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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Do you see yourself as British or English? The answer could help define modern politics

The rise of English identity has left a glaring space in politics for an English nationalist party. Who is going to fill it?

Political scientists call it the “Moreno question”. In the 1980s, the Spanish academic Luis Moreno Fernández came up with a test for identity, which was originally applied to gauge interest in Catalan independence. In its English incarnation, it asks voters to grade themselves from “I feel more British than English” to “I feel more English than British”. Unsurprisingly, Ukip does best among those who describe themselves as “English, not British”, while Labour’s vote rises the more people see themselves as British. In the biggest group – the 47 per cent who see themselves as equally English and British – the Tories lead.

The Moreno question helps us make sense of three interlinking trends in modern politics. First, the stark fact that in the 2015 election, a different party won in each nation of the United Kingdom: Labour in Wales, the SNP in Scotland, the Tories in England and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. Second, Ukip’s lack of success north of the border: the Herald reported in July that Ukip’s only elected representative in the country, David Coburn MEP, had been forced to take on the role of treasurer at his local branch in Fife because it has so few members. Third, Labour’s declining performance in its historic northern heartlands. Many voters there want a party with a distinctively English flavour and don’t feel that Labour is it.

Devolution has had many unexpected consequences, but the rise of an English identity is one of the least explored. Because of its demographic dominance, mainstream politicians have long argued that it would be unfair to give England its own parliament. Labour is particularly resistant to the idea because it would magnify the Conservatives’ power. As it is, the principle of “English votes for English laws” will exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the grand committee-stage hearings on grammar schools, because education is a devolved matter.

However, the last general election showed that there’s a problem with English voters feeling ignored. In Worcester, the Tory MP Robin Walker told me in April 2015 that arguments about the SNP holding Labour to ransom cut through on the doorstep. “There is a real concern if [voters] are saying, ‘The proceeds of the mansion tax are all going to go on nurses in Scotland. That doesn’t help us,’” he said. Many English voters felt that the SNP would be a successful lobby group at Westminster for Scotland’s interests. Where was their equivalent?

For John Denham, the former Labour MP who now leads the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester, the same dynamic applied this summer in the EU referendum campaign. “Scotland got ‘Scotland Stronger in Europe’,” he tells me. “England had to put up with ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’. That was an elite campaign run by people who think Britain and England are the same thing.”

Once again, the Moreno question helps us understand a fundamental divide among English voters. Denham says that 80 per cent of people who defined themselves as “English only” voted Leave, while 80 per cent of those who called themselves “British only” voted Remain.

Denham thinks that this presents an enormous challenge for Labour in northern seats where Ukip is in second place, given that its intellectuals and leading politicians feel so squeamish about Englishness. “If Labour continues as a cosmopolitan, liberal party that doesn’t want anything to do with the politics of identity,” he warns, “it won’t reach those voters.”

Other politicians worry that if Labour doesn’t occupy this space, another party will. “As nationalists go, the SNP is pretty good,” a senior left-wing politician told me recently. “An English nationalist party could be something altogether more nasty.”

In this light, the election of Diane James as the leader of Ukip looks like a rare stroke of luck for Labour. She is a southerner, educated at Rochester Grammar School, and an MEP for south-east England. Although she is polished and professional – albeit prone to outbursts of admiration for Vladimir Putin – she seems unlikely to appeal on an emotional level to working-class white voters in the north, where the greatest potential for an English nationalist party lies. Thanks to Ukip’s Caligulan internal politics, the deputy leader, Paul Nuttall (from Bootle), did not stand and the charismatic Steven Woolfe (from Burnage) was excluded from the race after the party’s executive committee ruled that he had submitted his nomination papers 17 minutes after the deadline. (Another potential candidate, Suzanne Evans, was suspended by the party, and pretty much everyone else in Ukip seems to hate its only MP, Douglas Carswell.)

If not Labour, or Ukip, perhaps the Conservatives? Theresa May’s rebranding of the party, complete with articles on bringing back grammar schools in the Daily Mail, shows that she is pitching for Ukip-leaners. “In terms of language and biography, she has a better understanding of that struggling, socially conservative, English nationalist voter than Cameron did,” says Robert Ford, a professor of political science at Manchester University and co-author of Revolt on the Right. He believes that any party that thinks a simple economic message can sway these voters is underestimating the “emotive” nature of identity-based politics. “It’s no use going to Sunderland and saying, ‘We’re going to nationalise the trains,’ and thinking, ‘They’ll come back to us.’”

There is another option. A new party could be born, perhaps even out of the ashes of post-referendum Ukip: Arron Banks, its mega-donor, has said that he fancies the idea. With the right leader, nationalist sentiment could spread like wildfire among the “English, not British”. And, as Nigel Farage has shown, you don’t need to get elected to Westminster to have an effect.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times