More attacks on Israel - and the moral equivalence goes on 1 January, 2011
At least 35 rockets have been fired from Gaza onto towns and cities in southern Israel in the last 36 hours. One Israeli has died and 4 others have been injured in an ongoing escalation of terror from Hamas and Islamic jihad. Schools have been shut in many areas, affecting 200,000 people. In response, Israel has targeted some of the cells carrying out the attacks, killing at least 10 terrorists. At least 3 obvious lessons suggest themselves here:
1) No matter what concessions Israel makes, she will be faced with a terror threat, whether from Gaza, Lebanon or (in time) the West Bank. Indeed the more concessions Israel makes in these areas, the more she will pay for them. This is because the respective parties remain intransigent foes who will interpret goodwill gestures as signs of weakness and retreat, not strength. As evidence, we have Israel's continual goodwill to the PLO from 1993-6 which saw an increase in terror attacks, the Taba talks which were followed by the second intifada, the retreat from Lebanon which led to the costly war in 2006 and the Gaza pullout in 2005, leading to nearly 10,000 rockets being fired onto southern Israeli towns.
2) There is little western goodwill following the Schalit release. Instead we have a renewal of the conventional wisdom about this conflict, as well as the spurious forms of moral equivalence that now characterise the west's misguided and incompetent foreign policy. That was in evidence today when Caroline Ashton, the EU's foreign minister in all but name, declared:
we wholeheartedly condemn the indiscriminate targeting of civilians where ever they are. I call on all sides to respect the ceasefire brokered by Egypt.
The reference to 'where ever they are' suggests that civilians are being targeted in both Gaza and Israel, which is obscene. Firstly, there is no evidence of Palestinian civilian dead but in any case, Israel strives on every occasion to avoid killing non combatants. Second, it is clear that one side is declaring war (and has long declared war) on the other, namely Hamas on Israel. Israel is entitled to defend itself with vigour until its citizens stop coming under rocket fire. To call on the country to observe a ceasefire after such belligerent provocation is tantamount to declaring that it should not be able to defend itself, or establish its deterrence vis a vis its enemies.
But at least Ashton recognises that there are attacks coming from Gaza that precipitate an Israeli response. As Melanie Phillips observes on her own blog, after 24 hours there was barely a mention on the BBC of what led to the Israeli counter strikes in the region. This can only have led to people assuming that Israel was responsible for an increase in tension.
3) Israel is damned no matter how much restraint she shows. Therefore it is essential that she re-establishes her deterrent strength vis a vis Hamas, especially now that the Schalit deal has undermined it.
Footnote added 31/10. In view of the increased terror in the last few hours, that deterrence is urgently needed.
Another jihadi massacre – but let’s not call it that 4 January, 2011
The New Year has started with the appalling massacre of 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt. The scenes of misery and devastation, to say nothing of the scale of the destruction, are shocking to behold. This barbarity follows previous attacks on vulnerable Christian communities by Islamist extremists. In December last year in the Philippines, 11 Christians were injured in a bomb attack on their chapel. In December last year, 38 Christians were savagely killed in Nigeria in another Islamist attack. The more one surveys the Arab and Muslim world, the more one sees relentless assaults on beleaguered Christians and on the Christian way of life. From Saudi Arabia to Cairo, from Yemen to Iran, one takes a grave risk in openly professing one's Christian outlook.
So in the light of this most recent barbarity, it was interesting to see how Obama chose his words ever so carefully in his condemnation. To be fair, he condemned the Egyptian bombing forcefully, but he spoke of an attack that killed and injured people from both ‘the Christian and Muslim communities’ and refused to even state the (Islamist) identity of the perpetrators. In other words, it was the usual agenda driven response where political correctness and multiculturalism trumped truth and fairness.
But some people do see the tragic significance of the lame response to these events. The excellent Robin Shepherd in his new year blog has this to say:
It is precisely at this stage in the discussion that we should (but, due to multiculturalist pathologies, do not) bring in the question of Israel and the Jews. For what we are now seeing against Christians has been going on with regard to the Jews for decades. The genocidal anti-Semitism long rife across the Middle East (and long ignored by the media) forms part of a much bigger picture. In common with previous totalitarianisms, it may be Jews first, but there are plenty of others on the list of targets.
Little more needs to be said really.
Attacking Palin for the US shooting is itself an abuse of speech 10 January, 2011
The fevered debate that has followed the tragic shootings in Arizona says more about the corrosion of public debate in America than it does about Sarah Palin or the tea party. Already the knives are out for the Republicans and everything associated with America's right which is, as everyone knows, the pure embodiment of evil. If an assassin tried to kill a Democrat congresswoman, that could only be because of the machinations of right wing pundits.
Mr.Loughner could not have acted on his own personal initiative, you see. He was instead driven by the vitriol of talk show hosts, incited to murder by Republican websites, stirred into action by the tea party. Right wing rhetoric has sudden become 'hate speech' of the most incendiary kind. Naturally the left wingers who accuse their opponents of hate speech and then imply that they have indirect responsibility for murder need an irony transplant.
For sure, America's political debate is characterised by personal attacks, unsavoury language and vitriolic abuse. No doubt, that makes supporters of each side that much angrier about their political rivals. But, and this is surely the point, it does not turn them into killers or assassins. We may never know why Mr. Loughner turned his gun on the congresswoman and killed 6 other people, though the Guardian carries an interesting report today that may shed some light on this.
If the report is true, it suggests that this 'socially awkward' loner had a long standing grudge against the Congresswoman which had little to do with right wing rhetoric. In other words, he was a time bomb waiting to go off. In recent years America has seen a succession of such socially inadequate loners using murderous violence to express their rage. This one may prove to be no different to the others.
Perhaps the real lesson from this shooting is not that American politicians need to tone down ad hominem attacks - we knew that already. It is that we all have to live with unpredictable acts of mass violence, and with what Hannah Arendt once called 'the banality of evil.' That applies to Loughner as much as it applies to Derrick Bird, Raul Moat or any of the other nightmarish killers who target the innocent when they least expect it. And for most of us, that is very hard to take.
Time for the educational establishment to wake up 13 January, 2011
Nothing better sums up the wretched state of our education system than the revelation that fewer than 1 in 6 (about 15%) of last year’s GCSE pupils obtained the government’s new baccalaureate. This qualification is awarded to those pupils obtaining five A* to C grades in the core traditional subjects: English, Maths, a foreign language, science and a humanities subject, such as history or geography. In other words, they show who obtained five passes in subjects that are a vital component of modern learning and are essential for understanding the modern world. 85% failed to achieve this, truly a national scandal of epic proportions.
We can now see the ever rising annual figures of GCSE attainment for what they are: a deceit on the public and a betrayal of pupils themselves. Year after year, we were assured that educational standards were rising as more and more students got the hallowed 5 passes. Yet this was only because schools were ditching the tougher subjects (sciences and modern languages) and switching increasingly to vocational GNVQs which were absurdly worth 4 GCSEs. All this did was inflate the school’s position in increasingly meaningless league tables, ones which have also failed to reflect those schools (such as Harrow) that have ditched traditional GCSEs altogether. The predictable bleating from teaching unions is merely symptomatic of a debased educational culture which no longer recognises academic excellence, and which seeks an egalitarian approach to examinations. Admittedly, the baccalaureate leaves little room for certain valuable ‘non humanities’ subjects which might be considered a part of the ‘core’ curriculum. But in general, Michael Gove has given Britain’s educational establishment a much needed wake up call. Let’s hope they are listening.
Overthrowing dictatorships 18 January, 2011
One of the lessons to be learned from the Tunisian revolution is that the received wisdom about what drives the Arab masses is patently false. The riots and violent upheaval in that country appear to have been caused by a mixture of high unemployment, falling living standards and the rising cost of basic commodities, all of which were exacerbated by the country's brutal dictatorship. A toxic combination of economic misery and repression have tipped people over the edge.
But for Western liberals, Arab anger is focused on the grievances of the suffering Palestinians and thus on Israel's perceived crimes. Of course, that analysis is beyond far fetched in this instance. It is hard to believe that the rioting Tunisians were focusing on the alleged iniquities of Israeli behaviour when they took to the streets. As Caroline Glick argues in the Jerusalem Post today:
Like people everywhere, what most interests Arabs is their own standard of living, their relative freedom or lack thereof, and their prospects for the future. Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian college graduate who set himself on fire last month after regime security forces destroyed his unlicensed produce cart did not act as he did because of Israel.
Yet the Western liberal elite, particularly the diplomatic and foreign policy elite, seem to argue that you cannot calm tensions in the Arab world without resolving this burning issue of Israel/Palestine. What this elite have imbibed is the self justifying rhetoric of Arab dictators who look for a scapegoat onto which the natural anger of the masses can be directed. What better scapegoat can there be than the non Arab state of Israel which is pictured as being perpetually at war with the Muslim world. As Glick puts it:
The chief concern of Arab dictators is not Israel, but the prolongation of their grip on power. From their perspective, one of the keys to maintaining their iron grip on power is neutralizing US support for freedom. By arguing that Israel is the root cause of all Arab pathologies, Arab despots put the US on the defensive. Having to defend its support for the hated Jews, the US feels less comfortable criticizing the dictators for their repression of their own people. And without the Americans breathing down their backs, Arab dictators can sleep more or less easily.
The Tunisian dictatorship has now gone and so much the better for that. The obvious lesson, and one which our foreign officer minister refused to accept on last night's Newsnight, is that democracies make much more stable allies for the West than autocracies. Alliances outlast Presidents and Prime Ministers because they do not define the country's politics. By contrast, dictators do not see beyond their own personal rule, making power dependent on their own personality and political whims. Israel is therefore a key strategic ally for the West, both because it is on the front line against radical Islam, but also because its democratic nature gives it the stability that the West requires. The foreign policy elites need to think again.
Baroness Warsi's speech 21 January, 2011
It’s rather hard to know what to make of Baroness Warsi after she gave a speech yesterday that was riddled with contradictions, muddled thinking and downright bigotry. Invited to give the annual Sigmund Sternberg lecture, she started by voicing sentiments that seemed perfectly reasonable and sound.
She sought to attack ‘the rising tide of anti-religious bigotry’ and ‘unreasonable, unfounded, irrational bigotry.’ She spoke of a ‘sensationalist media’ that drowned out ‘free speech’ and which made rational discussion of religion almost impossible. Britain is indeed in the grip of such forces. The straitjacket of left-liberal thinking has made a rational discussion of such topics as Islamic extremism, climate change, immigration and multiculturalism taboo for a long time. But this is not what the Baroness was referring to. Instead she had a very different topic in mind. Talking of the ‘belief in equality before the law’ as a key part of British identity she declared:
‘Deep, entrenched anti-Muslim bigotry challenges that tradition...’
For this entrenched anti Muslim bigotry she uses the now ubiquitous term ‘Islamophobia:’ ‘For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate – even commendable – thing. You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test.’ It has ‘now crossed the threshold of middle class respectability.’
Any rational observer must be left asking what her evidence is for this? Which dinner parties has she been to where discussions about Muslims, and British attitudes to Muslims, now dominate? Does she believe that Islam bashing is now part of polite discourse, considering the British obsession with avoiding offence and being tolerant to others? To harbour unfounded (and completely negative) views about large groups of people is itself a form of irrational prejudice, surely?
To her credit, she does condemn those of her co-religionists who ‘try to justify their criminal conduct and activity by suggesting that it is sanctioned by their faith.’ Muslims, she says, ‘must speak out’ against violence in their name.’ Extremists, she says, are ‘minority of a minority.’ This is true, though with a caveat. Those Muslims who say they support separatism and Sharia law, and who try to justify the extremism of their brethren, are a minority among the British community, yet this is a shockingly large minority if opinion polls are anything to go by. Warsi makes no mention of this.
The problem of extremism, she says, ‘should not lead to unfounded suspicions of all Muslims.’ But surely the majority of sensible people in Britain do realise this and refuse to offer blanket condemnations as a result. That is why they will often make a distinction between Islamists and Muslims, precisely to differentiate between a Muslim majority that quietly embraces their faith and the smaller number who reject secularism and the West, often violently. But this distinction is no good for Warsi.
‘We need to think harder about the language we use. And we should be careful about language around religious “moderates”…We need to stop talking about moderate Muslims, and instead talk about British Muslims.’
So when we do try to make a distinction between moderates and extremists, precisely to avoid tarring all Muslims with the same brush, then we are Islamophobic apparently. Such a view renders the term Islamophobia meaningless.
Worse, she is in denial about the very Islamic dimension of today’s extremism. Talking of Islamist terrorists, she says that ‘These people are extremists, plain and simple, because their behaviour has detached them from the thought process within their religion. But these extremists are radicalised in mosques, madrassahs and university societies which preach a virulent strain of extremist Islam. They are following the thought processes of particular clerics and imams who believe that their faith mandates perpetual warfare against the unbeliever.
She then goes on to say: ‘The other worrying argument that also forms a basis for justifying Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is the idea that Islam is a particularly violent creed.......and therefore that an irrational reaction to it is somehow appropriate.’
Again, this is a particularly insidious way of addressing the problem. First, it clumps together criticism (whether rational or otherwise) of a faith with hatred of a people, suggesting that one must somehow tolerate a religion if one is not to be a bigoted racist. Second, it ignores the evidence from around the world that Islam does indeed have a violent strain: homosexuals executed in Iran and Saudi Arabia, Christians persecuted in Egypt and Nigeria, the terrorist violence engineered in Pakistani madrassahs, the women oppressed across the world.
Certainly it would be wrong headed to deny that there are some British people who are bigoted towards Muslims. These people are likely to be prejudiced against many ethnic groups and demonstrate a highly unsavoury brand of xenophobia. But they hardly speak for middle Britain.
How ironic that Warsi ends her speech by talking about not ‘burying our heads in the sand and denying the problem...’ She should start by looking at herself.
The Palestinian papers (if true) destroy the left's credibility 24 January, 2011
A major sign of pathology is when you remain impervious to the facts. Judged by that standard, the left's view of Israel is patently pathological as the reaction to the explosive release of Palestinian documents reveals so clearly. The reaction from the Guardian, the BBC, Channel 4 news and other left/liberal outlets is to express rage at Israeli 'intransigence' and, more so, bitter hostility to the PA's leaders who are collectively viewed as surrender monkeys. The Guardian editorial today hit out at a 'craven' PA leadership which had given in to Israeli demands for the last decade.
But look more closely and you can see just why the Guardian is so outraged. The central assumption of this anti Israeli paper is that settlements are the prime obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The PA has now made this position look preposterous. If you accept the validity of these documents (a big assumption), it suggests that the Palestinian leaders did not regard settlements as totemic at all. If the PA's leaders were prepared to allow Israel control of nearly every settlement around Jerusalem, why did the Americans, Europeans and our own government regard them as so vital?
The other big story is of the mighty Goliath, Israel, apparently turning down all the generous Palestinian concessions on settlements and the right of return. But again, this is rudely contradicted by another document on the Guardian's website that shows Ehud Olmert offering the PA the vast majority of the West Bank (with agreed land swaps), as well as deals on refugees and settlements. In other words, a deal that appears to mirror the very Palestinian concessions made by Abbas and Erekat. Somehow this Israeli generosity has been airbrushed from the record, proving how the left is wedded to its agenda driven, anti Israeli pathology.
But now consider the Palestinian reaction to the leaks. It is they who are furiously denying making any concessions to Israel and the US for fear of the reaction from the Palestinian street. After all, the idea of reneging on the right of return and sovereignty over Jerusalem is anathema to the majority of Palestinians. Put simply, the PA might have offered concession after concession in private but it dare not have sold these concessions to a sceptical public, something that reveals all too clearly why this tragic conflict continues.
The Guardian sinks into the moral abyss 27 January, 2011
Yesterday the Guardian took an unprecedented step into the journalistic gutter, abandoning any pretence to integrity. Following its revelations in 'Palileaks,' the paper published a full length article by a leading Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan who ended his diatribe against the PA by promising that there would be 'practical measures' taken to 'protect our cause.'
The paper was giving prominent coverage to an organisation whose charter was full of vicious, anti semitic conspiratorial language and which remains dedicated to the outright destruction of Israel. Funny that the Guardian claims that the two state solution is the only game in town, yet indulges the advocates of a one state approach. Worse, they published a letter from the academic Ted Honderich which must be quoted in full to be believed:
The revelations in detail (Report, 25 January) of the intransigent greed, the escape from decency, of Israeli governments in negotiation with our selected leaders of the Palestinians, serve one purpose among others. They provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. The latter, neither Zionism nor of course Jewishness, is the taking from the Palestinians of at least their autonomy in the last one-fifth of their historic homeland. Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.
The statement in italics is arguably an incitement to terror, in direct contravention of the Terrorism Act 2000. A person commits an offence if 'he incites another person to commit an act of terrorism wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom' and where it is understood that the motive is political or religious.
But wait, it gets worse, much worse. As the excellent CIF Watch reports, the paper's editors descended even further into the moral gutter after they published yesterday a cartoon by the notorious anti semitic cartoonist, Carlos Latuff. Look at other examples of his 'work' and you can see what a depraved racist he really is. This is ugliness and bigotry taken to the furthest extremes and by giving this individual a platform, the Guardian has helped to transform itself into Britain's Der Stuermer.
Beware Western luminaries predicting a bright outcome in Egypt's revolution 31 January, 2011
To outsiders, Egypt appears to be on the cusp of a democratic revolution right now. The masses that are defying government curfews and marching against autocracy have been likened to the green movement in Iran, and even to the protestors in Eastern Europe who tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now they have a democratic figurehead in Mohammed El-Baradei as well as growing support for change from Western politicians.
The problem is that it is not entirely clear in what direction this revolution is heading. Western commentators often make the classic mistake of imposing a Western viewpoint on the Arab ‘street’. They seem to assume that liberal and democratic government is the only alternative to Mubarak's military rule and that the ousting of this dictator will generate better outcomes for the country and the region. (Of course the classic Western delusion is that the Arab street is aggravated solely or mainly by the Israeli occupation, a notion whose credibility has been torn to shreds - but we knew that already.)
But the point about democracy is that it cannot be built overnight. A country needs the institutions of democracy, such as a free press, a functioning police force and an independent judiciary. It also requires political parties to be committed to democratic reform and liberal ideals, rather than seeing elections as the means by which to attain power and then stifle democracy. An autocracy that has ruled through fear cannot suddenly transform itself into a Western style state.
In fact Mubarak's removal could lead to a number of scenarios, some of which are deeply injurious to Western interests. For one thing, Mubarak could come under pressure from the army to resign, paving the way for a hardline successor, such as his vice president, Omar Suleiman. This would breathe new life into the military dictatorship but do little to quell popular discontent. Alternatively, there could be a dismantling of the regime and political elections. That could lead to a stable transition to a democracy, perhaps under El-Baradei or another emerging populist figure or it could lead to gridlock.
The worst outcome would be the populist election of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, the banned Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbullah, has championed the revolution against Mubarak from the start. In recent days, two leaders of the Brotherhood have been set free from prisons by a mob and received a rapturous reception in Cairo, an ominous sign of things to come.
A government led by such people would seek to undermine the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 in every possible way. Short of abrogating the treaty, which would lead to the loss of substantial military aid from the US, they would no doubt end all intelligence co-operation with Israel, including on vital border issues in Gaza. They could assist jihadis across the region at a time when the West is at war with radical Islam, helping to ignite a serious regional conflagration just when the West does not need it. If the views of ordinary Egyptians are anything to go by, there is a visceral loathing for Israel which would be translated into hardline fundamentalist opposition. (It is hardly a surprise that the Israelis are desperate to see Mubarak cling to power, if only because an Islamist dominated Egypt would prove a catastrophe for the Jewish state's security).
The Brotherhood in power would not be benign, as Daniel Hannan suggests in today's Telegraph. It would blow apart the assumptions that have long underpinned the West’s (and Israel’s) regional strategy for three decades. Jihadis are not necessarily tamed by elections as a quick observation of Gaza and Tehran will tell you. There elections have been used to undermine democracy as we understand it.
This is not to suggest that democracy is wrong for the Arab world. Liberal governance is the birthright of every people. But democracy cannot be built on shaky foundations, certainly not in a tough neighbourhood where radical religious fundamentalism has taken root so powerfully. Anyone who claims to know the outcome of this revolution, or who declares that it will be benign, is probably a fool. Egypt is about to head in a very uncertain direction.
Further thoughts on Egypt 2 February, 2011
Some further thoughts on the rapidly changing events in Egypt today.
1) It seems to me that the West's best option right now is to stick with the military regime, whether or not Mubarak stays, both to preserve much needed stability and to deal a blow to Islamist groups (The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas) who are gearing up for regime change.
2) Support for the regime, however, should come at a price. The West, the US in particular, should make clear to the Egyptian government that its financial aid will be dependent on the implementation of domestic reforms, including the establishment of more democratic freedoms within the country. This way they will show that they are on the side of those who support liberal democratic values. This way they will show that they no longer offer blind support to autocratic regimes that deny their peoples fundamental liberties. Genuine Egyptian democrats should be feted across the West.
3) In ideological terms, genuine democracy in Egypt is clearly preferable to rule by the military. Representative government based on the rule of law, where checks and balances exist to limit the power of the executive, is the right of every national population.
4) However, as Robin Shepherd points out on his blog, the vast majority of Egyptians hold unfavorable opinions about Jews and many embrace jihadist Islam. Anti semitism is incompatible with liberal democracy because it challenges the universalist notion that all citizens are equal under the law. The Muslim Brotherhood thrive on a diet of virulent anti semitism and anti Zionism. Therefore:
5) If Egypt is to democratise, it must continue to suppress the Brotherhood and prevent them from exploiting the democratic process. This way, the path towards a more benign politics will not be scuppered by religious radicals.
Ultra Zionism or ultra distortion? 4 February, 2011
For many observers, yesterday’s BBC2 documentary ‘The ultra Zionists’ will serve as further proof that a seemingly militant and intransigent group of Israelis are primarily responsible for the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews. The documentary maker, Louis Theroux, well known for exposing fringe religious groups, travelled to the West Bank to meet a small group of nationalist settlers.
Some of those he encountered had distinctly unpleasant attitudes towards Arabs. They believed that the Jewish presence in disputed territory was divinely mandated and that their obligation to live on the land outweighed other considerations. One might argue that they would hardly make ideal neighbours. Some had even built outposts in defiance of Israeli law, only to see them demolished by the Israeli army. Theroux correctly pointed out that the settlers had to be protected by a large contingent of the IDF who frequently clashed with Arab protestors.
He went to great lengths to highlight the sense of Palestinian grievance, including an interview with an Arab youth who spoke of his desire to reclaim all of ‘Palestine.’ But therein lies the problem. Let’s leave aside the most obvious distortion involved here, namely that by interviewing only the most hard core settlers, the less intransigent ones were ignored. (This matters because settlers are usually seen as right wing fanatics).
The must fundamental flaw with the documentary is that it unwittingly imbibes Palestinian victimhood. It seems to take the view that if the settlers would only disappear, then Palestinian hate would disappear too. In other words, that the Jew hating and Israel hating rhetoric of the Palestinian street would evaporate if only the settler ‘fanatics’ were moved out of the West Bank.
But the source of Palestinian rage runs far deeper than this. It springs from the appalling cultural brainwashing that exists at every level of Palestinian and Arab culture. From the earliest age, Palestinians are taught that the Jews are their mortal enemies whose alleged perfidy is laid down in the Koran. They are routinely described as corrupt and untrustworthy, as the sons of ape and pigs. Jews are demonised on television and radio, in newspapers, schools and mosques. It is from this visceral hatred that the conflict ultimately springs; settlements merely exacerbate it. And if settlements are such a roadblock to peace, why was it that the removal of settlers in Gaza only heightened the terror threat to the Jewish state?
Clearly, it was not the aim of this documentary to chart the causes of the Arab Israeli conflict. But in such a contentious conflict, perceptions do matter. All that this documentary will have done is cement the widespread, but utterly distorted perception, that Palestinian hatred is explicable on purely Western lines. It is not.
Israel isn't neutral on real democracy in Egypt 8 February, 2011
I think that Shmuley Boteach may have missed the point in his critique of Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday. In his weekly column for the Jerusalem Post, he wrote that ‘Israel is missing a once in a lifetime historic opportunity to support Arab freedom.’ Noting Netanyahu’s apprehension at the wave of protest in Egypt, Boteach says that Israel’s apparent posture of neutrality is wrong. It risks mimicking ‘the moral neutrality that has characterised the presidency of Barack Obama.’ He makes the quite correct observation that Israel is the lone voice of liberal democracy and tolerance in the region and ponders why the Israeli leader has been so lukewarm over the events in Egypt.
But he is asking the wrong question. Israelis are not apprehensive about democracy, and neither is Netanyahu. What they are apprehensive about is faux democracy, or the legitimisation of religious extremism through the ballot box. The election of a Muslim Brotherhood government, or one in which the Brotherhood (or their political representatives) formed a significant core, would set back the cause of freedom and dignity for decades. Such a government would seek the imposition of Sharia law on the entire population. It would repress women’s rights, persecute homosexuals, abolish individual and collective freedoms and impose a 7th century religious code on a modern 21st century state. In short, it would become the Iran of North Africa, an intolerant, homophobic, racist and thoroughly anti Western regime.
While such a regime would appear legitimate insofar as it had achieved power through democratic means, it would soon do all it could to undermine democracy, as the mullahs did after 1979. In 1933 Hitler used the Reichstag to pass laws that destroyed every aspect of Weimar democracy. Within a year, Germany was a full blown personal dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood would surely do the same. Democracy is about more than the vote. It is, as Shimon Peres once quipped, about what happens after the vote.
What must underpin any genuine democracy is a series of representative and accountable institutions: an independent judiciary, a workable police force and a free press. There should be checks and balances between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The government should seek to uphold certain inalienable freedoms, such as those of speech, protest and religious belief and above all, guarantee protection under the law for every group in society. In Egypt’s case, this includes protection for the persecuted Christian minority and the tiny remnant of the country’s Jews. Yet in a country where anti semitism and religious extremism flourish, who can guarantee that any elected government could provide such protection?
Of course, where there are genuine voices clamouring for a Western style liberal democracy, Israel should support them. Democracies rarely go to war with each other after all. But Egypt in 2011 is not the same as Czechoslovakia in 1989. Netanyahu has every reason to be apprehensive.
The game's up for the blundering Hague 9 February, 2011
It started with a newspaper interview in which the foreign secretary was asked to comment on something that Benjamin Netanyahu had said. The Israeli PM had declared that his country should prepare for 'any outcome' in its dealings with Egypt, depending on the course of events in that country. This was an entirely understandable comment. Presumably he meant that Israel had to contemplate the possibility of an Islamist takeover in Egypt, and be forced to rethink its military and intelligence options accordingly. Anything less would be idle complacency.
But the foreign secretary has condemned his remarks as 'belligerent,' which is both absurd and immoral. Is it really warlike to defend oneself against enemies that are sworn to your destruction? Well a clue to why Hague thinks so is contained in other remarks he made.
'Amidst the opportunity for countries like Tunisia and Egypt, there is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side, and will be a casualty of uncertainty in the region. It is a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process.'
Did he mean that the revolutionary upheaval in Egypt could usher in an era of religious extremism, greater financial support for Hamas and Hezbullah and the possibility of a regional conflict being ignited? Clearly, that would put the 'peace process' at risk. But no, that was not where he was coming from at all. His all too predictable target (yes, you've guessed it) was Israeli 'settlements.' Israel's policy, he said, was 'disappointing' and it could make peace 'impossible' in the next few years.
The implication is that what it will take to re-ignite these talks is a fresh settlement freeze. This despite the fact that the very riots he talks about in Tunisia and Egypt were not started by unrest over Israel or the occupation. This despite the fact that the PA boycotted talks for most of the previous 10 month settlement freeze, and refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. This despite the fact that the real causes of the conflict, namely the rejectionist mindset of the PA and its allies, remains insatiable.
For Mr. Hague to spout such fatuous nonsense is a telling indicator of where his party stands on foreign affairs. We should all be very, very worried.
Parliament's futile gesture... 11 February, 2011
Don't be fooled by today's 'historic' Commons vote against allowing prisoners the vote. It is in all probability neither historic nor groundbreaking. It is most likely to be a good PR exercise for David Cameron in the face of a muscular challenge from his party's Eurosceptics.
The issue is simple enough. Parliament (nearly half of our MPs) is overwhelmingly against allowing prisoners to vote, in defiance of a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. MPs have justly stated that once you commit serious crimes and enter prison, you cannot claim the same rights as you had before, including the right to vote. You have absented yourself, albeit temporarily, from being a part of civilised society. If you break current laws, you cannot have a say in who gets to make new ones.
But this vote changes little. The ECHR has given Britain until August to accept its ruling or else face sanctions. In all probability a raft of prisoners, using well paid human rights lawyers, will submit a welter of compensation claims if they are denied the vote. This will cost taxpayers many millions of pounds and create a vast number of unsavoury headlines. The government will feel bound to submit to the will of the European Court (or the ECJ), particularly after the previous government's craven surrender over the Lisbon treaty.
Of course, I may be mistaken. Perhaps this will be the start of the long awaited fightback, the moment when the people's representatives make a concerted effort to wrest back control of our lives from Brussels bureaucrats. Perhaps this is a turning point for the Tories too, the traditional defenders of Parliamentary sovereignty. I very much doubt it. Does Cameron really want to risk a rupture with Mr. Clegg and his Europhile Lib Democrats? Does he want to risk splitting the Tory party over this explosive issue? I think we all know the answer to those two questions.
A retrospective posture of Parliamentary defiance doesn't fool anybody. Our political and judicial powers have long been emasculated and voluntarily sold out to the United States of Europe. Nothing short of full EU withdrawal will return us to being the proud, independent and sovereign nation that we once were.
Iran's revolutionary exports are inauspicious 17 February, 2011
The convulsions that have hit Bahrain in recent days, and which have been met with the full force of the regime's tanks and soldiers, have reportedly been stirred by Tehran. This would not be surprising. The Iranian regime has long claimed that Bahrain is part of the ancient Persian empire. Retaking it for the ayatollahs is seen as redressing a historical injustice.
In addition, the small oil rich kingdom has a Shia population which has some legitimate grievances. The Shia form a majority in Bahrain yet are barred from constituting a political majority. Power lies in the hands of the long serving Prime Minister, not Parliament. This Shia majority could be stirred up by Iran which is naturally desperate to see its fundamentalist revolution exported to every quarter of the region. And Bahrain's rulers fear a Shia uprising so strongly that they are prepared to use maximum force to suppress it. They know that a Shia revolution in one Gulf state could spread to other countries with big Shia populations, creating a domino effect that could see Iran emerge as the Gulf's dominant power.
Why are the Iranians so emboldened right now? There are a few possible answers. In January, Lebanon's pro American PM, Sa'ad Hariri, was toppled by Hezbullah. The Hezbullah coup was timed for Hariri's visit to the White House and Washington's response was fairly tepid. In effect, the Iranian backed Hezbullah strengthened their grip on the country overnight. Then Tehran saw the US abandon yet another key ally when Washington called (in effect) for Mubarak to resign.
The removal of this Sunni strongman has left the path open for the creation of an Islamist regime, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Such a regime, while theoretically hostile to Shia Iran, could reach some bargain with the country, perhaps through supporting certain key terrorist groups like Hamas. Meanwhile, anti Iranian sanctions are unlikely to be tightened, at least by any global accord. In February this year, Sergey Lavrov decried the extension of any further sanctions targeting the Iranian economy. He is likely to be joined in his calls by politicians in China. For various reasons then, the Iranian regime feels it is in the ascendancy at the moment.
It is difficult to know the outcome of the protests sweeping the Middle East from Tunisia to the Gulf. But if one thing is certain it is that Iran will be watching events very carefully, and meddling wherever possible to enhance its interests.
Before you celebrate the Middle East's 'freedom agenda' remember 1917. 25 February, 2011
Watching reports of mass protest across the Middle East, it is tempting to get misty eyed. The popular belief, spread by Western media outlets and supported by much of our political class, is that the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya are part of a regional protest fuelled by people power, all in the name of human rights and democracy. Twitter and Facebook, the twin pillars of Western technology, are being lauded as the new global medium for change. The removal of one regime after another has been likened to the collapse of autocracy in Eastern Europe in 1989. This, some say, is Arabia's 'velvet revolution'.
There is a degree of truth in all of this. It seems that Bernard Lewis was right when he talked of 'a common theme of anger and resentment' fulled by a 'greater awareness that they (the Arabs) have, thanks to modern media and modern communications, of the difference between their situation and the situation in other parts of the world.' The differences are partly economic. Untold millions in the Arab world live in a type of chronic poverty that is scarcely found in the West and their misery is compounded by an intolerable lack of political liberty. For many, these protests do have a freedom agenda - freedom from the autocratic governments that have long ruled them with an iron fist. So it is tempting to jump on the bandwaggon, inspired by street revolutions with a seemingly unstoppable momentum.
But we ought to remember the adage about being careful what we wish for. The revolutions of 1917 in Russia and 1979 in Iran replaced Tsarist and monarchical tyrannies (respectively) with communist and theocratic ones. Both Lenin and Khomeini calibrated their language in order to tap into the deep rooted and widespread discontent with the prevailing regimes. Indeed Khomeini had long been a thorn in the side of the Shah. Both men were also careful to hide their anti democratic agendas and totalitarian ideologies. In Lenin's case, he swiftly closed down the Russian Parliament, suspended elections and instituted the bloody rule of the Cheka. Thousands of dissidents were slaughtered in the aftermath; millions more in the following years. We should be wary about forgetting the bloody outcome of popular upheaval. What starts in utopian idealism often ends in medieval savagery.
In Egypt, the departure of the 'pharoah' has been quickly followed by the arrival in Cairo of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi. Qaradawi is perhaps the most articulate and well known voice of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world. His views on Islam, women, homosexuality and terrorism should strike fear into any genuine believer in liberal government. Yet his speech in Cairo was greeted by a huge crowd in Tahrir Square, many of whom might well see him as the spiritual leader of a new (Islamist) government.
In Bahrain, an important US ally, a popular Shia revolt could yet result in a pro Iranian enclave being created in the Gulf. To the west of Bahrain, a popular revolt against the ruling House of Saud (not inconceivable) would surely have a major impact on oil prices, which would further destabilise an already fragile world economy. The security of energy supplies has long been a key plank of US foreign policy in the Middle East and upheaval in both nations would put those supplies in some danger. Libya, for all the bloodshed we have witnessed in recent days, is a virtual sideshow compared to the potential upheaval in these three places.
Surveying all these events is the ominous omnipresence of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Events in recent days give us worrying signs of just how far Tehran feels empowered by the region's upheaval. First, Hamas launched a Grad rocket into Beersheba for the first time in 2 years. At the same time, Tehran ordered two ships into the Suez Canal, an action not seen for three decades, and found that there was no resistance to its actions. If these ships were carrying vital weaponry to Syria and Hezbullah, then its actions were sending an unmistakeable message to other pro Western regimes, and the US. Iran feels it is now a regional top dog and will not hesitate to assert itself when necessary.
Amid this ferment, Israel's stable democracy stands strong and proud. Its leaders have taken a more lukewarm attitude towards this Arabian 'moment', perhaps because they sense that grave uncertainty lies just around the corner. As Charles Moore says in today's Telegraph:
Where they (the Israelis) are profoundly unlike us, though, is that their attention to the subject is perpetual, because their lives literally depend on it. They don't just have fun at the party: they are there for the morning after the night before. To change the metaphor, we in the West are like tourists in Middle East politics: we see something interesting, focus with our zoom lens, frame a pretty picture, and depart. The Israelis, by contrast, watch with 24-hour CCTV.
Indeed he is right. Some commentators declare that there is little cause for alarm. We should all join in the fun, praise the freedom agenda and celebrate the removal of tyrants. But pause for a minute and remember Russia and Iran in the heyday of their revolutions. It was the tyranny that followed those revolutions that stayed longest in the memory.
Egypt now that the cameras have gone... 9 March, 2011
With Libya burning amid a bloody civil war and William Hague demonstrating his serial incompetence and bungling, attention has been diverted from the Egyptian powder keg. Some weeks ago, the BBC was busy praising the revolution (in reality a military coup d'etat) that saw the removal of Hosni Mubarak. But in its place is a security vacuum that Egypt's police have yet to fill. The result is that in some cities, order has been replaced by chaos, violence and bloodshed, as this report makes clear.
On Tuesday night, there were clashes between Christians and Muslims after a rampaging Muslim mob of several thousands set fire to a church, following a dispute in which Muslims protested against the relationship between a Muslim man and a Christian woman. In itself, this is scarcely surprising. Attacks on Christians by the country's Muslim population are commonplace, fitting a broader pattern in which the region's Christian communities face intimidation and violence living under Arab and Muslim rule.
But where are the Western cameras to demonstrate that post Mubarak, Egypt has not moved into an enlightened age? Why are the liberal imperialists and deluded neo cons, who formerly clamoured for the removal of the dictator, not denouncing the military rulers' failure to enforce law and order? Where are the voices of concern about the illiberal and undemocratic direction of this latest 'revolution?' I doubt you will hear them.
Another ghastly attack that reveals Jew hatred is endemic in Palestinian society 12 March, 2011
If anyone wanted evidence of the appalling, bloodthirsty cult of death that inspires the followers of Hamas, just take a look at their reaction to the attack by Palestinian terrorists on a family of 5 in Itamar in the West Bank. While two parents and three young children, one aged only three months, were sleeping in their beds, a Palestinian terrorist slashed their throats, leaving devastation in his wake. For this ghastly act of child murder, as Netanyahu has rightly described it, Hamas has used the word 'heroic.' Such is the depraved level of racist brainwashing within this terrible organisation.
The Israeli PM has quite correctly observed that such attacks do not spring from a vacuum but are caused by relentless incitement within Palestinian society. In his words: 'A society that allows wild incitement like this, leads to the murder of children.' There are innumerable instances of such incitement in mosques, schools and on the television, with the obvious consequence that Jew hatred has become a binding glue for Palestinian society. Sceptics need only read the admirable site Palestine Media Watch (palwatch.org) to see this for themselves. Cartoons reproduce Nazi imagery to depict the Jew as the essence of evil and mendacity.
Yet Netanyahu has also missed the more disturbing point, which is that despite this incitement, Israel continues to be pushed, by her own choice and by that of others, in a fruitless dialogue with the PA's leaders, the very men who refuse to put a stop to incitement. The international community, for all its instant condemnation of this atrocity, continues to insist on such dialogue and for Israel to reduce its own security measures (such as the checkpoints) in order to facilitate this. And all the while, Jews continue to be murdered by fanatics. Appeasement certainly carries a heavy price.
The People's Pledge 16 March, 2011
If you are under 54, you would not have had a chance to vote on Britain's membership of the European Union. This is because the last vote was held in 1975 when the body we were joining was the Common Market. In 36 years, what purported to be an economic union has been transformed into a federalist superstate, accruing enormous political and legal powers from its member states. New treaties, signed without the consent of the British people, have granted the EU competence to decide on a wide range of social, political and economic issues. A majority of laws and regulations passed in our Parliament emanate from Europe, giving the EU a truly staggering range of powers.
Any attempt at challenging the relentless expansion of European influence is met with an undemocratic response. When the French and Dutch rejected the European Constitition, Brussels responded in a heavy handed fashion. The Lisbon treaty, the Constitution in all but name, was ratified by heads of state without the consent of national electorates. When the Irish had the temerity to reject the Euro, they were made to vote again. Within Europe there is a clear democratic deficit that is increasingly being exploited by the far right.
One should therefore give a cautious welcome to the launch this week of an important cross party group called the People's Pledge. Its aim is to force a referendum on our membership of the European Union and what makes this campaign stand out is the vocal support of many on the left, including Labour MPs, Greens trade union leaders. What this campaign seeks to do is ensure that every MP, and prospective MP, is held to account on the issue of a EU referendum.
Of course, the problem with this is obvious. If the mainstream parties refuse to support any such pledge, and extremists, such as the BNP do, the campaigners are inadvertantly suggesting that voters switch to the far right (in the constituencies affected) for the purpose of this campaign. In turn, this is grist to the mill of those who always claim that bashing Europe is the preserve of right wingers, xenophobes and warmongers, which of course it is not.
Blame for any such outcome would rest with the very political class that supported, and continues to support, the expansion of the EU at the expense of the British people. It is time for them to undo the damage they have wreaked for the last 36 years.
A coalition of the unwilling and uncertain 23 March, 2011
What started out as a potentially noble project to prevent genocide in parts of Libya has already into a political farce. In the last 24 hours, we have had the unedifying spectacle of the Chief of the Defence staff, David Richards, denying that we could legitimately Gaddafi, followed by Liam Fox saying that such a killing would be acceptable, with the PM then wading in to contradict Richards. What kind of jumbled up thinking is this? Was it not clear from the start what the operation would involve?
Worse, we have a clear sense that the Americans are just as unclear about their war aims (they never really wanted this no fly zone). This is what President Obama said two days ago: 'The goal of the United Nations-sanctioned military action in Libya is to protect citizens, not regime change – but the goal of US policy is that Muammar Qaddafi has to go.' So on the one hand, Britain and the USA are at loggerheads because the latter does not regard Gaddafi's removal as legitimate, yet removing the dictator is the 'goal of US policy.' So is that goal only being closed off because it does not fit in with the current UN resolution? But if so, why does Cameron think it does and why doesn't his Chief of Staff agree? Confused - you should be.
It has been suggested that the Arab league have completely lost their stomach for the operation while according to one report, there are only 6 warplanes aloft right now over Libya, barely enough to cover the airspace over Benghazi, never mind the entire country. The Americans are divided from the British, the French from the Germans, and the French from NATO, who were not informed about the initial airstrikes. So much for European unity! Meanwhile the US can't wait to back out of this operation and hand it over to their European partners though who they are going to hand responsibility to remains very, very unclear.
What could have been a limited operation undertaken for the justifiable purposes of limiting Gaddafi's genocidal intent is being undermined by internecine squabbles at the top level of government, with one leader contradicting another. With this current coalition of the unwilling, the uncertain and the downright incompetent, it is clear that Gaddafi has very little to worry about.
Israel needs to re-assert its deterrence in Gaza 23 March, 2011
Today Israelis suffered another horror attack via a remotely detonated bomb near a bus stop in Jerusalem. This murderous act of terrorism has followed an upsurge in mortar attacks and Grad rockets from Gaza, and of course the appalling massacre of a family of five in Itamar. It would be entirely wrong to claim that these are sporadic attacks with primitive weapons. This is a real attempt by terror groups to test Israeli resolve, as well as providing a diversion from domestic pressures.
So as Isi Leibler puts it today in the Jerusalem Post, it is time for Israel to 'get tough with Hamas.' Israel cannot afford to see its deterrent power weakened any further by limiting its responses. A failure to deal with this rapidly escalating situation will only see even more attacks launched from Gaza, perhaps with more sophisticated Iranian weaponry. When Israel is then forced to robustly re-assert her deterrence, perhaps in a repeat of Cast Lead, the international diplomatic fallout will be intense. It is essential that Israel spells out that the response to terror attacks will be robust and devastating for any group responsible, principally Hamas. As Leibler puts it:
'Our embassies must be instructed to inform all nations that we will remain neither passive nor act with restraint. If Hamas continues launching lethal missiles against our civilians, we will severely punish them.. We will resume targeted assassinations and, while endeavoring to minimize civilian casualties, will be obliged to inflict massive reprisals on its infrastructure. We must make it clear in advance that Israel will no longer adhere to the tit-for-tat formula and that we will respond with overwhelming force, not because we seek revenge but in order to deter future attacks.'
Miliband's credibility is being slowly shot to pieces 28 March, 2011
After the violence and thuggery that accompanied Saturday's anti cuts march in London, serious questions must again be asked about the police's handling of large scale demonstrations. People will demand to know why thousands of left wing militants and anarchists were able to carry out a carefully orchestrated assault on public buildings and businesses, in some cases without arrests being made. There will surely be a suspicion that the police deliberately adopted a softly softly approach after a barrage of criticism about their handling of previous demonstrations.
Admittedly, recent events have painted the police in a bad light. Kettling has proved controversial while after the G20 protests, an innocent man died after being shoved to the ground by a policeman. But there is no excuse for the kind of policing failures at the weekend. Given the range of resources at their disposal, an intelligence led operation was required so that the police could infiltrate the militant groups threatening violence.
But if it was a bad weekend for the police, it was a worse one for Ed Miliband. The Labour leader will now be indelibly associated with militant violence after his appearance at the weekend, even though he condemned the rioters. That he chose to speak at all is a clear sign that he is a creature of the unions with Labour now moving towards a more leftist position. But it was his comparison between these demonstrations and the truly noble causes of the past that will have struck many as particularly ill judged.
The great crusade against cuts was likened to the suffragette campaign, the American civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid era. Of course these are absurd comparisons. Those three political movements railed against grave injustice and the denial of fundamental human rights. The current programme of austerity, by contrast, involves a necessary, though very limited, series of measures which are necessary to rein in the behemoth of public spending.
Indeed as Miliband ought to realise, the cuts being proposed will actually leave public spending at a higher level in 2015 (with inflation taken into account) than in 2010-11. They make only a dent in the vast public sector state that Blair and Brown built up over a decade since 1997. And some programme of austerity would have been implemented in any case by a Labour government in response to the urgent fiscal problems that Miliband's government bequeathed to the Tories. Of course, the Labour leader would never have dared make any such admission for it would have exposed the folly of his current position.
But as Stephen Glover observed in the Saturday Mail, it is a scandal that the Labour leadership and the unions are being allowed to get away with making these specious arguments. That the cuts are less draconian than people imagine is obvious from looking at the figures. Is it really beyond the coalition to explain this to the British people?
Falsely explaining Palestinian hate 30 March, 2011
At first glance, Julian Kossoff's article in the Telegraph Could Hamas teach the Holocaust? appeared to be a telling commentary on the hatred in Gaza. The UN has proposed teaching the Holocaust as part of its human rights educational curriculum. Not surprisingly, Gaza's militant rulers and 'educators' are in uproar about the proposal.
Of course the obvious answer to Kossoff's question is no, Hamas could not teach the Holocaust. It is a Jew hating organisation whose charter is filled with diabolical conspiracy theories about the alleged nefarious influence of world Jewry. Jews are blamed for starting world wars, causing economic collapse and nurturing every evil under the sun. It is from such a deeply entrenched narrative of hate that the suicide bombers are created, the 'martyrs' who are drunk on the notion that their murderous deeds can secure eternal paradise.
It would be ideologically impossible for such twisted people to teach a narrative of Jewish suffering, at least without using it to provide further evidence of how global leaders deal with the 'corruption' of their enemies. (Of course the PA is led by a Holocaust denier who encourages incitement against Jews - so not much better in the West Bank). Yet this is what Kossoff has to say:
'Israeli officials have long said that Palestinian recognition of Jewish suffering is a necessary step toward peace. But for Gaza residents, empathy is particularly difficult. Indeed, as one commentator remarked, when it gets to the section on the Holocaust, it might be hard to stop the students applauding.'
And why is this exactly?
Today, most of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents live in poverty, facing Israeli restrictions in commerce and travel, and hundreds of civilians were killed in an Israeli military offensive against Hamas two years ago, aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks at Israel by Gaza militants.'
The clear implication here is that empathy with Jewish suffering is impossible, not because of a deeply embedded layer of anti Jewish brainwashing, but because of Israel's own actions. But this is to confuse cause and effect. Yes, some of Israel's military measures will have fuelled rage in Gaza and turned Palestinians even more against Israel. But they will have exacerbated the initial hatred, rather than create it. To ignore Hamas's deranged cult of death in an assessment of why empathy with Jews is impossible is intellectually wrongheaded and morally offensive.
He then goes on to say:
Equally, Israel and some it supporters have to engage in a parallel process. There is no excuse for complacency or self-righteousness when 54 per cent of young Israelis believe denial of civil rights to Arabs is acceptable, hundreds of rabbis call for on Jews not to sell or rent property to non-Jews and the butchering of a Jewish family at the West Bank settlement of Itamar is misappropriated to ratchet-up rhetoric dismissing all Arabs as “savages”.
Firstly, Kossoff's reference to the article by Melanie Phillips is misleading, perhaps deliberately so. For Phillips was not referring to all Arabs as savages, merely those who procured, incited and supported the ghastly attack on the Fogel family in Itamar. Secondly, the parallels suggested are wrong for all kinds of reasons. Certainly, there are Israelis who have disagreeable views about Arabs. Certainly, there are rabbis with immoral views about their neighbours. In a country that is assailed by Arab states every day, is that really surprising?
But what Kossoff downplays is the fact that in an open society, such views are also roundly condemned. Hence the chorus of indignation when rabbis in Israel tell Jews not to sell land to non Jews, or when right wing laws are passed in the Knesset. In Gaza, any such dissent from Hamas rule leads to torture or execution. For this reason, it is Gazans (and West Bankers), far more than Israelis, who need to be purged of their intolerance, hatred and homophobia. What a shame that Mr. Kossoff can't see that.
Goldstone produced the big Gaza lie; his 'apology' can't undo the damage. 3 April, 2011
Richard Goldstone's belated apology for the mess that was the Goldstone Report is actually nothing of the kind. It is a carefully worded attempt at self justification, shifting blame onto Israel for the report's blatant inaccuracies. Take this passage here:
Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants.
We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government.
In other words, Israeli leaders were to blame for their own demonisation by not taking part in the investigation. Yet at the time, they rightly interpreted the Goldstone mission as a kangaroo court, given that its original mandate was to investigate the crimes 'of the occupying power, Israel' and that one of its authors, Christine Chinkin, had already condemned Israel publicly. Given the provenance, no respectable democracy could afford to legitimize such proceedings. Yet for Goldstone, the inaccuracies in the report stem from Israel's non co-operation.
Here is another taste of what he has to say:
Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets. The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.
That Israel and Hamas had a different policy in regard to the targeting of civilians was obvious before any report was produced. It did not take the full (though biased) resources of the UN to work out that Hamas 'purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets' while the Israeli military did not. The evidence was clear, both that Hamas were deliberately firing crude weapons into Israeli cities and that they were using other Palestinian civilians as human shields. Naturally, because the Hamas authorities were not prepared to admit any of this, their crimes did not receive due attention in the report while Israel was smeared for ones she did not commit.
Goldstone goes on: 'Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case.
What a pathetic admission! Yes, people do regard it as absurd to hold Hamas to the standards of accountable democracies. They are a terrorist organisation for heaven's sake. They are accountable to terror overlords in Damascus and Tehran, not to innocent Palestinian families on whom they brought destruction by their evil acts. The only real absurdity is that a man of Goldstone's intellectual credentials could have contemplated Hamas investigating its war crimes. He stands revealed, as Melanie Phillips points out on her blog, 'as at best an abject idiot and at worst a moral and judicial bankrupt. '
The saddest thing about this nonsense article is that the damage cannot be undone. Goldstone has produced a report whose mendacious claims have fed the frenzy of Israel hatred the world over. The facts cannot get in the way of a big lie, especially one perpetrated by the UN.
The disgrace of BBC bias 6 April, 2011
Given how frequently left wing views appear in the BBC and within British academia, it is refreshing to see the launch of The Commentator. This new online publication promises a refreshing new approach to political debate and has sold itself as follows: 'Think the Guardian's Comment is free, and then imagine its equal and opposite.' Among the articles that have already appeared are ones on the West's confused foreign policy in Libya, the Goldstone report and Sarkozy's burqa ban.
Robin Shepherd (the site's owner) has also provided an incisive analysis of BBC bias in another highly recommended article. He starts by quoting from two former BBC executives who have helped destroy the myth of BBC impartiality. Peter Sissons has had this to say recently:
By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent,” he said. “Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’”.
As Shepherd points out, far from being a disgruntled ex employee with an agenda, Sissons 'made millions out of the BBC which also cemented his reputation as one of the most celebrated journalists of his generation.'
Michael Buerk, another former BBC superstar, has twisted in the knife even further with some trenchant analysis in Standpoint: 'What the BBC regards as normal and abnormal,” he said, “what is moderate or extreme, where the centre of gravity of an issue lies, are conditioned by the common set of assumptions held by the people who work for it.”
Indeed. The assumptions of BBC executives have been formed by reading left wing papers with their poisonous, left of centre agenda and their ranting invective against America, Israel and the West. So it is hardly surprising when the BBC's take on Israel is near identical to that of the Guardian, or their perception of climate change mirrors that of today's environmental fundamentalists. When America is depicted as an avaricious imperialist nation responsible for the world's ills, when Israel is viewed as a regional hegemon that mercilessly attacks innocent Palestinians, when Conservative values are described as 'right wing' or 'extreme,' these are sentiments that come straight from Comment is Free.
It is an utter disgrace that the BBC continue to peddle the line that they are an impartial broadcaster, under the protective cover of a BBC subsidy. It is a fiction, a dangerous fiction. How refreshing that a new online publication is helping to expose this modern politically correct fable, and so many others like it. I wish it every success.
What if Cast Lead II is necessary? 10 April, 2011
In the last few days, Hamas and its terrorist allies in Gaza have fired dozens of missiles and mortar shells at towns across southern Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been repeatedly forced into bomb shelters while their towns have come under sustained bombardment. An anti tank missile hit a bus on Friday, severely injuring a 16 year old boy. It is clear that Hamas are continuing to test Israel's resolve with this escalation of violence, buoyed perhaps by Israel's new found reliance on the Iron Dome anti missile system.
Yet the BBC news website treats both sides as if they were parties to a military engagement. Precious little of this terrorist onslaught is reported in this country, except of course when Israel defends itself by targeting terrorists in Gaza. The result is that when there is a severe escalation, Israel's robust response will seem punitive and 'disproportionate,' a form of blood lust. If Operation Cast Lead II is necessary, as may soon be the case, Israel will again be maligned as a swaggering imperial bully intent on suppressing 'innocent' Palestinian communities. Such is the distorted lens through which the Middle East is reported that Israel is automatically seen as a heavy handed aggressor, never as the victim of genocidal enemies. And it is because of this journalistic largesse and warped perception, both here and elsewhere in Europe, that Hamas will continue to engage in its war of attrition. In this way, the West actively encourages this protracted conflict to continue with tragic results.
What university did Cameron go to? The university of political correctness 13 April, 2011
When it comes to offending true blue Conservatives, David Cameron is quite simply peerless. Never is this more evident than when he tries to show off his trendy liberal credentials and attack a perceived bastion of bigotry and prejudice. But his attack on Oxford University has been so woefully wide of the mark and so factually deficient that it has completely blown up in his face. Cameron had expressed his 'outrage' at Oxford for 'admitting only one black student' last year, only to discover subsequently that the university had taken in 27 black students and 14 others of mixed race, one of whom was of Afro-Caribbean origin. The claim as it stood is quite obviously misleading yet the PM's apology has been invisible.
What is infuriating is not just that Cameron has played hard and loose with the facts, which he has undoubtedly done. No, it is that he has made such a glib assumption about why black students may be under-represented at Oxford. For if black students are under-represented among the population as a whole, there are a host of reasons for this, other than mere prejudice, which may be what Cameron was implying here.
For one thing, a vastly lower number of black students obtain the hallowed 3 A grades compared to their white counterparts, something that itself begs some explanation in terms of educational underachievement. Many black students have also opted for the toughest courses, such as medicine, which has reduced their chances of success even further. And the admission of students cannot be based on grades alone but on one's ability to perform well in interviews. Yet like Ken Livingstone commenting on the relatively poor achievement of black children in school, Cameron assumes it is all down to unjustifiable choices by admissions tutors, despite the fact that Oxford has 22 per cent of its total student population coming from an ethnic minority background, better than the nation's universities as a whole.
Cameron's gaffe, and his refusal to apologise for it, tell us a lot about the make up of the PM. He is a conservative who desperately wants to be viewed as a modern, cosmopolitan liberal. His 'toff' associations and privileged upbringing are therefore an embarrassment which must be purged. He has also taken over a party with a reputation for old fashioned, right wing attitudes and tried to rebrand it as 'compassionate' and caring. So these glib comments are an obvious attempt to play to the liberal gallery, making a nod to diversity and political correctness along the way. The end result is that Cameron is no different to the class warriors of Blair and Brown who used to regularly attack our great universities for the 'sin' of elitism and who had a fetish for multicultural diversity. The problem is that Cameron represents a different party and a different tradition. He is supposed to laud our great institutions, not despise them, sell them to the world and not mock them publicly. His shallow, woefully inaccurate attack on Oxford reveals more about Cameron's posture as a phoney Conservative than it does about one of our truly great universities.
America's misplaced priorities 21 April, 2011
As the appalling atrocities continue in Syria, with reports today that snipers have opened fire on mourners attending the funerals of yesterday's bloodbath, the West's misplaced priorities continue to be starkly exposed. At the moment NATO and the US are providing financial and military assistance to the rebels who are trying to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. Yet little is known of these rebels, including whether they are ready to back a Western style democracy or an Islamist theocracy. The latter seems plausible enough, given the extent to which al-Qaeda is believed to have penetrated the opposition.
Aside from the strategic ineptitude of backing the enemies of the West, it is becoming clear that the no fly zone has not succeeded in protecting civilians. Far from it. Both sides appear to be killing civilians and the Allied strikes are also taking their toll on non combatants, which is inevitable when you consider that there aren't troops committed on the ground to provide human intelligence. The Libyan intervention is fast becoming a sham.
All the while, a genuine enemy of the West in the guise of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continues to clamp down mercilessly on his own population without serious Western intervention. True, Washington has begun to change its tune, having previously referred to Assad as a reformer, by condemning yesterday's murderous violence. But that fell short of the kind of pressure that was being used against Mubarak, a genuine ally of the West. Obama did not call for Assad to stand down, he did not demand UN action against Syria, nor did he state that America's position was regime change. His was a half hearted gesture, too late in any case even if was meant sincerely.
So why the lame US response to Syrian repression (and Iran's tyrannical suppression of the green movement) and its willingness to intervene, with extreme clumsiness, in Libya? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that a stated aim of regime change in Damascus would be seen (rightly) to serve a vital US national interest whereas the intervention against Gaddafi could be dressed up as an ethical priority. The driver of the Libyan mission appears to be none other than Samantha Power, a key member of Obama's national security team and an outspoken advocate of intervention to prevent genocide. She appears to believe that American policy must be geared towards serving an ethical agenda i.e. supporting oppressed women and minorities around the world, rather than parochial interests. As Caroline Glick astutely observes in the Jerusalem Post:
'Her clear aim — and that of her boss – has been to separate US foreign policy from US interests by tethering it to transnational organizations like the UN. Given the administration’s contempt for policy based on US national interests, it would be too much to expect the White House to notice that Syria’s Assad regime is one of the greatest state supporters of terrorism in the world and that its overthrow would be a body blow to Iran, Venezuela, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda and therefore a boon for US national security.'
Indeed so. But if Obama genuinely cared about defending US interests around the world, he would realise that adopting a robust stance against Syria, Iran and other rogue states would serve an ethical interest too, namely by championing the voices of freedom around the world. Instead he has betrayed allies across the globe, including the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon. No wonder the mullahs are smiling.
Palestinian unity could bring fresh trouble 27 April, 2011
On balance the latest attempt at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation may prove to be yet another damp squib in the fractured history of Palestinian politics. After all, this type of deal has been attempted several times before and fallen by the wayside. But on this occasion, Fatah are seeking international recognition at the UN for a Palestinian state and the semblance of unity would greatly strengthen their cause. The reconciliation hammered out today could therefore have grave diplomatic consequences for Israel in the coming months.
At the same time it should signal the terminal decline of Obama's grand dream for a US sponsored Arab-Israeli peace accord (via Israeli concessions). After all the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the Quartet powers have set down conditions for including them in the peace process. So at a minimum Abbas has allied himself with a group that has committed itself to the violent rejection of any negotiated outcome to the conflict. Let us not forget that Hamas also believes in the obliteration of Israel based on its theocratic and obsessive hatred of Jews. These are the friends to whom Abbas has now turned.
But there are wider implications too. This deal involves the formation of an interim unity government with elections to be held in one year's time. There will also be a Supreme security council with authority to deal with matters of security. In addition, each side will release Fatah and Hamas prisoners held in each other's jails. At a stroke then, the security infrastructure established on the West Bank has been gravely undermined. Much of this involved Palestinian-Israeli co-operation, including the capture and imprisonment of Hamas operatives by the PA. Hamas will be boosted by the return of dangerous terrorists and by its new found responsibilities for Palestinian security.
Within a year of signing this agreement, there will be elections held for major Palestinian positions, including the Presidency and the Palestinian Parliament. What will happen if a Hamas figure wins those elections on the West Bank, and then engineers another coup along the lines of the one that occurred in Gaza? The implications for Israel's security could be serious indeed. Admittedly, such an outcome may be unlikely but this was also true of the Hamas coup in 2007, and the tumultuous events that have swept the region in the last few months. Given the amount of weaponry sent to the PA in recent years, all of which could easily fall into Hamas's hands, there should be more than a few eyebrows raised at the moment. With the Middle East, you must sometimes prepare for the unthinkable.
A Royal Wedding to savour 30 April, 2011
Yesterday's Royal Wedding was truly an event to savour. Everything about the day - the wonderful pageantry on display, the beautiful music courtesy of Hubert Parry, the grand ceremonial within Westminster abbey, the military uniforms worn by the best man and his brother, the endless crowds ecstatically cheering the happy couple - showed Britain at its very best.
No other nation does this kind of pomp and ceremony quite like the British. It was a triumph of the highest order and a first class advert for this nation. Yes Republicans, our monarchy really does bring out the best in Britannia PLC. While many will seek comfort in the modernising elements on show yesterday, including the very modern (but utterly charming and beautiful) Duchess of Cambridge, this was also a triumphant vindication of the traditional and historic. Everything from the setting to the music represented a paean to an older nation whose past deserved respect and acknowledgment. It would scarcely have been appropriate to do it any other way. When people knock this country, they should remember occasions like yesterday when people of all backgrounds, faiths and classes came together to celebrate in a common cause.
Let us toast the new royal couple! They have shown just why our monarchy continues to have such an enduring appeal for people in this nation, and abroad.
Bin Laden's death is a triumph for the West. But the fight against radical Islam must go on. 2 May, 2011
In the short term, the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US Special Forces is an enormously significant triumph for Western intelligence, for America and for all those battling to protect the West from the scourge of jihadist Islam. Bin Laden was not just the head of Al Qaeda but an inspirational figurehead for Islamists across the world, in view of the murderous carnage that he inflicted on 9/11. One should never underestimate the significance of removing such a potent symbol during wartime. It has shown terrorists the world over that no matter how well they hide in their bunkers (or compounds), no matter how well they try to elude capture, they will be caught or killed in the end. Mossad's successful operations against terrorists have sent out this same message down the years.
That said, this was more a symbolic victory.It may not, in the long term, degrade the operational capabilities of Al-Qaeda or affiliated groups and it will undoubtedly inspire acts of revenge. Al-Qaeda was always more of a franchise organisation which gave birth to new, radicalised groups whose success never relied on one individual.
Fundamentally, what underlines the threat today is not one group, and certainly not one individual. It is an ideology called radical Islam which enjoys the support of millions of Muslims worldwide and represents, in some Muslim nations, the dominant interpretation of the faith. Millions of Muslims celebrated as Bin Laden's acts of terror brought the Twin Towers to the ground. They also celebrated other acts of violence committed in the name of Islam and the global jihad.
It is from the ranks of these brainwashed masses that the next generation of terrorists is produced, indoctrinated as they are with a blinding hatred for the West, America and Jews. Bin Laden's death will not cause allegiances to be shifted in the long term, even if it does constitute a significant psychological body blow to the Islamist movement. The threat from radical Islam and jihadis worldwide will scarcely diminish just because one barbarian has been removed from the scene.
Of course, one should never forget that the jihadis have never represented the majority of Muslims worldwide and that Muslims have often been the primary targets of these radicals. But the threat is not confined to a few hundred individuals operating on the fringes of Arab or Muslim society. It is much more widespread than that.
Today is certainly a cause for celebration but not a day for complacency. The fight against barbarism must carry on.
The Schalit saga 11 May, 2011
Since their son's capture by Hamas 4 years ago, Gilad Schalit's parents have put relentless pressure on the Israeli government to negotiate for his release. They are backed by a vocal number of Israelis who believe that the government is doing too little to see Gilad released from captivity. If opinion polls are anthing to go by, a majority of Israelis back the Schalit family's stance.
It is hard not to understand the family's position here. Their sole concern is to see their son released from the hell of captivity in Gaza. Their emotions are the same as that of any family who have had a child torn away from them in such atrocious circumstances. Their grief is exacerbated by the refusal of Hamas to give Gilad any access to the Red Cross.
But the pressure is aimed at the wrong target. What the family are effectively demanding is that Israel's elected government accede to Hamas' demands and release a thousand terrorists and supporters of terrorism, including those with blood on their hands. These are individuals who will, in many cases, have procured savage acts of murder inside Israel, including the terrible suicide bombings which scarred Israel society a decade ago.
Their release will ensure that the terrorist threat is increased in Gaza and elsewhere. Hamas will be encouraged to carry out even more acts of terror, and capture even more Israeli soldiers, knowing that Israel will pay an incredibly high price for their release. Political think tanks, like the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, have produced excellent studies which show just many released Palestinian prisoners go on to commit acts of terror and violence against Israelis.
Prisoner exchanges also contradict the fundamental principle of justice which defines Israel as a society, namely that those who engage in murderous violence will receive due punishment for their wrongdoing. It cannot be justice to receive a life sentence for murder, only to be given the sweet taste of freedom within a matter of a few years. The alternative to a society which is defined by the rule of law is one ruled by vigilantism. After all, if people do not think that criminals will serve proper sentences, they might as well form a lynch mob and kill the perpretrators of crimes. More to the point, how can the release of terrorists incentivise the IDF to risk their lives in counter terror operations, knowing that those they capture will soon be back on Palestinian streets, inciting yet more violence?
No good can come from making Israeli citizens less safe. No good can come from violating the principles of justice that mark out a society as decent and civilised. It would be tragic error of judgement on both counts. Of course, that is not to say that Israel should abandon Schalit. They should apply the maximum pressure on his Hamas captors and use every means at their disposal to consider ways of rescuing him. But empowering these vicious Islamists should be the last thing on Israel's mind.
Mr. Netanyahu goes to Washington 14 May, 2011
As if any further proof were needed that the 'moderate' Palestinian leadership remains intransigent to the core, Mahmoud Abbas has declared today that his people will 'never reject the right of return.' On the even of Nakba day he said that every Palestinian "has the right to see Palestine and return to the homeland because the homeland is our final destination.” Of course, what this amounts to is the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab majority state which would relegate Jews to second class citizenship. Except Abbas is too clever to say any of that publicly.
Such statements are, once again, the clearest admission that the Palestinian leadership is trapped by a false historical narrative, one in which the perfidy of the Jews, and their alleged Western backers, has nullified the Palestinian right to 'justice.' This should be a wake up call for all those who think that Abbas is a true moderate and who believe the image he has cultivated in Western media circles. It should be. Yet instead, despite his embrace of the anti semitic tyrants of Hamas, policymakers regard Abbas as the only hope for a viable peace.
Such wilful blindness explains, at least in part, why there are so many calls for Netanyahu to spell out a vision of peace during his US tour this week. In the wake of the Hamas-Fatah deal, and the imminent moves for a unilateral declaration of statehood, pressure is building for the PM to say just what he would offer the Palestinians were the conditions on the ground to be right. In other words, he will be expected to offer meaningful concessions despite the total lack of reciprocity from the other side. This is manifest nonsense.
Netanyahu should reveal Abbas in all his perfidy, rather than prostrate himself before appeasers. He should be decrying the vast amounts of US money that continue to be heaped upon the PA. He should say how mortified he is that a man who openly allows incitement against Jews and Israelis is treated as a respectable interlocutor in Washington and the other hallowed capitals of international diplomacy. He should explain the genocidal ideology of Hamas and how the PA, in its quest for unity, is now beyond the pale for embracing them. He should explain that the prime cause of this tragic conflict lies with the Palestinians themselves and that no Israeli government, no matter how generous spirited, can ever make up for such poor 'peace partners.'
Some may argue that good diplomacy demands a policy of concessions from Israel, particularly on US territory. But this ignores the fact that whenever Netanyahu has made such concessions, such as lengthy settlement freezes, he has met with an ever frostier reception from Obama. The truth is that the US President has his own agenda, including mollifying 'the Muslim world,' and nothing that Netanyahu (or Livni, Barak or Peres) offer will change that. So it is time for the Israeli PM to stand up for his country's self interest and time to spell out the hard truths about this conflict and the wider region. It is a time for the diplomacy of realism.
Ken Clarke's criminal views 19 May, 2011
Ken Clarke has a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth and making intensely provocative public statements. So the brouhaha over his comments about rape is hardly surprising or undeserved. It was utterly crass for him to deny, or appear to deny, the seriousness of some rapes and sex crimes. It would have been far better to acknowledge the seriousness of all such crimes but also state that some offenders deserved far longer sentences than others simply because their crimes were more heinous. In actual fact, the substance of his remarks was relatively uncontroversial. Clearly some sexual crimes are more serious and heinous than others, requiring lengthier sentences to be meted out. This is true of practically any crime.
No, the real scandal is his suggestion that the discount given to those who issue an early guilty plea to rape should be increased from a third to a half of the sentence. This would be a gross injustice, not just to rape victims but to the rest of society. And the simple reason why Mr. Clarke is so keen on this proposal is that, as Jack Straw pointed out on Question Time tonight, he wants to cut prison numbers. In fact, Ken Clarke is hardly very keen on prison full stop. This was reflected in comments he made some months ago when he declared that he wanted far more people receiving community sentences as prison doesn't work. There was little evidence in tonight's debate that he had departed from those views.
Despite Labour's track record on crime, which was far from successful in every respect, Jack Straw looked a far more impressive figure than the hapless Mr Clarke. He spoke of the need for punishment and pointed out that while there were high rates for re-offending once prisoners had been released from prison, there were also high rates of re-offending for those on community sentences. With the Liberal-Conservatives appearing so soft on crime and lax on prison, the Labour party is set to have a field day. And to think, the Tories were once the party of authority! Tragic.
Parliament should debate super-injunctions before they get out of control 23 May, 2011
Yesterday the Sunday Herald identified the footballer behind the latest super-injunction scandal. Their revelation follows the outburst of indiscretion on Twitter which has outed the player, much to the chagrin of his legal team. Both show us yet again the inefficacy of gagging orders in the era of the internet, despite the threat of legal action against Twitter.
But it should also serve as a wake up call for our beleaguered judiciary. For the rise of super-injunctions and hyper-injunctions is a direct threat to the free press which seeks to expose cant and hypocrisy in public life and hold public figures to account. It is allowing the rich and famous to muzzle the media and stop them exposing issues that are of legitimate public interest. This is an outrage in a modern, advanced democracy. Yes, some of our papers do have a reputation for nastiness, law breaking and mendacity. They have frequently broken the law and invaded the privacy of others for no better reason than disseminating cheap tittle tattle. But this is no excuse for an outright ban on the media which, because it affects only one country, is becoming increasingly less effective.
One might argue that we have no right to know about the sexual predilections of a footballer. A private life is a private life, after all. But the issue here is about exposing hypocrisy of a sort. For most modern footballers, and sportsmen generally, receive vast sums of money in sponsorship deals, the kind of deals that trade on the squeaky clean image of the stars. Surely the companies have a right to know that their valuable commodities are less than whiter than white. We now know that the former RBS chief sought to cover up evidence of an affair just before his bank crashed and nearly brought down the British economy. The public have every right to know whether the two were in some way linked.
In effect, what we are seeing is the creation of a privacy law by stealth, done behind Parliament's back with the connivance of an ill advised judiciary. It is no good for the judges to proclaim that this is all the result of European Law, specifically article 8 of the Human Rights Act which protects privacy. For the same document also protects freedom of expression and the two are supposed to be balanced against each other.
In the recent Neuberger report on super-injunctions, some of our most senior judges warned against breaches of court orders by Parliament and the media. It was wrong, they claimed, for MPs to flout these injunctions just because they disagreed with them. Statements issued within the Houses of Parliament were protected by absolute privilege provided they were made 'in good faith and without malice.' Maybe true, but all this shows is that a debate is urgently needed in Parliament before the scandal of the super-injunction gets out of control.
Bibi the master 26 May, 2011
Bibi Netanyahu deservedly received gushing praise for his speech to Congress on Tuesday. It was a masterful piece of oratory which spelt out some hard truths about the conflict while reminding the American people about the importance of the US-Israeli alliance. He told Congress that ties between their two countries were vital in the interests of US national security and that Israel was a hub of democracy in a region beset by turmoil.
He also spelt out why peace between Israel and the Palestinians was foundering on the rocks of Arab intransigence. He mentioned specifically the regular incitement against Jews in the West Bank, the refusal of Abbas to recognise a Jewish state, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal and the genocidal ambitions of the Iranian government. He offered a sharp riposte to the US President, using carefully guarded language, by saying that the borders of a Palestinian state could never rise on the 1967 lines.
He insisted that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Jerusalem and that Jewish settlers, unlike the British in India, were not alien invaders. Unlike Obama, Netanyahu insisted that the ball was in the Palestinian court when it came to making peace. It was they who had to end this conflict by telling their people that the war was over, that Israel was here to stay and that the right of Palestinian return would be to a future Palestine, not to Israel. In short, Palestinians needed the equivalent of a Bar Ilan speech affirming national self determination for the Jewish people.
But of course, this is alien language for America's 44th President. Ignore the oratorical guff at AIPAC (designed to ensure the continuing loyalty of American Jews who unfailingly vote for the Democrats), for this US President, the ball lies in Israel's 's court. In his groundbreaking speech last Thursday, he said that even before issues such as 'Jerusalem and refugees' were tackled, Israel had to cede territory (the 1967 borders plus land swaps). But if the issue of refugees is left open after Israel has made all its concessions, this is a formula for a continuation of the conflict, not its conclusion. For the Palestinians will continue to harbour ambitions of flooding the Jewish state with Arab 'refugees' and using their enhanced position to dictate terms. What guarantees does Israel have that the US will then moderate the Palestinian position? None at all, given Obama's behaviour in the last two years. And for the President to declare that he would hold the new Palestinian unity government to account was an equally meaningless piece of legerdemain. How much has he held the Palestinians to account at all since 2009?
This is a tale of two leaders: One an oratorical master standing up for his country's interests and the other, an oratorical wizard completely out of his depth in international affairs.
The Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets 14 June, 2011
When the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, warned about the rise of Muslim no go areas, some accused him of scaremongering and racism. But his description has turned out to be worryingly accurate, and not just in the North East. The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered numerous cases in Tower Hamlets where Muslims or non Muslims were attacked or threatened with attack for carrying out practices that are deemed 'unIslamic.' To quote from the report:
'One victim, Mohammed Monzur Rahman, said he was left partially blind and with a dislocated shoulder after being attacked by a mob in Cannon Street Road, Shadwell, for smoking during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year.
Teachers in several local schools have told The Sunday Telegraph that they feel “under pressure” from local Muslim extremists, who have mounted campaigns through both parents and pupils – and, in one case, through another teacher - to enforce the compulsory wearing of the veil for Muslim girls.
Tower Hamlets’ gay community has become a particular target of extremists. Homophobic crimes in the borough have risen by 80 per cent since 2007/8, and by 21 per cent over the last year, a period when there was a slight drop in London as a whole.
Even during meetings of the local council, prominent supporters of Tower Hamlets’ controversial directly-elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman – dropped by the Labour Party for his links to Islamic fundamentalism - have persistently targeted gay councillors with homophobic abuse and intimidation from the public gallery.
This is all appalling evidence of the thoroughgoing intolerance, racism and bigotry that runs through sections of the Muslim community. Moderate minded Muslims are frequently the primary victims of their fundamentalist minded brethren. Yet more disturbing still is the effective collusion of the authorities, the police in particular, for tolerating these crimes. The simple reason appears to be their paralysing fear of being condemned as 'Islamophobic.' Take this example:
In February this year, dozens of stickers appeared across Tower Hamlets quoting the Koran, declaring the borough a “gay-free zone” and stating that “verily Allah is severe in punishment”…during a routine stop-and-search at the time police found a young Muslim man with a number of the stickers in his possession. He was released without charge on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service. Police also had CCTV images of a second unidentified Muslim youth posting the stickers at a local railway station, but refused to release the pictures for several weeks.
In that case, a young Muslim was finally identified and after pleading to a public order offence, fined £100. A soft sentence perhaps but many other miscreants in the previous attacks cited have not even been caught. In other examples, the victims of racist attacks have complained that the police have carried out the most cursory of investigations before advising that there is nothing more they can do. (Read the article for more details.) This is nothing short of a police force that has totally lost its way, so burdened by the fear of being labelled racist that it cannot carry out its most basic function of protecting vulnerable people.
Here is a clue as to why Muslim extremism in Tower Hamlets appears to be flourishing with impunity. East London Mosque is the leading Islamic institution in the area and it is controlled by a fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). The group is dedicated to changing the ‘very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed...from ignorance to Islam.’
The IFE’s community affairs co-ordinator, Azad Ali, is chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum, an organisation officially recognised by the Met as its ‘principal (liaison) body in relation to Muslim community safety.’
In other words, a key figure in a fundamentalist Islamist group is helping to advise the police on Muslim affairs in London. Can we now expect a key figure from the BNP to become a liaison figure for beleaguered working class whites? By any standards, this is a damning indictment of twenty first century policing which has put its obsessive quest to avoid being ‘Islamophobic’ before considerations of public safety.
Colonel Kemp salutes the IDF 17 June, 2011
I have often spoken of my admiration for Colonel Richard Kemp, a former British Commander of forces in Afghanistan and an outstanding supporter of Israel. I heard him as recently as a month ago at an event organised by BICOM, in which he spoke of his deep respect for the IDF while brilliantly rebutting the ugly myths that still surround Operation Cast Lead. He was in Tel Aviv this week and took some time to speak to a group of young professionals and IDF cadets. You can read his entire speech here.
You remember how Israel was maligned around the world for its 'war crimes' in 'targeting' Palestinian civilians and for its 'reckless abandon' in attacking non combatants. Here is the reality of what the IDF did, facing the protracted threat of indiscriminate missile warfare:
When possible, they left at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas designated for attack, an action that handed a distinct advantage to Hamas. Attack helicopter pilots had total discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and even unilaterally announced a daily three-hour ceasefire knowing this would give Hamas vital time and space to re-group, re-equip and re-deploy for future attacks. A factor often forgotten, but this of course added to the danger to the IDF’s own troops.
The Israelis dropped a million leaflets warning the population of impending attacks, and phoned tens of thousands of Palestinian households in Gaza urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar messages were passed on in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts.
These were extraordinary measures undertaken in emergency conditions, and often hampering the IDF's counter terror operations. In the Colonel's own words: "During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Colonel Kemp goes on to say this:
In fact, my judgments about the steps taken in that conflict by the IDF to avoid civilian deaths are inadvertently borne out by a study published by the United Nations itself, a study which shows that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare. The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.
Colonel Kemp rightly points out that what Israel faces is a ' conspiracy of delegitimization', the aim of which is to 'give validity and justification to attacks on Israel by groups such as Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, allowing them to strike at Israel with impunity, and encouraging the view that any retaliatory or defensive measures by Israel are by definition disproportionate and should be criminalized.' This is 'a war of words, words that are given unprecedented potency by the internet, by the globalization of the 21st century.'
Indeed. This war can only be countered with other words, brave words that speak of truth and justice in the face of malicious lies and injustice. This brave man is part of that counter offensive and his efforts should be saluted.
Bayefsky lambasts the Human Rights Council, and its US backers 22 June, 2011
Anne Bayefsky, a professor of international law at York University, has written a withering critique of US foreign policy in The National Post. She condemns the Obama administration for its naïve attempts to reform the UN Human Rights Council from within.
Remember first that the Council is the ‘reformed’ version of the UN Human Rights Commission, a grossly inappropriate name for the body that was designed to oversee abuses of human rights around the world. It singled out Israel for special criticism, dedicating one third of country specific resolutions to the Jewish state, while counting among its members such erstwhile champions of good government as China, Zimbabwe, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Libya and Uganda.
Meanwhile Muslim officials at the UNCHR rejected criticism of the actions of Islamic states, which included the stoning of woman, honour killings and the death penalty for apostasy. Yet the new body was not much better than its predecessor. In fact, nearly half of the resolutions passed by the Council have affected Israel while criticism of Israeli policy has been made a permanent feature of Council sessions.
Bayefsky now explains why Obama decided to join:
‘Rather than discredit a body that calls itself a human rights authority but reeks of discrimination, and is tasked with promoting tolerance but provides a global platform for hate-mongering, Barack Obama decided to give it American credibility and taxpayer dollars. His No. 1 excuse was the promise to reform it from the inside. Here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice on March 31, 2009, explaining the reason to join: “The Council … is scheduled to undergo a formal review of its structure and procedures in 2011, which will offer a significant opportunity for Council reform.”
U.S. Ambassador to the Council Eileen Donahoe, in a September 13, 2010 New York Times article, called the review “a serious self-reflection exercise,” and claimed that “if we do not sit at the table with others and do the work necessary to influence the process, U.S. values and priorities will not be reflected in the outcome.”
Even as late as March 25 of this year, a poker-faced administration spokesperson said: “The United States … looks forward to working with UN member states as the HRC review process continues in New York. There is still room to … ensure greater scrutiny of the human rights records of candidates for election to this body.”
Can you really believe this? US officials, with Obama’s backing, clearly believed that they could take on an organisation imbued with moral relativism and paralysed by decades of institutional hostility towards Israel. In the face of such plain conceit and naivety, disaster was bound to follow. As Bayefsky goes on to say:
Every major reform recommendation that American negotiators made over a process spanning many months, including instituting membership criteria and changing the discriminatory anti-Israel agenda, was rejected. Only four states voted in the General Assembly against the outcome of the non-reform reform: Israel, the United States, Canada and Palau.
Gloating over the total defeat of the Obama plan were Syria (speaking for the Arab group), Russia (speaking for a revealing “cross-regional group” comprising Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam and Yemen), Tajikistan (speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)), Iran and Egypt.
Islamic states have reason to be pleased. The Council majority is held by a combination of two regional groups — African and Asian — and OIC members are the majority on both of these groups, thus giving them the balance of power.
She goes on to point out that while there was yet another anti Israel resolution passed after the anti reform vote, the Council was silent on Syria and Yemen.
Bayesfky is sadly right in her conclusion:
The Obama line about knowing what is in Israel’s best interests is beginning to wear very thin. U.S. membership has made no difference to the outcomes on Israel. But it has given those outcomes a credibility that they don’t deserve… The decent thing for the United States to do after finally coming to such a conclusion would be to announce its departure or at least allow its term to expire next year.
It would be the decent thing. But will it be the Obama thing?
Israel is not to blame for Schalit's continued incarceration 29 June, 2011
As usual, Caroline Glick gets it spot on in The Jerusalem Post when she discusses the ongoing saga over Gilad Schalit. Noting that Fatah has joined Hamas (any surprises there?) in demanding that Israel free yet more Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails before the young soldier is released, she draws the obvious conclusions that are lost on so many today:
It is hard to think of a more despicable comment on the state of Palestinian society than their wall to wall support for the taking and holding of hostages or their desire to see mass murderers released from jail. A person could be forgiven for thinking that on the fifth anniversary of Schalit’s abduction that the media would be full of articles describing in detail the evil that is Hamas and Fatah which celebrate Schalit’s victimization and the suffering of his family.
Indeed so. Fatah and Hamas share the same fundamental aims (i.e. the eradication of the Jewish state) and seek to achieve this through the media driven demonisation of world Jewry. So it should hardly come as a surprise that Fatah are so willing to stand by Hamas as the latter continue to deny Schalit his most basic human rights.
The point about this nauseating spectacle is that Israeli society should be united in its revulsion for Hamas, for Fatah and for the warped Palestinian society that supports both. Yet as Glick points out, much of the Israeli media seems to believe that Netanyahu is Schalit's 'imagined jailor.' Glick continues:
The media coverage of the fifth anniversary of Schalit’s kidnap devoted no attention to his Palestinian captors. In fact, if a person were simply going by what he learned from the Israeli media over the past several days, he would likely believe that either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is hiding Schalit in his cellar, or that Netanyahu is colluding with Hamas to keep Schalit captive in Gaza.
Aping the increasingly grotesque genre of reality television shows, local celebrities and washed-out headline-starved failed former security brass got together with Yediot Aharonot and put on a reality TV stunt for the public to mark the anniversary. One after another these supposedly concerned citizens walked into a knock-off solitary confinement cell furnished with a dirty toilet and television cameras. The beautiful ones sighed, cried, kicked, and whined for an hour apiece. Their performances were broadcast live on Yediot’s Ynet news portal.
The obvious point of these broadcasts is not to castigate Hamas but to castigate the Israeli government. This is certainly the view of Noam Schalit, Gilad’s father, who has described Benjamin Netanyahu as his son’s ‘no. 1 enemy.’ In his press conference last week, he told the Prime Minister that he did ‘not have the right to sentence Gilad to death.’ For Noam Schalit, it is Israel that stands in the way of his son’s release, not Hamas. And it is solely the welfare of his son that counts, not that of countless other Israelis who might fall victim to the next suicide attack perpetrated by a released terrorist.
Of course blaming Israel for Schalit's fate is misguided on many levels. The obvious point is that it fails to assign to Hamas, and the Palestinians in general, responsibility for their own actions, namely the decision to kidnap Schalit and hold him (without access to the Red Cross) for 5 years. It also assumes that the Israeli govenment should blithely ignore the security of her other citizens by releasing a vast number of terrorists who would then be free to commit (and plan) further murderous atrocities against Jewish citizens. Lastly, it assumes that Israel can actually strike a deal with Hamas even if it wanted to. It was reported at the weekend that Netanyahu had agreed to the release of 1,000 Hamas prisoners, only to see his offer rebuffed because the Islamists had upped their demands. Naturally any sign of Israeli acquiescence will be treated as an incentive to make even more perverse demands, thus empowering Hamas' position in the process.
The obvious point is surely this one made by Glick:
By pressuring Netanyahu and the government and accusing them of being responsible for his son’s captivity, Noam Schalit is only making things worse. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. Its terrorists in prison want to destroy Israel. Hamas’s leaders view Schalit’s illegal incarceration and the anguish it causes in Israel as a source of pride for the movement and Palestinian society as a whole. It views the release of terrorists as a means of strengthening the jihadist movement politically and militarily.
Many Israelis understand this point. Many members of Israel’s government understand it. Judging by his remarks over the years, Benjamin Netanyahu understands this too. Would that every section of the country’s media and intelligentsia understood this too.
The dark arts strike again 6 July, 2011
Are tabloid hacks about to suffer the same fate as MPs did in the expenses scandal? Will the red tops suffer the public opprobrium that was heaped on our politicians now that news has broken about the extent of phone hacking? One cannot underestimate the gravity of these latest allegations which threaten to engulf, not just individual hacks and newspaper editors, but Murdoch's closest associates in the UK. Worse, they threaten a scandal inside the Metropolitan Police, whose role in this whole affair looks increasingly murkier and raise questions about David Cameron, who was forced onto the defensive today after being attacked for hiring Andy Coulson. This is a scandal that could run and run, bringing down major figures in its wake.
Undoubtedly the allegations that the phones of Milly Dowler, the 7/7 victims, the Soham girls and countless others were hacked are so serious that only a full public enquiry will suffice. They seem to sum up one of the basic problems of modern journalism - the willingness to invade privacy and break the law, not to expose genuine wrongdoing or hypocrisy, but to beat a paper’s commercial rivals to a top story. These allegations are truly repellent and all those responsible must be held to account. Yet there is nothing remotely surprising about any of this.
When I was studying for a journalism qualification, I was told by experienced journalists about ‘the dark arts’ of the media. These practices involved hacks on Britain’s papers (including some quality ones) being willing accomplices in the illegal acquisition of confidential information. In Flat Earth News, journalist Nick Davies talked of Sunday Times reporters routinely offering cash bribes to civil servants and police officers in return for confidential information. In another example, the Daily Mail was given access to the social security database containing information on 72,000,000 citizens and used it to obtain health records on chosen targets. But the News of the World, at the centre of the latest allegations, seems to be very much the worst culprit. Examples of its wrongdoing and shady practices are legion and have been amply documented in a book by Peter Burden, which I reviewed here.
The spotlight must also fall on the Metropolitan Police who have sat on information about phone hacking but without making many arrests. Individual officers have clearly been engaged in the lucrative practice of selling information to journalists, again something amply documented in Flat Earth news. This could be a summer of discontent then, not just for the public service unions, but for News International, the 4th estate, the police and the government. Its ramifications make this potentially more explosive than the expenses scandal and threaten to further tarnish the already stained reputation of British journalism.
The law should curb rogue journalists but a free press is also sacrosanct 8 July, 2011
On balance, the dramatic closure of the News of the World announced yesterday is unlikely to draw a line under the terrible scandal that has engulfed British journalism in the last few days. Most people will see it for what it really is – a cynical move designed to protect Murdoch’s business interests, in particular the proposed takeover of B Sky B, as well as the reputation of his son, while bringing forward the arrival of a new Sunday paper. It does no justice to the many decent, law abiding journalists at the News of the World who are now tarnished by association with their criminally minded peers, including those journalists responsible for some very good pieces of investigative reporting. To be fair, the behaviour of some NOTW journalists (and editors) was utterly reprehensible. The widespread practice of hacking the phones of the vulnerable victims of crime and terrorism, elongating their misery while waiting for the news of loved ones, purely to produce the next big scoop and deal a blow to commercial rivals, is sickening to behold. This is one of the many problems that beset this noble profession and which should lead to some soul searching among those responsible.
So the answer would surely have been to apply the law with all its force against the miscreants responsible. The phone hacking scandal is not a failure of regulation, as Andrew Gilligan masterfully points out in today’s Telegraph. It is already illegal. The point is that the law was not being applied because of a failure within the police (2 arrests in 5 years attests to that) and one can only speculate at the level of corruption that may soon be uncovered in Scotland Yard. Thus one can only stand aghast at how this issue has now become the setting for an attack on press freedom and a demand for tighter regulation.
For many are arguing that the lesson from all this is that the Press Complaints Commission (the PCC, not the IPCC as the ignorant Hugh Grant stated it yesterday) is a toothless tiger which is unable to enforce standards of decency in British journalism. Indeed it is for the PCC has failed to deter some cases of extremely shoddy journalism and law breaking. But if regulation goes too far, it may end up preventing the crucial work that journalists do in exposing hypocrisy, illegality and wrongdoing by senior figures in public life. In other words, the phone hacking scandal should not be used as an opportunity to curb press freedom which is, after all, one of the true hallmarks of a mature democracy.
Questions for Yates to answer 13 July, 2011
One of the most important aspects of the phone hacking scandal has been the clandestine connection between elements within the police and News International. It is not just that corrupt journalists have illegally sought information from the police in return for cash but that criminal proceedings against those journalists were barely pursued after the first case was brought in 2006. The reasons for the sluggish police response remain the core issue here. Just as heads should roll within NI for flagrant breaches of both the law and journalistic ethics, so too must they roll within the higher (and lower) echelons of Scotland Yard. So it is hardly promising when the Met's Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, who failed to re-open the files on the phone hacking scandal, resisted calls to resign yesterday after being grilled by the House of Commons select committee. While expressing some contrition for not pursuing the allegations, questions of impropriety and incompetence will not go away easily. We know that Yates received bin bags full of emails that outlined alleged payments made to the police from NI papers. Why were these not investigated straightaway? Why did he refuse to look at these or ensure that an investigation was re-opened? Why were these emails not immediately placed on a computer database? The argument that Yates was too busy trying to foil transatlantic terror plots simply will not wash. While his day job is undeniably important in ensuring homeland security, the public needs confidence in its top officers and his behaviour hardly inspires confidence, does it? He should be 'considering his position' very carefully indeed.
And it gets worse...17 July, 2011
It has been a day of quite explosive developments in what is already one of the biggest scandals in recent times. The arrest of Rebekah Brooks this morning is a sign of just how seriously the police are taking all this while the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, announced only hours ago, shows that the focus will soon shift back to corruption at the highest levels of the Met. But if Brooks can be arrested, presumably because the police no longer buy into her story of ignorance at what was going on at the News of the World, and if Stephenson can resign after the revelations that he had met former NOTW deputy-editor, Neil Wallis, how much longer can other people survive who are equally under suspicion for impropriety? Can John Yates really carry on in his position after revealing that he ignored bin bags full of evidence relating to phone hacking? What about other senior figures in the Metropolitan Police whose integrity has come into question - surely their positions are equally untenable? It just seems that with every day, the casualties from this fallout become ever more high profile with worse to come from across the pond if there is any evidence that the phones of 9/11 victims were hacked. And the contagion continues to have the gravest implications for all those who once offered obeisance at the court of Murdoch, most particularly David Cameron of course.
Footnote at 2.30pm: No surprises that John Yates has gone. Cameron will survive, however.
The unjustifiable frenzy over Murdoch 19 July, 2011
Today's appearance by the Murdoch duo in front of a parliamentary committee will have done little to advance our knowledge of wrongdoing at News International. There was a rather predictable amount of obfuscation and denial of responsibility, though how much of that was justifiable remains to be seen. Given the ongoing police investigation, it may have been the only sensible strategy for the pair to pursue.
For my money, I would say that the idea that Murdoch senior was not fully aware of the machinations of individual hacks or of payments made to the police is not wholly unbelievable, given the vast extent of his business empire and, more plausibly, the lack of willingness of more senior figures to inform him. This remains a matter of debate, however, and we will soon find out more in Lord Leveson's inquiry.
Still, judging by the unashamed glee with which this has all been reported, one would think that Murdoch had already been hauled before a court, found guilty of conspiracy to commit crimes and sentenced to indefinite detention. The last fortnight has seen a torrent of anti Murdoch sentiment spew forth from every left wing outlet, including (most particularly) from the BBC. When Murdoch's name is mentioned, it is usually accompanied by the words 'spell' and 'magic,' as if to suggest that the man and his empire are a uniquely malign force that monopolises public opinion and corrupts all who go before them. That was the position taken today by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, who referred to Murdoch as if he were an evil conjurer responsible for cheapening political debate in the UK.
I do not wish to minimise the wrongdoing of individual employees of News International. There was reprehensible behaviour and criminality carried out by individual hacks, no doubt sanctioned by others higher up in the organisation, and the miscreants deserve to feel the full force of the law. (Indeed the greater scandal of the last fortnight has been the evident failure of the Metropolitan police to properly investigate this criminality and their improper closeness to people within News International.) Nor should we deny that tabloid culture under Murdoch has often descended into a frenzy of sensationalist and cheap reporting - that is true of all tabloid culture, however.
But to relish the imminent demise of the Murdoch empire on the grounds of this criminality is worse than schadenfreude. It is an attack on the very concept of press freedom and democracy. For without the Murdoch voice, there would be no effective counterweight to the centre-left dominance of the BBC which has thoroughly corrupted political discourse in the UK. Don't forget that when it comes to news in the UK the BBC is, by a very large margin, more influential than any other news provider. Unlike Murdoch, the Beeb can also impose a levy on the rest of us in order to prop it up. If News Corp demanded the same, it would be regarded as outrageously undemocratic.
But Murdoch is a hate figure, not just because he has never supported the traditional left (Blair had to shift towards the right to curry favour with the media mogul) but because his papers, being populist, have never subscribed to conventional left of centre thinking. They have adopted a Euro-sceptic, pro Israeli transatlanticism that acts as a counterweight to the multiculturalist obsessions of the left.
Tomorrow, Cameron returns to face the music in the Commons emergency debate. He is likely to do well enough to stave off an immediate crisis in his leadership, though questions about his judgement are likely to remain. The thorny issue of his appointing Andy Coulson will not go away, nor the question of why he saw Coulson after the latter had resigned. There are now questions about what role, if any, Neil Wallis may have played for the Conservative party. Cameron will have to pull off a superb display if he is to regain his party's full confidence. One thing is for sure - this scandal still has a long way to run.
More reflections on Anders Breivik 27 July, 2011
It occurs to me that some people may be feeling a secret guilt at the moment. That is because Anders Breivik may be making a sensible discussion on a host of issues a lot harder now. This deranged mass murderer's manifesto, only some of which I have been able to wade through, reads like Mein Kampf with its paranoia and addiction to conspiracy theories.
In essence, he believes that Europe may soon be taken over by Muslims and that the relentless advance of Islam will destroy Christendom. This is the fault of Quisling multiculturalists, fuelled by political correctness, who have destroyed the mono-culture that he clearly cherishes. He blames Karl Marx for Europe's cultural landscape and for all the forces of modernity that he thinks have destroyed the white, Christian order of old. So what he seeks is the revival of the Knights Templar, that medieval order that was so dominant in the Crusades, and which he believes can stem the Islamic advance. He is its grand 'justiciar'.
Reading this tract, one is struck by how much certain cultural conservatives could agree with. The attack on political correctness, mass immigration and multiculturalism resonates with many who fear the ever changing landscape in which we live. Hence their guilt and possibly self censorship. How can any of us articulate the same grievances as this psychotic loon? His obsessions proved fatal, didn't they? Do we wish to be tarred with the same brush?
And yet no. For no rational man expressing these political grievances, no matter how illiberal they are, travels to a secluded island and slaughters dozens of innocent schoolchildren. This was not an ideological act. It was the work of a deranged mind out of touch with human emotion and empathy.
No lessons can be learnt about the issues here, only lessons about this individual, and perhaps the liberal gun laws in Norway. There should be no debate about the BNP, the EDL, the far right (or left), immigration and Islam in the wake of this mssacre. For that would be to elevate Breivik to precisely the position he craves: as the ideological martyr of a new movement. It would be to give credence to his own bombast and delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as the spearhead of a new crusade. Let him live with his fantasies as he rots in prison.
Indeed to kickstart any such debate would instantly have an even worse effect. It would allow some to claim that while they disagreed with his actions, there was an underlying grievance that gave rise to them and which needed to be solved in order to prevent another outrage. That is a dangerous path to follow for it suggests that we are no longer unequivocal in our outrage. Mass murder is mass murder, period. There is no perspective from which it appears less than abhorrent.
Yet there is no doubt that the left will think otherwise. No doubt, they are already lining up to demonise anyone who does not share their PC view of modernity. They needed a hate figure to use in a full fronted assault on their enemies and in Anders Breivik, they have the perfect figure.
Norway's terror attacks were as unjustifiable as those of Hamas. So let's hear that from Norway's leaders 1 August, 2011
It goes without saying that nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever justify the horrendous mass murders we witnessed nearly a fortnight ago in Norway. There should be no 'ifs' and 'buts' about the attack, no suggestion that perhaps Norway's policies have to change to prevent future attacks, no attempt to mitigate our horror and outrage at what happened. Anything else suggests that the victims contributed to their own demise and that Anders Breivik was not fully responsible for his actions.
Of course, that should be a statement of the obvious as well as the only morally legitimate position one could adopt. Yet it has never been the position adopted by the west in regard to Palestinian terrorism, nor the position taken by the Norwegian government. Here the occupation is viewed as the cause of terrorism against Israel. Hence the disgraceful comments made by Norway's ambassador to Israel in the aftermath of the atrocities: "We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel.” This suggestion that somehow the Palestinian terror war against Israel was more justified than Breivik's atrocious crimes is itself atrocious. It is also factually incorrect as the indefatigable Alan Dershowitz points out in a recent article:
First of all, terrorism against Israel began well before there was any “occupation.” The first major terrorist attack against Jews, who had long lived in Jerusalem and Hebron, began in 1929, when the leader of the Palestinian people, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, ordered a religiously-motivated terrorist attack that killed hundreds of religious Jews—many old, some quite young. Terrorism against Jews continued through the 1930s. Once Israel was established as a state, but well before it captured the West Bank, terrorism became the primary means of attacking Israel across the Jordanian, Egyptian and Lebanese borders. If the occupation is the cause of the terror against Israel, what was the cause of all the terror that preceded any occupation?
The ambassador's bigoted comments are hardly surprising. Norway's intellectual and political elites are at the forefront of some of the most militant anti Israel activity on the Continent, particularly the movement to boycott Israeli firms and academics. Dershowitz points out that on a recent visit to the country, 'No university would invite me to lecture, unless I promised not to discuss Israel.'
Indeed it is hard to argue that Norway is in the grip of anything other than virulent anti semitic prejudice. It has banned Jewish ritual slaughter but not Muslim ritual slaughter. The foreign minister recently criticised President Obama's appointment of Rahm Emmanuel because he was 'Jewish.' Anti semitic statements appear in newspapers and cartoons and are praised rather than condemned. There are 1,000 Jews in the country but there is a larger and growing Muslim population. It would not be surprising if this bigotry reflected, in part, an attempt to appease a vocal Muslim population in the country.
The fact that Norway has given voice to anti semitic and pro Islamist sentiment is neither here nor there in regard to Breivik's acts of mass murder. Whatever his ideology, it provides neither the cause nor the justification for what he did. If only Norway's government and academics could apply the same reasoning to Israel.
Riots and excuses
08 August, 2011
The riots across London in the last couple of days leave many questions unanswered, not least the failure of the police to deal properly with the disturbances. Inevitably it is not possible to form an exact picture of what happened but what we do know is that a peaceful protest turned into an ugly display of organised violence that caused extensive damage in many boroughs. The police must begin to address their role on Saturday urgently, and explain how it was that they enabled people to continue looting and attacking businesses until the early hours of Sunday morning with impunity.
Whenever such events happen, however, there is a golden rule. First we get shocked, then we get angry and finally Ken Livingstone spouts idiocy. This time is no different.Here are his recent and somewhat imbecilic comments:
"The economic stagnation and cuts being imposed by the Tory government inevitably create social division. As when Margaret Thatcher imposed such policies during her recessions this creates the threat of people losing control, acting in completely unacceptable ways that threaten everyone, and culminating in events of the type we saw in Tottenham."
This is like saying that the 7/7 bombers may have behaved in unacceptable ways but look, they were furious about the Iraq war, Palestine, Bosnia, George Bush, Ariel Sharon and a multitude of other 'evils'. It shifts responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim and is a grotesquely immoral position. Indeed nothing could better encourage even more wanton mayhem in the coming nights than the attempt by influential politicians like Livingstone to make these kind of excuses.
More importantly, as Toby Young points out, the arguments that 'the cuts' are to blame is nonsensical. Here is what he says:
But even if you remove the cost of servicing the debt from the equation, public expenditure has barely fallen in the last 12 months. Total departmental expenditure in 2010/11 is forecast to be slightly lower than it was in 2009/10, but still significantly higher than it was in 2008/09 and, don’t forget, it increased year on year during Labour’s 13 years in office. While it’s true that Tottenham is currently suffering from higher-than-average youth unemployment, the overall level of unemployment in Tottenham is just over half what it was in the 1980s and Jobseeker’s Allowance hasn’t been cut. Like Ken Livingstone, the shadow Communities Secretary Chris Williamson blamed Saturday night’s disturbances on the Government’s “disastrous” cuts, but those rioters who were injured will have received excellent medical care that was still free at the point of access. The Government has actually increased spending on the NHS in real terms if you compare 2010/11 to 2009/10.
Indeed. But such economic literacy will be lost on the useful idiot brigade of which Livingstone is an exemplary member.
Disorder on a mass scale 9 August, 2011
The weekend's riots have now escalated to the point where we are seeing nothing less than mass disorder, both in London and beyond. Those who continue to make excuses for this mindless violence now look more risible by the second. For it is clear from all accounts that this is organised criminality on an enormous scale, with gangs using social networking sites to co-ordinate looting, arson and violence before the police can catch up with them. There are entire streets where dozens and hundreds of looters have attacked property, knowing that there is little to stop them. It is clear from the sheer scale of this violence that the police simply cannot cope with what is going on. So the result is anarchy in parts of the capital, with an already demoralised police force desperately trying to catch up with events as they happen. We have never seen these kind of riots before.
I have maintained all along that this is not about political grievances, cuts, poverty or anything else. This is also not a repeat of the riots of the 1980s where issues of police racism were very raw in many communities. This is about opportunistic criminality and thuggish behaviour by vast numbers of feral teenagers. These are people who manifest the most extreme disrespect for the police and authority, who care nothing about the effects of their actions, who clearly believe in their right to acquire material possessions without hard work and effort and who believe, fundamentally, that they will not be caught if they break the law. This is about the grotesque materialism of the selfish and indolent, not the outpouring of anger about government spending cuts or economic policies. How much these attitudes have resulted from poor education, multiculturalism, political correctness and other causes is debatable - in my view, all these things have contributed to the anarchy now engulfing London. Damian Thompson is almost certainly right when he says:
The roots of these appalling events are many and tangled, but for the moment let’s just focus on one: the way Britain’s educational establishment has cringed helplessly in the face of a gang culture that rejects every tenet of liberal society. It’s violent, it’s sexist, it’s homophobic and it’s racist. But it is broadly tolerated by many people in the black community, which has lost control of its teenage youths.
We are now seeing the baleful consequences of this loss of control in the form of civil unrest that may soon spread across the nation.
Welfare and ineffective policing have bred this feral underclass 10 August, 2011
David Cameron seems to have got it right when he talked of some parts of society that were 'not just broken, but sick'. For what we have witnessed in the last 48 hours is a truly nightmare vision of lawlessness, thuggery and orchestrated violence spreading across our city centres. Major towns have become no go zones, often controlled for hours by looting, feral youths who believe that they, and not the police, now control our streets. Businesses have been torched, shops looted, homes destroyed and cars burnt for no other reason than that this provides a cheap thrill for this army of imbeciles.
This is nothing less than a mass, violent uprising by our underclass. It is a catastrophe for our national life. The kind of rapidly spreading anarchy we have seen is absolutely unprecedented in modern times for while riots are nothing new, we have not witnessed such a sustained frenzy of mass violence, mayhem and disorder enveloping the entire country.
Many deprecate any talk of 'social causes', careful not to be seen to exonerate those who are primarily responsible for all this. Of course, the louts are responsible and must be brought to book for their appalling crimes, and without delay. But they are also engaging in their menacing behaviour simply because they know they can get away with it. It is not just that the police have been far too soft in dealing with these riots; it is that they have tolerated criminal 'no go areas' for too long. As Philip Johnston pointed out in a thoughtful Telegraph piece yesterday, they ceded control of our streets years ago. Worse than this, the penalties in our criminal justice system fail to act like the deterrent they should - and the hoodlums know this better than anyone. Read this blog by James Delingpole, and just weep.
Many have asked why children as young as 10 have been robbing shops and terrorising their neighbours. Why, so their anguished cry goes, are they not being restrained by their parents? Perhaps the simple answer is that their parents either approve of these criminal activities or lack the will to intervene. Presumably the feral parents will be encouraging their feral offspring to commit crime, given that this is the only behaviour that makes sense to them. They buy into the 'gangster' sub-culture that I mentioned in the last post - a set of values that centre around a hatred of authority, not least the police, a dislike of work, the cult of instant gratification and complete amorality.
Alternatively these children come from the type of broken homes where fathers are just non-existent. In other words, where the single biggest constraint on teenage rage and malice has disappeared. Yet these broken homes have been nurtured for years by our welfare state which has both rewarded family breakdown, encouraged lone parenthood and disincentivised work. Crime and the welfare state have gone hand in hand.
When you know that you don't have to work to survive, when the state will support you regardless of your behaviour or lifestyle, your value system surely becomes warped too. Can we expect our state subsidised underclass to obey the rules of civilised society? Can we expect them to value hard work and effort? Can we expect them to respect authority, whether that be teachers or the police? Can we expect them to be anything other than amoral and reckless in their lifestyles? Of course not. Welfare dependency all too frequently breeds the kind of feckless attitudes that result in anarchy and violence. And these problems, of fatherlessness, family breakdown and welfare dependency and most pronounced in black communities - hence the proportionately higher involvement of black males in these riots.
This is still not to make any excuse for naked thuggery. Nor is it to deny that the police must now use every means at their disposal to re-take control of our streets in the short term. But if we are to really learn the lessons from this game changing experience, we must think long and hard about soft penalties in court, demoralised and ineffective policing and the insidious role that the welfare state plays in causing family disintegration. Tough words will not be adequate.
Bratton's zero tolerance approach is just what we need 14 August, 2011
Last week's orgy of violence appears, quite mercifully, to have fizzled out across the country. One of the more obvious reasons why is that the police decided to flood city centres in an attempt to quell the violence and mayhem that was engulfing them.The looters, arsonists and thieves had made an initial calculation that they would not get caught in the act, or perhaps that, if caught, they would not receive stiff penalties. It was a simple cost/benefit calculation as Daniel Hannan pointed out. As soon as that calculation changed, so too did the rioters' behaviour. It is clear that the terrible events of this week were precipitated by the police's failure to get to grips with the situation in Tottenham. By standing off and being passive observers of the violence, they gave others the impression that they too could act with impunity.
There are questions to ask therefore about why the police acted as they did in those initial stages. Some suggestions will be obvious: the police were paralysed by fear of overacting in case they were later accused of a breach of human rights; they did not want to appear racist by intervening in largely black areas; they did not want to antagonise the crowds. No doubt all of these help to explain the police's inadequate behaviour.
But one point is crucial. The more that criminals and gangs fear the response of the authorities, the greater will be their disincentive to create public disorder. It is therefore heartening to see that David Cameron has recruited Bill Bratton, a former US supercop, to act as an advisor on street crime. Bratton believes in a zero tolerance approach to crime, where small crimes, even the breaking of windows, are dealt with swiftly and in a robust manner. His ideas will be worth exploring in the coming weeks and months. But he isn't a gung ho cop either. As he said here, effective policing is about three things:
“You have to do it constitutionally." “You have to do it passionately — you’re dealing with human beings. And you have to do it consistently. You can’t be policing rich neighbourhoods differently than poor neighbourhoods.
Indeed so. Calling for tougher policing is not a licence for criminal misbehaviour by individual officers, nor is it meant to exonerate wrongdoing. But the prime function of the police is to protect the public and ensure order on our streets and the failure to achieve those things was a monumental failure.
Of course, there are wider issues to address about the often feeble response of our criminal justice system, including the lamentable sentences all too frequently given to offenders. As I indicated in the previous post, the social consequences of a welfare state that breeds dysfunctional, amoral work shy families, characterised by fatherlessness and susceptibility to gang culture, must also be addressed. But in the short term, law and order must be the priority and Bratton's ideas could well be the answer.
The attack in Israel 19 August, 2011
When Israel warned that the Arab spring may turn into a winter of madness, they were criticised for not supporting a democratic movement. How could the region's only democracy possibly spurn a populist uprising against tyranny when this was the expression of 'the people's will'? Was it not self defeating to want these autocrats to stay in power? Would the Jewish state not be better off with democratically elected leaders who were accountable to their respective populations instead of brutal tyrants with their one party rule?
Of course, the Israelis were not misty eyed precisely because they understood the region better than most. So when Egypt's Mubarak was removed from power, they warned that what could replace him would not necessary be a benign democracy. And in the months since January, this prediction has been borne out as the new military regime has cultivated ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, reduced co-operation with Israel and softened security over Gaza.
This is the context for viewing yesterday's multi pronged terror assault in Eilat which has now claimed 8 lives. As yet, the exact details are sketchy and the involvement of different actors is not entirely clear. But what seems certain is that the attackers came through Sinai via Gaza and may have had the operational help of Egyptian forces, and certainly militant elements in Sinai itself. While Mubarak did turn a blind eye to the Islamist sympathies of the Bedouin in Sinai, he kept the Egyptian/Gaza border sealed, aware that it was in his own interests to prevent Palestinian extremism from being let loose in his country.
Now that border has been breached repeatedly since January, allowing Hamas terrorists to attack police stations in Egypt as well as the gas pipeline. It was these attacks that persuaded the government to cleanse Sinai of al-Qaeda elements, leading to yesterday's retaliatory attack that has so breached Israeli sovereignty. The crucial questions now are whether Egypt intends to strengthen its controls on the Israeli-Sinai border, and whether Israel will now do the same. The next few days and weeks may give us the answers to those questions.
Libya - no room for complacency (yet) 22 August, 2011
David Cameron will probably feel like this is job done.The NATO supported rebels appear to have faced little opposition as they swept into Tripoli, with several of Gaddafi's children already under arrest. No doubt the Libyan leader will soon surface, or be discovered hiding in a remote bunker. His fate may soon mirror that of another dictator who was famously overthrown in 2003. But for all that, there is still the need for caution. As David Cameron acknowledged, there is a great deal of work still to be done and difficult days lie ahead.
For one thing, it will be essential to avoid a post war descent into anarchy of the sort that plagued Iraq after the fall of Saddam. It will be essential for the West to avoid a power vacuum that could be filled by looters, insurgents and criminal gangs. NATO should ensure that essential supplies and services, such as water and electricity, are maintained and that the country must not be denuded of security services.
But the biggest question remains unanswered. If we assume that this is really the end for Colonel Gaddafi (which is open to question if there are still tribes loyal to him), then what exactly is going to replace his secular dictatorship? There is certainly considerable evidence of al-Qaeda infiltration among the opposition, no matter how much no. 10 may deny it. According to a secret cable sent to the State Department by the American embassy in Tripoli in 2008, ("Extremism in Eastern Libya"), Eastern Libya is a hotbed of anti-American, pro-jihadist sentiment. It warns that former jihadi fighters who underwent "religious and ideological training" in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the 1980s have returned to eastern towns in Libya such as Benghazi and Derna to propagate their Islamist beliefs. According also to the so called Sinjar records, Libya supplied proportionately more foreign fighters for the insurgency in Iraq than any other country.
If the opposition forms the new government, it could, under the influence of Islamists, impose draconian restrictions on Libya’s subjects. It could forcibly introduce sharia law, which is directly inimical to the interests of women, put severe constraints on education, impose religious restrictions on minorities and dispense harsh punishments for sexual minorities. This Talebanisation of Libya would see human rights and political freedom scarcely advance, replacing one form of tyranny with another. This is not an inevitable outcome of the post Gaddafi era; we simply don't know enough about the opposition at this stage. Egypt and Tunisia certainly give little cause for hope, given how much the Islamists in those countries are gaining ascendancy. Libya could be next.
There are difficult days ahead indeed.
No means no for Abbas 29 August, 2011
With the recent upsurge in terrorism from Gaza, it has been easy to overlook that other face of Palestinian rejectionism, Mahmoud Abbas. But he has once again reminded us why he remains a fundamental barrier to peace. Here is what he said in a speech to Islamic clerics in Ramallah:
The world "cannot force us to recognize the nature of the Israeli state". "Do not force us to recognize a Jewish state. We will not accept it."
He has actually said this sort of thing one hundred times before, except of course that western diplomats do not hear it, or choose to ignore it or explain it away by some delusional fantasy or other.
He went on to say that he would not accept the idea of absorbing "Palestinian refugees" in a Palestinian state. That is code for demanding the 'right of return' of refugees to Israel, effectively flooding the Jewish state with millions of bogus Arabs and transforming the country into another Islamic nation.
In other words, Abbas was signalling his intent never to end the offensive against Israel, now carried out in the diplomatic as well as terrorist sphere. It is just another sign of the relentless unwillingness of Abbas, and his supporters, to reach an accord with Israel on terms that any onlooker would regard as fair and reasonable. In essence, no means no means no for Abbas. But what a tremendous pity that western diplomats remain so wilfully blind to this.
Thoughts on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 11 September, 2011
Ten years ago, 19 Islamist terrorists launched a co-ordinated assault on the heartland of American political and military power. They slaughtered nearly 3,000 people in a callous act of mass murder that shocked and humbled the world’s mightiest nation. In their dastardly deed, they were supported by a network of jihadist sympathisers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, supposedly key allies of the west.
The critical question today is whether, a decade on, we are any safer. The conventional view is that President Bush ‘squandered’ the goodwill that America received in the aftermath of the attacks. As a result of misguided rhetoric and wrongheaded policy, America ‘tarnished’ its image around the globe because it ‘inflamed’ the Muslim world, thus increasing the chances of further attacks.
Like so much of the conventional wisdom on terrorism and the Middle East, this view betrays a latent anti Americanism and a deep scepticism about any exercise of western power. And it flies in the face of the evidence too. For on any objective analysis, there have been remarkable successes in the long fightback after 9/11.
The West destroyed the Taleban, chief sponsors of the al-Qaeda network, and all their training bases. As a result of drone attacks, intensified in the Obama years, hundreds of key terrorist masterminds have been killed in the Afghan/Pakistan heartlands, including the key prize, Osama Bin Laden.
And as a result of further intelligence successes, the number of attacks on western soil in the last decade has been mercifully lower than it might otherwise have been. Surveying the Middle East in the last 6 months, it can hardly be argued that al Qaeda has been the primary driving force of change in the region.
With some exceptions (notably in Libya), al-Qaeda has not made inroads in the anti-authoritarian movement, though quite clearly other radical jihadist actors (the Muslim Brotherhood) have been very active and visible.
But on an intellectual level, America, and its western allies, made some big mistakes too. Iraq represented a tactical diversion from the Afghan theatre of war and the removal of Saddam, while desirable in itself, empowered his Iranian neighbour, now the chief threat to the region. America failed to deal with the Iranian threat when Tehran started to create difficulties for US troops in Iraq. This allowed the mullahs to expand their power and influence in the region, both in the Persian Gulf and in Lebanon. They are now threatening to join the nuclear club.
American administrations too, like those in the UK, falsely believed that the political strategy for defeating Islamist ideas lay in making concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Like their appeasement minded friends in the Israeli Labor Party, there was a conviction that a Palestinian state would somehow reduce the recruiting opportunities for jihadists, and lessen the rage within the Muslim world that was believed to be driving young men towards jihadism.
In reality, it is not the lack of a Palestinian state that so enrages the jihadists but the very existence of a Jewish state. And no matter what compromises this state makes, it will never cause the terror threat to abate.
Another big mistake was the conceptualisation of this conflict as a war on terror. Terror is only a tactic, a mere method of warfare. It is not what our war is against. For what the west is really fighting is an ideology called radical Islam which is promulgated across the Arab and Muslim world from the pulpit to the madrassah. The west is confronting nothing less than religious fanaticism in its most intolerant guise.
Yet in the decade since the attacks, political correctness has reigned supreme. Few western leaders have dared to spell out what this enemy is and have preferred to talk about ‘militants’ and ‘criminals’ as if we are engaged in an extended police action. But how can you ever defeat an enemy without first understanding and conceptualising it? Certainly, ten years after 9/11, that enemy has not gone away and it is as well to remember that.
In the meantime, let us remember the victims of that terrible day. Let us honour those who lost their lives in an act of infamy that is forever engraved in our memories.
What the storming of the Israeli embassy might herald 13 September, 2011
This fascinating report by Sky’s Tim Marshall needs to be read by anyone who still thinks that the Arab Spring will herald a new era of peace and enlightenment in our time. Two days ago, a rampaging Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo as Egyptian security forces simply stood by. The mob destroyed the protective wall surrounding the embassy, smashed their way through to the consulate and were prevented from killing six Israeli security guards at the last minute. For hours, Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi could not be reached by his Israeli or American counterpart. It appears that it was only the threat of serious American reprisals that persuaded the Egyptians to intervene by sending in commandos to rescue the security guards.
What are we to make of all this? The salient point is not that the Egyptian junta did intervene at the last minute but that they stood idly by while the embassy was being attacked. In fact, it was not the first time that the embassy has come under attack in recent weeks. As Marshall points out in his report:
‘During the previous assault protestor, Ahmad Shahat managed to scale the embassy building, seize the Israeli flag and throw it the crowd below who burnt it. The chant that evening was 'Give us weapons and we'll kill all the Jews'. Shehat was feted across Egypt for his actions. Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi hailed him as 'the people's hero' and a local governor, Azazy Ali Azazy rewarded him with a job and a flat.’
This is the same junta that opened the border with Gaza earlier this year, allowing thousands of jihadists to stream into Sinai from where a murderous attack was launched only weeks ago. This is the same junta that released jihadists from prison and which also welcomed the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Qaradawi, to Cairo.
The clear lesson is that the military elite are paying close attention to the widespread hatred of Israel and Jews that is a ubiquitous feature of life in Egypt. But instead of keeping a lid on it, they are pandering to it, perhaps in order to retain some credibility with a hostile Egyptian public. The storming of the embassy is surely only a logical next step in the gradual weakening of relations between Israel and Egypt, though it is not clear whether the relationship will be severed.
Some argue that financial considerations will prevent any future Egyptian government from cancelling the 1979 peace treaty. Surely no Egyptian government would wish to abrogate the military and financial assistance coming from Washington. But who can say? It is far from clear that a Muslim Brotherhood government would automatically maintain the treaty. Even if they did, perhaps on pragmatic grounds, it would not be a guarantee of Israeli security, given the closeness of the MB’s ties with Hamas and other radical actors in the region.
The time for being misty-eyed about this ‘Arab Spring’ has surely passed. As events in Cairo have shown, the future of the region could hardly be less secure.
Cameron: man of principle? 14 September, 2011
So the Prime Minister has finally decided to withdraw Britain from the Jew hating circus known in polite circles as Durban III. Should we laud an act of conspicuous courage as some are suggesting? Here is one reason to pause for a moment. If this was really an act of high moral principle, why did Cameron wait for so long before making a decision? Why did he not follow the lead of several other national leaders who saw this hate fest for what it was - many months ago? More to the point, why has he failed to reveal Britain's voting intentions when the Palestinians go to the General Assembly for their 'statehood' bid? Why did he step down as patron of the JNF - was that too a matter of moral principle? Was it principled for the PM to label Gaza a 'prison camp' and decry Israeli settlement policy, or to condemn Israel's war in 2009 as 'excessive'? Is Cameron a man of moral standing or just a wily politician with an eye for tomorrow's Guardian, as well as his liberal colleagues? As the Americans would say, go figure.
Straw's letter to MPs 21 September, 2011
According to this report in the Guardian, Jack Straw has written to all 650 MPs asking them to support the effort to recognise a Palestinian state. In his letter to MPs, extracts from which are quoted in the paper, Straw says: 'It is vital … that the UK and other European countries have the courage to point the way forward. I believe the way forward is for the international community to recognise a Palestinian state alongside Israel and admit it to the UN." He adds later: "I'm as firm as anyone about Israel's right to security, as a sovereign state. We all understand the fears that Israelis have for their security, but it will not enhance their security to deny the right of self-determination permanently to the Palestinians."
Firstly, the vote at the UN is not designed to create anything, so even if Israel were to vote for 'Palestine' it would not make an iota of difference on the ground.
It is, as I argue in my Jewish News column this week, a direct act of diplomatic warfare aimed at placing Israel under intolerable pressure to make concessions to a hostile polity. Mr. Straw seems incapable of grasping that most basic fact, which would be obvious to him were he to acknowledge that the PA is little interested in a viable, moderate peace deal: they refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, they refuse to end incitement against Israel and they are committed to a bogus right of return. Indeed it has been stated by Palestinian spokesmen that even when 'Palestine' is created, the refugees who do not live in the West Bank will remain stateless, precisely so that they can return to Israel.
Mr. Straw's view is downright malicious in its suggestion that Israel does want to permanently deny the right of self determination to Palestinians. Who turned down the offer of statehood at Taba in 2000 and later in 2008, Israel or the PLO? Who cut off the peace talks between the two sides - Israel or Abbas? Such a wilful distortion of reality beggars belief.
But there is another fundamental point here which exposes Straw (and the current British government) to the charge of outright perfidy. It is that this bid for recognition, this unilateral gesture, directly abrogates the treaty obligations that the PLO signed up to at the Oslo process and thus makes a mockery of international law and justice. How exactly can Mr. Straw be ok with that? And how can our own government?
Yet more sticking plaster for the dying Eurozone 27 September, 2011
Without seeing anything in black and white, it is hard to fully judge the latest austerity plan for Europe. But if the proposed contours are anything to go by, it appears to be yet another gigantic sticking plaster for the continent's endemic economic problems. It looks as if the ECB will try to beef up the European stability fund with 440 billion euros, an amount that can then be used to raise a further 2 or 3 trillion dollars of loans for the stricken countries of southern Europe. These loans would then be repaid, one presumes, with the 'largesse' of European taxpayers.
This is a sticking plaster policy for an obvious reason: it does not address the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is the single currency, more so than debt. It is the idea that you can ever successfully peg together 17 differing nations, 17 different tax regimes, 17 working populations with their distinctive labour practices, 17 Chancellors of the Exchequer with a single economic policy. It is the bizarre notion that you can set a single exchange rate to suit the circumstances of 17 different countries where some face high inflation (necessitating higher rates) and others face low demand (requiring lower ones).
In practice, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out in the Telegraph, the Euro today 'spans a 30pc gap in competitiveness between North and South. Intra-EMU current account deficits have become vast, chronic, and corrosive'. Monetary Union, he argues correctly, 'is inherently poisonous.'
But equally poisonous is the lack of democracy or accountability. Who, after all, will end up footing the bill for this monstrous debacle? Why, the populations of respective Euro members of course, together with other EU states, including the UK, that have some exposure to their neighbours' debts. Yet no one has asked these populations to vote on any such measure. Quite naturally, because the answer would surely be an overwhelming no! It would be far better to allow the more profligate economies to leave the Euro altogether, re-adopt their former currencies, devalue and then use all the other tools of independent monetary policy to fight their way out of this crisis.
Yet naturally such an option would be politically disastrous. It would rightly reveal that the Euro project was a disaster in the making, born of nothing but hubris and arrogance. So expect Europe's leaders to offer more sticking plaster for this dying patient. And expect those who fought tooth and nail for the Euro, including the still deluded Liberal Democrats, to maintain their delusions until the bitter end.
An open letter to David Cameron 5 October, 2011
Dear Prime Minister,
You say you are committed to a two state solution in the Middle East which grants Palestinian self determination in return for guarantees of Israeli security. On your recent visit to America you declared that you wanted to see ‘a Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel’ and you wanted to see that ‘on the ground, not just in U.N. resolutions’. You restated these aims when you met Mahmoud Abbas in London earlier this year.
Let me say, Prime Minister, that there is nothing inherently ignoble about supporting Palestinian self determination, provided that it leads to the creation of another peaceful, democratic state in the Middle East. The majority of Israelis support such a just and peaceful resolution of this conflict. They have long accepted the idea that Palestinian Arabs should have some form of territorial independence in a viable and contiguous state of their own. Indeed in the last decade, two Israeli Prime Ministers have offered almost the entire West Bank as the foundation of a Palestinian state, only to see their offers rebuffed on each occasion.
Nonetheless, I strongly urge you to re-consider your automatic support for the PA, and Mahmoud Abbas in particular. The simple reason is that the Palestinians are not interested in delivering their side of the bargain. In their equation, Israel has to give up land, emasculate its security and abandon the right to being called ‘the Jewish state’ in return for nothing at all.
For Fatah spokesmen, the two state solution is a mere tactical ploy, a stepping stone to the destruction of Israel. They say so every day behind your back on Arabic television yet western leaders choose not to listen. These rejectionists are not Hamas spokesmen who you refuse to deal with. They are supporters and key members of Fatah, men sworn to Mahmoud Abbas, your chosen ally.
If you want proof that Abbas is lacking in good faith, you only need listen to his recent statements, Prime Minister. He has consistently refused to accept Israel as a Jewish state. At the UN a fortnight ago, during a speech in which he repeatedly demonised Israel as a racist, apartheid state, Abbas need only have accepted that he had no claim to Israel beyond the green line and that this land was the sovereign and inviolable territory of another UN member state. That would have been the start of ending this conflict. But he did not do so.
The simplest reason is that it would have meant abandoning his dream of a Palestinian ‘right of return’, the fictitious idea that 7 million Palestinian Arabs have a right to return ‘home’ to Israel. Yet hardly any of these 7 million are refugees in the true sense. In any case, what is the point in calling for Palestinian self determination when you want to settle your people in another sovereign state? It makes sense to have a Palestinian right of return to Palestine, not to Israel. In demographic terms, his demand would lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. So why aren’t British ministers, your ministers, more alarmed whenever Abbas uses this language?
Worse than this, Abbas continually glorifies suicide bombers and terrorists who have wreaked havoc against Israeli civilians. He names public squares and sports centres after mass murdering terrorists, such as the infamous Dalal Mugrahbi. Instead of turning Palestinian writers, poets and artists into national heroes, he lionises killers. These are the role models he is selecting for the next generation. The newspapers, radio stations and television programmes in the West Bank are also full of anti semitic imagery that could have come directly from the Nazi era.
Is this statesmanship? Is this the way to promote goodwill or foster a spirit of amity and reconciliation between the two peoples? Is this not to foster a culture of hate that will keep the fires of this conflict burning?
Why do you remain allied to a Palestinian leader who encourages a demonic hatred of Jews? With resounding conviction you condemn fascists in England, like the notorious BNP. Why do you not show the same contempt for fascists abroad?
Worse than this, if your government votes to recognise a Palestinian state at the UN, it will endorse the very values that you claim to despise – racism, intolerance and homophobia. For Palestinian spokesmen have reiterated that they do not want a single Jew in their new state as the two peoples, in their view, need to be separated. They want to flood Israel with Arab people yet remain Judenfrei themselves. Gay people will not receive a welcome either and we already know that they are persecuted in Gaza. I would urge you to follow Obama’s lead and veto any recognition of ‘Palestine’ at the Security Council.
Prime Minister, you appear to show a genuine commitment to democracy, justice and liberal values in the Middle East. In light of the above facts, do you not have a moral imperative to re-consider your support for the Palestinian leadership?
Ken Clarke - a rather dangerous man 7 October, 2011
Ken Clarke's all too public spat with Teresa May ought to be embarrassing to his fellow Conservatives. No matter how much he dislikes her 'child like' and 'laughable' comments about an illegal immigrant and his cat, he is still a member of Mr. Cameron's government. He ought to learn that one of the most important responsibilities of a minister is to practice collective Cabinet responsiblity, even if this lesson has been rather lost on the Liberal Democrats of late. It is hard to see how Clarke can remain in government after this unwarranted outburst.
And unwarranted it was. For one thing, it is not clear that the Home Secretary was wrong about the case which caused all the controversy, namely that of a Bolivian man and his cat. The Bolivian man, an illegal immigrant who had overstayed his student visa, had been caught shoplifting in 2007, leading the Home Office to rule that he had to leave the country. But judges overturned that ruling, citing his family life with a boyfriend, and yes, a cat called Maya. In the words of the judge: 'The joint acquisition of Maya reinforces my conclusion on the strength and quality of (his) family life...' Teresa May was not completely wrong, as some have suggested, in focusing on the man's pet.
In any case, the thrust of her argument was that the Human Rights Act was unnecessarily giving rise to a series of deeply inappropriate judicial decisions, preventing murderers, hijackers, illegal immigrants and terrorists from being deported. She made a fairly cogent case for its repeal, a view that is shared by the Prime Minister and no doubt, a large number of her fellow Conservatives. (Whether its replacement by a British Bill of Rights would make a blind bit of difference is a separate issue.)
But any suggestion that a European imported piece of legislation should be replaced by a British one is anathema to veteran Europhiles like Ken Clarke. This is the same man who urged us to join the Euro in 1997 and who has always deprecated those who want Britain to leave the EU. This is also the man who wanted to reduce prison numbers and cut sentences for convicted rapists. His attack on Teresa May was therefore entirely predictable. After all, she speaks for much of the Tory party that Clarke appears to despise. Far from being a mere lovable eccentric with naive views, he is surely a rather dangerous individual.
Israel has paid too high a price for Schalit 12 October, 2011
The imminent release of Gilad Schalit, confirmed on the Israeli side by a resounding vote of approval by the Cabinet, looks set to end a long nightmare for the young Israeli soldier and his family. For 5 years, Schalit has been held in captivity by the Palestinian terror group Hamas who have denied him access to the Red Cross and shut him off from the rest of the world.
By any account Schalit's treatment represents the most shameful indictment of the terror group, given their resort to such medieval barbarism. They have denied him the most basic standards of decency and manifestly ignored the dictates of international law. Naturally there will be jubilation across Israel where this deal has long enjoyed enormous popular support. One waits to see if the deal will go through, but let us assume that it does.
It is hard to view this as anything other than a deep blow to the Jewish state and a genuinely tragic mistake by the Netanyahu government. It is tragic because, whatever the government did, the repercussions would be grave. But a tragic calculation can still be the wrong one to make.
In an obvious sense, this will only serve to increase the terror threat in Israel. For the would be heroes of Hamas, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hezbullah will make a cost-benefit calculation that kidnapping pays, thus ramping up the threat to scores of other Israeli soldiers. More Israeli civilians will be at risk of being murdered from the many hundreds of terrorists that are due to be released, especially if the figures from past prisoner swaps are anything to go by.
Since 1985 over 10,000 Palestinian prisoners serving time for hostile activities or terror actions have been released from Israeli jails, usually in the context of prisoner swaps. According to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, ‘about 50 percent of the terrorists freed returned to the path of terror, either as a perpetrator, planner or accomplice.’
More to the point, those terrorists will have far less to fear if they believe that they will not serve the actual sentences they are given, thus encouraging the same actions that this deal is apparently designed to prevent. That is the problem with all prisoner releases, particularly for those with blood on their hands.
Admittedly, Israel does have a first rate counter terror operation in the West Bank which may successfully prevent would be attackers from carrying out their misdeeds. Better still, Israel prevented the worst terrorist masterminds from being on the Hamas list, including multiple murderer, Marwan Barghouti. But the risk to other Israeli civilians or settlers will still be magnified because nearly 280 terrorists will be allowed to settle in Gaza and the West Bank, right on Israel’s doorstep. It is hard to imagine that a spell in an Israeli jail will have lessened their visceral hatred for Jews, and Israelis.
But more important is the effect that this deal will have on Hamas. Overnight, they will feel emboldened and vindicated. Not only are they seeing their own captives released but they are now at the heart of a US/Egyptian mediated deal which, to some extent, brings them out of the diplomatic cold. They have been treated as an equal, not a pariah. It also undercuts Fatah and Abbas, even it is hard to view them as the real moderates in the region. Hamas’s star will rise in the West Bank where they will be seen as the real power brokers among Palestinians. How long before support for Hamas manifests itself in elections?
Of course, supporters of the prisoner swap will point to the noble Jewish tradition of freeing the captive (pidyun shivuim). The Jewish nation has certainly been prepared to pay a high price for the return of its soldiers, especially when they are held in conditions of barbarity. One does indeed measure the worth and greatness of a nation by the depths to which it will go in defending its citizens. But if releasing Schalit means that another Israeli soldier or citizen is captured and held in the same barbaric circumstances, will Israel really have gained anything? What if another 5 are captured? We will back to square one with the same arguments trotted out by both sides. This was never just about one soldier, even if the issue was constantly personalised in the Israeli media. There was always a wider issue of national security to consider.
Above all, however, we are confronted by a question of basic morality. For if freeing captives is a core value of Judaism, so too is natural justice. If Israel's justice system means anything, it is that the guilty face the consequences of their crimes, giving some semblance of comfort to the bereaved. People with blood on their hands are supposed to serve their sentences, rather than be released before their time is due. It is the mark of a civilised society that eschews the lynchmob.
Imagine the torment of the family still grieving the loss of a cherished son or daughter who now see that their child’s smirking killer has been treated to a hero’s welcome in Gaza - and you can be sure that this will happen. Is their pain any less real than that of the Schalit family? Can Netanyahu really justify himself to these parents, or 1,000 sets of parents? Where do they fit in the calculus of pain and suffering? Admittedly, the victims’ families can lodge appeals against the release of terrorists, but not all will be successful and those that who are not will feel a deep sense of betrayal.
And above all, there is the perception of weakness that this prisoner swap will create among Israel's foes. The willingness to give up so many dangerous individuals who have carried out so many terrible crimes undermines the heroic work done by the IDF and Shin Bet in bringing them to justice in the first place. It also provides a perverse incentive to Israel's enemies to step up their rejectionism of the peace process, negotiations and moderate politics. After all, if violence, kidnapping and terrorism pays, why become a moderate?
This was always a tragic situation for any Israeli government to face. The constant plight of one citizen, one member of the Jewish nation, was always too hard for the country to bear. Naturally, his release will be marked by understandable delight and relief in equal measure, much of it shared by this deal’s most implacable critics. But Israel has paid too high a price.
Schalit returns, Hamas and Fatah reward their heroes..while Hague condemns settlements 19 October, 2011
Yesterday's images of Gilad Schalit were highly poignant. They revealed a young man who was a shadow of the fit, healthy soldier captured more than 5 years ago. No doubt, many details will emerge of how Hamas broke international law and every accepted convention during his lengthy detention. The outpouring of emotion for his return is entirely understandable and genuine. His plight, and that of his parents, is now at an end and the family clearly needs privacy to recover from such a lengthy ordeal.
Meanwhile, as predicted, both Fatah and Hamas treated their murderers like returning heroes. Abbas described the ex prisoners as 'freedom fighters and holy warriors', not surprising given how his PA has commemorated other terrorists like Leila Khaled. The carefully choreographed Hamas celebration is equally obscene.
His return, and the emotional reunion with his parents, makes it all the harder to argue against this 'deal with the devil'. And it must be stated again and again that Netanyahu is no fool; whatever one thinks of his decision, he faced a terrible dilemma , given the strength of the media pressure to release Schalit for a terrible price. If the prime minister had pulled away from this deal, he would have faced a barrage of criticism from many quarters. This will surely be the hardest decision of his time in office.
But that said, the decisions of great leaders are often made in the teeth of public opposition. Great leaders find their courage, not by bowing to public demand but by doing the unpopular, even the unthinkable. And it has to be said that the pressure he has faced has come from a left of centre Israeli media that has failed to provide a balanced debate on the merits of this pact with Hamas. They have relentlessly focused on the Schalit family while giving far too little attention to the victims of terror attacks.
Ultimately Netanyahu and his cabinet should have resisted this pressure, hard though that undoubtedly would have been. They should have made the case that releasing hundreds of blood thirsty murderers and terrorist plotters, including those who have already stated their intention to kill and capture more Israelis, was going to jeopardise national security and put a vastly greater number of people's lives in danger. They should have pointed out that it would have encouraged more kidnappings, bombings and murders and improved the standing of Hamas.
But that is in the past. It will now be up to Israel's legislators to draw a line under this episode and already there are suggestions that Israel should impose the death penalty for terrorists and ensure that wanted terrorists are killed rather than captured. This will be for the country's politicians to decide.
But the oddest suggestion now doing the rounds is that this terrorists for captive swap (that is how it should be described) will now kick start the peace process after the months of stalled talks. Far from it. The deal has emboldened Hamas, the most intransigent of Israel's foes and made them more determined than ever to escalate their war of violence against the Jewish state. Not surprisingly, some of those who have been released have been brazen enough to declare their interest in future 'martyrdom operations' as in here. And the idea that Hamas will turn a new leaf and transform itself into the party of peace is so absurd that it barely merits comment.
Still, at least the British government has got its priorities right. After congratulating Israel on freeing Schalit, William Hague returned to the usual narrative about the 'prime cause' of the Middle East conflict. Here is what he said on Tuesday:
"I am dismayed by the Israeli announcement on 14 October of a new settlement at Givat Hamatos. This provocative step, which further encloses East Jerusalem, is particularly disappointing given the international condemnation of the expansion of the Mordot Gilo settlement just a few weeks ago. Settlements are not only illegal under international law, but also undermine the possibility of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those working for a sustainable peace. I call again for these announcements to be revoked".
So there you have it. As Israel emasculates its security in such a misguided fashion, after it pays the most painful price to see a soldier return from captivity, and as Hamas and Fatah both demonstrate how they are prepared to reward evil killers for their crimes, our foreign secretary's main concern is to stop Israeli settlement building in their own capital. It is quite perverse, and predictably so.
Deborah Orr's fake apology 27 October, 2011
When is an apology not an apology? Quite frequently, when it appears in the Guardian and concerns the state of Israel. What else are we to make of the alleged recantation from columnist Deborah Orr after her outrageous remarks about 'Israeli racism' in the Schalit affair. For those not in the know, on Wednesday, 19th October in her Guardian column, she wrote that the world had become 'inured...to the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives.' She went on:
'Yet who is surprised really, to learn that Netanyahu sees one Israeli's freedom as a fair exchange for the freedom of so many Palestinians? Likewise, Hamas wished to use their human bargaining chip to gain release for as many Palestinians as they could. They don't have much to bargain with. At the same time, however, there is something abject in their eagerness to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe – that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.'
This is about as obscene and grotesque an analysis as you could get, though hardly surprising given the paper it was printed in. For one thing, it was not Israel setting the terms of this 'trade' but Hamas. It was they who decided that they would not release Schalit unless they received, in return, more than 1,000 murderers and terrorists then presiding in Israeli jails. Yet somehow it is Israel that is accused of overvaluing the lives of its citizens because of an implicit racism among Zionists! Netanyahu was not happy about the price but was forced to accept it, largely because of pressure from his country's media.
Worse is her casual reference to the 'chosen' and the implicit belief that this implies a derogatory valuation of the lives of other people who are not 'chosen'. Yet the notion of a chosen people has nothing to do with superiority. It denotes a powerful belief that the Jewish people have a mission to spread morality and justice to the world. It is about a burden to be taken up, not a tool used to devalue other people.
After telling her interviewer in the Jerusalem Post that she was 'certainly not anti- Semitic' and apologising for her choice of words, she went on to say this:
"Often, however it seems difficult to be critical of the Israeli state without such accusations being made".
Perhaps she needs an irony transplant. If you indulge the worst elements of anti semitic conspiracy thinking, you shouldn't be surprised if you are accused of stoking up anti semitism. Her comments have nothing to do with criticism of Israel. They are an attempt to demonise an entire people.
She goes on by reference to the events of 1948:
"Zionists did consider their own ambitions to be of paramount importance, of greater importance than the views of the people they wished to displace to form their state. The problems date back to the enforced ‘exchange’ that was imposed on Palestinians in 1948. Many hundreds of thousands were compelled to move off the land so that Israel could be created. From the start, it seems to me, the idea of Israel was predicated on the idea that the creation of a new state for one group was of much greater importance than the claims of the non-Jewish among those already living there… From the start, Palestinian needs were considered less important than nascent Israeli needs".
Again, this is a farrago of ignorance and bigotry. The early Zionist pioneers believed that their plans and ambitions had to take account of the existing Arab presence in Palestine and even the most right wing and militant thinkers, such as Jabotinsky, envisaged Jewish/Arab co-existence in the land. The 'enforced exchange' as she puts it was nothing of the kind. The displacement of 350,000-400,000 Palestinians largely came about through the machinations of Arab nationalists and Muslim extremists, such as the Mufti, who wanted no Jewish presence in the Holy Land and who encouraged their population to flee in the belief that Palestine would become Judenrein.
It is outrageous that a respected columnist could offer such twisted views followed by such a half hearted 'apology'. Then again, this is the world of the Guardian. We should not be surprised.
Greece embraces democracy - who'd have thought? 1 November, 2011
The Greek prime minister's plans for a referendum have provoked fury and indignation across Europe. According to Sebastien Huyghe, an official in President Sarkozy's party, the move was "irresponsible in the current situation" and could end up taking "Europe down the cliff". For Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi the decision "was unexpected and triggers uncertainty". For Angela Merkel, the referendum was "irritating". The Greek opposition have threatened to withdraw their support for the deal unless the referendum is cancelled.
What really upsets these fanatical Eurocrats is the idea that a national leader is daring to challenge the EU project with something as populist as a democratic vote. They cannot stomach the idea that a national electorate should have a say on their country's economic destiny. They would rather that governments remain unaccountable to their peoples, provided that they steer their national ship in the direction that Brussels desires. Yet with Greece's economy hanging in the balance, there is no better time for the people to be consulted.
Of course, what terrifies the EU-crats is that the people of Greece will vote no in the referendum, just like the peoples of France and Holland vetoed the EU Constitution in 2005 and the people of Ireland voted against the Euro. Yet naturally a Greek no vote is precisely what the people of Greece need. It would almost certainly lead to the expulsion of Greece from the Euro and provide the chance for the country to revert to its sovereign currency, lower its interest rate and devalue its currency, thus allowing it to export its way to growth. The Euro prevents the Greeks from exercising these options. (The lack of a sovereign currency or lender of last resort is bedeviling Italy too of course.) Yet it would also create a crack in the politico-economic Euro project, which is why the Eurocrats will fight tooth and nail to keep Greece in the Euro. If you ever wanted to see the EU's democratic deficit in action, here it is.
Iran threat 7 November, 2011
Listening to Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, on this morning's Sunday AM, was predictably depressing. Asked about whether Britain would support an Israeli unilateral strike on Iran, he replied that he hoped that such an event would not occur and that Britain remained committed to a two track approach: both tightening sanctions on Iran and using diplomacy to help the Iranians see that they should end their nuclear ambitions. He hoped that the use of force would be a far off event. You could hear identical sentiments from William Hague, David Cameron or practically any other major British politician.
For one thing, the options that Alexander talks about have already been tried, and found to be abject failures. Sanctions have been imposed on Iran for the last five years and every time, they have been watered down at the UN in order to bypass the objections of Russia and China. Quite clearly, Iran has not been harmed by the economic pressure that has been applied to it. The diplomatic approach has been not so much used as exhausted. Nearly a decade has been spent offering Iran inducements to end its nuclear ambitions, and all to no avail. Indeed the only successful means of slowing down the Iranian bomb have come from Israel - the Stuxnet virus that crippled thousands of Iranian centrifuges, the assassination of nuclear scientists and no doubt much else that we don't yet know about. Economic pressure and diplomacy have simply bought Iran time to evade real international pressure and the possibility of crippling military action.
The reason why Alexander was asked for his opinion was the flurry of speculation only days earlier which suggested that Britain, Israel or the US (or a combination) were actively preparing plans for such concerted action against Tehran. The evidence for an alleged imminent Israeli strike was the test firing of a Jericho missile this week, some exercises in the Mediterranean involving a 'dry run' with the Israeli air force and the visit of Ehud Barak to Britain. But none of these mean that there is any likelihood of any such attack in the next few weeks or months. Much of it may be sabre rattling, or pre-planned military exercises - who knows? But one thing is clear and that is that Iran remains committed to becoming a nuclear armed power; worse, it continues to pose a grave risk to regional and world security.
Next week, the IAEA will deliver its latest assessment of the Iranian nuclear programme and it is expected to be damning in its conclusions. Perhaps the west will take it seriously enough to stop the Iranian threat before it is too late.
A damning IAEA report - and why the west must act now 9 November, 2011
As predicted, the International Atomic Energy Agency has delivered a damning report that accuses Iran of working towards possession of nuclear weapons. The findings could hardly be clearer. The report confirms that Iran had been working towards a bomb since 2003, completely discrediting the US NIE report from 2007 which argued that the Islamic Republic had stopped work on the nuclear programme in that year. The IAEA cites evidence from a wide variety of independent sources, including a number of member states, which is 'consistent in terms of technical content' that shows Iran carrying out activities 'that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device:
The Agency is said to have “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme”. The information it received “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”.
The report talks of “Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials by military related individuals and entities”. It also refers to “Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material”, the “acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network’, “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components” and the “development of safe, fast-acting detonators, and equipment suitable for firing the detonators” which is “an integral part of a programme to develop an implosion type nuclear device”.
Iran was also engaged in “the Green Salt Project” which aimed to “develop and test high explosives used in a nuclear weapon”. Two member states said that Iran had carried out “computer modelling” studies relevant to nuclear weapons in 2008-09 and the “application of such studies to anything other than a nuclear explosive is unclear to the Agency”. The report mentions that Iran had built a large explosives vessel at a military complex in Parchin (south-east of Tehran) for the purpose of conducting hydrodynamic experiments, which are "strong indicators of possible weapon development".
In another part of the report, the IAEA catalogue the history of Iranian duplicity in regard to the nuclear programme, showing clearly how Tehran sought to evade weapons inspectors by concealing evidence of its nuclear activities.
In essence, the IAEA is simply playing catch up here. Western intelligence agencies and political think tanks have long known what the Iranian regime was up to, with the abundant evidence they have collected from defectors and analysts alike. Iran has used all the means at its disposal, as well as the services of nuclear scientists from North Korea, Russia and Pakistan, to join the atomic club. But unlike India and Israel, which view these weapons for defensive purposes, Iran would see its nuclear status as an opportunity to strengthen its hegemonic aspirations in the region, bully and threaten its neighbours and empower its terrorist proxies in the Middle East. In short, a nuclear Iran would constitute the gravest danger to regional and world security.
Yet it is hardly clear that western powers will face up to this threat with the robust means that are surely necessary. Tough sanctions which might bring the Iranian economy to a halt will be vetoed by Russia and China at the UN, while those same countries will almost certainly will raise the global hue and cry if anyone suggests a military approach. Already Russia has lambasted the report’s ‘politicized tone’. Though Israel could carry out a unilateral strike on its own, causing limited damage to the Iranian programme, it is America alone that has the full military resources and diplomatic clout for the job. It is therefore down to Obama to make this decision therefore.
Certainly the risks of attacking Iran’s nuclear programme should not be underestimated, both in terms of attacks on US forces, a spike in terrorism and a surge in oil prices. It is right that this decision is not taken lightly. But the risks, both in the short and long term, of a nuclear Iran, are surely far greater. Indeed a nuclear Iran exacerbates those very risks at one fell stroke. Any terror group linked to Iran would immediately feel empowered by its paymaster’s sudden possession of the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The opportunity for Iran to wreak regional havoc in Iraq or Afghanistan would only increase while a nuclear Republic could also bully its neighbours into lowering oil production, thus bringing added havoc to world markets.
But the destruction of these Iranian facilities, even if it only delayed the programme for a few years, would surely be devastating for the mullahs. It would make them realize that the West was serious about permanently curtailing the country's ambitions. It would strengthen the hand of the US in the Middle East where Iran is viewed by Sunni pro western allies as a great risk to their security. It would, quite simply, provide vital time for the west. The case for military action is clear – and it needs to be made now in every western capital.
Exposing another grand Palestinian lie 15 November, 2011
Amid the avalanche of lies that make up the Palestinian narrative these days, there is one that seems to take centre stage: the notion that the Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem. This view has been echoed so many times by Palestinian leaders and scholars that it is almost the first charge they make against the Israeli government. It has also found its way into Palestinian textbooks and media outlets, thus reaching a new generation of young Palestinians. The Jews, in their view, are colonialist usurpers in a holy 'Islamic' city. Yet even a cursory knowledge of history and Jewish culture will tell you that this is utterly false. Jerusalem is the holiest city in Jewish culture. It is mentioned 667 times in the Bible. Thrice daily, Jews pray facing eastwards towards the city. It is also customary at Jewish weddings to shatter a glass so as to acknowledge Jerusalem' unfulfilled redemption. It was the city's sacred status for Jews that made it the obvious choice for King Solomon's Holy Temple.
Jerusalem has a holy status for many Muslims but it is not mentioned even once in the Koran nor do Muslims pray facing the city. That is because their holiest city is Mecca in Saudi Arabia. And while the Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back more than 3,000 years, the Muslim connection is far more recent (7th century AD) and based on the belief that Muhammed ascended to heaven from the site of the Al Aqsa mosque. There are even Koranic verses that make clear Jerusalem's holy status for Jews. A recent youtube video that apparently has got Palestinians apoplectic with anger (you will understand when you see it) makes many of these points clear. It is powerful stuff - do watch it all.
Johnson and Cameron on the EU 19 November, 2011
Earlier this week, David Cameron talked about the economic 'bazooka' that had to be fired at the Eurozone debt crisis. In comments in today's Telegraph, Boris Johnson has aimed his own bazooka at the Prime Minister, accusing him of indulging in ideas that are completely unworkable. He condemned the idea that the ECB could simply print money to bail out the Continent's stricken economies and added that it was unrealistic to pretend "that you can create an economic government of Europe, effectively run by Germany".
Johnson is right. Printing money, while it would lower bond yields, would increase inflation while also encouraging profligate economies to borrow more money. It would also leave the Eurozone intact, despite the fact that hitching together 17 different economies in an ever tighter monetary and (as likely) fiscal union is politically dangerous and undemocratic. The Mayor's comments are particularly timely, coming on the heels of ill judged remarks by the German finance minister that Britain would join the Euro 'before too long'.
The best way to resolve this crisis is to allow some countries that have suffered from profligate economic management, most notably Greece and Italy, to leave the Eurozone, revert to their previous currencies, set their own interest rates and export their way out of trouble. This would allow a smaller core of countries to remain part of a stronger currency, dominated of course by Germany. Indeed it is one of the ideas that the Mayor has explicitly suggested.
For all his alleged Euroscepticism, David Cameron remains wedded to saving the Euro in its present form and strengthening the Eurozone. Worse, he is prepared to allow Britain to stump up part of the bill despite the country's dire economic straits. Naturally, no one would suggest that the Euro be allowed to collapse, creating the largest bankruptcy in history. That would trigger a global recession with hugely detrimental effects on the British economy. But that does not make the present political solutions models of economic propriety either.
On this issue Boris Johnson is expressing the common sense of the British people. The PM sadly is not.
The Leveson revelations 24 November, 2011
The stream of revelations at the Leveson inquiry about the misbehaviour of the tabloids is genuinely disturbing, though sadly not surprising. Today we heard from J K Rowling who revealed how a journalist had targeted her 5 year old daughter in order to obtain information from her mother. Sienna Miller spoke of her outrage at being chased down the street by press photographers, and even being spat at. Yesterday the McCann's appeared before the inquiry to complain about their abhorrent treatment at the hands of the press. Many other celebrities have spoken of bullying attitudes from a section of the British press which clearly cares very little about the feelings of those they are intimidating.
This is nothing new. A number of hacks and photographers have long displayed a reckless disregard for the privacy of public figures in order to obtain the next sensational story. Often they have been willing to bend the law, or break it, in order to get the upper hand on a commercial rival. For years a number of newspapers have engaged in what is known as the dark arts. Most of Britain’s quality papers have been willing accomplices in the illegal acquisition of confidential information. Papers have offered cash bribes to civil servants and police officers in return for confidential information, including access to sensitive databases.
The question is not whether we will learn anything new about some tabloid journalists but what Leveson will recommend to deter their behaviour. It is obvious that the Press Complaints Commission needs beefed up powers, that its sanctions against rogue editors and journalists need to be much, much stronger and that more should be done to protect the vulnerable from the effects of unwarranted media intrusion. One waits to see what this inquiry will conclude.
Britain should cut all diplomatic links with Iran, the Middle East's greatest rogue state 30 November, 2011
The attack on the British embassy in Tehran is as grave a violation of diplomatic protocol as it is possible to get. Militant Iranian students stormed two diplomatic compounds at the embassy, hurling petrol bombs, smashing windows and burning flags in complete contempt for those inside. Under Article 22 of the Vienna Convention, the premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, 'are inviolate and must not be entered by the host country except with permission of the head of the mission'. The host country must also 'protect the mission from intrusion or damage'. The fact that so many students, reportedly several dozen, were allowed into the compound with the security services doing little in response, tells its own story. But they had likely been incited by an Iranian Parliamentarian who had suggested the previous Sunday that the embassy could be stormed in retaliation for the raising of sanctions on Iran's financial sector. That was in addition to the proposed expulsion of the British ambassador.
Tomorrow, David Cameron is expected to make a statement about today's events in Tehran. The Iranians need hardly worry. For beyond the usual chorus of condemnation, he is unlikely to say that Britain will be severing all diplomatic ties with Iran, as indeed it should have done many years earlier. More to the point, when Iranian governments have launched aggressive actions against British interests, they have hardly faced the kind of draconian and robust reprisals that might have made them think twice. Tehran is responsible for arming and training the Taleban in Afghanistan over a number of years, making them directly responsible for many British deaths in that country. They have sponsored terrorist attacks across the region and beyond and there is evidence showing Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks, documented brilliantly in the book 'The Eleventh day'. Yet in response, Britain's usual response has been appeasement and yet more behind the scenes diplomacy. The only valid response to these crimes is for Britain to sever all diplomatic links with Iran and treat the country's government as a persona non grata. We await with baited breath to see how Cameron's government does indeed respond tomorrow.
Pensions: not the right issue for a teachers' strike 1 December, 2011
Given that talks are set to resume between the Government and the unions today, it is hard to know what to make of yesterday's strikes, variously described as 'a day of action' and a 'damp squib'. The fact that many public services were left unaffected by the industrial action leaves one to suspect that the latter description may be the more apposite. Whatever their affect, serious questions must be asked about the issue on which the unions have chosen to strike, namely public sector pensions. For it is clear that the status quo is unsustainable regarding the pension pots enjoyed by many in the public sector. A report by the Telegraph, quoting Treasury figures, should make the unions think twice before claiming that those in the public sector are victims of a gross injustice:
'The calculations show that a mid-ranking teacher on £32,000 a year will receive a final salary pension that is the equivalent of having built up a £500,000 pension pot. This is 20 times higher than the average private sector scheme, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Private sector workers would have to save more than 20 per cent of their salaries for 40 years – more than £500 a month for a similarly paid person — to amass the same amount in a defined contribution pension. A well-paid London headmaster will retire with a pension scheme worth £1.5 million, the Treasury figures show. A chief constable retiring at the standard age of 55 would have a scheme worth more than £3 million. Every British family faces a total bill of £13,500 to pay pensions for teachers – up to 300,000 of whom are expected to join the strike. David Cameron has said the disparity between the public and private sectors is “unfair”.
It is the manifest lack of fairness, not the question of affordability in the long term, which is the key issue here. Teachers (and other fairly well remunerated public sector workers) are effectively asking private sector taxpayers to continue to fund their lavish pension pots when many of those funding these arrangements barely have a pension to talk of. And no, this is not about a race to the bottom. Private sector pensions have been emasculated, most famously in Gordon Brown's 1997 tax raid and they do need to be beefed up. But the disparity between arrangements in the private and public sector is nonetheless vast and unsustainable. Most business leaders acknowledge something that the unions will not: in the long run, we are all getting older, a fact that makes pension provision an increasingly expensive liability on taxpayers and something that necessitates long term reform.
For teachers in particular, the strikes are a tragic mistake. For they are likely to create an indelible impression in the minds of the public that teachers have entered the profession out of greed and a desire for excessive financial remuneration, a perception which (for most) is manifestly unfair. Without strong public support, it is hard to see how more such strikes could really succeed. There are many issues on which teachers could be striking: dumbed down exams, poor discipline and incompetence in the profession. Pension reform is not the right issue for a disruptive strike.
Reading the Riots Guardian-style 6 December, 2011
It doesn’t take much to pull the wool over the eyes of researchers at the LSE. Whether it’s accepting a dodgy PhD thesis from Saif Gaddafi or taking the words of feral criminals at face value, something is rather amiss at this renowned institution. That is the conclusion one should draw from the LSE/Guardian report called Reading the Riots, an analysis of the causes of this summer’s riots through the words of some of its participants. The researchers spoke at length to nearly 275 people who took part in the nationwide violence across a range of ethnic and geographical backgrounds.
And lo and behold, they discovered that a key grievance among the nearly 275 criminal rioters interviewed was a burning sense of injustice with the police. Well, I never! Did it really take a 4 month investigation to realise that people who flout the law tend to be angry with those who arrest them? It would be surprising if the interviewees had said anything else. In the study, 85% cite anger at policing practices, including the use of stop and search, as a motivation for their criminality. Might the use of stop and search have something to do with the fact that those being stopped are suspected of, you guessed it, crimes? After all, three quarters of the 4,000 people convicted for their part in the riots already had a criminal record. Given that the interviewees were involved in a mass campaign of nationwide looting and arson, they can hardly complain at being stopped in the first place.
Lest we forget, the summer riots saw businesses burnt to the ground, cars torched, shops looted, people murdered and communities subjected to days of violence and intimidation. Yet according to this study, these criminals are depicted as political protestors with a genuine grievance against society. They talk of unemployment, cuts to the EMA, government cuts and deprivation as reasons for their violent misconduct. But might it be that the fairly articulate interviewees were simply telling the researchers what they wanted to hear? Could it be that they were all too aware how their narrative of injustice would play out among the bleeding heart sympathisers of the left?
As Brendan O’Neill has written in his first rate analysis, this was a classic case of advocacy research in which researchers sought to vindicate their prejudices by discovering what they want to discover. They wanted to establish that it was not loutish disrespect for the law, thievery and the sheer desire for a thrill that motivated the rioters so much as understandable anger with the police or a sense of alienation bred by inequality. And that in turn became the prevailing mantra within the study. As he points out in his article:
‘Many of the 270 interviewees were recruited through their connections with community organisations, meaning they may have already been infused with, or at least influenced by, the mores and outlook of community activism, of the kind you’ll frequently find in the Guardian ‘Society’ supplement…These are the sections of inner-city youth more likely to be au fait with the liberal classes’ explanations for the rioting’.
When criminals are allowed to blame others for their misdemeanors, they usually seize the opportunity with both hands. Common sense you would have thought, unless you are a member of the chattering classes.
Will Cameron lead over Europe? 8 December, 2011
Update: Credit where credit is due. Cameron has done the right thing by issuing a firm 'non' to his European counterparts. Whatever his other faults, he did show leadership where it mattered.
One of the most insidious effects of EU power is the erosion of democracy in its member states. Whether it is forcing nations to vote again on Constitutions they have rejected, or persuading national leaders to scrap proposed referendums or simply forcing those leaders out of power altogether, there is something terrifyingly anti-democratic about the way that the EU works. This is the central problem that has beset David Cameron as he arrives for his 'showdown' with the leaders of France and Germany. While he may indeed want to preserve British interests as he claimed, and as he was surely elected to do, he is aware of the need not to let down his European 'friends'.
As far as Merkel and Sarkozy are concerned, all that matters is the survival of the Euro and the supranational architecture that supports it. That is why they are drawing up new rules for how the 17 nation EU zone will work, with penalties being proposed for any nation that fails to adhere to the fiscal regulations. Nothing must stand in the way of this grand project, even the consent of the EU's 27 members, which is presumably why Merkozy will resort to a vote by the 17 Euro powers in order to bypass an anticipated British veto.
It is of course vital to avoid a calamitous denouement for the single currency, an event that could trigger financial oblivion for the world economy. But that is hardly an argument for the status quo. The Euro in its present form is surely doomed, as the sceptics argued all along. Even with the tighter fiscal rules being proposed, it is hard to see how the debt ridden economies can be supported for years to come without a major political revolt by taxpayers in Germany, and elsewhere. So the first thing that David Cameron should be advising his European neighbours is that an orderly retreat by Greece (to start with) would be far better than a continuation of this decade long experiment in economic illiteracy.
But then there is the question of whether Cameron should sign up to any new treaty for the 17 countries. He will face (rightly) determined calls from his own backbenchers not to sign anything that will in any way change Britain's relationship with Europe. And while it is true that the proposed treaty only deals with nations that have signed up to the single currency, thus not involving a direct transfer of British power to the EU, any such change would significantly alter the relationship that Britain enjoyed with the Continent. On this basis, the clamour will only grow for a referendum on our EU membership, understandably so.
Of course, a major split over Europe must be the last thing that the Prime Minister wants. He knows that Europe is a toxic issue for his party and that it has been the graveyard for many a Conservative administration. He is also aware that his coalition partners are fanatically committed to the European project and may threaten to withdraw from the coalition if any such referendum is held. But he is beginning to face the kind of pressure that may prove irresistible, with Iain Duncan-Smith and Boris Johnson lining up to condemn yet another EU stitch up. Cameron should think through his next moves very carefully.
Clegg and his no show 13 December, 2011
There are two possible explanations for Nick Clegg’s no-show yesterday and each exposes the Deputy Prime Minister’s alarmingly poor judgment. The first is that he genuinely thought that his appearance would prove a ‘distraction’ to David Cameron and that a no show would be strategically wiser for the coalition. Of course, his non-appearance instantly became the talking point of the day and provoked serious questions about the coalition's survival.
The other is that he was deliberately distancing himself from a Prime Minister whose party provokes visceral hostility from Liberal Democrat MPs, and was thus throwing a political bone to his disaffected supporters. Given the profound distance between Conservatives and Lib Dems on the issue of European integration, the second seems the more likely explanation.
Clegg’s strategy has made him look badly out of touch with the British people. He has lamented Britain’s isolation from Europe, condemned the Conservative party's alleged ‘Little Englander’ mentality and talked down the nation’s prospects outside the EU. This may give him good headlines in the Guardian but to the rest of us, he looks aloof, arrogant and politically naïve.
The same cannot be said for David Cameron. The Prime Minister’s refusal to sign a new European treaty has instantly rejuvenated him within his own party, and arguably enhanced his image in the country. He has come across as a defender of the national interest and a statesman prepared to stand up to a bullying elite in Brussels. In truth, Cameron had little realistic choice but to veto a treaty that would have diminished the City’s financial standing (Labour would surely have done the same). But his actions were necessary in any case.More importantly, this episode tells us where the power lies in the Coalition. For all his profound displeasure at Britain’s new isolation, Nick Clegg has made it clear that he will not break up the coalition – and with jolly good reason. The Liberal Democrats would be likely to suffer heavily in a snap election, punished by their supporters for backing the unpopular Tories while losing votes to the opposition. The last thing he needs is another election now. For this very reason, Cameron can afford not to concede too much ground to his coalition partners, and retain good relations with his own party for good measure. Cameron can be more of a Conservative - without paying a hefty price.
Multiple benefits from Britain's EU isolation 18 December, 2011
And here we now have clear evidence that Cameron's bid for isolation has given him the bounce I talked of in the last post. According to a recent ICM poll, published in The Telegraph, the Conservative lead over Labour is now 6 points, the highest lead for a year and a half, despite the unpopularity of the government's current austerity measures. This bounce has surely come from the PM's decision to cut loose from the new proposed treaty on fiscal integration. (Cameron should note, however, that a majority also want a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU.)
The article gives further evidence of the economic illiteracy in the recent proposals. A letterhas been written by sixteen leading economists and warns that 'unless there is radical deregulation of the labour and product markets and lower taxation, the euro can never work and the EU can never be a thriving economic area again.' It goes on: 'The EU and its member governments are moving in the wrong direction. We see no sign that those discussing how to deal with the euro crisis understand the actions that need to be taken.' This is because higher taxes were envisaged as part of the Merkozy package. So it seems that Cameron not only defended the national interest and gave his party a timely boost in the process, albeit a temporary one, he also distanced himself from economically unworkable proposals that will ultimately hammer a further nail into the Euro's coffin.
FCO appeasement 24 December, 2011
Update: Now the archbishop of Westminster is praying for 50 Christian families who, in his view, face eviction from Beit Jala on the West Bank. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the Christian population faces no persecution and has religious freedom, except in places in the West Bank where there is imposed Palestinian rule. It seems like the Church of England is glad to share in moral myopia.
One of the most insidious consequences of the Arab Spring has been the heightened level of attacks against ethnic minorities in the Middle East. While naive Westerners have lauded the demise of corrupt rulers, they have chosen to ignore the rise of Islamist parties and Salafists who are openly committed to the brutal imposition of Sharia law throughout the region. In an incisive and hard hitting article in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson highlights how Christians have suffered in Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere and who are now being forced into exile after suffering intolerable violence from their persecutors. He writes:
Of the country’s 1.4 million Christians, about two thirds have now fled. Although the British Government is reluctant to recognise it, a new evil is sweeping the Middle East: religious cleansing. The attacks, which peak at Christmas, have already spread to Egypt, where Coptic Christians have seen their churches firebombed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Tunisia, priests are being murdered. Maronite Christians in Lebanon have, for the first time, become targets of bombing campaigns. Christians in Syria, who have suffered as much as anyone from the Assad regime, now pray for its survival. If it falls, and the Islamists triumph, persecution may begin in earnest.
Naturally this is related to the current conditions now sweeping the region:
The Arab Spring was always going to mean danger for religious minorities, unleashing the Islamic extremists who previously were kept at bay. For all their evil, the old secular tyrants abused their victims equally, whether they wore the cross, hijab or skullcap. This year’s revolutions are marked by the utter absence of any leaders-in-waiting. History has repeatedly shown how, under such circumstances, regime change can be followed by a descent into sectarian chaos. Extremists can easily start fights along religious or ethnic lines by assassinating a leader, or blowing up a shrine. The result can be civil war (as with Bosnia and Rwanda), even leading to partition (as with India and Cyprus).
The outrage is only worsened by the near silence of much of the Foreign Office, as Nelson notes in his piece.
The Foreign Office has been typically slow to recognise the gathering threat, despite repeated warnings. The biggest one of all came a fortnight ago, when the Archbishop of Canterbury opened a gripping debate in the Lords about the widening persecutions, and what the Government ought to do. Lord Patten, the former education secretary, revealed that he spent a year failing to persuade the Foreign Office to help a group of Anglicans in the Anatolian peninsula, who are banned from worshipping in any public place. “'The answer was no,’ he said. 'They would not approach the Turkish government to ask, 'Please can you ease up a bit?’” But when German Catholics were having trouble in the same place, Angela Merkel’s government intervened immediately, working with the Turks to send a Catholic priest to hold public worship.
The FCO has often been blamed (quite rightly) for its pro-Arabist bias and its refusal to draw clear moral lines in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The failure to demand higher standards from Arab countries in regard to their treatment of Anglicans is of a piece with the rest of their ethically myopic behaviour. It is called appeasement and shames this country.
A merry Christmas to all my readers.
Tehran flexes its muscles - ominously 31 December, 2011
Earlier this morning, Iran proved its deadly ability to play havoc with Middle Eastern security. After announcing that it was going to test fire a long range weapon and then closing its territorial waters, no warship, merchant vessel or tanker entered the Strait of Hormuz for five hours until an Iranian announcement that the test was being delayed. But for an entire morning, a strategically vital waterway through which one fifth of the world's oil passes each day was effectively closed to merchant traffic because of the belligerent actions of the Islamic Republic.
All this follows several days of aggressive rhetoric from Tehran, including claims that Iran controls the Strait and can close it at will, regardless of American power in the region. The Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Hossein Salami, issued a statement saying that the US could not tell Iran "what to do in the Strait of Hormuz". Any threats, he added, "will be responded to by threat… We will not relinquish our strategic moves if Iran's vital interests are undermined by any means."
It may well be that the Obama administration, fresh from the precipitate withdrawal from Iraq this month, now feels strong enough to challenge Iran. US Fifth Fleet spokeswoman, Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, declared that 'anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations' and their disruption 'will not be tolerated'. It seems from the actions this morning that only the first part of her statement is true.
Any guesses as to where the main security challenge will come in 2012?