Study reveals UK Parliament’s obsession with Israel

Research by blogger David Collier, based on a database of official transcripts of UK parliament proceedings, found an increasing obsession with Israel.

A guest post by Joe Geary

A recent article in The Times of Israel highlights compelling statistical evidence that the Israel obsession in British politics is not simply an impression, but hard reality.  The article is based on a report by David Collier, a researcher and blogger, who searched the online Hansard database – the official transcripts of proceedings in the UK parliament (both Commons and Lords) –  and discovered that Israel has been referenced 17,667 times between January 1, 1946 and January 20, 2019.  

To present this in context, Collier also provides the number of mentions of other countries in the wider region:

Number of mentions in Hansard between 1st Jan 1946 and 20th Jan 2019

Israel                17,667

Pakistan           12,171

Iran                  11,671

Syria                 11,468

Egypt                9,676

Palestine           7,032

Saudi Arabia:    5,187

Jordan:             4,780

Lebanon:          4,514

What caught our eye was that Israel received 50% more mentions than Pakistan, a country with a population of over 200 million, with historic ties to Britain, where several million British citizens have family relations, and which has been involved in four wars with its neighbour India in which hundreds of thousands have been killed. What does it have to do to get more attention than little Israel?

Or maybe it is because Israel has nuclear weapons? Then what of other supposed “trouble-spots” where nukes might be a consideration? We looked at a couple and were roundly disappointed. Kashmir, contested by as many as three nuclear powers, India, Pakistan and China, got just 1,765 mentions – one tenth the attention given to Israel. Taiwan, much coveted by China, fares even worse with just 1,559.

We then decided to use the same Hansard resource to concentrate on recent times, from 1st January 2005, the year Israel pulled out of Gaza, to the present day. We found that the fetishisation of Israel-Palestine is getting worse.

Here are the total mentions in this period of the immediate region:

Number of mentions in Hansard between 1st Jan 2005 and Dec. 31st, 2018

Israel               6,825

Gaza                3,378

Palestine         2,126

West Bank      3,543

A quick calculation shows that, between the years 1950 and 2000, Israel was mentioned in Parliament on average 380 times per year, but between 2005 and 2018 the average leapt to 525 time per year.

Again, this needs to be put in perspective.  So, we looked for mentions of other “troublespots”, including Sri Lanka, stage of one of bloodiest civil wars of modern times and Congo, more blood-soaked still. Closer to home? The Balkans. And finally those two potential nuclear hotspots, Kashmir and Taiwan, plus a third nuclear contender, North Korea. This is what we found:

Number of mentions in Hansard between 1st Jan 2005 and Dec. 31st, 2018

Sri Lanka          1,767

Congo               1,168

Balkans            1,024

Kashmir             598

Taiwan               277

North Korea     1,447

Thus Gaza alone (3,378) gets mentioned far more often than the three nuclear hotspots put together (2,322).

Lastly, we looked at a few ‘peoples’ and the stats were just as absurdly skewed. The thoroughly persecuted, dispossessed and periodically massacred Kurds, Tamils, Yazidis and Copts (Egypt’s Christians) do not merit, put together, the attention paid to the ‘people of Gaza’:

Number of mentions in Hansard between 1st Jan 2005 and Dec. 31st, 2018

Israelis                                                                 1,709

Palestinians /   Palestinian people*               2,964

“people of Gaza” / Gazans                              1,854

Kurds / Kurdish people                                      584

Yazidis / Yazidi people                                       326

Tamils                                                                   317

Copts                                                                       65

How do we explain this overwhelming parliamentary obsession with Israel?  Certainly, there are the well-known anti-Israel extremists who force debates about Israel on Parliament. The most notorious is Baroness Tonge:

“I am not anti-Semitic, but I am appalled by the racist, apartheid state of Israel” (Baroness Tonge 03/07/2007)

And then there was her suggestion in 2010 that charges that Israel harvested human organs in Haiti were plausible.

There’s also Lord Ahmed, who infamously blamed his conviction for a dangerous driving incident, in which a man was killed, on a “Jewish conspiracy”:

“I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss Gaza and the plight of Palestinian people, who currently live in the largest prison in the world”. (Lord Ahmed 06/07/2015)

Most prisons don’t fire thousands of rockets at neighbouring towns.

“In the three weeks of this latest Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people […]” (Lord Ahmed 06/02/2009)

If 1200 casualties – of mostly terrorists – is a “genocide”, what do we call the nearly 500,000 fatalities in Syria?

And then, alongside the manic-obsessives, there are also those who really should know better:

“The truth is that the easiest recruiting sergeant for extremism anywhere in the world is the absence of a Palestinian state”. (David Miliband. Lab 12/01/2009).

Really? Syria is plagued by civil war; Kurds battle with Arabs and Turks; Muslims with Hindus; Sunni and Shia Muslim extremist kill each other, plus any non-believers they can find, and Assad even slaughters Syrian Palestinians, all because they want to see progress on the Oslo Peace Plan? Someone should tell Miliband that it isn’t the non-existence of Palestine which so agitates Islamic extremists; it’s the existence of Israel.

Luckily, there are also wiser heads in the UK Parliament to set them right, firstly about the nature of Israel:

My Lords, [this] gives me an opportunity to address the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge […] her comment that Israel is an apartheid state. Perhaps we have all forgotten what an apartheid state was like. But, let me say just this about Israel: it has an Arab Minister in the Government and in the Cabinet. There is no ban on races mixing with each other. If you go to any hospital in Israel, you will see Arabs, Israelis and Druze whether they are being treated or whether they are doctors and nurses. In particular, the Weizmann Institute, of which I am the UK chairman, has Arabs and Arab professors who mix closely. Apartheid is a very dangerous word; it has all sorts of meanings and it is absolutely untrue to say that of Israel. (Lord Mitchell 03/07/2007).

And the real nature of Hamas in Gaza (light editing):

Gaza in its present state is a recurring threat to peace in the region. Rockets are continually fired at Israel. The Israelis inevitably lose their patience—they do so much less rapidly than I would if people were bombarding Lincolnshire with rockets on a regular basis—and intervene militarily.

Hamas is a very nasty, savage tyranny. The noble Baroness [Tonge] who introduced the debate did not mention this, but Hamas imposes its power by regular use of torture and execution of political opponents. I never hear her mention the words “torture” or “execution”.

A few weeks ago at Questions, I asked the Minister whether Hamas could bring to an end the blockade imposed by Israel, simply by accepting the quartet conditions: the giving up of violence, the recognition of the state of Israel and the acceptance of existing accords. The answer I got was yes, the Hamas regime could, any day it wants, get rid of these blockades. It chooses not to do so.

And this mixture of unpleasantness, tyranny, threat to world peace and denial is being actively subsidised by the international community to the tune of billions of dollars a year. The World Bank reckons this is probably the most subsidised community anywhere on God’s earth. The European Union makes much the biggest contribution to these subsidies, at about €1.6 billion.

The next generation of Gaza should not suffer the terrible incubus that the previous two or three generations have under the Hamas regime. (Lord Davies of Stamford, Lab 06/07/2015).

Why then this well-documented obsessive-compulsive fixation over Israel? What role does antisemitism play? Does the uniquely blanket coverage of everything Israeli by media outlets like the BBC and Guardian infect Parliamentary discourse to such a degree?

Whatever the reason, as Collier asks, would the British public be pleased to learn their Honourable lawmakers spend so much time arguing the rights and wrongs of Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza when they could be discussing effective policing, healing the ailing NHS and improving amenities for the disabled in impoverished Tottenham, Rotherham and Dundee – issues they can actually do something about?

(*The term ‘Palestinian people’ in its current sense does not occur in the Hansard transcripts until the late 1970s. What does appear is the phrase ‘people of Palestine’ (104 mentions between 1900 and 1975) which explicitly refers to ‘both the Jewish community and the Arab community’. The modern notion of some historical Arab ‘Palestine people’ was evidently unknown to British lawmakers until the term was launched in the late 1970s.)

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