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Behind the Headlines the Bogus Neutrality

October 24, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The argument over the embargo, bitter and charged with emotion, is not an argument between Zionists and the rest, or even Jews and the rest, or even Jews plus Anglo-Zionists and the rest, it is a national argument, one of those that flare up in Britain from time to time, and shake the nation out of its passivity, typical for the British people in peace time. The argument is raging in the media, in both houses of Parliament, and wherever people assemble to talk, or to drink, or to be entertained. It hangs in the atmosphere like the smog.

In the context of the war, there is not much in it. Four thousand rounds of ammunition for Centurion tanks is neither here nor there. But this embargo has proven once more that the Foreign Office remains stubbornly hostile to Israel, no matter what government is in power, and that the skullduggery, accompanied by hypocrisy, that has been going on since the Balfour Declaration is still in operation.

Those four thousand rounds were paid for, packed and in port for dispatch when the war broke out. Within a few minutes, the customs were instructed to keep them in England. When the embargo was announced, Israel was reeling under the impact of the surprise assault in the north and in the south. Jordan was not in the war yet, Syria never bought anything here. Iraq had not yet intervened. Libya said she would not intervene. And the training of Egyptian pilots continued with the blessing of the Foreign Office.

What was more, the Foreign Office announced that the program of equipping Saudi Arabia with Lightning aircraft and a radar defense system would go ahead, although King Faisal was as much in the war as any of the combatants from the very beginning.


Sir Alec Douglas-Home, himself not hostile to Israel, was put up to present the case to the British public and Parliament, in the time-hallowed tradition that when the Foreign Office is nasty to Israel, the Foreign Secretary explains it away. Since Balfour there was not one of them who stood up to the Foreign Office, the reason being that only a special type of politician is made Foreign Secretary in the first place.

There were Foreign Secretaries who agreed with the Foreign Office; there were those who were too weak to disagree; the result was the same. Sir Alec is too weak. He is 70. and he has never been a forceful character. “Who exhumed you?” asked a poster during his election campaign. For those unused to British names, he writes Home and pronounces it Yum. He tried first the honest broker ploy, and was promptly told that all he managed to do was to incur the disdain of Israel and the contempt of Egypt or vice versa.

It was also pointed out to him that in the past he rushed to condemn Israel after every incident but failed to say a single word in condemnation of Egypt and Syria when they committed naked aggression. Sir Alec kept on harping – in and out of the House of Commons – on a phrase he coined in distress: “We are even-handed.” He was told that he was expected to be fair. “Even-handedness” was a catch-penny phrase.

And then we had the Commons debate. It was like old times, and it made some of us quite sick. The House of Commons debate on the embargo ended with 251 voting for the government policy and 175 voting against it. An analysis of the vote showed that 17 Conservatives voted against the government while 15 Labor members voted for the government. Seventy Labor members abstained and so did 40 Conservatives. Once again, the opposition was with us and the government against us. Once again, the critics of the government made telling points and the government refused to be moved from its position.

This has been going on for half a century: the Chamberlain-Macdonald White Paper in 1939 (a Tory government); the blockade of Palestine by the British navy against refugees from the Nazi holocaust (a Labor government); and so on. There happened to be a party at the Foreign Office last Friday, and I went along in between self-mocking jokes, a pro-Consul was worried about the attitude of Israel to Britain after the war. Another was worried about the attitude of American Jews to Britain. Just like old times.

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