Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Dishonourable Member for Rotherham exploits Toulouse tragedy and distorts union policies

IN October 2010 the Parliamentary Labour Party suspended former Europe Minister Denis MacShane from the whip while he was under criminal investigation over his expenses claims.

Writing in this week's Jewish Chronicle, under the headline Tragedy in Toulouse shows Jew-hatred is alive and well, MacShane lumps the gunman Mohammad Merah's deluded grievances together with Islamism and antisemitism, and with any opposition to the State of Israel and Zionism.

Whatever creative imagination the MP for Rotherham exercised in claiming for his garage as a constituency office is nothing to the way he smears opponents, particularly those in the unions that sustain his party.

First he finds what should be an easy target. Ahmadinejad. Only in so doing, he not only picks on one of the Iranian ruler's more reasonable statements, but proceeds to rationalise the actions of the Toulouse gunman:

'This week, President Ahmadinejad returned to one of his favorite themes when he told German channel ZDF that Israeli statehood "was a colonialist plan that resulted from a lie". It is this language that justifies the atrocity in Toulouse, along with the earlier killings of two Muslim French soldiers, apparently on the grounds that France fights in Afghanistan'.
Justifies? The view of Zionism as a colonialist enterprise deriving its ideology from myth is a perfectly respectable historical approach, which many including Israeli writers have accepted in retrospect. Most recently Shlomo Sand, Professor of History at Tel Aviv university, published "The Invention of the Jewish People "( Hebrew: מתי ואיך הומצא העם היהודי?‎, Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?, literally When and How was the Jewish People Invented?). It was in the best-seller list in Israel for nineteen weeks, and reprinted three times when published in French (Comment le peuple juif fut inventé, Fayard, Paris, 2008). Uri Avnery, who fought in the 1948 'War of Independence' and did not disavow his Zionism though he became a peacenik, entitled a historical chapter in his book "Tolstoy meets Cecil Rhodes", to show how utopian idealism became entwined with colonialism. Nowadays with armed Jewish settlers stalking the West Bank and seizing resources it is hard to see beyond the crude colonialism.

Such an analysis may be open to criticism. But nobody -apart perhaps from the dead gunman in Toulouse, and it seems, the Labour MP for Rotherham, - suggests that accepting the viewpoint justifies killing small children outside a school in France, or anywhere else for that matter. Even in Iran, where Ahmadinejad has said and done much worse things, the estimated 25,000-strong Jewish community does not show signs of feeling threatened by them.

But mentioning the Iranian leader is only an appetiser, before MacShane - a onetime leader of the National Union of Journalists and later, policy director of the International Metalworkers Federation, moves on to attacking targets closer to home.

"There is little media or political concern when the National Union of Journalists or the University and College Union back boycotts of Jewish journalists or Israeli academics. The NUJ or UCU would never dream of boycotting Saudi Arabia or China, where human rights and core freedoms are ruthlessly suppressed. But when it comes to Jews in Israel, the double-standard of contemporary antisemitism prevails".

In fact, unions adopting boycott motions have come under a lot of fire. But there is a good reason why the unions concerned were not attacked for taking decisions such as MacShane describes. It is because such decisions were never taken.

The academic boycott, as we've pointed out before, has been aimed not at individuals but institutions accused of colluding in their government's oppressive policies. Some of those who have campaigned for it happen to be Israeli academics! But the boycott is at the behest of Palestinians who are at the receiving end of those policies, and whose own instutions are often under siege by the occupation's tanks and guns - much more effective than any leafletting pickets for a boycott! What's more, all the UCU did was agree to bring the issue to the attention of its members.

If there were similar calls from rights campaigners or trade unions in China or Saudi or anywhere else the unions here would undoubtedly consider them, just as we supported a boycott of South Africa, without so far as I am aware Denis McShane complaining.

The National Union of Journalists was never asked to back a boycott of Jewish journalists. What it did, in the wake of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and continuing blockade was to support a motion for a consumer boycott of Israeli goods, and submit this as an opinion to the TUC. To counter ill-informed or mischievous criticism afterwards the union's executive issued a statement making clear that it was continuing to engage with both Palestinian and Israeli journalists' unions, and would not countenance any antisemitism. That should be clear enough even for Denis MacShane, former president of the NUJ and member of the Privy Council, to understand.

Not long ago I ran into Jim Boumelha, of the International Union of Journalists, at a meeting on human rights in the Philippines, where he was taking careful note of the situation and discussing what could be done. Last week I was at two meetings addressed by Bangladeshi trade unionists, the second one in Congress House with the Southern and Eastern Region TUC international committee. They spoke about the sweatshop conditions of cheap labour which produced goods sold at big profit in our Western stores. But while they want us to put pressure on the big name buyers, they advised against a boycott which would misfire hitting jobs and worsen their conditions.

In each case then a tactical decision that has to be taken in consultation with those involved at the sharp end, and nothing to do with any "double standards" or prejudices, as Denis MacShane pretends.

There are arguments to be had about the boycott tactic as applied to Israel, and how far it is effective or justified. But there is little point discussing tactics with someone like Denis McShane, who cannot stick to the truth about his old union, and has chosen his side.

A prominent member of the Labour Friends of Israel, MacShane has also signed up to the Henry Jackson Society , advocating the spread of what they call liberal democracy across the world, including by military intervention. The society also supports "European military modernisation and integration under British leadership". He was naturally a keen supporter of Tony Blair's foreign policy. including the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has left such a fine legacy of democracy as testified by ruined cities, religious dominance, death squads and thousands of refugees.

Also in 2003 MacShane criticised the Muslim community, saying it did not do enough to condemn acts of terrorism. The MP demanded that Muslim community leaders choose between "the British way" of democracy and Islamic terror. Recalling how antisemites incited anti-Jewish hostility on the back of terror in Palestine in the 1940s, the Jewish Socialists' Group condemned the notion of collective responsibility implicit in this ultimatum, as well as the onus placed on minorities to prove their suitability for "the British way".

MacShane was chair of the inquiry panel of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, which reported in September 2006, claiming Islamicists and pro-Palestinian campaigners had contributed to rising antisemitism on campuses, and condemning the UCU for allegedly interfering with academic freedom as well creating difficulties for Jes by its boycott policy. Hee was an advisory board member of the now defunct Just Journalism, a pro-Israeli media advocacy group which shared an office with the Henry Jackson Society (HJS).

During the 2009 expenses scandal the Daily Mail featured a story stating that MacShane had claimed £125,000 over a period of 7 years for his garage, which he used as a constituency office. One fellow Labour MP privately told the journalist that he was ‘very surprised’ at the scale of Mr MacShane’s claims given that he does not have to pay to rent an office.

In total, MacShane was ordered to repay £1,507.73 in wrongfully claimed expenses, with his appeals against the ruling being rejected. In addition, MacShane is alleged to have passed twelve invoices from the "European Policy Institute" for "research and translation" expenses to the parliamentary authorities, and claimed for eight laptop computers in three years. A number of newspapers stated that the EPI was "controlled" by MacShane's brother, Edmund Matyjaszek, a claim which MacShane denied: "The EPI was set up 20 years ago by a network of people on the Left working in Europe and the US...Ed is my Brother, but simply administrates it."

On October 14, 2010 Labour decided to suspend Denis McShane from the whip after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had referred an expenses-related complaint about him to the Metropolitan Police. In June 2011 The Daily Telegraph highlighted further discrepancies in MacShane's expenses which had been uncovered by former independent candidate Peter Thirlwall. As a result he held an emergency meeting with House of Commons officials and agreed to repay a further £3,051.38.

MacShane had previously written an article for The Guardian in which he quoted Macaulay ridiculing the British public in its "fits of morality", and tried to play down the expenses scandal: "There will come a moment when moats and manure, bath plugs and tampons will be seen as a wonderful moment of British fiddling, but more on a Dad's Army scale than the real corruption of politics."

The Rotherham MP referred to big business interests buying influence by awarding directorships and other rewards to media stars. Maybe he was right. Or maybe it was sour grapes.

But there is another issue which ought to exercise the Labour Party as much as dishonest expense claims. That is an MP elected by working people as a Labour man, using his position to slag off our unions and distort their oppositions to an oppressive regime. An MP exploiting a tragedy like that in Toulouse, to falsely accuse the union he once led of racialism, and smear legitimate solidarity with the Palestinians by associating it with murder and terrorism.

The people of Rotherham surely deserve better? And if Labour is not prepared to remove the disgusting Denis McShane, I hope trade unionists and socialists will make it their business to send him packing and into obscurity.

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