Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pirates, spies and cultural advisers

THE pirate on the left, who seems about to be hit by a big red arrow, was really there on business - but whose?

photo from Hands off Iraqi Oil website:

AS thousands head for Heathrow to protest airport expansion today, it seems such a pity that London's new mayor Boris Johnson won't be there to lead them. The marchers will leave Hatton Cross and head for Sipson, the village due to be erased from the map under plans for a third runway. Only last month Boris, as well as his predecessor Ken Livingstone, was down there telling people he opposed the plans, and he promised to lead today's protest.

But that was before he was elected, and since then he has consulted his diary, and found he would not be able to make it. Well, I know what it's like having so many commitments. As far as we know, the Tory mayor is still against expansion, of Heathrow, not civil aviation.( He thinks London should have a new airport out to the east).

That's more than can be said of one of his more interesting appointments, a lady called Munira Mirza. I read in one of London's freebie papers that though recruited from a right-wing "think tank" called Policy Exchange, Ms.Mirza disagrees with her new boss on some things - his ban on booze on the buses and tube, and his opposition to Heathrow expansion. Though describing her as a "Muslim", the paper did not seem surprised about the first disagreement. Having learned a bit more about the woman's political pedigree, I'm not surprised about either. But more on Munira Mirza later.

Some funny characters have been mobilised in support of expansion, in one case by posing as an opponent of it. Back in July last year a young man calling himself Ken Tobias and sporting a red Palestinian keffiyeh began turning up at meetings of Plane Stupid, the airport protest group. He seemed very keen, always turning up early, and proposing the most ambitious protest actions, but some people wondered about his smart-casual designer clothes and the way news of their plans seemed to reach the media so soon, as well as airport security. They tried feeding him some false information, and that too reached the authorities and the papers.

Maybe 'Ken' wasn't just keen, but sporting, because in December he also turned up in Hands Off Iraqi Oil!, the campaigning umbrella uniting War on Want, oil industry monitors, supporters of the Iraqi oil workers' union and Iraq Occupation Focus. He even swapped his keffyeh for a pirates' bandanna to join the "Corporate Pirates" colourful protests outside predator companies and privatisers. But activists who felt suspicious were intrigued to find his e-mail address contained the name "Menelaus" - the name of the Spartan king whose soldiers concealed themselves in a wooden horse to invade Troy.

Meanwhile, activists at Plane Stupid had done a little digging. They found nobody called Ken Tobias was on the electoral register at the London address he had given, and the rugby club he said he had played for had never heard of him. He could not produce a passport in this name. But meanwhile someone shown his photograph recognised him as a former Oxford student called Tobias Kendall, and a corporate networking site was discovered where he claimed to be an analyst at C2i International, a corporate "risk management" company, working in "security and investigations".

British Airports Authority denied hiring his services, though acknowledging that C2i had offered itself. The Iraqi oil involvement raises the question of just who else might be in the market for a spy doing such work. One of the companies against whom Hands Off Iraqi Oil1 protested is Shell. Private Eye no 1210 (may 16-29) has noted that back in the 1990s a supposed left-wing documentary maker called Manfred Schlickenrieder who was interested in information about campaigners against Shell oil operations in Nigeria turned out to be working for Hakluyt, an intelligence company set up by former MI6 officers.

Could Hakluyt have hired C2i and Toby Kendall as sub-contractors?, the Eye speculates. And would British Airways(BA) have been interested? The airline will not comment on security matters. But the Eye points out that BA's head of legal affairs, Robert Welsh is on the Hakluyt board, while former BA boss Sir Rod Eddington and former director Lord Renwick are on Hakluyt's international advisory board.

Now back to Munira Mirza, whom mayor Boris Johnson has appointed as cultural adviser. We don't know about her qualifications, but in line with current trends among the Daily Mail reading section of the chattering classes she is inclined to find the blame for some of Britain's minority problems in so-called multiculuralism. Writing in the Guardian 'Comment is Free' blog she says “Multicultural policies, have encouraged ethnic-minority groups to believe they are in need of special recognition ... ", and we all know where that leads, don't we, children?

What I find interesting is that besides writing papers for Policy Exchange, Munira Mirza has been associated with Spiked, an online project launched as a successor to Living Marxism magazine, or LM as it became known in its later years. Before going down in a libel action brought by news reporters whom it had accused of faking coverage of Balkan war atrocities, this was the glossy journal produced by the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP), led by Hungarian-born academic Frank Furedi. Long suspect on the Left as a result of its stunts aimed against left-wing councils, and its call for a ballot during the miners' strike, the RCP evolved sharply to the Right, dismissing workers' struggles (it said the Liverpool dockers were "dinosaurs") and courting the educated and ambitious middle-class young with a lets-be-trendy libertarianism that made the Federation of Conservative Students look, well, conservative.

Furedi himself had written under his academic hat criticising the "safety culture", and complaining that trade unions were devoting too much attention to their members' safety at work. I could not help reflecting that, in a bourgeois democracy at least, the casualty rate among university professors was nothing like that in the building trade.

After disbanding the RCP and its assorted front organisations, Furedi's freedom fighters found their way quickly into well-paid media jobs and various "think tanks" that mushroomed, and soon in the name of "science" and a supposedly healthy and progressive capitalism it was challenging the environmentalists and anti-GM folk, in a way that the corporate interests themselves could not have done. Seeing their handiwork in a Channel Four documentary, George Monbiot did a good job of exposing them.

and also:

Some liberals had fallen for LM's sob story about its freedom during the ITN libel case, some left-wingers complained that Monbiot was being "McCarthyite" by exposing these fake Marxists, but in reality we should have been thanking him for helping us rid ourselves of such counterfeits. In any case with former LM editor Mick Hume at the Times, and Furedi himself writing for the Centre for Policy Studies founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Baroness Thatcher, you could hardly say the ex-chums network were being witch-hunted or even marginalised.

My own favourite was Joan Hoey, aka Joan Philips, who as secretary of the RCP-front Campaign Against Militarism had attacked what she called "laptop bombardiers", and ridiculed reports of Serb nationalist atrocities and the mass graves at Srebrenica. Reincarnated as a staffer for the Economist Intelligence Unit, she also found a place among some real brigadiers as a fellow of the Strategic Studies Centre at Lancaster University (since redeployed to Henley on Thames).

Recalling how RCP members supported discredited Tory Neil Hamilton, I'm not surprised that someone on Spiked wrote enthusing about voting for Boris Johnson, and not entirely surprised that he appears to have repaid the favour by finding an £80,000 a year advisory position for one of them. Her reputed views on booze on the tube and Heathrow are consistent with LM tradition on liberties and the unstoppable advance of capitalism. And if Boris is looking to supplement the limited intellect of Dame Shirley Porter-type Tories with the smart new Spiked model, the way Livingstone brought in the "Socialist Action" freemasonry, there may be more of her ilk on the way to City Hall. We shall see.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking a Gamble with Slanders

TWO important British unions have taken stands against oppression and war in the Middle East this month. The University and Colleges Union (UCU), embattled and threatened with legal action as it has been, has re-affirmed its solidarity with the students and academics of Palestine under siege and occupation, and resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza as soon as it is safe.

Avoiding the all-out boycott call against Israeli institutions which has divided it in the past, the academics' union has nevertheless called on members to examine the implications of co-operation, and raise issues with Israeli colleagues.

No doubt we'll still be hearing soon from supporters of Israeli policies who claim that any moves to oppose them are motivated by "antisemitism" (no matter that the UCU resolutions, though responding to calls from Palestinians, were in large part moved by Israeli and Jewish academics); and that calling on colleagues to examine their consciences is an infringement of their academic freedom. We've had an opportunity to see how committed the pro-Israel 'Engage' crowd is to freedom, since Israel's security services deported Professor Norman Finkelstein. Like their right-wing Israeli colleagues they didn't oppose the ban, they applauded it.

Another union has taken its stand on the threat of war against Iran. On May 21-23 delegates at the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) conference voted overwhelmingly to affiliate to Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI). It is the first national union to do so.

HOPI is pledged to oppose imperialist war on Iran, and demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US/UK troops from Iraq and all the Gulf region. It is also against sanctions, which it says hit ordinary Iranians.

In response to the row over Iran's alleged nuclear programmes, HOPI echoes the call by Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East, as a step to ridding the whole world of the nuclear threat. (While Iran has been reported to have abandoned nuclear weapon plans, Israel is said to have 150 nuclear warheads).

But as might be expected from a campaign which is supported and partly-led by left-wing Iranians, HOPI is no apologist for the Islamicist regime. HOPI members joined the demonstration in Whitehall in support of gay Iranian student Mehdi Kazmi, who has since been granted asylum. The Iranian comrades support workers, women, students and minorities struggling against the regime. They don't want their people bombed to hell or their country "liberated" for American oil companies.

Yassamine Mather, a member of the Hopi Steering Committee and Iranian exile, said
the PCS union's stand was an important step forward for HOPI. "It could not be more timely, coming as it does when leaked news over the weekend suggests that Bush has been secretly briefing key US senators on plans to launch airstrikes against Iran with the next two months. When a major union of the size and reputation of PCS takes such an explicit stand against imperialist sabre-rattling, a powerful message is sent out to the warmongers”.

The motion supporting HOPI was opposed by just 50 or so of the 1,200 delegates, but among those most bitterly opposing it was one Jon Gamble, who I'm told is a member of the Socialist Workers Party(SWP). This group, which pretty well dominates the Stop the War Coalition, originated in a deviation from Trotskyism, and used to have the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism", but now, as someone quipped, they won't say "neither Washington nor mosque".

Apparently this Gamble is not only a bad Trotskyist (assuming he claims to be one) but a bad loser too. Writing in the Morning Star (May 27), he denounced the “con trick” played on his union conference and charged that by “raising the issue of the nature of the islamic regime in Iran” Hopi thus “seeks to split this movement on sectarian lines” and “provides a left cover for
liberal apologists for war”.

This reminds me of the way the Stalinists in the bad old days smeared anyone who didn't toe their line, or accept the verdicts of the Moscow Trials, as "imperialist agents", "accomplices of Hitler", and so forth. We thought those days had gone, if not with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's 20th congress, at least with the realisation today, apart from a few Old Believers, that the Soviet Union was not defended this way. And at least the old Communist Party members who went along with such lines believed that they were defending the continuation of the October Revolution, a progressive force in world history, which is hardly how one could characterise the regime in Tehran.

But we have seen how a group of Iranian refugees who marched from Birmingham to London to take part in an anti-war rally a few years ago were told they could not speak a few words from the platform because they were against the Iranian regime. Some SWP members will assure us they are not supporters of this regime. But it would seem their members in leading positions believe we the poor bloody infantry who turn up at rallies and dutifully listen to George Galloway and others, are a bit thick, and we will only get confused if we hear an Iranian comrade say that no, he does not want his country "obliterated" (as Hillary Clinton has promised), and no, he does not admire President Ahmadinejad either.

Or maybe their worry is that some of the Brothers might take exception, or alarm, at seeing a leftie secularist from a Muslim country being given the platform ?

So first HOPI was barred from affiliating to the Stop the War Coalition, on the spurious grounds that it was a "front" for the Communist Party of Great Britain(CPGB), even though the CPGB itself has been in the Coalition from the start. Then the word is that HOPI is out to split from the Stop the War Coalition.

According to Jon Gamble, the great majority of delegates to the PCS conference - all of them intelligent enough to do responsible jobs in places like job centres and government departments, and well aware that their jobs pay and pensions are being attacked by this government to pay for its war plans, are not as bright as he is . So they were "conned" into supporting HOPI,
not being aware that though it says it is against war, it isn't really.
"The Stop the War Coalition has successfully united millions of people to oppose the
invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. By raising the issue of the nature
of the islamic regime in Iran, Hopi seeks to split this movement on sectarian lines.
This would only delight Bush and Brown and the whole warmongering lobby. Hopi
provides a left cover for liberal apologists for war, the likes of Nick Cohen and
Christopher Hitchens, in the liberal defence of murder".

This is the kind of lying we have not seen since Vyshinsky was prosecuting. Thank heavens people like Mr.Gamble will never hold state power.

It was incidentally Nick Cohen who claimed in The Observer that those of us who marched against the war on Iraq must want to maintain Saddam Hussein's regime. We
said he was a liar. But evidently Jon Gamble and his co-thinkers really believe that Cohen's logic was right.

Needless to say neither Nick Cohen nor Hitchens nor anyone like them is in HOPI, and nor have they given it support. But among those who have supported it are John McDonnell MP, Peter Tatchell, Naomi Klein, Michael Mansfield QC, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, John Pilger, Peggy Seeger and Noam Chomsky. Perhaps these naive souls, being so new to politics were "duped", as Mr.Gamble says the PCS Left Unity people were?

Or perhaps the problem is that, as HOPI says in a reply to Gamble's letter, they have a better sense of their internationalist duty than he does? It is also that Iranian workers and socialists who are in touch with the struggle back home object to their rightful place on the anti-war platforms being usurped by tame supporters of the Islamicist regime; and that an increasing number of trades unionists like those in the PCS refuse to be duped by the likes of Jon Gamble any more.

It is time to clear out such liars and their lies.
Anyone who claims you can liberate the Iranian people by supporting imperialist war is a fraud. But anyone who calls themselves a trade unionist and socialist but denies support to our Iranian comrades because of the threat of war is a political scab.

report by Dave Vincent on PCS conference:

HOPI website with articles and reports:

HOPI weekend school

Saturday June 14 -Sunday June 15
at University of London Union, Malet St., WC1

Speakers include John McDonnell MP,
Professor Bill Bowring
(School of Law, Birkbeck, and Haldane Society),
Professor Moshe Machover (Israeli socialist), Professor Christine Cooper,
Dr Nadje Al-Al
i, Rahim (Iranian Baluch activist)
and many more

  1. War, human rights and ‘humanitarian interventions’;
  2. Iran, Israel and the Middle East and the nuclear question
  3. Sanctions and Iran
  4. Can imperialism liberate women in the Middle East?
  5. National and religious minorities
  6. The working class movements and their response to the economic crisis in Iran
  7. The 1979 revolution and its aftermath

£20 waged; £10 unwaged.

If possible, please book your place in advance by paying
via Paypal or by sending cheques/postal orders to

Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stop being accomplices to blockade!

CAMPAIGNERS against the Israeli siege on Gaza have reiterated appeals to the Egyptian government to respond positively to Arab and Islamic initiatives to break the two-year siege, and let fuel supplies and humanitarian aid through.

Non-governmental organisations and reporters have warned that a humanitarian disaster could be looking in the Gaza Strip. Besides shortages of food and medical supplies, fuel and power cuts, together with lack of spare parts, have led to essential services such as sewage treatment and disposal breaking down. One woman and child were already killed when a dam collapsed, and with raw sewage flooding on to streets disease could soon be rife.

Israel's Supreme Court held a hearing on May 21 on a petition submitted by nine Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, represented by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, claiming that since April 9, 2008, the State of Israel has violated its commitment to supply even minimal, insufficient quantities of fuel to the Gaza Strip. The groups said the fuel restrictions are crippling the functioning of hospitals, water wells, sewage treatment plants, and public transportation - and thus endangering the health and well-being of Gaza's 1.5 million residents. Israel controls Gaza's borders and does not permit Gaza residents to receive fuel except via the Israeli-controlled Nahal Oz Crossing.

The position of the rights groups is that all deliberate restrictions on fuel supply to Gaza are illegal, because they violate Israel's obligations to Gaza residents under international humanitarian law, including the obligation to refrain from collective punishment.
Human Rights Groups Claim Israel is Preventing Fuel Supply to Gaza; Systematically Violating Court Order

The court has not yet issued a ruling in the case.

Dr. Arafat Madi, who is campaigning for Egypt to open its border crossing, said that in light of the Israeli persistence in imposing its siege and its manipulation of the fuel quantities allowed into Gaza, Egypt should take an urgent decision to open the Rafah border crossing.

Dr. Madi pointed out that Qatar, Algeria and Iran had expressed willingness to provide adequate fuel free of charge to Gaza, and in light of these Arab generous efforts Egypt should take an immediate decision befitting its ethical and humanitarian responsibilities towards its neighbors in the Strip.

He warned that the Egyptian authorities' reluctance to open the Rafah crossing under many pretexts is like a slow death sentence issued against the Gaza people, which also causes further deaths among patients who cannot find appropriate medical treatment in besieged Gaza.

The pressure on the Egyptian government to cease acting as an accomplice to the Israeli siege is being increased as Egypt's pro-US policy position and reliance becomes more uncomfortable, due to Bush's blatant support for an intransigeant Israel. On his visit to Jerusalem the US president affirmed his support for Israel as an ally, denounced those who wanted to talk with Hamas as "appeasers", and proclaimed US support for "democracy" in the Middle East. This last bit was received with bitter irony, in view not only of the treatment of a democratically elected Palestinian authority, but of the Egyptian government's arrests of trade unionists and Muslim or left-wing political opponents.

Egypt takes a step back from Bush embrace
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani, The Electronic Intifada, 23 May 2008

The Egyptian government's shameful collaboration in the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a humiliating price to pay for
US backing. There could be worse to come as the US continues threatening war with Iran. But what are we to say then of the British and other European Union governments which could help break the Israeli blockade but have so far actaed as its accomplices?

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Released without charges - to be deported

NOW a story of snooping and betrayal from the city once called Snottingham.
Watch out Robin - the Sheriff's men are on campus!

Hisham Yezza, a former PhD student and current employee of the University of Nottingham faces deportation to Algeria on Sunday 1st June. Apparently, Hisham's troubles started when an MA student at Nottingham, Rizwaan Sabir, saw a document which he thought he might use for his dissertation on "Islamic extremism", on a US government website. The document in question, a supposed 'Al Qaeda' training manual said to have been obtained by the Greater Manchester Police, has appeared in various places.

To save himself the cost of printing its 1,500 pages, Rizwaan forwarded it to a friend in the university's Engineering department for printing. Somebody somehow saw this material on Hisham's computer. They told the university authorities. The authorities apparently did not ask their staff member who wanted this document, or what for, they simply called the police.

As a result, armed police arrested Hisham and Rizwaan on May 14, using the 2000 Terrorism Act. They were held for six days. Their homes were raided, and family members questioned. It seems Nottingham University said there was no threat to academic freedom involved in calling the cops, because Hisham, though he had studied at the university was only a member of clerical staff.

The pair were released on 20 May. But Hisham Yezza was re-arrested under immigration legislation and, due to confusion over his visa documentation, charged with offences relating to his immigration status. He sought legal advice and representation over these matters whilst in custody. On Friday 23rd May, he was suddenly served with a deportation notice and he is now being held at Colnbrook Detention Centre, near Heathrow.

Hicham has been resident in the U.K. for 13 years, during which time he has studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Nottingham. He is an active member of debating societies, a prominent member of an arts and theatre group, and has been writing editorials for the Student Peace Movement magazine for the last five years. Friends say he is well known and popular on campus, and has established himself as a voracious reader and an authority on literature and music. An application for British citizenship was under way, and he had been planning to make his yearly trip to Wales for the Hay Festival when he was suddenly arrested.

Alf Nilsen, a research fellow at in the school of Politics and International Relations says "This is a clear case of the police trying to cover up their completely unjustified targetting of of these two innocent men by making Hicham look guilty by deporting him. Hicham is entirely innocent and the rushed and heavy-handed way in which the authorities are dealing with this matter is outrageous."

Contact: - or the campaign team,

Thanks to Asa Winstanley and Heather Masoud for drawing my attention to this case, and see

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Finkelstein "security threat"? Haifa professors discuss.

MORE on the detention of American Jewish professor Norman Finkelstein at Ben Gurion airport in Israel, where he was held overnight before being put back on a plane for the United States.

Here is how it was reported by Yossi Melman in the daily Ha'aretz


Israel denies entry to high-profile critic Norman Finkelstein
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

The Shin Bet security service detained and deported an American Jewish professor who is a prominent critic of the Israeli occupation when he landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Friday.

Professor Norman Finkelstein was interrogated for several hours and held in an airport cell before being put on a plane back to Amsterdam, his point of departure. Finkelstein said he was told he could not return to Israel for 10 years.

The Shin Bet said Finkelstein "is not permitted to enter Israel because of suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon," and because he "did not give a full accounting to interrogators with regard to these suspicions."

However, in e-mail and phone interviews with Haaretz while in detention at the airport, Finkelstein said, "I did my best to provide absolutely candid and comprehensive answers to all the questions put to me. I am confident that I have nothing to hide. Apart from my political views, and the supporting scholarship, there isn't much more to say for myself: alas, no suicide missions or secret rendezvous with terrorist organizations. I've always supported a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I'm not an enemy of Israel."

Finkelstein visited Lebanon a few months ago and met with Hezbollah operatives there, and subsequently published articles.

Finkelstein, 55, has accused Israel of exploiting the Holocaust for political ends. He recently left DePaul University following pressure by Jewish organizations and individuals, including Professor Alan Dershowitz.

He also said in the interview that he was "en route to Palestine to see one of my oldest and dearest friends, Musa Abu-Hashhash."

Finkelstein said he was asked whether he had met with Al Qaida operatives, whether he had been sent to Israel by Hezbollah and how he intended to finance his stay in Israel.

"I was kept in a holding cell at the airport for approximately 24 hours. It wasn't a Belgian bed-and-breakfast, but it wasn't Auschwitz either. I had several unpleasant moments with the guards at the airport and in the holding cell, but since martyrdom is not my cup of tea, I'll spare you the details," Finkelstein said.

He said he eventually used a cellphone belonging to another detainee and called another friend he was scheduled to see in Israel, the journalist Allan Nairn, who called attorney Michael Sfard. Sfard met with Finkelstein and told him he could appeal the ban; however, Finkelstein said he has been to Israel at least 15 times and declined to appeal.

Sfard on Saturday said banning Finkelstein from entering the country "recalls the behavior of the Soviet bloc countries."

Note: "Hezbollah operatives" - Hezbollah, the "Party of God", is a major political party in Lebanon. I would not support it myself, but lots of Lebanese, at least from the Shi'ite population, do see it as their party. I don't know whether Yossi Melman's otherwise fair article used a
Hebrew equivalent of "operative", but in English that word is normally used of people working for agencies like Shin Bet, or clandestine terrorist societies. The latter is how the Israeli security establishment and its
allies wish to present Hezbollah, but wishing does not make it so. As we shall see, this is used to pretend that Finkelstein is not just a political opponent or critic, of whose contacts one may disapprove, but someone engaged in illegal activity who presents a danger.

Anyway, here is some comment by Haifa University professor Avraham Oz, who appends some different comment from his colleagues:

Dear friends,

You may have heard that US academic Norman Finkelstein was detained a couple of days ago by the Israeli authorities at the airport upon coming to visit the occupied territories and sent back home. Now granted that Finkelstein is a controversial figure in academe: the reason for his detention and expelling from the country is based on his opinions, as expressed in his books and articles. So much for an academic establishment which made a loud worldwide noise when the University of Haifa was boycotted by a union of academic teachers: no whisper was raised by members of academia in Israel to protest the case of detaining a fellow academic for his opinions, radical as they might be.

I send you the only two mails to date posted on the academic circuit of my university, one by my colleague Professor (of psychology) Micah Leshem and one by me, both obviously bitter and ironic, trying to alert our colleages to the implications of their roaming silence regarding this gross breach of academic freedom. And then two typical answers, by colleagues from the university. Note the last paragraph of the last message, by Professor of Business Administration Steven Plaut, who suggests that Israeli academics such as Leshem and me should get the same treatment by the Israeli authorities as did Finkelstein. Needless to say, our administration lets such comments pass without response. After all, our university is a haven of academic freedom!

For better days,
A. Oz

---------- Forwarded messages ----------

1. from Micah Leshem:

The well oiled anti-academic boycott machine of the University of Haifa has swung into action to fight for the Academic Freedom of Dr. Norman Finkelstein, an American Scholar with views critical of the Israeli Establishment.
The university of Haifa Vice President has called on the government of Israel to respect plurality of scholastic views, especially in view of the recent attempt to boycott our university by British academics critical of Israeli Academics' indifference to compromised academic freedom in selected academic institutions in Judea and Samaria.
Her press release emphasized that the University of Haifa has a tradition of not tolerating any infringement of academic freedom anywhere on campus, and that we have experienced security personnel to back this up. She warned the shabbak that interference with academic freedom of a colleague will be met with the full force of the university's UK lawyers and lobby, and that the university will make a point of Awarding Honorary Doctorates of Philosophy to all those who fight academic boycotts. She ended with a call for practical action, and said the university would put transport at the disposal of all those Faculty wishing to travel to the Knesset to protest the detention and expulsion of a Jewish Scholar from the Jewish State, just because his analyses are critical of Arab and Jewish mores and policies that perpetuate the bloody conflict.
The unicycle will leave from outside Bank HaPaolim at 2500h.
Flight 0000 from Cloud Cuckoo Land has landed. Kindly proceed to the shabbak desk to have your papers reviewed, stamped and shredded.

(Shabak -acronym from Sherut Bitakhon Klalit, General Security Service, also known as Shin Bet, from the first two Hebrew letters of its name - CP)
2. from Professor Avraham Oz:

From: Avraham Oz
Date: Fri, May 23, 2008 at 10:04 PM

Yes, Micah,

You can't imagine the traffic jams blocking the roads of Tel Aviv right now with our colleagues rushing to the detention place to demonstrate against the breach of academic freedom!

Which explains of course the scant attendance of academics at the commemoration, this morning, to one of the greatest sociologists we had among us: Baruch Kimmerling, who died a year ago. Nothing to do, of course, with the colour of his arguments.

And the media - thoroughly analyzing every mail on the computer of Shula Zaken [Olmert's aide - A. O.] - didn't find the few seconds to mention either of these two events. Nor have I heard the voice of the famous London attorney who received an honorary doctorate from our University just for helping lift the academic boycott of it, issuing a statement to the effect that academic freedom should preclude political vendetta.

A. Oz

But as we see below, political defence of Hizbollah, even opposition to its liquidation, is treated as though it was
evidence of criminal, terrorist action, or equivalent to it:

3. from Professor Michael Antony


I don't know whether Finkelstein is a security risk or not. Quotations such as the following one (from 2001; taken from Wikiquote, and also appearing on Finkelstein's web site) suggest he may well be:

"To my thinking the honorable thing now is to show solidarity with Hezbollah as the US and Israel target it for liquidation. Indeed, looking back my chief regret is that I wasn't even more forceful in publicly defending Hezbollah against terrorist intimidation and attack."

On what do you base your apparently very high level of confidence that he isn't?


4. From Professor Steven Plaut:

A heart congratulations to the Israeli authorities for uncharacteristically doing the correct thing in denying the Hizbollah agent and Neo-Nazi Norman Finkelstein entry into the country and the "occupied territories."

Finkelstein, described incorrectly in the news story as an "academic," something he is not and never has been, is a Neo-Nazi widely regarded as a Holocaust Denier (including by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center), who was fired by DePaul university last summer because he has no academic credentials at all and has yet to publish an academic paper. While making a career out of mocking and denouncing Holocaust survivors as frauds, hoaxsters, and thieves, Finkelstein has spent most of his time since being fired by DePaul in promoting Hizbollah terror.
It is of course well in character for the University of Haifa's own pseudo-academic anti-Zionists to rally on behalf of a Neo-Nazi and terrorist agent. Why should they only rally for Bishara? These people believe that "freedom of speech" should always be defended only for those endeavoring to orchestrate a second Holocaust of Jews, but not for anyone else.
Perhaps the Israeli authorities should deny entry into Israel not only to people like Finkelstein but also to those Israeli "academics" who serve as apologists for Neo-Nazis and for Islamofascist terrorists?


Professor Plaut teaches Business Administration at Haifa. Maybe that does not require much grasp of politics or history. But one might have thought it could use care with words, respect for accuracy, and regard for the truth. We'll leave aside any consideration for professional colleagues.

Of course Professor Finkelstein is neither a Nazi nor a Holocaust denier. Nor are the fellow academics whom Plaut denounces "apologists for Neo-Nazis and terrorists". Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors who objects to his and other families'suffering being exploited whether for financial gain or to excuse ill-treatment of the Palestinians.

Avraham Oz, and the late Baruch Kimmerling whom he mentions, opposed racism and oppression, and demanded that their Israel honour the "democracy" of which it boasts.

If anyone resembles a "Nazi", with the use of the Big Lie, denunciation of colleagues, and insistence that those he dislikes are traitors serving the enemy, and must be denied their rights, it is Professor Steven Plaut.
And sadly, though he may be insignificant, he is not alone.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

No Entry for Norman

'SECURITY' RISK? Professor Norman Finkelstein

ISRAEL is always trying to attract tourists, and Jewish people are used to being told its their duty to visit if not settle. The state has a Law of Return supposedly guaranteeing our right to do the latter. But one man was refused entry on Friday and told he's likely to be banned for at least a decade.

He is not a criminal - Israel has welcomed some of them and their money(remember mobster Mayer Lansky?) - nor a terrorist (like the late Meir Kahane). Just a writer and academic. He was not planning to spend time in Israel, but passing through to the Occupied Palestinian territories - a reminder once again of how the Israeli state acts as a jailer, deciding who can enter or leave, and what visitors are allowed.

Professer Norman Finkelstein, a Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, was barred entry to the Jewish state as soon he landed at Ben Gurion international airport, early on Friday morning.

The professor, who has exposed Zionist falsifications of Palestine history and supported Palestinian rights, was told he would not be allowed into the country on 'security' grounds, according to his lawyer, Michael Sfard.
'This usually means a 10-year ban on entry,' Sfard added.

Finkelstein angered many people by accusing Zionist organisations of exploiting the Nazi Holocaust, both politically and financially. But he is not a Holocaust denier or revisionist, as some of his detractors have slanderously claimed (for instance Alex Brummer in the Jewish Chronicle recently, who even seems to confuse Finkelstein with David Irving, whether deliberately or through ignorance.) The US professor had to give up his post at the Catholic De Paul University last year, after a concerted campaign against him by right-wing Zionists. This ranged from Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to some campaigners in California who fraudulently added names (including mine!) to their petition, accusing De Paul of being antisemitic for hiring the Jew Norman Finkelstein.

I'm told Finkelstein has said he does not want too much fuss over his detention to divert attention from more serious abuses and killing in the Gaza strip. However people can protest to:

Minister of Interior Mr. Meir SHEETRIT Israeli Ministry of the Interior 2 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion P.O. Box 6158, 91061 Jerusalem Tel. +972-2-670-1411 / +972-2-629-4722 Fax: +972-2-670-1628 or Mr. Meir SHEETRIT's numbers at the Knesset Telephone 1: +972-2-640-8410 Telephone 2: +972-2- 640-8409 Fax: +972-2- 640-8920 Email:

My friend Brian Robinson has written to the Israeli Interior Minister to protest the ban:

Mr. Meir Sheetrit, Minister

Israeli Ministry of the Interior
Fax: 00 972-2-670-1628

23rd May 2008

Dear Mr Sheetrit,

I write to protest at the arrest and ordered deportation of Dr Norman Finkelstein, as reported some hours ago. I understand that Dr Finkelstein was not even going to Israel at the time, but was on his way to the Occupied Territories. (You may dispute that nomenclature but in the eyes of the international community, that is what they are.)

I understand from news reports that the academic has been told that he has been “banned from Israel for 10 years”. If so, this is an outrage and quite scandalous.

Yes, Dr Finkelstein has been critical, as have many Jews including myself, of many aspects of Israeli policy in relation to the Palestinian people, and especially recently in connection with the ongoing siege on Gaza, but does Israel now consider it a crime to be critical of it?

I read that this action has been taken on ‘security’ grounds. Dr Finkelstein’s only weapons are words: is the state so terrified of his words that it must ban the author of them?

Almost everything that your government is currently doing “for security”, is not only failing to enhance security, but sullies the name of Israel and I fear threatens diaspora Jewry with dangerous reflections of that bad name.

Can an ordinary world citizen make a demand of a state? Yes, if it claims to be not only a democracy, but “the only democracy in the middle east”: I demand that you release Dr Finkelstein forthwith, allow him to proceed to his destination unhindered, and revoke any ban on his future entry to Israel.

Yours faithfully

Dr G B Robinson

See also Mark Elf's blog for comment on Finkelstein and Brumner remarks.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism

THE wrecking balls are swinging, demolishing public housing that had withstood the disaster. The authorities say those who used to live there have dispersed. Meanwhile thousands of people are homeless, sleeping under bridges

Commercial interests are being handed contracts for health provision and schools.
Some parts of the city are booming, as low-cost housing is replaced by expensive condoms. . But the local people are not benefiting. The largely Afro-American workforce has been replaced by migrant workers, who are cheaper and have no rights. If these workers from Mexico or further afield ask for more money or even wages they are owed the employer can threaten that the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) are on their way, and they can be deported.

Some of this sounds like what's happening elsewhere, but in New Orleans, as described by author Naomi Klein, it is happening big time. Klein says it was a mistake to accuse the US authorities of incompetence in the way they dealt with the disaster. On the contrary, they had proved highly competent in turning the disaster to advantage, for the interests they represent.

It was the same with natural disasters as with war. "Blackwaters (private security firm operating in Iraq) are there, Halliburtons(engineers involved in the oil industry and in building prison camps like Guantanamo) are there as well," Klein told a packed and attentive audience at London's Friends Meeting House on Monday.

In London to launch the paperback edition of her book "The Shock Doctrine", * the Canadian writer recalled that in the early period of settlement in north America the Puritans saw it as a gift from God that diseases like smallpox had ravaged the native American population. Now capitalism was using both natural and man made disasters. She talked about the huge rise in privatisation at home and abroad, with the number of private contractors working in Iraq growing until they now outnumbered the US soldiers.

In Burma, under 'crony capitalism' the military junta was busy privatising everything from rice mills to the national library, while making sure which generals got what. A week after the cyclone soldiers were mobilised not for disaster relief but to run polling stations for a referendum on the constitution. The fertile land of the Irawaddy delta was up for grabs, the floods having helped clear small peasant farmers.

In the United States itself something which had not been seen since olden times was back - private firefighters. Rich people who could pay extra premiums to the insurance companies were entitled to this service, so that while forest fires might destroy nearby homes,their homes they would be sprayed with fireproof liquid by fire engines bearing the company logo.

Private health companies were now profitably treating soldiers returning from the war, with both physical and mental problems. Homeland Security is another profitable industry, with private prisons and ID cards etc. and the 'war on terror' would really be against immigrants.

I just managed to get in to hear Naomi Klein speak having come from a meeting of trades unionists discussing problems not unrelated to the developments she was talking about.
I was the only one going on to her meeting and though the Friends Meeting House was packed for the occasion, the organised labour movement was not much in evidence.

Although Naomi Klein spoke about workers' struggles in the US and Iraq, and in support of the Iraqi oilworkers fighting privatisation and foreign oil companies, somehow, as I was discussing with friends afterwards, the working class as a force for change, the "gravedigger of capitalism", was absent from her conclusions. That said, we have to be impressed at the way a mass of mainly young people can fill a hall to hear about serious issues, and talk about what they can do. Many are taking part in lively campaigns and actions against the capitalists.

Rather than carp at what was not there, it is up to us socialists of the 'old school' in the movement to find ways of bringing the energy and ideas of the young and the older labour movement together.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Two good men gone

THE labour and socialist movement has just lost two characters who will be hard to replace.

Of Howard Andrews, who has died in Somerset after a short illness, aged 101, I've written before. Born in Kilburn, North West London, he heard the call for aid to Spain as a young man, and decided to go out there himself, delivering medical supplies and tending the wounded at the front, as Italian 'planes brought death overhead.

After military service in World War II, Howard returned to hospital work, and decided to move to the West Country. He helped his fellow-workers organise in the union, and then after retirement didn't pack it in, but broadened his activity. In recent years Howard, or 'Andy' as he was known to friends, and his buggy, were a familiar sight at peace demonstrations and picket lines. Even after celebrating his century with fellow-trades unionists and socialists (he'd turned down a telegram from the Queen saying he had never got on with that family) he made it to the left stage at Glastonbury, to address the young.

Cyril Smith grew up just up the road from Andy, but in a later generation. Though he attended Communist meetings as a student, he was one of the young socialists in the Labour Party who came into the Trotskyist movement in the 1950s. Opposed to Labour's imperialism and Cold War policies, but equally repelled by Stalinist brutality, many went with Tony Cliff's tendency at the time of the Korean war, becoming what we now know as the Socialist Workers Party.

Cyril was made of more rigorous stuff, in terms of Marxist theory and analysis. His youth branch in Wembley was one of those which launched the youth paper Keep Left, and he became a member of Gerry Healy's Socialist Labour League.

When I met Cyril in 1962 he was leading the SLL's Willesden branch, using his wit and humour to impart his Marxism to a bunch of young building and engineering workers at Sunday evening classes, and occasionally bringing some clever LSE graduate student along to be tested and give us a change.

Listening and discussing with Cyril was always a pleasure, even when I was the butt of his wit. He did not confine himself to theory, or stay aloof from everyday workers' life and struggles. It was during a strike of mainly immigrant workers at a firm called Marriotts in Wembley that Cyril met Sybil, a Jamaican woman shop steward who joined the SLL, and became his partner for many years. They moved to south London, and had two daughters I believe.

It was said that when Cyril had a job working for the National Coal Board their switchboard receptionist would sometimes put callers through to the SLL headquarters in Clapham where he was doing an article for the paper. He wrote on various subjects, both under his own name and as "John Crawford". It might be a coincidence though that the SLL Newsletter and our miner comrades were kept well-informed and up-to-date on the economics of the nationalised coal mining industry, where the money was going (such as to ex-owners), and the impact of mechanisation on health and safety.

A story I heard, possibly from when he was at LSE, was of the BBC interviewing people in the street on Budget day. The interviewer was approaching Cyril with a mike when another person came hurtling out saying "Not him! Not him!" It was Cyril's brother Tony who worked for the Beeb and resembled him in all but politics, being a Fabian. Whatever he feared brother Cyril might say in a brief soundbite, BBC viewers had to be saved from the menace of hearing a Marxist at teatime!

My own lingering memory though is of the evening in 1964 when some of us made a foray to the famous Ace Cafe on the North Circular Road to sell Keep Left and see if we could interest the young bikers and ton-up lads in joining the Young Socialists. Nowadays the clientele who throng the Ace forecourt on a Sunday morning look middle aged or older, and have probably swapped their business suits for weekend leathers, but then they were young guys with a wilder image, and we thought we had to look the part.

Who should join us, saying he had come straight from work, but Cyril, bespectacled and wearing a tie, and if I'm not mistaken carrying a briefcase. Incongruous, I thought, but next time I looked he was chatting away to a bunch of bike lads who were listening intently to his every word.

It was after 1985, when the Workers Revolutionary Party without the disgraced Gerry Healy and his acolytes attracted former members like me to give it another go, that I resumed my acquaintance with Cyril Smith. Together with Cliff Slaughter, Tom Kemp, Geoff Pilling and I think Frank Girling he was one of the "five professors" as they were dubbed by a hostile faction for whom it seemed, being able to read, never mind write a book was evidence of dubious, even dangerous, activity. Oddly enough, the person to whom this breakaway faction owed allegiance while baiting the intellectuals and the "middle class" was an American who took pride in his efforts to challenge Healy on dialectics, dismissed our concern over Healy's treatment of women as "non-political"(and of course "petty bourgeois") and today heads a highly successful international printing business.

But what struck many of us as bitterly ironic was that though the comrades being attacked were academics with books to their name, none were in fact Professors - they had been far too busy doing political work and contributing to the movement intellectually, to attain the kind of career status (and establishment acceptance) to which their abilities might otherwise entitle them.

There were confused and stormy times to come, as the WRP-Workers Press tried to re-examine its ideas, as Cyril insisted we must after our experience with Healy, and to break out of the isolation to which his sectarianism had led us, with regard to the workers movement and to the left internationally. Exasperated by what he began to see as opportunism and shallowness, Cyril clashed with the leadership - and with me, separately -and decided to concentrate on his theoretical work. When I became branch secretary in SW London, not only did he absent himself from meetings, ostensibly on health grounds, but some of the other comrades skipped the meetings because they were attending Marxism classes at Cyril's place. I could not ask what he had that I hadn't, so I made do with grumbling that Cyril (a mathematician by profession) was seeking a "pure" as opposed to applied Marxism.

Perhaps after experiencing the "Marxism" of the Healy party and its results that effort at purification should have been understandable.

The WRP-Workers Press is no more, and I am not sure what was achieved by our efforts. From Cyril's later period came a stream of books, reflecting his discussions in the WRP and more widely, and attracting wide interest. Communist Society and Marxist Theory (1988), Marx at the Millennium(1996), Karl Marx and the Future of the Human (2004), Marx Myth and Legends(2004). Having taken different paths, I haven't kept track of Cyril's development, though I know others swear by some of his books. But I still value the memory of the Cyril Smith who tried to educate me many years ago, and respect the integrity which led him to take the side he did in 1985, and to be an "awkward" voice subsequently. I'm also glad we parted on friendly terms, when we last met, at Peter Fryer's funeral.

On the surface, perhaps, Andy and Cyril were two quite different comrades. Certainly for much of their lives they would have been in different necks of the left-wing political woods. And while Andy was most keen to carry on his activism to the end, Cyril considered his chief duty to
be his theoretical work. Yet each of them entered the movement when young, and committed themselves, whatever the difficulties and disappointments they encountered; and each in their own way showed a stubborn determination to persevere with what they thought right to the end.

Some of Cyril Smith's writings: htm

A review by Andy Blunden of Marx's Mathematical manuscrips, on which Cyril worked

Communist Society and Marxist Theory, available from Index Books:

Cyril Smith's funeral will be on Thursday, May 22, 11 am at Lambeth Crematorium, Blackshaw Rd., London SW17.


from Somerset, Dave Chapple writes (extract)_
Andy's funeral, organised by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, will be held at 2.30pm next Thursday the 22nd May, at the Taunton Deane Crematorium in Wellington Rd. I have been asked to pay tribute at the service. He requested no flowers and any donations to the Morning Star/Peoples' Press Printing Society.
If friends would like to E-mail messages they can be read out or displayed at the reception.

Dave Chapple

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sweet Charity, Bitter Competition

HERE'S another example of the bitter competition between charities and voluntary organisations for resources and public business.

Regular readers of this blog will know about Southall Black Sisters' battle to save the grant from Ealing borough council which enables them to do vital advocacy and advice work, focussing on the particular problems of immigrant and ethnic minority women.

Southall Black Sisters have never turned away any woman who came to them for help. Though they originated mainly from the Asian community they are currently helping Somali women. But they point to their specialist knowledge of religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as language, and readiness to confront issues from arranged marriage and domestic violence to genital mutilation and 'honour killings '. The Tory council thinks a "general" service will do, though it has not come up with extra funds.

The Southall Black Sisters have gained wide respect for their work, well beyond their area and the field of social work, and it not surprising their campaign to continue has won wide support both locally and nationally.

Not from some people in the charity business it would seem. Here's a message recently posted to
supporters on the Save the Southall Black Sisters Facebook group.

Refuge We are extremely disturbed to note that the organisation Refuge has decided to make a bid for the recycled funds that should be awarded to SBS. Refuge is a national domestic violence charity that has considerable resources at its disposal. In 2006/7 for instance, its total annual income was £9.4 million. Refuge has made a bid for the £100,000 to provide a domestic violence service in Ealing. Needless to say, this move undermines our struggle for funding and for our autonomy. By way of a gesture of support, Refuge wrote to Ealing Council requesting it to make reserve funds available for SBS following the bidding process! It is a matter of great disappointment to SBS that a well known, well resourced national organisation like Refuge is colluding in the closure of a vital specialist organisation. Given its annual income, its bid for the £100,000 represents a ‘drop in the ocean’, but the same funds will make all the difference to our work with black and minority women. Its attitude displays a patronising, unprincipled and indifferent approach to our struggles as black and minority women.'

This case raises special issues, but it is also part of a wider pattern. Another contest I heard about the other day apparently involves Shelter and the St.Mungo's Trust, bidding for work concerning the prison service and ex-offenders.

The competition between charities for the public's money has already been highly profitable to the advertising and PR business. Smaller, community-based groups do not have the same resources, nor may they want to divert what funds they have from the purpose for which they were raised.

The competition to take on tasks for government may well make the business-like charity organisations cautious about saying or doing anything that those in power might not like. Southall Black Sisters have earned their reputation by standing up for their cllients against authority whenever it was necessary, whether that of a bullying husband, religious leaders, or the Home Office. Will those after their council money do the same?

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Hamas minister condemns Holocaust and answers distortion

AFTER my remarks the other day on complaints about a "Hamas TV programme" distorting
the history of the Nazi Holocaust, it is good to see that an official Hamas spokesperson has clarified the issues. One, the Hamas-run Palestinian authority in Gaza is not responsible for the TV programme. Two, Hamas does not deny the facts of the Holocaust nor does it fail to condemn this massive crime.

This raises the issue of what, or who, was behind the raising of the complaints, which were made to the UN Secretary General no less, and whether the timing had anything to do with diverting attention from two other crimes - the Nakba, or catastrophe which befell the Palestinian people in 1948, and is being commemorated today; and the siege of Gaza, which is threatening another catastrophe, and which efforts are under way to end, and open peace talks. Reputable organisations need to be sure they are not being fed misinformation, or misused, if they want to stay reputable.

It also points to the new kind of denial, and historical revision, in which the Palestinians are blamed for their own misfortunes, the Zionists are exonerated of crimes like Deir Yassin, and the conflict in the Middle East is supposedly rooted in an age-old irrational hatred for Jews, endemic to Islam. Odd to think Jews fled the Inquisition to Muslim lands, unaware of this, or that the Holocaust happened in Europe, and refugees were kept out of the United States (which is also where mos Holocaust denial literature is printed). Perhaps further revision is on the way.

Anyway, here is what Palestinian Health and Information Minister Bassam Naeem has to say. It is taken from The Guardian May 12, 2008:

Hamas condemns the Holocaust

We are not engaged in a religious conflict with Jews; this is a political
struggle to free ourselves from occupation and oppression

Bassem Naeem

As the Palestinian people prepare to commemorate the 60th anniversary of
the Nakba ("catastrophe") - the dispossession and expulsion of most of our
people from our land - those remaining in Palestine face escalating
aggression, killings, imprisonment, ethnic cleansing and siege. But instead
of support and solidarity from the western media, we face frequent attempts
to defend the indefensible or turn fire on the Palestinians themselves.

One recent approach, which seems to be part of the wider attempt to isolate
the elected Palestinian leadership, is to portray Hamas and the population
of the Gaza strip as motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment, rather than a
hostility to Zionist occupation and domination of our land. A recent front
page article in the International Herald Tribune followed this line, as did
an article for Cif about an item broadcast on the al-Aqsa satellite TV
channnel about the Nazi Holocaust.

In fact, the al-Aqsa Channel is an independent media institution that often
does not express the views of the Palestinian government headed by Ismail
Haniyeh or of the Hamas movement. The channel regularly gives Palestinians
of different convictions the chance to express views that are not shared by
the Palestinian government or the Hamas movement. In the case of the
opinion expressed on al-Aqsa TV by Amin Dabbur, it is his alone and he is
solely responsible for it.

It is rather surprising to us that so little attention, if any, is given by
the western media to what is regularly broadcast or written in the Israeli
media by politicians and writers demanding the total uprooting or
"transfer" of the Palestinian people from their land.

The Israeli media and pro-Israel western press are full of views that deny
or seek to excuse well-established facts of history including the Nakba of
1948 and the massacres perpetrated then by the Haganah, the Irgun and LEHI
with the objective of forcing a mass dispossession of the Palestinians.

But it should be made clear that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian
government in Gaza denies the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust was not only a
crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern
history. We condemn it as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms
of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.

And at the same time as we unreservedly condemn the crimes perpetrated by
the Nazis against the Jews of Europe, we categorically reject the
exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and
harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and
subjection they have been waging against us - to the point where in
February the Israeli deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai threatened the
people of Gaza with a "holocaust".

Within 24 hours, 61 Palestinians - more than half of them civilians and a
quarter children - were killed in a series of air raids. Meanwhile, a
horrible crime against humanity continues to be perpetrated against the
people of Gaza: the two-year-old siege imposed after Hamas won the
legislative elections in January 2006, which is causing great suffering.
Due to severe shortages of medicines and food, scores of Palestinians have
lost their lives.

It cannot be right that Europeans in general and the British in particular
maintain a virtual silence toward what the Zionists are doing to the
Palestinians, let alone supporting or justifying their oppressive policies,
under the pretext of showing sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust.

The Palestinian people aspire to freedom, independence and peaceful
coexistence with all their neighbours. There are, today, more than six
million Palestinian refugees. No less than 700,000 Palestinians have been
detained at least once by the Israeli occupation authorities since 1967.
Hundreds of thousands have so far been killed or wounded. Little concern
seems to be caused by all of this or by the erection of an apartheid wall
that swallows more than 20% of the West Bank land or the heavily armed
colonies that devour Palestinian land in a blatant violation of
international law.

The plight of our people is not the product of a religious conflict between
us and the Jews in Palestine or anywhere else: the aims and positions of
today's Hamas have been repeatedly spelled out by its leadership, for
example in Hamas's 2006 programme for government. The conflict is of a
purely political nature: it is between a people who have come under
occupation and an oppressive occupying power.

Our right to resistance against occupation is recognised by all conventions
and religious traditions. The Jews are for us the people of a sacred book
who suffered persecution in European lands. Whenever they sought refuge,
Muslim and Arab lands provided them with safe havens. It was in our midst
that they enjoyed peace and prosperity; many of them held leading positions
in Muslim countries.

After almost a century of Zionist colonial and racist oppression, some
Palestinians find it hard to imagine that some of their oppressors are the
sons and daughters of those who were themselves oppressed and massacred.

Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust but find themselves
punished for someone else's crime. But we are well aware and warmly welcome
the outspoken support for Palestinian rights by Israeli and Jewish human
rights activists in Palestine and around the world.

We hope that journalists in the west will begin to adopt a more objective
approach when covering events in Palestine. The Palestinian people are
being killed by Israel's machine of destruction on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, we still see a clear bias in favour of Israel in the western

The Europeans bear a direct responsibility for what is befalling the
Palestinians today. Britain was the mandate authority that handed over
Palestine to Israeli occupation. Nazi Germany perpetrated the most heinous
crimes against Jews, forcing the survivors to migrate to Palestine in
pursuit of safety. We, therefore, expect the Europeans to atone for their
historic crimes by restoring some balance to the inhuman and one-sided
international response to the tragedy of our people.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why Shelter faces storm

IT is over forty years since millions of people in Britain were shocked into awareness of social reality by a television drama about one woman and her children. It was called 'Cathy Come Home', and depicted the nightmare of poor people desperately trying to find and keep a roof over their heads, in one of the world's richest cities.

Cathy set new standards in TV drama realism and it gave a boost to the housing charity Shelter that was formed soon after, combining help with campaigning so that it did not give politicians an excuse to dodge responsibility, but tried to inform and set their agenda.
How well it succeeded, as authorities accepted the need for a safety net, but failed, as housing as a social need was forgotten in the Thatcherite rush to suck people into the property game, was discussed on the anniversary.

Nowadays the BBC is better-known for endless programmes about buying and selling property than hard-hitting social dramas. Of late if we have heard the words "working class" used on the box they have been prefixed by the words "white", at once patronising us and promoting a political agenda in which we fight each other for attention and scarce resources, rather than asking why there's a shortage or whether they are just over-priced. That might lead to us upsetting the property racket, and that would never do.

Shelter too, once the favourite good cause of the educated young as they moved from student revolt to respectability but retained a conscience, is losing or has already lost its halo. A few months ago Ken Loach, who took the camera out of the studio and the social issues into our homes, starting something when he directed 'Cathy', announced that he was boycotting Shelter. A lot of people, including unions, who have given their respect and support to the housing charity, may follow his lead. They fear Shelter is moving away from its social aims, and don't like the uncharitable way it is treating its staff.

The charity employs some 850 staff, about 60 per cent of whom are members of the TGWU Unite. In March they held their first ever strike, and they took further strike action the other day. Shelter workers are dedicated people, They don't expect the big salaries earned by some of their old college chums who went to work in business, the fat cat city bonuses awarded by firms that do well out of the housing market (or even to directors of banks that lost money speculating in ill-judged mortgages). But just because they chose to work for a charity doesn't mean they can afford to be one. Today's charities are big business, Shelter disposes of some £49 million a year, and the staff are not Victorian do-gooders from wealthy families, dabbling as a hobby with the poor, they are full-time professionals, and they too have families to keep, rents or mortgages to pay.

Shelter staff are not in dispute because they want big money or shorter hours. They are having to strike because they are battling to stay where they are. Under a plan introduced last year Shelter frontline staff have been downgraded, suffering pay cuts of around £3,000 a year.
The charity also wants to abolish its incremental pay scheme, so anyone who is on the lowest pay now can look forward to no improvement no matter how long they stay. No wonder the union says that the 30 to 40 staff who have already been downgraded would number more if it had not been that people have left the job. To add to this bleak picture, Shelter wants to increase working hours by what amounts to three weeks a year - with no increase in pay.

The way things are going some Shelter staff fear they could end up needing the kind of services they are supposed to provide. The Guardian instanced a worker who was given a choice - work the extra hours, which would mean having to spend more on childcare, or lose £2,000 a year. "One worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of dismissal, said: 'I'm the main breadwinner in my household and am living in a one-bedroom flat with two children. If I have to pay for more childcare, it's going to be very difficult to pay the mortgage and see my kids.'"

Shelter bosses say the changes are necessary so Shelter can compete with such major private-sector companies as Capita - itself set up to take on work which the civil service has farmed out - in providing legal aid contracts. Chief executive Adam Sampson emailed all Shelter employees informing them: 'Those who decide that they are not prepared to work under the new arrangements will, with regret, be issued with notices of dismissal".

Sampson says the public give Shelter money to help the poor and homeless, not to pay Shelter staff. This is rich, coming from one of the charity's top tax bracket earners, who gets an estimated 25% more than the heads of other big homelessness charities. Shelter wants to make staff redundant, yet it has found the money to hire well-paid business consultants (not unlike our cash-strapped NHS) and spent £750,000 on refurbishing its head office. We won't know whether the generous public will approve such spending, since the charity does not give supporters any say in the way it is run.

Shelter's battle with its workforce is part of a wider picture, of charities becoming more like private businesses at the same time as competing with each other and with commercial companies to win contracts to do the government's work, by offering to do it on the cheap.
At the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils AGM last weekend,while we were waiting for our guest speaker from the Shelter workers, a Barnet trade unionist updated us on the Fremantle care workers dispute. Fremantle is a 'charity' that took over residential care homes previously run by Barnet council, and last year terminated staff contracts, re-engaging them at up to a third less pay,

Besides reducing workers' pay and conditions, and making out that people ought to be prepared to put up with it for the sake of "charity", the handover to the 'voluntary sector' enables national and local government to evade questions of democracy and accountability. We might also guess that previously concerned and campaigning charities which could embarrass those in power may be less inclined to do so if they are intent in keeping in the government's good books. Especially when top executives become attached to bigger rewards and perks. Virtue may be its own reward "but you realise if we are to attract and keep senior executives of this calibre we must pay a competitive salary" - while competing to keep the lower-paid staff wages down.

Donations made payable to Shelter Strike Fund can be sent to Shelter Stewards, c/o 48, Swindon Close, Gorton, Manchester M18 8JQ. You can also invite a speaker.

Messages of support to

Protests can be sent to

Two Early Day Motions that you can ask MPs or MSPs to sign:
Westminster EDM - no.1016 Shelter and its staff.
Scottish EDM no.S3M01475 Solidarity with Shelter Workers

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Monday, May 12, 2008

More than one kind of stench on the air

AS the Egyptian government tries to broker a cease fire that might end the siege of Gaza and open the door to new peace efforts, I am just digesting a message from a friend who wondered what to make of an approach to the United Nations by three Non-Governmental Organisations complaining about a Hamas 'educational' TV programme, entitled apparently "The murder of Jews in the Holocaust was a Zionist plot".

Their "urgent appeal" calls on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Human Rights commissioner Louise Arbour to condemn the programme, and reiterates "our disgust at the ongoing culture of hate toward Jews and Judaism that has culminated in an ultimate perversion, by the Gaza Hamas regime, of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews – and this just prior to the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and worldwide".

Knowing nothing about the organisations concerned, or their record on defending human rights in Gaza or anywhere else, I could not answer my friend's query about their credentials, or priorities. Being unable offhand to tell you what is on British TV right now, I am frequently impressed by the detailed knowledge which some Western-based organisations and politicians seem to command of what is in the Arabic-language media at any time.

Considering the terrible state of Gaza under siege in recent times, with the Israeli blockade creating shortages of food, medical supplies and electricity, and causing vital services to break down, I am also impressed that Hamas is apparently able to devote resources to TV programmes concerning the Nazi Holocaust, even from an unusual angle. Apparently the theme of this one is that the Zionists engineered the whole thing to remove unwanted sick and disabled Jews. Well, it makes a change from Ahmadinejad and guests questioning whether it even happened.

But what's it for?

To incite and sustain hatred of the Zionist state? The Israeli Defence Forces(IDF) are making a pretty good job of that on their own. If your family had been forced to flee Jaffa, or Majdal, in 1948, you grew up in a refugee camp, and you are reduced now to scavenging garbage for food for your kids, and stepping over untreated sewage in the street, you might feel sentiments other than brotherly love towards the neighbouring state you considered responsible. Even when its planes were not roaring overhead, terrorising your children with sonic booms if not killing them with rocket fire.

If you're anything like me, you'd feel hatred for Israel, and the powers that back it. You'd be unlikely to say "I can put up with the siege and all that, but did you see that TV programme last night when the electricity was on? That bit about what they did to their people in Poland and Hungary? That really got me".

So what's it all about? European and American racists and antisemites try to insult and belittle the Holocaust survivors, and deny what was done, in order to ease their own feelings of guilt and continue as before (just as some have given their support to Israel to cover what they really feel and turn their hatred on Arabs for now). But, as one of the hand-made posters on Saturday's Palestine demonstration in London said, "Arabs were not responsible for the Nazi Holocaust". Indeed not. In fact, the Palestinians were indirectly Hitler's last victims. What use can they, or their real supporters, have for Holocaust denial?

It can only further compound this tragedy if the Arab and Muslim world, which gave so much to human culture, should now be used as a dumping ground for Europe's old racist crap. The answer to Zionist misuse of history is not to deny it, or find excuses for the murderers, but to insist that its lessons be learned. 'Never again' must mean - never again to anyone.

All the same, I'd feel happier endorsing the condemnation of Hamas and what it was putting out on TV, assuming the reports are true, if I could feel sure that those petitioning the UN had been equally vociferous over the more obvious pollution that is going on as a result of Israeli action. I mentioned the stench in Gaza, because pumps and sewage works have been hit, or broken down for lack of power, and spare parts. Disease germs are no respecters of frontier posts. Maybe it would be poetic justice if some of what flows out to sea washed up on the beach at Tel Aviv. But we cannot wait for such consequences.

The columnist Johann Hari recently wrote on how he would like to celebrate the State of Israel's 60th anniversary, praising its cultural achievements and enlightened attitudes, but ...
'Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.
'Standing near one of these long, stinking brown-and-yellow rivers of waste recently, the local chief medical officer, Dr Bassam Said Nadi, explained to me: "Recently there were very heavy rains, and the shit started to flow into the reservoir that provides water for this whole area. I knew that if we didn't act, people would die. We had to alert everyone not to drink the water for over a week, and distribute bottles. We were lucky it was spotted. Next time..." He shook his head in fear. This is no freak: a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth found that only six per cent of Israeli settlements adequately treat their sewage.
'Meanwhile, in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting "the wrong way", the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing "a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions".
So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be "a light unto the nations" end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?'

This does not make pleasant reading. But it is not as unpleasant as what it describes. You can switch off a crap television programme, or watch it without having to believe what it says. It is not so easy to avoid the stench of raw sewage, or escape from disaster, or disease.

Having described one kind of outpouring of effluent, Hari was deluged by another, as pro-Zionist commentators variously denounced him as an "antisemite" (Melanie Philips), comparing what he wrote with medieval stories of well-poisoning (as though he was making it up rather than commenting on something that was happening), or called him a "fat faggot" (John D.Norman), who liked Arabs too much.

Hari wanted to show that what's happening with sewage was symptomatic of an attitude to the Palestinians, as well as being an evil in itself, and what the response to his article showed is that this racist attitude, with its own form of denial, is rampant here. If the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the other bodies protesting a Hamas TV programme are concerned about those creating a culture of hatred, there are a few characters here in London they should look at. Bravo, and koech to Johann Hari, for telling the truth, and shaming the devil, at the risk of provoking the response he did.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Ambassador of ill will in Canada

DIPLOMACY is supposed to mean using tact to ease tensions, gain understanding. and spread goodwill, even if cynics say a diplomat is someone prepared to lie for his country. Israel's ambassador in Canada is a man not only prepared to lie, but to stir ill-will, and try to interfere in the host country's affairs, in a way that only improves understanding in the sense that he reveals what his government's game is.

Here's the Toronto Globe and Mail May 8, 2008:
Israeli envoy fears policy shift
Ambassador says continuing influx of Muslims to Canada could erode support for Jewish state

Campbell Clark

Ottawa — Israel's ambassador says he is concerned that the growing number of Muslim Canadians might cause a shift in this country's Middle East policy.
Israel marks its 60th anniversary today and still feels isolated in the world. But it counts Canada as one of its few staunch allies on matters like UN votes, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit the country in June.
However, Alan Baker, Israel's ambassador in Ottawa, said Muslim communities have had an impact on the foreign policies of such countries as France, and he is concerned Canada might follow.
"The question is, how do you treat the results of this fact? Do you expect from these greater numbers that they will absorb themselves into Canadian society as Canadians or that they'll try to push Canadians to adopt their own values and principles? And this is the gist of the problem," Mr. Baker said in an interview.
He cited intensifying demonstrations when he or other Israeli dignitaries speak on Canadian university campuses that have led to speeches being cancelled. He also mentioned reports that some delegates to the 2006 Liberal leadership convention sought to use the Jewish religion of Bob Rae's wife against him.

"First of all, there's a Muslim member of Parliament, who's elected to one of the Toronto ridings ..., [Omar] Alghabra, who has been outspoken in his hostility toward Israel," Mr. Baker said.
"I've got nothing against the fact that Muslims are members of the Canadian Parliament. But it worries me that the type of political influence that we're seeing in Britain, in France, might ultimately reach the Canadian political system."
Mr. Alghabra, the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Erindale, said he is "at a loss" to understand why he would be called hostile to Israel, noting he supports a two-state solution for the Middle East.
(Mr. Baker said in a later telephone conversation that he should have instead characterized Mr. Alghabra's views as "less than friendly," but did not cite any specific comment.) Mr. Alghabra also said Mr. Baker's suggestion that immigrant communities might shift policy is overly simplistic.
"To assume that Canadian Jews or Canadian Muslims or any other community is monolithic and blindly following certain policies because of their ethnicity is, frankly, quite reductionist and unfair," he said.

Quite right too.

In fact, ambassador Baker is a liar, on more than one count. As the Globe and Mail notes,
" Canada's foreign-policy stand has become more pro-Israel since 2004, when Paul Martin's Liberal government began shifting the country's voting pattern at the United Nations.
Mr. Harper's Conservatives moved further toward Israel, and Canada now votes consistently with a group of about a half-dozen countries, including the United States, Australia and Israel itself, that tend to buck the overwhelming majority

As for Britain and France, we need only recall the way British airfields were used to shift cluster-bombs and other weapons to Israel during the Lebanon war, while Britain's UN delegate joined the US in opposing a cease fire. Or remind ourselves how Britain used its presidency of the European Union to suppress a report by British consular officials on how Israel was expanding and consolidating its grip on the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

On Israel-Palestine as on Iraq, the Blair government ignored the majority of the British public let alone the feelings of British Muslims.
Now Gordon Brown is a patron of both the Jewish National Fund and the Labour Friends of Israel. (see Brown speech to LFI meeting at last year's Party conference:

The French government has moved if anything closer to a pro-Israel policy. The American neo-cons and Islamophobes may still not have forgiven France for not backing their war on Iraq, but this was no more due to France's Muslim population than to the imaginary French cowardice. French policy makers and the French public did not see why their boys should die to help US oil interests regain supremacy in the Middle East and give Washington or Wall Street greater power to dictate to the rest of the world, and specifically France and Europe.

In fact, Baker acknowledged that the Canadian government had become a stauncher backer of Israel. rather than trying to regain Arab trust or show independence of the United States so it might act as a peace broker.
"My aim is to ensure that any Canadian government will continue to maintain this position of realizing the true commonality of interests, and not going back to a non-committal attitude," he said.

So what is the Israeli ambassador really afraid of? The latest issue (no.55) of Jewish Socialist might give a clue. Under the heading "Canadian challenge", the magazine describes how more than a hundred Jews from 26 cities across Canada met at the end of March to discuss how they could challenge the uncritical support of Israeli policy coming from established Jewish organisations and the Harper government.

Author Naomi Klein said Israel was trying to normalise torture, collective punishment and permanent war in the name of "security". She urged progressive Jews to expose the ugly reality behind the slick Israeli tourism image, and oppose the Canadian government's endorsement of Israel's "security" policy.

Besides spokespersons for European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) and the UK-based Independent Jewish Voices, there were representatives from two Canadian trade unions and the Canadian Arab Federation at this conference, which was called by the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians.

In other words, as Omar Alghabra says, it is wrong to assume that Jews or Muslims or any other community is monolithic or blindly prepared to follow any policy because of its ethnicity.

But Israeli ambassador Alan Baker wants to be able to assume that, and if he cannot rely on the blind loyalty of Canadian Jews to provide support and a cover for the Canadian government's pro-Israel, pro-war policy,, then he must try to play the anti-Muslim card, not only to sow fear and hostility between minorities, trying to restore a siege mentality, but to appeal to the prejudices of the majority. Why else does Israel's ambassador raise the question of too many Muslims entering Canada, blaming them for demonstrations over Palestine on campuses, and suggesting they might impose their supposedly alien values, assuring the interviewer he has "nothing against a Muslim sitting in the Canadian parliament, but..."

What the hell has it got to do with the Israeli ambassador which categories of people immigrate to Canada, or whether a Canadian of a particular background can be elected to his country's parliament? Whenever anyone engages in a Jew-count or suggests that Jews might have too much "influence" on policy they are rightly suspected if not roundly condemned as antisemitic. The idea that immigrants were part of some giant conspiracy to impose their ways was a classic of antisemitic and racialist propaganda. What else is the Israeli ambassador to Canada doing but trying to stir up racism?

This is not an isolated gaff. It goes with the way some Zionists in France and Italy have been prepared to support the fascists, and ignore their antisemitic past, for the sake of their anti-Arab and anti-Muslim campaigns. It also fits the way right-wing British newspaper columnist Melanie Philips, championing the Zionist state and the Washington neo-cons, has become the stalwart crusader against Islam in Britain, as well as recently declaring "Now is the time for war on Iran". The only debatable point is whether "Mad Mel"'s drift to the Right is explained by her support for Israel, as some erroneously accept, or if it is the other way round.

That the kind of right-wing attitudes which are expressed in anti-Muslim hysteria can easily slip over into attacks on Jews is known from experience, as well as simple psychology. That might not bother an Israeli Zionist, since they are inclined to see a bit of antisemitism as good for us, reinforcing a siege mentality, and even providing Israel with more immigrants. But when we see an ambassador for the Zionist State playing with fire, it is a good idea to be on the safe side and take their matches away.

Statement from conference of Concerned Jewish Canadians:

Outlook, a Canadian Jewish magazine from a left-wing tradition:

Jewish Socialist

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