Why is Douglas Murray smearing me to distract from this damning UN report on Israel in Gaza?

Owen Jones made the same error as the Telegraph, Mail, Haaretz, Guardian, Sun, Washington Post, Human Rights Watch and Spectator. If Douglas Murray wants that to be addressed, he also knows that Israel could be guilty of committing war crimes. So why the

In the last couple of years I've learned one thing: the right don't like me very much, and expend a sizeable amount of energy attacking me personally rather than my writing: the Telegraph, the Spectator, even Fox News have all had pops at various stages. On a daily basis, I have insults thrown at me and attempts to bait me via Twitter. But in the desperate attacks stakes, Douglas Murray's latest piece is a pretty leading candidate.

Hard right pseudo-intellectual Murray writes in The Spectator demanding an apology for a response I made to a question about the conflict in Gaza on Question Time last November. In the conflict, over a hundred Palestinian and four Israeli civilians died. To give an illustration, I referred to the tragic death of 11-month Palestinian baby Omar Jihad al-Mishrawi, the son of a BBC journalist.

According to the child's family then and now, he was killed by an Israeli air strike. It was the account accepted by Human Rights Watch. It was how it reported by virtually the entire international media, including the BBC. "The baby son of a BBC worker was am ong those killed in Israel's air strike", reported the Daily Telegraph. "Anguish of BBC journalist as he cradles the body of his baby son who died in Israeli rocket attack on Gaza," exclaimed the Daily MailThe Sun also leaves the impression it was an Israeli strike. The Washington Post reported it as a "very personal story from Wednesday's Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip." "The 11-month-old son of a BBC staffer was killed yesterday during an air strike by the Israeli army on the Gaza strip," reported former Daily Mirror editor and City of University Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. "Jihad al-Masharawi, an employee of BBC in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month-old son Omar, killed in an Israeli air strike," writes Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

And before I forget, how about this: "The front page of today's Washington Post shows a picture of the BBC’s Jihad Masharawi holding his dead 11-month-old son, an innocent victim of Israeli action against Hamas’ paramilitary targets following months of indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in southern Israel." That was the Spectator itself.

The UN inquiry into the conflict now suggests differently: that he was "killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel." The head of the OHCHR office for the Palestinian office has subsequently added that he couldn't "unequivocally conclude" it was definitely a misfired Palestinian weapon, but "it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket." The father of the 11-month-old child, Jehad Masharawi, has meanwhile dismissed the findings as "rubbish".

It is beyond far-fetched to expect me to have possibly guessed that what was reported as fact by virtually the entire international media — including the Spectator itself — would be proved likely to be wrong. And yet Murray acts as though I cynically plucked this from thin air and — ignoring the fact this was how British, US and Israeli papers reported it — believes the onus is on me to apologise. "It is not known what evidence, if any, Owen Jones had that the Israelis had killed this 11-month old boy," he writes, ignoring the reports of practically every single media outlet, including his own. "It was plain at the time that Owen Jones didn’t know what he was talking about," he adds. Was it? Even though almost everybody, his colleagues included, had accepted it as fact?

To be clear: I oppose Hamas, whilst knowing that they are the product of decades of both Israeli oppression and corruption at the Palestinian Authority. I oppose any attacks that kill civilians, including rockets fired into Israel. My support for the Palestinian cause comes purely through solidarity with the oppressed: the fact that Palestine is illegally occupied, that illegal settlements cover the West Bank, the fact Gaza is besieged, the fact nearly seven times as many Palestinian civilians as Israeli civilians have died since 2000. I want a just, secure peace for Jewish and Arab peoples alike. I have denounced any false solidarity with the Palestinian people that gives comfort to anti-Semitic prejudice: here and here, for example. But the truth is uncritical supporters of Israeli government policies never forgave me for attacking Israel's actions in Gaza in the mainstream media, and for being applauded for doing so.

If the likes of Murray are going to quote from the UN report approvingly, I hope they accept it in its entirety. It is damning reading for the Israeli government. It concludes that 101 civilians, including 33 children, were killed by Israeli military action. "In a number of cases, civilians who happened to be present in or passing through open areas and fields, locations that could potentially be used for rocket launches, were killed," it says. "The cases mentioned below raise the question of whether the IDF took all feasible measures to verify that their targets were military objectives, in line with the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law, which requires that the parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Under international human rights law these cases may constitute violations of the right to life."

Examples the report gives include a father, his 12-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son allegedly killed by a drone missile while collecting spearmint. An 84-year-old man working on his olive farm and his 14-year-old granddaughter were allegedly killed by an Israeli missile too. "In neither case were residents warned prior to the attack, and that no militant activities were carried out from the attacked locations throughout the crisis," writes the report. Other children who tragically and avoidably died include an 8-year-old boy; and ambulances that were denied access for 5 hours to two 16-year-olds allegedly killed by Israeli missiles.

The damning list goes on: "On 18 November, an Israeli air strike without prior warning hit a three-storey house belonging to the Al-Dalou family in Al-Nasser neighbourhood, central Gaza City. The airstrike killed 12 people, five of whom were children and four were women." Even if there was one militant present, "an attack under the given circumstances with the large number of civilians present, would not meet the requirement of proportionality." In other examples, the UN "was not able to identify any military objective that the IDF might have had in these cases, thus raising concerns with regard to possible violations of the principle of distinction and potentially also the right to life." In reference to attacks on health care facilities, the report says: "The attacks on the hospitals could therefore amount to violations of international humanitarian law."

The likes of Murray have no interest in engaging with this report, of course. They have simply plucked out a single sentence that likely casts doubt on a tragic death wrongly attributed to an Israeli missile by virtually the entire international media — (and, again, his own magazine) — and, by incredibly ignoring all these reports, scapegoating me instead, as though I somehow could have known. And to be clear: whoever is responsible for the death of this little boy, there is no excuse for such deaths in conflict.

Murray and his cynical allies are attempting to bury the contents of the rest of this report. That must not be allowed to happen. Far more Palestinian civilians died at the hands of this military superpower than Israeli civilians at the hands of unjustifiable Hamas rockets. 33 children were killed by such strikes. The report suggests that Israel could be guilty of committing war crimes. These are the facts, and if Murray genuinely takes this report seriously, he must answer them.

Owen Jones is a columnist for the Independent and the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from a spot targeted by an Israeli air strike inside the Gaza strip on November 16, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.