What happens in Israel matters to many of us, and for all sorts of reasons. So it is absolutely right - as this pamphlet emphasises - that Britain’s political system should have pressure groups whose concern focuses on Israel. Among the hugely important reasons are: the realpolitik of the middle east and its central place in the world’s energy supply; Israel’s important role in the globalised world of products and culture; the profound humanitarian impulses that extend sympathy to all those who have suffered; and above this, many of us have personal stories that give us direct or tangential interest in the fate of this young State and the possibility of an even younger Palestinian State. Welcome to globalisation.
The fates of nations and peoples are intertwined. A central theme of openDemocracy’s publishing throughout the last decade has been that globalisation does not flatten the world (as the narrow-minded Washington consensus of the 1990’s would have had it); rather, it layers yet another level of complexity and particularity to every social existence. Andre Malraux boasted that “every human being has two countries: his own and France”. We can now extend his thought in all humility: we all of us have many, perhaps all the world’s countries within our lives, and all of us in different ways.
I am not just father, husband, brother, colleague, friend and monarch’s subject... my computer uses an Intel chip designed in Ra’anana, my utility bills will vary with the geopolitcs of oil, I am the grandson of a Galician Jew executed by the Nazis in 1939 and of a British diplomat who directed refugees - some of them Jews to Palestine - this way and that in the confusion of the end of World War Two. From the mundane to the fundamental, I have my own relationship to Israel.
But how exactly should our British interests be aggregated so that together we may have an effect - be it large or small - on what happens in Israel? The answer will be determined by our political process. Or, as we would like to say, by our democracy.
And it has been a very bad year for democracy in the UK, as OurKingdom, the British politics section of openDemocracy, has been chronicling. Alongside the undermining of liberty and the still-born promises of constitutional and democratic reform, the MPs expenses scandal has left many us, perhaps for the first time most of us in every class and section of British society, with a sense that our system cannot be trusted to give us good politicians. From the pressure group dominated response to the financial crisis to the prospect of no meaningful deal on climate change at Copenhagen, we feel that our political and financial class are part of a system that fiddles as the rest of us burn.
This sense of a wider crisis is expressed in all kinds of ways, whose larger significance is becoming apparent. This is why James Jones, Peter Oborne and the Dispatches team at Channel 4 have not only produced a very important and brave piece of journalism in investigating how our political machinery aggregates interests about Israel, in doing so they also make a significant contribution to unveiling the nature and weakness of party politics in the UK.
At openDemocracy and OurKingdom, we are very proud to be associated with their research and to making it more widely available. It shows that our political system is not working as it should. To have democracy in Britain we need a process that is transparent, accountable and open. Where we do not, the country’s interests are all too likely to be misrepresented and the process of our democracy captured.
By showing in calm, careful and authoritative detail how this may happen Jones and Oborne’s work is a contribution to making political life in the UK more principled and trustworthy.