Mo 27 Jun 2016
Di 1 Sep 2015
If you want to know how credible official determinations on asylum claims are, it’s worth looking at the factors the relevant UK statute itself (s 8 Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004) gives as ‘specified types of behaviour’ supporting a finding that a refugee’s account is not to be believed:
‘► failure without reasonable explanation to produce a passport on request;’
If you think you’d be in danger if returned to your country of origin, would you give the authorities – whom you have no reason to trust and every reason to suspect – a document that makes it easy to send you back?
‘► production of a document that is not a valid passport as if it were. Note: there is no “reasonable explanation defence” in this instance;’
See above. Plus, falsified papers may be the only way for some people to be able to leave their country safely (or at all). It’s also not exactly unheard of for a state to deny passports, exit visas, etc. to people it’s persecuting in order to prevent them evading persecution. There are so many reasonable explanations for this in the context of running for one’s life that one can’t help but suspect that that is the whole reason a ‘reasonable explanation defence’ is not permitted in this case.
‘► destruction, alteration or disposal of a passport, ticket or other travel document without reasonable explanation;’
See above. And, of course, with all these ‘reasonable explanation’ exceptions, it’s worth remembering that the reasonableness of one’s explanation will be assessed by people who have never even seriously contemplated how they’d go about fleeing the country if they were facing persecution. The courts have said that caseworkers shouldn’t base these determinations on what someone ‘genuinely fleeing for their life’ (etc) would do, but decision-makers faced with situations so radically outside their experience can hardly do anything BUT rely on prejudice.
‘► failure without reasonable explanation to answer a question asked by a deciding authority;’
This is so broad that it could be used to stitch up refugees by asking them unreasonable questions (humiliating, based on false premises, so vague as to be incomprehensible, irrelevant, invasion of privacy, etc etc etc) and then rubbishing their claims based on their supposed failure to answer the question to the caseworker’s satisfaction.
‘► failure to take advantage of a reasonable opportunity to make an asylum or human rights claim while in a safe country;’
‘Safe country’ does not mean that the country is necessarily safe. It simply means it’s been declared safe by governments looking to limit the number of successful asylum claims. Plus:
1. If you’re desperate to avoid being sent home because you have reason to believe you or your family will come to harm, and you’ve heard that country A will use any excuse to reject an asylum claim, but country B is more likely to give refugees a fair go, are you going to make your claim in country A merely because it happens to be on a list of ‘safe countries’ that you’ve never seen? Even though you have a much greater chance of being sent back to death or torture?
2. Running for your life isn’t the same thing as moving house to take a new job. You aren’t necessarily going to have a lot of time to prepare and make sure you’ve got the money and contacts you need in order to make a go of it. You probably don’t even speak the language (how many people would be conversant in every local language they’d encounter fleeing from Syria to, say, Britain by the overland route?).
You have to consider how you’ll live wherever you end up settling. If you know that one country has an established community of people who come from the same country as you and share your language and culture, that is an essential lifeline. It’s the difference between arriving penniless in a strange place and having to navigate the legal system and everything else with no assistance and no local knowledge, and having people who speak your language who will be able to give you a hand in making sense of it all.
‘► failure to make an asylum or human rights claim until notified of an immigration decision, unless the claim relies wholly on matters arising after the notification;’
Again, if you’re fleeing for your life, you’re going to want to stay away from the place you’re fleeing from for as long as possible. If you can do that without having a punt with authorities you know nothing about and have no reason to trust (and thus risking deportation), chances are you’ll at least consider it. Once again, we have an arbitrary bullshit factor that makes perfect sense to bureaucrats, but has nothing to do with the reality of running for one’s life.
‘► failure to make an asylum or human rights claim before being arrested under an immigration provision, unless there was no reasonable opportunity to claim before the arrest or the claim relies wholly on matters arising after the arrest. ‘
These are the sorts of factors that can lead to people being sent back to countries they’ve taken considerable risks to get away from. Keep that in mind the next time your hear about asylum claims that are denied for lack of credibility.
So 19 Jul 2015
How ‘America’s Best Political Newsletter’ Mainstreams the Far Right
CounterPunch, which bills itself as ‘America’s best political newsletter’, offering ‘independent investigative journalism’, tends to figure quite prominently in the reading lists of left-leaning activists, who doubtlessly appreciate its consistent antiwar stance, its critical analysis on US economic and foreign policy and US-sponsored Israeli apartheid, and the regular contributions from such leading Left writers as John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Paul Street, Jeremy Scahill, and Tariq Ali. Indeed, CounterPunch generally tends to be thought of as a Left media outlet. However, in writing for, and sharing articles published on, CP, Leftists are unwittingly helping to promote the agenda of the far right. (more…)
Mo 18 May 2015
I still see claims that ‘austerity’ isn’t working. This is problematic in two respects: For one thing, the term ‘austerity’ itself is an utter lie. This isn’t about everyone having to tighten their belts in a time of generalised scarcity – it’s about robbing workers (employed and unemployed) of basic necessities in a time of highly concentrated opulence. ‘Austerity is a dangerous euphemism because it conceals what is actually going on.
‘Not working’ is no better, because it accepts the official narrative that the purpose of these murderous cuts was to bring about an economic recovery and all good things. That’s nonsense. You don’t bring about an economic recovery by putting more and more people out of work, forcing millions of unemployed people and people with disabilities to go without anything at all because they didn’t look hard enough for jobs that don’t exist, and then making those same unemployed people available as an unpaid forced labour pool for private industry. If the idea were to bring about some sort of genuine economic recovery, these policies would have been abandoned the minute it became unmistakably clear that that isn’t happening.
And yet the consensus of all the major parties is that the cuts must go on. If there’s such broad agreement amongst the ruling class that something must go on, obviously it’s having the desired effect. It’s just that they haven’t been honest about the desired effect, which wouldn’t exactly be the first time the ruling class ever told a porkie.
Plus, haven’t we been hearing that the economy is much better now, that catastrophe has been averted, etc. etc.? If these were measures put in place to deal with a current crisis – and not the logical continuation of policies going back three decades – surely the reaction to this news would be general celebration and an abandonment of policies that did what was needed, allowing us all to return to better times.
And yet that’s not happening. In fact, the reverse is the case, the Tories are proceeding to deepen the cuts, as the Labour Party had also promised to do. Clearly, then, the ruling class are well chuffed with the effects that ‘austerity’ is having, and want to continue.
This is not just an issue because ruling class propaganda happens to be false. This has created an utterly inaccurate framework of debate that often goes unquestioned by those fighting against the cuts. The kind of fightback that is needed will not be achieved by accepting a framework that implicitly assumes good faith and benevolent intent on the part of the ruling class, but only by framing the issue with language that makes it clear that working class suffering isn’t a byproduct of these policies, but the intended goal.
So 10 May 2015
The one thing about the pre-election predictions to come true – apart from the utter, and utterly well-deserved, collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland – is that the Tories are back in Downing Street. They did not, however, make it in by either of the two expected mechanisms, i.e., a Labour government continuing and deepening Tory policies, or Ed Miliband offering No. 10 to his Tory comrades in order to avoid dealing with the SNP. No, in the face of Electoral Calculus predictions that there would be a 90 % chance of a hung parliament, and with the votes of 20.8 % of the electorate, they managed an outright majority.
Because the Labour leadership and the dominant media are already imposing their preferred narrative, it is imperative that we work out what really happened, why, and what to do about it before that narrative is inducted into the Order of Received Truths.
Time and again, we find at times like these that Labour are capable of comprehending defeats in only one way: ‘We weren’t right-wing enough to be “electable”. In one recent article in the Guardian, we learn that Labour’s problem is that they didn’t embrace the legacy of Tony Blair (an odd claim, since the only part of the legacy they don’t embrace is the toxic figure of Tony Blair himself). Another version, which went on sale even before this dismal result, is that the Sun, Mail, Times, and Telegraph sabotaged Labour’s chances by making Ed Miliband look like an amalgam of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, and Salvador Allende in disguise (the intended conclusion being that Labour should position themselves so far to the right that Murdoch and his cohorts endorse them as the only way to block the incipient communism of the Conservatives).
These narratives prove only that even the most obvious writing on the wall can be missed by someone who is paid to miss it.
Look at all one has to overlook in order for this version to rise beyond the level of a particularly overdone Frye & Laurie sketch: For one thing, we have to overlook the entire framework in which this campaign was contested – to the extent it can said to have been contested at all! – between Labour and the Tories. To borrow John Kerry’s phrase from his 2004 campaign in the US, this was not about two competing visions of how to run the country, but ‘who is in a position to execute’. This election did not see Labour actually oppose the policies whose devastating results their house organ, the Mirror, has regularly attacked. Yes, Labour belatedly expressed rhetorical support for the popular demand to abolish the bedroom tax (whilst their councillors pledged to continue evicting those who don’t pay it), but they also pledged to lower the benefit cap outside of London, which would result in families with three or more children losing their housing benefit altogether – effectively the end of social housing. And yes, they pledged to ban ‘exploitative’ zero-hour contracts, but only for people who manage to stay in the same job for three months (rendering the measure meaningless). Their perfunctory nod to the 80% of Britons who want to see the rail service renationalised was a wasteful tender process in which the public sector would compete with the spivs who have been enriching themselves off of public subsidies for years and provide one of the worst, and most expensive, rail services in Western Europe. On the overall cuts régime that is pervasively misnamed ‘austerity’, they pledged no cuts in a ‘protected area’ that did not include such essentials as housing benefit, unemployment benefit, social care, council housing, or tertiary education.
Labour actually echoed Tory positions on workfare, benefit sanctions, and the maintenance of the Trident WMD programme, and in portraying Scottish voters as pernicious interlopers in what supposedly is their own country. On immigration, they might as well have promised to hand the UKBA over to Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin.
Their response to one of the most hated governments in a generation was the political equivalent of a backward defensive.
Labour made no efforts to challenge the Big Lies of the past five years (and indeed of much of the 25 years preceding them). Their statements on unemployment were premised on the idea of unemployed workers as layabouts who just don’t want to take advantage of all the work available, even though there are over two unemployed people for every available job. Their immigration rhetoric was based on scapegoating immigrants for economic problems when the evidence is that immigration actually creates jobs and generates tax revenues.
No rebuke was forthcoming when Rachel ‘Tougher on Benefits than IDS’ Reeves declared that Labour was not interested in representing those most thoroughly screwed by thirty years of ‘austerity’ – the unemployed and those on benefit. Given the turnout, is it really implausible that poor people simply took her at her word?
If Eds Miliband and Balls were Pakistani cricketers, they’d have been done for match fixing.
Labour’s perennial journey to the right is conventionally justified by appeals to ‘electability’. This is a concept that requires unpacking. The most recent British Social Attitudes Report (BSAR), the most comprehensive study of its kind in the UK, provides a worthwhile background for this unpacking. The authors of the 2013 study, the most recent available, found it worth noting at the outset that three decades of short, sharp shock therapy (aka ‘austerity’) had not succeeded in fundamentally changing the political instincts of the majority. Depending on how the questions were phrased, between 60 and 80 % opposed benefit cuts. Over 80 % considered inequality one of the most pressing problems of the day and agreed that it was the responsibility of government to do something about it, including by direct intervention in the economy. Britain is one of many countries where the majority of the population is significantly to the left of the political class.
Even more notable are the answers of what we might call ‘knowledge questions’. From these answers, we learn that the vast majority actually believe the dominant – and patently false – stories that benefit fraud is a major problem and that there are jobs for everyone who needs one. This, in itself, is not surprising, since the dominant media have done nothing to correct these official lies, which are promoted not only by the government, but the Labour Party. What is interesting is that these figures mean that there is substantial overlap between people who believe the lies and people who oppose benefit cuts. In other words, they believe the mendacious public rationales for these policies, but oppose the policies these lies are meant to justify.
The Labour leadership are certainly aware of these results. All the major parties employ people whose entire job is to know these things. They know, in other words, that the best bet to win an election against a hated right-wing government is to come out against the signature policies of that government, breaking with their Thatcherite tradition. But they didn’t do that, in the name of ‘electability’, and now they are talking about becoming even more Tory than the Tories, in the name of ‘electability’.
‘Electability’, then, means standing for the exact opposite of what over 60 % of Britons want.
This may seem an odd strategy at first glance, but there are definite advantages that have led alleged ‘centre-left’ parties from Germany to Chile to adopt it. The underlying premise of this strategy is that voter abstention is beneficial and worth promoting. If there’s no viable alternative going, there’s no need to offer one. If the majority have no electoral home for their left-of-centre instincts, if there is no major party that promises to act in their economic interests, they will increasingly give the polls a miss, allowing the major parties to fight over affluent voters.
The official narrative of the recent general election concentrates on the unexpected Tory majority, and discourages any inquiry going beyond that superficial fact.
Because if we actually look beyond the gross election results that don’t take account of voter turnout, to look at the net results, unfiltered by first past the post and not distorted by the omission of the massive abstentionist contingent, we find that there has been no increase in support for the Tories. Their electoral support amounted to 20.8 %, which closely resembles the proportion of the population with a personal wealth upwards of £ 600,000 a year (17 % according to the Office of National Statistics) (1). We also find that the Greens, who stood on an anti-cuts manifesto, made significant gains that only did not equal seats in Westminster because of the FPTP system. We find that – as even the New York Times noticed – it was the leftmost candidates who made the biggest gains. We also have to ignore what happened in Scotland, where there is an alternative to the cuts regime that has demonstrated that it is serious and responsive to popular pressure. Labour’s biggest defeat was at the hands of a party that positioned itself to the left of them.
It should come as no surprise that we are not being invited to take a closer look at Scotland. We’re meant to blame them for spoiling Labour’s chances and to be offended at their ingratitude towards governments that ignore them until it’s time to collect Scotland’s subsidy to the City, or to patronise them for not supporting Jim Murphy’s Labour or Tommy Sheridan’s SSP.
It has been popular in the dominant narrative to use the word ‘nationalist’ to dismiss what is happening in Scotland, thus avoiding the danger that people in England and Wales might actually learn from it.
All of these efforts to dismiss the developments of recent years in Scotland merely confirm that Scotland is the political story of note in Britain. Scotland is the most dynamic part of the as-yet-United Kingdom. All forms of political participation, electoral and otherwise, are growing rapidly in Scotland whilst they stagnate and decline in England and Wales. It is the Scottish left that has made tangible gains and protected past ones whilst the left in England and Wales are fragmented and slow to mount a fightback.
It is popular in certain sectors of the English left to echo the disgraced former leader of One Nation Labour in declaring that the Scottish independence movement and the post-Vow explosion in support for the SNP is simply ‘nationalism’, because Scottish independence obviously involves the creation of a nation state. With the same intellectual rigour and depth of analysis, one could claim that a dentist who extracts an infected molar has jumped on the pro-tooth gap bandwagon.
Apart from being breathtakingly shallow and ahistorical, the illogic in this analysis lies in its conflation of the means with the end. Rather than ask who in Scotland is supporting independence, why they are dissatisfied with the current situation, and what sort of society they hope to build in an independent Scotland, we get independence = nationalism = bad.
For the sake of the future of the left in England and Wales (and elsewhere), one hopes we might do a bit better than that. Rather than lecturing the Scottish left – which overwhelmingly supported the Yes vote and favoured the SNP in this election on tactical grounds – we should be asking why the Scottish working class is so remarkably politically active whilst an atmosphere of resignation and cynicism prevails in so many of their English and Welsh counterparts.
Independence is not a live issue in Scotland because people there suddenly discovered a fervent love for thistles, haggis, and Saltires. When that was what independence was about – in the early days of the SNP- independence barely registered in Scottish politics because one didn’t need a separate state for those things, and the people for whom those were the most pressing concerns were and are, by and large, satisfied with things as they were. As Tartan Tories, the SNP were a niche vote that didn’t connect with popular interests and aspirations to form a real social movement.
The SNP – and the issue of independence – gained relevance as a shield against the worst depredations of successive Thatcherite governments, a way of ensuring that people in Scotland had at least some political representation in a UK where their votes did not – and do not – count. The increasing support for independence rather than limited autonomy grew from the realisation that only so much could be achieved at the Scottish level as long as the central government was dominated by right-wing votes from England.
In short, what is dismissed as mere ‘nationalism’ is in reality the realisation that, in the existing political configuration, the right-wing hold on politics is unbreakable, by design.
To my mind, the politicisation in Scotland is the result of what might be called a ‘gateway demand’, a simple demand, easily understood, within reach, that gave working-class people an occasion to deliberate seriously, individually and collectively, about what kind of society they wanted. Independence is merely the most readily available mechanism to make that political transformation feasible. Under other circumstances, it might have been federalism or union with France, but under the existing conditions, it ended up being independence.
And this is why – despite the odd asinine claim to the contrary – the British ruling class was and is terrified of the prospect of the breakup of the UK. Everyone from Labour and the Tories to the Civil Service, major banks, and the BBC, as well as virtually every mass-circulation newspaper in the country joined the scare campaign against independence. The spectre of ordinary people becoming politicised and trying to build a better society is something the ruling class have been trying to eradicate for over a generation (since Thatcher ended the era of co-option), and just as they thought they’d sorted it, it came back to life with a Scottish accent.
It is no coincidence that Scotland is the one place where popular disgust with Unpaid Labour did not help the Tories – it was the one place where there was an alternative that enjoyed mass confidence.
That the real difference between England and Scotland is not a fundamental difference on social and economic policy, but the availability of an alternative, can be seen from the reaction to the leaders’ debates. After years of being told that the SNP was made up of armour-plated, genetically modified blobs of deep-fried Mars bar capable only of exterminating the English, millions of English voters got their first unfiltered look at the SNP. The result? Nicola Sturgeon was widely hailed as the winner of the debate, and one of the top UK Google searches that night was ‘Can I vote SNP in England?’
The official narrative of the 2015 general election is a Little England fable about the fundamentally right-wing instincts of the great British public, explaining why the Labour Party must move even farther to the right in order to be ‘electable’. The moral is that we on the left are expecting too much of the Labour Party, and that our efforts to defend working-class interests against the neoliberal onslaught are not only doomed to fail, but not even wanted by the intended beneficiaries.
We are all meant to go home and resign ourselves to a life of shit jobs and consumerism, where our chief political activity is swearing at David Dimbleby on telly. We’re meant to learn from this exercise that the Scots are just mindless anti-English fanatics of the clan MacSkaro, and certainly not anyone to be taking lessons from on anything but curling.
If this election had, as predicted, resulted in a Labour government, we would be sold the same moral, packaged in a slightly different post-democratic fairy story in the name of ‘realism’ and ‘electability’.
Fascinating how ‘realism’ requires us to ignore so many facts and ‘electability’ is based on opposing the demands of the majority.
There is, however, another lesson to be learnt, if only we step out of the fantasy world of ‘realism’ and the rotten borough of ‘electability’. People throughout Britain don’t just want a left alternative to neoliberal orthodoxy – they are literally dying for it. Where one appears to be within reach, they flock to it. When they see one that is just out of reach (say, just north of Gretna or west of Offa’s Dyke), they envy it. More than thrice as many people opposed this ‘elected’ government as supported it. And outside the electoral realm, campaigns led by benefit claimants themselves against workfare, benefit sanctions, and (in Scotland) the bedroom tax have actually been able to force Iain Duncan Smith to dial back his attacks on workers, or neutralised them outright.
We might also learn that we may only be one well-posed ‘gateway demand’ away from seeing the same effervescence in England and Wales that we are seeing in Scotland.
Another worthwhile lesson would be the realisation, one and for all, that the Labour Party is, to borrow Glen Ford’s description of the US Democrats, ‘the more effective evil’. A strong Labour Party is one of the principal impediments – if not the principal impediment – to independent left politics, because Labour exist only to domesticate popular demands by scaremongering about the Tories. Their outright boycott of any party even slightly to their left (a tactic nicked off Germany’s SPD), is revealing: They know that their survival as an institution depends on being the only alternative to the Conservatives, and they are determined to prevent any alternative going beyond the level of a ‘protest vote’, Even at the cost of out-and-out throwing elections.
At the same time the likes of Owen Jones – who should know better, given that his parents were in Militant – come out of the woodwork to urge the left to change Labour from within. Why? Because as long as leftists are wasting time and energy trying to persuade a leadership who blithely ignore the conference resolutions of the rank-and-file membership of their party, the left can be contained and weakened. Inevitably, some involved in ‘Operation If We Love Him Enough He’ll Stop Beating Us’ will be bought out, and many others will be so exhausted by the vain effort that they no longer have any energy for political work of any kind at all. When in government, as Johnny Void pointed out recently, Labour go from standing ‘slack-jawed on the sidelines’ to being one more adversary for those struggling against the depredations of neoliberalism.
Labour’s defeat is not our defeat, and whilst the prospect of five more years of David Cameron is horrifying, we should take solace in the further weakening of the Labour Party. Every defeat they suffer is richly deserved, and reduces their ability to act as a bulwark against the left. There will be a lot of disillusionment with Labour after this defeat, and we need to speak to that disillusionment before the Labour Party are able to turn the page on it with whatever repulsive new leader they thaw out.
Five years of Labour in the nominal opposition is five years in which they have to pretend not to oppose the left, five years in which we’re fighting against people virtually no one is confused about. That, too, is a silver lining of sorts.
(1) In an earlier version, this piece erroneously stated that 20.8 % closely resembled the percentage of the population with an income upwards of £ 200,000 a year. The ONS figures represent the most recent available survey.
Mi 6 May 2015
With regard to Ed Miliband’s repeated declarations that he’d rather let the Tories back in than reach any kind of pro-worker accommodation with the SNP, there are essentially two possibilities: Either he’s serious about it, in which case it’s unconscionable, or he’s bluffing, in which case it’s not only unconscionably dishonest, but breathtakingly pathetic strategy.
Let’s think about this for a moment. What everyone who’s been paying attention knows is that the next parliament is going to be so well hung it will probably be used in those revolting knit cocksock adverts that keep showing up in my Facebook feed, and Labour and the Tories are going to be remarkably close (which isn’t surprising, since politically they’re remarkably close).
In other words, Labour are going to need to reach some kind of accommodation with other anti-Tory parties, principally the SNP, if they want to form a government and have it survive more than five minutes. Obviously, assuming that he’s bluffing, Miliband would like to go into those negotiations with the strongest hand possible, which means maximising the number of seats Labour hold on to in Scotland (stop laughing) and trying to gain some ground in England and Wales.
To this end, Miliband announces that he’d rather see David Cameron back in Downing Street than reach an accommodation with parties that happen to be somewhat to the left of his own. Now, what’s the likely outcome of this gambit? For one thing, he’s basically told Scottish voters to get knotted and confirmed all the worst things that people have come to believe about Labour in Scotland after all these years of malign neglect and active attacks on working-class living standards. That’s hardly going to endear people to a party they already have every reason to feel abandoned by, and, indeed, every time he starts speaking in this vein, yet another safe Labour seat turns out to be built on a sinkhole.
Meanwhile, in England and Wales, the only real reason most people vote Labour anymore is tactical, to keep the Tories out. However, that only works if the Labour leadership are in fact committed to keeping the Tories out. The minute Miliband announces that he’d rather see another Tory government than make a deal to keep the Tories out, the whole rationale for that tactical voting collapses, meaning that anyone who is considering voting Green or TUSC, but is afraid of letting the Tories back in, now has no reason not to simply vote for what they want rather than voting for a party who are openly announcing that they’re willing to let the Tories back in.
In other words, the only possible effect that these pronouncements can have is to weaken Labour’s hand in the eventual negotiations, both in terms of the number of seats Labour will need to make up through a deal with one of the parties to their left, and in terms of the level of humiliation that will be involved in admitting it was all a bluff. Neither of which outcomes I have any complaints about, personally, but I still have to wonder what the fuck Miliband & Co. were thinking.
Mo 6 Apr 2015
Mo 24 Nov 2014
DON’T THEY KNOW IT’S BOLLOCKS
(To the tune of ‘Don’t They Know It’s Christmas’)
It’s Christmas time – just don’t turn on your TV.
At Christmas time, the shite they show’s no good for you or me.
If you just avoid the telly you can spread a smile of joy,
That’s how you keep your supper down at Christmas time.
But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
Stuck home watching Geldof and just yearning for a gun.
There are rich folks on the telly
wanting you to know they care,
come to beg you for your money,
so they can hold on to theirs.
And the Christmas songs they sing there are pure bourgeois wankery
So tonight thank god you’ve got a DVD.
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
(because most places there it’s summer, you gobshite)
Where nothing ever grows,
(‘cept the cash crops we all know).
Did you lot even research this at all?
Here’s to you
By now you must want a drink.
Every yuletide they’re here to pimp the poor,
in Africa – the poverty here they ignore.
Here’s to them,
With their exiled bank accounts.
Every year it’s the same old act –
Why don’t these bastards just pay their tax?
Don’t they know it’s bollocks, after all?
So 31 Aug 2014
In recent years, the Palestinian solidarity movement has made great progress towards ridding itself of the assorted antisemites and racists who had sought to exploit the Palestinian struggle for their own bigoted ends. Alas, whilst the Palestinian solidarity movement has been making these strides, it is hard not to notice that Israel’s apologists are scarcely willing to acknowledge that they have an antisemitism problem, let alone do anything about it. Because I know how daunting it can be to confront an issue like this, I would like to offer Israel’s supporters the following helpful hints on how to support Israel without being antisemitic.
Here are just a few examples of the terms Israel’s apologists should avoid if they do not want to subject themselves to the accusation of antisemitism.
You should avoid declaring Israel to be ‘the Jewish state’ or ‘the homeland of the Jewish people’ at all costs if you wish to avoid alienating Jews in your audience, many of whom resent the implication that they are any less at home in their respective countries than their non-Jewish neighbours. Terms like these pour salt on the poorly healed wounds left by centuries of accusations of Jewish ‘dual loyalty’.
Not only do statements like these promote antisemitic tropes that call the loyalty of Jews into question, they aren’t even true. The majority of the Jewish population in the world does not live in Israel, and has no intention of doing so in the future.
The same applies, incidentally, to how you name your organisation. Some pro-Israel advocacy groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Zionist Organization of America, and Americans for a Safe Israel, have wisely decided to give themselves names that make it clear that their real concern is Israel, rather than the interests of Jews. Others, such as the American Jewish Congress, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, however, have succumbed to the temptation to use Jews as a human shield for their Zionist advocacy. By using names such as the latter, you are contributing to antisemitic tropes about Jews as a political monolith, and we all know where that leads. In naming your organisation, ask yourself whether its purpose is to represent the views and interests of the Jewish community, or to advocate on behalf of a regime that sees a Palestinian hospital and says ‘Yay, Bonfire Night’s come early this year’. If the latter is your objective, acknowledge and respect that not all Jews will agree with you and name your group accordingly.
PREFER: The Homeland of the Zionist Movement, American Zionist Committee
AVOID: ‘the Tricycle theatre have shown themselves unwilling to work with what is clearly an apolitical cultural festival is tremendously disappointing. They have chosen a boycott over meaningful engagement – to the great detriment of this celebration of Jewish culture, which is of course intrinsically connected to the state of Israel‘.
This is an even more egregious example of the antisemitic ‘dual loyalty’ trope, which goes so far as to claim that Jewish culture, which is centuries old, is somehow ‘intrinsically connected’ to a state that is barely older than a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label. Although these aspects alone would be enough to justify avoiding claims like these if one wishes to avoid appearing antisemitic, it is also not hard to take sentiments like these as attempts to portray Jewish culture as stultifyingly homogenous and totalitarian, invisibilising the tradition of pluralism and open debate that many Jews are justly proud of.
If that were not enough, claims that Jewish culture is somehow intrinsically connected to the regime in Israel/Palestine practically invite those outraged by the behaviour of the Israeli state to blame Jews as a whole for it. Obviously, this creates a hostile environment for Jews, and opens you up to the accusation that you are using Jews as ‘human shields’ to protect Israeli policies from criticism.
PREFER: Avoiding the subject altogether. Stay on message: This isn’t about Jews, it’s about defending the behaviour of the State of Israel.
AVOID: The New Antisemitism (e.g., http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/we-ignore-the-new-antisemitism-taking-hold-at-our-peril-9634919.html)
Given the state of pro-Israel advocacy, all you’ll get out of accusing other people of antisemitism is a raft of invitations to tidy up your front step before you go complaining to the council about your neighbour’s. Before you risk being jeered out of the room for your chutzpah, ask yourself: ‘Have I done everything in my power to disavow associations with antisemitic propaganda and organisations?’
At all costs, avoid yielding to the temptation to use facile, Jew-baiting arguments that refer to opposition to Zionism, the Israeli government, and/or its policies as ‘antisemitic’. Because such accusations are based on the underlying tropes of Jews as political monolith, Jewish dual loyalty, and stop just short of outright blood libel, such accusations are themselves an egregious example of antisemitism. If you feel the temptation to make such accusations, first stop and ask yourself whether you really think racism/killing defenceless people/territorial expansionism are inherent aspects of Jewish culture. If you do, then you’ve got a lot of work to do on yourself before you should even think of joining in this debate.
If you feel you must address the issue of antisemitism, keep it short, avoid throwing stones from glass houses, and win over your audience with your humility.
PREFER: ‘I know that antisemitic rhetoric has, unfortunately, been a mainstay of pro-Israel and Zionist advocacy from its inception. I am sure that I am hardly blameless in this regard, and all I can do is offer my heartfelt apologies to those in the Jewish community I have hurt and promise that I will do better in the future.’
AVOID: The Nazi Holocaust
It should go without saying that the Nazi holocaust is a big no-go area when you’re advocating on behalf of a state founded by the only segment of the European Jewish community that viewed Hitler as a potential ally, has maintained a track record of establishing strategic partnerships with murderous antisemites, (whether Neo-Nazis or fundamentalist Christians), and allows the holocaust survivors within its borders to eke out a meagre existence on inadequate pensions.
Unfortunately, many pro-Israel advocates can’t resist the temptation of using one of the most hideously traumatic moments in Jewish history as a political dog whistle to create a climate of fear amongst Jews. Even more alarming is the tendency amongst pro-Israel advocates to deny or trivialise the Nazi genocide by inappropriate comparisons and revisionist history.
What do these statements have in common? They are both based on the idea that Holocaust revisionism is acceptable as long as it paints Israel’s enemies in an unfavourable light. To accept that either claim is an accurate analogy, we must assume that Hitler was the leader of a poorly armed, besieged nation, subject to economic strangulation and threats of war from enemies much more powerful than himself, and that he did everything in his power to seek a peaceful resolution of conflicts, but was violently rebuffed at every turn.
In other words, the only way that these analogies can be accepted is if we agree with Ernst Zündel’s creative rewriting of the history of Nazi Germany.
It should go without saying (though clearly it does not) that denial and trivialisation of the Nazi holocaust are unacceptable in all circumstances. Those who trivialise Nazi atrocities in order to score political points for Israel open themselves up to the charge that – like their Zionist predecessors of the wartime years – they only care about of European Jews if they can somehow be of use to the Zionist project.
Similarly problematic are claims that Israel is a ‘sanctuary’ for Jews. Given the sordid history here, these will merely open you up to shouts from the gallery of ‘You lot weren’t much use last time we needed you, so why should we expect you to be any better now?’ from people who remember that the World Zionist Organisation wasted thousands of immigration certificates that could have been used to rescue European Jews bringing in Zionist cadres from North America, Australia, Turkey, and other places where Jews were under no such danger. Every time you bring this subject up, you’re picking at Jewish people’s scabs. Don’t do it.
As Dave Rich of the Zionist-orientated Community Security Trust recently reminded us, ‘[a]nother word’ for ‘false comparison[s]’ with the Nazi holocaust ‘that [play] on Jewish sensibilities in order to provoke a reaction’ is ‘Jew-baiting’.
Rich is quite right, and I only hope that this acknowledgement heralds a new day in which his and allied organisations carry out their activities without resorting to cheap Jew-baiting.
AVOID: Strategic alliances with Neo-Nazis and other antisemites
One of the lessons we in the Palestinian solidarity movement have learnt in the past few years – at the urging of our Palestinian comrades – has been to be very careful whom we take as our allies. This has meant taking a good look at the views espoused by would-be allies to see whether they are genuinely supporting freedom for the Palestinian people, or – like Gilad Atzmon, Alison Weir, Paul Findley, Jeff Blankfort, Greta Berlin, Paul Craig Roberts, and others – just using the Palestinians as human shields for their struggle against ‘world Jewish domination’. I hope that pro-Israel advocates will take heed of this elementary lesson, because I see them falling into the same trap that we in Palestinian solidarity have been at great pains to extricate ourselves from.
Pro-Israel advocates should ask themselves whether it helps or harms their credibility to be associated, say, with religious fundamentalists who view Israel as a holding pen in anticipation of the day when they can massacre the Jews of the world so that Jesus can return and give one of his trademark sermons on loving thy neighbour (which, one imagines, will be a bit overdue by that point), neo-fascists who have merely decided that, for the moment, they hate Arabs and Muslims more than they hate Jews, and sycophantic holocaust deniers. They should remember that they represent an ideology that – after the Plevhe scandal, the Kasztner affair, the Ha’avara Agreement, and so many other betrayals – only has one wicket in hand, if that. As such, even if basic human decency alone isn’t enough to reconsider alliances with genocidal antisemites, just remember how much it will open you to attack.
RECOMMENDED TALKING POINT: ‘This is not the Zionist movement of the 1900s, or the 1910s, or the 1930s and 1940s, or of the past couple of decades of sucking up to antisemitic Christian fundamentalists. We have turned over a new leaf, and will not associate ourselves with such unsavoury characters merely because they support racism against Palestinians, and promise from now on only to partner with people and groups whose racism is exclusively directed against Palestinians. And, of course, we sincerely apologise to the Jewish people for allying ourselves with their worst enemies in the world.’
To sum up, it is putting it mildly to say that pro-Israel advocates have their work cut out for them if they want to rid themselves of antisemitism. It will be a long, hard slog that requires breaking old habits and abandoning comfortable euphemisms. Believe it or not, I can almost sympathise with the great difficulties inherent in advocating a regime that not only brags about the cowardly murder of defenceless people, but claims it as a victory for all Jews everywhere. But I am confident that, with a little introspection and a lot of self-discipline, pro-Israel advocates will be able to rid themselves of the stain of antisemitism just as the Palestinian solidarity movement has done. Just remember: When you portray Jews as reflexively supporting everything Israel does to the Palestinian population, you are portraying us as a lot of complete arseholes. It’s one thing for you to portray yourself that way – you chose this path – but leave Jews out of it.
Sa 26 Jul 2014
Casualties, Accusations on Both Sides as Warsaw Burns
The spiral of violence in the Warsaw Jewish quarter – called a ‘ghetto’ by critics – saw its deadliest day yet, with fierce fighting and heavy casualties on both sides. Amidst increasing concerns about disproportionate force in what the German authorities’ insist is merely a routine resettlement operation, supporters of the hardline Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa – considered a terrorist organisation by many – continue to allege atrocities against Jewish civilians, including women and children. The authorities, however, insist that ZOB militants routinely use women and children to carry out their military operations, and store weapons in civilian areas, against the laws of war.
Gruppenführer Stroop, the local police official in charge of the operations, reiterated that the German authorities have no desire to inflict unnecessary death and destruction, and will cease their military operations in the Jewish quarter if the ZOB hardliners lay down their arms and allow the residents of the area to join their friends, family, and neighbours, who have already been resettled. Although some claim that the resettlement is merely an elaborate plot to exterminate the Jews of Warsaw, the authorities reject this ‘atrocity propaganda’, and do not waver from their claim that they are merely offering the residents of the Jewish quarter the opportunity to find jobs rebuilding the east.
The German administration is no stranger to controversy, and this is not the first time that they have been confronted with tales of alleged atrocities against women and children. Reached for comment, a spokesman for the authorities explained: ‘The Jews gradually are having to depend more and more on themselves, and have recently found a new trick. They knew the good-natured German Michael in us, always ready to forget the injustice he has suffered at the sight of sentimental tears. One suddenly has the impression that the Jewish population consists only of little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies. The Jews send out the Sympathy Brigade. They may confuse some harmless souls for a while, but not us. We know exactly who we’re dealing with.’