Anti-Israel posturing is for many people the cheapest route to the appearance of virtue. So it is with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Tory peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Both have in recent days called for the suspension of U.K. arms-export licenses to the Jewish state. The Baroness took the further step on Tuesday of resigning her post as a Foreign Office Minister over David Cameron‘s “morally indefensible policy” on Gaza, as she put it in a letter to the Prime Minister.
The usual media suspects frame this minor rebellion as a heavy blow against Mr. Cameron: As the Liberal Democrat leader, Mr. Clegg is the junior partner in the coalition government; Baroness Warsi, meanwhile, is said to represent a groundswell of Tory discontent over Britain’s mildly pro-Israel policy.
All that may be, but Mr. Clegg’s and the Baroness’s gesture politics also expose their own inconsistent moral outrage.
London has over the years granted thousands of licenses to sell arms to authoritarian regimes. That’s according to a multi-committee Parliamentary report issued last month. With respect to Russia, the committees found that licenses worth ?132 million were still in place even after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. They cover “body armour, components for assault rifles, components for body armour, components for small arms ammunition, components for sniper rifles, equipment employing cryptography . . . and weapon sights,” among other items.
The coalition government also approved two licenses for dual-use chemicals sold to Syria in January 2012?nearly a full year after Bashar Assad had commenced an industrial-scale slaughter of his people.
The government says it suspended all arms sales to Russia in March and that most of the remaining licenses serve “commercial” purposes. Regarding the January 2012 dual-use chemical sales to Syria, the government told the investigating committees that “there were no grounds for refusal”?a defense the report characterized as “grossly inaccurate” given, among other things, “the nature of the Assad regime” and the “civil war . . . raging in Syria.”
Britain’s arms-export policy isn’t the main question here. But it’s noteworthy that licenses issued to a revanchist Moscow and a totalitarian Arab state didn’t prompt resignations, public letters of protest or angry tweets from Mr. Clegg and our lady the Baroness, both of whom were in government during the relevant time periods. Arms sales to the Jewish state did.
Mr. Clegg’s cabinet and parliamentary offices didn’t return our telephone and email requests for comment. The Baroness’s parliamentary office wasn’t accepting calls or voice mails during business hours, and a message left with the general parliamentary press line wasn’t returned.
“I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported,” Baroness Warsi wrote in her letter to Mr. Cameron. It’s a noble sentiment, but it would be nobler if her humanitarianism weren’t so selective.