April 4, 2024 - 7:00am

In 1847 David Pacifico, a British subject resident in Athens, had his home stormed by a mob. The group numbered several hundred, and they blamed Pacifico — who was Jewish — for the prohibition of a traditional Easter ritual which involved burning a portrait of Judas Iscariot. Not only was Pacifico’s house vandalised — and his wife, children and son-in-law assaulted — but vast sums of money were taken. As that happened, the Athenian police did nothing.

Pacifico immediately wrote to the British authorities in Greece to explain what had taken place. In turn they approached the Greek government asking Pacifico to be compensated. Athens refused to do anything — twice. As a result Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, instructed Sir William Parker, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, to impose a blockade of Athens and requisition the country’s navy. That blockade lasted two months, and eventually King Otto — then Greek sovereign — agreed to settle.

This caused a political fallout in London, with Palmerston having to explain his actions in Parliament. He proceeded to give the speech of his life. “As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong.” The government won the motion in defence of the Foreign Secretary.

Compare that to the cowardly responses of Rishi Sunak, David Cameron and Keir Starmer as news broke that three British nationals had been killed while working for an aid charity in Gaza. While Israel officially maintains that their deaths were accidental, what happened is hard to put down to bad luck.

A convoy of three vehicles had delivered food to a warehouse in Gaza, and was on its way back — heading south from Deir al-Balah along the Al-Rasheed Road. This route had been agreed with the IDF, was in a de-conflicted zone, and the roofs of all three vehicles prominently displayed “World Central Kitchen” logos. What is more, according to Haaretz, the convoy contacted the IDF after the first vehicle had been hit — and yet the remaining two were struck regardless.

In response to those deaths, Sunak said he was “appalled” and urged Israel to “take immediate steps” to protect aid workers in Gaza. He resisted calls to end arms sales to the country, however. Cameron, meanwhile, asked Israel to “immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened”. Entrusted with the safety of British nationals overseas, our government appears content that a country which has killed three of them investigate itself. All the while, it will continue to receive British weapons — weapons which might add to the ongoing death toll of more than 200 aid workers in the strip since October.

More bizarre still was the response of Joe Biden, allegedly the world’s most powerful person. The death of a dual US citizen left the President “outraged and heartbroken”, while he demanded that any investigation into the seven deaths “be swift” and “bring accountability”. Biden can’t be that heartbroken, of course, since none of this appears to have any implications for a $14 billion aid package to Israel, nor a separate arms deal that would reportedly include F15 jets and is valued at $18 billion. Polish authorities, to their credit, have initiated their own investigation into the killing of Damian Sobol.

Such conspicuous impotence, in Britain at least, spans the political divide. When asked whether Britain should continue to sell weapons to Tel Aviv, Pat McFadden MP — a senior member of Labour Friends of Israel — had no issue with it. That same day Darren Jones, also a member of LFI, rejected the idea that arms exports should cease. Both men, as well as Starmer (naturally a member of LFI too — along with 72 of his Labour colleagues), found themselves outflanked by that Left-wing radical Nick Ferrari.

A useful thought experiment is to imagine what Israel would do were the situation reversed. Had three Israelis been killed by the British Army, does anyone think Benjamin Netanyahu would meekly ask London to investigate itself? To the contrary: I’d expect the British ambassador to be given the boot by tea time, and rightly so.

The days of British gunboat diplomacy, and the Pacifico incident, are over. But it is eminently reasonable for a country of Britain’s stature to begin its own investigation into what happened, end weapons sales to Israel, and demand that the UK military, alongside colleagues from the United States, guarantee the safe passage of aid convoys inside Gaza. It is astonishing that this is yet to happen. You have to wonder what Palmerston would make of it all.

Aaron Bastani is the co-founder of Novara Media, and the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism.