Emily Thornberry and Israel: A Blindspot


Shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry doesn’t seem to possess the same ideological dogma that drives many of her Labour Party colleagues towards an unyielding hatred of Israel. For many on the left, hatred of Israel is the core of their worldview.

But what Thornberry has succumbed to is a just as common, if not more common, feature on the left – an unconscious blind spot when it comes to hatred of Israel. This includes her inability to realise the extent of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and antisemitic ideological derangement all around her in the Labour Party.

But in terms of her potential position as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, her recent letter to Jeremy Hunt about Iranian-Israeli tensions in Syria was deeply troubling. In the second paragraph she said:

These exchanges have been accompanied by unacceptable rhetoric from both parties, with Iranian air force commander Aziz Nasirzade saying his pilots were ready to ‘confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth,’ and Israeli intelligence minister saying: ‘the policy has changed. This is an open confrontation with Iran.’

It is disturbing that Thornberry did not pause, and reconsider the wisdom of this paragraph. In one instance, an Israeli intelligence minister describes Israel’s conflict with Iran as an “open confrontation”. Iran, it should be noted, is a country which has played a pivotal role in arming Hezbollah to the teeth with tens of thousands of missiles on the Lebanese-Israeli border; which has armed and funded Hamas, a terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction; and which has been attempting to consolidate its extensive military installations in Syria.

In case Iranian intentions were not clear, Brigadier-General Hossein Salami, a senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said last week that Iran’s strategy “is to erase Israel from the global political map”, adding chillingly that “Israelis will not have even a cemetery in Palestine to bury their own corpses”.

It is clear from Iran’s stated ambition that Israel needs to be able to defend itself with the best weapons available. Thornberry’s call for an arms embargo, if Israel continues to respond to Iranian aggression, thus verges on the absurd. This would prevent the UK, for example, from supplying Israel with technologies that enable the functioning of its Iron Dome, a purely defensive system that protects Israel from missiles coming from Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon.

Thornberry may be telling herself that balance is crucial, that dialogue and understanding are the only way forward. She may genuinely believe that both Israel and Iran contribute to heightening tensions. But to take this position forward she must recognise the truly malevolent, murderous intentions of the Iranian regime, and discard the equivalence she seems to suggest with legitimate Israeli expressions of the need for self-defence.