Israel flouts opinion to defend its lands

After years in which the focus has been on democracy movements in its Arab neighbours, appalling conflict in Israel and Gaza has suddenly dominated international attention again.

John Woodcock: 'A sense of sympathy for Israel has quickly been replaced by growing questioning of its response'
John Woodcock: 'A sense of sympathy for Israel has quickly been replaced by growing questioning of its response'

The news has been shocking, and has understandably taken prominence over major domestic set pieces such as the annual speeches to the CBI by the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition.

While Government and opposition may differ, major international crises rarely trigger domestic political point scoring.

There is an important question over the way international opinion is shaped in this conflict, and what effect it has on the actions of the protagonists. The images of dead civilians are devastating and have rightly grabbed attention around the world.

It has been striking how the tone of reporting and comment pieces on the conflict changed in the space of a couple of days, as the balance of casualties shifted from Israelis dying from rocket fire to far greater numbers of Palestinians dying as a result of Israel’s operation to target the terrorists who fire on its towns and cities.

A sense of sympathy for Israel when the rocket attacks it endures on an almost daily basis were suddenly ratcheted up has quickly been replaced by growing questioning of its response.

Israel asserts it has a right to defend itself, insists it never targets civilians, and repeatedly implores other countries to consider what they would do if their citizens were forced to live under constant fear of rockets landing on their homes. And it reminds people that Hamas terrorists deliberately hide in civilian areas.

But those are arguments made with words, and they pale in the public’s mind alongside the sight of Palestinian babies being taken dead from the rubble of houses in which a family member or neighbour was a terrorist.

Israel believes, often justifiably I think, that international opinion is biased against it. It is pressing on with what it thinks is necessary for its security in the knowledge this latest action may harden views further.

John Woodcock is Labour MP  for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown. He is also chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

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