Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who did you say rules the waves?

GLYN SECKER is due back in London shortly. Glyn was the captain of the Irene, a boat flying the Red Ensign that was stopped almost 20 miles off the Gaza coast yesterday, as it tried to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged population.

"An Israeli destroyer is cutting off their path," said a message relayed here. "Another small boat is also approaching. Several small boats and a frigate are stationary aboat a mile away from Irene.

"The army hailed them and said they can not go to Gaza, which is restricted and Irene’s passengers will be legally liable, especially the Israelis. The frigate then moved closer while the small boat is now crossing their path too – it has machine guns front and back of it.

"The frigate is blocking their path and some of the smaller boats are now trailing them. I've been asked to let you know about the latest phone conversation with the boat - at 09.07 British time.

"They have been shadowed for about 4-5 miles now by what is apparently a warship.They have been hailed and asked by their shadowers who they are, what nationalities are on board and where they are going. They have answered the questions, saying they are bound for Gaza".

Soon after this the Irene was boarded by Israeli naval commandoe, and all phones went dead. It was forced to go to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the captured crew and passengers may have caught a glimpse of the Israeli peace campaigners demonstrating in their support, before they were whisked off to separate cells.

The activists held signs with the captions: "Medicines – A Security Risk?", "Let Gaza Live," The blockade and the construction of settlements destroy us all," "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." Later the demonstrators moved to outside the Ashdod Police headquarters.

Israeli attorney Smadar Ben Natan, representing the passengers, asked to see her clients immediately. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel asked for permission to send an independent doctor to visit the passengers immediately, after hearing from organizers that at least one passenger had serious chronic health problems and was in need of medical care.

There had been no mystery over who was on board the Irene, where it was going, or what it was carrying. The intended voyage had been announced months before, with only the port of departure kept confidential for security reasons.

Irene was the Greek goddess of peace, and this boat with a peace mission was named in honour of Irene Bruegel, the founder of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, who died two years ago in London.

The passengers and crew, announced on Sunday when the boat left Famagusta, were:

Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom – Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor.

Rami Elhanan, from Israel, lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict.

Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany.

Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace.

Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians Executive Commitee.

Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008.

Itamar Shapira, from Israel, Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew.


Eli Osherov, Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News.

Vish Vishvanath, Freelance photographer and reporter.

"The boat's cargo includes symbolic aid in the form of children's toys and musical instruments, textbooks, fishing nets for Gaza's fishing communities and prosthetic limbs," read a statement from European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP), the activist network that co-ordinated the voyage. "We stand in the proud Jewish tradition of justice, of championing the rights of the downtrodden, of implacable opposition to prejudice and racism."

The 10-metre catamaran was tiny in comparison with the six-ship May 31 aid convoy that contained 10,000 tonnes of aid and over 700 activists. An EJJP spokesprson acknowledged it was "only a drop in the ocean" of what Gaza's people needed, but it was intended as a peace gesture.

Yousef Rizka, a Hamas official, said: "The government has received Jewish activists heading to Gaza before. The government positively views all attempts to break the siege on Gaza". Dr.Eyyad el Seraj, the president of the Gaza Mental Health Programme, had been due to take delivery of the aid.

There had been reports that Israel was easing the blockade of Gaza after the international outcry over the Mave Marmara. Gush Shalom, which supported the demonstration in Ashdod, said the Irene was exposing the truth about this, and also showing Israel the truth, that it was losing support not only from the world in general but also from Jewish people whose interests it claimed to represent.

The Jewish peace boat voyagers had made clear before they set out that they would offer no violent resistance to the Israeli forces if intercepted, although they would not cooperate with them either. Official Israeli statements said there had been no violence, and that they had not needed to use any force.

But former Israeli military helicopter pilot Yonatan Shapira said the soldiers "just jumped us, and hit us. I was hit with a taser gun." Israeli TV reporter Eli Osherov confirmed what Shapira said.

"Some of the soldiers treated us atrociously," Shapira said, adding that he felt there was a "huge gap between what the IDF spokesman is saying happened and what really happened."

The former IDF pilot said he and his fellow activists were "proud of the mission," saying it was organized "for the sake of a statement – that the siege on Gaza is a crime, that it's immoral, un-Jewish, and we have a moral obligation to speak out. Anyone who stays silent as this crime is being committed is an accessory to a crime."

Among those who seem to have been keeping silent here are the BBC television news team. I waited in vain this week for a mention of the Irene's voyage, and news of what had happened to those on board. You might have thought the seizure of a vessel flying a British flag was news.

Even if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is resisting calls from Jews for Justice and others that it should have a word with the Israelis over this. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu is expected to visit London in November.

Admittedly the big news in Britain was the election of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader, and for two days running the Beeb has had a man outside the Labour Party conference in Manchester - this morning joined by its political editor - to tell us about the excited speculation as to what defeated brother David Miliband, the former and now the shadow Foreign Secretary, might do. Yeah, I couldn't sleep last night worrying about it, and everybody was talking about nothing else this morning in the launderette.

Still, they might have mentioned that the Milibands' mother Marion Kozak, widow of Ralph Miliband who really was a socialist, is a supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, one of the groups that sponsored the Irene's voyage. She is also a Labour Party member. But she made it clear before the Labour Party held its election that she was not going to support either of her sons.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Whitefriars to Winsor and Newton: Workers aren't ready to be walked into a glass case!

HAVING an idle afternoon, a few years ago, and chancing to be in the Headstone district of Harrow, I went into the park, and took shelter from a shower in the museum, where besides the exhibits there's a cafe. It just so happened they were holding an exhibition of glassware from the Whitefriars Glassworks. What's more,while I was having my cup of tea, I was soon surrounded by some very nice people who had worked at Whitefriars, and were holding a jolly little reunion.

Ignoramus that I am, I had never heard of Whitefriars until that wet afternoon, I mean to say apart from their contents and whether they had a handle, glasses just hadn't been my thing. But seeing some of the beautiful items on show, I was impressed, and understood the pride of the people who had made them.

I learned that Whitefriars Glassworks had begun near the Temple in the City of London, its name taken from the monks in white habits, Carmelites or White Friars, who occupied themselves thereabouts. Though they had long gone when the glassworks was founded in 1680, there is still a Carmelite Street off Fleet Street, and a Whitefriars Street which used to be called Water Lane.

In 1923 the original works was moved to a new site in Wealdstone. A long tradition was that the furnaces should remain burning at all times, so when the site was moved a lit brazier was carried to the new site and used to ignite the very first furnace there. By then the firm had changed hands more than once, and become “James Powell & Sons”, after a wine merchant who bought it in 1834.

James Powell's grandson Harry became manager by 1875, and is credited with innovative designs in the Arts and Crafts period. Carrying on in charge through the First World War, he died in 1922. The following year the firm moved out to Wealdstone. The original name of Whitefriars was not resumed until 1963.

It is as Whitefriars that it seems to keep coming up on television programmes about valuable items found in auctions and attics. Pieces by designers like Geoffrey Baxter are much sought after collectables and prices have soared. Born in 1922, Baxter joined the firm as assistant designer in 1954. Taking influence from Scandinavian designs and his own modern ideas, he created cased glass, coloured glass encased with clear crystal glass. The colours were rich ruby red, blue and green, produced in 1955.

In 1964 William Wilson and Harry Dyer launched the “Knobbly Range” at the Blackpool Fair. These were free blown pieces of glass that were heavier and thicker than any other pieces produced before with a lumpy finish to the outside. Baxter was involved with producing the colours for the range, there were two choices either solid coloured cased glass or streaky colours in brown or green. The “Knobbly Range” was in production right through until 1972.

Baxter's most famous range is the “Textured Range” launched in 1967. Using natural materials such as tree bark he lined the moulds so that when the glass was blown into them it created a textured feel to the outside resembling the bark of a tree. He drew his inspiration from other natural and man-made materials. Baxter used coiled wire to create other effects. His favourite vases was made by using irregular slabs of glass and building them together to make blocks on top of each other. This is the highly collectable “Cube Vase” or more commonly known today as the “Drunken Bricklayer”.

Whitefriars was also one of the leading makers of stained glass. The studio carried out the whole process themselves from melting the glass and flattening it through to cutting and leading. There are examples of Whitefriars stained glass windows in churches and cathedrals all over the world.

Unfortunately, the combination of innovation and tradition with a skilled workforce was not enough to carry Whitefriars through Thatcherism and recession. Domestic spending power fell from 1979. So did overseas orders as the pound rose and priced British goods out of the market. It was not only in the North that monetarism hit manufacturing. Behind the 1980s facade of prosperity from the City finance and property sectors in London and the South-East, factories and jobs were going down.

In 1980 the recession hit the Whitefriars works. Their orders at the annual trade fair at the NEC in Birmingham were not enough to cover overheads. Demand for the glass had suddenly taken a downward slide. Management decided it could not meet fuel and labour costs, and decided to close the works and make people redundant. So after 300 years of production, a firm whose skills and readiness to innovate had led the market, passed into history.

Of course, fashions in goods such as studio glassware change, and when people are worried about losing their jobs or paying their mortgage they may not be buying such items. But ironically, thirty years after the works closed, Whitefriars glassware has become so much a valuable collectors' item there are fakes being produced for the market.

Meanwhile, we have seen an even more famous name than Whitefriars go, although not closing but shifting overseas. In January 2009, Wedgwood, which had been marged with Waterford glass in Ireland, and whose shares failed in the 2008 global financial crisis, was placed into administration. Three months later in March KPS Capital Partners announced it would invest €100m and move jobs to Asia to cut costs and return the firm to profit.

And now another W, the famous artists' materials supplier Winsor and Newton, or as it's nowadays known, Colarts, is threatening to go from its place on Whitefriars Road in Wealdstone. Founded in 1832 in Rathbone Place,W1, when Fitzrovia was a busy artists' quarter, this firm boasted of Turner and Constable as customers. It has been manufacturing on the Wealdstone site since 1937, and among those who buy their paints and brushes from it is HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Taken over by the privately-owned Beckers Group(about which information appears scarce, on the Internet at least), Colart still uses the respected Winsor and Newton name, boasting that it produces "The Worlds Finest Artists' Materials".

Colarts makes an average of £5.3 million pre-tax profit from the Wealdstone site, according to my union, Unite. Yet the company now says the factory is too old, and can't be expanded. It proposes to close it by the end of next year and relocate to Le Mans in France. This would throw 200 workers on the dole in Wealdstone.

Contrary to what the Con Dem government might have us believe, these workers are not choosing unemployment as a "lifestyle". They are fighting to keep their jobs, and more important to keep their small but distinguished industry in Wealdstone, where it could offer work for a new generation. "We say yes to investment in a new local 21st century Colart factory", says a union leaflet.

Brent Trades Union Council has agreed to send the Colart workers a message of support, and I am sure others will back their fight.

It is funny how those patriots who like to wave flags, and complain that immigrants or minorities "change the character of an area", like the blockheads who wanted to march on the Harrow mosque, or the newspapers that moaned about halal meat in schools, never seem to notice or mind overmuch when capitalists close down an area's factories or end a tradition of skills.

It is the workers whose skills and effort made these famous British brand names. Capitalists are happy to carry on using the names if they can, while dumping the workforce. It is fine seeing your product on exhibition in a glass case. But the workers are not willing to become a museum piece! The heritage industry is no substitute for an industrial heritage.

After many years of work which enabled an employer to make his profits and his name, and benefited the country besides, workers have no control over their workplace or their future, which capital can take away. We have to challenge this.

On Whitefriars:

Winsor and Newton site:

Unite says keep Colart's open:

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kelly's War is our war too

GLENN KELLY and above, the people in Bromley defending public services.

TRADE UNIONISTS, community campaigners, and anyone else concerned with maintaining public services in Britain are facing up to a fight with this Con-Dem government and those doing its bidding, and the fight has already begun.

In Barnet, on the northern rim of London, workers and service users joined a lobby at Hendon town hall last week against the Tory council's "Easy-council" plan for shedding services, and tomorrow evening, September 23 the Barnet trades union council is hosting a public meeting to launch a Barnet Alliance to Defend Public Services. Guest speakers include Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason, to put the cuts in context, and help put the Tories in their place.

In neighbouring Brent, the trades union council is backing a Brent Fightback campaign, due to hold its second meeting at the trades and labour hall on Willesden High Road on Wednesday evening, September 29.

Across the other end of London, Unison activist Glenn Kelly took the photo above with his mobile, from outside Bromley town hall, where he had joined council carers and relatives of care users lobbying against the cuts.

COMMUNITY CARE, an online newsletter for the caring professions, carried this report last month:

Council plans to axe in-house care provision
Mithran Samuel
Wednesday 18 August 2010

One hundred home care jobs are at risk in Bromley from cost-cutting council plans to end in-house care provision, a staff representative has warned.

Glenn Kelly, a staff representative at the south-east London council, claimed the authority was implementing plans to transfer all ongoing home care to the independent sector, where services are much cheaper, without consultation with users.

He has started a campaign to save the service, which he claims is backed by most home care staff and public service union Unison, which may take strike action if the plans are not reversed.

There are currently 146 home care staff, most of whom work part-time, serving 250 clients. About 40 jobs will be available in an expanded council reablement service, which will be ring-fenced for existing home care staff, and the council says there may be other opportunities for redeployment, such as in sheltered housing.

However, Kelly said the council had issued a call for voluntary redundancy and planned to make staff who had not been redeployed redundant in January 2011.

Councillors are due to vote on the proposal next month.

Kelly said that instead of tendering out the service and consulting on the changes, the move was being implemented by stealth, with independent care agencies taking on service users after in-house care staff left their posts. "Service users are being told their provider is being changed overnight," he said. "They are siphoning off the work even before the council has voted on whether to keep the in-house service."

He said this was despite 96% of users saying they were satisfied with the service in a recent survey.

Bromley council has confirmed that it expected in-house provision to decline over coming months with "packages moved to other providers". It claimed in-house provision was already in long-term decline, partly because users were taking up direct payments and personal budgets and spending them elsewhere.

That sounds in line with the same Tory policy being pursued by Barnet, whereby old people and others needing care will be given their money (means-tested?) and left to get on with it. It also sounds like another opportunity for enterprising private providers, the Tories' chums, to come in offering their services, at a profit, relieving the council of its cares and the disabled or pensioners of their money, so that we can expect a sequel to those TV series about cowboy builders, this time about rogue "carers". Only this time the witnesses might no longer be around to tell.

At the very least, those people who know community care say cuts are a false economy because they will only speed and increase the number of people needing hospital beds - which are also being cut. That's the thing with implementing cuts. Instead of joining forces to resist, each service provider -local authority, health service, voluntary sector - has to get its books in order by passing the parcel of responsibility to someone else -so after many years of working, and contributing to the community, old people who find themselves in need of care become "packages moved to other providers".

But Bromley's cuts are "fair" - they are hitting young, as well as old. At a time of soaring youth unemployment throughout the country, concern over access to higher education, and fears of more young people being drawn into gangs and being both perpetrators and victims of violent crime, Glenn Kelly had this to report on Facebook the other week:

Just on way back from meeting of 150 workers In the youth and connexions service where management announced 40% job cuts with rumour that half of all youth clubs to be closed. Time for the workers and youth of Bromley to unite and organise.

Quite. So what is Unison, the main union in local government and health services, doing?

At the Trades Union Congress in Manchester, Unison general secretary David Prentiss made a fine speech:

"Today we face our greatest test for a generation. Our economy still on life support. The blight of unemployment scarring lives, wearing down communities.

“A government with no democratic mandate. Mounting an assault on all that our movement has won for our people. Our pay, our pensions, our jobs. Our public services and our welfare state.

“An attack the like of which we have never seen before. The coalition taking a chainsaw to our public services. And they’re hoping no one will notice.

"Hoping no one will notice banks are posting record profits, bankers back to their bonuses. Hoping no one will notice the income, of the top 1 per cent of our society. Now greater than the total pay bill for our NHS, schools, and local government put together.

“Hoping no one will notice the amount we lose every year in tax evasion, and avoidance by big corporations. More than enough to wipe out the deficit at a stroke.

“A society in which some backers of the Tory party, pay less in tax than a cleaner in a hospital.

He went on to pledge:

“Who will champion what is right, not just what is popular? I’ll tell you who. We will. We will speak up for the vulnerable. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who work in public services, and those who rely on them. We will work together to raise public awareness. Build opposition. Give practical support to those in our communities fighting to defend their schools, their hospitals, their care homes,

“We will build alliances with NGO’s, with charities, social movements in the UK, our sisters and brothers taking action across Europe. We will build an alliance of public service unions to break the pay freeze. And when the call is there, we will move to co-ordinate industrial action to defend all we hold dear. All that past generations have fought for.

“Congress, we have to rise to the challenge. Show our resolve. Defend our welfare state. Fight for our vision of a fairer society. Build a powerful coalition of our own. Our members expect nothing less from this great movement of ours. To stand up for them. To protect their jobs, their welfare state. To lead the fight. Together united, fierce defenders of our members and the services they deliver".

See Prentis' speech in full:

That's fighting talk, and welcome it should be too.
But if Unison's leadership has been preparing for a fight it is not against the government.

Earlier this year, six full-time union officials strode into the union's office in Greenwich, south-east London early one morning, accompanied by the council's human resources manager. One of them told Greenwich branch secretary Onay Kassab(Kaz) to "disappear sharpish". Two other branches were hit by the dawn raids. Kaz and three other elected officers -one of them Bromley branch secretary Glenn Kelly, also an elected NEC member - have been barred from holding office.

Ostensibly, the moves against these four members began with the absurd row over three wise monkeys in a cartoon on a leaflet, which some people claimed was offensive. The officers long ago apologised for any unintended offence. But many members besides them suspect their real "offence" was to campaign too hard against New Labour policies, and union complaisance, knowing we would still be fighting privatisation and cuts had Gordon Brown been returned again. Glenn Kelly was re-elected to the NEC with an increased majority after the union had begun its moves against him.

If the Unison leadership is serious about fighting the Con Dem cuts, surely it would make sense to drop any bans and moves against these popular and dedicated union members, and bring them on board to help lead the fight?

Instead the four are having to continue to fight for the right to hold the positions to which they were elected by their fellow workers. As Glenn Kelly remarks tersely but sadly on Facebook today (Wednesday):

"Now preparing for day three of court case against union. From fight for workers jobs to now having to fight my own union can't be right".

I don't know Bro.Kelly personally. I am neither a member of his union, Unison, nor of the Socialist Party, to which he belongs. But whatever the court says, I'm pretty sure what the verdict of grass-roots trade union activists and campaigners will be.


BARNET meeting to launch Public Services Alliance:
Thursday 23 September, Emerald Suite, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1GN
Meeting starts at 7pm, but there will be refreshments available from 6.30pm for people coming from work.
Residents and people working in Barnet welcome. Plenty of time to discuss plans.
Guest speakers include: Paul Mason, Newsnight journalist (personal capacity), Alasdair Smith, Anti Academies Alliance.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Show is Over, ..but the malady lingers on

SUBJECT NORMAL, for the right-wing tabloids. The Express made up with imagination for the lack of genuine information, about the "plot" which never was.

HAVING a sprained ankle is a nuisance at the best of times, but I was particularly annoyed this weekend of the Pope's visit to find myself barely able to make it up the High Street for provisions. No, I was not going to join the throng out cheering his Holiness, not even for the chance of laying of hands (would prefer a physio, if I could find one).

It's bad enough this government, which wants to plunder the poor to profit its rich pals, should consider it worth the massive cost of a state visit to get the Church onside. Plus the BBC felt entitled to deprive me of some favourite programmes to extend its fawning coverage.

While the pontiff was blaming militant atheists "making war on God" for the horrors of the 20th century (odd that his predecessors made concordats with them, refusing pleas from Basque priests to condemn the bombing of Guernica, for example), he also seems to have persuaded otherwise sane and progressive friends of mine that after centuries of conquering and persecuting others, it is the Catholic Church that is the victim. Two brothers I know, neither of them Catholic, have been openly rowing with each other on either side, after one of them went on the march against the visit.

I would not have gone on that march even if fit, partly because I distrust or even reject some of the arguments I have heard. Is it really right to dub someone a "Nazi" just because he is German and joined the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich's power? One person even described him as a "friend of Hitler", surely a description more appropriate for those members of the British aristocracy and even Royals who actually met the Fuhrer? Not to mention press barons who thought he was doing a grand job.

This isn't to deny that Pope Benedict is a reactionary who has offended other faiths, or absolve him from criticism over issues like opposing birth control or shielding child abuse. But these issues are being taken up by Catholics and former Catholics who know what they are talking about, and those of us from different religious backgrounds can only wish them well, while focussing on our own problems. Interfering in someone else's house only confuses issues and does not help matters.

Besides, I got that feeling that by joining the anti-Pope protest, almost as much as by joining the adulation, I would be playing a minor role in something like a piece of street theatre, which someone unknown had scripted (forgive my paranoia) and if nothing else, a diversion from the really important struggles coming up in Europe and in Britain. On September 29, trade unionists in several European countries will go on strike, with a major demonstration planned in Brussels, against the attempt to impose the bankers' crisis on working people and take away hard-won rights and conditions. How many people here know about this, or have talked about it?

So I would have preferred to take a stand this weekend and made clear why I wasn't going on the march, rather than have the excuse of a wonky ankle! And I do wish some of my Facebook friends had found something else rather than the Pope and Catholicism to discuss this weekend! (Some did - thus I hear that the BNP were chased away after setting up their stall on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, and that a demonstration against the Con-Dem coalition and its cuts was kept away from the Lib Dems conference in Liverpool. Good to see not everyone had forgotten the issues.)

But if there was room for debate about the significance of the Pope's visit, some of the media were in no doubt about the importance of the sub-plot - or 'bomb plot' -provided by police and security services.

It was reported that six men " of North African origin", employed as street cleaners, had been arrested on the basis of overheard remarks which suggested they might be plotting to assassinate the Pope. On TV we saw checks being made along the Popemobile's route for explosive devices. Checks that would probably have been routinely carried out anyway.

If the police had very little to go on, the Daily Express had little doubt. 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope'," was its headline om Saturday. The arrested men were described as "Islamic terrorists disguised as street cleaners" and readers were told that "the threatened attack was foiled at the 11th hour after police raided a cleaning depot in London".

The Express claimed that it was "feared plotters with links to Al Qaeda planned 'a double blow to the infidel' by assassinating the head of the Roman Catholic church and slaughtering hundreds of pilgrims and well-wishers" .

As if that wasn't enough to get Express readers all worked up, the paper brought in one of its long-running obsessions: "An investigation is also under way to determine if the foreign nationals had entered Britain legally and were entitled to work here."

I mean, you would not mind if these plotters were in the United Kingdom legally, to blow people to Kingdom Come, but fancy them cleaning our streets without being entitled to do so!

Well, the "bogus street cleaners", as the Express headline called them were so cunningly "disguised" as to be employed by Veolia, the ubiquitous French utilities firm (also controversially involved in the Israeli-occupied West Bank), on street cleaning for the Tory-controlled City of Westminster. That's why the police could raid a street cleaning depot for them.

I know nothing about their background or legal status, and neither I suspect does the Daily Express. One of the men was reported to be Algerian But apart from North Africans who settled in France and became French, and therefore EU citizens, entitled to travel, Westminster is home to a number of Moroccan-born workers who were initially employed in Gibraltar to replace Spanish workers, and thereby obtained the right to come to Britain.

But that is all by the way.

The point is that no explosives were found, and no evidence either that the six men were linked with any plot, or were other than honest workers trying to earn a living while cleaning the capital's mucky litter-strewn streets.

All six have been released without any charges.

As Monday's Express online site notes "The BBC quoted Scotland Yard sources saying that the men posed no credible threat, while the Sunday Mirror said the men had simply been overheard sharing a joke in their canteen".

I wonder how much of an apology will be forthcoming to these innocent men from a newspaper which effectively found them guilty without evidence, before they had even been charged?

And more sadly, how many tabloid readers will register the fact that the men were freed, without any charges, as opposed to remembering that a group of Muslim "terrorists" were caught supposedly plotting to blow up the Pope and hundreds of innocent people in London. And thus myths are made. And the malady of fear and hatred lingers on.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pennsylvania rejects Israeli "security" firm

ALL'S not well in the security game. Firms must have been rubbing their hands at prospects opened by outsourcing and the "War on Terror". Even my old employers graduated from providing night watchmen and parking attendants to delivering prisoners, in big new vehicles.

It's a global business too. I went into one west Middlesex hospital a few years ago and found the security, though based in a temporary wooden shed, were owned by by some firm based in Texas. They may have only been pretending they did not know much, so I'll resist saying anything about cowboys.

But it makes you wonder how politicians keep a straight face when insisting we need the private sector to create wealth after the public sector has been squandering it. Considering how keen they are to let their friends in the private sector move into money-making opportunities from the public services.

With the likelihoods of reduced police numbers and increased crimes coming from this government's policies, there could be more opportunities coming. But even in America, with its private prisons, and XE Services (Blackwater as was) toting guns in New Orleans as well as Iraq, its not all plain sailing.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has just ordered his state's Homeland Security director to cancel a $125,000 contract with an outfit called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). The Associated Press reports:

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings became the subject of anti-terrorism bulletins being distributed by Pennsylvania's homeland security office, an apologetic Gov. Ed Rendell admitted.

Rendell, who claimed he'd just learned about the practice, said Tuesday that the information was useless to law enforcement agencies and that distributing it was tantamount to trampling on constitutional rights. In recent weeks, several acts of vandalism at drilling sites spurred the inclusion of events likely to be attended by environmentalists and the bulletins began going to representatives of Pennsylvania's booming natural gas industry.

A Philadelphia rally organized by a nonprofit group to support Rendell's push for higher spending on public schools even made a bulletin, as did drilling protests at a couple of Rendell's news conferences this month as he toured the state to boost support for a tax on the natural gas industry.

"I am deeply embarrassed and I apologize to any of the groups who had this information disseminated on their right to peacefully protest," Rendell said at an evening Capitol news conference.

Rendell called the practice "ludicrous" and said the fact that the state was paying for such rudimentary information was "stunning."

Still, Rendell said he was not firing his homeland security director, James Powers, but he ordered an end to the $125,000 contract with the Philadelphia-based organization, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, that supplied the information.

What AP did not mention is that ITRR is an Israeli "security" and "anti-terrorism" company -- and like most of such companies has close ties to Israeli military and intelligence. On ITRR's website it describes itself as "the pre-eminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe."

As for training it boasts that "All ITRR courses are approved by the Israeli Ministry of Defense." ITRR lists among its "partners" such groups as "The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute" and it lists its offices in Philadelphia and Jerusalem. ITRR also shockingly is a "partner" of Philadelphia University.

Thanks to Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada for noticing this

Israeli officers and politicians - and many of the politicians begin as officers - have long been used to halting questions with the one word "bitachon" - security. Another trick is to rope in the naive, or those wishing to pretend naivity, into your confidence, supposedly, by imparting to them some privileged information, which would damn your targets, and exonerate you, if you were but free to disclose it.

Israeli military and security personnel have a history of involvement in America's backyard, Latin America and parts of Asia, either as sub-contractor for the CIA or directly for dictators, and they must be used to having the ear of politicians whom they provide with dirt on their opponents. But it seems in Pennsylvania the game is not so simple.

In any case, the myth of Israeli security expertise and infallibility took some knocks in the past year.

On Christmas Day, 2009, a Dutch passenger, Jasper Schuringa, on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, heard some popping noises and saw smoke coming from the passenger a few seats in front. Scrambling over the seats, Schuringa grabbed a burning object which the man had between his legs, and managed to haul the man to the back of the plane while others put out the fire.

The man who had made the botched attempt to destroy the plane, an airbus with nearly 300 people on board, was arrested at Detroit and taken to hospital for treatment to his serious burns. Schuringa and another passenger also needed treatment. The would-be bomber was identified as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year old Nigerian who had allegedly joined Islamicist mujahaddin in Yemen.

On November 11, 2009, British intelligence had sent the U.S. a message indicating that a man named "Umar Farouk" had spoken to Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim spiritual leader supposedly tied to al-Qaeda, pledging to support jihad, but the notice did not mention Abdulmutallab's last name. Umar's own father, a Nigerian businessman, had been worried enough at what his son was getting mixed up in that he made a report to two CIA officers at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, on November 19, and told the embassy that Abdulmutallab might be in Yemen. Abdulmutallab's name was added in November 2009 to the U.S.'s 550,000-name Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a database of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. It was not added, however, to the FBI's 400,000-name Terrorist Screening Database, the terror watch list that feeds both the 14,000-name Secondary Screening Selectee list and the U.S.'s 4,000-name No Fly List.[81] Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa was not revoked either.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said several times on Sunday talk shows that "the system had worked", a statement that engendered some controversy. The next day they retracted the statements, saying that the system had in fact "failed miserably." Neapolitano had said the system did work once the incident occurred. Evidently all you need to make air travel safe is a brave Dutch passenger on every plane.

President Obama said publicly that Abdulmutallab's ability to board the aircraft was the result of a systemic failure that included an inadequate sharing of information among U.S. and foreign government agencies. He called the situation "totally unacceptable." He ordered that a report be delivered detailing how some government agencies had failed to share or highlight potentially relevant information about the suspect before he allegedly tried to blow up the airliner.

On January 27, 2010, an official from the U.S. State Department said that Abdulmutallab's visa was not revoked because federal authorities believed that it would have compromised a larger investigation. The official, Patrick F. Kennedy, said intelligence officials had told the State Department that letting Abdulmutallab keep his visa would allow for a greater chance of exposing the terrorist network.

In Britain, some of the media had gone into a frenzy, variously denouncing Yemen (actually a victim of terrorism and destabilisation) and University College London (where Abdulmutallab had studied) as havens of extremism.

Meanwhile, there were recriminations between security companies over what happened at Schipol. The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported:
"The Israeli firm ICTS International (not to be confused with ICTS Europe, which is a different company), and two of its subsidiaries are at the crux of an international investigation in recent days, as experts try to pinpoint the reasons for the security failure that enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Northwest flight 253 and attempt to set alight explosives hidden in his underwear.

A Haaretz investigation has learned that the security officers and their supervisor should have suspected the passenger, even without having early intelligence available to them.

At this time, ICTS and the Dutch security firm G4S are hurling recriminations at each other, as are the authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Federal Aviation Authority and U.S. intelligence officials.

The failure was a twin flop: An intelligence failure, which U.S. President Barack Obama has already stated, in the poor handling of information that arrived at the State Department and probably also the CIA from both the father of the would-be bomber and the British security service; and a failure within the security system, including that of the Israeli firm ICTS.

The ICTS daughter company, I-SEC, has another daughter company - called PI (Pro-Check International). The firms provide security services to airports: consultation, instruction, training, inspection and supervision.

Two decades ago, ICTS adopted the system used in Israel, namely of profiling and assessing the degree to which a passenger is a potential threat on the basis of a number indicators (including age, name, origin and behavior during questioning). At the same time, a decade ago, the company developed a technological system called APS (Advanced Passenger Screening).

This system is based on a computerized algorithm, and is fed passenger information from the airline company. The system was offered to the Israel Airports Authority and the Shin Bet in the past, but rejected. According to the company's Web site, most of the large airlines in the United States use the system.

However - in real time - the system of ICTS failed. Even if U.S. intelligence failed and the name of the Nigerian passenger was not pinpointed as a suspect for the airline, he should have stirred the suspicion of the security officers. His age, name, illogical travel route, high-priced ticket purchased at the last minute, his boarding without luggage (only a carry on) and many other signs should have been sufficient to alert the security officers and warrant further examination of the suspect.

However, the security supervisor representing I-SEC and PI allowed him to get on the flight.

ICTS was established in 1982 by former members of the Shin Bet and El Al security. Menachem Atzmon, who has been chairman of the board of directors since 2004, holds the controlling shares in the firm.

The ICTS headquarters are in the Netherlands and the company is traded in the New York Stock Exchange. Some senior managers are Israeli, including the joint managing director Ran Langer.

Another important figure is Doron Zicher, general manager of I-SEC. Zicher has been in charge of operations in the Netherlands for more than two decades and has served as adviser to the Dutch Justice Ministry, which is responsible for setting guidelines for airport security.

The company prides itself on employing 1,300 persons and providing security services to airports in 11 countries including France, Britain, Spain, Hungary, Romania and Russia.

As well as the insight into methods, and pointing out how wide was ICTS interest, the Israeli paper also carried an article showing how capitalist aims for profit affect security, like other provisions, in this case at Israel's own main airport:

Haaretz probe: Israel airport security often carried out by untrained employees
New firm responsible for security checks pays lower wages, has trouble finding experienced employees.
By Zohar Blumenkrantz

As airports the world over tighten their security following the attempted Christmas bombing on a Northwest Airlines plane, the final security check at Ben-Gurion International Airport is being carried out by employees who have not been trained for the job, Haaretz has learned.

This month, the airport has been lacking professional security officers, because the new firm responsible for examining passengers and their carry-on luggage does not have enough staff.

The Airports Authority has been using its own staff to compensate for the lack of manpower, but some of these people did not receive the training to carry out the security checks necessary, security officers told Haaretz.

This is the last, most important security check, directly prior to embarkation. At this point, passengers have passed the first security interview and received a boarding pass, and said good-bye to anyone who is not traveling.

Here, passengers pass through a metal detector, and their carry-on luggage is scanned.

Until now, the check was carried out by L.M., a private firm, but in January, the role passed to another firm, Hatama.

Hatama, which won the Airports Authority tender, pays lower wages, and as a result is having trouble finding experienced, trained employees.

Many employees of L.M. refused to work for Hatama for lower pay. The Airports Authority staff members filling in the gaps generally work interviewing passengers and checking luggage. Only a few are trained to handle the X-ray machines used to scan carry-on bags.

The Airports Authority is responsible for teaching the private firms' staff how to use the X-ray machines. However, in at least one incident last week, untrained staff members were asked to operate the machines.

According to a security officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, the reinforcement employees received a short overview of the machine, which they then proceeded to operate.

"Special training is required to operate the X-ray machine," the officer told Haaretz. "But the rushed training that we underwent last week was a joke. I'm afraid I will be asked to do a job I do not know how to do, and that I will be unable to identify suspicious objects in passengers' hand luggage."

Other security officers complained that they are overworked because they have to make up for the lack of staff.

In response the Airports Authority said that passengers' security is "a primary concern," and that "all security checks are carried out by professional and trained personnel, with no exceptions."

But for many people, what may come as a surprise is the extent to which Israeli companies have established themselves in the security game in various countries, at airports and docks and more generally. Presumably what they offer for sale, as with technology, is expertise gained while maintaining a 43-year long military occupation. In Pennsylvania, it appears, they assumed they should operate with the same kind of politics.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Murdoch Rules, NOT OK!

METROPOLITAN POLICE riding to the rescue of Murdoch's millions. But he didn't pay for them. You did. And now we're learning more about News International's respect for law. And perhaps about the relationship between the Murdoch press and senior police officers?

NEXT year will be the 25th anniversary of the battles of Wapping, which began when Australian-born press magnate Rupert Murdoch shifted production of the Sun, Times and News of the World to his new 'Fort Wapping' plant, and sacked 6,000 print union members.

It was a trial of strength with the Fleet Street unions, which Murdoch won with the help of the right-wing Electrical, Electronic and Plumbing Trades Union (EEPTU) which had recruited replacement labour, and the Metropolitan Police, who kept the ways clear for the scabs to go in, and newspapers to come out, earning once again the name "Maggie's Bootboys" which they had acquired the year before when sent out against the miners.

I remember going down to Wapping one night with friends, and naievely thinking that being no hero, I would stand well back from the road where things seemed to be kicking off. Suddenly I found myself in a crowd trapped up against a wall, as the mounted police who had charged to clear the road now turned and began urging their animals up onto the kerb so they could attack the crowd. I had not seen that before. Later I heard how they had ridden into a pub garden, supposedly in pursuit of suspects, and started laying about local people, whom they regarded as sympathetic to the strikers. It brought home that the Met could behave like a hostile occupying army to Londoners, just as it had to Yorkshire miners.

Of course it had the backing of Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Murdoch's ally. Hadn't the press baron whipped up jingoist enthusiasm for her war with Argentina? And didn't his papers continue savaging Labour, so they could boast after the Tories victory in 1992 "It's The Sun Wot Won It" ( Saturday 11 April 1992). At least until Murdoch decided he could use a 'New Labour' government under self-confessed Thatcher admirer Tony Blair. The American-resident tycoon and the British prime minister kept in contact in build up to the Iraq war, and in handling its aftermath.

PATRIOTISM comes cheap when you don't have to pay taxes

Rupert Murdoch's Sun is well-known for its enthusiasm for flag-waving and encouraging its readers to subscribe to comforts for Our Boys. Murdoch was an Australian by birth, became an American citizen so he could expand his media empire there, and didn't let his 'free enterprise' principles get in the way of acquiring interests in 'Communist' China. He has been "honoured" more than once for his support to Israel, and Binyamin Netanyahu has been a commentator for Murdoch's conservative Fox News channel; but Murdoch conservativism hasn't prevented him getting around the US embargo to open a business in Cuba.

Evidently a pragmatic patriot. But Cuba's just one of the islands where he has offshore interests so that in one respect he is consistent. As a US blogger commented:

"Where did Rupert Murdoch get $5 billion to buy up the Wall St. Journal? Beyond normal profits, his coffers were stuffed by dodging taxes in the U.S. and elsewhere. Some of that is your money!

The Economist, in 1999, investigated Murdoch’s corporate tax affairs and discovered that a collection of 800 offshore companies help him cut corporate taxes to 6%!

According to the magazine at the time,In the four years to June 30th last year [1998], News Corporation and its subsidiaries paid only A$325m ($238m) in corporate taxes worldwide. In the same period, its consolidated pre-tax profits were A$5.4 billion.

“So News Corporation has paid an effective tax rate of only around 6%. By comparison, Disney, one of the world’s other media empires, paid 31%. Basic corporate-tax rates in Australia, America and Britain, the three main countries in which News Corporation operates, are 36%, 35% and 30% respectively.

The Economist wrote, “Finding out the specifics of News Corporation’s tax affairs is difficult because of the company’s complex structure. In its latest accounts, the group lists roughly 800 subsidiaries, including some 60 incorporated in such tax havens as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Netherlands Antilles and the British Virgin Islands.

The BBC has also taken this up:

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch may run one of the most profitable businesses in the UK, but it appears that he has somehow managed to avoid running up a tax bill over the past 11 years.

According to The Economist, Mr Murdoch has saved at least £350m in tax - enough to pay for seven new hospitals, 50 secondary schools or 300 primary schools.

How he has done it remains a mystery - and News Corporation is certainly loath to give away any financial secrets.

But it appears that Mr Murdoch's tax accountants have surpassed themselves - making full use of tax loopholes to protect profits in offshore havens.

[ image: Mr Mudoch is believed to have used loopholes to avoid tax]

Mr Murdoch also has the luxury of shifting funds from country to country across his sprawling media empire to foil the taxman

Friday, March 19, 1999
, Business: The Company File

Murdoch 'pays no UK tax'

An earlier report in the Independent shows just how cheaply the billionaire enjoyed the services of the British state looking after his interests.

Now the News of the World is at the centre of a row over unscrupulous - and illegal - newsgathering methods that has already involved the Tory government and could have repercussions concerning Murdoch's media empire and the state.

Andrew Coulson, whom Tory prime minister David Cameron made his head of media at Downing Street, has come under pressure from MPs, with the Home Affairs Select Committee announcing an inquiry into phone tapping and hacking by reporters at the News of the World, and will face more questioning from the police over his alleged role when he was editor. Coulson resigned as editor in 2007 after its royal correspondent Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for phone tapping.

Coulson said he was unaware of the phone tapping. However, former News of the World journalists have claimed that he ordered them to do it.
There was a time when 'phone tapping was assumed to be the work of the police, and even they were supposed to make a case to the Home Office to get permission for it. Of course we assumed that more of it went on than was admitted, and that was besides the tapping and mail interception carried out by the government and security services.

New means of communication, with users often off their guard, have created new opportunities for snoopers. But what is remarkable is that not only have 'private enterprise' hacks felt entitled and encouraged to spy on people's private communications, but the range of targets and the scale of it. The Guardian which uncovered this says the number of names runs into thousands.

Some were warned by Scotland Yard that their voicemail was being accessed without authority. Some people considered to fall into 'national security' categories - not 'security' risks and Lefties like me, but members of the royal household, the military, police and government - were warned if there were grounds to suspect their voicemail might have been accessed. Some who took the initiative to approach Scotland Yard were told if there was any evidence. But according to the Guardian, police hold a spreadsheet detailing a mass of paperwork, audio tapes and computer records from Glen Mulcaire, which revealed 4,332 names, 2,987 mobile phone numbers, and 91 PIN codes needed to access voicemail of people who have changed the factory settings of their mobiles.

Paul Farrelly, a former journalist who is a Labour member of the Commons committee, has used parliamentary privilege to make allegations about Andrew Coulson and Tom Crone, legal manager of News Group Newspapers (part of News International). Farrelly said people had wrongly assumed that his committee had cleared Coulson because it could find no evidence linking him to the hacking. "We were incredulous of the notion that such a hands-on editor would not have had the slightest inkling about what his staff, and what private investigators employed by the paper, were up to."

He cited a story that was spiked because of concern over the way the information to back it had been obtained.

Farrelly criticised Andy Hayman, former head of the Met's special operations unit, now a Times columnist, who had been in charge of the Mulcaire inquiry. He also criticised Hayman's successor, assistant commissioner John Yates. "Had Mr Hayman been in charge of the Watergate inquiry, President Nixon would have safely served a full term. His line is one which … John Yates is finding increasingly difficult to maintain … We were very critical of the evasiveness displayed by Mr Yates in the police evidence to us."

Former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson has questioned the conduct of Scotland Yard in this affair. Senior officers told him last year that every individual whose phone may have been hacked into would be informed. But his former government colleague, Chris Bryant, said police took no action when it became apparent his phone might have been targeted.

The Home Office abandoned plans to establish an independent inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal last year after a senior official warned that the Metropolitan Police would "deeply resent" any interference in their investigation. A leaked Home Office memo shows that the Labour government decided against calling in Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary after intense internal lobbying.

A former News of the World deputy features editor, Paul McMullan, has said hacking was rife and Coulson must have been aware of it when he was running the paper's investigations. "He never sat over my shoulder to watch me do it. But he wouldn't have been able to reach his position without knowledge of how the industry works. It would be disingenuous of me to say that Andy Coulson didn't know about it."

Tom Watson, another Labour member of the Commons committee, has accused Rupert Murdoch of appointing Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International, knowing that she had admitted that illegal payments had been made to police officers for information and stories. Watson says Murdoch should be asked to give evidence to the inquiry. "I doubt that Rupert Murdoch knows about these indiscretions, but he is responsible for appointing people to positions of great power who should, and for that reason he too should explain his actions to the committee," says Watson, a former Cabinet minister, who had to resign over a letter urging Tony Blair to resign. The Sun agreed to pay Watson substantial damages last year after claiming he was involved with the so-called e-mail plot to smear Tory MPs.

The News of the World may not be the only newspaper that has been implicated in telephone snooping and similar methods. But it will be interesting to see how far up the News International organisation the investigations are allowed to go, and what kind of relations with police and politicians come out. Murdoch's influence with Thatcher and Blair, as well as the growth of his media empire, may have left confusion as to who is in charge, and whose word is law.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Shana Tova, Eid Said!

MIHRAB in the great mosque, now a cathedral, Cordoba.
NURIA, waterwheel on the Guadalqivir (Wad el Kebir, Great River).
And statues of two great residents - Ibn Rushd (Averroes),1126-1198, below, and above Moshe Ben Maimon, (Maimonides), the Rambam, 1135-1204, both pioneers of rational thought.

TODAY is Rosh Hashana, or what is known as the Jewish New Year, and today - or in North America, tomorrow, September 10 - is the Muslim festival Eid al Fitr, which comes at the end of Ramadan.

So I thought I might use this happy co-incidence to offer festive greetings to my friends and readers.

It is also a time when President Obama has been hosting Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to restart the Middle East "peace process" before America's mid-term elections, and while we may place neither trust nor hope in these leaders, we can re-affirm our hope that, in spite of them, the peoples' wish for genuine peace, peace with justice, will prevail.

Whatever the sincerity of Obama, the credibility of the United States as a force for peace or fairness of any kind has been undermined by the outburst of ignorance, bigotry and hatred that was sparked off by the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" affair. The wish of a Muslim society to set up a centre in New York, no more than a Muslim version of the YMCA by the sound of it, a couple of blocks away from the 9/11 World Trade Centre site, has been treated as an "outrage", with politicians and columnists thundering, a church pastor proposing to burn the Koran, supposedly respectable organisations like the Anti-Defamation League (sic) joining the opponents, and right-wing loonies with too much money parading a missile around the streets. Apparently a large percentage of Americans think that Obama is a Muslim, too. And many of the mosque opponents have made clear they are against Muslims and their institutions anywhere in the United States.

Newt Gingrich took particular exception to the Muslim charity involved being called the Cordoba project. According to this supposedly educated politician Cordoba in Spain symbolised Muslim triumphalism and intolerance. Well not in my book, nor most others I should think, and that is why I am illustrating this posting with pictures from Cordoba, a city of culture and wisdom long before the United States was founded.

The fact that there were Muslims among the 9/11 victims is ignored, in favour of blaming all Muslims for the attack. If the religion of the attackers were enough to rule out construction of a religious centre, there must surely be a large area of the globe on which enough crimes have been committed to make Christian places of worship out of the question? Faluja, in Iraq, for instance, where thousands were killed by US bombing, and the rate of birth defects and cancer reflects the diabolical weapons used.

One American commentator likened the project to having a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbour. But surely a more appropriate comparison is with the Christian places at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We might recall, too, that the Pilgrim Fathers, and others, came to America to escape the intolerance of Christian Europe, not Muslim Spain.

And point out, as others have, the reconstruction of the Magen Abraham synagogue in much-bombed Beirut as an example of tolerance and positivity from which New York could learn.

Finally, we can take heart from the fact that large numbers of Americans, of whatever religious affiliation and none, are now rallying against the anti-mosque protesters, and saying that anti-Muslim prejudice and hysteria is a threat to democratic rights for everyone in the United States.

Happy New Year, and awakening.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Pax America? Which America ? Which Israel?

PRESIDENT Obama said yesterday that the killing of four Israeli settlers in a West Bank ambush would not be allowed to deflect the course of peace talks opening in Washington. Nor should it. The shooting, claimed by a military formation linked with Hamas, took place in an area west of Hebron, where the Palestinian Authority has no power, and the Israeli military who do are regularly assisting armed right-wing settlers to harass and terrorise the Palestinians.

Today both Israeli and Palestinian forces were reported rounding up the usual suspects for the attack."Dozens of Hamas members have been arrested, mainly in [the] Hebron area and across the West Bank," the Palestinian security source said. "We are investigating if they have any links to the shooting attack. There will be more arrests." Israeli security forces also arrested about 50 people, raiding houses in villages around the Hebron area after sealing off parts of the West Bank.

Whether or not the peace talks are deflected, it is doubtful whether they are going anywhere. Hamas was not invited, of course, despite having been fairly elected as a Palestinian government, for which the Israeli government have continued punishing the people of Gaza, by their siege, and the war which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, only about 200 of whom were combatants. President Mahmoud Abbas' mandate is doubtful. Several of the parties within the PLO - including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose leader is in an Israeli jail, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian People's Party - have dissociated themselves in advance from his Washington mission.

After the freedom promised at Oslo proved a mirage, with the Palestinians confined to shrinking enclaves while Israel continued expanding its annexation wall and settlements, people are skeptical of what Abbas will bring back apart from further instructions to repress his own people. Even supporters of the talks are not optimistic:
"Both sides prefer to continue the existing situation as long as they do not have to pay the costs that an agreement requires," argued Nahum Barnea, the Israeli commentator. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, was a tad more diplomatic. "We are hoping talks will succeed," he said, "but we are all very pessimistic about the viability of the peace process because of past experience."

Mahmoud Abbas' moderation is not enough for some Israelis. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Shas party, preached a sermon on Saturday night wishing death on Mahmoud Abbas and his people, whom he called "evil enemies of Israel.",7340,L-3945117,00.html

The Palestinian Authority has tried to play this down, saying nobody listens to Yosef. But Shas is not some insignificant sect. Like Hamas on the Palestinian street, it initially built support among its Misrahi (eastern) Jewish followers by combining attention to their spiritual and social welfare. It was even regarded as "dovish" compared to other religious parties. But it has recently begun siding with the right-wing settlers, possibly in return for the advantages Orthodox Jews are getting from 'ethnic cleansing' of Arabs in Jerusalem. Yosef's brother is a minister in the present government.

So Israel, an occupying power, a state with nuclear weapons, has a religious and political leader who openly calls for genocide. Now if that was someone in Gaza, or Teheran...

Such hope as people place on a US-sponsored "peace process" rests on the chances that President Obama may yet put real pressure on the Israeli government, ending decades of automatic US backing for whatever Israeli leaders decided. The irony has been remarked before that Israel was the one place in the world where peace campaigners and "the Left" (these terms are relative!) kept hoping for more, not less, US interference. But the signs are not encouraging. Obama, himself under attack from America's reactionary right ( many of whom persist in asserting that he is a Muslim!), has begun his peace initiative by the obligatory remarks about safeguarding "the security of the State of Israel". His Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is on record about being ready to destroy Iran.

In fact, whatever the President's policy, powerful American interests are waging a campaign of pressure, not against Israel's right-wing government, but against those Israelis who oppose its aggressive policies.

We have seen how evangelist Pastor Jack Hagee, who preached that Hitler was sent by God, has been welcomed by Netanyahu because he supports policies of occupation and war, and what's more, brings the funding to support those who practice what he preaches. A right-wing student group, Im Tirzu, most of whose members have come from military service, has been campaigning with Hagee's money to denounce peace and civil rights groups - for getting foreign funding! It has attacked the liberal New Israel Fund.

Im Tirzu also threatened to go after the funding of Ben Gurion University, in Be'ersheba, unless it acts immediately to remove “post-Zionist” faculty from its Political Science Department. Then it was reported that the president of Tel Aviv University was examining the syllabus of the Sociology department for signs of "left-wing bias", following clamour from the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), a right-wing organization established by settler leader Israel Harel. Ironically as it may seem considering the outside calls for boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the pressure is on for them to collaborate more fully with the occupation, and witch-hunt any staff or ideas that are not sufficiently Zionist.

Now Ha'aretz has revealed that Im Tirtzu chairman Ronen Shoval and the organization’s spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, took part in a Young Leadership program run by the Institute for Zionist Strategies several years ago, despite the two men’s assertion that they were not acting in concert with the institute in their public campaign against the “anti-Zionist bias” in Israeli universities.

The IZS report on sociology departments resembled Im Tirtzu’s report on political science departments, classifying lecturers as “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” and they reached similar conclusions. Until the final months of 2009, both Im Tirzu and the IZS were nearly unknown to the Israeli public, and their sources of funding more so. But it has now been revealed John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI had channeled $120,000 to Im Tirzu through the Houston Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency.

What's more, the Hudson Institute, a major Washington-based neo-conservative think-tank, which played a big part in shaping the policies of the Bush administration, has been the largest financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of its funding over the years.

Hudson’s returns to the Internal Revenue Service in the US state that the institute transferred $230,000 in the previous tax year to “support Israeli public policy research.” Form 990 for 2007 (last page) states that a further $256,185 were transferred in the previous tax year for “consulting/research.”

Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, its former President and current Senior Fellow, is also the IZS’s Research Director. At least according to his bio on the Hudson website: The IZS site only identifies him as a member of the Advisory Committee. Back in the 1980s, Singer was involved with US intelligence and subversion activities against Nicaragua, which became linked to the Iran-Contra affair - ironically as it now seems, involving Israeli arms dealings with Iran!

Now he has moved to Jerusalem, but that need not mean giving up aims to influence US policies. On the contrary. A July 17 policy note published by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University says "To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make."

Coteret says the Hudson Institute’s involvement in Israeli affairs is not limited to “democracy” issues but encompasses high-level geopolitics as well. Its form 990 for 2007 (last page) reports on the transfer of $600,000 to the “Atlantic Forum of Israel” in the previous tax year. This American Jewish Congress explains that it is Israel’s official non-governmental representative” to NATO. An October 2009 article in Haaretz reports that Uzi Arad resigned as President of the Forum before assuming the position of Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser.

Meanwhile a fresh row broke out, concerning not the academic world but the theatres. Israel's leading theatres like the famous Habimah said they would play the new cultural centre at the West Bank settlement of Ariel. The suspicion was that this was the theatre managements' way of lining up for government subsidies.

Like many academics, the artistic world like to think they are more liberal and progressive than other parts of Israeli society and should not suffer any boycott. After the news of their compliance with settlement policies, veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery remarked that they might have to give up Paris and London for the privilege of performing in Ariel. However, to their credit, a number of well-known Israeli actors, playwrights and writers have said they will not have anything to do with the settlement.

Whatever their precise views on peace or Zionism, those who take a stand against the pressure from the Right and government deserve support and encouragement. The sparks from such conflict could hopefully also strike a light for broader masses.

People often wonder what kind of leadership can achieve peace and justice for the Palestinians, and whether America or Israel can ever be trusted. But it also very much depends on which America, and what kind of Israel.

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