Thursday, February 22, 2007

Labour's Meacher a spoiler candidate, but John4Leader marches on

McDONNELL invited Meacher to join campaign
HARMONDSWORTH demonstration

I caught two sightings of Labour leadership contender John McDonnell in a few days last week. On the Saturday he was down at Harmondsworth detention centre (above) pressing the flesh with Iranian refugees and other demonstrators, and then on the Wednesday evening the MP spoke at a well-attended meeting in Willesden Green, organised by Brent Trades Union Council. The news had just come through that the executive of train drivers' union ASLEF had decided to officially back John McDonnell's campaign, and yesterday I heard that the Broad Left in my own union, the Transport and General Workers, TGWU, is backing John McDonnell, as are Broad Left factions in the public service union Unison and the Communication Workers Union.

In a letter urging union members to attend a rally in London on March 6, Martin Mayer of the TGWU Broad Left says:

"The accelerated privatisation drive in our hospitals and schools, the disaster of following the Bush agenda on war on terror, the unprincipled and divisive policies on immigration, the Muslim community and the free movement of exploited migrant labour are leading to growing demands from the Trade Union and Labour Movement for a halt to New Labour policies and a real debate over the future of our Labour Party. That's why an election for Leader is so important when Tony Blair retires.

"If Gordon Brown is acclaimed Leader by coronation rather than by democratic election, not only will trade unionists, Labour Party members and the working class of this country be denied a vital chance to discuss the political principles on which they hope to be represented, but also that new Leader will be denied the legitimacy and support necessary to fight a successful election against the Conservatives in just two years time.

"For all these reasons the TGWU Broad Left believes it is vital that we speak out in support of the only candidate who offers an alternative, based on our joint trade union agenda to reclaim the Labour Party. By supporting John McDonnell MP we can add the name of the influential TGWU Broad Left to the growing ranks of trade union and labour movement organisations that have already endorsed his campaign. This will add to the pressure on many of our Labour MPs cocooned in the unreal atmosphere in Westminster who currently believe that there is no alternative to Gordon Brown, New Labour and - and in the case of those in marginal seats, almost inevitable defeat in the next general election. We will now be redoubling our efforts to persuade MPs to nominate John McDonnell MP and achieve the 44 nominations required for there to be a contest - and then a real and deep debate for the soul of the Labour Party. Another BETTER world is possible for working people".

Just when it looked like the Left was getting its act together behind the John4Leader campaign, news came this morning that another Labour MP is throwing his hat in the ring, supposedly as a left-wing leadership candidate.

"Veteran MP and former minister Michael Meacher has launched a challenge to Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, promising a left-wing agenda.
He called for Trident nuclear weapons to be scrapped, huge investment in renewable energy, curbs on City bonuses and nationalisation of the railways.
He claims to have enough MPs' support to get onto the ballot and insists he has a chance of winning".

Meacher's candidacy had been rumoured, indeed predicted, for some time.
"We have been expecting Michael's announcement for over nine months. It doesn't change things," John McDonnell said.

Meacher is one of Labour's longest-serving MPs, having had ministerial jobs in the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s, as well as becoming Blair's Environment Minister in 1997 until he was sacked in 2003. At his press conference, flanked by Ian Gibson and Kelvin Hopkins, two prominent backbenchers from the Labour left, he launched what he said was a "centre-left" bid for the leadership. Defending himself from criticism over his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he acknowledged "The biggest political mistake of my life was over the Iraq war. I believed the prime minister when he said there was a growing and imminent threat." He said some of Mr Blair's comments in the run up to war "stretched the truth".

Speculation about Meacher's plans had been helped by the noticed refusal of left-wing Labour MP Alan Simpson to endorse John McDonnell's campaign, though both were prominent in the Campaign Group of Labour MPs. It was claimed Simpson was encouraging Meacher to stand. See for instance: By the end of the year Simpson's backing for Meacher was open.
It had been suggested Simpson wanted Meacher to stand so he himself could stand for deputy leader. But Meacher's announcement came a day after Simpson announced that he would stand down from parliament at the next election, at the early age of 57.

Leadership candidates need 44 signatures from Labour MPs to get on the ballot paper. John McDonnel, who launched his campaign last July has said he has pledges from 22 so far, and his supporters are hoping that ordinary Labour supporters and trades unionists can persuade more Labour MPs to get behind him. Meacher's campaign claims backing from "about 30" Labour MPs, although he was not prepared to name them at this stage. Asked whether his stand would split the left-wing vote, he insisted that he stood more chance, because John McDonnel would not get enough nominations.

Meacher's willingness to vote for war is just one reason left-wing socialists and trades unionists are unlikely to accept him as a figurehead. Some years ago he condemned second-home buyers who were preventing young people in rural areas from getting a start on the housing ladder, but he himself owned a £500,000 Cotswold house as well as a home in his Oldham constituency and a house in Wimbledon, and while he was Environment Minister he and his wife built up a property portfolio of flats to let in south-west London. His wife is a director of three property companies.

Meacher's turn to Green issues and more recently 9/11 conspiracy theories may make him interesting, but aren't likely to win real confidence from Labour MPs. Stephen Pound MP said the new hopeful was a "faintly ridiculous figure". "It's a pity because, frankly, he's going to get humiliated," he said.
"I suspect he knows that; if he put his ego to one side a bit he would realise that.",,2018634,00.html
Some other MPs said they had signed Meacher's papers to give him a chance of standing, but did not intend voting for him.

Perhaps the kindest criticism came from the campaign that Meacher is seen as spoiling. Some bloggers had already expressed frustration that the John4Leader campaign would not feed them dirt on the expected rival.

John McDonnell told reporters yesterday that Labour members would judge the candidates on their records, and while he had voted against tuition fees, the Iraq war, privatisation and benefit cuts, Mr Brown and Mr Meacher had consistently voted for them. "I have asked Michael to come on board with our campaign, but he's chosen to go his own way. Now let's have the debate on policies and the election and let the members decide."

Perhaps the Meacher candidature has had one good result. Despite the enthusiasm which John McDonnel's campaign has aroused in the labour movement it has been pointedly ignored by much of the mainstream media. Even tonight the BBC Six O Clock news managed to report that Gordon Brown now faced a challenger, in Meacher, but not to mention the left-wing campaign behind John McDonnel. Who needs censorship when you've got the Beeb? But at least the appearence of more cracks among the Labour parliamentary ranks is allowing a bit of the light of truth to shine through, and the campaign is getting a bit of a mention.
The case for a Socialist Labour government
Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road

7pm, Tuesday 6th March

Speakers include John McDonnell MP & Martin Mayer, General Executive Committee of the TGWU (pc)


Monday, February 19, 2007

Doctor victim of a sick society

UP and down the country National Health Service authorities are finding ways to sack staff, make people wait for treatment and pass the buck for any services they think they can get away with not providing. We get told there's a "shortage of beds" when what they mean is they are trying to save money and staff by reducing places for patients.

The government says it has poured billions into the health service, but doesn't say how much has gone into the pockets of "consultants" (not medical specialists but outside companies advising on "efficiency") , the overhead costs of the bogus "internal market", and making hospitals attractive for the Private Finance Initiative.

Many of the public, conditioned by tabloids to look for easy scapegoats, tell themselves that granny can't get her hip replacement because the hospitals are "full of foreigners and asylum seekers".

A tragic story in today's Independent highlights the way British racism and the Blair government's policies are hitting, and in this case, destroying, the very people whose skills could help to maintain the service.

Imran Yousaf, a qualified doctor, left his family in their village outside Lahore, in Pakistan, and headed for Britain hoping to start a new life. "Like generations of other young medics from the Indian subcontinent, he thought he was desperately needed in the UK to shore up an NHS critically short of trained staff".

Two years later, having used up all his family savings and borrowed heavily from friends, Dr Yousaf, 28, was unemployed. He had paid for and passed with flying colours the exam to practice in Britain. He was studying for the finals of a Royal College of Physicians post-graduate qualification. He wrote hundreds of letters each week to UK hospitals and applied for thousands of posts since setting up home in Burnley, Lancashire.

But in March last year the Department of Health, apparently deciding there was not a shortage of doctors but a shortage of posts, ruled that UK postgraduates would take priority over overseas applicants. Dr Yousaf was incensed by the changes and sued the department. The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin backed the challenge.

But the High Court has ruled that the Government had acted lawfully even though it failed to consult properly over the changes. Increasingly depressed and indebted, Dr. Yousaf, meanwhile, had evidently found it too much. A fellow doctor who had invited him to stay with him in Bedford found the unemployed medic had hanged himself in a room above the friend's surgery. He left no note, but beside him was a letter from immigration officials saying there would be no further extensions on his visa.

Dr Rajendra Chaudhary, who had been receiving distraught emails from Dr Yousaf, said: "He felt let down by the Department of Health and decided that he couldn't face going back to Pakistan with such a huge debt." Dr Yousaf was thought to have owed £13,000, relatively little in the UK but a fortune in his home country.

There have reportedly been other cases.

In April the Home Office retrospectively increased the qualifying period for immigrants to be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK from four to five years. Medics finishing their short-term training contracts will find themselves unable to compete with British applicants. They may be forced to uproot their families and return home out of pocket, and face the prospect of starting post-graduate training again. Many unable to get medical work have been forced to take unskilled jobs to survive.

It can hardly help the NHS. Asian doctors have long been a familiar mainstay of working class communities. Maybe their own societies could benefit instead of subsidising Western services that way, but that's not what's going to happen. While Britain is now importing Polish plumbers etc for the middle class, and cheap labour for catering and other low-paid industries, the government's policies are both denying adequate provision of public services, and discriminating against skilled professionals, in a way that is simply destructive.

How many more tragic deaths like that of Imran Yousef would weigh on our rulers' conscience - if they had one?

See full story:

Pakistani doctor's suicide highlights plight of unemployed immigrants
By Jonathan Brown and David Langton

also previous blogs:

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Human faces of Lebanon

WHO will reconstruct homes and lives in this devastated country? (photo from

WHAT is really happening in Lebanon, after the devastating Israeli war? We hear a fair amount from the media about what this or that party leader or foreign power might be up to. We hear that someone has been killed, and may even get a mention of people still getting blown up by those cluster bombs scattered liberally by Israeli forces, thanks to the largesse of Uncle Sam and the British government.

We seldom hear from the Lebanese people themselves.

Last night, at a meeting called "Eye witnesses in Lebanon", organised by the Radical Activists Network, it was different. Aid volunteer Caoimhe Butterly and photographer Guy Smallman showed us some of the destruction which people are having to overcome, but they also brought out the human faces beneath the hijab and behind the freedom fighters' mask beloved alike by stereotyping media and romanticising Western leftists.

In fact it was a bad night for those who would prefer simplistic stereotypes. Among the crowds in south Beirut supporting the general strike called by Hizbollah, Guy Smallman found a Druze concerned at the government's failure to stand up to Israel, a Christian who was there because he was fed up with corruption, and Muslims, both Shi'ite and Sunni, who spoke not about wanting religious rule but about the needs of Lebanon's poor people.

It seemed not all Hizbollah supporters were fanatically religious, nor were all those taking part in the strike Hizbollahi - some were supporters of the People's party, a spin off from the Communist Party, for instance. Had Hizbollah wanted civil war it could have fought and won one, in Guy's opinion, since beside wide public support, enhanced by its stand in the war and help in reconstruction, it had more fighters than the official Lebanese army - and supporters within the army. But what the party's leader Nasrallah had called for were round-table talks between all parties in Lebanon, and the calling of early elections.

There were shadowy forces at work trying to provoke civil war. Guy Smallman described how masked men with arms had forced their way into flats in a poor, mainly Sunni neighborhood of Beirut, overlooking a college campus where Shi'ite students were meeting, and taken up sniper positions to shoot at the students as they were leaving. Despite such efforts he was optimistic that people would not allow a new civil war in Lebanon. He was convinced the real underlying issues were of class, not religion.

Caoimhe Butterly spoke mainly about how women and young people were taking part in efforts to overcome the experiences they had suffered, and rebuild their lives. Showing how those working in projects came from varied backgrounds, and with each person photographed she gave a name, and something about them. Sometimes the smiles on children's faces hid memories of bombing and horror they had seen, which came out in their paintings.

In discussion, some Lebanese who spoke from the floor were less confident their country could avoid civil war. They questioned whether Hizbollah, with its religious ideas, could ever overcome confessionalism or represent a progressive, working class-based force uniting those for change in Lebanon. One man pointed out that there were many poor Sunni too, and asked what was being done to help reconstruction in cities like Tripoli. A woman who described herself as a Shia said there were rich Shi'ites too, and she accused Hizbollah of excluding other, particularly left-wing, forces from its fiefs in the south, and the struggle against the invaders. Another Lebanese said this was no longer true.

Caoimhe Butterly said she hoped herself and Guy had not oversimplified issues, and they had not intended to romanticise anything, or hide difficulties. On the danger of civil war, though, she believed memories were still fresh of previous conflicts for people to risk another one.

There were questions about the destruction and dangers - over one million unexploded ordinances littered across southern Lebanon, and only 19,000 de-mined - and about help for reconstruction. Guy Smallman said Hizbollah had an engineer wing that was taking part in rebuilding in the south. Much of the money for rebuilding now came not from Iran, but Qatar. Other questions concerned pressure towards privatisation, and whether the Lebanese government was funding hotel-building rather than assisting poor neighborhoods, or restoring agriculture. There was also concern about the fate of Lebanon's remaining Palestinians, though Caoimhe said that ironically, some Lebanese were now refugees in Palestinian camps.

Asked about practical help, Caoimhe said people here could help projects in Lebanon, and there was scope for teachers and others to set up pen-friending and twinning schemes with Lebanese schools and youth projects.

ALL in all, this was a good evening spent getting to know a picture of Lebanon we don't often get to glimpse through the corporate media, and to hear an honest account both from the speakers and the Lebanese who raised issues with them. It started to bring Lebanese and London left-wing audience together in a way too often obscured and obstructed by the hazy rhetoric and demagogy of "big name" speakers on left and peace movement platforms. I hope we have more meetings like this, and more discussion.

Thanks to Guy and Caoimhe, thanks too to the Lebanese comrades who came along to raise their doubts and concerns, and thanks to the keen young people of the Radical Activists Network who made it happen.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Hands off Iraqi oil!

WORKERS "have the experience in the field and the technical training, have overcome hardships and proven to the world..."
photo David Bacon, US Labor Against War

IRAQI oilworkers are declaring their opposition to privatisation and foreign takeover of their industry.
As union leader Hassan Juma'a Awwad warns in his speech below, the wave of killings in the country, setting Iraqi against Iraqi, is providing a cover for continued war and occupation; and a diversion while laws are brought in stealthily - even Iraqi MPs complained they did not see the drafts - ennabling foreign oil companies to extend a long-term hold on the resources and industry.
But as Hassan Juma'a also warns, Iraqi trade unionists and the people will not let this take-over proceed without resistance and punishment.

The speech of the head of the Federation of Oil Unions in Basra to the meeting held to debate the [proposed] oil law and the oil investment laws on Tuesday 6th February 2007

In the name of God the merciful the munificent
To the audience, to the guests, to the distinguished professors,
Greetings, as-salamu `alaikum wa-rahmatu ‘llah wa-barakatuhu

I would like first to offer thanks to all the brothers and sisters who are participating in this conference to debate the Iraqi oil law, and particular thanks to the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies of Basra University, notably to Professor Dr Jabbar al-Hilfi and his colleagues who have contributed in every possible way in this action.

dear colleagues
Iraq today passes through a great trial as all hostile forces join together against it. The people face attacks by takfiri zealots and the thugs of the deposed regime, which serve only to extend the war and the occupation which has succeeded in making Iraqi kill Iraqi. This method is not new to the Americans and their allies; as long as chaos reigns in this country many of the sinews of life cannot operate.

Among the objectives America wishes to achieve from the military occupation of Iraq, all the causes of which we do not want to return to, but simply to emphasize one central objective of the American political leaders who crossed oceans and wasted billions of dollars, that is Iraqi oil. Indeed we in the Federation of Oil Unions consider this the most important reason for this foul war.

dear friends
ِAnd, following this short introduction, we can today see that many of those profiting from the occupation seek to waste the national wealth which God almighty has given Iraqis and to deliver to their masters that national wealth on account of which Iraqis paid a high price. Although, right up to this hour, this wealth has not served Iraqis, we hope that it may yet bring ease not trouble to Iraqis. If we turn back a little we find law number 80 of 1961 wherein the production areas of the foreign companies in Iraq were specified and limited, and we see the manner in which Iraqis planned to profit from the national wealth was laid out, and as an extension of this law, the decision to nationalize the shares of foreign companies on the basis of which full control of Iraqi oil was achieved.

Recently the Constitution of Iraq on which the Iraqi people voted in the most dire and difficult of conditions notes in clause 111 that oil and gas are the property of the Iraqi people. But, alas, this clause in the constitution will remain but ink on paper if the oil law and oil investment law being presented to the Parliament are ratified, laws which permit production-sharing contracts, laws without parallel in many oil producers, especially the neighbouring countries. So why should Iraqis want to introduce such contracts in Iraq given that applying such laws will rob the Iraqi government of the most important thing it owns?

In this regard we would like to clarify the following points:
1—We send a message to all the members of the Iraqi Parliament, when debating the oil and investment laws, to bear the Iraqis in mind, to protect the national wealth, and to look at the neighbouring countries. Have they introduced such laws even when their relations with foreign companies are closer than in Iraq?

2—If those calling for production-sharing agreements insist on acting against the will of Iraqis, we say to them that history will not forgive those who play recklessly with the wealth and destiny of a people and that the curse of heaven and the fury of Iraqis will not leave them.

3—We strongly warn all the foreign companies and foreign capital in the form of American companies against coming into our lands under the guise of production-sharing agreements.

4—Open the way to Iraqis to manage their own oil affairs. They are able to do that; they have the experience in the field and the technical training, have overcome hardships and proven to the world that they can provide the best service to Iraqis in the oil industry. The best proof of that is how after the entry of the occupying forces and the destruction of the infrastructure of the oil sector the engineers, technical staff and workers were able to raise production from zero to 2,100,000 barrels per day without any foreign expertise or foreign capital. Iraqis are capable of further increasing production with their present skills. The Iraqi state needs to consult with those who have overcome the difficulties and to ask their opinion before sinking Iraq into an ocean of dark injustice.

Those who spread the word that the oil sector will not improve except with foreign capital and production-sharing are dreaming. They must think again since we know for certain that these plans do not serve the sons and daughters of Iraq.

dear audience,
We do not oppose the introduction of new technology into the oil sector so as to increase production; we believe in that; but this must be done in a way that will safeguard the stature of the Iraqi state and its sovereignty over natural resources.

In conclusion, the law is in your hands. We consider it unbalanced and incoherent with the hopes of those who work in the oil industry. It has been drafted in a great rush in harsh circumstances. We believe this law to be more political than economic, it threatens to set governorate against governorate and region against region. Therefore I call on all the intellectuals and professors and political leaders to participate seriously in debating this vital topic in a manner useful to those participating in the committee drafting the final communiqué to be sent to the Iraqi Parliament, the Presidency of the Republic and the Prime Ministry.

We say: ‘By God I swear that we have told you, by God I say that we have warned you.’
And in closing I would like to thank you for your grace in listening and to call for God’s mercy and blessing.

Hasan Jum`ah `Awwad al-Asadi
Head of the Federation of Oil Unions
6th February 2007

(translated by Martha Mundy, and recieved courtesy of my fellow TGWU member Ewa Jasiewicz, of Naftana and Iraq Occupation Focus).

See also:

Oil trade unionists unite


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Monday, February 12, 2007

Hilton's Fawlty Towers - do mention the Cold War

ONE thing I've noticed in arguments about boycott tactics is how more effective the other side - governments and big companies -are, compared with us amateurs. I mean they don't have to worry about having resolutions adopted by union conferences (and then rescinded by recall conferences), nor about union members incurring penalties under anti-union legislation such as Britain's Labour government has inherited and kept unchanged from Tory times.

As for pickets, fair play to those who protested outside Carmel Agrexco's UK depot at the weekend, but it's not like having an army checkpoint blocking the road all week. Even if they arouse more outrage.

Still, to help get a bigger picture, I'm turning away from Israel's conflict with the Palestinians to look at another battlefront. One that's seldom in headlines here, but has been part of the political landscape for almost half a century. That's how long the plucky little United States has been standing up to the might of Cuba, by waging an economic blockade as well as backing right-wing terrorists.

In 1992, the year the former Soviet Union was standing down its ICBMs and losing some of its republics, Yugoslavia was breaking up, and white South Africans voted to end Apartheid, the US congress and George Bush brought in the Torricelli law, strengthening its blockade by making it illegal for US-owned subsidiaries in other countries to trade with Cuba. In 1996 this was followed by the Helms Burton Act which made foreign companies that invested in Cuba liable to prosecution in the United States. I wonder how many legislatures apart from the US are so confident laying down the law to people and companies in other lands?

Writing in the Morning Star (Monday, February 12) Rob Miller draws attention to some of the ways this has worked out. Under questioning from journalists the Hilton Hotel Group announced last week that due to US laws, Cuban nationals would be barred from its hotels. In March last year there was a row in Mexico over the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel in Mexico expelling 16 Cuban guests. The hotel was fined £60,000 by the Mexican authorities, under a law passed soon after the Helms Burton Act, to protect trade and investment from external interference.

Miller says the European Union and Britain also have such "antidote" legislation. But it has not been invoked.

Last month a Cuban trade delegation coming to Oslo for a trade fair found its booking at a Hilton-owned hotel refused. "In response, the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees is boycotting Scandic hotels. Union leader Anne Grethe Skaardal declared:
'For us, it is unacceptable for the US to dictate to to the whole world. In addition, we strongly oppose the US boycott of Cuba'.
(Blockading Cuba: How the US is attempting to crush its socialist neighbour).

Besides the union campaign, Oslo's Anti-Racist centre has filed a complaint against Scandic and a Hilton managing director under anti-racism laws which prohibit denying anyone access to facilities on account of their citizenship or ethnic origin. But it seems that while the United States confidently legislates for people in other countries, some governments - Norway perhaps among them, though Britain is probably another - hesitate to apply their laws to US companies operating on their soil.

Still, since the Hilton Group announced it was barring Cubans from its hotels around the world for fear of being prosecuted under US law, some 54 British MPs, including Tories and Liberals, have signed Early Day Motion 828 stating that such a ban "would violate domestic UK anti-discrimination laws and EU safeguards against the use of extra-territorial legislation and would be tantamount to a breach of UK sovereignty as well as being an act of racial discrimination".

The Scottish Affairs committee cancelled a booking at a Hilton hotel in Dundee. Questions were asked of Tony Blair in the House, and the Commission for Racial Equality has written reminding Hilton of its obligations under the Race Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Hilton has pointed out that it is only following a similar policy to the Sheraton and Marriott chains owned by US conglomerate Starwood.

Rob Miller, who is director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, says EU countries have maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba, and increasingly not gone along with the US blockade. At the UN last year Britain was among 183 member states voting against the US position, which was only supported by Israel, the Marshall Islands (still recovering from US bomb tests but still hosting US missiles) and Palau (former US Pacific colony and holiday resort). However, Miller is concerned that Cuba will face "a new onslaught" within the EU this year, led by newer members like the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania etc.

In this new Cold War crusade are they still celebrating and trying to complete "the defeat of communism", or just acknowledging that their "freedom" has amounted to a change of master? Has the EU's expansion helped dilute its aspirations to independence from the US super-power?

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Koech! All strength to these rebel voices!

IT has started! Sooner than I expected, but in my view overdue - a significant number of Jewish personalities in Britain have rebelled, and proclaimed their independence from the Jewish Establishment that continually acts as a mouthpiece for the Israeli government.

"We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights", says their statement. "We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.

"We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect of the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the stability of the whole region. "

Calling themselves Independent Jewish Voices, the signatories declare firm opposition to racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, affirming that human rights are for all.

"These principles are contradicted when those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews in Britain and other countries consistently put support for the policies of an occupying power above the human rights of an occupied people. The Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip face appalling living conditions with desperately little hope for the future. We declare our support for a properly negotiated peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people and oppose any attempt by the Israeli government to impose its own solutions on the Palestinians".

Upholding their right to speak out, and condemning attempts to bully and silence critics, the rebels' statement is very timely. It comes after a row in the British Jewish community over views expressed by Dr.Tony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who said before he was appointed that Israel could join with a free Palestine to form a binational state. Lerman was also under fire for questioning the Community Security Trust's reports on antisemitism, and for attending a conference on "The Clash of Civilisations" called by the Greater London Authority. Ostensibly the Board of Deputies of British Jews was upset because the conference was on the Sabbath, though most people will recognise the Board's unremitting year-round, seven days a week, feud with London mayor Ken Livingstone, dating back to his pro-Palestinian position during Israel's 1982 Lebanon war.

According to the research institute's board chairman Peter Levy, defending Tony Lerman's participation in the conference, "A deeply disturbing, orchestrated campaign has been waged against Tony and JPR ever since the proposal to appoint him was made. The people responsible do not seem to value independent thinking, and wish to prevent discussion of matters that may be uncomfortable but are essential for us to address."

Levy and his board see JPR's role as assuring the future welfare of Jews in Europe. But billionaire Baron Stanley Kalms, ex-boss of Dixons, Curry's and PC World, and Tory party treasurer from 2001-3, says Jewish institutions must support Israel, whatever it does. Accusing Lerman of advocating the Zionist state commit "suicide", he has resigned as JPR vice president and patron, saying there can be no room for tolerance of such views.

Not content with trying to stifle independent thought in the Jewish community, the Zionist Federation followed up last week with a call to the BBC to sack Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen because of his views on Israel. Zionist Federation chair Andrew Balcombe cited a leaked memo from Bowen appearing to blame Israel for continuing violence, criticised a Radio Four interview with an Israeli lawyer who described what was happening as "Apartheid", and suggested that Bowen might have been influenced by the incident in May 2000 when his Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli tank fire.

Writing in the Guardian, Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, one of the signatories of the independence statement, sees a conflict between the Board of Deputies calling itself "the voice of British Jewry" while devoting so much of its time to defending Israel. He also criticises Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks for telling a pro-Israel rally in London last year, while the bombs were devastating Lebanon, "Israel, you make us proud".
"Others felt roughly the opposite emotion," says Brian Klug.
(No one has the right to speak for British Jews on Israel and Zionism,,2005843,00.html)

The declaration of independence featured on BBC2's Newsnight last night, with Jeremy Paxman refereeing exchanges between a somewhat fatigued-looking Rabbi David Goldberg, who is one of the signatories, and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips. The liberal rabbi said forty years of occupation was too long. To hear neo-con Philips you would think it was Lebanon that sent its tanks and bombers into Israel last year, and Palestinians who were taking land from Israelis.

Brief as the confrontation was, seeing Jewish dissent aired at last was almost enough to make me forgive the BBC's inadequate coverage of the occupation struggle; and the way BBC South East misreported the London Skies Are Weeping concert in November 2005, suggesting Zionist protests fully reflected Jewish opinion, whereas in fact the concert, in honour of Rachel Corrie, was mounted with Jewish participation and support.

Some of the signatories of this statement, such as Iraqi-born writer Morris (Musa) Farhi and playwright Harold Pinter, were sponsors of that concert, and they are joined by an impressive list of community and cultural figures, including Rabbi Goldberg, Dr.Edie Friedman, president of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman, actess Janet Suzman, novelist Gillian Slovo, film director Mike Leigh, child poverty expert Carey Oppenheim, and law professor Francesca Klug. The full list of signatories can be found at

There have been previous Jewish petitions criticising Israeli actions. The founding statement of Jews for Justice for Palestinians eventually collected over 1,000 names. But this new declaration, by affirming independence from the Zionist Establishment and making the independent voices heard, is a blow not only to aggressive Israeli policies but to those British politicians and media who took Jewish support for such policies, and their allies, as read.

Both the European Union and British parliamentarians had accepted Zionist-tailored definitions of "antisemitism" as including opposition to "Jewish self-determination", really meaning Zionist statehood. They will now have to think again.

"We are not setting ourselves up as an alternative to the Board of Deputies or any other body", says Brian Klug. "But we challenge the standard concept of 'the Jewish community' as a collective entity for which the board is the secular voice and the chief rabbi the religious voice".

The battle for Jewish freedom and genuine self-determination, in a perspective of democratic and human rights for all, has been joined. Let's wish these independent voices koech, as we say in Yiddish, strength - or bid them, to borrow a Hebrew motto, be strong and of good courage, khazak ve'amatz!

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Monday, February 05, 2007

The old ones won't lie down!

CIVIL Servants battling to defend jobs, pay, pensions and public services took strike action on January 31, hitting tax collection to hurt the Blair government, but also causing postponement of court cases, cancellation of driving tests, and closure of many offices and public buildings around the country, to remind everyone of what an important job they do.

Somerset trade unionist Dave Chapple took this photograph outside the Department of Work and Pensions/Child Support Agency in Taunton High Street. The man in the disabled buggy who came to show his support for the members of the Public and Commercial Services(PCS) union picketing is former hospital worker Howard Andrews.
Howard, or "Andy" as he is known to many friends, is due to celebrate his 100th birthday on February 15. He has had an eventful life. As a 16-year old, growing up poor in Kilburn, north-west London, he managed to claim he was older so he could enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served overseas, in India and China, and what he saw gave him a lasting hatred of colonialism. Back in London he got a job at Queen Charlotte's hospital, but he also joined first the Independent Labour Party and then the Communist Party, speaking at meetings about his experiences, as well as selling the Daily Worker outside Kiburn tube station.
After attending a rally in Trafalgar Square in 1936, 'Andy' decided to go out to Spain with medical aid, and stayed there working at a republican front-line hospital. They were attacked by Italian planes.

After wartime army service in World War II, Andy moved to the west country, working at the hospital in Taunton, where he organised a branch of the health union COHSE, and represented it for many years on the Taunton trades union council. Since retiring he has continued his trade union links and also been active in peace campaigning, leading a demonstration last year against the Blair government's Trident missile replacement programme.

Dave Chapple is planning a book about Howard Andrews.
Meantime if you want to send a greeting for Howard's 100th birthday, you can get contact details for him from Dave at,
and you can also inquire about the book.

Reg Weston (1913-2007):

Farewell to Veteran Communist and Fighter

From Kent comes sadder news, Gill Emerson and Dave Turner reporting the death, after a short illness, of veteran Communist Reg Weston, aged 93, on 26 January 2007, have sent this obituary:

Reg was born in 1913 at Stamford Hill, in the London Borough of Hackney. He left school at 15 to work as a trainee reporter in Fleet Street and went on to have a lifelong career in journalism, in both the national and local press.
In his early 20s, Reg was an active member of the Independent Labour Party. The party had disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, after Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald had formed a "National" government with Tories and Liberals so he could cut pensions and unemployment benefit.

While the ILP tried to steer its own course, part of its membership was drawn into the orbit of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CP). Reg joined the CP in 1935 and became Secretary of a newly-formed party branch in the Southgate area of Enfield, in North London. Among the members of the branch was leading CP theoretician Rajani Palme Dutt.

On 4 October 1936, Reg participated in the Battle of Cable Street, the legendary mass mobilisation in the East End of London against Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. In old age, Reg wrote a vivid memoir of his experiences on the day.

During the Second World War, Reg saw active service in the Eighth Army, for which he was awarded five decorations, including two campaign stars (the Africa Star and the Italy Star). Reg spent three years of the war in action: in the Tunisian battles, in the Salerno landings and in the ensuing Italian campaign – including all the battles for Monte Cassino and the struggle to break through the Gothic Line. Throughout these battles, Reg was with the Royal Artillery, serving as a signaller in charge of a forward observation post.

Reg would often recall his experiences in Italy – particularly the warmth with which he was greeted when he encountered Italian Communists in newly-liberated areas and revealed his party membership.

After the war, Reg resumed his career in journalism and in 1946 he went to work on the CP’s own paper, the Daily Worker, where he became chief sub-editor on the day shift. However, his time on the paper was cut short in September 1952, when he was fired by the editor, Johnny Campbell.

Reg’s dismissal came about as a result of a dispute following the sacking of his friend Freddie Deards, who had been a sub-editor on the sports page. The row seems to have been ostensibly about money, with Reg and Freddie Deards objecting to being paid substantially below the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) rate for the job. In theory, journalists at the Worker received the full union rate – but most of this was actually deducted in "voluntary contributions" to the CP.

Reg maintained that "What really happened was that we couldn’t take any longer the class divisions, the privileged free-loaders (enjoying Soviet crumbs) and the hypocrisy" at the paper, so "We grumbled and criticised. We made cynical remarks". Following his sacking by Campbell, Reg left the CP.
He went on to work as a sub-editor with the Press Association (PA) for many years, continuing to be a staunch, and active, member of the NUJ, of which he was made a life member.

After his retirement from the PA in the 1970s, Reg moved down to North Kent. He lived for 25 years in the village of Higham, where he was Clerk to the Parish Council for a time. He became well-known in the nearby town of Gravesend, and the rest of Kent, for his tireless political activity in the county, which began following the death of his wife Constance (widow of the artist Maurice Sochachewsky), after only a few years of marriage.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Reg was a leading member of Gravesend Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Higham and Shorne Peace Supporters group. He was also prominent in Gravesend Anti-Nazi League’s fight to drive the National Front out of the town. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984–5, Reg supported the Kent miners with practical solidarity, organising meetings and collections – notably a food convoy from the local Sikh Temple to the Kent pit villages.

In 1985, Reg rejoined the Communist Party and, during the years leading up to the dissolution of the party, he supported the tendency that published the newspaper The Leninist – somewhat to the irritation of the CP’s Kent District leadership.

In the early 1990s, Reg was a leading member of Gravesend Anti-Poll Tax Union and he was imprisoned for his refusal to pay the tax. During the 1992 general election campaign, Reg turned up at the Kent village of Meopham to heckle John Major and wave a placard declaring "Rich Tories, the real poll tax parasites". For his pains, Reg was, as the Daily Telegraph reported, "kicked, punched and hit with an umbrella by a cohort of silver-haired ladies".

In 1993, Reg played a key role in a successful campaign to drive Gravesend neo-Nazi John Cato out of the town. As a consequence, Reg faced threats of murder from the fascists, and threats of arrest and prosecution from Kent Police – neither of which intimidated him in the least.

In the early 1990s, Reg broke with the "Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee)", as the group around The Leninist styled itself following the demise of the actual CPGB. He was subsequently involved with the Socialist Workers’ Party – but soon decided that that organization was not a congenial political home either.

Even in his final years, when he was living in residential care after a bad fall in 2002, Reg still managed to play an active part in politics. In a well-publicised symbolic act in 2003, he sent his war medals to Chris Pond, the then Labour MP for Gravesham, saying he wished to return them to show his disgust at the MP’s support for the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Reg was a remarkable man who devoted a large part of his life to radical socialist politics in the workplace, in the community and on the streets. He was an indefatigable activist – not for nothing was his favourite poem "Say not the Struggle Naught availeth". He was incredibly widely-read, with a keen interest in history and literature; he was knowledgeable on many subjects and always keen to share his knowledge with others. Friends and comrades who valued Reg's presence and political contribution are planning a tribute event later this year.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The murder of a schoolgirl

WHEN former Israeli combat helicopter pilot Yonatan Shapira spoke in London last Tuesday, at the launch of the Enough! coalition, he mentioned his friend and fellow member of Combattants for Peace, Bassam Aramin.

Bassam Aramin spent nine years in an Israeli prison. He belonged to Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah in the Hebron area, and attempted to throw a grenade at an Israeli army jeep in occupied Hebron. From armed resistance, he has turned to working with Israeli military Refuseniks like Yonatan Shapira, striving for a just peace.

It is not easy. And it brings no let up in the violence and oppression which he and his family, like other Palestinians, have to endure. As Yonatan Shapira told us, Bassam Aramin's ten-year old daughter Abir was killed by Israeli Border Police in their home village of Anata.

It was a Wednesday morning, January 16, and Abir was outside her school when the jeeps came into town, firing gas canisters and rubber bullets. As the children turned to run Abir was hit in the back of the head. The school contacted Bassam to tell him his daughter had been injured. Abir died a couple of days later in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital. Her skull had been fractured and blood had penetrated her brain.

Neither the army nor the police bothered to investigate what had happened. The army's official account was that the girl was hit by a stone that one of her classmates was throwing "at our forces." Those who saw the wounded child in hospital know different. Among them is Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli mother and peace campaigner whose own daughter, Smedar, was killed by a suicide bomber in 1997, and whose son is a member of Combattants for Peace.

"I saw her just afterwards at Hadassah Hospital, where she slept quietly in a huge hospital bed. Abir's face was white. Her huge eyes were closed. By then, she was already brain dead, and the doctors decided to allow the rest of her to die. I saw clearly that her head had been shot from behind, and I will testify under oath to that fact".

A young student who witnessed her shooting told journalists that the Israeli border police, who are part of the IDF, drove up to the girls as they came out of their school examinations. "The girls were afraid and started running away. The border police followed them in the direction in which they were retreating. Abir was afraid and stool against one of the shops at the side of the road. I was standing near her. The border policeman shot through a special hole in the window of his jeep that was standing very close to us. Abir fell to the ground I saw that she was bleeding from the head."

Amir Aramin's family requested an autopsy. Bassam Aramin says he will not rest until his daughter's killer convinces him that young Abir threatened his life or the life of the other soldiers in his jeep. Bassam has also pledged that he will not let this terrible killing deter him from seeking a just peace with honour for his people in Palestine and Israelis alike.

A brief search on Amir Aramin's name brings various Zionist blogs on her death, claiming that it didn't really happen, that if it did it was the fault of the Palestinians for exposing their children to danger by placing them in a demonstration, or that the Palestinians must have done it themselves, the child could not possibly have been shot when soldiers opened fire on an anti-wall demonstration because there are no photographs from that day of any such demonstration. Doesn't that contradict the first version? It seems the liars cannot even be bothered to get their stories right, because they don't regard the death of a Palestinian child as that important.

To say these Zionists are racialists seems an understatement. Glancing through their light and cynical comments takes a strong stomach, reminding me of what I have seen of Nazi literature cheerfully discussing how many Jews they killed.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, whom they would doubtlessly dismiss as a "self-hater", has been to sit with Abir's grieving mother Salwa, telling her "we are all victims of the occupation".

There is an online message of condolence to the Aramin family. It is not much. But it is the least we can do.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

What they did on Holocaust Memorial Day

The sculpture, 'Suza', or teardrop, is in Tuzla, Bosnia, near the spot from which Jews, Gypsies, and partisans, Serb, Muslim or Croat, were sent to the Nazi camps.
The flowers, placed here on January 25, show that people in this Bosnian city have not let more recent war, atrocities and suffering eclipse memory of the earlier crimes. (thanks to Tuzla photographer Jazzy for this picture taken from her blog )
JANUARY 27 was the date officially designated Holocaust memorial day in various countries. It was on January 27, 1945 that Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland from the Nazis. On May 8, 1945, British troops liberated Belsen.

Israel, and many Jewish communities, commemorate Yom Hashoah in late April. Many of us, particularly Jewish Socialists, prefer to commemorate resistance, and the April 1943 Warsaw ghetto revolt.

Whatever the arguments about having one day, or which day, dedicated to remembering the Nazi genocide, and however much we detect hypocrisy or distrust the motives of governments, the continuing need for education can be demonstrated.

Under the headline "Young in the dark about Shoah", the Jewish Chronicle on January 19 reported on a poll. 'Asked whether the Holocaust was a “myth”, “had happened but its scale had been exaggerated”, or that “six million Jews had been killed”, 28 per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds responded that they did not know. The overall percentage of “don’t knows” was 17 per cent'.

Actually the poll result was less worrying than suggested. Fewer than one per cent of those interviewed believed the Holocaust was a myth, or thought Jewish deaths and suffering had been deliberately exagerrated.

Perhaps another survey, conducted by YouGov, was more revealing, finding:
"97% percent of people are aware that Jewish people were victims of the Holocaust, yet around half the population are not aware that Roma and Sinti, and Gay and Lesbian people and disabled people were also persecuted. This figure increases to over 75% in the case of the Black victims of Nazi discrimination".

When Britain held its first Holocaust Memorial day in 2001 some friends had quite a fight to get Roma representatives invited to the official event. For all the use of the buzz word "inclusion" back then, the British government was excluding Roma refugees from poverty and persecution in the newly "free" countries of eastern Europe. The right-wing press was working up prejudice against them, and Gypsies in general. It still is. The Jewish Socialists' Group, joined by other anti-racists, including Iranian refugees, highlighted media hypocrisy with a Holocaust day picket on the Daily Mail. The leaflet distributed outside its Kensington offices compared its pre-war pro-Hitler and anti-refugee line with its current obsession with attacking asylum seekers. One lady agreed with the leaflet but asked me whether we would demonstrate outside the Daily Express as well. She was quite right to suggest this of course.

On a positive note, the Holocaust Memorial Trust and some local authorities have included other genocides and made the link between Nazi antisemitism and other forms of racism. I was pleased to see an Ealing council paper brought out for the commemoration featured an item on the Armenian genocide of 1915. It was Winston Churchill, I think, who first used the word "Holocaust" - from a Greek term for sacrifice by fire - referring to reports of Armenians being thrown into pits and burned. There are Armenians in Ealing, some of whom became refugees a second time when Cyprus was invaded, and have made a contribution to local refugee and community relations work.

This year the attention given Holocaust Memorial Day has varied. In Scotland, Holocaust Memorial week was marked by various bodies, ranging from the Grand Masonic Lodge to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which arranged readings of Jim Allen's play Perdition, which deals with the way Zionist leaders in Hungary kept the Jewish community unaware of what was planned, colluding with the Nazis so they would allow the flight of selected persons. To accompany this there was a tour by Lenni Brenner, author of Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. The Morning Star (Wednesday January 24) misleadingly reported protests that Holocaust week organisers "removed events by Palestinian activists from their website" (Activists attack 'censorship' of Palestine in Holocaust event). This was misleading, because the people running the Scottish PSC are not Palestinians, and the Jim Allen play is not about Palestine.

However, it was not as misleading as claims by some opponents that '“Perdition” is a poor-quality dramatisation of one the themes of the anti-semitic campaign launched by the Soviet government in the late 1960s' on Nazi-Zionist collaboration (Stan Crook in Workers Liberty) or that 'as far as the Scottish PSC is concerned, the best way to remember the Holocaust is to remind everybody that the "Zionists" were responsible for it' (someone calling himself 'Mikey' on the Engage site).

Jim Allen is no longer around to defend his play (he died in 1999), but he did explain his views very thoughtfully in an interview with Jewish Socialist, published alongside criticism of the play by David Cesarani in Spring 1987. Unfortunately it seems to have escaped the research of Crook and "Mikey". I knew Jim Allen in Manchester back in 1959-60, when he edited a rank-and-file miners' paper. He was neither a Stalinist nor an antisemite - he had a record of fighting both. He made his name as a writer with work on trade union struggles and social issues, before working with Roland Joffe to prepare a series of films on fascism for which they never got backing.
Perdition, written in the years after the 1982 Lebanon war, wrestles with issues of leadership and betrayal, which Jim felt he knew from experience in the labour movement, but it is based on real events in Hungary, which had led to a major scandal in Israel, and inspired Ben Hecht's 1961 book Perfidy. Rudolf Kastner, the Zionist leader at the centre of the true story, was assassinated in Israel in 1957. My late friend Maxim Ghilan was among the "usual suspects" detained and questioned, though it turned out that the person who killed Kastner was a police informer.
I don't know whether Perdition is a good play. I'm not a drama critic (but nor were Martin Gilbert, Stephen Roth, Cesarani and other committed Zionists whom 'Mikey' cites as "respectable historians"). But I do know that it does not do anything as stupid as "blame the Zionists for the Holocaust". How material it is to Scottish Palestine Solidarity, or whether it was an appropriate way to mark Holocaust memorial day is another matter. Scottish PSC were on better ground talking about the repercussions of Europe's Jewish tragedy on the people of Palestine, to which they could have added that the very countries which had closed their doors to refugees from Nazism then backed partition at the UN, and contributed to the Palestinian Nakba.
Care must be taken not to seem as though counterposing one tragedy to the other, of which it was a continuation; and solidarity campaigners need to be able to distinguish between Zionist censorship and the genuine sensitivity of ordinary Jewish people, if we are to win over the latter.

On to Bolton in Lancashire, where it seems there was no problem deciding how to mark Holocaust memorial day. The local council had delegated its responsibilities for this to an "Inter-faith council" comprised of Christian, Muslim and Hindu representatives, who decided that there was no need to do anything as there were "no Jews in Bolton". Canon Michael Williams, treasurer of the Interfaith Council, said: "The service is a bit artificial because we have never had a Jewish community to support it".
They said they would hold a more inclusive "genocide day" in June. But news that the Holocaust memorial day had been scrapped brought an outraged response from many local people. "It is difficult to imagine anything more shameful than the cancellation of the Holocaust Memorial Day’s observance in Bolton, " wrote reader Harriet Grimsditch in a letter to the Bolton News.
" Would Remembrance Day be cancelled because there is no-one living in Bolton who served in the 1914 -1918 war? Holocaust Memorial Day is not only to honour the memory of all those who died as a result of the Holocaust, the millions of Jewish people, Roma, Communists & those who resisted fascism. It is, equally importantly, an opportunity to consider the meaning of Never Again, to consider how fascism established a stranglehold on the countries of Germany, Italy, Spain & Portugal &, with the shameful collusion of many & heroic resistance of some, became dominant throughout Europe."
"At a time when there is an alarming rise of Islamaphobia, it is especially important to understand the role of Anti-Semitism in the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930’s. Finding a person or community to blame for the difficulties of poverty in the 1930’s, or terrorism now is scapegoating. The only way to avoid history repeating itself is to study it, honour the victims & learn from those who resisted".
Harriet added that "The Council should also explain why such an important decision was delegated to an unaccountable religious organisation". After a storm of such letters the council - which confined its own activity to lowering flags on the town hall - has admitted it was wrong. The justification for Holocaust memorial day is educational, but plainly in Bolton it is the educators who need educating. The readiness of political leaders to pass responsibility on to "faith" institutions is all too common these days in Britain. Some Jewish leaders are now blaming Muslims, but whatever we think of the Muslim Council of Britain etc., would Jewish religious leadership, with its tendency to isolate Jewish experience and concerns, be much improvement? Should Holocaust education be entrusted to the ultra-Orthodox, who believe Hitler was divine punishment for the sins of the secular, or to those religious Zionists who believe that it was all part of the Almighty's wise plan which led to the State of Israel, so that's alright then? Where would the Gypsies and other victims fit into such vision?

By way of contrast, I was heartened to see the picture above, in the blog of a young Bosnian woman called Jazzy, of floral tributes laid on January 27 in Tuzla, at "a memorial for all genocide victims, called ‘Suza’ which means teardrop by Pero Jelisić. On this very spot was a railway station, where from many Jews, Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, Gypsies, Partisans were taken to concentration camps into their death".
I was in Tuzla, a mining town twice during the Bosnian war, when the BBC used to refer to it as a "Muslim stronghold". Yes, the majority of its people are Muslims, if not very religious, but there are also Croats, Serbs, and a few Jews. The mayor was a Social Democrat. I met partisan veterans who told me they had not dreamed they would have to resist fascism again. The Muslim population was swollen when survivors of the Srebrenica massacre found refuge in Tuzla. It would seem from our picture that the people of Tuzla have not let more recent experience of war and atrocities prevent them remembering the earlier genocide. Maybe they could teach people here a few things.
Bolton's Wanderers
It seems that following the Holocaust Day debacle someone has managed to count some 123 Jews, including at least one Holocaust survivor, in Bolton. They have even remembered that a local rabbi used to conduct Holocaust day services. I don't know whether the Jew-count included Bolton Wanderers' centre-back Tal Ben Haim, who joined them from Maccabi Tel Aviv for £250,000 in July 2004. He could be moving again this Summer. Chelsea have shown interest, and whatever Sam Allardyce says, the player may be more inclined now to make the move to London.

I was relieved to hear the assertion proved wrong that "there are no Jews in Bolton" (bit like "There are no pianos in Japan", quoth James Thurber). Back in the days of my misspent youth in the labour-zionist youth movement Habonim, myself and Mike Leigh were despatched from Salford to Bolton one Sunday morning with a list of addresses from which to gather the takings from the Jewish National Fund blue boxes. See, if you want to know where people are just ask the fundraisers.
By way of expiation for the above confession, Saturday, January 27 this year found me at the School of Oriental and African Studies(SOAS), attending the Palestine Society's conference on the Palestinian economy. And a few days later, unbeknownst to me, my old chaver Mike Leigh was among celebs helping to launch Enough!, the new coalition against Israeli occupation in Palestine. So you see, people do change and learn from history.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Bil'in makes it onto British TV

DEMONSTRATORS at Bil'in, 20 January 2006. After a year of protests they've finally made the news.

I've been asking for some time why it is that, unlike the nightly coverage the BBC gave Israeli settler protests against withdrawal from Gaza, British TV news has ignored the peaceful protests against the Israeli seperation fence by Palestinians in the village of Bil'in and some Israeli supporters.

The villagers find the supposed "security" barrier snaking through the occupied West Bank separates them from their fields and olive groves, which the occupiers have been uprooting. The protests which they have held regularly, have been attacked by Israeli forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

We have seen some of this ongoing battle on YouTube, but not on our ordinary TV screens. At least, not until the other day, when thanks to journalist Inigo Gilmore and Israeli activist Shai Polak, as well as the people doggedly maintaining their dignified demonstrations at Bil'in, the British viewing public was given a glimpse of what has been happening at this village, whose lands have been taken for the developers' profit and the settlement of Modin Elit.

It was not on BBC, mind, but Channel Four. If like me you missed it, you can catch up on the item at:
It may not be much, but it is a breakthrough after long non-coverage, and those responsible deserve credit for this. Let's hope it's a start.

PS: I should have mentioned, that this item I missed was brought to my attention by a posting in the JustPeace Uk list from Abe Hayeem, one of the founders of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine.
See their site:
Which is appropriate, as, while several Palestinian and Israeli groups have been supporting the Bil'in protests, the one which Inigo Gilmore's report mentions is
Bimkom, a group formed to oppose the way Israel uses planning laws and procedures against the human rights of Palestinians.
or takes you direct to English version.

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