Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Conflict and the art of compassion

The year draws to a close here at zenpolitics with reflections on conflict, mass killing and how we think about those who execute such acts.

It's been another day of indiscriminate Israeli bombing in Gaza. Israeli politicians are vying for electoral killing points, while rejecting any suggestion of a humanitarian ceasefire. The 'international community' remain dutifully silent in response to Israel's massacre of innocents.

And then there's this kind of gratuitous pleasure over the spectre of lives lost in Gaza:

"Finally, a month and a half before the elections, Israel takes some action. I definitely see this as linked, but it's OK, better late than never. What's been happening in Gaza is fantastic. I feel very bad about the man killed in [the Israeli town of] Netivot."
Do we rage or despair at such indifference to others' misery?

The BBC, meanwhile, are proclaiming their 'fairness' and 'diligence' in reporting the atrocity - though, terms like "atrocity" are unlkely to feature in such reports. Here's a token something sent to one our Media Lens contributors from Jeremy Bowen, supposedly meant as a serious, analytical reply:
Dear Rhisiart

I di[s]agree with your inaccurate description of BBC reporting from this story. We are working as hard as we can to report the story fairly, accurately and impartially. What we will not do is take sides.

I suspect that a fair number of the 'millions of us common punters' for whom you say you speak are in fact getting their news about Gaza from the BBC.


Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East Editor
A few replies to Bowen asking him to consider multiple evidence to the contrary seems to have made little impact. Still, we try:

Dear Mr Bowen,

Your reply to Rhisiart Gwilym is even more shameful than the template responses packaged-out by Helen Boaden, Stewart McCullough and other BBC hierarchy.

The claim that the BBC do not take sides is risible. It takes no great genius to see the massively loaded – or lacking - context, imbalanced language and selective omissions in these and other BBC reports.

Where, for example, are the words “massacre” and “atrocity” in any of these pieces, terms used without hesitation in describing state murder in non-western countries and other attacks like Mumbai?

You apparently “suspect that a fair number of the 'millions of us common punters' for whom you say you speak are in fact getting their news about Gaza from the BBC.”

Sadly, that's seems to be the case. And the really depressing outcome is that the limited information the public do get from the BBC on Gaza and the wider Occupation only serves to limit and neutralise their understanding.

I help run a Palestinian human rights campaign in Glasgow and one of the principal questions we're always asked at our weekly public stall is a variation on: “I had no idea all that was going on. Why haven't the BBC been telling us?”

It's not just the current apologist language for Israeli violence in Gaza that's at issue here. It's the deep institutional deference the BBC reserves for Israel, an understood quietism which results in the daily non-reporting of the Palestinian tragedy.

That's a large part of why this Palestinian misery has gone on for so long. And journalists who hide behind the BBC veil of 'objectivity' in denying that elementary truth are complicit in that suffering.

John Hilley
Sometimes one can feel a littlel drained following adversarial exchanges. Though ever-motivated by the 'good fight' against the powerful and their acolytes, the language of criticism, sometimes veering beyond the sharp, can disturb, even where one has challenged journalists so obviously biased in the service of power.

And yet, we carry on, energised by the conviction that to be submissive while others face the much harsher assaults of war, hunger and oppression would be even more dispiriting.

Today, our Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign ran an extra emergency stall. And it was inspiring to hear so many visitors come over to voice their eager concern and support for the people of Gaza. Which, despite the relentless media distortions, proves that people really do care about such state-inflicted suffering.

Yet, even in the midst of all this conflict, it's useful to reflect a little on the point and practice of such engagement. It's not to hate those we oppose. It's not to find oneself convulsed by anger. It's not to revel in spiteful attacks. Rather, it's to cultivate, however possible, the art of compassionate activism.

A last word on that task.

The Dalai Lama recently declared that he "loves George W Bush", an arresting thought for those rightly convinced that Bush should be arrested. And yet, a little closer meditation suggests the alternative possibility of a profoundly radical thought.

Part of that meditation involves, for me, a desire to comprehend the warmonger's mindset. Why do people like Bush, Olmert, Livni, Brown and Blair fail to see the true consequences of their actions? How can they seem so oblivious to mass murder? Watching Bush's shrugging response to the recent shoe-hurling incident, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that he may be so completely absorbed in his own simplified 'reality' that perhaps he simply can't comprehend the staggering loss and suffering he has helped unleash in Iraq and elsewhere.

So, the real challenge lies in cultivating an ability to speak and act in ways which not only help bring such people to actual justice for their crimes, but to feed our capacity for
compassionate understanding - even towards those who bring such pain to others. Therein lies the true possibility of meaningful alternatives to a system built on hate, anger and violence.

To that enduring task.

Peace and love - wherever our suffering friends in Gaza and elsewhere can find it - this new year.


Monday, 29 December 2008

BBC's Gaza-speak

The slaughter in Gaza goes on. As does the disgracefully loaded way in which the BBC reports it.

Here's a classic example of the 'Israel-said' form from Jeremy Bowen, supposedly the BBC's finest correspondent in the region.

“Israel has laid out an ambitious war aim. It says it wants to create a new security environment, to protect Israelis who live within range of rocket fire from Gaza.”

“The ground for it was prepared by clever psychological warfare.”

“An Israeli intelligence briefing this morning argued that many Palestinians in Gaza were fed up with Hamas.”

“Israeli generals always assume that they have a limited time to achieve their goals.”

Bowen, no doubt, sees himself as a strategic analyst, giving this reportage the imprint of cold-rational assessment. Thus, the actual carnage and loss of life becomes incidental to the ways in which Israel sees and plans its operations. In this vein, Bowen notes the bombing of Hamas-built infrastructure, not Palestinian infrastructure, as though the 'taint of Hamas' makes it a seemingly legitimate target.

There's no explanation or detail on the actual siege of Gaza. Rather, the piece begins from, and implies effective acceptance of, the claim that Israel is engaged primarily in a defensive, rather than offensive, action. Nor do we find mention of the singular fact that since the start of the Hamas-initiated truce no Israelis were actually killed, in stark contrast to the murderous punishment now unleashed by Israel.

Bowen's reference to Israel's “clever psychological warfare” further encourages us to 'understand Israel's defensive agenda'. His slavish repetition of an “Israeli intelligence briefing” that “Palestinians in Gaza were fed up with Hamas” receives no contrary comment, no suggestion that they might be much more fed up with Israel's starvation siege - and how that demoralisation impacts on support for Hamas.

Likewise, the report implicitly asks us to recognise the 'difficult task' of the Israeli generals who “always assume that they have a limited time to achieve their goals.”

All this 'information' is couched in language which sanitises the aggression, while inviting moderated reading of the aggressor's mindset.

It also complements perfectly the kind of 'reasoned' 'calls' from Israeli-friendly leaders:

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also called for an "urgent ceasefire and immediate halt to all violence". Mr Miliband described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as "deeply disturbing" and said that the "rise in rocket attacks on Israel since December 19" and Saturday's massive loss of life "make this a dangerous moment which should be of concern to the whole of the international community."Mr Brown said that he was "deeply concerned" by continuing missile strikes from Gaza on Israel and by Israel's response yesterday. He urged Gaza militants to cease all rocket attacks on Israel immediately and Israel to do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties.”

This is not the language of peace and restraint. It's actually the language of violence. When politicians refuse to condemn the actions of the oppressors, they give a green light to more oppressive, violent actions. It's no exaggeration to say that Brown and Miliband are deeply complicit in the massacre of Gaza. They assuredly knew the slaughter was imminent and did nothing to stop it. And when it did unfold, they said nothing that might compromise or discourage further Israeli killing.

As with Brown's and Milibands's expressions of 'concern', the BBC's output is part of the same, safe moderate-speak that turns an effective blind-eye to mass murder.


Sunday, 28 December 2008

The massacre of Gaza

27 December 2008: a day that should live in infamy - and would if the BBC and its media peers were doing their rightful job.

Instead, the massacre of Gaza is being reported as an essentially 'understandable' show of Israeli force in the face of Palestinian 'provocation'.

With over 270 Palestinians slain in this latest act of mass murder, the perpetrators and their 'international apologists
can always depend on a servile media to rationalise such state terrorism. The early evening BBC News (27/12/08) even had Jeremy Bowen - the BBC's most 'critical' correspondent - telling viewers how Israel was effectively acting in self-defence.

It's the template media context: Israel responds to attacks from Hamas, never Hamas responds to Israel's brutal and violent siege.

The (since updated) Ha'aretz version, likewise, announced:

"Israel launched Saturday morning the start of a massive offensive against Qassam rocket and mortar fire on its southern communities, targeting dozens of buildings belonging to the ruling Hamas militant group."
Ha'aretz and other press were rather coy in emphasising that the buildings in question were police stations, part of Gaza's civic 'infrastructure' - or what passes for that term in this annihilated piece of earth. Imagine the media response had Israeli police stations been targeted. The bombing of Palestinian police offices, on the other hand, can seemingly pass without the slightest comment.

The 'failed truce' provides another rationalisation for Israeli aggression. As Ali Abunimah puts it:

What the media never question is Israel's idea of a truce. It is very simple. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land. Israel has not only banned food and medicine to sustain Palestinian bodies in Gaza but it is also intent on starving minds: due to the blockade, there is not even ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for schoolchildren.

As John Ging, the head of operations of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), told The Electronic Intifada in November: "there was five months of a ceasefire in the last couple of months, where the people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence. We in fact at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food."

That is an Israeli truce. Any response to Israeli attacks -- whether peaceful protests against the apartheid wall in Bilin and Nilin in the West Bank is met with bullets and bombs. There are no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and yet Israel's attacks, killings, land theft, settler pogroms and kidnappings never ceased for one single day during the truce. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has acceded to all of Israel's demands, even assembling "security forces" to fight the resistance on Israel's behalf. None of that has spared a single Palestinian or her property or livelihood from Israel's relentless violent colonization. It did not save, for instance, the al-Kurd family from seeing their home of 50 years in occupied East Jerusalem demolished on 9 November, so the land it sits on could be taken by settlers.

Once again we are watching massacres in Gaza, as we did last March when 110 Palestinians, including dozens of children, were killed by Israel in just a few days. Once again people everywhere feel rage, anger and despair that this outlaw state carries out such crimes with impunity.

Abunimah also has strong words for the Egyptian government's shameful collaborations:

But all over the Arab media and internet today the rage being expressed is not directed solely at Israel. Notably, it is directed more sharply than ever at Arab states. The images that stick are of Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni in Cairo on Christmas day. There she sat smiling with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Then there are the pictures of Livni and Egypt's foreign minister smiling and slapping their palms together.

The Israeli newspaper
Haaretz reported today that last wednesday the Israeli "cabinet authorized the prime minister, the defense minister, and the foreign minister to determine the timing and the method" of Israel's attacks on Gaza. Everywhere people ask, what did Livni tell the Egyptians and more importantly what did they tell her? Did Israel get a green light to turn Gaza's streets red once again? Few are ready to give Egypt the benefit of the doubt after it has helped Israel besiege Gaza by keeping the Rafah border crossing closed for more than a year.

Meanwhile, the 'international community' - that homely Western invention of global togetherness - speaks 'decisively' about wanting an end to violence. How touching. Blair calls for a ceasefire. How very admirable. It's all part of the decent inaction intended to 'show concern' over the loss of Palestinian civilians while backing Israel's right to kill them.

The posturing hypocrisy of the diplomatic class and their media acolytes seemingly knows no bounds. Israel claims to be acting in 'necessary defence' and Brown, Merkel, Sarkozy and Obama nod in dutiful compliance. There's not even a caveat criticism about 'proportionality'.

The murder is going on today, with renewed 'air strikes'. They're called 'air strikes' by the media and political class because that gives the mass murder a respectful tone; part of the sanitised vernacular reserved for state-instructed carnage. 'Air strikes' to 'target militants' in 'response to' the 'the ongoing threat' of 'deadly' Qassam rockets.

But, of course, Israel is a democracy, just like us. Unlike them. It may, on occasion, act a little 'excessively' in making its point. But it must still be supported.

Except that it isn't a meaningful democracy. It's an apartheid state engaged in violent ethnic cleansing and the ruthless purging of criticism, internal and external.

The recent treatment of UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk is a case in point. Falk, an American Jew and eminent professor, has described how he was detained and humiliated at Ben-Gurion airport before being sent back on a plane to the US for daring to criticise Israel. That even a senior UN-appointed person, acting in due accordance with the law, can be treated as a subversive is a clear signal of Israel's intolerance. Was there ever a blacker sign of Israel's claim to be an open and tolerant democracy?

Such purges also signal a failure to convince. As with the expulsion of Falk, the wanton elimination of Palestinian lives before the eyes of the world illustrates an increasingly desperate effort to sustain the unsustainable. The Gaza massacre might be cloaked in respectful language. But neither a pliant media nor Israel's complicit political friends can hide the true extent of its systematic cruelty inside the human laboratory of Gaza.


Monday, 15 December 2008

One Voice: do not disturb

My attention has been drawn to the Glasgow University Guardian article 'Voices unite in plea for peace' (3 December 2008), a report by Ross Mathers on a recent public meeting held by One Voice (10 November 2008).

The opening line reads:
"A MEMBER OF AN OPPOSING MOVEMENT interrupted a recent rally held by the Glasgow chapter of One Voice."
Further into the article, hailing One Voice and its adherents, Mathers contends that:

"The evening was disrupted, however, by a member of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign [sic] accusing One Voice of diluting the reality of the conflict and of backing the Israeli occupation. The situation in Israel and Palestine was also compared to the apartheid seen in South Africa.

Speaking to Guardian, One Voice supporters said they expected such a reaction. This came after One Voice's leafleting campaign on campus was disturbed by similar protestors who voiced their concern over the underlying loyalties and aims of One Voice."

The words "interrupted", "disrupted" and "disturbed" are highly revealing of how One Voice and its coterie view criticism of their message. There's also the curious anomaly of how an invited opinion aired from the floor of an open public meeting constitutes an interruption or disruption to such proceedings. As with One Voice's own evasions on the key issues of Palestine/Israel, one can only presume, from the absence of any contrary opinion in this piece, a similar kind of closure.

Mathers's sanitised reportage complements One Voice's own aversion to critical examination. There's not a word of serious discussion on the actual issues in his gushing article. Instead, we're treated to a generalised lauding of One Voice's 'higher' peace agenda, its lofty supporters - notably Charles Kennedy (who, at the OV meeting, lavished praise on Blair's Middle East 'peace' efforts) - and this Israeli One Voicer's anguish over the external hatred she believes is being directed at her country:

"It's hard, because sometimes we feel alone when the world seems to hate us so much. The media shows what it wants to show."

Thus speaks the 'suffering Zionist', a default defence of Israel which finds ready welcome inside One Voice. It's a denialist mindset which helps insulate Ms Lipnik from the core causes and staggering scale of Palestinian oppression. It also protects One Voicers from the truth of what the BBC and other Western media do show, which amounts to daily distortion, omission and a servile apologetics for Israeli conduct.

Don't mention the 'A' word

Support for this 'persecution complex' is apparent in Mathers's own intimation of contempt at my charge of "apartheid", as though uttered by an extremist interloper falsely impugning Israel.

Perhaps Mathers and the selective One Voice respondents in his report should pay a little attention to the growing body of international figures making that very indictment.

For example, UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann recently denounced Israel's apartheid system, while calling for an intensified boycott, divestment and sanctions to help break the illegal Occupation and siege of Gaza. As the activist writer Phyllis Bennis notes, Brockmann's use of the 'A' word “was really quite extraordinary" coming “from the highest levels of the most democratic part of the United Nations, the General Assembly".

As documented, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and many other notable peace-makers view Israel as an apartheid state. The Israeli human right group B'Tselem have made similar statements. Even the former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Cold War hawk, acknowledges the apartheid comparison with South Africa. UN Rapporteur Richard Falk, meanwhile, has just been refused entry into Israel for condemning its racist conduct.

International campaigns like Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid are also serving to highlight Israel's state abuses and war crimes. The admirable Action Palestine are doing similar work across UK campuses, providing, contra One Voice, a true picture of the Occupation and Israel's contrived 'peace agenda'.

At a recent AP meeting in Strathclyde Union, three Palestinian students gave moving testimonies on educational apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza (as part of the Right to Education week). It's a pity Mr Mathers wasn't there to report their astute thoughts and harrowing experiences. Again, it seems, that's an unwelcome "interruption" of One Voice's select narrative.

Unlike One Voice and Mr Mathers who endeavour to shun discussion of international law and Palestinian rights, it's reassuring to know that one is in the better moral company of Brockmann, Tutu and journalists like Pilger - people prepared to use honest, informed vocabulary in calling Israel to account for its crimes.

In contrast, it's a shameful kind of campus 'journalism' that employs terminology like "disrupted" to demonise critics of One Voice while Israel uses its violent disruptions and apartheid powers to break Gaza and the West Bank.

John Hilley

Saturday, 13 December 2008

One Voice - simplifying the 'choices'

As with George W Bush's "with us or against us" line, simplified 'choices' often serve a purpose in excusing murderous regimes, hiding their crimes and preventing just solutions.

Here's another "pick a side" choice from One Voice coordinator Anthony Silkoff who has just been given a Young Thinkers Award for extolling the ideas of One Voice:

" 'Palestinians do not deserve a State and are incapable of governing themselves. They must be managed, imprisoned, or exiled.'


'The state of Israel is a hydra-headed monster, comprising Zionist ethnic cleansers, US imperialists, and Arab collaborationist regimes.'

Pick a side. Any side, so long as it's black and white. Farcical, perhaps, but this is the true extent of polarisation to be found in Britain today on this issue."

How very One Voice.

In essence, we're invited to read these propositions as polar opposites, the implication being that 'fair-minded moderates' should not only oppose the former position but also reject the scurrilous charges against Israel noted in the latter.

This is not a essay on true choices. It's an exercise in crude dissembling from our One Voice advocate, a sleight-of-hand typical of the chicanery that passes for intellectual reasoning from this deceitful organisation.

Alas, Mr Silkoff has a lot more thinking to do on the actual issues. His seeming dejection at the "polarisation" between Palestinian and Israeli groupings across UK campuses is used as a rallying call for One Voice 'moderation'. Yet, it's a discourse which only serves to inhibit understanding of the core causes and possible solutions.

By circumventing or dismissing the inconvenient language of occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, Zionism and other signifiers of the, yes, "hydra-headed" system of Israeli oppression, he does a disservice to Palestinians, Israelis and others seeking an honest examination and just peace.

Nor, apparently, is it productive to talk about "US imperialists" or the "collaborationist" role of Arab regimes. Presumably, this 'moderate view' precludes discussion of America's geopolitical conquests and its other ambitions in the region, Israel's client-state part in that project, the billion-dollar cheques issued annually from Washington to Tel Aviv helping to maintain Israel's illegal Occupation, the brutal siege of Gaza and the dual US-Israeli arms economy underlying all that oppression. It's also, no doubt, rude to mention the conditional US aid lavished on Egypt, serving to keep its borders sealed and the people of Gaza in a state of near starvation.

In more 'thinking' mode, campus Palestinians and their supporters are caricatured by Silkoff as hostile intransigents, unable, apparently, to see the One Voice message of 'mediation'. The 'balance', of course, is served by disapproving token comment on their Israeli campus adversaries. Again, how very One Voice to conflate arch-Zionists and Palestinian groups campaigning for fundamental human rights - as though the latter's campaign for justice based on international law is somehow detrimental to 'moderate dialogue' - or One Voice's white-washed version of it.

There's also something precociously arrogant about Silkoff's problem with "outside opinions" and the "domination" of "academics viewpoints" rather than "what the majority of Israelis and Palestinians themselves actually want." This is another standard One Voice play to 'moderate' 'on-the-ground opinion', implying claims of mass-support for its work, while dismissing a rich field of critical academics, many of whom work as dedicated activists in pursuit of both justice for the Palestinians and the moral regeneration of Israeli society - which broadly involves a one state solution with full rights for all people.

As noted elsewhere, One Voice may not approve of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's landmark text The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, but they should have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that, contrary to their facile 'choices', a definitive and massive ethnic cleansing did actually take place - indeed, it's still ongoing, as evidenced by the stealthy purges against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

In similar vein, they may not wish to recognise the academic and humanitarian efforts of Israeli professor Jeff Halper, whose heroic (non-academic) activism includes lying down in front of Israeli soldiers and bulldozers in an effort to stop Palestinian homes being demolished.

These are acts of real human solidarity, far-removed from the cosy-cloistered 'engagement' of people like Silkoff and his One Voice friends.

Perhaps they should visit the Sheik Jarrah district of East Jerusalem, from where the al-Kurd family have just been brutally evicted from their home after 52 years, a trauma too much for Mr al-Kurd who died days after of a heart attack.

Moreover, where is One Voice's recognition of the international activists who stand beside the al-Kurds and other Palestinians facing Israeli violence, such as the besieged villagers of Bi'lin and Ni'lin? Are they also part of that "polarisation"? Have they also made the wrong 'choice'?

Likewise, what of the Shministim school-students in Israel who have refused to serve in the Israeli Occupation Forces, choosing jail, instead, in an admirable act of defiance and support for suffering Palestinians? Isn't their "pick a side" action more moral and immediate in drawing international attention to the real issue of Israeli repression?

Instead of the slanted choices offered by One Voice, the discerning thinker might more usefully look - even if the media has ignored it - at the damning statement and report just issued by UN Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, condemning Israel's gross violations in Gaza. It's yet another unequivocal reminder that, contra One Voice's 'two sides' distortion, there's actually an Occupier and an Occupied here. And the former is visiting unspeakable suffering on the latter.

As Falk reminds us: "Silence is not an option." One Voice would prefer that we all remain respectfully mute on these key, crisis issues; that we 'moderate' our language to 'accommodate dialogue'; that we, in essence, eschew the words spoken by Falk and international others on Israel's "apartheid system", "illegal actions" and "war crimes" against the Palestinian people.

One Voice's optional silence on all this is not just an illustration of fake moderate-speak, it's a stark reminder of how the disguising of such basic truths and language amounts to actual complicity in those crimes.

Time, indeed, to "pick a side": the side of the occupiers and oppressors or the occupied and oppressed.


Friday, 5 December 2008

Monbiot, Media Lens and the Guardian

There's been a significant debate, of sorts, over at Media Lens following this message board posting from George Monbiot intimating charges of 'double standards' towards the ML Editors:
Can this be true?

If so, I think I have reason to feel aggrieved.
Monbiot's posting was in response to an online article by the multiple aka blogger Bob Shone, alleging "hypocrisy" over the ML Editor's 'reluctance' to criticise the New Statesman (in their occasional pieces for that organ), while, at the same time, taking Monbiot to task for not seriously criticising the Guardian.

I won't reprise the arguments against Mr Shone. Suffice to say, he has obsessive form for stalking Media Lens. What's more disappointing is George Monbiot's acknowledgement of Shone's "evidence" as a basis for challenging ML.

In response, ML issued an impressive Alert piece, 'Can this be true', comprehensively exposing Shone's fabrications, documenting their own difficult dealings with the NS and Guardian and talking of the systematic issues for journalists working within the corporate media. Implicit in this thoughtful critique was an invite for George Monbiot to answer previous questions put to him about the Guardian's positions on Iraq and climate change, as well as particular statements Monbiot had made about the 'threat' from Iran.

Again, disappointingly, Monbiot could only reply, thus:
I post a one-line question on the Medialens message board and receive an entire Media Alert, just for me, in response. Well I'm deeply honoured. But could it suggest just a tiny morsel of defensiveness on the editors' part?

Anyway, Happy Christmas and best wishes to you all,

Following ML's admirable Alert, and many other thoughtful board comments, it seemed a surprising abrogation of the issues from such a respected campaigner, prompting my own further response:
I now count five short messages, mostly one liners, from George Monbiot here, not one of which:

1. Is concerned to address his questionable use of Bob Shone's site and 'evidence'.
2. Has dealt with ML's fine and compassionate Alert.
3. Has answered any of the questions put to him by ML about the Guardian's hypocrisies re the war and climate change.

Instead, George seems to think this kind of dismissal counts as a political point:

"Signing off now to fight a battle with a real enemy (one of the airline companies)."

Let's, for a moment, try to put this board discussion in its proper context. It's not about infighting. It's not about diverting attention from the "real enemy". It's about getting into the open the vital problem of the Guardian and other liberal media outlets which keep real forces for change, notably over war policy and the environment, safely checked and contained.

That's a crucial "battle with a real enemy." And, as a major campaigner and writer for the Guardian, George Monbiot has a significant stake in that issue.

So, let's dispense with this 'let's all move on to the real battle' stuff and recognise the pressing need to have this ongoing debate, the principal aim of which should be critical exposure of the Guardian and how it serves to pacify public opinion and neutralise dissent.

With a million-plus dead in Iraq, and the Guardian's disgusting apologetics for it, that's more pressing, in my opinion, than rushing-off to criticise airline companies.

What's really extraordinary is George Monbiot's apparent unwillingness to see and confront such concerns.


Besides the board responses to this and other facets of the discussion, I received this enquiry from Daniel Simpson:
Hi John (and Davids),


Are you saying George Monbiot ought to make himself unemployable at the Guardian, either by resigning, or by "confront[ing] such concerns" as your desire to see more "critical exposure of the Guardian and how it serves to pacify public opinion and neutralise dissent", perhaps by denouncing its "disgusting apologetics" in print, or proving he can't?

If not, what are you saying?

Isn't the "ongoing debate" for which there's a "pressing need" one about being realistic as well as demanding the impossible?

Either you think it's vital that dissidents inside the system move outside it (and sustain themselves by other means than salaries from corporate media), or you're prepared to acknowledge that there are calculations people have to make, in which case a bit more honesty/realism in the critique might achieve something more than eliciting comments from George Monbiot that dissatisfy you.

I'm copying this to the ML editors because I'd be interested in hearing their thoughts too.

Best regards,

In essence, this view is concerned about "being realistic". So, let's address the realities of the Guardian's role as a progressive force for change and the progressive function of those who work within it.

With over one million souls dead in Iraq and Blair et al off the hook, did the Guardian act in any decisive way to help expose this systematic criminality? With the planet in a state of ticking-clock environmental crisis, has the Guardian's harbouring of fossil-fuel offenders and refusal to ban their advertising helped or hindered understanding of the eco-emergency? With all this and other gentlemanly canoodling of the elite in mind, are we seriously "being realistic" any more in believing that we can't do without the influence of 'insider journalists'?

What we have to be truly realistic about is the politics of co-optation which the incorporation of journalists serves.

The ML Editors have given valuable insights in their Alert on just how difficult it is to get a piece critical of the host media past their gateway editors. The constraints are much more obvious for those like Monbiot, directly employed by such media. Which, however much we see their presence there as relatively useful, still negates their ability, or willingness, to tackle the substantive problem of their media employers.

We can argue the pros and cons of whether journalists should actually resign their positions. I see this not as impossible, but improbable. What Monbiot and others do is a matter for their own consciences. But, given the critical role of the Guardian in subverting true discussion and action over the war and climate change, I think it's an option that should be given realistic consideration.

Consider, for instance, the effect of Monbiot resigning in principle over the Guardian's climate posturing. It would have two important effects. Firstly, it would alert much of the Guardian's own safe liberal readership to the truth of their paper's hypocrisy, thereby undermining an organ which acts as a key sop to the establishment. Secondly, it would encourage people towards an alternative media and information free from corporate manipulation.

The counter-argument is, again, obvious: better having good people in the tent than outside it. Yet, the prospects for serious change coming from within are rarely given realistic appraisal by such journalists. Why? The reasons are varied, ranging from career factors to delusional belief in their own capacities. Generally, they rationalise it as just being "realistic." What they rarely seek to be realistic about is the way in which the Guardian and its peers are the problem.

Better, I think, that we deal with that reality - and how it legitimises the 'reality' of war and eco-catastrophe - rather than the token space people like Monbiot are given to say their 'radical' bit. If we want to be "realistic" about challenging the system that lives by war, environmental abuse and other corporate destruction, we better start tackling, in new and realistic ways, the media that gives it all a protective gloss.


Thursday, 4 December 2008

Venezuela: distortions, reforms and the music of hope

Following the recent election results in Venezuela, giving Hugo Chávez another impressive mandate, the Venezuelan Information Centre issued this concisely-worded reminder:
"VIC will continue to explain the truth about Venezuela and challenge the media distortions which, in reality, reflect incredulity that any Latin American country should have the temerity to break free of the tutelage of the United States and use its natural resources to improve the well being of its people."
It seems, indeed, for the US and its media proxies, a seemingly audacious idea. Time, for example, talk of "how passionately the anti-U.S. firebrand [Chávez] keeps working to thwart Washington's interests in the hemisphere" - as if Venezuela's own interests have no significance. Try to imagine Time noting "how passionately the anti-Venezuelan firebrand [Bush] keeps working to thwart Caracas's interests in the hemisphere".

While Time revel in how "el comandante's celebration was blunted" by the opposition gains, they're forced to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that:
"Then again, Chávez is hardly a dictator. Venezuelans can still criticize him in the media, and ever since he was elected in 1998 (and in a special 2000 election and again in 2006), he's followed democratic procedure and conceded defeat, however irascibly, when it's come. Chávez's backers insist that even if term limits are eliminated, Venezuela's opposition, unlike Cuba's, can still dethrone him."
Which should answer objections to Chávez's newly-proposed referendum on constitutional extension of the presidential term. Yet such caveats remain token admissions among the endless pages of character assassination.

Encouraging the reforms

We needn't be under any illusions about the success, to date, of the Bolivarian reforms to see the kind of forces attempting to strangle them. Nor should we shirk from recognising the internal problems the revolution is facing.

Chávez's PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) lost a number of seats in the elections, the partial consequence, notes Mike Gonzalez, of the growing gulf between the poorest, still supporting Chávez, and a brooding, rightist middle class unhappy at seeing their privileges eroded to the reforms. The spectre of corruption among some of the new "Chavista bureaucracy", argues Gonzalez, also had a negative electoral effect for Chávez, a warning of discontent from below that the reformist agenda must be strengthened.

Gonzalez also remains a useful voice in asking where the revolution is going. While part of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela rightly involves the defence of Chávez by the poor - those who defined the revolution in 2002 by saving him from the coup plotters - Gonzalez also sees the need to intensify the transfer of power from the state and nascent party apparatus to the Bolivarian networks; namely, the people.

This is not to undermine Chávez. Rather, it's to recognise the contradictory tensions within the revolutionary process as the state/party entrench new figures with powers and privileges they become reluctant to give up, thereby stunting citizen ownership and controls, the very goals of Bolivarian participatory democracy.

Gonzalez's critique is, in this vein, a laudable look at the structural faults of the revolution; an educational analysis of the tensions for Venezuela as it seeks, with regional allies, to build a pan-Latin alternative to Washington/Wall Street hegemony, while pursuing its own internal micro-based Bolivarian reforms.

And, as Gonzalez and many others know, there's a consistent queue of media assassins ever-ready to discredit those reformist endeavours.

Much of this comes in crude reference to Venezuela's social problems. For example, in a recent Unreported World film, Venezuela: Cult of the Thugs, the spectacle of ongoing crime and violence across Venezuelan barrios is offered as supposed evidence of Chávez's 'failures':
"Venezuela, the world's fourth largest oil producer, has seen its murder rate triple after nine years of leadership by President Hugo Chavez. At least one person is murdered every 40 minutes and the government's own statistics show it now has one of the world's highest murder rates."
This is trite liberal reportage which fails, or refuses to see, either the wider regional or economic context within which such crime prevails. Nor do we get the sightest hint of the massive political-corporate forces weighing on Chávez and the revolution. Instead, it's pitched as some kind of 'stark revelation' that the 'great socialist alternative just can't deliver'.

As admirably noted in Sean Penn's recent meetings with Chávez in Caracas and Raul Castro in Havana, the West continues to paint a grossly distorted picture of Venezuela, Cuba and this reformist hemisphere. It's also a staggering anomaly that people like Chávez can be so widely vilified while Bush, Blair and their cohorts enjoy effective exemption for their mass crimes. As Penn noted, in preparation for his visits:
"I had grown increasingly intolerant of the propaganda. Though Chávez himself has a penchant for rhetoric, never has it been a cause for war."
Never do Time and other media servants to power see fit to discuss the criminality and genocide perpetrated by successive US administrations in Iraq, Afghanistan and, of course, across Latin America itself.

Make music, not war

While much of the Western media continue their routine slander of Chávez and the Bolivarian reforms, here's one inspiring lesson in social intervention, Venezuelan-style, that films like Unreported World fail to mention. Born of an earlier initiative, now supported by the Chávez government and Venezuela's local communities, the globally-acclaimed El Sistema project is taking thousands of deprived kids from the barrios and giving them a participatory education in musicianship.

All children are eligible and encouraged to participate. Many have become internationally-renowned performers. Yet, even that's a kind of secondary accolade beside the aims of this wonderful collective, giving joyful stimulus to youngsters susceptible to a life of crime and poverty.

One of El Sistema's finest talents is the brilliant young conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Leading the stunning Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, a product of El Sistema, Dudamel and his colourful entourage wowed last year's London Proms with a carnivalesque performance, including an unforgettable rendition of Bernstein's Mambo.

In a pleasing departure for the BBC, the story of El Sistema's development was featured in Alan Yentob's recent Imagine series. In a memorable sequence, we see the humanitarian arts figure Richard Holloway visit Venezuela with a Scottish delegation. His heart captured by the performing kids, Holloway helped bring the El Sistema idea back home to a deprived part of Stirling, an initiative that continues to spread to other poor locales.

It's inspiring to see this positive human energy resonate around the world, particularly as it derives from a country so engaged in meaningful, if still difficult, transition.


Thursday, 27 November 2008

Obama dismisses growing world criticism of Israel

UN General Secretary President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann has urged the world not to refrain from labelling Israel an "apartheid" state, while calling for international boycotts, divestments and sanctions to help end the Occupation.

The UN's International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People has also heard Dr. Hans Koechler of the International Progress Organization call for political, legal and other coercive measures against Israel, echoing
a wide range of other NGOs and inter-governmental bodies.

These pleas for international action come in the wake of Switzerland's scathing criticism of Israel. Denouncing its flagrant violations of international law, the Swiss Foreign Ministry recently called upon Israel to cease its illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and other parts of the Occupied Territories. It may seem a small objection from a quiet little country. But, as guardians of the Geneva Conventions, the Swiss condemnation carries considerable moral weight.

Might all these laudable calls for justice and decisive international action prompt a rethink of Barack Obama's support for Israel?

It seems not. Instead, we find Obama's advisers working feverishly to assure Zionist lobby groups that the US will not only back Israel, but, like them, will actively boycott international gatherings which dare to challenge Israel's illegal and racist conduct.

Hence, the latest US negation of the World Conference Against Racism, or 'Durban 2'. (The actual 2009 meeting will be held in Geneva.)

As the Jewish Chronicle contentedly report:
"Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have assured Jewish leaders that the United States will not take part in the so-called Durban II conference...The now-notorious 2001 Durban Conference became a forum for extreme anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. A senior executive from an international Jewish body said he had been told: "President Obama is fully aware of the dangers of participating in this conference."... But he said: "We are confident that the main problem now is not the US, which will certainly not take part, but the European Union members."
The JC also intimates its approval of Hillary Clinton's appointment - as has arch-neocon William Kristol - noting her campaign promise to "lead a boycott of the Durban II conference, should current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail".

Evidence, if it's still needed, of how team-Obama will act as the ongoing protectorate of Israel's hateful treatment of the Palestinians.

As with the ignoring of public objections to Clinton's warmongering record, Obama's hawkish and pro-Zionist appointments fit neatly with the dismissal of Durban 2.
In similar vein, Obama's retention of Robert Gates at the Pentagon is the latest insult to the US anti-war base who elected him.

Such dismissals of UN and other humanitarian bodies in favour of Zionist-military interests illustrate the type of token consultation that's been taking place over Obama's 'peace policies', while indicating the kind of
reactive agenda still to come.


Monday, 24 November 2008

Pain and resolve of the al-Kurd family

News reaches us of the sad passing of Abu Kamel al-Kurd.

Mr al-Kurd, 61, died of a heart attack two weeks after being forcibly evicted from the family's home in Sheik Jarrah, East Jerusalem. Subjected to years of wilful intimidation by the Israeli state and settler zealots, Fawzia al-Kurd has now lost her home and her husband. The stress of eviction and callous destruction of a protest tent set up outside the family's home finally proved too much for Abu Kamel who had suffered prolonged illness. One can only imagine the despair and heartbreak for this heroic family, forced to watch him live out his final days in this barbaric way.

One is entitled to feel anger. Instead, I try to focus on the questions of compassionate awareness and solidarity. And, I ask, when will those multiple friends of Israel, forever issuing peace overtures and assurances to this apartheid state, realise their collective inhumanity in failing to speak on behalf of the truly oppressed, the dispossessed, the brutalised other? Will it come while David Miliband tours Israel and speaks at his Labour Friends of Israel luncheons? Or when the BBC, in their shameful 'haste', finally turn up to 'report' the al-Kurd's plight? Or when 'peace' groups like One Voice utter their squeaky-clean denunciations of 'extremists' on 'both sides', never daring to mention the state monolithic violence being visited every single day on anonymous Palestinians?

Their silence, their prevarications, their complicity is why such human wreckage is allowed to continue: apologetic human inaction feeds violent state action.

It's why there has to be clear proactive support for people like the al-Kurds - just as there has to be active criticism and exposure of the forces currently starving Gaza into submission, causing 98 percent of its children to be traumatised. To speak otherwise only provides the powerful with the means to mystify the issues and hide their crimes.

Beyond the sadness, I keep the pleasing memory of breaking Ramadan fast last year with the al-Kurds during our part in the watchful vigil outside their now stolen home. I smile thinking about that lovely gathering, of the family's generous hospitality and kindness. And, again, of their quiet, dignified resilience in the face of imminent eviction and loss.

All these images convey, for me, the true essence of the Palestinian struggle for justice. It also informs my understanding of peaceful, assertive and mindful-resistant politics; or zenpolitics. Even at such moments, it inspires a positive belief that there will be due deliverance for the al-Kurds and all those living and dying under the weight of Israel's brutal fist. Israel may be able to wield its mighty armoury, political network and media calumnies. But the people it seeks to demoralise and break show no sign of being silenced.

Strength and love to the al-Kurd family.


Friday, 21 November 2008

One Voice partners and the Obama network

Liberal 'moderates' play a key role in promoting extremist violence.

It's a remarkable paradox when one stops to think about it. A thought that would be instantly dismissed by liberal politicians, journalists and civil others as absurdly extremist in itself. Yet, when one stands, directly or apologetically, in support of an Occupying power and its satellite friends, rather than with the Occupied and oppressed, all those 'moderated' liberal words and inactions provide the greatest impetus for ongoing state violence and the violent responses which emerge from that violent oppression.

Such is the truth behind One Voice and its various international partners, many closely linked to the incoming Obama administration. Behind all the stated aims of this body and its friends to peaceful co-existence lies a power network predicated on political, military and corporate repression.

Much of that consolidated power was observable at last year's World Economic Forum event, "Enough is Enough - Israel and the Palestinian Territories" (note the omission of "Occupied" in the title), where One Voice founder Daniel Lubetzky, in the audience, was hailed as a new young doyen of the WEF.

Here's Lubetzky singing the praises of the WEF, a collective manifestation of business-political elites serving to uphold the global neoliberal disorder:
"I went [to Davos] and was blessed to meet a lot of great people who have become very very important figures in my life. OneVoice would literally not exist today without the support of the World Economic Forum... It is a great platform to meet impressive people who want to do something positive."
The host for this event was Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF and one of One Voice's Honorary Board of Advisors.

After inviting Mahmoud Abbas's thoughts, Schwab introduced Tzipi Livni to the podium where she repeated the standard untruths about Israel's 'benign' 'disengagement' from Gaza, the 'lost opportunity' for Palestinians arising from Oslo and the need to 'embrace moderates/reject extremists'. None of the 'moderates' among this esteemed gathering, including Lubetzky, seemed inclined to the truth that it's Israel's violent state extremism which lies at the heart of the problem.

Avoiding mention of Israel's economic devastation of Gaza and the other Occupied Territories, Shimon Peres - a man deeply implicated in war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon - went on to tell the assembled business delegates about the wonderful opportunities for big dollar investments in the region, all helping towards a 'peace solution' - another useful clue to why One Voice and Lubetzky's PeaceWorks corporation are being embraced by the WEF.

Claiming provenance of the 'moderate Israeli-Palestinian voice', Lubetzky falsely portrays all other parties, with select exceptions, as indulging in useless "extremism", which, apparently, explains his decision to form One Voice:
"If you follow speeches in 2001 and 2002, the only people who were speaking like that were King Abdullah and Queen Rania [of Jordan]. Everybody else was in an “us” vs. “them” mentality: it was all about extremism."
This, presumably, includes all those bothersome 'extremists' who insist on adhering to international law and the multiple UN resolutions condemning Israel's state extremism.

Friends united

Still, Lubetzky can always find more 'moderate' voices among Westminster's three main parties, where friends of Israel abound.

During his talk as special guest to the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, One Voice adherent Charles Kennedy had this to say:
"Liberal Democrats look around the world to identify who shares our values. We believe in the Liberal values of equal human rights for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or faith. Only Israel, of all the countries in the Middle East, underwrites these values by law."
Staggering praise, indeed, for a state which denies non-Jews any right to 93 percent of its stolen land. And this from the same man who led the purge against Jenny Tongue for daring to articulate how a persecuted Palestinian might, in desperation, resort to violence.

Kennedy's defence of Israel, praise for Blair and denunciation of people like Tonge is an effective promotion of Israeli violence. Lubetzky's and One Voice's engagement of Blair, while demonising Hamas, amounts to the same thing. Both help maintain the fiction that the Israeli state is somehow moderate, rather than driven, as so many atrocities have shown, by pure violent intent, designed to terrorise and break an entire people.

While Conservative Friends of Israel help keep old British-Zionist political and business connections intact, it's Labour Friends of Israel whose most 'moderate' voice provides the greatest guarantor for Israel's ongoing violence. Unsurprisingly, Foreign Secretary David Miliband's patronage of LFoI is closely complemented by his endorsement of One Voice.

While Israel was this week blacking-out its merciless starvation of Gaza - helped by the 'moderated' reports from the BBC - the 'moderate' Miliband was strolling around Sderot proclaiming that it's "become the front line of Israel's security", and that's why "countries like mine and others show solidarity with the people of Sderot..."

Beyond his token visits to the West Bank and 'firm' words to Tel Aviv on the problem of 'mis-labelled' Israeli products, Miliband's 'moderate' silence on Israel's high crimes and apartheid state illustrates how liberal voices merely serve to excuse the Occupation, thus encouraging ongoing Israeli murder. Miliband's speech to LFoI is a further template example of how this liberal genuflection to Israel, 'moderated' by appeals for a halt to settlement expansion, allows a 'ticked-off' Israel to continue, unopposed, with its systematic violence.

One Voice and the Obama circle

One Voice also enjoys the support of notable politicians and celebrities in the US, again serving to enhance its image while turning a blind-eye to Israel's violent conduct.

How reassuringly 'moderate' to have glam-figures like Danny DeVito and Brad Pitt on One Voice's list. Why would anyone doubt the bona fides of a movement supported by such 'peace-affirming' celebs? Intrinsic to this is a kind of moral blackmail, enjoining people to say "well, how can I argue with a group trying to, at least, bring people together - particularly when that organisation is endorsed by role-model stars?"

One Voice's courting of the 'Arab constituency' in the US provides another such dimension on liberal co-optation and persusion. Take, for example, the Arab American Institute (AAI), prominently listed as "organizational partners" of One Voice.

James Zogby, the AAI head, has been making apologetic statements on behalf of Obama's proto Chief of Staff and seasoned Zionist, Rahm Emanuel.

Currently in thrall to Obama, Zogby has been criticised by more disapproving Arabs as a self opportunist fixer. Claiming the mantle of foremost Arab voice in the US, he served the Clinton administration faithfully while it executed its genocidal sanctions policy against Iraq. Zogby has also promoted and bestowed plaudits on Clinton's sanctions-enforcer and most-favoured Zionist, Martin Indyk. Indyk has been active, of late, reassuring Israel that Obama has the full interests of Israel at heart - even in his proposed 'mediations' with Iran.

Zogby is also close to Clinton's old Middle East ambassador and current Obama aide, Dennis Ross, who has been straining similar political sinews to convince Israelis and concerned US Jews that Obama is staunchly on their side:
"I am convinced that he will stand by Israel. I am. If I wasn't convinced of that, I wouldn't be standing here. Do I think that at the end of the day he will do whatever's necessary if Israel's threatened? I do. You raised the issue of Jerusalem. That was at the AIPAC speech. And what he said, he said the following: "Jerusalem is Israel's capital." ...The fact of the matter is, Jerusalem is Israel's capital. That's a fact. It's also a fact that the city should not be divided again. That's also a fact."
Indyk, Ross and Zogby are all on One Voice's Honorary Board of Advisors.

In a thoughtful essay on Zogby and the AII , US-Palestinian poet Remi Kanizi reminds us what these kind of moderate supplications to Obama really mean:
"While Zogby wants us to be aware of the "political realities," the actual reality for many Arab Americans is simple: this appointment represents more of the same -- whether it is the hawkish policies of the Bush administration or the destructive Middle East policy that was wrapped in nicer packaging during the Clinton years."
Zogby is no less effusive about Oslo and Emanuel's part in it, a process which Kanizi properly consigns to the dustbin of history:
"Zogby then swerves in a bizarre direction by praising Emanuel’s involvement in the Oslo Accords. Emanuel is the person who coordinated the shaking of hands between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. The Oslo Accords (which Zogby endorsed) were a complete failure. During the Oslo years, illegal Israeli settlements doubled and the policy that emanated from the accords helped destroy the Palestinian economy. It is the equivalent of proclaiming that Emanuel was the ribbon cutter, unveiling the “bridge to nowhere.”"
And that's the principal point of Zogby's and his peers' residence at the One Voice board: to help maintain the language of 'moderation' and a politics of prostration to ongoing US/Israeli versions of the 'peace agenda'.

True voices of moderation and peace should be alarmed that such mavericks and extremists, posing as liberal ambassadors, are finding common cause with Obama to entrench Israel's violence. In similar ways, One Voice's appeal and connections across this network helps maintain the crucial fiction that Israel is, at heart, intent on peace and dialogue; a process, so the liberal narrative goes, forever undermined by Palestinian unwillingness to renounce extremism and guarantee Israeli security.

As Israel's inhuman punishment of Gaza goes on, with the blame continually inverted to its victims, ask yourself what part One Voice and its assembly of 'moderate' friends are playing in support of that killing and the obstruction to a just peace for Palestine.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

One Voice: whose voice?

The politics of co-optation, it seems, is getting evermore 'grassroots', and here's a fine example of the seductive form.

One Voice is a project which apparently promotes peaceful joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts towards a "two state solution". When stripped bare, however, we find a more stealthy agenda serving to disguise Israeli power through appeals to 'moderation' and challenges to 'extremism'.

Despite it's elite allies and the failure of a supposedly critical media to highlight its crimes, Israel is increasingly on the international back-foot. Ever-astute in the PR field, One Voice offers a more accommodating medium and tone through which Israel's fundamental interests can be softened and presented.

Much of One Voice's language is framed in ways which underline the need for Israeli 'security'.

In its site literature, one can find no proper recognition of elementary language and labels, such as:
* The Occupation, or Occupied Territories - as formally defined by UN and other international statutes.

* Israeli extremism and terrorism - only Palestine is denoted in these terms.

* Israel's apartheid policies - as defined by Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and (former) UN Rapporteur John Dugard.

* Israel's multiple violations of international law.

* The illegality of the Separation Wall - as ruled by the International Court of Justice (2004).

* The viability and justice of a "one state solution".
Donors, friends and Lubetzky's CV

One Voice is backed by an array of corporate donors, like IBM, with strong business connections to Israel, while its board supporters include Likud, Shas and National Religious Party members.

One Voice also lists would-be supporters without consulting them, while others have relinquished their connection on learning of One Voice's true agenda.

One Voice is closely supported by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organisation responsible for vast expropriations of Palestinian villages, and the synthetic alterations to Palestinian locales in order to disguise Israel's historical violations and ethnic cleansing.

One Voice seeks to break the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Following plans for a One Voice joint event in Tel Aviv and Jericho, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) made this explicit statement:
"According to the widely accepted boycott criteria advocated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the event falls under the category of normalization projects and violates the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, trade unions, political parties, and grassroots movements, for the following reasons:

1. Participants are required to join the One Voice Movement and sign a mandate -- ostensibly based on a "two-state solution," but without any commitment to international parameters -- which assumes equal responsibility of "both sides" for the "conflict," and suspiciously fails to call for Israel's full compliance with its obligations under international law through ending its illegal military occupation, its denial of Palestinian refugee rights (particularly the right of return), and its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.

2. The event is sponsored by Israeli institutions (mostly from the private sector) and endorsed by mainstream Israeli political figures from parties including the Likud, Labour and Shas. These Israeli "partners" are unquestionably complicit in maintaining Israel 's occupation and other forms of oppression.

We believe this event is being organized to promote a "peace" agreement that is devoid of the minimal requirements of justice, and that will leave the Palestinian people as disenfranchised as previous agreements have. The unfortunate and harmful support of Palestinian businessmen, religious and political figures, among others, for this event indicates either ignorance of the hidden agenda inherent in the whole initiative, deceptively camouflaged as a collective call for peace, or willingness to forfeit the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in return for advancing selfish interests.

We call on the Palestinian public and international supporters of a just peace in Palestine not to take part in this public relations charade that conceals a misleading political program that falls significantly short of international law tenets and the Palestinian national program."
The event was subsequently cancelled following the withdrawal of most Palestinian musicians, organisers and others who quickly came to see that One Voice does not truly speak in the Palestinian interest.

One Voice's founder, Daniel Lubetzky, is a businessman with strong corporate and establishment ties.

On his website, Lubetzky claims that he "wants to amplify the voice of moderates", dismissing Hamas as extremists. The fact of Hamas's democratic election holds no apparent relevance for Lubetzky. His calls for 'moderation' and 'dialogue' are coupled with standard attacks on other international 'deviants', such as the "authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez". Another recent entry castigates casual criticism of Rahm Emanuel, while omitting any mention of Emanuel's own hardliner Israeli leanings.

Another key connection here is Lubetzky's own past posts at multilateral capitalist agencies like the World Economic Forum and World Bank. As one useful analysis of the latter shows:
"The Bank's approach to development in Palestine hinges on the full acceptance of the status quo - including continued occupation and the presence of the settlements and the wall - as well as joint projects that require PNA-Israeli cooperation, often with a third international partner. Politically, these development projects threaten to legitimise Israeli claims in regards to the wall, Jerusalem, land annexation and settlements that have resulted in the fragmentation and ghettoisation of the West Bank and Gaza."
Little wonder Lubetzky's organisation is being bankrolled by big business, with its eyes on Palestinian investment opportunities.

One Voice's recent meeting with Tony Blair helps ilustrate this new 'peace'-cum-business collaboration in the making, all in tune with the Palestinian Authority's attempt to please Western interests. Little surprise, then, that Blair is backing One Voice as he takes time from his various financial board jobs to pitch big business interests around the West Bank.

The reasons behind Western political and corporate endorsement of One Voice should be obvious to any savvy observer. Lubetzky's organisation is a front for what those interests see as the 'future' of Palestine - one in which Israel remains the dominant political, economic and military force, even under any two state solution.

One Voice in Glasgow

Among others, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign SPSC have given cautionary notice to those, notably students, being seduced by One Voice's seemingly inspiring message.

I sat in on one such gathering at Glasgow University. Held in the University chapel, lending a 'let's come-together', ecumenical feel, it wasn't hard to see how One Voice's Israeli and Palestinian peace-declaring speakers and slide-show appeals was intended to attract much of its genteel, liberal-minded audience.

The sizeable (100, or so) meeting was opened by University Rector and advocate for One Voice, Charles Kennedy, who talked for a few minutes (much of it in jocular reminiscence of his student days here) about "difference and diversity" and how One Voice are serving to bring hope to this difficult situation. Kennedy's bland-speak and failure to discuss the actual issues was matched by a glowing tribute to Tony Blair and his current 'peace efforts' in the Middle East. The 'admirable efforts' of the Quartet were also noted before Kennedy handed-over to the panel - and promptly departed.

Kennedy's grand posturing, testament to a war criminal and apologetics for a body which has helped secure the siege of Gaza made me recall one of the more useful lessons I myself learned here as a student: how the process and trappings of 'high education' so often serve to mystify and neutralise rather than illuminate and inspire knowledge and truth.

And, as the One Voice invited guests proceeded to speak, that kernel of truth seemed never more evident. Posing as 'civic engagement', rather than political activism, it merely served to circumvent the core issues. We heard not one specific word about the main UN resolutions or Israel's multiple violations of international law. No one highlighted or invited exchange on the still-key issues: the border question, Palestinian right of return, the status of Jerusalem and the illegal settlements.

The introductory speaker, of Palestinian origin, opened with some background on the despair felt post-Oslo and in the wake of the two intifadas. But, though seemingly considered, it was couched in language which cast no specific blame on Israel's Occupation. Later in the meeting, he made a convoluted 'move-on' statement about land for Palestinians holding "different values" today from what may have seemed the case in 1948. Again, it was a moment begging for reference to UN resolution 194, advocating, from 1948 onwards, the standing right of Palestinians to return to their land.

He might also have noted the JNF's land-grab dealings in all of this ethnic cleansing - perhaps, even, Charles Kennedy's own patronage of that lofty body. Alas, the One Voice message doesn't include that kind of awkward detail.

Up next, the Israeli speaker's personal journey announced another desire for peaceful co-existence. Yet, it was an account, from Jewish immigrant to serving soldier and One Voice member, which failed to comprehend why she might be granted special 'right of return', while the state and military which she served continue to deny Palestinians their basic rights. Like many other peace-extolling Israelis, her peace-commitment was informed, as she related, after witnessing Palestinian rocket attacks. No doubt it was this primary fear over Israeli 'security', rather than Palestinian oppression, which prompted her facile claim that the Separation Wall - a "symptom" of the "conflict", according to her fellow-speaker - amounted to "only five percent" of Israel's security infrastructure.

In more moving terms, the Palestinian guest speaker recounted the suffering she, her family and community have endured in the West Bank. Her personal desire for an end to the hopeless impasse was, likewise, sincerely expressed. We heard here of her worthy desire to help unlock the wealth of Palestinian talent, and of her culminating belief in the two state solution. Yet, her apparent epiphany to the One Voice 'ideal' seemed little more than a hopeful submission to its false 'two sides' narrative.

It's here that we see the cynical promotion of One Voice's loaded appeal to 'Palestinian moderation', the implications of which seem lost on some Palestinians in their efforts to transcend the hopelessness and violence.

In particular, One Voice are pushing a 'both-to-blame' lingua franca which urges us to consider this 'vital' question: 'how do we defeat the extremists?' Precisely who the terrorists are was never specified at this meeting. The site literature is equally coy. But we're left in little doubt: it's the Palestinians. In contrast, there's only hollow silence from One Voice on Israel's massive state-terrorist arsenal, and the extremist brutality it has inflicted.

In another curious void, the two-state solution received not a moment of serious scrutiny or analysis as to what it might actually look like in practice. Rather, as in the literature, it was held aloft as a catch-all leitmotif, a kind of holy grail. No further thoughts. No examination. All we're told is that it's the preferred option of most Palestinians and Israelis.

Thus, the more awkward problems went conveniently unanswered: what form of two-state solution might this involve?; does Hamas get to have a say in any settlement?; will two states require the decisive removal of all the settlements - including those plush hill-top locales in East Jerusalem? More critically, with reference to the demographic time-bomb of Israel's 20 percent Arab population, what are One Voice's primary objections to a one-state solution?

Precisely none of this was up for serious discussion. Yet, it's here, in this sensitive omission, that the real Zionist fear of Israel losing its ethnocratic - rather than democratic -state composition can be discerned. As the Israeli activist Jeff Halper (whose ideas One Voice devotees might more usefully consult) notes in his excellent An Israeli in Palestine, even for many Israeli peace groups:
"the two state solution is an absolute and unassailable one; they cannot even contemplate another one, and in particular anything smacking of a bi-national state. This is because they are Zionists, and for them a Jewish ethnocracy - or a 'Jewish democracy' as they prefer to say - is sacrosanct." (p 78.)
This is also why One Voice is campaigning relentlessly against any notion of a one-state solution.

My own contributions to this assembly - noting the regrettable ways in which One Voice, Lubetzky and his corporate-backed project are neutralising the issues and misleading people away from fuller understanding and action - was met with a kind of respectful rebuke from all three speakers - the Israeli taking particular exception to my use of the term "apartheid" to describe the country she "loves". And from the introductory speaker came the convenient clarification that One Voice are 'not a political body', they're just 'working for peace.' Rather predictably, the microphone was denied as I tried to ask what One Voice really meant when talking about a two-state solution.

Throughout this meeting, nothing from the table gave the slightest encouragement for people to go and consult the actual 'one or two state solution' debate. Nor was there even a token nod to the standard non-reporting of the Occupation which has allowed Israel's military brutality to continue for so long. My own point noting the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and international action on the scale mounted against South Africa, was, of course, totally ignored by the panel. Instead, we were urged to embrace and donate to a group which talks in vague and passive niceties about pushing our respective politicians to do more.

The meeting ended with an audience invitation to the One Voice drinks reception (which I naturally avoided) and appeals to buy the One Voice-Paul McCartney pin badges on sale.

Afterwards, some of the audience spoke with me, registering their appreciations on being alerted about One Voice. One young student articulated it well in saying that this group is about instilling "quietism", thus serving to dull the actual issues of Israeli power. He also noted that this kind of soft-elitist institution is particularly conducive to harbouring such groups. Which pleasingly reaffirmed my faith in critical investigation.

Those attracted to One Voice's contrived message, please take note.



Some comments/exchanges on this article can be read here.
(Note added, 14 November 2008.)


Some basic information, reports and articles

Key UN resolutions on Palestine-Israel

2007 UN resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination

Opinion of the International Court of Justice (June 2004)

Route of Separation Barrier

Information on settlements

Settlement expansion violating peace process

East Jerusalem background

Discriminatory planning, building and land policies

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): West Bank Closures (September 2008)

OCHA: Map of West Bank Access and Closures (April 2008)

Checkpoints, obstructions and forbidden roads

Gaza Strip background

UN Envoy Desmond Tutu: Gaza: siege is an “abomination”

Tutu on Israeli “war crime” in Gaza

Report of UN Rapporteur, John Dugard

John Dugard: Israel's Occupation is like “apartheid”

Dugard on "apartheid"

UN Economic and Social Council: economic and social repercussions of the Occupation

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Protection of Civilians, data tables

Fourth Geneva Convention

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Malaysian blogger activists keep spotlight on ISA evil

Malaysia Today editor and radical blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin has been released from ISA detention. It's a remarkable outcome for this fear figure of the Malaysian elite. It seems an unexpected victory - and intriguing decision by a usually-cowed Malaysian judiciary. But it proves the vital lesson that intelligent mobilisation and information can have rewarding results.

Activist blogger and journalist Anil Netto has written copious daily - often minute-based - updates on RPK's incarceration, release and the ongoing anti-ISA vigils, including the brutal police clampdown on a peaceful rakyat presence in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya.

As Netto's popular dispatches show, this is a blog-dissidence that's serving to switch-on and inform a new generation of concerned and active citizens. It also continues to discomfort and alarm the elite.

The latest backlash from the Malaysian state comes in considerable response to this extraordinary network of blogger-led news and dissent. Indeed, in a media-savvy age where bloggers have rewritten the rules, such sites are proving deeply worrying for an establishment ever-used to issuing its comfortable propaganda via the standard press and electronic media.

And with voluminous traffic at Malaysia Today and collective Malaysian blogosphere now surpassing much of the Malaysian media, public rejection of the Internal Security Act is gaining similar ground.

The ISA remains the draconian instrument par excellence among a catalogue of coercive laws enacted by the British during the Emergency (1948-60) to counter the Malayan Communist Party. Under the enduring pretext of 'preventive detention', notes Aliran's Francis Loh, the ISA:
"has subsequently been used to detain political opponents across the whole political spectrum: alleged Communists and Marxists, trade unionists, peasant leaders, student activists, Islamists, church workers, so-called racial chauvinists, opposition party leaders, NGO workers, and other dissidents, not to mention government members of parliament, secret society members, identity card and passport racketeers, counterfeiters and smugglers of illegal aliens."
In short, it's the dragnet law of a 'national security' state designed to criminalise and curtail lawful political dissent.

Another victim of this ISA round-up is the resilient blogger and film maker Sheih "Kickdefella". In a recent Aliran edition, "Kickdefella" tells of his four day lock-up in Khota Bharu and Dang Wangi police stations, a time in which he felt a spiritual completeness and compassion for his police jailers, all of whom, it seems, saw in him a man of honour, innocence and integrity.

Such is the growing public esteem, even within the state apparatus, felt towards those prepared to sacrifice their liberty in challenging the ISA.

Parliamentarian Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily News reporter Tan Hoon Cheng have also been emboldened by their harrowing experiences of arrest and questioning, resolving, on release, to intensify their opposition to this catch-all law.

Sixty six detainees currently languish in the infamous Kamunting detention facility - past 'home' to many notable politicians, activists and academics such as S. Husin Ali, Kua Kia Soong and, in his early radical days, Anwar Ibrahim himself.

Now released - though, ever-aware of looming re-detention - RPK has rejoined the anti-ISA caravan and 'keyboard struggle' alongside Netto and a host of dedicated others.

Nothing so free and truthful could be imagined coming from the standard media. Indeed, it's a tickling paradox that all the corporate-political resources of a dutiful mainstream media are being subverted by these 'lowly blog-journos'.

With unfiltered, qualitative information coming via freely-accessible sites, how, one wonders, does the state and its media monolith respond? Well, as we've seen, by locking-up the bloggers or/and dismissing them as an 'unprofessional caste'.

Yet, as gathering demands for an end to the hated ISA and radical blog-traffic intensify, those reactions are proving to be well behind the curve.

As with past purges on Malaysiakini and other unsettling portals, further and more severe closure of servers and sites can always be expected.

Yet, with the many political and logistical difficulties posed by a mass assault on blogger activism, the outlook is still encouraging.

More power to your fingertips!