Syria, Israel and boycotts – a discussion with the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus

Hi Jonathan,

When Israel bombed Syria, the justification given by Israeli officials (implicitly endorsed by the British government) was that the Syrian government was in the process of transferring weapons to Hezbollah, which, so the argument went, might then be used against Israel.

Do you agree that, by the same logic, Syria would be “permitted” to bomb the UK in the event the British government passed weapons to the Syrian opposition?

Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Joe

I think you have probably answered that question for yourself. Your logic is a little questionable since the relationship between Israel and Syria is very different from the between the UK and Syria. not sure if you are equating hezbollah and the Syrian rebels – interesting.

I think as you well know there are huge divisions in the Cabinet and within the Conservative Party about arming the Syrian opposition. I suggest we wait and see how it turns out – my job is simply to try to explain why people do what they do.

Thanks
JM

But *is* the logic “questionable”? Under international law, Syria is a sovereign state afforded the same rights and responsibilities as other states, is it not? If Israel can take international law into its own hands, why can’t Syria?

Seems to me you should think more about the reality ie two countries Israel and Syria that remain at war- one of which is imploding – and which in the meantime has armed it’s proxy in Lebanon to the teeth.

Let me ask you a question ? Are you not saddened depressed (and since i see you are a bit of an activist) enraged by the human suffering inside Syria?

You seem obsessed by only one part of the region’s problems. You seem to like dialogue but appear – if my quick trawl on the web is anything to go by – to believe in boycotts which are the opposite of dialogue. I believe in talking and listening to all sides. Forgive me if I have muddled you with someone else. I am paid to have an open mind and to try to make as fair a judgement as possible. I would hope people working in academic institutions would have the same responsibility. Thanks now – it’s my weekend. I trust you find some parts of our coverage informative.

JM

Many thanks, Jonathan.

Regards my original enquiry and follow-up, I was trying to illustrate what is, sadly, standard practice at the BBC, namely the reflexive reporting of events without considering the oft problematic logical corollaries. In this case, the question – I believe – still stands: if Israel has the “right” to bomb Syria to prevent arms being passed to Hezbollah, then Syria will have the “right” to bomb the UK if and when the UK funnels arms to the Syrian opposition. You seemed a particularly appropriate person to direct this enquiry to in light of your coverage of the Israeli bombing of Syria, which – as you’ll recall – you described as “intriguing”. One wonders whether you would also find the bombing of the UK “intriguing”? I very much doubt it.

To the other issues you raise in your mail…

>Are you not saddened depressed (and since i see you are a bit of an activist) enraged by the human suffering inside Syria?

Yes, though I consider my primary responsibility to act on issues for which I bear the most responsibility. And since I live in a democracy that allows a degree of influence over those who governs us, and thus influence over government policy, this essentially means acting on issues where I perceive the UK government to be most complicit. This in mind, the focus on Israel, which receives massive support from the UK (mainly political/diplomatic, but also preferential trade arrangements, and – of course – arms), perhaps becomes comprehensible?

To be clear: this isn’t to say I’m oblivious to the suffering going on Syria. Indeed, insofar as the UK government has the *capacity* to intervene in Syria’s affairs, I *do* have an interest in the issues at hand, but I nonetheless judge my primary responsibility to act on issues where the UK government is manifestly complicit in grave crimes, as is the case regards its support for Israel.

>You seem obsessed by only one part of the region’s problems.

If I’m “obsessed” with anything, it’s the BBC’s terrible coverage and associated lack of accountability, which – if I’m being honest – I resent having to pay for. More specifically, I’m incensed, on a daily basis, with coverage that systematically supports UK government policy, and that, ipso facto, facilitates monumental crimes. The woeful coverage in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq is a case in point. Had the BBC (and the media more generally) done its job correctly, the UK government would have had a much more difficult time colluding in this war crime.

>You seem to like dialogue but appear – if my quick trawl on the web is anything to go by – to believe in boycotts which are the opposite of dialogue. I believe in talking and listening to all sides. Forgive me if I have muddled you with someone else.

No, you haven’t muddled me with someone else (this would be difficult with a name like Sucksmith don’t you think?!) – I *do* support a boycott of Israel. To be sure, boycott is an imperfect means, insofar as it catches Israelis who are broadly supportive of the ends (Israeli compliance with international law), but it *is* only a means, and a non-violent one at that. “Dialogue” sounds great, until you appreciate that this is the strategy that has been tried for over 40 years, and manifestly failed. Worse still, “dialogue” has repeatedly provided Israel with cover to simply appropriate ever more Palestinian territory (think the Oslo Accords, which were a catastrophe for the Palestinians). I’ve just searched for articles that sum up where I am on boycott, and this one, by Neve Gordon, seems to tick most of the boxes – I would urge you to read it (if you haven’t already).

Out of interest, do I presume correctly that you disagreed with the boycott of South Africa? This would seem to follow logically from what you say above…

>I am paid to have an open mind and to try to make as fair a judgement as possible. I would hope people working in academic institutions would have the same responsibility.

Gosh, you *have* been busy, haven’t you. While this comes across as slightly patronising, I recognise that this semi-rebuke follows from your belief that, in the case of Israel/Palestine, a “fair judgement” = boycott wrong and “dialogue” right. As already stated, I disagree with this “judgement”, as do a great many others, including the Israeli academics Neve Gordon and Ilan Pappe, and of course the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.

>I trust you find some parts of our coverage informative.

Very little, sadly. But I am nonetheless grateful for your responses…

Best wishes,

Joe

Oh dear – you seem to have a rather dim view of our coverage though I am relieved to see it is not just me. You clearly are an activist and have made up your mind as to who is right and who is wrong (as you are perfectly at liberty to do). I think it is all a little less clear-cut , but then I see most things as being less clear cut. Thanks for your response anyway.

JM

You’re welcome, Jonathan. I note you haven’t responded regards the boycott of South Africa – another of those problematic corollaries?

All the best,
Joe

My personal views are not the point but as I noted your logic regarding Israel/ Syria and Syria/UK is flawed. I don’t for example think that Syria is supporting a significant proportion of the Israeli population in their struggle to overthrow the regime. You clearly get more excited about the Israelis than you do about he Syrian Govt – as I say you are at liberty to hold whatever views you want but you cannot expect me to share them.

Thanks now
JM

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2 thoughts on “Syria, Israel and boycotts – a discussion with the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus

  1. Why is it that the whole world is so saddened with the suffering of the Syrian people and are forgetting about the suffering of the Palestinian people? Or is empathy selective of which people to side with? And when being “activist” was a negative characteristic?

    • Hi tamar. I think “selective empathy” captures the dynamic really rather well. Essentially, suffering only “matters” to western governments (and media) when there are strategic interests at stake. Only the most indoctrinated of souls could believe that the UK and US governments, with their track records of massive criminality, are motivated by humanitarian concerns regards Syria.

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