Drenched in blood - Britain’s ties to Zionism

In a 31 October 2023 speech labelling the Palestinian struggle as ‘terrorism’ and claiming Zionist genocide as ‘self-defence,’ Labour Party leader Keir Starmer attacked what he saw as the aims of the 7 October resistance operation. The Palestinian liberation movement threatened Arab normalisation, he said, and constituted ‘a plan, written in blood, to isolate Israel from the West.’ Starmer’s words were revealing of the historic and continuing ties between imperialism and the Zionist state, hinting at the fears of the British ruling class that this collaboration could be undone by the Palestinian masses. Without British imperialist backing for Zionist colonisation, by military, political, economic and cultural means, there would have been no Nakba in 1948. Britain has remained firm in its mission to support Israel as a loyal base for its imperialist interests in the region. The call for sanctions to isolate a genocidal occupation means understanding Britain’s links to the Zionist state. Louis Brehony reports.

Britain’s colonial occupation

Conniving to partition the Middle East during the first imperialist war, Britain and France set in train the conquest of the region in the May 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. Eighteen months later, the infamous Balfour declaration signalled Britain’s intentions to hand Palestine over to the Zionist movement. A three-decade long British occupation followed to implement Balfour and Sykes-Picot by force. Among its first acts was the 1921 General Census, dividing the population into confessional categories. Jerusalem was separated into religious quarters, while privileges given to Zionist settlers included vastly higher wages for Jewish workers as European capital entered the country on the side of the colonialists and the Britain-based Jewish National Fund played a key role in appropriating indigenous land.

Palestinians rose up against their dispossession and, from 1936-39, launched a revolutionary wave of armed resistance. Britain suppressed the revolt brutally. Executions, house demolitions, internment, torture and collective punishment were implemented, alongside the arming and training of the murderous Haganah and other paramilitary Jewish forces integrated into the Zionist state in 1948. Killing over 5,000 Palestinians and imprisoning over 5,600 in 1938 alone, British imperialism sowed the seeds of the Nakba, the ‘catastrophe’ of 1948, when the Israeli state established itself with the expulsion of over 800,000 Palestinians.

Britain arms Israel

Having laid the groundwork for the Zionist state through military terror, British backing ensured Israel’s emergence as an outpost of Western imperialism. The rise of anticolonial Arabism brought Nasser to power in Egypt in 1952 and his government confronted imperialism at Suez in 1956. Zionist forces acted as reconnaissance for British and French invaders. By May 1967, the eve of the Naksa – the June Arab defeat leading to Israeli occupations of Gaza, the West Bank and swathes of Lebanon and Syria – Britain had sold more than 330 Centurion tanks to the Zionist state. Britain’s Tel Aviv ambassador Patrick Hancock admitted in 1960:

‘We do not give the Israelis arms because they are pro-Western or because we admire their achievement. We give them arms because our interest in the Middle East is to keep the place quiet…’

320,000 Palestinians were displaced in the immediate aftermath of Nasser’s defeat, and over 650,000 in the years to follow. The British-US invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) heralded renewed military and arms collaboration between imperialist powers and the Zionist state. ‘Arming Israel’ had been a priority after 1948 but now the Zionist state acted as supplier, with colonised Palestine becoming a testing ground for imperialist warfare.

Israel arms Britain

Today, British arms sales to the Zionist state are made up largely of components for military vehicles and weapons. In November, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said that outgoing sales were ‘relatively small,’ amounting to £42m in 2022. Totalling £574m since 2008, according to Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) these sales are uneven by year, with £221m in export licences granted in 2017. Business secretary Kemi Badenoch has refused to answer what armaments have been supplied since October 2023, but CAAT confirms the Israeli use of F-35s in its genocidal bombardments, supplied by US multinational Lockheed Martin, with 15% of their components produced in Britain. Israeli arms company Elbit, 21st largest in the world, had nine British production sites in 2019; during 2018-20, Britain bought £46m of Elbit equipment.

‘Stop arming Israel’ has therefore been a popular campaign slogan in recent years. The slogan does, however, conceal collaboration and dealings in the other direction. The Zionist state exports more arms than it imports and was the tenth global arms exporter between 2017 and 2021. Israeli arms used by British occupying forces in Afghanistan included the Hermes drone. Housed at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, remote army personnel had used then to bomb Afghanistan over 200 times in the five years to 2012. Munitions used in the Hermes 450 were also produced by Israel. This drone was superseded by the Watchkeeper from late 2014, manufactured jointly by Elbit and Britain-based Thales.

Produced by Israeli company Rafael, 35th largest defence company in the world, Spike-NLOS ‘Exactor’ missiles were used by Britain in Iraq, before their transfer to Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had attempted to keep the use of this missile a secret, while leasing and then purchasing 14 M-113 armoured personnel carriers directly from Zionist army stocks in April 2007, simply repainted from Israeli to British military colours. Mounted on these vehicles, the missiles cost around $100,000 each and have been used in Zionist war campaigns since the 1970s. Its proponents claim the flexibility of the missile in having abortive capacity if civilians enter the area. No matter, the weapon has been a mainstay of the civilian genocide in Gaza since October 2023.

Military and policing ventures

Elbit’s Affinity Training programme boasts a contract with Britain’s MoD worth £500m over 18 years to train RAF pilots. In January, armed forces minister James Heappey admitted to the presence of Zionist army personnel in Britain, revealing that nine Israeli military aircraft had landed in Britain since October. Both Elbit and Rafael are completely enmeshed in British defence system supplies.

Cybersecurity has developed as a key area of joint business. At least seven British police forces have entered into contracts for Israeli Cellebrite DNA technologies, in addition to the Home Office, which made a £45,000 payment to the company in 2018. Israeli BriefCam technologies have been sold to British police forces, local councils, educational institutions and the NHS. Israeli Nice Investigative Systems are used by British businesses for surveillance purposes. In 2019, air police trialled Elbit drones, as a significant arm of counter-protest strategy, while Neil Basu, then-police head of counter-terrorism, appeared at an Israeli arms fair.

Supporting a Zionist economy

After 1948, British backing for Zionism took on commercial means as businesses sought to profit from the colonisation of Palestine. Built on stolen agricultural land, the kibbutz was branded as a collectivist source of fruit, vegetables and textiles, accounting for 40% of Israeli yield by the 1970s. Jaffa oranges and Israeli-made clothing appeared on British shelves, with Marks and Spencer epitomising the Zionist tendencies of British capital. Former chair Marcus Sieff wrote in 1990 that ‘it has been Marks and Spencer’s policy to encourage economic development in Israel,’ praising the Delta clothing company and its directors. Today, British supermarkets including M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stock ‘Israeli’ dates, avocados, oranges and other items, importing over £77m in Israeli agriculture annually.

Britain is embroiled in the Zionist economy. According to December 2023 ONS statistics, Israeli exports to Britain include mechanical generators (£358.6m annually), pharmaceutical products (£186.4m), fruit and vegetables (£107.8m), chemical cleaning products (£90.2m) and minerals (£79.1m). In 2017, Britain was Israel’s primary European investment location. Bilateral trade stood at $7.2bn in 2023. More than 300 Israeli companies operate in Britain, ranging from high tech to finance.

Underwriting this process, two British banks are numbered in Europe’s top six financial backers of 51 companies working in illegal Zionist settlements. Between January 2020 and August 2023, HSBC and Barclays provided $24.84bn to businesses whose listed activities ‘raise particular human rights concerns’ according to the UN database on Israeli settlements, while Legal & General ($5.59bn) was a top-five investor in the same companies. The latter ranges from Zionist military and chemical institutions, including Elbit, to Airbnb, Caterpillar, Puma and other Western corporations.

Academia and culture

During the Gaza genocide, 12 British universities including Queen Mary, Teeside, Aston and Edge Hill have taken up a new government offer of grants for ‘mobility projects focused on innovation and entrepreneurial skills development’ with Zionist counterparts. An openDemocracy investigation of 44 British universities found that they had accepted £100m in funding from arms companies over a five-year period. They included US corporation RTX, which manufactures in Britain and supplies the Zionist Iron Dome system. Among universities claiming ethical credentials, SOAS’s collaboration with the Israeli embassy includes hosting fascist speakers like former Israeli ambassador to Britain and Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev (2017) and suspending pro-Palestine students (October 2023).

British sporting and cultural figures have yet to mount a significant challenge to normalised fields. Scottish football teams compete with Israelis, but Celtic FC’s Green Brigades have fought bans on attendees and flags to raise the banner of Palestinian freedom on world stages. In March, over 60 human rights organisations lobbied FIFA to demand Israel’s suspension, citing the hypocrisy of the global football body’s immediate suspension of Russia following its 2022 intervention in Ukraine. European companies bankroll normalisation with Zionism. Following years of boycott campaigns, Puma announced in December that it would no longer sponsor the Israeli national team. The pressure must not cease. In March, Adidas announced $150m in funding to pro-Israel groups, including the racist Anti-Defamation League (The New Arab, 15 March 2024).

Signed in London in March 2023, the 2030 roadmap for UK-Israel bilateral relations promised a raft of economic and political collaboration, including a promise to ‘promote the cooperation in the spheres of culture, arts, media, education, higher education, sports and youth.’ On 11 October, sports minister Hugh Robertson released a statement as head of the British Olympic Association, having ‘written personally to the Israeli NOC [National Olympic Committee]…we stand by to do anything to help and support them at this difficult time.’ No such statement of support was offered to Palestinian sportspeople, who have been injured, imprisoned, tortured and killed by the occupation, and whose blockaded facilities are used, Pinochet-style, as sites for mass humiliation and disappearance.

Sanctions now

As with the Nakba in 1948, the present-day genocide inflicted on Gaza would be impossible without the support of British imperialism. In November 2023, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for international institutions ‘to immediately impose sanctions upon the occupation, expel it from all international bodies… boycott and internationally isolate it, and impose the severest sanctions against it.’ The time has come for us in Britain to take the side of the oppressed people of Palestine by organising to end all British collaboration with Zionism.


FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 299 April/May 2024