Thursday, August 21, 2014

Luke the Lobbyist Takes A Fall

Could it have been the Curse of Veolia?


ELECTION results came out today for the Labour Party's National Executive Committee. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has topped the poll for constituency representatives, with 39,548 votes, and my left-wing Labour friends seem pleased with the other names that are joining him.

I was pleased to note that one of the unsuccessful candidates, with only 21,115 votes, was former Hackney councillor Luke Akehurst..

  I first came across his name a couple of years ago, when the campaign was on to persuade local authorities not to award contracts to the French-owned company Veolia, because of its involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. A local woman campaigner in Hackney wanted to address the council to explain the issues,  but the Tories consulted a group called Lawyers for Israel, and the Veolia campaigner was not allowed to speak. It was reported that Luke Akehurst, himself a professional Israel lobbyist, made sure the refusal had Labour support.    

Luke Akehurst resigned as a councillor in May this year. There was talk of his moving from Hackney but not out of politics.  In his statement setting out his bid for election to Labour's NEC, the lobbyist and ex-councillor had nothing to say about his views on the Middle East, or indeed on local government, or experience of cuts in what is already the poorest borough in London and said to be one of the most deprived areas in Britain.

He did talk about his experience as a "grass roots campaigner" and knowing what kind of policies could win elections.
It does not seem to have worked for him this time.

Maybe he has been struck by the Curse of Veolia,  just as befell Barnet Tory Brian Coleman, no longer a Greater London Assembly member nor even a Barnet councillor?  Admittedly Coleman had far more exposure in this and other blogs. Time to bring on the next act.

"Grass roots campaigner" is a bit of a modest self-description.

A  site which follows such matters tells us "Luke Akehurst is Director of We Believe in Israel,  a project of the pro Israel campaign group BICOM. Akehurst has been a Labour Party activist since 1988, and a staunch Blairite." 

BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, is the central and highly professional lobbying outfit for Israel, founded and largely funded by Chaim 'Poju' Zabludowicz, the heir to an Israeli arms fortune, who also financed David Cameron's campaign to become leader of the Tory party. .

According to former British diplomat Craig Murray , "It was BICOM mouthpiece Denis MacShane who attacked Paul Flynn as “antisemitic” for querying the purpose of the long series of meetings between Matthew Gould, Adam Werritty and Liam Fox, some of which included Mossad. In doing so, MacShane did not mention his own role in setting up the first of those meetings, on 8 September 2009, and that he had been present at the start of that meeting. The FCO tried to hide that fact by deleting the entire diary entry for the meeting – but that very act prompted an old colleague to tell me.

Denis' Little Difficulties. And Being Economical with the Werrity

Denis McShane is the former Labour MP for Rotherham who has had to step out of public affairs for a while due to some difficulties over his parliamentary expenses.

Liam Fox is still Tory MP for North Dorset, though he had to stand down as Secretary of Defence in October 2011, over the trips and meetings accompanied by lobbyist Adam Werrity. He was at the founding conference of We Believe In Israel, though he has also taken lobbying for the Bahrain government.

Like former BICOM chief executive Lorna Fitsimmons, who had been NUS president and went on to be Labour MP for Rochdale, Akehurst took his first steps into politics as a student, working for the NUS in Bristol and becoming national secretary of the Labour students.

Employed for five months as a Press Officer in the London Borough of Lewisham (June 2000 – October 2000) he moved on to global lobbying firm Weber Shandwick Public Affairs, best-known for representing big companies in the weapons and aerospace industries. He became a director of Weber Shndwick in 2007. He has continued to serve firms like Balfour Beatty, Finmeccanica and GKN plc and acquired new clients like SERCO. "Luke is often found offering counsel and tactical and strategic insight at the heart of some of the key issues in Whitehall and Westminster. "

"When he was both a lobbyist for the arms industry and a London Councillor Akehurst still found time to write to the press about Israel, complaining to the New Statesman in July 2006 that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign 'shows an outline map of "Palestine" that includes the entire territory of Israel. One wonders what the PSC wants to happen to the 5.5 million Jews in Israel under this "one-state solution".' Akehurst did not reveal either affiliation in his letter signing it only 'Luke Akehurst London N16'

Of course if  Luke Akehurst had bothered to ask anyone from PSC, instead of merely "wondering" to himself what might happen to the Jews in Israel, they could have explained to him that the PLO had developed the formula of a "secular democratic state for Muslims, Christians and Jews", before deciding to accept a state alongside the state of Israel. (which need not rule out any future federation between two states, accepted by two peoples sharing the land as equals). 

I could have suggested to him that the outline map of historic Palestine was no different to the one I remember on Jewish National Fund collecting tins, and no more ominous than the Israeli Ministry of Tourism maps which show an Israel unrestricted by any borders.  I could also point out that it is Israeli politicians, including government ministers, who both insist on inequality and exclusivity for their own state and do everything to obstruct the building of  s state for the Palestinians.

But when lobbyists ask rhetorical questions they are not interested in answers, any more than in allowing opposing campaigners five minutes to explain their case to a local council.

Luke Akehurst even attacked the dear old co-op for taking the enrirely reasonable and moderate step of attempting to ban products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This was the policy adopted by Israeli peace campaigners, both to make the point of a distinction and avoid being accomplices in conquest, yet according to Akehurst it is a piece of antisemitism, evoking the Nazi Holocaust.

It is worth reading what another Labour Party member, Jon Lansman, has to say about this:

We might also remember how often we have heard the charge that such comparisons trivialise Jewish suffering and the Nazi genocide.

But Akeman's readiness to attack an important section of the Labour movement in this way goes with his willingness to denounce Labour MPs like Michael Meacher as "hard left", and his accusation that Tony Benn only damaged Labour's chances. He claims that Blairism offers Labour's only hope of winning elections.  Evidently oblivious to what happened to it last time, he now has time to reflect on what it did for his own electoral prospects. Maybe he will go away and think. Labour should tell him to go away, full stop.

  • Chaim "Poju" Zabludowicz (born 6 April 1953), owner of the Lichtenstein-registered Tamares Group, is a Finnish-British business magnate, art collector and philanthropist based in London, England.[1][2][3] The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 of the wealthiest people in the United Kingdom ranked him 57th with a personal net worth of £1,500 million.[4] Zabludowicz is the founder and former Chairman of BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, an organization founded in 2001 which lobbies the UK government on behalf of Israel. He is reported to have given the pressure group more than £2 million in three years.[20][21] He is also a Member of the Advisory Boards of CST (Community Security Trust) and UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), and is a Trustee of Jewish Leadership Council.[5] He has given donations to David Cameron's leadership campaign in 2005 and to the Conservative Party in 2010,[22] and to Alexander Stubb's election campaign in 2014.[23]

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

From Gaza to Glenrothes

INHUMAN WEAPONS, PILOTLESS DRONE. This one in Brazilian colours, though as tested by Israel against Gaza.  

SOME of the suffering and steadfast resolve of the Palestinian people will be brought home to Glenrothes, in Fife, today, when supporters of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and allies march through the town to the Raytheon factory, which manufactures some of the electronic components for Israeli weapons systems that have brought death and destruction to Gaza.

I don't always agree with Scottish PSC (which is separate from the PSC in England) about tactics, timing or targets, but this time I think they are spot on in choosing to go after those who make their profits as merchants of death, helping to murder Palestinians.

The way was lit for such campaigning earlier this month when a bold group of protesters climbed on the roof of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) plant at  Lyn Lane, Shenstone, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire,   The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms manufacturer, and produces the engines for the unmanned drones used in surveillance and bombing of Palestinians. 

Only days before the protest one such drone had fired a missile at a school gate in Rafah, killing 10 people who had been queuing to buy sweets and biscuits from a vendor.

The Shenstone protestors, nine of them,  managed to close the plant for two days, assisted perhaps by someone having chained the factory gates shut, and police closing the lane outside before bringing them down from the roof.

I'm not too good at climbing on to roofs these days, in fact the last time I was asked to speak at a Palestine rally in Trafalgar Square I had to be helped to climb on to the platform. But taking a break in the Shropshire hills, I was pleased to see the Shenstone protest covered on West Midland TV, and the local MP obliged to make a statement. Recognising a friend taking part in the protest, I could have told the reporters that she is well qualified to speak about Gaza, having ridden with an ambulance crew there during the previous onslaught.

Hopefully the Shenstone Nine will get the chance to talk about things like that when they appear in court on Wednesday. Or better still the charges against them will be dropped. They are accused of Aggravated Trespass, which could bring cutodial sentences, but surely that would have been a more fitting description of the Israeli tanks rumbling into Gaza, with the UAV factory managers aiding and abetting?. There's to be a demonstration outside the court on Wednesday morning, to show solidarity with the protesters, and call for the charges to be dropped. I'm pleased to hear a branch of my  union is hoping to fill a coach from West Bromwich. The call for the demo says  Please Assemble from 9am at The Court House, Wolverhampton Road, Cannock, Staffordshire WS11 1AT. All Welcome.

People who turn to  initiatives like the Shenstone protest sometimes point to their success in gaining and focussing attention, rattling authority, compared to the same old "marches from A-B" (or B-A?) which can seem to get us nowhere. Those who stick to the more conventional demonstrations like those recently over Gaza can point to the huge numbers involved, of all ages, and many of them taking their first steps into political action. I think both types of demonstration are useful and complementary.

One of the advantages of a boycott, too, is that anyone can take part, and there is nothing those in power can do about it.  But what we really need, to take on governments and interfere with the trade in death, is industrial action. It was done in the past, perhaps so long ago people have forgotten , and younger people have never heard of it. Nowadays, besides requiring rebuilt union strength, we'll probably be told it is illegal. But unjust laws were made to be broken, especially when they protect injustice.

The Spring 2014 issue of Jewish Socialist magazine went to press well before the latest Gaza war, but it contains a prescient article by Colin Green looking at the relationship between Western arms manufacturers and their governments and the Israeli state and its wars. Listing some of the munitions and weaponry which the Israel Defence(sic) Forces have tried in Gaza - white phosphorus, depleted uranium, unmanned drones, flechette shells -which scatter deadly arrows - or the Keshet rapid-fire automated mortar, Colin says that besides asserting Western hegemony over Middle East peoples and resources, Israel's wars offer arms companies the chance to promote their wares as "combat-tested".
(Asymmetric Warfare - Is Gaza a Testing Ground?,  JS67, Spring 2014) 

Home from my holiday, I just had time to help draft a letter to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, supporting its stand against Israeli embassy sponsorship of a Jewish film festival (the theatre offered to provide alternative funding) and defending it against unjust accusations of "antisemitism", before I was off again. This time carrying a bundle of Jewish Socialist with me, to Edinburgh where, in the middle of a busy festival fringe where he is performing his own shtik, comic and Jewish Socialists' Group member Ivor Dembina compered a 'Free Gaza' benefit.

Ably assisted by fellow artists Josie Long, Andy Zaltzman,Daniel Kitson and Chris Coltrane, Ivor brought some warmth and humanity to a wet and windy Edinburgh afternoon, as well as delighting a packed 300-strong audience at the Gilded Balloon with humour. They in turn delighted us with their generosity, Besides enjoying the show I was there to help with a bucket collection, and though I did not stay for the count, I can testify that thousands of pounds were raised, mainly for medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), though as we explained -to applause from the audience - we also intend sending something to Gush Shalom in Israel, in appreciation of their principled stand opposed to the war on Gaza, and their courage in defying right-wing violence.

Laughter might not stand much chance against slaughter, but we too have our secret weapons.    .

IVOR on stage in Edinburgh.

PS   - 
Just thought I'd mention that this was not the only show for Gaza and MAP held in Edinburgh last week. Under Arts News, the Herald reported on August 12:

Stars support concert for Gaza medical aid fund
A LINE-UP of comedians, musicians and Fringe acts are holding a show to raise money for medical aid for Gaza tonight.
The show at the Assembly Rooms venue includes Elaine C Smith - who is compering the event - Frankie Boyle, Shappi Khorsandi, Shooglenifty, The Poozies, The Bevvy Sisters, Dean Owens, Playtime and Black Diamond Express
This one-off concert is taking place to raise money in aid of Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP).
The benefit night has been put together by Edinburgh-based collective Artists For Gaza.

I hope this too was a success. Behind the music, irreverence and jokes, some artists care more seriously for humanity than our country's political leaders do.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Look Behind the Barbarity in northern Iraq

AS the US and British governments appear to dither about how to help the victims of ISIS barbarity in Iraq and Syria, and whether to step in to the conflict, many people are remarking on the bitter irony that this bloody mess is a result of the West's previous intervention, that is the invasion of Iraq.

They may be right, as far as this goes, but I would ask whether ISIS and the sectarian war it brings to a horrific head is the entirely unintended result of a war and occupation that went wrong, or part of an imperialist policy that succeeded all too well?

We know now that the Iraq war was not aimed at destroying Saddam Hussein's supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction, about which Tony Blair went to such lying lengths. It was not aimed either at stopping a sectarian war in Iraq, which scarcely existed before the invasion and occupation. It was not about "War on Terror", for which Iraq was not the base (aside from the terrorist Mojahideen e Khalq operations against neighbouring Iran, which the US supported). That would seem to leave the popularly believed assumption that it was a war about oil, though not in the sense that the Iraqis were sitting on scarce oil and refusing to sell it (quite the contrary) or even big oil companies had their eye on Iraqi oilfields for profits (though of course they do).

It was the overall US strategy of maintaining its supremacy by controlling as much as possible of the world's energy supplies, and for this destroying any kind of independent development by countries like Iraq.

From the outset there were warnings that the occupiers would follow a divide-and-rule policy, carving up Iraq. To the physical destruction wrought by "Shock and awe" was added the destruction of Iraq as a modern state and the imposition of a confessional constitution modeled on that bequeathed to Lebanon by France, so that religious divisions are given permanence, and scramble for privilege and supremacy. Secular Iraqis, those for whom religious belief or not took second place to progress or patriotism, lost out, as did minorities. As for women, mothers who had been used to their mode of dress being a matter of choice learned from their daughters that going out unveiled could be a fatal risk.

Sectarian gangs could be a cover for death squads targeting not just political opponents but educated Iraqis, thousands of whom - including doctors, teachers, geologists and engineers - were killed or driven into exile, or 'disappeared'. Many Palestinian families in Iraq found themselves refugees for a second time (and since the Syrian war, a third). But would the invaders of Iraq deliberately foment, rather than attempt to contain, sectarian strife?

Watchers had noticed the move to Iraq of British officers with special experience in Northern Ireland. On September 19, 2005, two British Special Forces soldiers dressed in Arab clothes and driving an unmarked car, were captured in Basra. They were reportedly members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR, and according to British accounts were on a surveillence mission. But the equipment they had with them suggested a more offensive role, and the suspicion raised by Iraqis, and nasty-minded people like me, was that they were posing as terrorists and acting as agent provocateurs, on a mission to plant bombs in a mainly Shi'ite area, a 'false-flag' terrorist attack.

Whatever the truth, the army and the SAS launched an operation to forcibly free its men from the Iraqi police hands, so that they would not give anything away under interrogation or before any court.

On April 1, 2005, the top of the Malwiya minaret in Samarra had been damaged by a bomb. Built in about 850 AD as part of the caliph Al-Mutawakkil's Great Mosque, this minaret is unique, its name 'malwiya' means "snail shell", because it is a hollow conical spiral, looking like some of the pictures one sees of the Biblical Tower of Babel.

Some reports said innsurgents had attacked the tower because U.S. troops had been using it as a lookout position. But Tony Blair in his January 21, 2011 Iraq Inquiry testimony said insurgents had attacked the mosque to incite Sunni-Shiite violence and further destabilize the country.

Another Samarra mosque, al-Askari, was severely damaged by explosives on February 22, 2006 at about 6:44 a.m. The mosque, and shrine of the two imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, was one of the holiest sites for Iraqi Shia, and blame focussed immediately on Sunni militants, although as one man from Samarra told me, the city's historic mosques and shrines had long been a source of pride to local people no matter what their religious affiliation or lack of it.

There were also questions such as, how any mere amateurs with home made bombs could have caused such damage to the mosque's thick walls; and how they could have got their explosives into place for what seemed like a skilled demolition job, while evading the US occupiers curfew and patrols.

Nevertheless, the mosque's bombing sparked off violence against Sunnis , with 168 mosques attacked, ten imams killed, and well over 1,000 people killed all told. The normal daily patrols of US coalition forces and Iraqi security forces were temporarily suspended in Baghdad during the few days following the bombing.

Discussing whether outside forces could have been responsible for attacks like those on the Samarra mosques or the many car bombings that have taken civilian lives in Iraq, an Iraqi friend Munir shook his head. " The CIA does not have suicide bombers". I replied: "Maybe not. But the Saudis have". I was not referring to the Saudis' own personnel so much as to those recruited and trained by organisations set up with Saudi money, such as Taliban and al Qaeda.

Even while Tony Blair was warning the Iranian regime against interferance in Iraq (where its influence over the Shia-dominated Iraqi government was an unintended consequence of the US-led invasion), we were seeing reports that most of the armed infiltrators entering Iraq came over the Saudi border. The Saudi ruling family are the allies of our own and US imperialism, and certainly good customers for armaments, as well as generous with backhanders for politicians. But they are also waging their own war for hegemony in the Muslim world, mainly but not exclusively against Iran and Shi'ites. It was with this in mind that Saudi backing propelled the Taliban into power in Afghanistan, But we should not forget either that the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudis, like Osama Bin Laden, and according to CIA reports received Saudi money from not just private but government sources.

If there was any doubt whether al Qaeda was involved in the attack on al Askhari mosque, as the Iraqi government alleged, there was no need to question their connection with the outrage on Sunday, October 31,2010, when more than 100 people were taken hostage in an attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad,during Sunday evening Mass, and at least 58 people, including children, were killed. The attackers referred to their victims as "infidels", and shouted out allegations about supposed offences committed against Muslims by Christians in Egypt. Witnesses reported that though the gunmen spoke Arabic, they spoke with non-Iraqi accents, even foreign dialect.

The then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility.

It may be that the ISIS eruption has got out of hand and has gone further than any of its backers intended

But there are a few questions I would ask, for which I claim no originality or ingenuity:

One, how come that after seeing events like that attack on the Baghdad christian Mass four years ago, the CIA and MI6 and other agencies, with all their experts, and sources of intelligence - human and electronic - were so taken by surprise by what has happened in Mosul and northern Iraq - or at least, their governments were?

Two, remembering all we heard after 9/11 about tracking down sources of aid and weapons to al Qaida etc, how come these governments and agencies, with all their surveillance and hacking into communications and transactions by companies,trade unions, and ordinary individuals like you and me, have seemed unable - or unwilling - to touch the flow of money and resources to the real terrorist groups?

Three, how is it that volunteers from as far afield as Britain, the United States and as I heard the other day,Indonesia, have been able to reach ISIS in landlocked northern Iraq, without its own airport, and not traveling by magic carpet so far as I am aware.

Four - assuming that the ISIS forces' heavy modern military equipment, unusual for a supposed rebel guerrilla force, was all captured (what with, catapults?) who trained them to use it?

It is traditional for the youngest child of the family to ask four questions as part of the Passover ceremony, but if my four seem too simple and obvious to bother answering, I'll add a fifth. Why have they been passed over without being asked, let alone answered, by those clever people we see on TV?

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Bloody Games They Play

 TEL AVIV, Saturday night July 26. (photo by Dov Khenin). But Netanyahu and IDF carry on, and last night mounted police were out to thwart another demonstration. 

SO, Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin was dead anyway

According to Israel Radio, Goldin, an officer in the Givati Brigade, was part of a group of soldiers who had found a Hamas tunnel in a rural area near Rafah overnight Thursday-Friday, and they were working on decommissioning it when they were attacked on Friday morning.
Goldin’s group was targeted, and two other soldiers close to him, Benaya Sarel and Liel Gidoni, were killed in an explosion, apparently detonated by a Hamas suicide bomber.
Goldin was seized by other gunmen, and other soldiers who reached the scene tried to chase after the kidnappers, into the tunnel, but they were unable to thwart the kidnapping.
IDF troops had been searching throughout Friday and Saturday for Goldin in the Rafah area.
Hamas denied it had any information on a kidnapped soldier.

Read more: Soldier Hadar Goldin is dead, not kidnapped, IDF tells family | The Times of Israel
Note, that whereas other armies, and especially the IDF, are allowed to capture their enemies, take prisoners, detain or even "arrest" them in their own homes in occupied land, Palestinian forces can only "abduct" or "kidnap" those they seize in action invading their country. Keep repeating this till you've got the language right and - like many not just in Israel, but more important, Western media, you can become accustomed to the racialism without really trying.

If the IDF had not been sure whether Goldin was dead, their response to his reported capture was to send tanks in to the area around Rafeah, in the southern Gaza strip, shelling it ferociously to flatten an entire neighbourhood, destroying dozens of houses and killing an estimated 50 Palestinians. So while Lieutenant Goldin's father was loyally saying in front of the cameras that he was sure the army would do everything it could to rescue his son, it looked like the Israeli military chiefs were more concerned with saving face than with saving the soldier. If Goldin was still live the barrage of shelling would most likely have finished both him and his captors. Some reports say this was the intention, that the military had adopted what has been called the "Hannibal doctrine", to kill your own  man rather than let him be used as a hostage.  

The report that Goldin was being held prisoner had sufficed to end the ceasefire (for which Obama blamed Hamas, as though the Israeli unit had not been engaged in a military operation when it clashed with the Palestinians), brought calls from both the US and UN Secretary General Ban Ky Moon for the Palestinians to release him, and even awoke the Board of Deputies of British Jews to call on Prime Minister Cameron to help secure his release. (Not to help put pressure on Israel to end the war, although thankfully the Board which used to back Israel whatever it did has been fairly quiet this time).   

By the time the IDF announced that Goldin was dead, late on Saturday, the numbers of Palestinian dead, during what had been supposed to be a three day ceasefire, gad more than doubled. Another UN school had been hit, and the Israeli air force has joined the attack on Rafeah, which is sealed off by the army. Ambulances have been targeted as they tried to reach the injured, and what hospitals are left in Gaza after attack are overwhelmed by the number of casualties coming in.

It seems unclear after the bombardment whether enough bits of Goldin have been found and identified for burial next week. The peace talks that were supposed to open in Cairo could be in the same state. Netanyahu says Israel will continue till it has "achieved its objectives". Some of his supporters are not ashamed to advocate genocide.

While the Israeli prime minister may prefer to wrap his aims in coded language, it is not too difficult to discern a pattern in the way the Israeli military plays its own public, contrary to suggestions that "Bibi" had "lost it". An Israeli friend of mine with long experience and a sense if history remarked some time ago that his country had come to resemble Prussia - not so much a state with an army as an army with a state.   

 We could go back to 1982, when the shooting of Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London, by the Iraqi-backed Abu Nidal group which was hostile to the PLO and Yasser Arafat, was used as an excuse for the invasion of Lebanon with the aim of destroying the PLO and its Lebanese allies. According to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin's son, his father thought he had authorised a limited croos-border operation, but Ariel Sharon had other plans.That the Israelis ended up years later with Hizbollah on its northern border does not seem to taught them anything.

Nor did the Kahane Commission's finding that Sharon was culpable for the Sabra and Shatila massacres prevent him going on to be Israeli prime minister. 

When the three Israeli teenagers were reported kidnapped, from an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank near Hebron, the Israeli military may have known from early on that they had been killed, and it knew their kidnapping had not been ordered by Hamas; but it suited the military to keep the Israeli public in suspense, hoping the boys might be found alive, while carrying on what was reportedly a pre-planned operation, at least in part, supposedly targeting Hamas. Palestinian homes were raided, many ransacked, people were taken away, and some shot. A Palestinian boy was kidnapped and murdered by settlers in a "revenge" attack.  Tension escalated on the Gaza front and the present war started.

And despite all... Although to judge from reports the Israeli military and the government may have succeeded in large part in manipulating Israeli public opinion, and Hamas or Islamic Jihad missiles have probably helped Netanyahu rather than hindering his offensive, this might not last.

What the BBC and other Western media have been less keen to report is that some Israeli Jews and Arab citizens have defied the pressure, and attacks by right-wing thugs, to demonstrate against the war in Gaza. Protest rallies have taken place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. A demonstration in Galilee was joined by some kibbutzniks and Palestinian villagers. Mounted police were out last night in Tel Aviv to stop protestors rallying in Rabin Square,

A few days ago I heard that a bus was on its way to the Gaza border carrying volunteers with medical supplies, and scheduled to halt briefly at Sderot for a meeting with local people who reject the war which the IDF is supposedly waging to defend them. These are the people who never catch the eye of visiting reporters, and of course the IDF press officers do not introduce them. I don't know whether that bus will make it past the army, and be able to deliver its messages of peace and solidarity along with practical aid. But I hope so, and salute their courage for trying.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Britain Looks After its Heroes

WHENEVER British soldiers come home from whatever war they have been fighting, or old soldiers find themselves in the news as say, victims of robbery, it is customary for headline writers to refer to them as "heroes".

Not wishing to be grudging I thought I might as well adhere to the convention. Our story concerns what happened to an ex-soldier, who became the victim, not of common street robbers, but of government policies administered by smooth officials.

A friend posts the article written by Michael Havis for the Stevenage Advertiser.

A year ago former soldier David Clapson, aged 59, died at his home from diabetic keto-acidosis, which the NHS calls “a dangerous complication of diabetes caused by a lack of insulin.”

Because he had no money, Mr.Clapson could not pay for his electricity to keep his insulin supply cool.

His jobseeker’s allowance of approximately £70 a week – on which his family says he was reliant – had been suspended three weeks before on June 28, for missing meetings.

According to his family, Mr Clapson was found “alone, penniless and starving” a short distance from a pile of printed CVs, with nothing to his name but £3.44, six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date tin of sardines.

The coroner found that David – a former BT engineer of 16 years, who had served two years in Northern Ireland with the Royal Corps of Signals during The Troubles – had nothing in his stomach when he died.

Now his sister, Gill Thompson, says “lessons must be learned” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) before vulnerable benefit claimants are sanctioned in future.
Severe Condition, ..."Correct Procedures"
She said: “I rang him regularly to check on him and so did friends, but because he was such a quiet and private person neither family nor friends knew just how bad it was.

“Apparently the DWP rely on information from the claimant, support workers or medical professionals to understand the level of vulnerability.

“Should his severe condition not been taken into consideration when issuing this sanctions? Should someone have checked his file?”

In a letter sent by the DWP regarding the case, head of benefit centres – Claire McGuckin – said “I am confident that the correct procedures were followed for the administration of benefit.”

Gill said: “I am disgusted with the DWP response and now feel I should make this more public. David should have been helped by health professionals not persecuted by the authorities. He was not a scrounger but wouldn’t seek help. He needed true professional and clinical support which never came.

“The authorities should have been more willing to understand and help a vulnerable adult before they die.“The signs were there and lessons must be learned to ensure cases like this are truly eliminated from a fair society.”
The pile of printed CVs found near David Clapson's body suggests that far from being a "scrounger", he was making every effort to find himself a suitable job, something rarely to be offered by those places misleadingly described as Job Centres. He might not have had time for their pointless "meetings".

Maybe the DWP staff would have been better able to pay attention to Mr.Clapson's particular needs and condition if they were not under constant pressure to take away people's benefits. Money for which he would have paid adequate national insurance during his 16 years working for British Telecom, as well as his time in the army.

Under the war on welfare presided over by Tory Ian Duncan Smith and his understudy Esther Mcveigh, thousands of people have died after decisions taken by DWP officials or the private firms brought in to profit from removing people's entitlement to unemployment or disability benefit. 'Hero' or not, David Clapson joined the statistics.

Read more:

See also:

And there's more.

Since I posted this blog, I see Tom Pride (Pride's Purge) has gone further into the area and assembled a whole sheaf of cases.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Marching Together. End the War on Gaza!

 SOME say as many as 100,000 people marched in London on Saturday, July 19, against the war in Gaza, and in support of Palestinian freedom.
It was certainly big. There were also demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa, and several Jewish groups took part in the demonstration in London.

That's the corner of the red Jewish Socialists' Group banner, with its distinctive Magen David shaped logo, that you can see among the marching crowd in Whitehall in my photo, above.  The photo below was among a few posted on Facebook by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I'm not sure, but I think the young people with the improvised banner may be linked with a fairly new group called Young Jewish Left.

In both pictures you can see a placard with the Hebrew slogan "Dai LeKibbush" -Enough of the Occupation! -which is used by the Israeli peace camp.

I wasn't able to go to the Israeli embassy with the march, so reaching home later I switched on the TV news to see how it was reported. Perhaps I blinked, because I missed any mention on BBC or ITV , though it did make al Jazeira. Perhaps if there'd been some violence and lots of arrests the media would have taken more interest; but friends say it all passed off peacefully, which considering the understandable feelings about Gaza, the numbers on the march, and the youth and inexperience of some of them, is a tribute both to the sense of the crowd and the care taken by the organisers.

According to a blogger for the Tory Spectator, mind, the streets of London on Saturday were full of "antisemites"!  I must have missed them. Though I stood in Whitehall and watched the march go past I did not even spot any obviously offensive or "iffy" placards. Nor did the Spectator correspondent, it seems, as for evidence to damn the thousands, including presumably the Jews, who marched in London, he cites some regrettable incidents after a march in Paris, and some Muslim cleric who, so far as I know, had nothing to do with the march in London, or events in Palestine.

And to think that the Spectator used to get accused of antisemitism itself, and not only because of its onetime Foreign Office "Arabist" associations. Mind you, it also used to be thought of as an intellectual magazine.

Our true blue blogger does take the marchers to task for protesting against Israeli actions, and supposedly not condemning the ISIS terror in Iraq. Well in fact, a leaflet widely distributed on Saturday's march did condemn the ISIS actions along with those of the IDF. But as far as I know the so-called Islamic Caliphate has not set up an embassy or mission in London, so it is hard to see where a demonstration against their actions could go to.  Perhaps with the reports that ISIS was financed and armed by the Saudis, and as yet unconfirmed claims that the "rebels" received US military training, a demonstration against the Saudi embassy would be in order, though I doubt whether anyone from the Spectator would organise it.

Getting back to those Jewish demonstrators, at a meeting I had to attend on Saturday a trade union brother was remarking that he had met some Jews on a Gaza demonstration, as though this was something new, and I gathered he was referring to the highly visible religious Neturei Karta types. (Has anyone seen a female of the species?  Guess you have to grow a beard. At least some of the Muslim brothers do let their partners and daughters out to demonstrate, there were plenty of them on Saturday.)   Other speakers prefaced their remarks by saying they were not religious, as though the war in Gaza was about religion.  

Asad Rehman, an anti-racist activist in east London, has been involved in moe than one campaign, and has a more sophisticated awareness. Talking about the photographs posted by PSC on Facebook, Asad commented: 

"I wouldn't normally share this as I don't think there is anything new about Jewish groups supporting the people of Palestine. In fact during the 1st intifada the Jewish socialist group David Rosenberg, anti-Zionists such as Mike Marqusee Michael Rosen Arthur Neslen were at the forefront of solidarity with the people of Palestine at the very moment that the religious leaders of the Muslim community remained silent.
          Free Palestine!!"

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Fears for life of Iranian trade unionist

INTERNATIONAL demands are being renewed for the release of Iranian bus workers' leader Reza Shahabi. The campaign has been given fresh urgency with the news that Shahabi is seriously ill after a hunger strike in prison.

Below are two of the calls going out for Rez Shahabi's freedom.

Free Reza Shahabi now!
Reza Shahabi – an Iranian labour activist member of the executive committee of the VAHED Bus Union - has been on hunger strike for almost 40 days in prison in Iran. According to the latest reports from Tehran, his protest is now having grave physical effects on him and he has become paralysed down the left side of his body.

Shahabi has spent the last four years in prison, accused by the Islamic state in Iran of “gathering information and colluding against state security, spreading propaganda against the system and ‘Moharebeh’” (translated as “enmity against god”). Over the last few years, his state of health has deteriorated markedly. Vindictively however, the authorities have not allowed him access to appropriate medical treatment.

Shahabi is an anti-war, anti-imperialist worker activist. In his defence, Hands Off the People of Iran is joining forces with the veteran labour activist, Ali Pichgah (a former leader of Iran's oil workers’ strike) to call for his immediate, unconditional release.

As a matter of urgency, Reza Shahabi now needs hospital treatment. His life is being endangered by the Iranian authorities’ refusal to allow him proper medical care. We hold the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani directly responsible for Reza Shahabi's life. This brave working class leader has taken a stand against capitalist exploitation and oppression in Iran – as well as any attack on the country by the west or Israel - and it is incumbent on all anti-imperialist/anti-war activists to support Shahabi in these extremely difficult days, when he is putting his life on the line for his beliefs.

What you can do:

  • Support the demand of Hopi and Ali Pichgah for the immediate release of Reza Shahabi! Publicise this protest widely!
  • Email your name/your organisation to Hopi at and we will add your details to the protests we are coordinating (please indicate whether personal capacity or not)
  • Invite a speaker from Hopi to a meeting of your organisation to explain our anti-war/anti-imperialist work and the situation of the working people in Iran
  • Write to the European embassy for Iran (notify us if you do):
Ambassade de la Republique Islamique d'Iran
4 avenue d'iena
75116 Paris, France

In solidarity,

Hands Off the People of Iran
Yassamine Mather, Persian contact – 07590 429 226
Mark Fischer, Hopi secretary – 07950 416 922
Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE,


Posted by: Hands Off the People of Iran <>





Iran: Free jailed trade union leader Reza Shahabi now

In partnership with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global union federation representing some 4.5 million transport workers in around 700 unions in over 150 countries worldwide.

Reza Shahabi, treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, has been in custody in Iran since June 2010 on charges that result solely from the legitimate representation of his union members. Reza Shahabi is suffering from a number of health problems, which appear to result from the brutal treatment he received when he was arrested. Unions and other organisations, including the ITF and Amnesty International, have made numerous appeals for his freedom, and for him to receive the medical attention he needs. The ILO has stated that it, 'Urges the Government to secure without further delay Mr Shahabi’s parole, pardon and immediate release from prison, the dropping of any remaining charges.' Tell the government that no worker should be imprisoned for his or her trade union activities, much less be treated in a way which amounts to deliberate torture, and demand that Shahabi is released immediately and unconditionally from prison.

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