Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mr.Brown goes to Washington, while US offers arms to bring Saudis into line

PRIME minister Gordon Brown flies into Washington with assurances that, whatever his aides have suggested, Britain under his government will stand loyally by US foreign policy and its wars - which is more than George W. Bush can say for his public at home.

Last year, Blair and Bush backed Israel's war in Lebanon, vetoing calls for ceasefire and stepping up munition supplies. This year, while Congress is prepared to talk about withdrawal from Iraq, our New Labour government rules it out. Forget wishful thinking. Labour's change of leadership is no more than a change of style.

Though the Middle East is likely to be high on the two leaders' agenda, we don't know whether Bush will remonstrate with Brown over the Blair government's decision to quash investigations into British Aerospace(BAe) bribery to secure its giant Saudi arms deal. This investigation is being taken up in the United States, ostensibly because a US bank was used to transfer money to a Saudi prince, more likely because BAe competitors remain disgruntled.

America itself is offering a huge deal to the Saudis, as it struggles to keep Middle East allies in line, and threatens war with Iran.

July 28, 2007
U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia
WASHINGTON, July 27 — The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.
The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years.
But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.
In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.
The officials said the plan to bolster the militaries of Persian Gulf countries is part of an American strategy to contain the growing power of Iran in the region and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates are visiting Saudi Arabia this week and are expected to press the Saudi rulers to help Iraq's pro-occupation, mainly Shi'ite government or at least stop undermining it.

America's former ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has accused the Saudis of responsibility for fake documents circulated in Baghdad which aimed to tag Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as an Iranian agent, and accused him of tipping off Shi'a cleric Moqtada al Sadr about a planned crackdown on his Mahdi army militia.

Some time ago, discussing how far US agents pursuing a divide and rule policy in Iraq were behind sectarian killings and bomb attacks, an Iraqi friend cautioned us to remember that "America does not have suicide bombers". It seemed a valid point to think about. But then I replied, "Maybe America hasn't, but the Saudis have". I was just guessing, but now it seems the US -and British - governments are saying it has got out of hand. According to the Guardian:
'Relations have been strained since King Abdullah unexpectedly criticised the US, describing the Iraq invasion as "an illegal foreign occupation"'

State department spokesman Sean McCormack, says only that Rice and Gates, on their trip to the region, "will be wanting more active, positive support for Iraq and the Iraqi people".

Khalilzad, who is now US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the New York Times last week: "Several of Iraq's neighbours - not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States - are pursuing destabilising policies."

According to the Guardian 's Ewan MacAskill, "The Bush administration is also expressing its unhappiness with the Saudis for failing to stem the flow of Saudi jihadists across its border to fight in Iraq, often as suicide bombers. The US estimates that about 40% of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month are from Saudi Arabia".
US accuses Saudis of telling lies about Iraq,,2136599,00.html

Although MacAskill also refers to concern about a US Israeli-Palestinian "peace plan", it was the Saudis who earlier this year put their name to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace plan based on Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and Israel which rejected it as a "non-starter" because it included calling for a "fair solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem.

The Israelis are said to be concerned that Saudi Arabia is being offered satellite controlled weapons, which have been supplied to Israeli forces since the 1990s.
The arms offer to Saudi Arabia is being followed up with a promised $30.4 billion supply to Israel, $9.1 billion more than it received over the past ten years, an increase of nearly 43 percent. A US official said this was because Israel needed to replace equipment expended in its war in Lebanon, as well as to maintain its advantage in advanced weaponry over other countries. As for the sales to the Saudis and other Gulf States, US officials warned that the Saudis and others were in talks with suppliers other than the United States. If American supplies were blocked or tied with too many conditions, other suppliers might step in, and this would reduce American influence.

* Meanwhile in a possible bid to restore Britain's standing and ability to play a role in Palestine, Brown is reportedly to appoint Michael Williams as a Middle East peace envoy, distinct from Tony Blair's role as US-backed "quartet" envoy. Williams, a former BBC journalist who served as an adviser to Robin Cook and Jack Straw at the Foreign Office is currently working for UN secretary general Ban Kimoon.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gordon Brown backs racism and clearances

AS Tony 'Bomber' Blair gads about promising to bring peace to the Middle East, Gordon Brown has not just stepped into his job at No.10 but has taken over from Blair as leading patron of a dubious "charity" linked with racism in Israel. Has a precedent been established for it to go with the job?

This week's Jewish Chronicle reports:

JNF UK, one of Anglo-Jewry’s leading charities, has secured Gordon Brown as its latest patron, the JC can reveal. The Prime Minister accepted the role following an invitation from JNF UK president Gail Seal, who wrote conveying her good wishes the day after he took office. In a letter to Mrs Seal, the PM responded that “your congratulations and good wishes are very much appreciated” and that he was “delighted to accept your offer to become a patron of JNF UK”.

A spokesman for Mr Brown told the JC: “The Prime Minister supports a number of charities and has agreed to become a patron of the Jewish National Fund UK in order to encourage their work to promote charitable projects for everyone who lives in Israel.”

(Brown takes on JNF role, Daniella PeledJC July 27,2007

That last sentence is curious. Although described as an Anglo-Jewish charity and registered here as such, the Jewish National Fund channels its funds to Israel, where its aim since it was founded under Ottoman rule has been to promote exclusively Jewish settlement. Any arguments in early days, when immigrants might otherwise have been unable to find employment, and private capital wasn't interested in development, have long been overtaken by the negative aim, of thwarting Palestinian growth and excluding Arab labour. The Knesset has just given its first reading to a bill that declares it legal to discriminate, and forbids the sale of JNF land to non-Jews.

When Israel declared itself a State in 1948, it pledged to be open for Jewish immigration and "the Ingathering of the Exiles" (i.e. Jews, not Palestinians) but also promised "it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex ..."

The JNF, or Keren Kayemet le Israel ("everlasting fund for Israel") did not surrender its functions to the state, nor were its lands taken over. It was incorporated as a private company, under a special law, and was thus able not only to continue raising funds abroad as a charity, but to continue barring non-Jews, specifically Arabs, from leasing or renting property it owned, or working on its lands. Meanwhile the state and its defenders could assure anyone who asked that Israel did not have "Apartheid laws".

As Yitzhak Bam, who drafted the law before the Knesset explains, this informal arrangement was not everlasting. In 1960 the Knesset reorganized the land legislation, and passed laws under which the Israel Lands Administration was established to administer public, including JNF lands, while pledging to do so in accordance with JNF aims.

"But in the autumn of 2005, in the wake of an appeal by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the attorney general ruled in his reply to the High Court of Justice that the ILA was not permitted to administer JNF lands in the spirit of its goals and must lease all the lands it handles (including JNF lands) to anyone, ignoring the JNF's basic purpose and the agreement signed between the state and the JNF. The bill I formulated while taking part in the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, on the request of MK Uri Ariel and others, tries to restore the former situation and anchor in law what is self-evident: the ILA's moral obligation and authority to administer JNF lands in accordance with the fund's goals, so that lands purchased with Jewish donors' money will be devoted to Jewish settlement".

Bam is surprised that the left Zionist party Meretz sent an Arab as its representative to the JNF directorate: "His interests are not among the interests and goals of the fund. The representative would almost certainly support the dismantling of the JNF, and almost certainly his purpose for sitting on the board is to neutralize the JNF's basic purpose".

"According to the fundamentals of justice and equality, the State of Israel must act for the benefit of all its citizens. The JNF is not obligated to work for non-Jewish settlement. If that is racism, all of Zionism is racism. " Well, you said it, Mr.Bam.

What does Mr.Brown have to say? Joining Tony Blair, David Cameron and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (said to be a close friend, reports the JC) as patron of JNF-UK, the Prime Minister lends his name to a cause which many Jewish celebrities nowadays decline to help as they become aware of its character. JNF-UK has undergone an organisational split from the Israeli body, and was also subject of complaints to the Charity Commissionaires though these were not upheld.

But it continues to raise £15 million a year for its projects in Israel, and organisers are hoping high-level support will help boost projects in the Galil -where Zionists remain anxious to establish a Jewish majority, and the Negev, where the Bedouin are under increasing pressure to make way for new settlement.

The JC reporting Brown's support says "'n a speech to Labour Friends of Israel in April, he recounted how his late father, a Church of Scotland minister, had taught him about “the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, about the enormous suffering and loss during the Holocaust, as well as the extraordinary struggle he described to me of people to create this magnificent homeland”. '

Pity the minister didn't tell his bairn about the inhumanity of the Highland Clearances, or even a Lowland Scot like Brown might see that such brutality today is unacceptable, whether in the West Bank or to the Negev Bedouin. But as we approach the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, perhaps we must recognise that some learn nothing from history except to continue it; and a Labour imperialist who boasts of his lessons at the manse is just a moralising Labour imperialist.

Pity the trade unions who this year passed resolutions on Palestine were not able to pick a different candidate for Labour leadership.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spies v.Dockers

(1972) Narks at the NIRC

AMONG my favourite photographs of working class struggle is that of Vic Turner and his mates, the "Pentonville Five", being chaired in triumph by a crowd of fellow-trade unionists, with the banner of the London Docks Shop Stewards Committee and its slogan "Arise Ye Workers".

It was in July 1972, and the dockers who had been jailed for picketing had been released within a week by the intervention of the Official Solicitor, as thousands throughout the country staged strikes in solidarity and defence of union rights.

I have not been able to find a copy of the picture, although I see there's one on the leaflet for Saturday's meeting commemorating the Pentonville Five events, it won't reproduce unfortunately. They have also got Vic Turner himself due to speak at the meeting, which is at 2pm on Saturday July 28 at Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1 (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road).

I have got another favourite picture from the same time, it's two private dicks in such a hurry that one had dropped his briefcase as they ran from the National Industrial Relations Court where they had given evidence against the dockers.

I think the one in front is Gary Murray. In his book Enemies of the State, published in 1993 he described how his agency Eurotech had used a derelict van parked the entrance to Midlands Cold Storage to keep the picketing dockers under surveillance and eavesdrop on their conversations. As a result the company spies were able to furnish the names of five alleged "ringleaders" to the court.

For the dockers the issue had been to prevent firms adopting containerisation from taking work away from registered (and organised) portworkers, and thus lowering wages. For Murray and his firm the surveillance came after a two-year project, "Big Red", infiltrating agents into workplaces and trade unions to enlist informers and establish long-term snooping on trade unionists. He denies suggestions linking him with Special Branch. But serving summonses and then appearing to give evidence in court endangered the more ambitious project. He was allowed to give evidence in camera and leave by a side entrance. Being caught on camera was defitely not part of the plan!

The photo of the running men first appeared in Workers Press, though I have taken this copy from The Political Police in Britain by Tony Bunyan (1976). I have spoken to the photographer who got this scoop and heard how he got it. He is freelance now, but still doing a lot of work for the labour movement.
Be good if he can make Saturday's meeting.

SATURDAY 28 JULY 14.00 TO 17.00

Steve Hart - regional secretary TGWU No1 /Unite
Ann Field -national officer Amicus/Unite
Vic Turner - one of the Pentonville Five
chair Martin Gould -South East region TUC

At TUC, Congress House, Great Russel Street, London WC1
(nearest tube Tottenham Court Road

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A not-so-great Dane, and the Reign in Spain

DANISH NAZI recruiting poster. They fought for Hitler against "Bolshevism" on Eastern front and in Baltic countries.

DENMARK has an almost unique right to pride and claim to affection for what its people did during the dark days of Nazi rule in Europe. On October 1-2, 1943, when the Nazis came for Denmark's Jews they found mostly empty homes. More than 7,000 people, the majority of the Danish Jews and some German refugees, had been alerted and assisted to escape overnight, fishing boats, ferries and tugs taking them over the narrow sound to Sweden.

But Denmark's wartime history wasn't all humanity and resistance. Even before the war the newspaper Jyllands-Posten had earned the name Jyllands Pesten, Jutlands' Plague, by its enthusiastic welcome for Hitler's rise to power in Germany, approving the measures taken against the Jews and the labour movement, and longing to see a similar regime in Denmark.

Within days of the Nazis invading the Soviet Union a Freikorps Danmark was being recruited to reinforce the Germans. (About a quarter of the recruits were from the German minority).

Jyllands Posten might have been forgotten if it was not still going today, and made its name as the newspaper which published offensive cartoons attacking Muslims. Much was the joy in the United States, as some Muslims reacted as though conditioned to this provocation. Four young men who took part in a 300-strong London protest have been jailed for inciting "murder" and "racial hatred". In Iran a paper invited cartoons about the Nazi Holocaust by way of retaliation, thereby displaying either ignorance or deliberate displacement of the issues.

Just how misplaced were both the Western enthuthiasm for Danish liberty and the Iranian assumption of blame may be gleaned from this further example of Denmark's freedom of expression:

Holocaust denier using Danish gov't grants to study SS
By Amiram Barkat and Assaf Uni, Haaretz Correspondents
A Danish Holocaust denier obtained government funding for his studies on the involvement of Danes in Hitler's SS, the Danish newspaper Information revealed Wednesday. The paper reported that Erik Haaest received grants totaling 100,000 Danish krone from the Danish Arts Council, a government-funded body, in 2004 and 2006. In a conversation with the Danish paper earlier this week, Haaest called Anne Frank's diary a "forgery" and refused to renounce earlier publications in which he wrote that the gas chambers never existed and that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust has been greatly exaggerated.
The Arts Council said in response that it does not deal in censorship and "it is not our job to judge [people's] opinions." Holocaust denial is not illegal in Denmark, though it is in many other Western European countries, including Austria, which jailed British Holocaust denier David Irving in 2005.

Meanwhile in Spain...

SOME people do take cartoons seriously. Spanish police have raided newsagents across the country to seize copies of a satirical magazine which had a front page cartoon deemed insulting to the monarchy.

The cartoon on the front page of El Jueves commented on a government decision to give families 2,500 Euros (£1,680) for each new child. It showed Crown Prince Felipe, the heir to the Spanish throne, "on the job" with his wife Letitia.

"Do you realise what it will mean if you get pregnant?" asked the prince's speech bubble. "This is going to be the closest thing to work that I've ever done".

Honestly! Is nothing sacred?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nuclear waste in flood path?

NUCLEAR waste from a shut down nuclear power plant could be in the swirling flood waters in Gloucestershire. A BBC television reporter this evening hinted that, as well as halting power supplies from Castle Meads power station and Walham switching station to homes and the GCHQ base at Cheltenham, the floods could have affected a nuclear site, which he could not name.

Castle Meads has been restored and Walham could be working again, after a huge effort by Royal Navy teams and emergency services. The county had been facing a complete blackout, and there were plans for a mass evacuation, it was reported tonight. The army is distributing bottled water to 350,000 people in Gloucestershire - and it may have to last them two weeks.

Berkeley nuclear power station was the first commercial nuclear plant in Britain and is the first to be decommissioned. It also houses laboratories.

But though the reactors have been closed, there are still large amounts of untreated nuclear waste at the site. Questions were asked about plans to store the Intermediate Level Waste(ILW) and the need to maintain flood defences at a meeting of nuclear industry management and local councillors, in March.

A temporary waste store for the ILW was being set up.
People in Lydney (where there has been concern over the incidence of child cancers) had asked why waste could not be left in vaults until a national repository was built. But Berkeley director Mr.J.Crocker said the problem was that the vaults were below the water table.

"Dr.Hellen asked where the risk of flooding sits. Mr.Crocker replied that the vaults have flooded before and the risk remains of it happening again. Storing the waste in the proposed ILW store reduces these risks of flooding in future to a low level."

Questions were asked in parliament a few years ago about dangers at Berkeley from a different direction. Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what physical protection measures exist at the Berkeley nuclear research laboratories in Gloucestershire against the accidental or deliberate crash of an aircraft onto the site; and whether these have been enhanced since 2002. [171649]
Mr. Timms: The UK's civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures regulated by the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS), the security regulator. The security regulator works closely with the Health and Safety Executive, the safety regulator, which provides advice on the safety implications of events, including external hazards such as plane crashes, at nuclear installations. Security at nuclear sites is kept under regular review in the light of the prevailing threat and has been significantly enhanced since the terrorist attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001. It is Government policy not to disclose details of these measures which could potentially be of use to terrorists

MoD confirms nuclear near-miss
Defence bosses have confirmed that a US fighter jet came within a few hundred feet of the former Berkeley nuclear power station in Gloucestershire.
The Ministry of Defence also confirmed two breaches by RAF helicopters of the anti-terrorist no-fly zone around the decommissioned plant.
The MoD said the three incidents since the September 11 attacks had been accidental.
There had been no risk to people or property, the MoD said.
Sunday, 2 May, 2004,

Berkeley is not the only nuclear site in the area. Oldbury further down the Severn has had other problems, as this report tells from Friday, 13 July 2007:

Nuclear power plant closed again
A nuclear power station has only been open for a total of eight days since August, it has been revealed. Oldbury Power Station in South Gloucestershire recently closed for an undisclosed reason, three days after reopening at the end of June.
It was also closed at the end of May after a fire at the plant.
Plant manager Pete Harper said: "Our number one priority is safety. We wouldn't run this plant if it wasn't safe to do so."
He added that the plant would only be brought back on line when it was safe to do so.
Oldbury is due to stop generating electricity at the end of 2008.

Maybe the people affected by the floods have enough misery without adding panic. But the true picture will have to come out if people are to know what to expect, and what steps need to be taken for future safety. "What you don't know can't harm you" was never a sensible belief, as we are learning.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 23, 2007

Uniting homeless in the "National Home"

GIVAT HAMATOS; not the 'New Jerusalem', but now developers want the land.

ISRAELI Jewish and Palestinian protestors against homelessness, social neglect and the depradations of property speculators are being urged to rally together in a demonstration tomorrow in Jerusalem.

A leaflet for this new alliance, translated and forwarded to us by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, says:

We, the families of the victims of socio-economic terror at the "Shiber Pit" in Jerusalem invite you to participate in a giant demonstration

This Tuesday 24.7.07 at 19:00
We will march from "Davidka" square to the prime minister's house
The demonstration will be joined by victims of predatory developers from Ramle, Lud, Jaffa, Kfar Shalem, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, the unrecognized villages in the Negev and Jerusalem.

At least 53000 homeless families in Israel, we will not allow the government to continue to evict families from their homes without a solution to their housing needs, leaving them out on the street with young children. We will not allow the government to quietly privatize public housing.

Transportation to the demonstration From Tel Aviv:
meet at 17:00 at the central bus station on Levinky Street .
Please don't be late.

Come and support the demonstration !

The call comes after Negev Bedouin opposing home demolitions and clearance from their ancestral lands took their cause to Jerusalem, encamping outside the Knesset.

Israeli MPs have approved on first reading a bill which confirms the Jewish National Fund(JNF) policy that its lands should be leased to Jews only. Set up in the period before the State to channel funds from overseas for Jewish settlement and agricultural development, the JNF - known in Hebrew as Keren Kayemet (Everlasting Fund) for Israel -has been maintained since, ennabling the Zionist state to continue using funds raised by Jews overseas and to ignore its own declaration pledging not to discriminate between citizens. The Knesset members were bolstered by legal advice that the law was not unconstitutional because " racism is not explicit in the proposal".

Last month the Israel Land Administration (ILA), helped by a large police force and IDF soldiers, demolished dozens of tin shack homes in unrecognized Bedouin villages Um Al-Hiran and A-Tir in the northern Negev. Youths wearing orange shirts (the same colour used by Kahane fascists), hired by a contractor and paid cash in hand, were used to clear out the homes. The ILA is destroying the villages and evacuating the inhabitants so that a Jewish Community named "Hiran" can be established in the area.

It was the second time these Bedouin were being moved on. According to Adallah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the residents of the village had been living there for 51 years. They were transferred to the site in 1956 while under martial law. The land they originally owned was transferred to Kibbutz Shoval, while the Bedouin were leased 3000 dunam of land for agriculture and grazing.

Last week ministers promised a halt on evictions for a year if Bedouin stopped building, but the next day, July 19, two dozen Bedouin homes were demolished.

To the way the Bedouin and other Palestinians are pushed around in their own country we can add the rough deal for immigrants, not all like the privileged settlers.

I understand the "Shiber Pit" referred to in the introductory paragraph is part of the Givat HaMatos neighborhood, where Ethiopian and then Russian immigrants were placed in caravan (trailer) homes on a rocky hill that was Arab land, both to house them cheaply out of the way and as part of the encirclement of Jerusalem. Most have moved on. Now what became a neglected slum with children playing among dangerous waste tips is home to poor people who were desperate for somewhere to live, but they too may be forced to move as property developers now want to take the site upmarket.

I'm hoping to find out more about this.

This is an aspect of Israeli life that seldom gets attention, except from religious charity fundraisers. But it is important. If the poor and dispossessed can get together, confronting not just national but social oppression, the problems may be found to contain the potential solution.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Man from Lodz leaves memories

PERETZ SILBERBERG (centre, with tie)
at London commemoration for Szmuel

BY way of Jewish Socialists' Group friends came some sad, if not unexpected news last week.

Dear David
I am sorry to let you know that on Thursday, after a long and debilitating illness, Peretz Silberberg passed away peacefully in Montreal. He was a great Bundist and an erudite man who will be sadly missed. Esther is holding up well, but needs support at this time. Please do circulate the news to those who remember Peretz, who has spoken at JSG meetings. and was always a supporter of the JSG aims.

Born in 1924, and raised in "the Manchester of Poland", Lodz, where his father had taken part in the 1905 insurgency against the Czar, Peretz spent his youth under the right-wing colonels' regime, surviving the Nazi-imposed ghetto and Buchenwald camp, to come to Britain, and then Canada.

I remember Peretz speaking at a Warsaw ghetto revolt commemoration meeting organised by the Jewish Socialists' Group and also at a meeting honouring the memory of Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, two leaders of the Bund in Poland who were executed on Stalin's orders in 1941. On another of his visits to London he joined his sister Esther at the ceremony in honour of Shmuel 'Artur' Zygielboim, the Bundist delegate who took his own life in London, as the ghetto blazed, despairing that he could not mobilise help to the Jews of Europe.

In the picture Peretz is among those gathered under the plaque commemorating the Bundist martyr, in Porchester Road near where he ended his life. Peretz said his father, a textile union activist, had been saved from the colonels' prison camps by Zygielboim, a union leader and councillor in pre-war Poland.

When someone like Peretz dies, I regret too late the time I should have spent getting to know them better and learning everything I could about their life and experiences. On the happier side in this case, I have discovered the memoirs that Perec Zylberberg (Polish spelling) left are available online, a moving and inspiring read, and a legacy helping to maintain a continuity between generations.

Here's some extracts:

"Factory experience at the age of 14 is a very important factor in one’s life. It was a noisy, smelly layer of air that always hung above one’s head. Yarns, when processed into fabrics and woven into all kinds of designed patterns of colours and figures, produce odours, dangers, deafening noises and slimy puddles of dyes and other chemical solutions. It's true that one gets used to it. But the process of getting into it is arduous and sometimes even bewildering. It might be true that many other areas of manufacture are worse than all of those mentioned instances. My first experience was wonderment and astonishment. The work or better still, the apprenticeship, was not too hard physically. As a minor in years I could only spend half days in the factory. A technical school was suggested, to provide a sounder knowledge of the trade and methods used to bring out a decent product. The only school open to my needs was the city college of the textile trades. It was not only overcrowded, it was also ridden with discriminatory rules and policies. If I had wealthy parents, who could afford a private college, it would have been possible to go through a course of several years of gaining technical and theoretical expertise.
It was not meant to be. I was advised to try again. It was the slick way of turning me away. I actually learned precious little in that year of apprenticeship. I just used to do all kinds of menial tasks. My immediate superior was a dour, old man. Many times I wondered whether he was just that way or just with me in the work place. He was an ethnic German with very few intentions to say more than was absolutely necessary. I carried on being present in the factory all through the fall, winter and spring 1938-1939.

"As I look back on the fateful year of 1938, many images come to my mind. The end of my schooling years, the uncertainty at home over the future, wars and land grabbing by the German government, increases in Polish anti-Semitism, violence of the extreme right, economic boycott of the Jewish merchants and an increase in the level of fear for Jews to walk the streets. It also brought a sense of achievement. The municipal elections were won by the socialist forces for the total population of Lodz as well as in many other large cities across Poland.

"The events that shaped the image of that year were chasing one another. Germany broke the terms of the Versailles treaty. They annexed the Ruhr and Rhine areas, denied them under the treaty. They occupied Austria. They started openly threatening Czechoslovakia. Hints of designs on Poland were being uttered. Rearmament was proceeding at a fast trot. All opposition to Nazism was forbidden. Concentration camps were established in many places in Germany. Italy was expressing designs on Greece and carrying on its conquests of Ethiopia and Albania. Spain was in the terrible position of being strangled by fascist powers. The western powers were unwilling to help stem the ominous tide. Soviet Russia was being shaken up by years of witch-hunting trials. They were both weakened by the liquidation of a good part of its leaders and ranking officers. They were also playing a game of giving little help for big remuneration. All sorts of semi-fascist regimes sprang up in Europe and elsewhere. The Socialist International was braving against all the fascist and reactionary forces around them. The myth prevailed of trying to contain Soviet communist expansionism. It served as a battle cry for all the reactionaries. It also encouraged the extreme religious and nationalistic forces. Wherever possible the socialists fought back. But the powerful alignment of all the opposing elements was getting the upper hand. They had to endure assaults from the right and from the left.

"The summer of 1938 was actually a very exciting time for us. The whole family participated in the efforts to have a successful election campaign. For the lack of democracy in pre-war Poland, the municipalities had somehow a privileged position. It was felt by all parties functioning in Poland, that not being able to express their concerns in parliamentary elections, the local council was the only way to show strength. Our party, the Bund, was gearing up for a big campaign. At the age of 14, I was assigned a spot on a canvassing crusade. As the election list of the Bund also listed two other parties, the Poale Zion Left and the trade union, there were three of us going from house to house to solicit support. Although it was a new thing for me, I thought of the effort as a sort of sacred devotion. We tried to persuade the population of the trust that they could have in both platform and personalities of the united campaign. The actual election took place late in the fall. However the excitement and activities around it preceded the election day by an arduous, all-encompassing campaign. Our efforts were crowned with success. We got into the city council in an imposing way. Out of 18 elected councillors on the Jewish lists, 12 were from the united Bund Poale-Zion Left and trade unions. All in all, the socialist won the day both amongst the gentiles and Jews.
It boosted our morale no end. In spite of all the terrible things going on all around us, we were jubilant at the outcome of this last contest for popular support. The party that the family supported with all their strength became the leading voice of Polish Jewry. In most other cities and towns, the same trend was showing."

Besides taking us back to another time, and giving a very different picture to what the religious and Zionist reactionaries would have us imagine, Perec Zylverberg's memoirs evoke experiences and images with which people from more recent times and quite different backgrounds might relate, and not without a certain irony. Occupation, people pent up behind tightening barriers, deprived and desperate? Perec knew about it. Here's the Lodz ghetto under the Zionist and collaborator, "King Chaim" Rumkofski:-

"Riots broke out in the centre of the ghetto. The Jewish police tried to contain the outburst. It only intensified the situation. Policemen got beaten up. They left the streets in panic. Some of them shed their uniforms. I have seen such dishevelled ones. They were wearing only the trousers of the uniforms. They were frightened. The demand of the rioters was food. Looting was spreading.
The ghetto chief Rumkofski, when news spread to him of the riots, called without hesitation the German security force. It didn't take long and truckloads of armed policemen arrived in the ghetto. Immediately there were victims. Shots rang out for a long time. When the Germans finally left the ghetto, the calm that descended was one of despair and hopelessness.

"The riots, and subsequent activities of the political parties, made an impression on the ghetto administration. It was finally dawning on them that tens of thousands of Jews were literally starving. The incoming food and other essentials were sold on the commercial market in a way that was reminiscent of pre-war practices. It was paradoxical in as much as it was tragically odd.
The huge majority of people just didn't have any income. People sold off all that they had ..."

All extracts from "This I Remember", by Perec Zylberberg,
published by the Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies
Copyright © Perec Zylberberg, 2001. Thanks to the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies for making this resource available online. Thanks to Perec Zylberberg for leaving us this legacy, and condolences to Esther and all family, friends and comrades.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bringing Parliament into Disrepute?

WHAT a marvellous bunch of upstanding ladies and gentlemen we have in the mother of all parliaments at Westminster! What a fine sense of justice they have! Did prime minister Tony Blair lie to them and the British public, presenting dodgy dossiers to defend his decision to bomb and invade Iraq? No matter.They could forgive and forget as, from right-wing Tory to left-wing Labour, they stood with tears in their eyes to give him a parting ovation.

Did a minister in his government, Tessa Jowell, claim to know nothing about sums which repaid a mortgage on her home, coming from her husband's connections with Sylvio Berlusconi? Well, you couldn't expect her to keep an eye on the family finances and know about what her husbands' friends were up to, could you?

Was the government's roving Middle East envoy, Lord Levy, unavoidably detained during the Lebanon crisis by police interviewing him concerning loans for peerages? Well, these things could happen to anybody...

Did the government stop a fraud investigation into payments made to Saudi royals to secure gigantic contracts for British Aerospace? Just as ten years ago the two main parties collaborated to supress a report from the National Audit Office. Well, it is all very well going on about that, but that's the way you do business out there, and besides, just because the Saudis have some quaint old laws and have sustained some colourful rogues is no reason to stop selling them armaments.

If they had not supported the Taliban, we wouldn't have had a Taliban to fight, nor pretext to invade Afghanistan; and if no one had set up Osama Bin Laden we would not have a bogeyman. You have to think about these things.

It is not just warplanes. We have a firm in Brum with a nice line in shackles, and then there are modern interrogation aids. Britain can make it! If our Transatlantic cousins are jibbing its because they wanted the deals and were having to come up with more. Just think of the jobs we saved, while letting them go everywhere else, not to mention the property prices in Belgravia as taxpayers dosh funneled through our Saudi clients came back to benefit some people here. Just because you shouted "Maggie Out!" does not mean we could break the continuity.

Don't go on about "ethics", you sound like old Robin Cook.

Anyway, MPs have got standards, and a conscience, whatever you say. Only this week a committee of them recommended that Respect MP George Galloway should be suspended from the Commons for 18 days, after the parliamentary standards commissioner said it was likely that the outspoken Respect MP knew a charity appeal by him was partly financed through Saddam Hussein's regime.

Sir Philip Mawer, the commissioner, said he had "no evidence" that Mr Galloway directly and personally received money from Iraq via diverted funds from the UN oil for food programme. But there was "clear evidence" that his Mariam Appeal "did benefit" from money from Iraq through its chairman, Jordanian businessman Fawaz Zureikat, who donated £448,000 of the £1.4m raised by the appeal.

"Mr Galloway at best turned a blind eye to what was happening and, on balance, was likely to have known and been complicit in what was going on," Sir Philip said.

Galloway says he will contest the suspension, though considering the amount of time he has spent away from the Commons and for instance in the other, "Big Brother" House, I'm surprised 18 days should bother him. It would mean loss of pay, but also that his constituents would be deprived of their MP.

The Mariam Appeal was set up in 1998 to raise funds for the treatment of Iraqi leukemia patient Mariam Hamza. Later it widened to deal with the issue of sanctions. The incidence of leukemia and of birth defects has soared in Iraq since British and US forces first used depleted uranium weapons there, while sanctions prevented Iraqi hospitals recieving necessary drugs and equipment. But such small matters are not the concern of our parliamentarians.

Galloway say he had never asked any of his three main donors - Mr Zureikat, the King of Saudi Arabia and the emir of the United Arab Emirates - where their money came from. "Once more and yet again I have been cleared of taking a single penny or in any way personally benefiting from the former Iraqi regime through the oil for food programme or any other means."

The standards commissioner condemned George Galloway for concealing the source of funds (just what the political parties' loans schemes were designed to do) and for his treatment of Daily Telegraph correspondent David Blair (Galloway won his libel case against the Tory paper arising from documents it claimed to have found in Baghdad showing he took funds from Iraq.). The report says the MP by refusing to co-operate and calling into question the committee's integrity had "damaged the reputation of the house."

As regular readers of this blog and those who know me will have gathered, I am not a great George Galloway fan. But to suggest that his conduct in this affair has brought the House of Commons into disrepute is not just hypocritical. It shows a totally disproportionate sense of what constitutes a serious offence to moral standards, and a far from justified belief as to what kind of reputation the House nowadays has.

These MPs are out of touch.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

East is West, the parties try the Southall test

SOUTHALL is an outer west London district whose industries attracted waves of immigrants, notably South Asian, particularly Punjabis (though earlier in the last century locals had objected to Welshmen coming and "taking our jobs".) Nowadays the Asians who have established their businesses can look down on Somalis, and so on. But Southall is currently attracting a new crowd of incomers, political campaigners and media reporters temporarily interested by the byelection caused by the death at 82 of Labour MP Piara Singh Kabra.

As well as being the oldest serving MP, and the first Sikh elected to the House of Commons, Piara Khabra was the last person in the present parliament who had served in the forces in World War II. A one-time president of the Indian Workers Association and member of the Communist Party (which used to have separate white and Asian branches in Southall, each taking different lines on immigration), Khabra joined the Labour Party in 1972, became a JP, and was elected to Ealing borough council. He briefly quit Labour for the right-wing breakaway Social Democratic Party, but rejoined Labour in 1988, in time to inherit the safe Southall seat from onetime leftwinger Syd Bidwell who had been deselected.

Though claiming to champion his constituents and others against racism and injustice, he clashed with the Southall Asian Youth Movement in 1997 when they wanted to stage a unity march in Southall to mark the anniversary of India and Pakistan's independence. Apart from overcoming the legacy of partition, the youth had wanted to confront the more contemporary issue of rivalry between Muslim and Sikh youth gangs. But Khabra insisted a march would only cause trouble and interfere with shopkeepers' Saturday trade.

A couple of years before this he had welcomed the leader of India's right-wing Hindu BJP, L.K.Advani to the Houses of Parliament. This may have just been intended as a friendly gesture to the Hindu community - Khabra insisted they had not talked politics. Advani went on to be chief guest along with then Home Secretary Michael Howard, at the opening of the big Hindu temple in Neasden. Whatever Khabra's intentions, the BJP leader's visit has been followed by growing Hindu suprematist influence helping to divide Asian communities (and boost the Indian party's coffers).

In the run-up to the 2001 general election Piara Khabra suggested that Avtar Lit, the chairman of Sunrise Radio, who challenged him as an independent should be "sent back to India". As Tony Lit, the young entrepeneur is now standing as the Tory candidate, although to add to what some call the "Ealing comedy" aspect of this election, it has been revealed that he handed over a £4,800 cheque from Sunrise to Labour when he attended the fundraising dinner with Tony Blair just days before being selected by the Tories.,,2127157,00.html

In 2002, the Southall MP blamed Somali youth for a reported increase in street crime (which police confirmed was due to insurance claims for stolen mobile phones). But perhaps most controversial, Piara Khabra loyally supported Blair's Iraq war, in contradiction to the probable views of the majority of his constituents as of the British public as a whole. Then late last year he announced that he would be standing down.

From Tories through to George Galloway's Respect, the parties have issued glowing tributes to Khabra, after which the air has been thick with claims and counter-claims about which local councillors had defected from whom and to who. I also get the impression that politicians and reporters from outside are a bit hazy about the area's geography - Southall is part of the borough of Ealing nowadays and the constituency name is "Ealing Southall", but there's more than a bus ride between Southall and Ealing. Not to worry anyway as the constituency is due to disappear before the next general election

Meanwhile I received this cri du cour yesterday from Ted, a college lecturer who had just had an unpleasant experience:
" While on my walk to Ealing I was accosted by one David Cameron and had my hand shaken. I was surrounded by blue balloons. I suppose seeing an elderly white male carrying an FT and with dawning recognition in his rheumy eyes, he thought he was safe.
If this appears on TV or in the Press please denounce the disgraceful rumour that I am a renegade".

Hard luck, Ted, I have already e-mailed your picture to the Workers' Wallop in the 'States along with my 3,000 word denunciation "Renegade! No longer Ted-the-Red professor defects to True-Blue Tories!"

Only joking.

VOTING is tomorrow. Labour, with probably the best chance of winning. is standing Virendra Sharma, a local councillor, while schoolteacher Salvinder Dhillon is standing for Respect.

Caught on camera

TED's getting caught in that Tory trap reminded me that it isn't only at election times one has to be careful if one is easily embarassed. I still have my suspicions about who contrived to seat me next to a formidable Monday Club lady at a formal occasion many years ago, though I can't remember the occasion.
I do remember the night a few years later when, after a hard day's agitating on campus I went out to enjoy an excellent dinner with friends at the Fox and Goose up on t'moors behind Galgate. I was relaxing in their lounge with a large brandy and a fat cigar which someone had given me, when much to my surprise a charming and attractive young blonde who'd not previously betrayed any interest leapt on to my lap and clasped her arms round my neck lovingly. I was just taking in this apparent change in fortune when there was a bright flash in front of my eyes.
The photo - with black rectangles hiding our eyes and supposingly identities -appeared in the Lancaster students' paper John O'Gauntlet, supposedly depicting the bloated capitalist pseudonymous author of its satirical City business column, which some students had assumed was me anyway. Actually they paid me an undeserved compliment (which was more than the paper paid me). I could not have managed the column's authentic stock market jargon and accurate predictions ("Kaffirs will rise", after South African repression). It was written by a City accountant doing postgradute Financial Control studies. His dad was a former CBI chief (not the clownish one Gordon Brown has adopted). That he often agreed with me about British capitalism was merely fortuitous, and as he said, he might as well make his money while it lasted.
Any slight embarassment the photo might have aroused (I was a bit of a Puritan sometimes) was soon offset by the thought that it might have its uses. Along with eight others I was named in a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, accused of "conspiracy to trespass". I figured that if it ever came to court I would produce the photo as evidence that, at the time I was supposedly leading a student sit-in in the univeristy admin block, I was miles away keeping a prior social engagement with friends, our snouts in the Trough of Bowland. It might not prove anything, but with a bit of luck the jury would be grateful for a laugh and I'd get off anyway. As it goes, the case never came to court and I've no idea what happened to the photograph (or the young lady, I regret to say).
Just to make up for boring you with that tale, here's another with more political point. Back in the 1960s, a chap called Cyril was on his way down a London street when he ran into a BBC Tonight programme crew interviewing people about the day's Budget. Cyril, it so happens an articulate Marxist and member of the Socialist Labour League, was clearing his throat to have his say when a man came hurtling out saying "Not him!" and steered the microphone and camera away before the comrade could say anything. It was Cyril's brother Tony, a Fabian and BBC Tonight producer.
Little did the nation know, as we sat down to tea in front of the telly that night, how narrowly we had been saved from hearing a Marxist analysis. I suppose it's safe enough now to tell this story.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Do they really want Brunner now?

ALOIS BRUNNER was a top Nazi criminal, an aide to Adolf Eichman. Born in 1912 in Austria's Burgenland, he may or may not be still alive, but now he is on a "wanted" list issued by the Austrian authorities, alongside another nonagenarian, Aribert Heim, a concentration camp doctor accused of injecting poison into the hearts of Jewish prisoners.

A notice posted on the Austrian Justice Ministry’s website has photos and descriptions of Brunner and Heim and offers rewards for information leading to their capture. Brunner is described as having mutilated hands and only one eye, after reportedly being disfigured by letter bombs.

Justice Minister Maria Berger, says Austria would do everything possible to find the fugitives. “I know the odds aren’t the greatest, but in particular given the ages and indications that both are possibly still alive, I think one should seize this potentially last opportunity.”

Heim is “strongly suspected of murdering numerous prisoners” in the Mauthausen concentration camp by injecting poison into their hearts, according to the notice on the Web site. Brunner is “strongly suspected of being significantly involved in the deportation of Jewish persons with the aim of murdering them.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which describes Brunner as the "most wanted" Nazi war criminal is pleased that Austria is paying attention to pursuing Nazis and warns "time is running out". Indeed. Better late than never, we might say, but then wonder - why now?

Alois Brunner did not end his criminal career when the Third Reich fell. He was able to escape capture with the help of a ratline organised by Bishop Alois Hudal [3], and found employment with the Gehlen organisation, an intelligence network staffed by Nazi agents which worked for the American CIA before becoming West Germany's intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst(BND). In 1954, Brunner "fled" Germany on a fake Red Cross passport, going to Egypt, and then Syria.

According to former CIA agent Miles Copeland, CIA chief Allen Dulles had offered Nasser help with security and intelligence, and turned to the network of Nazis like Otto Skorzeny and Brunner to provide it. In Syria, Brunner took the name Georg Fisher, and became a businessman, while also serving as an adviser to government. It has been alleged that he advised on torture and repression. I suspect the old Nazi and his comrades might have assisted in the CIA-backed coup in Iraq in 1963, which was followed by a massacre of communists. Whatever his special expertise, the Syrian regime has apparently protected Brunner, refusing entry to French investigators and to Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld who spent nearly 15 years bringing a case to court in France.

Brunner had been sentenced to death in absentia in the 1950s, but France repealed the death penalty in 1981. In 1987 an Interpol notice was issued for him.

Interviewed by the Austrian magazine Bunte in the 1990s, Brunner declared that his sole regret was not having murdered more Jews. In a 1987 telephone interview to the Chicago Sun Times he stated: "The Jews deserved to die. I have no regrets. If I had the chance I would do it again..." [1]

He lost an eye and several fingers from letter bombs sent to him by Mossad, and and in 1999 there were rumours he had duied and been buried in Damascus. However, German journalists visiting Syria said Brunner was living at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus. According to The Guardian, he was last seen alive by reliable witnesses in 1992.

On March 2, 2001, he was found guilty in absentia by a French court for crimes against humanity, including the arrest and deportation of 345 orphans from the Paris region (which had not been judged in the earlier trials) and was sentenced to life imprisonment. According to Serge Klarsfeld, the trial was largely symbolic - an effort to honour the memories of victims such as Celestine Ajzykowicz, 11, Jean Bender, four, and Alain Blumberg, a two-week-old baby kicked to death by an SS guard. Klarsfeld's own father, arrested in 1943, was one of Brunner's victims.

There were reports that Alois Brunner had gone to Brazil, but events to trace him there failed.

Zionist propaganda has periodically built up the "Nazi-Arab link" from cases like Brunner, as though it explained Israeli-Arab conflict rather than being a by-product of it, and without paying too much attention to the American role in planting Nazis like Brunner in the Middle East. One tries to avoid biting the hand that also feeds...

If Brunner is finally brought to justice it will be about time. But we are bound to ask why this old Nazi was left free to pursue his career for so long, and to regret that the criminals who helped and shielded him cannot also be brought to book. Sadly, remembering how Austria elected Kurt Waldheim as president, I . can't help wondering whether its new interest in pursuing old Nazis, and specifically, Brunner, owes anything to changing international relations, and ways of dealing with Syria. Not that the Simon Wiesenthal Centre will mind.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 14, 2007

When workers forced government to free Pentonville Five

1972 was an annus horribilis for Britain's bosses and Tory government.
Workers at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupied in a work-in to defend their jobs, miners waged a successful strike,
and there was the first national building workers' strike.

There were smaller but nevertheless significant local struggles, sometimes in quite unexpected places . Women at a shoe factory at Fakenham, Norfolk staged an 18-week occupation and work-in, eventually forming a workers' co-operative. It wasn't all victories, but it was a time when working people were suprising themselves with what they could do.

One of the biggest explosions then or since began with a rearguard action by dockers defending their skills and right to work in a changing industry, as containerisation was used to remove cargo handling inland, away from organised ports. It climaxed in thousands of workers across the country walking out and forcing the government and state to perform a humiliating retreat.

Haulage bosses had tried to halt picketing at the Chodham Farm container depot, with a court order, but were turned down by the Court of Appeal. However, the Midland Cold Storage Company, which was also being blockaded, succeeded in bringing its own injunction. On hearing the news, the London dockers all came out. Then five dockers were arrested, and on evidence from private eyes hired by the companies, imprisoned in Pentonville jail, on July 21.

The five were Tony Merrick, Conny Clancy, Derek Watkins, Vic Turner, and
Bernie Steer.

Thousands of dockers and other workers came out in support of the "Pentonville Five". The ports around Britain were closed, and factories affected too. Workers saw the struggle as one in defence of union rights against not just the employers, but the Heath government with its Industrial Relations Act. TUC general secretary Vic Feather had claimed a general strike could not happen in Britain, that it was a "fantasy", but as workers came out anyway, the TUC was forced to call an official one-day general strike scheduled for 31 July.

By then the wave of walk-outs had spread, affecting Fleet Street and Heathrow airport. Printworkers and building workers were joining dockers in a massive picket on Pentonville prison. Suddenly a figure few people had ever heard of, the Official Solicitor, appeared on the scene, to let the government off the hook by letting the five dockers out of jail. They had been in less than a week.

The five were chaired in triumph by cheering crowds. The government might have pretended they had been freed because of a legal technicality, but nobody believed this. The struggle over docks jobs and union rights went on, but the government was on its way out. Working class solidarity had triumphed.

Part of that solidarity were the posters like the one above, produced by printworkers at Briant Colour Printing, in the Old Kent Road, who were themselves in struggle and occupying their workplace. They recently had a reunion in a Clerkenwell pub to commemorate that fight.

The Pentonville Five and their struggle will be commemorated on Saturday, July 28, with a meeting from 2pm-5pm at Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1 (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road). It is organised by the Cities of London and Westminster Trades Council together with Transport and Genral Workers Union Region No.1 Speakers will include one of the famous five, who went on to be mayor of Newham, Vic Turner, and Ann Field, a print union activist now national officer for Amicus.

Labels: , , ,

From Peerage to Porridge

So, down goes Lord Conrad Black! Go straight to jail, do not pass cheques, do not collect any more news titles, or er...titles. Such is the price of his penchant for private jets, luxury homes around the world, and $4,000 towel warmers.,,2126303,00.html

Not forgetting - as some of the media kindly did this weekend - his high-maintenance and over-ambitious trophy columnist Barbara Amiel.

The pair got away with many things, but not with defrauding shareholders and treating the company's resources as his personal piggy-bank or petty cash drawer. Not, apparently in the United States, the home maybe of modern capitalism but without the deference to titled rip-off merchants, from a Chicago court, that might have been shown here in 'Labour' Britain. He might not even get to enjoy the country-club privileged open prison treatment that some of our wealthy gents have found a cure for Alzheimers.

As with Robert Maxwell, after he disappeared apparently to his watery end (cue for jokes about liquidity, floating shares etc) other media bosses now find it possible to condemn the man, or at least shake their heads over his inquity, while probably breathing a sigh of relief that they themselves were not caught.
It's not that nobody knew anything untoward about Black or his spouse before.
Here's an item published fifteen years ago, in the Dybbuk's Diary column of Jewish Socialist magazine:


In a free country, if you don't like a newspaper's opinions you can buy another paper, they say. Or, if you're rich enough, you can buy the paper. The Jerusalem Post escaped Robert Maxwell's clutches only to fall into those of Conrad Black's Canadian-based Hollinger corporation, and have its previously liberal-Labour inclinations adjusted accordingly.
Black, proprietor of Telegraph newspapers and owner of a stake in the Star and Daily Express, hasn't been as successful as the late Captain Bob in all respects. When he took over Dominion stores in Ontario, shutting shops and sacking workers, he announced that with fewer staff there needn't be such a big pension fund, so the surplus could be transferred to the company. Canada's shopworkers' union didn't go along with this, and successfully took Black to court for the money. Black's a generous chap, though, really. He gave his friend Margaret Thatcher a directorship to supplement her pension. He has helped out fellow-canucks at Olympia and York by moving the Telegraph to Canary Wharf. After his divorce came through in June he wed thrice-married Barbara Amiel, though not quite making an honest woman of her.
Last November, Canadian-import Amiel was writing in her Sunday Times column how 'We' (British) 'give tolerance to newcomers', but must make it clear we won't alter 'our principles' to resemble 'the habits,principles and cultures of the region from which they come'. The following month, scorning feminists for notions like marital or date rape, Amiel wrote that if women were 'overpowered and forced to have sex', this was merely part of 'normal courtship patterns'.
Guesting in the Jewish Chronicle, Amiel took umbrage at the TUC for attempting to oppose antisemitism. Jews could do without trade unions, she advised, and, if they encountered problems at work, could always set up on their own. Amiel also attacked moves to outlaw dangerous dogs like rottweilers and pit bull terriers. Now she's given her hand to the man whom Ontario's premier Bob Rae once called 'that most symbolic representative of bloated capitalism at its worst'. I'm sure they deserve each other.
(Jewish Socialist, no.27, September-December 1992)

Now the pair have come a cropper, I am wondering how the Conservative Conrad will get along with the other cons, assuming they will have to mix. It would make for a great follow-up to Porridge. We could take the liberty of having our main character doing his time in some bleak moorland British prison. Pity Ronnie Barker is no longer around to play the old lag teaching the press lord the ropes. I can imagine the episode where Barbara Amiel has to take her seat on the bus with the other wives and girlfriends making the journey to visit hubby inside.

Schadenfreude? I don't know the meaning of the word.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Palestine union and a tale of two websites

Israeli Soldiers “Trash” PGFTU Offices
report by: Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)

The PGFTU condemned with strong words the attack against its branch in Ramallah by a group of Israeli soldiers on the night of the 5th of July, by breaking down the main door and spoiling everything inside, computers and files. Shaher Saed, the general secretary of the PGFTU, denounced this attack against the PGFTU office in Ramallah, considering it a crime and a violation of the union freedoms which are secured by the international conventions of the ILO. He added that the aim of this attack was to prevent us from performing our functions for Palestinian workers who are in great need of assistance at a time when they are facing high unemployment and poverty. Saed added that the attack is also considered as part of a series of violations committed by Israeli soldiers against our people and workers through the building of the illegal expansionist wall which will raise the levels of poverty and unemployment in the Palestinian society and through using more than five hundred military checkpoints in the West Bank which prevent freedom of movement and make it very difficult for them to earn their living. Saed appealed to all the international organizations; ILO, ITUC and all the PGFTU's friends and supporting organizations to condemn this attack against the PGFTU unions and to use pressure against the occupation government to stop their practices and to eliminate all the obstacles which prevent workers from freedom of movement and their right to work.

After reading this report on the Labournet website yesterday, I decided to see whether Labour start had anything about it, and found:
Palestine: ITUC protests over reported Israeli Army break-in at trade union offices
Brussels, 6 July 2007 : Acting on a report from its Palestinian affiliate the PGFTU, the ITUC has expressed its grave concerns over a break-in by members of the Israeli Defence Force at the PGFTU’s Ramallah offices early in the morning of 4 July. In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder called on the Israeli authorities to conduct a full investigation into the soldiers’ actions, to compensate the PGFTU for damage done to the premises, and to return any information or documents taken from the offices.
“The ITUC attaches the highest importance to the inviolability of trade union premises, and deplores any intervention into the legitimate activities of a trade union organisation”, said Ryder. “The PGFTU must be allowed to carry out its legitimate work on behalf of Palestinian workers in full freedom and in the absence of any such interference in the future,” he added.

Slightly different approach - note that "reported" break-in -but at least it has covered the incident by quoting the statement from the International Trade Union Confederation.

The reason I wanted to check was not that I doubted what the PGFTU said (such vandalism by Israeli forces against Palestinian civil institutions is all too common), nor the reliability of Labournet. On the contrary. The value of electronic communications and the internet to trade union activity and international awareness continues growing. Eric Lee has been a pioneer in this development, and his efficient Labour Start service of news for trade unionists is widely appreciated. I have used some items relayed by e-mail myself. But I prefer Labournet, run by Greg Dropkin, for taking up broader political issues, being less tied to the official union bureaucracy, more open to rank and file activists (I've occasionally contributed news and views to it myself), and being better by far on the issue of Palestine.

OK, so I happen to share Greg Dropkin's interest, though not always his views. Having known him, mostly agreeing but sometimes arguing, over the years, on issues ranging from Namibia and Bosnia to Palestine, I regard him as a consistent internationalist. Whereas Eric Lee, however sincere, has a gap in his consciousness, to say the least. Some while ago I was asked to support a letter to Labour Start deploring its lack of coverage of Palestinian news and noting the bizarre fact that it carried a link to the Israeli Defence Forces. (Eric Lee had lived on a kibbutz and served in the Israeli military). I don't think I got around to signing, and since then I have if anything made more use of Labour Start. But I could sympathise with the critics, even if only shaking my head at Lee's peculiar affinities and perverse pride in his military service.

Since then Labour Start has started carrying more Palestinian stories and removed the IDF link. But this bow to critics did not prevent Lee writing an article last year saying that the Left should support Israel in its war on Lebanon.

Taking Liberties
At least you could say Eric Lee is honest. Which is more than you can say for a writer in the left-wing publication Workers Liberty. On May 30 it carried an item called "Boycott before the boycott", saying:
The Executive of the public services Unison has rejected a proposal from the relevant union committee to give money to the international trade-union news website Labourstart, on the grounds that one of the people involved in running Labourstart is a “Zionist”.
It is a sort of “boycott before the boycott”, a pre-emptive application of motion 54 to Unison conference, which proposes a boycott of all Israeli institutions.
Labourstart provides an unparalleled breadth of information on workers’ struggles and workers’ organisations worldwide, including in the Occupied Territories.
At the Executive no-one objected to Labourstart’s coverage. The objection was to its founding editor, Eric Lee. Eric is now only one of 79 contributors world-wide to Labourstart.
But - and that was enough to damn the whole project in the eyes of the Executive - Eric is a Zionist. He has been associated with left-Zionist parties in Israel such as Mapam and Meretz.
Nobody proposed checking out the other 78 Labourstart correspondents for their views.
The basic argument is that the union cannot support projects, however worthwhile, if the people running them are Jewish. Supporters of “boycotting” Labourstart will reply that the objection is not that people like Eric Lee are Jewish, but that they are “Zionists”. But to brand left Zionists like Eric as outside the range of people whom we can work with is to “boycott” almost all Jews around the world.

Really? But Greg Dropkin is, if I'm not mistaken, also Jewish, and nobody has suggested boycotting Labournet. In fact, Greg and several other Jewish people were signatories to that Open Letter criticising Labour Start which I referred to, and which the Workers Liberty "comrade" does not mention. One of the signatories, South African labour activist Anna Weekes, has angrily rebutted the Workers Liberty allegation and asked why it was trying to smear a major trade union with the "anti-Jewish" tag.

I think I could answer that, and make an intelligent guess about the authorship of the Workers Liberty slander. Almost 25 years ago I was involved in a clash with one Sean Matgamna over a major article he wrote in Workers Liberty's predecessor, Socialist Organiser, ostensibly accusing Gerry Healy and the Workers Revolutionary Party(WRP) of "antisemitism". Now Healy, about whom I've written before and will write again, was an all-round sonofabitch, and the WRP News Line had done many things wrong (sacking me, for a start!), but the issue was not really about "antisemitism". Along with its support for the Palestinians and (which proved a contradiction) certain Arab regimes, the WRP was influencing some people in the Labour Party. This was the time just after the 1982 Lebanon war when for the first time the Palestinian cause was gaining wide support in the British labour movement, reflected in Labour Party conference resolutions (of which in those days the Party leadership still took notice).

As a corollary, there was also some interest in the Israeli peace camp, which had staged much bigger protests against the Lebanon war than anything the British Left could manage over the Malvinas. There was even visible unrest among Israeli reserve army officers. But at the founding conference of the Labour Committee on Palestine(LCP), "rejectionists" who didn't like this turn or those supporting it walked out - and their attack on the LCP was supported (even if on different grounds) by Socialist Organiser. It was difficult to understand till you realised that the Socialist Organiser Alliance was itself undergoing a split in which Sean Matgamna outmanouvred erstwhile allies and the Middle East had been made an issue. Once that was accomplished he could come out in his true colours.

The cry has been raised 'Clear the Zionists out of the Labour Party', "claimed Sean Matgamna in his article that was supposed to be just about Healy but had a wider aim. "It can only mean clear out the Jews". Once again, that equation which from anyone else would itself be seen as antisemitic. And why isn't it?

I was taken aback by this. I had not heard anybody call for clearing anyone out of anywhere. I had written an article myself called "Labour's Zionist Lobby" in the WRP's Labour Review, the gist of which was Labour leaders like Harold Wilson were close to certain wealthy Zionists (and through them to the Zionist state itself), but that generally Labour support for Israel and Zionism was based on ideology and imperialist links, nothing to do with Jewish votes or influence. I checked with John Spencer, a longstanding WRP member and Middle East specialist. Had the party raised the slogan "Clear out the Zionists"? He looked flabbergasted. "No, the last thing we want is to get diverted into chasing after 'Zionists'". With the Palestinians gaining wide positive support it would clearly be a diversion.

Ironically, a few months after this, while standing talking to a friend after a May Day demonstration, we were approached by a stranger who apparently held pro-Zionist views, whereupon a bunch of people standing over to our left began chanting something about "Zionists Out of the Labour Party!"

"Who are those idiots?" asked my mate. Looking over, I recognised several people who had been Socialist Organiser allies in the walk-ou from the Labour Committee on Palestine.

I have learned to distrust the passive tense in political discourse. "The cry has been raised" - does not tell you who has raised it, but leaves you to suppose, so the person making the accusation can always say he meant somebody else when you call him a liar.

I have also grown tired of the clumsy slight of hand by which a political trickster thinks he can turn an attack on Zionists - an organised political movement supporting -and directed by - a state which is occupying Palestine -into an attack on Jews. Like Anna Weekes, I question the motive of those performing this jiggery pokery. But then when the smear is aimed at a union which happened to be adopting a pro-Palestinian policy, including the boycott tactic, I think the motive is pretty obvious. And it has nothing to do with supporting workers, or the cause of liberty.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Iraqi union leader arriving here

Iraqi oil union leader Hassan Juma'a IS coming to Britain after all! He is due to arrive today and will speak at a meeting in London's Friends House next Wednesday.
I've just had the following press release from the oil union's supporters in the UK:

Tuesday July 10th 2007

Iraqi Oil Union Leader Visits UK

The leader of Iraq’s powerful oil workers union will be in the UK from Tuesday July 10th until Thursday July 19th.

Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi is President of the 26,000 strong Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) The independent Federation represents workers in 10 state oil and gas companies across four governorates in the south of Iraq. Despite having brought Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to the negotiating table over workers rights and conditions, the IFOU is still an illegal union.

In June 2007 Iraqi troops were sent into the oil sector and arrest warrants issued against IFOU leaders after a decision to strike over unfulfilled agreements. International pressure succeeded in obtaining the withdrawal of troops and a return to negotiations. The Union has shut down exports twice in the past three years over workers terms and conditions.The IFOU opposes the current Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law, which it says surrenders Iraq’s economic sovereignty to multinational oil companies.IFOU leaders have said their members are prepared to strike in defence of a nationalised oil industry.

Iraq’s oil has been in the public sector for the past four decades. Hassan said: ‘The British people need to hear about the occupation’s planned theft of Iraqi oil disguised as ‘The Hydrocarbon Law’.

Hassan will meet with British MPs, trade union leaders, journalists and anti-war movement leaders. He will speak about the current Oil Law, popular opposition to it, and everyday life in occupied Iraq, including conditions in British-occupied Basra.The IFOU has a policy of advocating national unity, no privatisation of Iraqi oil and has consistently called for immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces since 2004.

Hassan will speak at a public meeting on Wednesday July 18th at Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road London NW1 7pm The meeting is organised by Naftana and supported by the Stop the War Coalition and Hands Off Iraqi Oil

Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is an independent UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq. It works in solidarity with the IFOU. It strives to publicise the union’s struggle for Iraqi social and economic rights and its stand against the privatisation of Iraqi oil demanded by the occupying powers.The IFOU is supported by development and human rights organizations War on Want and Platform in the UK, Un Ponte Per (Italy) and US Labor Against War (USA).For more information see the IFOU’s website:

Labels: , ,