Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Bleak

2012 was a grim year by any measure. In Britain, Tory austerity cut deeper, its "millstone of debt" fiscal alibi looking more and more threadbare, its ideological motivation - class war from above - more and more apparent. A new justificatory spin was rolled out, the cruel narrative of "strivers" and "skivers", a politics of contempt, to attempt to bring the squeezed middle back into the abandoned Coalition tent, while across the country hospitals were closed, redundancies spread, the unemployed and disabled forced on to demeaning workfare programmes and vital services reduced.

Particularly depressing in this context is that the movement against the cuts has failed to grow. We have failed to foster the spirit of solidarity that can overcome petty divisions between those in work and those out of it, between public sector and private sector, between migrant and native-born.

In America, the best that can be said is that the least bad presidential candidate won. A Republican Party in the grip of a deranged movement conservatism, espousing a nineteenth century sexual politics and an ethics of contempt for the less wealthy half of the American mainstream, was unable to win out over the cynical playing of the demographic game by a Democratic Party dominated by a movement liberalism out of touch with most citizens' concerns. The American left, entangled in identity politics and cultural battles, seems in even worse health than the British left.

The austerity in the UK was of course nothing compared to that enforced in much of Europe. The narrative of crisis posed European electorates the empty choice of anti-democratic technocrats managing the rolling back of the social state, or populist demagogues performing hollow gestures of rejection to the austerity consensus.

The upward curve of xenophobia and intolerance steepened across the continent, with hostility (and increasingly violence) towards various combinations of migrants, Muslims, Roma and Jews. The liberal consensus imagines crisis automatically breeds "extremism", but this assumption was refuted by the relatively low level of far right mobilisation in Italy, Spain and Portugal, contrasted to the peaking xenophobia of economically resilient Scandinavia  It takes political entrepreneurs among elites - far right political parties, or, as in the case of Britain, the mainstream media - to feed this sort of sentiment.

The drift to authoritarianism has been even stronger beyond Europe. 2012 saw the further rise and rise of the "democratators", elected heads of state whose executive power and disregard for the rule of law makes them effectively dictators, with Vladimir Putin as the archetype. Hugo Chavez's election is emblematic of the continued rise of the democratators. Their ranks were joined in June by Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, derailing an inspiring movement against authoritarianism there.

Despite the continuation of 2011's massive pro-democracy movements in many regions of the world, 2012 saw a retrenchment of executive state power, with rigged elections in Venezuela and Ukraine, assaults on freedom of the press in Turkey, erosion of academic freedom in Israel, criminalisation of social media dissent in India and the Gulf states, legal attacks on the NGO sector in Russia and Israel, mass imprisonment of dissidents in the Gulf states and Russia etc etc.

One of the disturbing trends was the use of "religious hatred" and blasphemy laws to criminalise free expression, as in Russia, the Gulf and Pakistan. Elsewhere, including Cuba, China and North Korea, as well as across Africa, but most grimly in Syria, party and personal dictatorship does not bother with the façade of electoralism.

Religious and ethnic intolerance has risen too. "Modernising" theocratic movements among the main winners from the turmoil of the fragile transition to democracy across the Middle East, under the banner of Turkish-style "moderate" Islamism that combines neo-liberal technocracy with religious authoritarianism. Elsewhere, more murderous varieties of Islamism - the Taliban and its analogues in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq - continue to slaughter fellow Muslims on a daily basis. Nationalism in all its forms - including its Hindu variety in India, its Buddhist variety in Sri Lanka - continues to be the only ideology able to compete on a mass scale with religious ultra-conservatism in the political market.

Thus the xenophobia and intolerance of Europe mirrored elsewhere, as in the violent anti-foreigner incidents in Israel. Elsewhere, with relatively little public attention, we have seen waves of violent ethnic cleansing, such as of Muslim Rohingyas in Burma, of Christians and Ahamadis in Pakistan.

Theocratic and nationalist ideologies have also underwritten what seems almost a pandemic of violence against women in 2012. Rape has been a major weapon of war in Syria and in central Africa. The revulsion in India in the last few days against horrific and ultimately murderous cases of gang rape might signal that 2013 will see the tide turning, but the ingrained everyday sexism and trending postmodern rape culture in the heart of the "liberal" West gives little cause for optimism. Nor does the casual apologetics and denialism from the luminaries of the British and global left.

In the face of all this, there has been a catastrophic failure of international solidarity from the Western left. The left remains gripped by an anachronistic pseudo-"anti-imperialist" agenda which locates all evil in America and its allies, despite the evident decrease and increased benevolence of Western imperial power and the evident rise and increased malignancy of Russian and Chinese imperial power. Large sections of the left have sought coalitions with the theocrats and/or the authoritarians  or apologised for them and relativised them away, or even acted as cheerleaders for them.

This failure of solidarity is best exemplified by the fact that deaths caused by Israeli rockets on Gaza - a human tragedy no doubt - have been the only deaths to provoke demonstrations in Western capitals, while the 40,000 killed by the regime in Syria have been ignored and even approved. A rekindling of the spirit of solidarity is urgently needed - starting with grassroots solidarity with the trade union and women's movements in countries on the frontline, as the only reliable forces against the forces of repression.

I'd like to think we can do better in 2013, on all these fronts, but I'm not optimistic. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

More stuff to worry about

What I worry about
A beautiful post by Yoani Sanchez, the great Cuban dissident blogger.

Fellow travellers for dictatorship and authoritarianism

The acceptable face of English fascism
Francis Sedgemore neatly sums up Patrick Moore.

Antisemitism Watch
The Soupy One on London BDS and its promotion of Press TV Holocaust denialism. And here's a nice piece doing the rounds on Tumblr: How to criticise Israel without being antisemitic.

Kick the Tories out - or kick the Tories in?
David Osler reviews Ian Bone.

While Hugo Chavez dies...
Read this short post on Venezuelan fuel dependency on the Great Satan, by Greg Weeks.

Alternative futures past

We need to talk about Gaza

For the pointy heads

Deconstructing strivers versus shirkers

Friday, December 07, 2012

Luton, Lewisham, Cairo, Oslo and elsewhere

In Lewisham: SolFed's short report on the massive mobilisation to save Lewisham hospital, plus several articles from the AWL. From the bloggers, read ClareCrosswhatfieldsJos Bell, and Darryl. South East Londoners, as I write now, you have six days exactly to respond to the "consultation" and tell the TSA what you think about the closure of accident & emergency and maternity services. The consultation form is hard to fill in, but worth it. You can email comments directly to them, if it's easier. If you fill in the online form, the key questions are Q13 (although you have to read it twice to understand, the proposal here is closing the A&E in Lewisham - strongly disagree!) and Q15 (the two options are two versions of closing the maternity ward - click "I do not support either of these options").

Subcultural traces: Transpontine on the Turner Prize - a psychogeographical tour of alternative futures past from Luton to Claremont Road to a Nunhead nudist colony.

Middle East: Kissinger, Kant, and the Syrians in Lebanon by Shlomo Avineri; Egypt's Mubarak Mark II and Migrant worker rights in Qatar, by the ITUC; Where the Past Is Not Prologue by Fareed Zakaria; How Bahrain lost the propaganda war by John Lubbock; The voice of the academic left? Not in my name by Martin Robb; This short conflict has shone a light in Labour’s dark corners and Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine by Rob Marchant; Netanyahu’s triple escapism by Mark Leonard.

Antisemitism and Islamophobia: The Soupy One on Channel 4, Stephen Sizer and not answering the question; Julie Bindel on Norway's problem with Jews; HP and the JC on the anti-racists walking out of the antisemitism conference for its Islamophobia. On that last one, huge credit to Dave Rich, David Hirsh, Phillip Seymour, Mark Gardner and David Feldman - people of integrity.

Nick Cohen: Cowardice and the liberal press (on Deeyah and her bravery); The Anti-Elitist Elite Versus the Underclass (in conversation with George Walden); The west's hypocrisies give succour to tyrants (on oligarchic libel tourism in Britain).

EDL: Laurie Penny, with an enjoyable (if politically thin) encounter with "Tommy Robinson" in Luton.

Working class history: A lovely obituary from Paul Stott for James May, who I never knew. Extract:
All political careers end in failure. We surprised many by producing Class War bang on time each year for May Day and the Anarchist Bookfair. It was more coherent than expected, still comfortably outsold every other Anarchist publication, but like others before us, we proved utterly incapable of building a large political organisation or movement. James probably sensed this earlier than most of his generation in CW – he was the only person to get involved in the Socialist Alliance, which I think he viewed as an attempt to get all the radical forces in particular towns or cities united under one banner against New Labour. In Luton he worked tirelessly to do this, but after a while the phone calls, usually complaining about the SWP, increased both in number and in volume. It didn’t work, but James tried the Socialist Alliance route and failed, whilst others did not try.
By the middle part of the last decade, James was part of a political generation on the revolutionary left that had been active for years, but had broadly known only political defeat, with the odd token victory on the way. Posting as ‘James Walsh’ on Meanwhile At The Bar (MATB), James found that generation in one place, all huddling together for warmth. Here people articulated where the left had gone wrong, usually because they had been there themselves, watching the SWP chewing up and spitting out young people, or relating their experiences of injustice when up against the party hierarchy.
James was comfortable and the odd flaming row excepted, in like minded company. Posters could agree that the left had so readily departed the battlefield of class conflict, to instead fight on grounds of race or spurious notions of ‘equality’ that all too often had no resonance outside of those who made the definitions in the first place. As the leadership of the anti-war movement (the CPB and SWP) decided that gay rights or abortion rights should not be seen as ‘shibboleths’ preventing work with Muslim communities, MATB members'  low expectations of the revolutionary left were met in full. Those who would once have denounced James as ‘sexist’ for saying forbidden words like ‘cunt’ in conversation over a pint in the Dog and Bucket, were now to be found stood outside mosques, working with the British versions of Jamaat-e-Islami or the Muslim Brotherhood. And you lectured James on sexism?
Hugo Chavez: This is the shocking story of judge María Lourdes Afiuni who was imprisoned for a ruling that angered Hugo Chavez, and her ordeal by rape while in a Venezuelan prison. Meanwhile, el presidente has returned home after his treatment in Cuba - presumably subsidised by the Cuban taxpayer.

High theory in low places: Alan Johnson, always value for money, demolishes Slavoj Zizek and his "savage madness" here.

Anti-fascist history: The Hajduks of Cotovschi.

Polemics: A reply to Stephan Grigat: On anti-Semitism and the Left on Iran by Yassamine Mather.

Anti-capitalism: Occupy, debt, crisis and class struggle. Extract:
Many participants of the [Occupy] movement, and of those playing leadership roles – and this is the case from Tunisia, Egypt, London, Israel, Quebec, and elsewhere – are the “graduates without a future” (Paul Mason). They are those masses of young people with college degrees and no chance of landing a job. In the U.S., this situation is intensified in a particular way because of student debt. The average student debtor owes $25,000. In 2010, 360,000 graduates were accepting public provisions. This is the dominant profile of the Occupier across the country and beyond.
If you look at the wide resonance the movement has beyond this group, you find victims of the mortgage crisis, who ask the Occupy Our Homes campaign to physically camp out in front of their homes to block their eviction. Yes, massive civil disobedience, though not so widespread as in Spain, nor in the U.S. during the Great Depression.
Also: On circumcision; On booze pricing as middle class puritanism.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hospitals, Palestinians, antisemites, etc

Lewisham hospital
Lewisham readers (and indeed London readers), don't forget the demo tomorrow to save our A&E department. The march starts at 2pm on Loampit Vale, getting to the hospital around 3pm.

Read Ralph Seliger: Enough Money, Too Much Occupation*: fascinating despatch on Palestinian Authority finances, from a trip to Ramallah
"It's not so much that the PA is a basket case, but rather the international community which is willing to keep dumping money into a bottomless bucket rather than hold Israel accountable, is the real basket case."
This is from the Open Zion section of the Daily Beat, edited by Peter Beinart. I don't really like Beinart, and obviously I disagree with many of the commentators in Open Zion,  but for those interested in Israel/Palestine I strongly recommend it, for a range of interesting views.

And read Yaacov Lozowick on three ways to be against Israel,* reflecting on the attitudes appearing in the Twitterverse during the recent phase of the Israel/Hamastan conflict, is also very well worth reading.

Antisemitism watch
Antisemitism in the West tends to spike with every spike in the Israel/Palestine conflict, suggesting that anti-Zionism and antisemitism will always have at least a blurry space between them. One example comes from Antwerp, a Belgian city with a sizeable (mainly Haredi) Jewish population.
Approximately 150 extreme-right and extreme-left activists gathered Sunday afternoon outside the Provinciehuis concert hall in Antwerp to protest the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra’s performance there, according to the online edition of the Flemish-Jewish magazine Joods Actueel.
Several demonstrators can be heard chanting “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas” in recordings from the demonstration, which Joods Actueel posted on its news website...
Another wing of the demonstration comprised activists from the extreme right, including Eddy Hermy, an activist of the N-SA movement, Joods Actueel reported. He has twice been convicted of racist speech and his articles are regularly published on the neo-Nazi website
Another example comes from Rome, where Tottenham, a football team with Jewish connections, played Lazio, a Rome team with a large far right support base. At the match, Lazio fans, who are not known for their pro-Arabic or pro-Muslim sentiments, waved Free Palestine banners and Palestinian flags. The following day, a group of neo-Nazis, chanting antisemitic slogans, violently attacked Spurs fans in a bar, with police collusion according to at least one British witness. Two AC Roma fans have been arrested, although Roma and Lazio are rivals, suggesting an organised, non-football-related, specifically anti-Jewish incident.

Closer to home, last Thursday the Guardian published a cartoon by the great Steve Bell, depicting Netanyahu as not just a warmonger using rockets on Gaza to boost his electioneering (true) but also as a puppetmaster controlling William Hague and Tony Blair (not only untrue, but perpetuating an old antisemitic stereotype of the Jewish puppetmasters controlling whole governments). The CST complained, very carefully, and were portrayed, predictably, as playing the antisemitism card to stifle criticism etc etc.

And in Sweden, a prominent TV personality, Eurovision presenter Gina Dirawi, recommended an antisemitic book by the ex-leftist conspiracy theorist Lasse Wilhelmson.** In Poland, an agricultural researcher, Polish nationalist and Anders Breivik fan has been arrested for an anti-Jewish bomb plot. Meanwhile, an activist in the main opposition party, Law and Justice, wrote on his website: "As they [Jews] going here and harm Poland and me, I have only one thing for them - get the f**k out!" (Law and Justice are part of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, secretary general the UK's Dan Hannan.)  Finally, in Canada, a pro-Israel Jewish professor had “Heil Israël” graffitied on his door.

And also
Here's something else you should read: "Moscow-on-ThamesBritain's Conservatives are rolling out the red carpet for Vladimir Putin's wealthy oligarchs" by Michael Weiss.

Hat tips: *The New Centrist. **Jonas Vils.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A shorter miscellany

Just a couple of links tonight. First, two on Gaza: the excellent "Palestine solidarity, Israel solidarity" by Flesh is Grass and "My people, who say yes to lies" at False Dichotomies. Totally unrelated, Paul Stott's thoughts on the opening of the Red Action archive. And, on the Balkans, Marko Attila Hoare: "Vindication or travesty? Operation Storm’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac acquitted".

Monday, November 19, 2012

Get killed by Jews: A semi-re-post

I have no desire to blog about the current round of conflict between Israel and Hamastan. The Soupy One has had a rolling updated post here, which is as good a starting point as any to the wealth of material out there with people who have much more to say than I do, and I've also been tweeting several links to some texts which have caught my eye.

However, I thought it was appropriate to return to a text I wrote towards the end of the summer, when the internal conflict in Syria spiked in brutality, without any real attention from the Western mainstream media.

This week, the tragic situation in Gaza has been rarely out of the news headlines in the UK, and I presume in America and elsewhere too. Meanwhile, there has been almost no attention to Syria, where the slaughter has meanwhile intensified, and in fact far outstrips what's going on in Gaza. Syria saw something like 111 deaths yesterday, 78 Saturday, around 100 on Friday, 63 on Thursday. Today the Syrian government has itself claimed to have killed 230 "terrorists" in one operation in Aleppo. In other words, the death toll per day exceeds the whole death toll so far in Gaza.

Meanwhile, London and other Western cities have already seen marches and rallies denouncing Israel's actions, supported by many left parties - sharply contrasting to a lack of solidarity action from the left or peaceniks in relation to Syria.

Every life is precious, and we should mourn and protest every civilian death in Gaza, southern Israel, Syria. It is perverse to measure them against each other. I am not devaluing what's going on in Israel/Palestine by saying "what about Syria". But there's something very wrong when Arabs getting killed by Jews gets so much attention compared to Arabs getting killed by non-Jews.

Here's a slightly shortened version of what I wrote back then.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Letters to the Weekly Worker: On rape apologism and anti-Germanism

I extract these letters partly for another kick at the reactionary Stalinoid anti-imperialist trad-leftism of the likes of Julian Assange, George Galloway, Tony Greenstein, and co, who all turn out to have very reactionary positions on what was once known as The Woman Question. But more seriously, it might help us reflect about the triangulation between the "the left" (whatever that is and the principles of anti-imperialism and anti-fascism. 

I enjoyed this letter by Heather Downs in a recent Weekly Worker:
Tony Greenstein uses the familiar tactic of setting up a series of straw men to distract us from the discussion of women’s oppression, in this case relating to Julian Assange and rape apologism (Letters, October 4). 
Tony seems concerned that I have not obediently placed women at the end of a very long queue, including Zionism, imperialism, racism in the deep south (against men - racist-inspired sexual violence against black women isn’t mentioned), the chequered political biography of individual feminists, etc; and, more importantly, I have failed to subordinate my own interests to those of pretty much everybody else. How unfeminine. Tony suggests that feminists are concerned with democratising capitalism. I suspect many, from Andrea Dworkin to Sheila Rowbotham, might be surprised to learn that their political ambitions were so limited. He also points out that some feminists became fascists. So did some socialists - for example, Oswald Mosley, who was originally in the Labour Party - while many feminists were socialists and communists, notably Sylvia Pankhurst, many Poplar councillors, Dora Montefiore, Charlotte Despard, etc. 
To clarify, Assange has been accused of rape, defined as penetration without consent. That seems to many of us to be a serious offence. The behaviour of the women before or after the event is irrelevant. The only thing that counts is consent. Not whether they spoke to Assange, talked about Assange, consented to penetrative sex with Assange at some other time. No grey areas. No implied consent. Just actual consent. In contrast to Tony’s suggestion, ‘Yes means yes and no means no’ is more than a throwaway slogan - in fact, it turns out that the absence of yes means no, too - so a man needs to ensure he has reasonable grounds to believe the woman consents.

Monday, November 12, 2012

UK anti-fascist links

The antifa section of my link list seems to now mostly contain defunct sites. Here are some of the more live UK anti-fascist sites.

Militant anti-fascism
  • Anti-Fascist Network: This is the website of the fairly recently formed network of grassroots, local militant anti-fascist groups.
  • 3CAFA: 3 Counties Anti-Fascist Alliance is a network of anti-fascists based in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Its website is pretty good. In the tradition of AFA, they believe in both physical and ideological struggle against fascism. 
  • Beating the Fascists: The site of the book by "Sean Burchill" which tells the story of Anti-Fascist Action in the 1980s-90s. 
  • East Midlands Antifascists: Like 3CAFA, a fairly regularly updated website focusing on regional issues.
  • Liverpool Antifascists: Probably the liveliest and best-looking militant anti-fascist website, mainly locally focused on Merseyside but with a  lot of non-local material.
  • TWAFA - Tyne and Wear Anti Fascist Association: Another regularly updated deep-rooted local anti-fascist group, older than the previously listed ones and, I believe, a bit more popular frontist and less exclusively militant.

  • EDL News: Most comprehensive anti-EDL blog
  • Malatesta's Blog: Enjoyably scurrilous tabloid style blog exposing the EDL. 

Liberal anti-fascism, counter-"extremism" and monitoring sites
  • Against Violent Extremism: A network of former "violent extremists" - a very interesting project and beautifully designed website.
  • Anti-Fascists Online: This essential site aggregates the main news items from the other main sources.
  • A rich resource of research and analysis about extremism.
  • Extremis Project: Very impressive website tracking extremism, both Euronationalist far right and Islamist far right.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Austerity Britain, Israeli apartheid, institutional antisemitism, etc

Austerity Britain
Local readers, I expect you are aware of the recent announcement of very harsh public spending cuts in Lewisham: £28 million over three years (reports here and here). The cuts are distributed across several services, but with the particularly big blows, I think, to the fund which prevents vulnerable people from becoming homeless, to day care centres, and to community safety team services to victims of sexual offences, domestic violence and hate crimes. As far as I am aware, there are no proposals to curb the pay of the highest salaried council executives. The Labour council is in an impossible position, it seems to me, having to pass on Coalition imposed cuts – but could they do more to resist?

The harshest blow locally is the proposed closure of the recently refurbished Accident and Emergency department at Lewisham hospital. I’ll blog about this soon; in the meantime read Clare’s Dairy and support the campaign to save it.

This week saw a large amount of attention for the Living Wage campaign, spearheaded by the Alinskyite UK Citizens movement and by the worthy Quaker reformists of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Francis Sedgemore has a nice post about the Living Wage's critics and Boris Johnson's admirable endorsement of it.

Israeli apartheid
As across Europe and elsewhere, it is indubitable that there is a problem with racism in Israel, including the anti-Mizrahi racism of many Ashkenazim (both liberal and not), the anti-migrant racism directed mainly at African asylum-seekers, and of course the anti-Arab racism which is intertwined with the on-going conflict between the state and its neighbours. In the last few weeks, literally hundreds (I've lost track now, but well over 600) rockets have been fired from Gaza into Southern Israel, which must further intensify hostility in the region's vicious cycle of hate.

A private philanthropy, the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, commissioned some research into Israeli attitudes to others. Just before Jewish new year, a telephone survey was conducted with a relatively small sample (500), spread across the disparate sectors of the Israeli population: religious, secular, "Russian"... Ha'aretz's Gideon Levy was entrusted with reporting the poll. His report, led by the notion that Israelis support apartheid, was highly inaccurate, distorting, decontextualising, mistranslating and misrepresenting the results to make the racism look far worse than the reality. Of course, Levy's version shot around the world on social media platforms, confirming what all anti-Zionists thought they already knew and deepening vulgar hatred of Israel. A number of careful refutations of Levy's misreporting - such as by Shany Mor in Ha'aretz and by the New Israel Fund's Noam Shelef- have been published, but they are not going to undo a fraction of the damage he has done. Racism in Israel, as anywhere, is a serious issue, and Levy has done a great disservice to the struggle against it (and to the profession of journalism) by his dishonesty.

Institutional antisemitism
There is currently in London an employment tribunal concerning the long-harassment of one Ronnie Fraser in UCU, a trade union. I intend to write about this, but only after the Tribunal concludes, but here in the meantime is some commentary: from Ben Cohen in Commentary, from Marcus Dysch, from the Times of Israel. [Update January 2014: I have no idea any longer what I planned to say about this, an issue of inexplicable interest to some of my readers. Here is what David Hirsh said about it, which is far more worth reading than anything I might say. Apologies too for the very bad phrasing of the first sentence of this paragraph.]

And also
The Soupy One has an illuminating post on British imperial history, the resurgent far right and the latter's promotion by global broadcasters Iran's Press TV and Russia Today. The Fat Man has a brilliant post on the different types of drones killing people in Pakistan. Mic Wright has an interesting post on what we could call the 1% Democrats of Silicon Valley, who vote Obama but live Romney. The Heeb has an amusing post on the idiot anti-Zionists of the Russell Tribunal. Over at ANT, we have some posts on Greek fascism, including one on the anti-antifa who have defaced a Holocaust memorial in Rhodes.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


A new magazine and website, Fathom, has been launched, "a new quarterly journal of expert analysis, informed opinion and genuine debate about Israel and the region", and published by BICOM. It's got an interesting editorial board, including editor Alan Johnson formerly of Democratiya (whose archive sadly seems to have dissappeared in the relaunch of the Dissent website), and various decent leftists and neoconservatives, including Paul Berman, Joshua Muravchik and Michael Walzer. Articles so far include these:

Star of David on fire during an anti-Israeli protestDefining antisemitism down by David Hirsh
What kinds of hostility to Israel may be understood as, or may lead to, or may be caused by, antisemitism? One of the ways this relationship is debated, or otherwise contested, is through disputes over how to define antisemitism. In this article I shed some light on the struggles over definition by tracing a brief genealogy… Read More
UK Task Force 2012 field trip participants meet with school children from the Young Business Leadership Programme at Rahat Community Centre
Integrating Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens into the workforce is central to the country’s future economic growth. This point was made forcefully by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, authors of the 2009 business bestseller Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, and in the reports produced in advance of Israel’s accession to the OECD… Read More

Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political thinkers. A professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, Walzer’s books include Just and Unjust Wars (1977), On Toleration (1997), and Arguing about War (2004); he has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades. He talked to Fathom Editor Alan Johnson.

israelEuropeanLeftIsrael and the European Left by Ezra Mendelsohn
At the heart of this book [by Colin Shindler] lies a paradox. The State of Israel was founded by men and women who identified with the left, socialists of one kind or another who regarded themselves as part and parcel of the world socialist movement. Among their most famous creations were the kibbutz, a model egalitarian society and… Read More

Global Palestine by Philip Spencer
The central argument of this book [by John Collins] is that the question of Palestine is fundamentally a global question, indeed the global question par excellence. It is apparently a profound mistake to think of what has been going on in that part of the world as a conflict between two sides, each with legitimate claims. Read More 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Your daily dose of Bobism

I am aware that I have been blogging very lightly these past months, which may be a relief for some of you. However, feeling my readership slipping away, and imagining maybe one of you might be suffering from withdrawal, I thought I'd make you aware that you can actually get a daily dose of Bobishness from The Bob From Brockley Daily. This "newspaper" is composed mechanically, by little aggregating robots somewhere, using a smart algorithm based mainly on my Twitter activity. It appears mid-morning every day Brockley time, and if I get five minutes over lunch I edit it to make sure there's nothing too offensive headlining. Here is a taste. I hope to blog about some of these topics in days/weeks to come.

Today's headlines

Last Presidential Debate 2012 - I didn’t watch the whole debate, but Obama looked tired in this BBC clip. There are some videos at the Beeb which give a greater flavour of the debate. I thought the Presidential debate: Obama’s... 

After the big march: what next? 

Shared by leftlinks - Workers Liberty reports (below); but how was it for you? There were many flashes and flurries of militancy on the London...

Beneath the law: When the system inherently favors the rapist

Shared by EdinburghEye - Back in April, I wrote for WMC’s Women Under Siege about the legal gender imbalance female victims of sexualized violence face around the world. But a disturbing recent investigation by the independent...

A lower standard for them

Shared by Ray Cook Is it worth engaging with the arguments of someone of whom you do not have an especially high opinion? That depends. If it's just about influencing her (the person in question), maybe not. But if it's about the argument itself and the influence it might have with others, then it could be worth doing. In a letter in today's Guardian Jenny Tonge responds to a column by Jonathan Freedland in which he wondered at the lack of protest about the Assad regime's brutality and its tens of thousands of victims, particularly from political quarters always quick to condemn Israel when it kills Palestinians.Tonge's response (scroll down) is of the we-expect-more-of-Israel variety

Equality law: the Scouts’ exception

Shared by Kellie Strøm - Equality law: the Scouts’ exception From the Telegraph: Schoolboy ‘banned from Scouts for being an atheist’ Schoolboy George Pratt had attended his local Scout group for ten months, and was expecting...

Yesterday's headlines

The Israeli-Palestinian Enthymeme - This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on on October 18, 2012. In rhetoric, an enthymeme is an argument that contains an unarticulated premise. Commonly this is because the conversation in...

O Canada, how much will it cost us for you to keep him? - Conrad Moffat Black, (for now) Baron Black of Crossharbour, PC, OC, KCSG, denounces the venality and corruption of the fascistic US justice system, says that he has been “persecuted half to death”,... - Word of the day: "tumult" Surprise of the evening: Mali? This was supposed to be a debate about foreign policy - so why no discussion of Europe (although Greece got a shout out)? Of India? Of any s...

The BBC And The NHS 

Shared by Soupy One - I think Martin Shovel doesn’t get the recognition that his wit and drawing skills deserve. In this case he details with the BBC’s attitude to the NHS: Those readers unfamiliar with the issues would...

Monday's headlines

Hillsborough investigation should be extended to Orgreave, says NUM leader |

Shared by Paul Gilroy - The police complaints watchdog is under pressure to widen its investigation into alleged fabrication of evidence by South Yorkshire officers in the 1980s as new allegations emerge of attempts to fr...

RIP George McGovern – a war hero who fought to end a war 

Shared by andrewmilton - It is with deep regret that I report that George McGovern has died. A Democratic Senator from South Dakota, McGovern was his party’s nominee for president in 1972. His campaign was called The Child...

Obliged to Offend: The dark side of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela

Shared by Bob Gordon -  When things are grim at home it can be easier to seek comfort in developments abroad. And boy, are things grim at home right now. Stagnant levels of pay, an economically incompetent government det... - Even given his own talent for hyperbole, the claim George Galloway made on Sunday night was extraordinary: that he had discovered his secretary was working as an "agent" for a Metropolitan police counter-terror...

What Next for Respect in Bradford?

Shared by Angry of Bradford - The past week has been bizarre, even for George Galloway. He has written to the Home Secretary and Speaker of the House to ask why, he alleges, SO15 (the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Uni...

Anti-Repression, Anti-Fascist Strategizing Suggestions - With the rise of the Golden Dawn fascist group in Greece, and their attempts to build a base here in the U.S. (link) , anti-fascist strategies are becoming more and more crucial.   Also, I wouldn’t...

Abortion: Mehdi Hasan has highlighted a dilemma that liberals fear to face 

Greater Serbiton - In the UK in recent weeks, the abortion issue has flared up again, thanks to the call by Women’s Minister Maria Miller to lower the legal time-limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks after the start of pregnancy; the statement of the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he favours a limit of 12 weeks; and the surprise article in the Huffington Post by Mehdi Hasan, former political editor of the flagship left-wing periodical New Statesman, arguing that being ‘pro-life’ does not prevent him from being left-wing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Revolutionaries are easily distracted

In a recentish post, I attacked the contemporary left, which I argued had abandoned class politics on the home front to wage a kulturkampf against cultural conservatism. This post attacks the opposite problem in the left, that part which sees things only through the lens of "imperialism" and "injustice" and therefore blinds itself to many instances of profound injustice across the globe. 

Suzanne Moore, commenting on the much-married George Galloway and his recent claim that "we should unrelentingly struggle to persuade women [that abortion] is.. morally repugnant", said that "what with Jimmy Savile too, this week it feels as if we are seeing the face of patriarchy." She adds this: "The continuing support of the hard but impotent left for Julian Assange and their dismissal of the women concerned is not new. Women's rights have rarely been a priority for 'revolutionaries'." Her conclusion:
The reduction of feminism to a "chattering class" issue is absolutely part of the rightwing agenda. Only certain women can "afford" to be concerned and this is exactly the dead end of Tory feminism, which is strong on the right to have it all and totally blind to women who have very little. But open your eyes to see that the fight for women's rights remains real and globalised. Working-class boys have died in Afghanistan on the pretext of improving the rights of women, remember? A 14-year-old in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, has been shot in the head at close range because she wants an education. We admire this fight for basic rights as we talk to the Taliban. 
We are not in the same situation but the rights that women assume here – not to be abused or raped, to "aspire" to equal representation in public life and at work – are being chivvied way. We have a judicial and political system that is allowing this to happen and we cannot challenge it if we cannot name it. These words – patriarchy, feminism, misogyny – are indeed old. Retro, even. But they are vintage concepts, pre-loved because they are the real thing. Use when necessary.
When I first mentioned the welcome trend of left-wing feminists disassociating themselves from the misogyny of the Assange/Galloway camp, Kellie wisely commented:
The anti-war movement has been misogynist "in effect" for over a decade. It's interesting that some who have been so vocal about Western imperialism are now more able to recognise misogyny in the movement when it concerns events in Sweden and Britain than they were when it was about events in Afghanistan.
With the Malala affair, finally the commentariat seems to be lifting its head a little away from what's going on here, to the really brutal faces of patriarchy that the "anti-imperialist" left enables.

The "anti-imperialist" left is much invested in el Presidente Hugo Chavez: George Galloway was over in Venezuela campaigning for his re-election. Sarah sums up some of the responses to Chavez, including Carl's and Rob's. But I was very struck by this:

It’s interesting to note the response of the Guardian’s Jonathan Glennie to these concerns.  In response both to this post, and to Carl Packman’s observation that abortion is still illegal in Venezuela, Glennie brushes aside such silly shibboleths: 
@CarlRaincoat abortion, antisemitism – these are distractions – overturning hundreds of years of exploitation, that is the issue 
You can learn a surprising amount about someone from 140 characters.
Glennie, incidentally, argued that a little less freedom in Venezuela might be a good thing in eradicating poverty and inequality.

I have some sympathy for the notion that overturning exploitation and injustice should be our core, primary goals, and we must never lose sight of this. But to brush away racism and women's rights as a "distraction" is even worse than calling gay rights a "shibboleth". This sort of leftism makes me sick.

UPDATE: I may have been overly harsh in my judgement of Jonathan Glennie. In particular, I missed his earlier tweet "“@CarlRaincoat Having said that, raising the flag against anti-semitism in the left in Latin America is worth doing, i see it a lot…” However, I think the core point I was making remains valid. I will return to this topic in another post soon, and try to provide a more nuanced response to Glennie's Guardian blogging, some of which is persuasive but some of which remains problematic to me. See this conversation for a glimpse.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Some reflection on events of recent weeks

There is something about blogging which requires instant response, and when just a week or two has passed since an event, it seems untimely to blog about it. This post is untimely in that sense, as it contains some of the things I have thought in response to some events which now seem not so recent.

I was struck by the under-reporting of some of the most extreme acts of violence by the Assad regime in Syria in what are hopefully its final weeks. Among the most brutal of its acts have been assaults on Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.

“Camps” is perhaps a misnomer, as these are really towns as old as many American or Australian cities, built of concrete, rather than the transient communities of tents and shacks the name conjures up. Some, like Dera’a, are “official” camps administered by the UNRWA, with kindergartens and health centres. More people live in “unofficial camps”, like Yarmouk, which has born the brint of regime attacks, a densely built-up suburb of Damascus, with multistory houses, hospitals, schools, heavy traffic, satellite dishes, electricity supply. (Read Arun with a View for evocative descriptions of Yarmouk; listen to an interview with a resident; read a 2010 BBC report on life in the camps; or read the account by solidarity tourist Sarah Shourd, who talks of a place of poetry readings, parks and boutiques.)

In July, there were reports of security forces firing on un-armed anti-regime demonstrations in Yarmouk. Here is a distressing video of the aftermath of one of the attacks on Yarmouk in August. The violence peaked early in September with four days of artillery bombardment, followed by ground assault (including the storming of the hospital and mass arrest of injured civilians). Later in September, there were reports of Palestinians killed and burnt by Assad’s forces and their bodies displayed in public, and of “sweeping” operations against Palestinian regime opponents, of snipers firing on children and old men. There have been reports of rape used as an act of war, and of summary executions of civilians, adult and child, male and female. This month, it is Dera’a camp, South of Damascus and closer to the Jordan border, that has been under attack, with heavy shelling around the mosque and many killed.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in these attacks, and thousands injured. Some 269 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian conflict, most by regime forces (the PLO claims over 400) out of a total death toll of around 30,000 (of whom around two thirds are civilians). The Syrians claim the camps harbour terrorists and pose a danger to the country’s security.

The under-reporting of these horrific events is in contrast to the ways in which Israeli operations (which also claim to be against terrorists and necessary for security) are reported. When Israel has deployed aerial bombardment or ground assault on Palestinian communities, it is front page news across the Western mainstream media, and especially liberal media. In response, and quite legitimately, thousands march through Western streets, demonstrate outside Israeli embassies. Others boycott Israeli products; still others attack synagogues or desecrate Jewish graves. Progressive Jews in the diaspora write letters to editors denouncing Israel’s actions and disassociating themselves, “as Jews”, from the violence. How many demonstrations have their been in Western cities about Assad’s violence? How many letters and boycotts have Western trade unionists and intellectuals organised to protest about the deaths in Syria.

Syria’s operations are comparable in scale and excessive in intensity – so why the quiet response? It seems to me the only plausible explanation is that for the mainstream Western media, and especially liberal media, Palestinian lives are not valuable in themselves, but of value only in relation to the acts of Israel. Palestinians are never the story for the liberal media; it is always Israel that is the story.

(Just to be clear, I am not at all suggesting the Western media is wrong to report, or Western liberals wrong to protest, Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands. For the sake of comparison, in the much shorter Lebanon and Gaza conflicts of 2006 and 2009, there were respectively 1200 Lebanese civilians and 200-900 Palestinian civilians killed. For further reading on Syria, I recommend Pulse Media and Qunfuz.)

I was also struck by the under-reporting of the extraordinary acts of courage and dignity in Libya, when thousands of Libyan civilians, most notably in Benghazi, physically invaded the strongholds of the militias which have made life a misery for Libyan people since the revolution. Specifically, it was Islamist militias which were rejected, and most especially the militias associated with the horrific slaying of the American ambassador in Benghazi, an act which appalled the city. The uprisings against the militias were spontaneous, self-organised mass acts of ordinary people from a wide cross-section of Libyan society, including devout Muslims and in particular Sufis: acts of democratic rage, perhaps, or patriotic rage, or just decent rage.

Here, the quiet response of Western mainstream media, and especially conservative media, was in contrast to the obsessive attention to the horrible spectacle of mob violence “provoked” in the preceding days by the dirty little Innocence of Muslims youtube video.

I am not for one second arguing that the Islamist rage was not worth reporting and condemning and dwelling on at length; its reach and intensity shows its geopolitical significance. What I’m suggesting is that the comparative media neglect of the democratic rage is telling. The conservative mainstream media, at least in 2012, is only interested in Muslims and Arabs if they play the role of fanatical jihadis – just as the liberal media is only interested in Palestinians if they play the role of victims of Israel.

Genocide denial and rape culture

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big fat Jew in a bikini

I have been writing a follow-up post about class (provisional title: we are the 47%) for a few days now, but keep stalling, for lack of time.

I mainly got sidetracked by work, family and the other demands of the real world. But I also got sidetracked in the unreal world. First by the excellent Sad Red Earth with his first and second posts on the stink of today's politics and the hall of mirrors in which we dwell (taking in Muslim Rage, Maureen Dowd, slithering neoconservatives and Andrew Sullivan, among other things).

I also got sidetracked by the chutzpah of JihadWatch's Robert Spencer, whose Twitter effluent defames dozens of mainstream American liberals by preposterously claiming they want Christians to be imprisoned in the US for insulting Mohammed - but who bullyingly demanded a retraction of my friends Glyn and Peter for "defamatory" things they never even said about him. Spencer, along with Pamela Geller, circulated completely false claims about Nigerian Muslims crucifying cats. When they realised it was a hoax, they pulled their posts. But not before literally thousands of bloggers, tweeters and such had re-circulated the lie. Anyone with any integrity would have corrected their error, rather than brushing it under the carpet, but Spencer and Geller don't care about the truth, only about provoking the clash of civilizations. Here are the key documents.

While I was here, I glanced at my ever-dwindling readership stats. Apart from the obvious "Bob From Brockley", here are the most popular searches that bring my sweet readers here (with hyperlinks to the posts they must be looking for, for added reductio ad absurdum):
If you are missing my more frequent blogging days, I am more prolific at the moment (if of course more concise) on Twitter. And some of my Twitter feed gets aggregated by robots in Lichtenstein here.

Hope 5773 is going well for you so far.