Thursday, November 27, 2008

Has Pakistan Frankenstein struck again?

WHO is behind the latest murderous attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, in which hundred people have been killed and more are held hostage? The young men taking part have been described as just "boys" by witnesses, yet they were heavily armed, and not with popguns.

It was a planned and coordinated operation, and they knew their targets, and unlike previous atrocities in which Indians were mainly the victims, this time they reportedly went for Westerners, particularly those with British passports.

The bitter irony here is that the terrorist outfit responsible may have owed its beginnings to the war in Afghanistan when anti-Soviet mujahaddeen based in Pakistan were backed by the US Reagan administration and Britain's Margaret Thatcher.

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has said the attackers were supported from outside the country, and though he did not mention Pakistan by name, warned "neighbouring countries" to stop allowing their territory to provide bases for terrorism. Indian police claimed the attacks looked like the work of Lashkar e Taiba, an Islamic group based in Pakistani territory, though it is officially banned in Pakistan.

Lashkar e Taiba was founded in Kunar province, Afghanistan, in 1991 by Professor Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, as the military wing of an Islamic party, Markaz ad-dawa w'al Irshad, MDI, based near Lahore in Pakistan. It supported the fight against pro-Soviet Afghan President Najbullah. Then in 1993 it turned to launching operations in Kashmir.

Adhering to the strict conservative Wahabbi brand of Sunni Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, this movement has the modest aim of establishing Islamic rule across a large area of the former Soviet Union, China and South Asia. Though officially banned by the Pakistan authorities after the United States labelled it terrorist, the Lashkar e Taiba moved from its Lahore headquarters to a base at Muzaffarabad in so-called Azad (free) Kashmir, the Pakistani-occupied zone of that country. Fetching in Afghan and Pakistani gunmen as supposed 'freedom fighters', it has attacked Indian forces in Kashmir. But since not all Kashmiris are Muslims, let alone mistaking fundamentalism for their freedom, it has also engaged in sectarian (or 'communal') attacks, such as killing 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura in 2000. A similar number of Hindus were taken from their homes and killed at Doda and Udhampar at the end of April 2006.

To avoid repression in Pakistan, the MDI transformed itself into separate wings in 2003, so that Hafiz now heads Jamaat ad Dawaa, the Party of the Calling, which operates legally and points to its charitable activities, as distinct from the military side. The 2005 Kashmir earthquake gave the Jamaat the chance to raise its prestige by being on the scene in Azad Kashmir's badly-affected areas ahead of the Pakistan authorities and army. It also afforded the chance to raise funds from Kashmiris and others in Britain and elsewhere, intended for humanitarian relief.

Yesterday's attacks in Mumbai are probably the worst in India since 11 July, 2006, when 211 people were killed and hundreds more maimed and injured in bombings of rush-hour commuter trains, also around Mumbai. The port city is being targeted as India's main commercial centre; but also, as the train bombings indicate, as a mized, modern secular city where it is working people, including Muslims, who are the victims.

The Pakistan government has condemned the Mumbai attacks, and so has Lashkar-e-Taiba Lashkar has no association with any Indian militant group," Abdullah Gaznavai, chief spokesman of the group, told Reuters.

As a sectarian state, and base for imperialism, Pakistan, through its military intelligence agencies, has long been implicated in sponsoring armed terrorist groups, though it seems in recent years the monster has grown out of control of Pakistan governments, or their Western allies.

We must not forget either that the present Indian government, contrary to the republic's democratic constitution and reputation, has not only kept its military occupation in Kashmir, but has elements linked to the pogroms in Gujarat when 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. More recently we saw violence against Christians in Orissa.

To add to the grim and grisly picture, there have been suggestions that the latest attackers had links in Bangladesh, where a right-wing regime now includes those who sided with Pakistan against their own people's fight for independence.

Whatever the truth, and whichever accusations we have to believe, we can see that as they clear away the blood and debris from the latest carnage, and fear the next, people have also got to clear out rotten and criminal leaders from all three countries. And they are not alone.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Three taken by Israel piracy stage hunger strike

Three international human rights observers held in Israel after they were seized from Palestinian fishing boats are reported to have begun a hunger strike in protest at their imprisonment, and demanding that Israel returns the boats it captured, and undamaged.

The Israeli Navy seized them with fifteen Palestinian fishermen on board three boats off the coast of Gaza. The fishermen were later released, but their boats have been impounded and are in Ashdod harbour.

The three internationals who remain imprisoneed are Andrew Muncie, 34, from Scotland, Vittorio Arrigoni, 33, an Italian, and Darlene Wallach, 47, an American citizen. They are held at Al Ramla prison, are currently awaiting trial and Israel intends to deport them.

Though overshadowed for media attention by the seizure of an oil tanker by Somali pirates, the Israeli action was just as illegal, since the fishing boats were just seven miles off the Gaza coast when taken, and in Palestinian waters.

The three human rights volunteers had gone to Gaza with the first Free Gaza movement voyage on August 23, and had been working with the International Solidarity Movement, trying to assist the fishermen as others have assisted Palestinian farmers. The fishermen are subject to regular harassment by the Israeli navy.

According to Arlene Wallach, "We were fishing about 7 miles off the shores of Gaza. The Israeli soldiers came on board the three boats via four Zodiacs. The frogmen came up and over each boat. They used a taser on Vik while he was still on the boat, then tried to push him backwards onto a sharp piece of wood. He jumped into the sea to avoid being hurt more than he already was
and was in the water for quite a while. Then they came for me and forced me into the Zodiac at the point of a gun. They kidnapped me and Andrew and Vik and all of the Palestinian fishermen."

At court on Thursday, HRO Andrew Muncie asked the judge under what law they had been arrested. According to the judge, their detention was authorized by the
Oslo Accords "because it is forbidden by military law for you to fish 7 and a half miles off the coast. It is a no-fishing zone."

However, the Oslo accords grant Palestinians the right to fish 20 miles off their own coast. When Andrew's attorney handed a copy of that portion of the
Oslo accords to the judge, she had no comment.

The three point out that dozens of families depend on the fishing boats for their livelihood. They said they would stop eating until the confiscated fishing
boats are "returned in the condition they were in when the frogmen boarded the boats, with any damage they made repaired."

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Iceland to Barnet. Think and unite globally, act locally!

AMONG the most interesting speakers at last week's very well-attended conference of the Labour Representation Committee was Ogmundur Jonassen, leader of the Left-wing VG party in Iceland. It was an inspired choice.

The Icelandic MP put his country's banking failures in context, describing how neo-liberal economic ideas similar to those which guided Thatcherism had overwhelmed Iceland's welfare state and social democracy, and elevated the financial sector . "We are in the same boat", as he said.

Jonassen also pointed out that whereas the British government had used anti-terrorist law to seize Icelandic funds, it had not been so quick to react to US bankers Lehman Bros who transferred $8 billion from London while filing for bankruptcy.

We might as well add that local government institutions which entrusted £1 billion to Landsbank and other Icelandic banks did not just do so after seeing an ad in the press. "As supposedly responsible stewards of public funds they took the advice of UK government-approved financial advisers, such as Sector Treasury Services Ltd. ..."
(Private Eye No.1221). Sector turns out to be a subsidiary of Capita, the accident-prone ubiquitous provider of privatised services to local and national government.

Among the delegates who listened and heartily applauded the comrade from Iceland were trades unionists from the London Borough of Barnet.
Their Tory-led borough council had just despatched a mission to Iceland to try and recover some of the £27.4 million it invested in 2006 and 2007.

Barnet had borrowed some £40 million for long-term plans to improve and rebuild local schools, but thought it could lend the money on to make more interest before putting it to use. It also reckoned it could repay its borrowings by selling land freed up by the school plan. Well, how could they know there would be a property slump?

Barnet council leader Mike Freer has said he never met the council's finance officers in the past two years to find out how the council's investment portfolio was doing. He did not even know they had money in Icelandic banks till he read about the banks' collapse in the newspapers.
Considering Mr.Freer has a post with Barclays Bank and used to run his own financial services company it's nice that he resisted the temptation to poke into details.

That's "arms length government".

But Cllr.Freer has other fish to fry, having been selected to try and win back Finchley and Golders Green, Thatcher's old seat, for the Tories.

As for Barnet's chief executive Leo Boland, he has resigned to go and help Boris Johnson with his expertise, becoming chief executive of the Greater London Authority (budget £3 billion). Up and up, and on and on!

Barnet still has problems with its care homes and services, handed over to Fremantle, which Labour councillors thought OK because it was a charity, but which uncharitably attacked staff pay and conditions, causing a long-running industrial dispute.

Nothing daunted by domestic troubles or getting its fingers burnt in the world of high finance, the council is discussing an even more ambitious privatising project called Future Shape. As revealed last May to council staff, this envisages getting rid of all those old-hat council services like schools and bin collection, putting everything out to the private sector, while the council itself will turn its mind to strategic issues like "obesity, climate change, etc".

I expect they could now add the world banking crisis to the list.
I don't know whether Barnet is going to see diet planners replacing dinner ladies, and signs going up on the Edgware Road "Welcome to Barnet, Climate change-free zone". I've occasionally sat around tables with people discussing strategic issues, and we even seemed near resolving them before the landlord called time and we heard "Can we have your glasses, please?" ("You should have gone to Specsavers!" shouts some wag). We didn't get councillors' expenses, mind.

Barnet Unison and other unions with members employed in local government and services are opposing Future Shape, and have briefed their members as well as holding public meetings, calling on research and analysis from experts like Professor Dexter Whitfield of the European Services Strategy Unit


Barnet trades union council has called a lobby of the council's cabinet committee which is due to deliberate on Future Shape at its meeting on Wednesday December 3.

The trades council says "Bring your banners and wrap up warm. Council unions and Barnet trades council will be lobbying the Council Cabinet meeting that decides the future mdel of service provision in Barnet. They call it 'Future Shape'. We say: keep it in-house; protect the quality of services, democratic accountability, and jobs, pay and conditions of service".

The details are Rally: 6pm; attend council meeting: 7pm Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ (nearest tube: Totteridge & Whetstone/Northern Line)

Barnet TUC website:

Barnet UNISON:

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gaza fishermen facing state piracy

WHILE world attention was naturally focused on the audacious action of Somali pirates in seizing a massive oil tanker 300 miles off the East African coast, news reaches us of another act of piracy in the eastern Mediterranean, just seven miles off the coast at Deir al Balla, in the Gaza Strip.

As we sympathise with the seafarers facing danger from piracy in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden, so we feel for the Gaza fishermen facing harassment by the Israeli Navy. Fourteen fishermen and three international observers have been kidnapped in this latest incident.

The Somali pirates aimed to extract money from a super-wealthy oil company. The Israeli state pirates are preventing poor fishermen earning their livelihood, and stopping food from reaching families in the desperate conditions of the Gaza strip. We call this piracy, because it took place in Gaza's waters, not those of Israel, and was clearly illegal. But it is the effect of such actions that make it really criminal.

The three internationals are Andrew Muncie from Scotland, Darlene Wallach from the United States and Victor Arrigoni from Italy. The U.K., U.S. and Italian embassies in Tel Aviv have been contacted and know about the abductions. The International Solidarity Movement which has been bringing volunteers to help Palestinian farmers gather their olive harvest has begun acting in the same spirit to draw attention to what is happening to the fishermen.

In a press statement issued yesterday it says the fourteen Palestinian fishermen and three international Human Rights Observers (HROs) were surrounded by the Israeli Navy and taken from their boats 7 miles off the coast of Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. The fishermen and the HROs were transferred from three separate boats to the Israeli warships. Other Palestinian fishermen reported that the three boats were seen being taken north by the Israeli Navy.

Fellow workers had been unable to establish contact with the HROs or with the fishermen since they were abducted.

"Since their arrival, the ISM volunteers have been regularly accompanying Palestinian fishermen who are regularly attacked by Israeli navy vessels from as little as 3km from shore. They have regularly filmed Israeli forces using live ammunition, shells and water cannons against unarmed fishermen.
(see link below to film)

"When confronted by the Israeli Navy, the boats were 7 nautical miles from the shore of Deir al Balah, well within the fishing limit detailed in the Oslo Accords of 1994.

"With regular claims that from the Israeli government that it has ˜disengaged' from Gaza, these patrols and attacks from the Israeli navy, regularly occurring from as little as three miles from shore, represent a clear signal of the continuation of occupation of Gazan territory as well as regular breaches of the current cease-fire.

"Over 40,000 people in Gaza make a living from the fishing industry, yet this community has been decimated by Israeli restrictions on fishing rights and the prevention of fuel from reaching the Gaza Strip. According to the Fishing Syndicate in Gaza, fishermen need 40,000 litres of fuel and 40,000 litres of natural gas each day to operate throughout the high fishing season.

"Starting in April each year, there is a migration of fish from the Nile Delta to Turkish waters which Palestinian fishermen have traditionally relied upon. Yet Israel limits fishing 6 miles from the Gaza shore and regularly attacks those who venture further than 3 miles - over 70 fishermen were arrested last year by the Israeli forces. The large schools that form the migration are usually found 10 miles from shore. The average catch of fish was over 3000 tons a year in the 1990s, now it is around 500 tons directly due to the Israeli siege of Gaza.

"Not only this, but the brutal effects of the siege, the water in which the fishermen of Gaza sail in is now receiving 50 million litres of sewage per day because the people of Gaza have no alternative".

Hopefully, as well as raising the issue of the observers with their respective authorities, people will raise the issue of Israeli state piracy against the Gaza fishermen with governments claiming to act for peace in the Middle East. There will be an opportunity this afternoon when people lobby MPs at Westminster over the need for the British government to help the Palestinians and put pressure on Israel, while Foreign Secretary David Milliband is in the Middle East.

Video of a previous incident, Israeli Navy attacking fishing boat:

Gaza fishermen released - see for latest

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Court that Takes Liberties: EU laws used to attack workers

EUROPE'S employers, and their accomplices in the judiciary, were not waiting for the latest economic crisis and recession to start the assault on workers' rights and conditions. It is proceeding at more than one level.

In May this year termination notices were served on 19 Kashmiri/Pakistani seamen working on board Birger Jarl, a Swedish cruise ship. They were given three-moths grace. The ship owners, Roderia Allandia, claimed the redundancies were necessary because under new EU legislation it could not receive financial support from the EU if it employed non-EU workers. This seems in line with what British ministers have been saying about restricting non-EU immigrants.

But the workers say it is just a pretext for sacking them, and the company was making a profit anyway and did not need subsidies. They and their supporters in Sweden say the real reason behind redundancies is: these workers, some of them working for almost twenty-five years now, earn better wages now owing to yearly pay raise they were qualified under Swedish laws. The company wants to fire them and employ new workers instead from possibly east Europe at low wages.

All these Pakistani workers were members of Service and Communication Union for Seamen (SEKO-Sjöfolk), an affiliate of LO (LO is an umbrella organisation like British TUC and is affiliated with Social Democratic party). But critics say the union bureaucracy has let the seafarers down, by not prioritising their fight. One official suggested they just return to Pakistan. Despite this the seafarers are fighting on, conscious that if they went back to Pakistan they would have little prospect of work, and twenty families would face economic disaster.

In an appeal for solidarity, supporters say the workers often get one-year work permits and visas. Three of them already have their work permits and visas expired as the company did not help workers renew their visas. "The company, in advance, was planning to fire these workers without intimating them since it was counting on the expiry of their visas so the workers could be deported through immigration authorities. All of them will have their visas expired this Autumn. This of course makes the situation acute for the workers and their struggle precarious".

They urge protest letters to Rederi, to the Swedish Commerce Minister, and to the Swedish embassy/Consulate in your country.

Rederi Allandia
Fax: 0046 -8-10 07 41

Swedish Commerce Minister Maud Olofsson

This case fits the pattern seen in a number of legal cases in the European Union, being referred to together as Viking, Laval, Ruffert and Luxemburg, which have sent alarm through trade unions and been described as "the greatest attack on workers' rights since the Thatcher anti-union laws of the 1980s".

Viking is a shipping line which runs ferry services between Finland and Estonia, flying the Finnish flag. The company management decided to re-flag their ferries - using the Estonian flag. The decision was also taken to employ Estonian labour in order to take advantage of the fact that wages are lower in Estonia. In response, the Finnish Seamen’s Union (FSU) warned the company Viking that they might take collective action to stop the re-flagging process. To avoid the danger of being undercut, it also asked the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) under its “Flag of conveniences campaign” to ask their members not to start negotiations with Viking unless they were based in Finland.

The European Court of Justice, while recognising the right to strike under the principles of EU law, declared that it could be restricted. In effect, it decided in the case of Viking and of a Latvian construction company which employed workers on contracts in Sweden, that trade union efforts to insist on standard wages and conditions in the country could be treated as interfering with fredom of movement within the EU, and that employers could sue the unions.

When the Latvian company Laval won a tender for school construction in the town of Vaxholm in Sweden, the Swedish unions tried to negotiate with the Latvian firm for a collective agreement on pay and conditons, as is usual pracctice in Sweden. Laval not only brought in workers from Latvia, but insisted on signing an agreement there, on Latvian pay rates and conditions. Swedish building unions blockaded the site, and electricians took solidarity action. .

The European Court of Justice said the unions action was not justified, and that neither Swedish labour law and practice nor the unions could go beyond European directives on protection of posted workers. .In other words, from settting minimum rights, the EU law is being interpreted as a maximum.

In the case of Ruffert, a German company which had won a prison construction contract in Lower Saxony sub-contracted work to a Polish company. It turned out that the 53 Polish workers actually only earned 46,57 % the pay of their German colleagues on the site. Therefore the Lower Saxony regional government applied the contractual penalties and annulled the contract and imposed financial penalties on the company.

The European Court of Justice(ECJ) judged that this too went beyond the EU directive. In its view the Lower Saxony authorities were not to fix pay as law does not itself fix any minimum rate of pay and the collective agreement in question had not been declared universally applicable. In

In July 2006 the European Commission brought an action against Luxemburg before the ECJ under the infringement procedure, arguing that Luxemburg’s current labour legislation is not in line with the Posting of Workers Directive. Luxemburg, it argues, interprets too widely the term 'public policy provisions' by requiring foreign service providers to respect all labour law regulation in Luxemburg.

The complaint concerns, among other things,
1) the obligation that foreign service providers can only employ employees posted in Luxemburg if they have concluded a written contract of employment or prepared a similar document,
(2) The automatic adjustment of pay to changes in the cost of living
(3) Rules governing part-time and fixed-term employment
(4) Respect of collective agreements.

European Trade Union Institute for Research, Education and Health and Safety (ETUI-REHS)

Whereas we have been arguing that British workers' standards and rights should be brought up to higher levels in Europe, the moves by employers, governments, and as we see, even more the European Court over-ruling elected governments and negotiated agreements, is going the other way, particularly since the EU's expansion, to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator.

The media, with its trivial tales about straight bananas and weights and meassures, as well as its vicious attacks on immigrants, has done everything to divert attention from the real, serious dangers.

IF the CJ's rulings are accepted as laying down the law, what happens to promises about the London living wage, which the RMT has fought for for cleaners on the London Undergound, and which Mayor Boris Johnson has promised to have honoured in contracts?
What about the understanding agreed by unions and employers regarding conditions on the Olympic sites?

Having kept Thatcher's anti-union laws,.and only resisted the EU when it came to directives limiting working hours and setting retirement age, what chance is there that New Labour under Gordon Brown would defend workers rights and living standards?

The South East Region TUC's International Committee is holding an open meeting on December 10 on the subject of Viking, laval, Ruffert and Luxemburg.
Speakers announced are Professor Keith Ewing, of the Institute of Employment Rights,
Hannah Reed senior Employment Rights Officer of the TUC, and Jim McLausan general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (to be confirmed).
It's at 6pm, Wednesday, December 10, Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1
(near Tottenham Court Road tube). .
Register at:

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama appointments raise concern

Senator Barack Obama greets Representative Rahm Emanuel at the Illinois Delegation party at a restaurant in Boston on the eve of the Democratic National Convention 2004. (Tom Williams)

TWO key appointments announced by President-elect Barack Obama ahead of taking office are arousing concern among sections of the people who are looking forward to seeing the back of George W.Bush and have put their hopes on Obama's call for "change".

Obama's choice for White House Chief of Staff, has first appointment after winning office, has delighted some people in Israel, but worried Arab-Americans and Palestinians as much as his pre-election speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), recognising Jerusalem as "the historic capital of Israel". AIPAC, the most vociferous Zionist lobby organisation, is famous for its enthusiastic support of Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, and regarded as well to the right of most American Jewish opinion. But evidently Obama considered it necessary, or was advised, to woo AIPAC. And then, after victory and before the cheers of his supporters had faded, came the chief of staff announcement.

Palestinian-American commentator Ali Abunimah observed wryly:"During the United States election campaign, racists and pro-Israel hardliners tried to make an issue out of President-elect Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein. Such people might take comfort in another middle name, that of Obama's pick for White House Chief of Staff: Rahm Israel Emanuel".

It's not the name that worries people but the background. Rahm Emanuel has been a prominent Democrat and party fundraiser in Obama's home state, Illinois. Born in Chicago, in 1959, he is the son of Benjamin Emanuel, a pediatrician who helped smuggle weapons to the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Zionist underground organisation which believed in unrestrained terror against Palestinians, and was chiefly responsible for the massacre of villagers at Dir Yassin in April, 1948. Israeli Foreign Minister and would-be premier Tzippi Livneh is the daughter of the Irgun commander who organised the King David Hotel bombing two years earlier.

People are not responsible for their parents' affiliations, and besides there have been good campaigners for a just peace and Palestinian rights who acknowledge that in their youth they were members of the Zionist terror groups. (Uri Avnery in Irgun, the late Maxim Ghilan in the even more extreme Lehi, or Stern gang as the Britishy called it). However, as Ali Abunimah tells us, "Emanuel continued his father's tradition of active support for Israel; during the 1991 Gulf War he volunteered to help maintain Israeli army vehicles near the Lebanon border when southern Lebanon was still occupied by Israeli forces..

"As White House political director in the first Clinton administration, Emanuel orchestrated the famous 1993 signing ceremony of the 'Declaration of Principles' between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Emanuel was elected to Congress representing a north Chicago district in 2002 and he is credited with a key role in delivering a Democratic majority in the 2006 mid-term elections. He has been a prominent supporter of neo-liberal economic policies on free trade and welfare reform.

"One of the most influential politicians and fundraisers in his party, Emanuel accompanied Obama to a meeting of AIPAC's executive board just after the Illinois senator had addressed the pro-Israel lobby's conference last June.

"In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. 'We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror,' Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders 'was clearly justified as an application of Israel's right to self-defense' ("Pelosi supports Israel's attacks on Hamas group," San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 2003).

"In July 2006, Emanuel was one of several members who called for the cancellation of a speech to Congress by visiting Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki because al-Maliki had criticized Israel's bombing of Lebanon. Emanuel called the Lebanese and Palestinian governments 'totalitarian entities with militias and terrorists acting as democracies' in a 19 July 2006 speech supporting a House resolution backing Israel's bombing of both countries that caused thousands of civilian victims".

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, told Fox News that picking Emanuel is "just another indication that despite the attempts to imply that Obama would somehow appoint the wrong person or listen to the wrong people when it comes to the US-Israel relationship ... that was never true."

Ali Abunimeh wonders whether Obama will disappoint those who had hoped for a more balanced approach than that of the Bush administration.

In the Daily Times , published in Lahore, Pakistan, Khalid Hasan reports on yet another controversial Obama appoitment:

WASHINGTON: Another of President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments has been greeted with disbelief by Pakistani-Americans and liberal members of the Indian community because Sonal Shah, the adviser picked up by Obama for his transition team, is known for her links to communal Hindu organisations.

Vishwa Hari Parishad (VHP) and its student wing Bajrang Dal are believed to have been involved in the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat and for the last three months have been carrying out a sustained campaign against Indian Christians in Orissa.

Sonal Shah has been the national coordinator for VHP-America and her father has been associated with the Overseas Friends of the BJP. Further, her organisation IndiCorps works with a VHP-sponsored initiative called the Ekal Vidyalayas – or single-teacher schools with a curriculum steeped in instilling hatred against non-Hindu religious minorities. Ekal Vidyalayas have played a key role in anti-minority violence in the states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. IndiCorps founders also have a close relationship with controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

According to Vijay Prashad, Chairman of South Asian history and director of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, Sonal Shah’s Houston-based parents were “not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj, but also in the far more cruel organisations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Overseas Friends of the BJP and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the US branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organisation should ‘inculcate a fear psychosis among (India’s) Muslim community.’ This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.” In 2004, the hard Right government in Gujarat honoured Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award.”

Electronic Intifada 5 November 2008
Obama picks pro-Israel hardliner for top post
Ali Abunimah

Yet another controversial Obama appointment
Following Rahm Emmanuel....

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

New Labour has Balls for brains.

IT looks like, having had a taste of the Scots Nats in government, and sensing that the global economic crisis required serious politics, the voters of Glenrothes, in Fife, Scotland, which borders on Gordon Brown's own seat, decided not to waste time in a by-election registering protest against New Labour's government. Rather they trusted class instinct and voted for what is still, whatever its leaders say and do, supposed to be the workers' party.

To the surprise of media commentators and politicians alike -including Labourites - Labour held the seat with s 6,737 majority over the SNP, actually increasing its vote on the general election. The Tories and Lib Dems lost their deposits.

It would be a mistake for the Labour Party leadership nationally to take this as approval for the government.
For one thing Scottish Labour had pursued different policies, and become an opposition to the SNP in the region, which took the blame for unpopular changes such as increased home care charges. Labour in England
will not have such advantages, especially when it is identified with anti-working class policies putting it to the right of the Lib Dems and even Tories.

That has happened on war and civil rights issues, but now it has become blatant on a bread-and-butter question. Working class people like those at Glenrothes may turn back to Labour, but Labour in government has turned its back on working people.

Consider this quotation:

"If the government is serious about tackling the capital's obscene levels of poverty and deprivation, then it would join me in urging all London employers to accept the London living wage as the basic pay rate. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work and it is not only morally right to pay the living wage but also makes good business sense, contributing to better recruitment and retention of staff, higher productivity and a more loyal workforce with high morale."

That's the Mayor of London. Not yesterday's mayor Ken Livingstone, but Tory mayor Boris Johnson. And if asking the government to fix a decent minimum wage, and arguing that it will ensure a better workforce seems merely reformist or even liberal, it seems it is still far too leftist for some Labourites. An organisation called London Citizens held a demonstration last week outside the government department that deals with children, schools and families. Labour is supposed to be committed to ending child poverty. It is certainly keen on getting people into work and ending dependence on benefits. Well, London Citizens says one way to relieve child poverty is to ensure parents can earn enough to live and raise families on. It wants the government to back the London Living Wage, "a modest gesture which gives the poorest paid in one of the world's most expensive cities £7.45 an hour, as opposed to the national minimum of £5.73" (David Hencke,
Guardian Comment is Free, Monday November 3 2008.) .

As Guardian commentator David Hencke points out,"Boris Johnson, the London mayor, to his credit, has already not only backed the idea, but is implementing it on the London Underground, after a tough campaign from the RMT union. Jason Stacey, the Tory leader of Ealing council, is doing likewise and hundreds of dinner ladies on Ealing schools have seen their wages increase by over £1 an hour. So have some hospital trusts like the Royal London, universities like LSE and Queen Mary College, London and banks and accounting firms in the City.

"Not so Ed Balls, the children's secretary or his wife, Yvette Cooper, chief secretary to the Treasury. In a statement issued by Ball's department he says: 'An artificial 'living wage for London' could distort labour markets and prove poor value for money. Moreover, in seeking to reflect perceptions of the 'cost of living', this proposal could also raise inflation expectations at a time when increased vigilance is needed on inflationary risks. We do not believe it is necessary or appropriate.'. It turns out that his statement was part of a Treasury public spending line to block the extension of the London living wage to Whitehall and other public services".

So Gordon Brown's close ally, and author of tax credits, Balls, is holding down the poor, while the Tory Johnson, an Old Etonian whom we took for a joke combining Dennis the Menace haircut with Lord Snooty's ideas and pals, is being reasonable. He has said he does not believe anyone can live in London on £5.75 an hour, and promised that all staff directly employed by the Greater London Authority will be paid over the living wage.

"The Balls family enjoy a joint income of £277,000, with homes in London and Wakefield. Their gross income is more than 13 times the £21,000 income of a couple on a minimum wage working a 40 hour week. Yet they qualify as MPs for a subsidy of more than £500 a week on their London home, paid, incidently, out of the taxies levied on among others, low paid cleaners in London".

As a further note on Ed Balls, in September 2007, with his wife Yvette Cooper, he was accused of "breaking the spirit of Commons rules" by using MPs' allowances to help pay for a £655,000 home in north London. It was alleged that they bought a four-bed house in Stoke Newington, north London, and registered this as their second home (rather than their home in Castleford, West Yorkshire) in order to qualify for up to £44,000 a year to subsidise a reported £438,000 mortgage under the Commons Additional Costs Allowance'.

David Hencke comments: "Both their ministries, alongside the department of work and pensions are also signatories to the child poverty pledge which says employees should pay a decent wage and commits them to paying the London living wage. Yet they have no intention of doing it themselves.

The whole issue stinks of hypocrisy. It is also highly dangerous for Labour and mean to the working poor. What worker in London who is paid less than £7.45 an hour, normally a core Labour supporter, will consider voting for the party in 2010 if this is the policy. The Tory party could rightly make a killing in London from the policies of Slave Labour'.

Many low-paid workers in London are in unorganised workplaces, many have to make do with casual labour. Quite a number are migrants and "illegals", thanks to government immigration policies which benefit unscrupulous employers, though with growing unemployment and government attacks on benefits, New Labour may be loking forward to replacing these with yet more desperate workers becoming available locally. Even when low-paid workers do get organised, it is difficult for them to withold their labour when they cannot afford to lose a day's pay or fear losing their jobs. Other trade unionists who might take action, on the principle that the strong should help the weak, not only face abuse from the government and right-wing media, but legal penalties under the Tory anti-union laws which New Labour has preserved.

For all these reasons, there is no option but to demand that maximum working hours, decent and safe conditions, and a reasonable living wage should be legislated. It is the least we should expect from the party which our unions have created and financed. Yet now we see a "Labour" government in the shape of messrs.Balls and Cooper not even prepared to pay their own staff decently. Why should any sweatshop boss or corner-cutting contractor feel obliged to worry?

Maybe we should not be surprised, if we'd known more about Ed Balls' history, such as what he wrote in 1991, before Labour even came to office..
"The allure of a minimum wage is deceptive and should be resisted," because "a minimum wage could risk making poverty worse." The government "cannot tell private employers both how much to pay people and how many people to employ", said our man. "If it sets a floor to wages, some employers will cut costs by cutting employment. Lower employment could exacerbate the problems of poverty." That was in the now deceased
Marxism Today, in 1991.

Where we derided Boris' lack of background dealing with working people or the labour movement , we can see that Balls' background deepens his culpability and hypocrisy. Like Gordon Brown he has been keen to stress his place in Labour's intellectual tradition. Here he is talking to Martin Bright in the New Statesman two years ago:

"When I was at college, the economic system in eastern Europe was crumbling. We didn't have to ask the question of whether we should adopt a globally integrated, market-based model. For me, it is now a question of what values you have. Socialism, as represented by the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Co-operative movement, is a tradition I can be proud of".

Balls by name, and balls he is talking.

Some people are campaigning to "Save the Labour Party", but how can you save it from such leaders?

Slave Labour Labour couldn't care less about the low paid. Even Boris backs the London Living Wage campaign, * David Hencke.
Monday November 3 2008

Boris left, right and centre

Stumbling and Mumbling: New Labour's class hatred

Thanks to John Angliss and Raj Gill for drawing my attention to this issue.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Georgians demand to know the reasons why

WHILE we were asking questions about the war in Georgia, and how much the British government knew, in this column yesterday, columns of Georgians were marching through their capital Tbilisi, demanding answers from their government.

As many as 20,000 people took part in the demonstration, according to today's Morning Star. They rallied outside parliament before marching to the presidential residence a mile away. Besides explanations for the war last Summer, they called for greater press freedom, and early parliamentary elections.

A report in the New York Times yesterday said independent monitors working for the OSCE had reported that
Georgian government forces started the escalation into all-out conflict in August , breaking a ceasefire with South Ossetian rebels by launching indiscriminate rocket fire on the South Ossetian's capital. Russian forces supporting the Ossetians responded with an invasion, easily pushing back the Georgian army in both Ossetia and Abkhazia, its other rebel province. Many civilians on both sides were killed or saw their homes destroyed, and refugees fled in both directions.

British ad US governments have praised Georgia's President Saskashvili as a democrat, and promised to bring Georgia into NATO. But it seems many Georgians are questioning their government's path.

Speaking for the United Opposition which organised yesterday's demonstration in Tbiisi, Eka Beselia said: "We are demanding early presidential and parliamentary elections in the Spring, election legislation reforms, media feredom and the freeing of political prisoners". (Morning Star, November 8, 2008).

Reluctant as I was to take the Star's report as last word, I checked what the Guardian and Independent had to say, but they don't seem to have covered the Georgian protest. However it was reported in the New York Times, which found some of the protesters not as patient as the opposition leaders:

'Some of the demonstrators were disappointed in calls to wait, saying they would like Mr. Saakashvili and his team to be removed from power immediately, lest they provoke renewed fighting with Russia.

“Saakashvili should go right now,” said Eka Jipashvili, a protester. “We need a new government that will be able to negotiate with Russia and will not worry us with ideas of new war.”

Hopefully as well as our politicians letting us in on what they know, we will hear more about this side of things, and what ordinary Georgians have to say, from our mainstream media. Or is that too much to expect?

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Was Georgia on their mind?

WHILE we wait to see just how much change Barack Obama is really going to deliver, and whether his administration will try to extract America from two wars, what looked dangerously like kicking off a third, and potentially biggest conflict is coming under critical light. Military observers employed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,(OSCE) have made a report which discounts the Georgian government's line that it was the innocent victim of Russian aggression.

The observers say the Georgian military attacked Tskhinvali , the capital of the breakaway South Ossetia region on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.

Georgian president Mikhail Saskashvili had claimed the attack was a precise and defensive action to prevent Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages. At other times official Georgian spokespersons variously claimed their forces were acting to restore order, or to halt a Russian invasion.

American and British governments and politicians like Tory David Cameron rallied to Georgia's side and condemned Russian intervention. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Georgia's membership of NATO was on track.

The O.S. C.E monitors, whose evidence is reported in today's New York Times, confirm what we even saw on TV, when Georgian forces used multiple rocket launchers to assault the South Ossetian capital. They record that on the night of August 7 and 8, Georgian artillery rounds and rockets were falling throughout the city at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between explosions. Within the first hour of the bombardment at least 48 rounds landed in a civilian area. The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening, calling to question one of Mr. Saakashvili’s main justifications for the attack.

Georgian deputy Foreign minister Giga Bekeria has urged Western governments to disregard the OSCE report. “That information, I don’t know what it is and how it is confirmed,” he said. “There is such an amount of evidence of continuous attacks on Georgian-controlled villages and so much evidence of Russian military buildup, it doesn’t change in any case the general picture of events.”

He added: “Who was counting those explosions? It sounds a bit peculiar.”

Russia's deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin, on the other hand, says the report reflects "the actual course of events prior to Georgia’s aggression.” He added that the accounts “refute” allegations by Tbilisi of bombardments that he called mythical.

The O.S.C.E. is an organization with 56 member states, and eperience in many conflict zones. Its observers have been monitoring the Georgian conflicts since a previous cease-fire agreement in the 1990s. The monitors, including a Finnish major, a Belarussian airborne captain and a Polish civilian, have submitted material in two confidential briefings to diplomats in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, one in August and the other in October.

Georgia's attack backfired, bringing the Russian invasion it was supposed to stop, with heavy damage to Georgian cities, and ethnic cleansing of Georgian villages by Ossetian, Chechen and Cossack irregulars. Saakashvili compared Russia’s incursion the Nazi annexations in Europe in 1938 and the Soviet suppression of Prague in 1968, but he faces unease among Georgians who asked why their government was so reckless, and skepticism from some of Georgia's allies.

cording to the monitors, an O.S.C.E. patrol at 3 p.m. on Aug. 7 saw large numbers of Georgian artillery and grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori, just south of the enclave.At 6:10 p.m., the monitors were told by Russian peacekeepers of suspected Georgian artillery fire on Khetagurovo, an Ossetian village; this report was not independently confirmed, and Georgia declared a unilateral cease-fire shortly thereafter, about 7 p.m. During a news broadcast that began at 11 p.m., Georgia announced that Georgian villages were being shelled, and declared an operation “to restore constitutional order” in South Ossetia. The bombardment of Tskhinvali started soon after the broadcast.

According to the monitors, however, no shelling of Georgian villages could be heard in the hours before the Georgian bombardment. At least two of the four villages that Georgia has since said were under fire were near the observers’ office in Tskhinvali, and the monitors there likely would have heard artillery fire nearby.

Moreover, the observers made a record of the rounds exploding after Georgia’s bombardment began at 11:35 p.m. At 11:45 p.m., rounds were exploding at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between impacts, they noted.At 12:15 a.m. on Aug. 8, Gen. Maj. Marat M. Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeepers in the enclave, reported to the monitors that his unit had casualties, indicating that Russian soldiers had come under fire.

By 12:35 a.m. the observers had recorded at least 100 heavy rounds exploding across Tskhinvali, including 48 close to the observers’ office, which is in a civilian area and was damaged.

Georgian officials told Western diplomats that Ossetians had weapons in civilian buildings, making them legitimate targets. Bush administration officials went along with this.“The Georgians have been quite clear that they were shelling targets — the mayor’s office, police headquarters — that had been used for military purposes,” said Matthew J. Bryza, a deputy assistant US secretary of state.

The New York Times says the Georgian official story was disputed by Ryan Grist, a former British Army captain who was the senior O.S.C.E. representative in Georgia when the war broke out. Mr. Grist said that he was in constant contact that night with all sides, with the office in Tskhinvali and with Wing Commander Stephen Young, the retired British military officer who leads the monitoring team.

“It was clear to me that the attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” Mr. Grist said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.”

Ryan Grist has served as a military officer or diplomat in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. "In August, after the Georgian foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, who has no military experience, assured diplomats in Tbilisi that the attack was measured and discriminate, Mr. Grist gave a briefing to diplomats from the European Union that drew from the monitors’ observations and included his assessments. He then soon resigned under unclear circumstances.

"A second briefing was led by Commander Young in October for military attachés visiting Georgia. At the meeting, according to a person in attendance, Commander Young stood by the monitors’ assessment that Georgian villages had not been extensively shelled on the evening or night of Aug. 7. 'If there had been heavy shelling in areas that Georgia claimed were shelled, then our people would have heard it, and they didn’t,'Commander Young said, according to the person who attended. 'They heard only occasional small-arms fire.'

Georgia Claims on Russia War Called Into Question

Both American and Israeli military advisers were in Georgia before the August attack. Did their presence encourage the Georgian commanders to think they could launch a successful attack? Was the Georgian government led to believe it could count on Western backing? Was the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office aware of the OSCE monitors report, including the views of British officers, when David Miliband said that Georgia's NATO membership could go ahead? How much does the FCO know about the resignation of Ryan Grist?


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Quest for truth and justice for Jeremiah Duggan

THE family of student Jeremiah Duggan have come a step nearer winning a fresh inquest into his death after a hearing in the High Court yesterday. But while agreeing there were "sufficient unusual circumstances in this case" to warrant granting permission for further proceedings, the judge, Justice Wyn Williams, declined to give an opinion, and said he was "not going to tell the Attorney General what to do".

Jerry Duggan, a north Londoner who had been studying at the Sorbonne, was found lying on a motorway outside Wiesbaden in Germany in the early hours of March 27, 2003. He had gone there to attend what he thought was an anti-war conference, organised by Lyndon LaRouche's Schiller Institute.

After Wednesday's hearing, Jerry's mum, Mrs Erica Duggan said: "What kind of justice system puts a bereaved mother in the situation of having to fight through the courts for what is my right to find out why my son died?"

German police had said Jerry Duggan had run into the path of two oncoming cars. A German coroner recorded a verdict of suicide. But no explanation was given as to why the previously happy and successful student should have decided to take his own life, or how he came to be where his body was found, some miles from where he was staying. After hearing about two phone calls Jerry made, to his mother and to his girlfriend Maya, a British coroners report said Mr Duggan was in "a state of terror" when he died. .

But in a letter on February t6 this year, the Attorney General concluded there was no prospect to order another inquest. At Wednesday's hearing, Dinah Rose, QC, counsel for the Duggan family said there were precedents for a fresh inquest to be ordered if new evidence came to light. Evidence uncovered by Erica Duggan's own inquiries might lead to the conclusion that her son's death was neither suicide nor a road traffic accident.

No witness statements had been produced, not even from the drivers of the two cars that were supposed to have hit Jerry Duggan. He was supposedly hit by a Peugeot, then run over by a VW Golf. The vehicles had been moved when police arrived on the scene. Neither vehicle appeared to have any biological traces such as skin or blood. We were not told how or why this young man apparently ran for some miles, with a full bladder (as was ascertained) before hurtling himself into the path of the cars.

The pathologist who examined Jerry Duggan's body found no evidence such as glass fragments or tire marks, such as would be expected if the young man had been hit by one vehicle and run over by another. The victim had swallowed and inhaled blood - indicating that he died after repeated blows to the head, rather than being fatally struck once by a vehicle going over it. There was bruising on the arms and hands, such as would be suffered by someone trying to defend themselves.

"Your son was severely beaten around the head," the pathologist, Dr.Schon told Erica Duggan when she went to see him. For some reason this pathologist had not been called to give evidence at the inquest, and yet the Attorney General in seeing no reason for a further inquest had not addressed this aspect.

Experts who viewed police photographs of the vehicles had said damage to the Peugeot windscreen and door was not consistent with the impact of a human body but looked more like it could have been done with a crowbar or a baseball bat. There had been broken glass on the driver's seat. But where was the driver?

In contrast to the doubtful evidence of a collision, counsel noted that wet sandy substance had been found on Jerry Duggan's trainers and jeans, and on the vehicles, but not on the road where the accident had supposedly occurred. This indicated that they could have been somewhere else.

Arguing that the Duggans were trying to reopen the case in order to point the accusation at the LaRouchites, Cecilia Ivimy, appearing for the Attorney General, said if their evidence was accepted it would lead to "incredible" conclusions. "Police and doctors attended very promptly," she said. "The police and doctors and an independent investigator found nothing odd about the scene to suggest to them this was not a traffic accident, as it appeared."

The Attorney General's representative said there was no evidence of a crowbar, or of the cars and Jeremiah Duggan having been in a builders' yard, as suggested. The police had interviewed the drivers, and there had been no evidence that the drivers had any reason to lie, or any connection with the LaRouche organisation.

Watching Mrs.Duggan listen to the grisly evidence about her son's death, as I guess she has now had to do several times, and sit patiently through the courtroom niceties and bonhomie - though she did pass detailed notes to her counsel as Ms.Ivimy was speaking - I could only admire her fortitude. Having to track down witnesses and evidence, and consult experts, when neither the German police nor British authorities seem interested, must be exhausting, but each rebuff seems to have strengthened her resolve.

I hope she perseveres, however many legal hoops she has to go through. She has many supporters - family, Jeremiah's student friends, people who have followed the case, and those who know something about American-born cult leader Lyndon LaRouche. Hopefully they will help uncover the truth. Whatever is behind the reluctance of the authorities to look further into this, it is a matter of shame.

for background and campaign news:

Meanwhile - Tiger in a Trap? Sri Lankan in Catch 22

WHILE I was waiting for the Duggan hearing, I caught a glimpse of another little aspect of our justice system at work. The case concerned a man from Sri Lanka who was appealing against being sent back to that island.

I heard a counsel arguing that the man had only been involved at a low level with the guerrilla movement
known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam(LTTE). He had not been a guerrilla fighter, in fact he had refused to fight for them, but had dug bunkers, and provided food when they asked for it. The Sri Lankan authorities had no record of his detention, although he got out with a bribe, and had been able to leave from the airport with the help of an agent.

At first I thought this counsel must be speaking on the Tamil man's behalf, saying he was not such a bad fellow. But then the Tamil's counsel got up to argue that his client had been arrested in 1997, his fingerprints.had been taken, and there were documents on his detention. Then I realised that it had been the government's lawyer who was arguing that the man was not important enough to face any dangers if he was sent back to Sri Lanka, though he had a family member who was in the LTTE. The Tamil was apparently arrested for something else in
Britain, and served a sentence, but has since been held in an immigration detention centre and will have been there three years come January.

It struck me that if the man wanted to prove he faced danger of ill-treatment in Sri Lanka, he might have to convince the authorities here that he was really a big cheese in the LTTE, a serious combatant upon whom the
Sri Lankan authorities were determined to lay hands. Only trouble is, the LTTE is on the British Home Office's list of proscribed "terrorist" organisations, and so claiming to be a Tamil Tiger would not be such a good idea. How do you get out of that one?

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Recognition -and about time too!

FORGET the US Presidential election, the global economic crisis, and Auntie Beeb's little embarrassment over naughty spoilt nephews Ross and Russel, which may yet be turned into a soap. Everyone else has spoken about them. So permit me a break to introduce a little personal good news.

My good friend Debbie, who keeps an eye on such things, has e-mailed to let me know that my name now appears in the hate list compiled by a group calling themselves Masada 2000, entitled "Self-Hating Israel-Threatening" Jews, or the S.H.I.T. list as they so wittily call it. You see, it's like a Hit List, only...dead clever, nu?

About time too. For though I am not "self-hating", quite the opposite, and don't flatter myself that I am yet a threat to the State of Israel, I was riled to think that while people much younger than myself, without my track record, and often with much milder opinions, were on the list, I still had not made it. What was up, did the gang at Masada 2000 dismiss me as a spent force? Didn't my experience count for anything? Besides, some young friends had remarked on the absence, and I was starting to fear for my street cred.

Now I can hold up my head with pride that I am in the same company as Israelis I know and admire like Amira Hass and Adam Keller, entertainers like Stephen Fry and Miriam Margolyes, many leading academics, and numerous rabbis (although Masada 2000 puts "Rabbi" in quotes to show that it has not approved their status), and many friends and fellow-activists, young and old, including singer Debbie, comedian Ivor Dembina, and even a comrade at whose funeral, sadly, I was proud to be a pall-bearer some years ago. He never hated himself nor anyone else, and nor would he ever threaten anybody, but he hated hatred, oppression and injustice, and I'm sure he would accept being posthumously honoured this way.

Actually, my pride in being selected for the list is somewhat dented when I see that with over 7,000 names it is not that exclusive. What's worse, not only am I on the same page as Israel's outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert, his wife and daughter Dana (the last of whom is a good peace campaigner, mind); but the list goes on to include Britain's chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He may have led a solidarity with Israel rally while Israel was bombing Beirut, but Masada 2000 won't forgive him for supporting the Oslo agreement. That agreement may have given little to the Palestinians, but even that's too much for Masada 2000, who advocate forcible ethnic cleansing.

I don't know if being on the list is supposed to frighten us. I see some professor in Germany was concerned that being branded an antisemite would damage his career, and I remember Rabbi Michael Lerner in the United States received death threats. These things happen. But if anyone in Israel, other than those listed, took this list seriously (which I very much doubt) it must be worrying to think there were so many enemies out there threatening the State, and that's just counting Jews! (though Masada 2000 is a bit more generous than the Orthodox rabbinate in recognising people,some of whom would be surprised to find themselves thus listed.). But fear not, the patriots of Masada 2000 will not rest, nor will their mouse sleep in their hand, as they sit up angrily typing in their denunciations.

Who are Masada 2000? Masada is a mountain by the Dead Sea, of course. I climbed it in 1960 and I expect it it is still a standard item on Zionist youth tours. Nowadays there's a cable lift. It was on this fortified desert mesa that Jewish rebels, sicarii, made their heroic last stand against besieging Roman legions in 73AD, and committed mass suicide rather than be taken into slavery. Masada 2000 is a group of Americans, Israelis, and others who support the settlers, admire the late fascist Rabbi (or should I say "Rabbi"?) Meir Kahane, and advocate forcible expulsion of all Arabs (they refuse to recognise the Palestinian nationality) from the whole of Israel-Palestine.

Why should these right-wing Zionists misappropriate the name of a rebel stronghold, when they are not rebelling against a mighty empire, and not under siege, but seeking to uphold and expand the American empire by means of Israeli occupation, siege, and expulsion of native people from their land? Well, the Israeli Army brings soldiers to Masada where they take an oath that 'Masada shall not fall again'. There are historical precedents for aggressors to proclaim themselves under siege, and foster such mentality even as they exhort their forces to ruthless genocide. And since Masada 2000 also favours Israel starting a nuclear war in the Middle East, perhaps we should not rule out these fanatics going so far as enforced suicide.

What Masada2000 has to say about me is not too bad, actually:
'Pottins, Charles "Charlie" This Commie Marxist is a National Committee member of the Jewish Socialists' Group [UK] wrote, "Because we jealously guard our rights and freedoms, we must resist any attempt, from whatever quarter, to identify Jewish people per se with the Zionist State". I don't remember when I wrote anything so elegant, but I don't disavow the sentiment.

Some people are just listed by name, presumably harvested from letters they have signed which appeared in the papers, with others there's a quotation from something they have signed, which becomes a bit repetitious. Some of the names listed without any information are quite well-known in the Jewish community, which leads me to suspect that whoever compiles this list is quite remote, and could not even find their way to a Jewish Yearbook or Who's Who in the public library. Judging from the entry on one woman referring to her as "He", it seems they are not familiar with Hebrew women's names. Curious.

With Rabbi Casper L.Funnye, of the Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, we are not told what he has done or said to offend, but there is a helpful photograph to indicate that he is a black man. Commenting on Rabbi Mike Feinberg, whom some people in London will remember from Anti-Apartheid activity as well as his pioneering Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, Masada 2000 notes that he is now active in the New York Labor Religious Coalition -"in other words, 'socialism through religion'". The coalition brings together Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy in support of poor people, and sweatshop workers trying to organise. The entry concedes graciously that "socialism is not a new phenomenon among progressive 'social justice' Jews."

Indeed it isn't. Whereas fascism and racial supremacism is alien, or ought to be, to most Jewish people, if we discount the pre-war Revisionist Zionists infatuation with Mussolini and readiness to work with Hitler if they could. Ironically, but with typical chutzpah, Masada 2000 uses "judenrat" as a term of abuse for people it dislikes. But the people who figured most notoriously on the judenrats, or Jews Councils, established by the Nazis to serve their purpose, were often right-wing Zionists, like Jacob Gens, the ghetto police chief in Vilnius.

The most vituperative language in the S.H.I.T. List, the most personalised attacks, and distortion of photographs, seem to be directed at women. A distinguished former Knesset member in her 'Seventies is dubbed a "slut", Dana Olmert is "far Left and gay", even Jemima Goldsmith, whose "Jewish" connection, via a grandparent, is at most tenuous, and who was educated as a Christian, is roped into the list so she can be denounced for her treachery in marrying a Muslim, and what's more, visiting Palestinian refugee camps. But the writers' fury at women who might be attracted to a Muslim man turns to frenzy when they unleash their obsessive phobia about lesbians.

I'm no psychologist, but I think if one had the stomach to wade through Masada 2000's hate list it would not take them too long to establish a profile of the disturbed personalities responsible. As for the style, as well as the content, does use of terms like "commie" and "slut", misogyny, homophobia and pictures distorted to exaggerate "Jewish" physiognomy, remind you of anything? Perhaps you have been seeing the similar hate lists produced by neo-Nazi antisemites. Is this just a result of parallel species evolving to resemble each other, or could somebody be moonlighting?

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