Thursday, 28 May 2009

Israel on the slide

Israel's new zealot government might appear to be in a state of confident ascendancy. Yet, its repressive fear of cultural opposition reveals a truer clue to the regime's political and moral insecurity.

This week has seen a deepening set of reactionary curbs on Palestinian civil freedoms, all in a brazen attempt to affirm Israel's ideological sovereignty, particularly as it attempts to entrench control over Jerusalem.

Avigdor Lieberman's parliamentary bill to ban commemoration of the Nakba has now cleared its initial reading and, given Netanyahu's Knesset majority, stands a strong chance of becoming law:

"At Sunday's cabinet meeting, ministers also approved a draft law banning commemoration of the Naqba, or "catastrophe" as it is referred to by Arabs, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. The draft law is scheduled to be submitted for parliamentary approval next week and will propose punishment of up to three years in prison."

Soft and hardline Zionists alike may come to the practical realisation that such an openly illiberal piece of legislation can only further diminish Israel's already collapsing 'place' in the civilised world. Yet, the very consideration and potential passage of such a bill is enough to show the state's fascist trajectory.

Lieberman is also advocating that all Arabs inside Israel swear an obligatory oath of allegiance to the Zionist state, part of the ethnic cleansing agenda passing as Israel's fictional 'democracy for all citizens'.

With similar intent, the notorious Israeli Border Police closed down a Palestinian literary event in East Jerusalem, attended by international writers such as Ahdaf Soueif and Michael Palin. In impressively resistant mood, the group improvised their gathering at the nearby French Cultural Centre. As Soueif aptly put it:

"Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power."

How, one wonders, can the mass of Israeli people remain silent in the face of such fascistic clampdowns? It's a measure of the pervasive indoctrination across Israeli society that the government can even propose such overtly racist laws.

The propagation of this hate-fuelled discrimination is the task of ideological functionaries at Hasbara HQ. It's all so redolent of the Nazi purge on Jewish identity and the encouragement to turn a blind eye. How tragically ironic.

Bombing hospitals, starve-and-surround terror, demolishing homes, humiliating mothers at checkpoints - these are all instruments in the ruthless, relentless effort to break the Palestinians emotionally as well as physically. And the waging of cultural warfare is being conducted in similar brutal style. Netanyahu fronts the aggression, Lieberman directs the bills, Rosenfeld signs the police orders, Regev spins the lies. It's a model of racist, apartheid organisation.

This latest assault on artistic and cultural expression comes alongside the Edinburgh International Film Festival's decision to return money given by the Israeli state towards the travel expenses of Israeli director Shalom Ezer. The IEFF action is another encouraging sign of international awareness and rejection of Israel's military, political and cultural crimes.

Ezer, who has campaigned for Palestinian rights, insists that boycotting Israel will only fuel its sense of persecution, isolation and inward belligerence. Yet, this rearguard argument holds little validity any more in the face of such brutal killing, expansion and indifference to Palestinian suffering. We are now well beyond the point of appeasing the aggressors and appealing to Israeli 'liberal sensibilities'. It's time to take an unequivocal side, to face down the oppressor with whatever peaceful, practical means available. And that should include artists like Shalom Ezer refusing to accept aid from the Israeli state. As director Ken Loach made explicit in relation to the Ezer expenses issue:

"To be crystal clear: as a film maker you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the Festival’s taking money from the Israeli state. The call for a boycott of Israeli cultural institutions comes from many Palestinians: writers, artists, journalists, lawyers, academics, trades unionists, teachers. They see it as “a contribution to the struggle to end Israel ’s occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid.” Who are we, that we should not heed their call? Your counter arguments were used against the South African boycott yet that proved eventually to be successful."

Disgracefully, a Times piece by Stuart Macdonald also reproached Ken Loach for "reignit[ing] the funding row", while taking his words out of context and failing to publish the letter exchange in full.

Israel has the power to bomb, maim, terrorise and impose its brutal will on the Palestinian people. It can defy international criticism and ignore war crimes investigations. It can feign regional insecurity and threaten its neighbours with nuclear annihilation. It can refuse to countenance the basics of a two state solution. It can even snub Obama and openly declare its intention to expand the settlements.

Yet none of this military prowess and arrogant defiance can subvert the higher, persistent case for Palestinian human and legal rights. In time, humanity and legality will prevail.

The crude efforts to supplant cultural dissent and legislate 'Zionist citizenship' are the surest signs to date that Israel is sliding towards a crisis of international legitimacy. And sooner or later this unavoidable truth will present itself to a cowed, deceived and self-denying Israeli public. The prospects seem distant, but, politically isolated and morally shunned, they may yet conclude that the 'protection' of an exclusivist Zionist state predicated on militarism and apartheid is no substitute for a purposeful democracy guaranteeing free expression of civil, political and cultural rights for all.

Therein lies the enduring case for a one state solution.


Friday, 22 May 2009

Ban the BNP

The ongoing expenses scandal and approaching European elections has seen the mainstream parties in a state of apparent panic over the 'dividend' it might gift the British National Party. Much debate and proclamation has ensued as to how we collectively resist their racist advances. MPs are ever-ready with condemnations and warnings. Yet, few of the parliamentary class are willing to countenance the most appropriate measure available: electoral exclusion. Unpalatable as it might seem, the response of any civilised, humanitarian and reasonably-functioning democracy would be to ban the BNP from standing for public office.

On what grounds? Specifically, their core racist beliefs. In what way might this be done? Through the existing legislation on incitement to racial hatred.

A small illustration of how this should be pursued as a legal imperative. The BNP have been trying to build and sustain their presence this past year on Glasgow's city centre streets and have been met by a collective blocking strategy involving a variety of leftist and humanitarian groups. In effect, we surround them, explaining to passers-by that people or groups peddling hatred of others have no legitimate place on the streets.

On one occasion, a man stopped to ask them about their policy on jobs (this was during the recent power station strikes over foreign labour). The BNP person stated that it was about "British jobs for British people", proceeding to explain that he meant 'indigenous' - namely, white - people. The police were standing alongside monitoring and listening. After the man left, I courteously addressed the officers, ensuring the BNP could hear, posing this question: the BNP are saying they want a white-only, 'indigenous' workforce. That clearly means they don't want Asians or any other non-white people in the police force. They are, in effect, arguing openly for a discriminatory and illegal set of working practices. Isn't that incitement to racial hatred?

At this point, one of the officers came over and told me to be quiet and "not draw us into this." Later, another officer confided that he thought their message abhorrent, but could only do his job.

It made me reflect on the point and purpose of anti-incitement laws which still allows political parties and their members to vocalise hatred of other citizens.

BNP members are already proscribed from joining the police force, and are effectively blocked by unions from teaching in schools and other public sector areas. Why, then, should they be permitted to amplify that same message of hatred as a political party?

It's not rhetorical to say that we're on the fast-track towards an authoritarian, fascist state. Yet, the government and its parliamentary partners continue to give legal and political cover to the BNP, allowing it a mantle of respectability it shouldn't have as a party openly promoting hatred and discrimination.

Of course, we must persist in the fiction that we live in an 'open liberal democracy'. However, this is not, in essence, an issue of democracy and free speech. It's an issue of law, the interpretation of which should aim to prohibit those who advocate social apartheid, racial repatriation and selective hatred of minorities. The failure to enact the law in this way allows a public acceptance of hate-speak based not just on personalised prejudice but on an open manifesto of racial exclusivism.

Banning the BNP from public office would show that there's no acceptable place for that kind of fascistic politics in this country. It might also, in the process, help concentrate minds on the kind of totalitarian methods the state itself is using to monitor minorities and purge groups working to halt the erosion of civil liberties and protect citizens from racist hatemongering.

Which begs the darker question: what does this surveillance-obsessed government fear most, the growth of far-right politics or the threat of real freedom of speech and open democracy?


Monday, 18 May 2009

Israeli apartheid - legally defined

Zionist voices are ever eager to dismiss the term "apartheid" as just another rhetorical buzzword used to describe the Israeli state. So, aside from the moral arguments in defence of the Palestinians, it's important that the case against Israel be understood against internationally-recognised legal definitions of the term.

Here's an impressive study from the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa assessing Israel's use of apartheid-based laws and practices. As detailed, it bears close comparison with the range of judicial and state instruments deployed during the apartheid years in South Africa. The study also provides a legal definition and examination of Israel's "colonial" domination over Palestinian territory and people.

Israeli control in occupied territories 'is a breach of the prohibition of apartheid'


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Politics, journalism and the trough

The ongoing revelations and disgust over allowance abuse is part of the valid indictment of MPs, ministers and their cossetted lifestyles. But is it remotely proportional to the serious crimes and human abuse committed by our political leaders?

Stephen Fry talks of the"tedious bourgeois obsession" behind journalists exposing politicians' financial irregularities rather than the much more alarming issue of their roles in prosecuting wars in which people actually die. It's a moot point amid this legitimate shaming of the parliamentary class.

Many might fairly argue that, alongside Fred Goodwin and his fellow heisters, it's all symptomatic of the greed and grab culture. Which would be true. But, paradoxically, the public clamour to see Blears et al named and punished only further elevates monetary/expense abuse above war criminality.

Of course, we can deal with both - it's right to shine a harsh light on the elite claiming funds to have their moats cleared and their chandeliers hung while poor families in Shettleston struggle on meagre benefits. But isn't it disturbing that so much media attention and public outrage can be summoned over petty pilfering while people suffer and die through Western inflicted war without the merest media mention or public interest?

Fry also reminds his interviewer that there's no more "venal and disgusting" group than journalists when it comes to expense and allowance abuses. Again, this may be true. But, it's a pair of adjectives that he might have better reserved for their collective unwillingness to highlight politicians' war dissembling and the media's own complicit part in those crimes.

Parliament is in 'crisis disrepute' over expense abuse while that same parliament and its echo media endorse wars, occupations and mass murder all over the world. The Torygraph prints daily abuse lists and rails at losses to the public purse but has nothing to say on the staggering war economy and its corporate/political beneficiaries. Brown may fall over this 'scandal' rather than the fact that he bankrolled the slaughter in Iraq.

It's a depressing, yet convenient, irony that outrage over, rightly revealed, allowance abuse should serve to protect the system. It's all part of the reinforcing mechanisms of liberal capitalist democracy wherein 'penitent' politicians, sanctimonious media and an indignant public engage in these 'concerns about the system' and how to 'improve' it. A rather British form of thought control.

It's not just parliament and the trough that should concern us, it's the actual capitalist/warmongering pigshed and its 'remedial' message helping to keep us fed and fixated on parochial abuse while the true human corruption of war, occupation and genocide goes on quietly elsewhere.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Ban Ki-moon's excusing of Israel

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk has expressed his serious disappointment over UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's decision not to pursue a full scale investigation into Israel's criminal attacks on Gaza. His decision comes after the release of a UN Board of Inquiry report documenting Israel's multiple human rights violations.

However, commending the "serious and scrupulously argued report", Falk notes that, despite Ban Ki-moon's prevarications, a parallel UN Human Rights Council team led by Justice Richard Goldstone is already authorised to conduct this kind of full scale investigation. Indeed, it's fitting that Goldstone, a Jew with considerable judicial experience in assisting the transfer from apartheid in South Africa, is now tasked with considering the effects of such oppression in Palestine.

Falk also notes that the attacks carried out by Israel on UN facilities were a "relatively minor part of the onslaught on Gaza as a whole and the real centre of inquiry should be the violations of international humanitarian law in relation to the civilian population and the civilian infrastructure of Gaza". Falk believes that any such investigation will conclude that "very serious crimes of war have been committed".

This latest hand-wringing by the Secretary General come in the wake of Ban's diplomatic pandering to Israel over the recent attack on Gaza, and his condemnation of Iranian president Ahmadinejad in daring to call Israel a "racist state" - a valid citation made at a conference, one must remember, on racism. Jordan's former representative at the UN has also criticised the lack of empathy shown by Ban on his visist to Gaza and his decision to embargo 'sensitive' information in the UN report allegedly damaging to Israel.

In more tenacious mood, a Spanish judge has ruled that a group of Palestinian plaintiffs can proceed with their case against top Israeli officials over a 2002 attack in Gaza which killed 15 and injured 150.

It's an admirable position by key elements of the Spanish judiciary which has also seen favourable rulings in bringing top US figures to book for crimes of torture.

The growing catalogue of war crimes inquiries and lawsuits comes on top of gathering international calls for legally-backed sanctions to break Israel's apartheid system.

In citing the legal definitions of apartheid, Omar Barghouti delineates the specific case for internationally-effected boycott, divestment and sanctions:
The Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1976 defines apartheid [37] as “similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa” which have “the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, in particular by means such as segregation, expropriation of land, and denial of the right to leave and return to their country, the right to a nationality and the right to freedom of movement and residence” (Article II). The similarity to South Africa is cited not as a condition but in recognition of its status as a historic precedent.

As a recent in-depth strategic position paper [38] published by the Palestinian BDS National Committee states, Israel’s origins, laws and policies against the Palestinian people fit to a large extent the definition of apartheid. The conceptual origins of Israel's unique form of apartheid are found in Zionism, a racist European ideology that was adopted by the dominant stream of the Zionist movement (World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund, among others) in order to justify and recruit political support for its colonial project of establishing an exclusive Jewish state in historic Palestine. Political Zionists dismissed the indigenous population of Palestine as non-existent in the famous Zionist slogan of “a land without a people;” making this a self-fulfilling prophecy, Zionist forces forcibly displaced 750,000-900,000 Palestinians from their homeland and destroyed hundreds of the depopulated Palestinian villages in an operation termed “cleaning the landscape” that lasted until 1960. [39]

Israel's regime over the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid precisely because it displays many of the main features of the crime as defined by international law:

1. Racial discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian people who became citizens of the State of Israel was formalized and institutionalized through the creation by law of a “Jewish nationality", which is distinct from Israeli citizenship. No “Israeli” nationality exists in Israel, and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to recognize one as it would end the system of Jewish supremacy in Israel. The 1950 Law of Return entitles all Jews -- and only Jews -- to the rights of nationals, namely the right to enter “Eretz Yisrael” (Israel and the OPT) and immediately enjoy full legal and political rights. “Jewish nationality” under the Law of Return is extraterritorial in contravention of international public law norms pertaining to nationality. It includes Jewish citizens of other countries, irrespective of whether they wish to be part of the collective of “Jewish nationals,” and excludes “non-Jews” (i.e., Palestinians) from nationality rights in Israel.

2. The 1952 Citizenship Law [40] has created a discriminatory two-tier legal system whereby Jews hold nationality and citizenship, while the remaining indigenous Palestinian citizens hold only citizenship. [41] Under Israeli law the status of Jewish nationality is accompanied with first-class rights and benefits which are not granted to Palestinian citizens.

3. The Israeli Status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National Fund, to control most of the land in Israel, for the exclusive benefit of Jews. In 1998, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CESCR, expressed [42] grave concern about this law and stated that large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination, because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties to non-Jewish citizens of the State.

4. Return of Palestinian refugees and Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs), as required by international law, has been prevented by means of force and legislation on racist grounds. Simply because they are not Jews, Palestinian refugees were excluded from entitlement to citizenship in the State of Israel under the 1952 Citizenship Law. They were “denationalized” and turned into stateless refugees in violation of the law of state succession. Their land and other property were confiscated by the State. The approximately 150,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 Nakba were placed under a military regime (1948 – 1966) similar to the regime currently in place in the OPT.

For decades, racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in every vital aspect of life has been the norm. From land ownership to education to health to jobs to housing, the indigenous Palestinians have been denied equality by the State’s laws and policies. For instance, they are not allowed, to buy or rent land in about 93% of the state lands of Israel. [43] To this date, polls consistently show overwhelming majorities of Israeli Jews standing in opposition to full equality with the indigenous Palestinians in the state. [44] So the fact those Palestinians can vote, unlike their black African counterpart under South African apartheid, becomes almost a formality, a tokenism of sorts, clearly designed to project a deceptive image of democracy and fend off well-justified accusations of apartheid. [45]

Israel's rejection of the apartheid label is all too predictable, just as its death-denier in chief Mark Regev has dismissed the latest UN report as "biased". Regev, lest we forget, will go down in the darkest pages of war crimes history for asserting that it was Hamas, not Israel, which was responsible for the bombing of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

On which note, Stephen Shalom's latest piece, The United States and Gaza, provides a highly useful set of reminders about the lies and distortions levelled at Hamas. He also updates us on the sober truth of Obama's failure, so far, to engage seriously with the long-offered Arab Peace Initiative.

However, Shalom also believes that the Obama incumbency now offers an expanded opportunity for realising justice for the Palestinians through the kind of emerging civil pressure noted.

Part of that process will have to include further exposure of Ban Ki-moon and his 'anguished' inaction over Palestine. Nominal 'investigations' into Israeli violations amount to little if not accompanied by the determined pursuit of Israel and its war criminal leaders.