antisemitism, and would seem to care even less about mainstream Jewish perceptions of it either.

    Yes, they all oppose antisemitism when it suits them, when it offends their own sensibilities – but to agree with, or stand up on account of mainstream Jewish (read potential Zionist) concerns…no way. In fact, opposition is the likelier course of action. Anti-racist solidarity with mainstream Jews? Forget it, that particular boat set sail with The Exodus, before sinking 26 years later in 1973.

  8. James Mendelsohn Says:

    Question: if the Israeli government and its lobbyists are powerful enough to shape British foreign policy, why are they seemingly so unable to prevent mainstream journalists using classic antisemitic motifs?

  9. Yossi Says:

    I have been hearing this meme about Western Government failure to intervene against strongman and opressive governments in Eygpt (in particular) and the broader Middle East. The irony of this position is that:

    A) Western Government in the form of the US Bush administration and UK’s Blair administration (alongside allies such as John Howard etc.) have intervened in the Arab world to try and bring Western style democratic, representative government to the Middle East. If I recall correctly, this was explicitly one of Bush’s war aims when they invaded Iraq (and Afganastan).

    B) The shrilliest opposition to US/UK/Western intervention in Iraq, to remove a despot tyrant dictator that gassed his own people, and actively engaged in genocide are the very same shrill voices that condem Western Governments for their failures to remove other Arab and Middle Eastern despots.

    C) If the US and her allies were to announce tomorrow that the US was going to actively engage in bringing down what is clearly an unpopular regime in Iran, we can hazard a guess what the headline in the Independet will be, no doubt including veiled references to the US pursueing a foreign policy in servile submission to the (mistaken) interests of another State.

  10. the_last_name_left Says:

    I’m surprised at Hari.

    FWIW I’m British and have never had a sense that Britain is servile to Israeli interests. I have honestly never heard anyone in real-life mention it either. Bizarre to imagine they would, so what is Hari on about? Britain pursues British ruling-class interests. Obviously, no? Seemingly no, so when did this change? I’d like Hari to explain.

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