Friday, April 27, 2012

Get rid of this poisonous toad!

LORD TOAD of Totteridge

IT'S less than a week to voting time, and though without enthusiasm for either the institution of mayor or the fading once-"Red" Ken who is Labour's candidate, I will have to vote for him I suppose, to strike a blow against the rich boys, Boris the bankers' chum, and Cameron the wealthy tax avoiders' son, in short the Bullingdon Club in government.

I'll be voting Labour in the constituency section too, but here I might envy friends in the Barnet and Camden constituency who will have the added satisfaction of voting to get rid of the most odious man in London politics (and that's just what some of his party colleagues think!), Brian Coleman. This is the Barnet councillor dubbed "Mr.Toad" because of his motoring run-ins with the magistrates, which led to a ban from driving, during which he ran up a taxi bill that exceeded those of other GLA members put together.

It seems that Brian is back at the wheel again, because someone reported him the other day using his councillor's parking permit in Golders Green while out campaigning with Boris Johnson. Barnet traders have been up in arms about parking charges hitting the high streets, and some of them just don't see that as a member of the council responsible Coleman should be exempt when he goes out doing party work as well as his council duties.

As a member of a highly-paid council, a senior Tory in the Greater London Assembly, and chair of the fire services committee, Coleman probably feels entitled to his estimated £120 grand a year plus expenses. Members of the public just don't realise the weight that must be on his mind. One local woman, bringing up a young child, approached him a few months ago saying that the landlord had put up her rent from £870 a month to £1,100 a month, and that she did not know what to do. Back came Brian with his advice. It was nothing to do with the council and she ought to try "living in the real world".

Brian Coleman is a councillor for Totteridge, which has some of the most expensive houses in London. The part of the "real world" where Brian Coleman resides is a flat owned by Finchley Methodist Church, where the rent is set by the rent officer. It has three rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom WC and costs the councillor, who is a single man, just £546 a month. Obviously the councillor leads by example, if you can follow.

Another area for which Coleman has responsibility is the environment, and he represents Barnet on the North London Waste Authority. Many people object to the French firm Veolia getting the waste contract, because of its involvement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, helping set up what is now a segregated light railway linking illegal settlements. Veolia has also been mentioned in the Israeli civil rights group B'Tselem's report on landfill sites in the Jordan valley.

In response to a member of the public who wrote to him on this subject, the councillor denounced her as antisemitic. “In my book anti-Zionism is just a modern form of anti-Semitism. I suppose 70 years ago you would have been in the blackshirts.”

We don't know what Coleman's "book" is, which ennables him to affect such ignorance about the Veolia issue, while offering his uninformed views on what someone might have been if they had been around 70 years ago. Perhaps his history or his arithmetic are as ropey as his politics, or the script for his conditioned reflex has dated. The exchanges over Veolia took place in January and February 2011. Seventy years earlier the fascists had shed their blackshirts and were dodging 18B, though some Zionists and some top men in Coleman's party had sought an accomodation with Nazism.

But we needn't digress into history. It is not a qualification for being in local government. But having some respect for your constituents is. When my friend Ron Cohen wrote to Coleman about Veolia, Coleman replied: “I will not entertain this anti-Israel nonsense.” When Ron informed him that he was an Israeli, he replied, “a disloyal one at that”. Coleman concluded their heated correspondence with “doesn’t take much to flush you out.”

(Not that Coleman is against all boycotts, mind. In 2008 he said British athletes would be "tainted with the blood of Tibetans" if they went to the Beijing Olympics. But no one has accused him of anti-sinesism, yet, because it's a word I've just invented. )

A meeting of Barnet's standards sub-committee at Hendon town hall last month ruled that the senior councillor had breached the members’ code of conduct by accusing members of the public of antisemitism, and shown disrespect for the woman he claimed might have supported the blackshirts. The committee asked Coleman to apologise to those he had insulted. Coleman refused, and vowed to appeal the decision taken.

It is not the first time the standards committee has found against him, but he seens to have as little respect for his council colleagues as for the public.

Coleman claimed he had been fighting a "rising tide of antisemitism" in Barnet and vowed to fight on. As someone remarked in the 'Mr.Toad Has Got to Go' Facebook group, "Very nearly as repugnant as racism are those who for their own purposes make use of false accusations of such behaviour: this devalues the real evil of mindless hatred and is nothing less than the politics of the gutter."

To put it another way, patriotism has proved to be the last refuge but one for some scoundrels.

Although Brian Coleman is all too well known in Barnet, and has inspired a whole genre of hostile blogs, he is probably not so familiar to people in Camden, which he is also supposed to represent in the GLA, but where he seems to have done nothing. As my blogging colleague Vicki Morris, of Barnet Trades Union Council, fears: " One perverse byproduct of his inactivity in Camden is that Coleman is not so hated there as he is in Barnet, where he is far too active! Turnout in Camden could be relatively low. A lot hinges therefore on the turnout in Barnet where Coleman and his works are well known".

They are organising a Coleman must go campaign in Barnet this weekend. But I hope enough people in Camden also remember to come out and vote next week, and to vote against Brian Coleman. And just remember, this is the man who provoked a firefighters's strike two years ago by threatening to sack London's firefighters. I said at the time that this was the man who ought to be sacked, and now you have your chance.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Good Riddance to Mr.Grunwick!

GEORGE WARD (right) with former Hendon MP John Gorst
WE don't often drink before our union meetings, and though as the years go on one gets used to honouring a sister or brother who has died, last night was different. We had heard the news that former Grunwick boss George Ward had died, aged 79, and before Brent Trades Union Council began its monthly meeting we raised paper cups, charged with wine that someone had brought along, to celebrate his passing.

The Grunwick factory next to Dollis Hill station is no more, and its site has been taken by a block of flats. Back in the 1970s it housed possibly the biggest film processing and photographic finishing businesses under one roof, trading under various brand names. Both commercial and amateur colour photography had grown, too much for local chemists to handle or invest in expensive equipment. Customers posted undeveloped films to the lab, either directly or through agents, and received finished photographs back. Business was growing. Grunwick's trading profit at the time was reported as being a steady 30% and above per annum.

The average wage at Grunwick was £28 a week, compared to the national average wage of £72 a week, and average full-time wage for women manual workers in London of £44 a week. Overtime was compulsory, and when there was a rush on workers would be asked to work overtime with no prior notice. Most of the workforce, about 80 per cent, were Asian women, and another 10 per cent were Afro-Caribbean women.

George Ward, himself of Anglo-Indian origin, would argue that far from exploiting the women, he was helping them by providing work. Grunwick strikers saw it differently: "Imagine how humiliating it was for us, particularly for older women, to be working and to overhear the employer saying to a younger, English girl 'you don't want to come and work here, love, we won't be able to pay the sort of wages that'll keep you here' – while we had to work there because we were trapped."

Jayaben Desai said: "The strike is not so much about pay, it is a strike about human dignity."

The Summer of 1976 was memorably hot in London, and on Friday August 20 the workers at Grunwick's Chapter Road factory were toiling to keep up with orders. There was no air conditioning. A worker called Devshi Bhudia was dismissed for working too slowly.Three others, Chandrakant Patel, Bharat Patel and Suresh Ruparelia, walked out in support of him. At 6.55pm Jayaben Desai put on her coat to leave and was called into the office where she was dismissed for doing so. Her son Sunil walked out in support of her.
The following Monday, the six began picketing their workplace, and also approached the Citizens Advice Bureau, who advised them to join a union. For some reason this was to be one of the weakest and tamest in the land, the clerical union APEX, which was how a cabinet minister - Shirley Williams, who was an APEX sponsored MP - came to be arrested on the picket line. As trade unionists from around the country rallied to support the Grunwick strikers, miners' leader Arthur Scargill was also arrested.

Prime Minister James Callaghan gave orders that no more cabinet ministers must go to Grunwick, and asked MI5 to keep him posted on Scargill's movements, saying "he may have to be warned off if necessary".

On one day alone in 1977 some 243 people were injured outside Grunwick. Many had bones broken. When a policeman was hurt it made front-page headlines. Meanwhile magistrates boasted of the stiff sentences they were handing down on people arrested at Grunwick.

There were 4,000 police to guard Grunwicks, many more than there had been at Saltley coke depot against the miners. Though Grunwick reportedly did work for the Metropolitan Police this hardly seemed enough to explain their show of strength. But evidently a decision had been taken by someone in authority to break this strike, in revenge for the miners' victory, and to inflict defeat on the unions.

While the police forcibly cleared the streets so Grunwick could 'bus in strikebreakers, workers at Cricklewood post office realised they could hit Grunwick at its most vulnerable point by refusing to handle the firm's mail. Again, someone decided that the postal workers could be locked-out for their principled stand, even though this meant the Post Office breaching its obligation to maintain postal services to the public; and that the right-wing National Association for Freedom(NAFF) could send its volunteers to handle Grunwick mail, in breach of the Post Office Monopoly Act.

Taking this further, the post office union was threatened with prosecution under laws designed to deal with highwaymen and mail robbery if it did not discipline the Cricklewood members.

As the strike dragged on there were calls for other unions to act against Grunwick, so as to effect the firm's power and other services. But the unions retreated from solidarity action, letting the dispute go to ACAS, and law. The Grunwick strikers were finally left on hunger strike on the TUC's doorstep. The Scarman tribunal recommended reinstatement of the strikers, and recognition of the union. But Grunwick boss George Ward ignored it, and the House of Lords found for Grunwick. There was no law for the workers.

The Grunwick strike was a turning point, in that large numbers of mainly white trade unionists rallied to the side of a mainly immigrant workforce, but it also became a trial run for the combination of class law and brutal policing we were to see used against the miners, and protecting Rupert Murdoch's investment at Wapping. The Grunwick struggle merits further study and investigation, both to learn about the workers' movement and the establishment that it is up against.

While the workers who came to support the Grunwick strike were victimised in the courts and vilified in the media, George Ward became a hero of the upper class, if not quite one of them. In later years he turned from busing scabs to racing nags. "Races he sponsored included the Bonusprint King George at Kempton on Boxing Day; the Tripleprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December; the Bonusprint Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the Bonusprint Bula Hurdle; the Bonusprint Old Roan Chase; and Haydock’s Bonusprint Champion Hurdle." (Telegraph obituary).

"Yet while he remained a hero to many Conservatives, Ward’s relations with the party hierarchy were not always happy. In 1998 the then Tory leader William Hague announced the suspension of the Hendon party, of which Ward was chairman – the first such move in 50 years. Ward was accused of bringing in relatives and employees to take control of the association and signing up 50 new members in the run-up to the annual meeting, when he was challenged for the chairmanship. Ward denied the allegations". (ibid).

Ward continued to run his business until shortly before his death. Although the firm adapted to the digital camera revolution, it saw a marked decline in its business. After selling its main Bonusprint business in January last year, Grunwick closed in May 2011.

The Grunwick boss and his friends, or at least his lawyers, also continued over the years to hit out at detractors and opponents. On two occasions — in 1982 and 2007 — he won libel damages from the BBC after it broadcast (and then rebroadcast) claims by Shirley Williams about “Victorian” working practices at the company. He also obtained an apology from Socialist Worker over an article.

Brent Trades Union Council, under the leadership of the late Tom Durkin and a young trade unionist from Kilburn called Jack Dromey, played a stalwart role in mobilising solidarity with the Grunwick strikers. It was on the Grunwick picket line that trades council secretary Jack Dromey, now a Labour MP, met his wife Harriet Harman, who was a legal adviser to the strike committee. In 2006 when the Brent TUC decided to organise an event commemorating the Grunwick strike we found that local libraries which had agreed to take our publicity leaflets withdrew them from display and handed them back. It was not clear who had objected, but we did learn there had been a discussion in the Tory group office on Brent council.

We protested at the town hall one evening before a council meeting. A young woman who took our leaflet about the strike exclaimed "Gosh, I grew up around here, and did not know about any of this!" The commemoration event was a resounding success, attended among others by Arthur Scargill, Jack Dromey and Jayaben Desai, whose diminutive figure on the pickets had come to symbolise the strike for so many people.

A young Asian woman who spoke from the audience said she had been told about the strike by her parents. She kept a photograph of Jayaben Desai in her wallet, and looked at it for inspiration whenever she felt the need for courage. "It was just the times," said Jayaben, denying modestly that she had been anyone special.

In June 2007 Mrs. Desai was awarded a Gold Badge of honour at the conference of the GMB union which had absorbed APEX. In presenting it the union officer apologised to her and her workmates that their union had not given them the support they deserved. Sadly, Jayaben died on December 23, 2010, so did not live to see the death of her enemy George Ward.

For the Grunwick commemoration in 2006 there was a DVD produced, with the two films Stand Together and Look Back at Grunwick, both made in 1977. A more recent film The Great Grunwick strike 1976–1978: A history made for Brent Trades Union Council by Chris Thomas, combines period footage with follow up, and interviews with participants, including Jayaben Desai. It was shown at the tribute to her last year, and is also available on DVD.
Mr.Ward and his lawyers were not happy about this.
So it was good to raise a glass, or even a paper cup, to his removal.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Taking the High Ground

TRESPASSING. Some called them "hooligans" but today their action is celebrated. (right) Benny Rothman, one of those who went to jail for our freedom.

TODAY is the 80th anniversary of a working class battle that took place not in the mills or the streets, and not in the collieries underground, but high in the Peak District where folk sought escape at weekends; and it helped win a freedom for all to roam which may yet be threatened again.

For young people from Manchester, Sheffield and other towns, the bleak moorlands offered an escape at weekends from crowded streets, factory smoke and grime, a chance to feel free and breath lungfulls of fresh air. But here too they encountered the laws of private property and privilege. Though uncultivated and often boggy, large areas of the dark peak on the millstone grit were private, and reserved so rich men could get in a fortnight's grouse shooting.

Efforts to extend access to the moors had not got far. There were only 12 legal paths, and only one per cent of the Peak lands open to walkers. Step off the main track and you could face gamekeepers with sticks and dogs, and even guns.

It was after some ramblers had been turned off Bleaklow, near Glossop, by gamekeepers, one day in the early Spring of 1932, that they decided on some action. They were members of the British Workers' Sport Federation, a Communist Party-inspired organisation started in 1928. Among the Manchester activists was a keen young walker and cyclist from Cheetham Hill, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, Bernard, or as he was better known, Benny Rothman.

Born in 1911. Benny was forced to leave school early after his dad died, and he obtained a job as an errand lad with a motor firm. But in the evenings he studied geography and economics, and at weekends when he could he made for the hills, though when he joined the Young Communist League (YCL) an increasing amount of his time and energy began to be taken up with political meetings and selling Challenge or the Daily Worker.

What Benny and his pals decided was that they would not try to sneak up on to the moors to dodge the keepers, but turn up in force to make their point, having announced their intentions beforehand. The target for this Mass Trespass would be Kinder Scout, a moorland plateau part of which rises 636 metres (2,087 ft) above sea level, being the highest point in the Peak District, and in Derbyshire. It was the property of the Duke of Devonshire.

On the morning of Sunday, April 24, 1932, police were watching every railway station between Manchester and Hayfield, but Benny and his mates evaded them by coming on their bikes. About 400 ramblers gathered in a disused quarry at Bowden Bridge, above Hayfield, where after a rousing speech from Benny they set off, singing, towards William Clough, and the scramble on to Kinder's plateau.

This brought them face to face with the Duke of Devonshire's gamekeepers. There was a scuffle, and one of the keepers was slightly injured, but the ramblers managed to press on. On Kinder they met up with a contingent of 30 from Sheffield, who had come up that morning from Edale. There was a stop for tea, and an accompanying Guardian reporter noted "The trespassers were urged not to leave any litter about, and to their credit it must be said they were particularly neat in this matter". Of course. They appreciated and cared for the countryside. After a brief victory meeting, the two groups set off to retrace their steps, the Sheffield trespassers back to Edale and the Manchester contingent to Hayfield.

As they neared the village, the Manchester ramblers were met by a police inspector in a car, who suggested they follow him, and so they formed up into column and marched into Hayfield led by the police car. It was not until they were right into the village that they were stopped by more police, and then police officers accompanied by a gamekeeper began moving among them making arrests. Five of them were taken to the police station and detained. Another man had been taken earlier. The day after the trespass, Rothman and the others were charged at New Mills Police Court with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace.

Pleading not guilty, they were remanded to be tried at Derby Assizes – 60 miles from their homes – in July 1932. The jury at their trial was drawn from Derbyshire's establishment, with landowners and brigadier generals. The judge drew their attention to those defendents with "foreign"-sounding names and origins. All were found guilty and received custodial sentences. Benny did four months in Leicester jail, after which for some time he could not get employment.

Respectable bodies like the Manchester Ramblers' Federation and the Stockport Holiday Fellowship had said they would have nothing to do with these "hooligans", but within weeks of the Kinder Scout trespass some 10,000 ramblers rallied in the Winnats Pass, near Castleton, demanding access to the moorlands. Around the country there was wide sympathy and support for the young men who had gone to jail for the cause.

Returning to Manchester, Benny Rothman resumed his political and trade union work. He took part in the mobilisation to combat Oswald Mosley's fascists. He eventually got a job at the Avro aircraft factory, ironically as Alliott Verdon Roe its founder was a supporter of Mosley, and though this did not last, he was able to move on to the giant Metrovicks plant in Trafford Park, where he was active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union. During the war he was rejected for the army because he was in a reserved occupation.

After the war, and 17 years after the Mass Trespass, the Labour government brought in the Access to the Countryside Act (1949). The Peak District was the first area to be designated a National Park, and access agreements were negotiated with landowners for Bleaklow and Kinder Scout.

Growing up in Manchester, I was able to enjoy walks in the Peak District, and went up Bleaklow and Kinder Scout with friends while a teenager, little aware of the young men of an earlier generation who had gone to prison for my right to roam those hills freely. But I did later hear a song called The Manchester Rambler: "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday". The author had been a YCLer from Salford called Jimmy Miller who took part in the Trespass, but was to be better-known to us as Ewan MacColl.

In April 1982, there was a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mass Trespass, and Benny Rothman was invited to unveil a commemorative plaque in Bowden Bridge quarry. That year he also produced a little book on the trespass "... because I believe that the Mass Trespass is too important to be dismissed either as youthful folly, or as a political stunt."

Benny died in 2002, but his book on the Kinder Trespass is to be republished this year. Various events are happening as part of the Kinder 80 Festival opening today April 24, at Edale. Benny Rothman's son Professor Harry Rothman, himself the author of Murderous Providence, which is about the environment, will be travelling from Wales, joined by Jan Gillett from Warwickshire, the son of Tona Gillett, a student who was only there to observe the incident but was imprisoned for two months. Singer and broadcaster Mike Harding, a past president of the Ramblers Association, will also be there.

Chairman of the Kinder 80 committee Roly Smith commented: “The 1932 Mass Trespass was an iconic event not only for freedom to roam legislation, finally achieved by the CROW Act of 2000, but as a catalyst towards the creation of our National Parks, of which the Peak District was the first in 1951".

As the Trespass of 1932 is remembered, there are warnings that new planning laws and the relentless drive for private profit are bringing renewed danger to our open spaces and the right to enjoy them.

The Working Class Movement Library in Salford, which holds Benny Rothman's papers, is holding a Twitter event, whatever that is!

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Globe MPs' letter gives the game away


A GROUP of MPs who have lent their names to a letter defending the Globe theatre's invitation to Israel's Habima theatre for a Shakespeare festival have perhaps unwittingly blown the cover on the pretence that this was purely about cultural freedom from political interference, or that those opposing the invitation were merely motivated by prejudice.

In their letter, published in the Guardian on Friday, April 20, the MPs write:

We notice with dismay that dozens of prominent members of the UK theatre and film industry are calling for a boycott of Israel's national theatre, Habima, in London's Globe to Globe festival, on the grounds that Habima have performed in established cultural halls in two large Israeli settlements (Letters, 30 March). It is widely accepted that any peace accord is likely to result in the larger settlement blocs, on land close to the 1967 line, becoming part of Israel, through a process of land swaps; a concept that has already been endorsed and reiterated by international leaders.

In any case, Habima's cultural contribution to the festival ought to be celebrated and enjoyed away from the politics of the region. ....(boycott activity) gives a green light to those who wish to promote the delegitimisation of Israel. It does nothing to help the Middle East peace process which will be solved when leaders on both sides can reach agreement on a two-state solution.

Among those signing the letter along with John Whittingdale MP, who is chair of the Commons committee on Culture, the Media and Sport, is Louise Mensch, the Tory MP for Corby, who was also signatory to a previous letter along with playwright Arnold Wesker, actress Maureen Lipmann and other celebs, linking the boycott call with attempts to delegitimise Israel, the Jewish people and the Hebrew language, and claiming that it demonstrated continuing "persecution" of Jewish people and Israelis in Britain.

At the time the most charitable assumption we could make was that the signatories were ignorant of the real issues, concerning Habima and its performance in illegal settlements, as they managed to ignore this, just as they feigned ignorance of the fact that the call to oppose the Habima visit came from people in Israel, and was supported by respected artists here and in the United States, many of whom happened to be Jewish (unlike Mrs.Mensch, nee Bagshawe, who is a Roman Catholic).

Incidentally, Louise Mensch is no starry-eyed believer in freedom of expression for everyone. After the riots she wanted social networks like Facebook and Twitter closed down during periods of disturbances, much as they might be in China or Iran. As for the Occupation movement (in London, not the West Bank she appears to think people have no right to condemn capitalism if they enjoy its "benefits", e.g. purchasing a coffee. Presumably they should also not wear clothes. But we should not call the MP daft, after all some people voted for her.

Now at least the MPs are admitting they know about the settlement issue, even though they appear to think that plonking a fortified town like Ariel down amid a hostile population, 17 kilometers east of the Israeli border, and then using it to claim the land as part of Israel, is part of a peace process, and perfectly compatible with a "two state solution"!

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not have put it better. Only he has called Ariel "the capital of Samaria", so perhaps by "two states" they mean one State of Israel within its pre-1967 borders, (to which President Obama said it should withdraw - though he seemed to withdraw his remark for Netanyahu's visit); and a settler state of "Judea and Samaria", i.e. the West Bank. Israel demands recognition as "democratic and Jewish", the settlers would not bother with any "democratic" nonsense.

Netanyahu is also on record (though he tried to deny it) as saying that Israel ought to take advantage of a Middle East war to expel the Palestinian population.

The Palestinians don't get a look in for the British MPs' letter, any more than they would at Ariel. For the writers it is supposedly enough that the land swaps" - based on settlements which are against international law - have been accepted by "international leaders". Perhaps they should tell us more.

The issue of Israeli expansion and settlements was thrust into the realm of cultural expression and theatre two years ago, when a new cultural centre was opened with Israeli government support in the city settlement of Ariel.

Dozens of Israeli theatre actors, playwrights and directors signed a pledge that they would not have anything to do with this project, seeing it as part of the government's effort to "normalise" illegal settlements and Netanyahu's claim that Ariel was an an "integral part of the State of Israel". They saw this as an obstacle to peace, and their objection as a matter of conscience, even if it meant loss of patronage and income.

Ariel settlement (photo by <span class=ARIJ) &lt;/a>&lt;/p>&lt;div class="> category IMEMC News

Despite threats to withold funds, and denunciation as "draft evaders and traitors", the list of objectors grew, and was reinforced by some 150 academics supporting the actors. Among those who added their names were playwright Yehoshua Sobol, whose Holocaust play "Ghetto" has been peformed in Britain, and writers David Grossman, Amos Oz and A.B.Yehoshua. Their letter said:

"We, the undersigned, express our support and solidarity with the theater artists refusing to perform in Ariel. Freedom of creation and freedom of opinion are the cornerstones of a free and democratic society. Not too long ago, we marked the 43rd anniversary of the Israeli occupation. Legitimization and acceptance of the settler enterprise cause critical damage to Israel's chances of achieving a peace accord with its Palestinian neighbors."

Bringing up the rear, in November 2010 a group of education students from Beit Berl College informed the college administration that they would not be willing to complete their teacher training with a project at an educational facility in Ariel. "We will not teach beyond the Green Line (pre 1967 border) the students said. They were supported by the student union though not all its members agreed, and the principal said he would have to respect the students' decision.

"Meanwhile, " as Ha'aretz had reported on August 31, 2010 , "some 300 persons gathered yesterday outside the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv to protest its decision to perform in Ariel when its new cultural center opens this November.

Participating in the protest were MKs Dov Khenin (Hadash ), Nitzan Horowitz and Haim Oron (Meretz ), actors Hana Meron, Oded Kotler, playwright Yehoshua Sobol, former MKs Yael Dayan and Zahava Gal-On, and former editor-in-chief of Maariv Doron Galezer."

MKs means Members of the Knesset. And I'd choose the wisdom of these Israeli artists, writers, academics and members of the Knesset over the conditioned knee jerks of some British Zionist hacks who have got the needle stuck, or Tory members of parliament airing their ignorance.

That said, and whatever one thinks of the Habima row, the Tory MPs may have done us a favour in talking about what "international leaders" are ready to endorse. It could be they are echoing what some of their leaders are too shy to come out with openly, or what the Israeli government is assuming they will accept. The world is a stage, and not all the actors perform in theatres.,7340,L-3983888,00.html,7340,L-3986308,00.html

And for some light relief (unless you're one of the voters of Corby), Mrs.Mensch on an Ocupation she did not support:

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Democracy? You can't do that there 'ere!

SOME time ago I heard a fascinating programme on BBC Radio Four talking about the way our lives were being affected by what used to be public space becoming private. In Basingstoke when the Salvation Army turned up at their usual spot to shake tambourines and sing in praise of the Lord they were met by uniformed security guards acting for the landlords, who had orders to stop any political or religious gathering on the corner that had become their property.

In Milton Keynes I think it was that a man who said he used to be able to nip across the town centre to his grans now faced a bus trip because the precinct was shut on Sunday. Other people spoke of having to scramble down a slope and cross a motorway if they did not want a circuitous journey.

Bad planning and private property between them have a lot to answer for, and though I guess we have all come across such problems, I don't recall much discussion about it. But now I see a case that has occurred which directly shows the conflict between democracy and property. It's in my (dirty) old town, and involves the BBC itself since they moved there.

Thanks to Salford trades union council sister Kate Richardson for sharing this item from the Salford Star with us:

Star date: 19th April 2012

A Salford Star Exclusive


Ordsall local election candidate, George Tapp, was yesterday banned from handing out his leaflets to BBC workers at MediaCityUK which is within the Ordsall ward.

Tapp has also been stopped from handing out leaflets by the new Morrison store across Trafford Road where the streets have now been privatised. Is Salford, home of the BBC, now becoming a democracy free zone?

Full story here…

The BBC has been pointing out how it wants to engage with Salford's local community. So yesterday Ordsall local election anti-cuts candidate, George Tapp, and his agent Paul Gerrard, went to Media City, to the main piazza paid for almost entirely with public money (see here), to try and win the votes of BBC workers…

…But within three minutes of handing out their first leaflets the pair were summoned by security and taken to The Greenhouse to be told by Tony Chebrika, head of security at Media City, that their activity was not allowed on land owned by Peel Holdings.

Having been told by Gerrard that Tapp was an official candidate in the Ordsall ward which covered Media City, Chebrika stated that "the bottom line is that we don't allow leafleting or anything for any cause, or anything like that – we're more than happy for you to stand on the boundaries of the site."

When George Tapp pointed out that Salford people had paid for the `public space', Chebrika added "It's too political for me, I'm sorry, I'm just a security guard… at the end of the day the land owner is Peel Holdings and it's private property and they've decided they don't allow leafleting."

Late last year, official trade union pickets outside the University of Salford's new campus on the 30th November Day of Action were also thrown off the Media City site (see here). Meanwhile, last week the story broke that Peel Holdings security at Media City had been offering BBC workers `escorts' to their cars and tram stops.

It all seems to be an attempt to put a bubble around BBC workers, to shelter them from Salford people and events, whether they want it or not.

"The BBC is supposed to be a bastion of democracy, it's supposed to be about current affairs and there'll be through-the-night coverage of the elections" Paul Gerrard comments "Yet you can't give out a leaflet that belongs to the BBC workers."

And George Tapp points to the irony of the huge Media City BBC screens showing what is happening in Syria… "You've got people all over the world fighting for democracy, I think we'd better start in Salford. Trying to get the message over has gone in Salford."

What has happened to George Tapp and others at Media City is a reflection of the privatisation of public spaces and streets that is going on all around Salford.

Meanwhile, across Trafford Road, outside the new Morrisons supermarket in Ordsall, and around new housing build by developer LPC Living, George Tapp and Paul Gerrard were also told they couldn't hand out leaflets or set up a stall to tell people about the policies of their TUSC (Trade Union Socialist Coalition) Against Cuts party as they were on private land.

"I didn't even know this street had been privatised" says George Tapp "These companies are certainly not interested in the democratic rights of the people of Salford."

The anti-cuts party had been running its stall for weeks on the `boulevard' outside Morrisons when a couple of weeks ago security guards approached its supporters and told them it was private property.

"We'd never had any complaints from Morrisons or members of the public but they said we couldn't set up our stall or give out leaflets" says Paul Gerrard "They gave us LPC's number and I rang them but was told it was nothing to do with them and to get in touch with the management company, Savills. I sent them a polite e-mail request and was sent a curt reply saying not to show up on any part of the Morrisons' shopping area. He didn't give any further explanation."

The Salford Star has also e-mailed Savills asking reasons why permission for a genuine local election candidate to give out leaflets was refused and we are waiting for a reply.

"Basically it's because half of Salford has been sold off to private developers and streets that people think are public streets aren't" says Paul Gerrard "While you can drive on them and walk on them, you can't do political activity, especially if the company that owns them object to what you're saying - like `tax the rich', `nationalise the banks' and things like that."

George Tapp has found it impossible to campaign around virtually all the new flats in Ordsall and Media City as sections of Salford become gated off.

"We go to the high rise blocks and are told we cannot leaflet, we cannot campaign, and those people are being deprived of any information from our party" he says "Unless you're a millionaires' party where you can send things by post our message isn't getting across. You expect it in regimes like Syria, not in Salford."

Ironically, the security guards who told George Tapp and Paul Gerrard that they couldn't give out leaflets on the public piazza outside the BBC wore jackets emblazoned with the slogan `Our City, Your City, MediaCityUK'…

* George Tapp is the Ordsall candidate for the Socialist Party: TUSC Against Cuts. Other candidates standing in Ordsall are Ray Mashiter (Labour), Kate Middleton (Liberal Democrats) and David Morgan (Conservative)'.

Kate was wondering earlier whether this would make the evening's BBC TV news. Not if it's anything like the selective news coverage we see in London which left out those disabled people chained across the road by Trafalgar Square.

And though there's no shortage of freesheets cluttering up London, we have nothing here as outspokenly independent as the Salford Star.

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Heart of the Battle

TODAY is the anniversary of an important World War II battle. Here is an extract from a participant's account, first published while the writer was still young, and the battle scars still fresh:

"Finally, the Germans decided to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto completely, regardless of cost. On April 19th, 1943, at 2 a.m. the first messages concerning the Germans' approach arrived from our outermost observation posts. These reports made it clear that German gendarmes, aided by Polish "navy blue" policemen, were encircling the outer ghetto walls at 30-yard intervals. An emergency alarm to all our battle groups was immediately ordered, and at 2:15, i.e. 15 minutes later, all the groups were already at their battle stations. We also informed the entire population of the imminent danger, and most of the ghetto inhabitants moved instantly to previously prepared shelters and hide-outs in the cellars and attics of buildings. A deathly silence enveloped the ghetto. The ZOB was on the alert.

(Jewish Fighting Organisation, in Polish - Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB; Yiddish: ייִדישע קאַמף אָרגאַניזאַציע)

"At 4 a.m. the Germans in groups of threes, fours, or fives so as not to arouse the ZOB's or the population's suspicion, began penetrating into the "inter-ghetto" areas. Here they formed into platoons and companies. At 7 o'clock motorized detachments, including a number of tanks and armoured vehicles, entered the ghetto. Artillery pieces were placed outside the walls. Now the SS-men were ready to attack. In closed formations stepping haughtily and loudly, they marched into the seemingly dead streets of the central ghetto. Their triumph appeared to be complete. It looked as if this superbly equipped modern army had scared off the handful of bravado- drunk men, as if those few immature boys had at last realized that there was no point in attempting the unfeasible, that they understood that the Germans had more rifles than there were rounds for all their pistols.

"But no, they did not scare us and we were not taken by surprise. We were only awaiting an opportune moment. Such a moment presently arrived. The Germans chose the intersection at Mila and Zamenhofa Streets for their bivouac area, and battle groups barricaded at the four corners of the street opened concentric fire on them. Strange projectiles began exploding everywhere (the hand grenades of our own make), the lone machine-gun sent shots through the air now and then (ammunition had to be conserved carefully), rifles started firing a bit farther away. Such was the beginning.

"The Germans attempted a retreat, but their path was cut. German dead soon littered the street. The remainder tried to find cover in the neighbouring stores and house entrances, but this shelter proved insufficient. The "glorious" SS, therefore, called tanks into action under the cover of which the remaining men of two companies were to commence a "victorious" retreat. But even the tanks seemed to be affected by the Germans' bad luck. The first was burned out by one of our incendiary bottles, the rest did not approach our positions. The fate of the Germans caught in the Mita Street-Zamenhofa Street trap was settled. Not a single German left this area alive. The following battle groups took part in the fighting here: Gruzalc's (Bund); Merdek's (Hashomer); Hochberg's (Bund); Berek's (Dror); Pawel's (PPR).

"Simultaneously, fights were going on at the intersection of Nalewki and Gesia Streets. Two battle groups kept the Germans from entering the ghetto area at this point. The fighting lasted more than seven hours. The Germans found some mattresses and used them as cover, but the partisans' well-aimed fire forced them to several successive withdrawals. German blood flooded the street. German ambulances continuously transported their wounded to the small square near the Community buildings. Here the wounded lay in rows on the sidewalk awaiting their turn to be admitted to the hospital. At the corner of Gesia Street a German air liaison observation post signalled the partisans' positions and the required bombing targets to the planes. But from the air as well as on the ground the partisans appeared to be invincible. The Gesia Street-Nalewki Street battle ended in the complete withdrawal of the Germans.

"At the same time heavy fighting raged at Muranowski Square. Here the Germans attacked from all directions. The cornered partisans defended themselves bitterly and succeeded, by truly superhuman efforts, in repulsing the attacks. Two German machine-guns and a quantity of other weapons were captured. A German tank was burned, the second tank of the day.

"At 2 p.m., not a single live German remained in the ghetto area. It was the ZOB's first complete victory over the Germans. The remaining hours of the day passed in "complete quiet", i.e. with the exception of artillery fire (the guns were in positions at Krasinski Square) and several bombings from the air".

Though they could not defeat the might of the German Reich, the ill-fed and poorly armed ghetto fighters were determined to inflict a heavy price for their lives, and set an example. "For Your Freedom and Ours" was their call, and outside Yugoslavia theirs was the longest resistance battle in Europe, lasting longer than some countries had done against Nazi invasion.

Marek Edelman, a member of the Jewish Workers' Bund and one of the leaders of the ghetto uprising, produced his account, "The Ghetto Fights", in 1945. An English edition was published by Bundists in the United States the following year. In 1990 it was published again, in Britain, by agreement with the author, and with an introduction by John Rose, by Bookmarks, the Socialist Workers Party publisher. But it took 55 years from the book's first appearance before anyone in Israel would get around to publishing a version in Hebrew.

Edelman's account did not suit two Zionist narratives, the story that the Jews of Europe succumbed to their fate under the Nazis "like lambs to the slaughter", or the more sophisticated version in which Zionist youth movements provide the sole resistance, and then as a mere prelude to fighting for the State of Israel.

Not that Edelman denies anyone credit where due (including those whose resistance took other forms). Nor did he cease battling after the Nazis were defeated in 1945. But while making a new life for himself by training as a cardiologist to save the lives of others, he remained true to the principles he had grown up with in the Bund - that Jews could fight for freedom in the countries where they lived, alongside, and certainly not against others; and the workers could fight for their rights, and a better world.

In 1968, when Polish Stalinists confronted by student rebellion launched a barely veiled antisemitic campaign, Edelman's wife Alina, who had been a nurse in the ghetto and became a pediatrician, left for France with the children. She was to be a founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres. But Edelman, though hounded from his position, clung stubbornly on. Later, when the regime wanted to use him to decorate an official commemoration of the ghetto uprising he declined, aligning himself with the Workers Defence Committee and eventually Solidarnosc. Then in 1993 on the fiftieth anniversary of the rising when an official Israeli delegation came to Warsaw they made clear they did not wish to attend an event alongside the anti-Zionist Marek Edelman.

Then in 2002 it was Edelman's turn to upset the Israelis, when through contacts with the Palestinian doctor Mustapha Barghouti, whose brother resistance leader Marwan Barghouti was imprisoned that year, he came to write a letter addressed to all the Palestinian commanders and "soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations". Though Edelman's letter was critical of terror attacks which targeted civilians, what outraged the Zionists was that he recognised the Palestinian militants as fellow fighters, implicitly comparing their struggle with that of the ghetto resistance.

Edelman was being consistent. He protested the ill-treatment of Czech Roma, and spoke out for Bosnian Muslims, even joining an aid convoy to Sarajevo. As he had written, "to be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, never with the oppressors".

Marek Edelman died in 2009. There were all sorts of tributes paid by the great and good, including of course some who had wanted nothing to do with him when he was alive. But Freedom in His Heart, a tribute to Marek Edelman published in December by the Jewish Socialists' Group, is a very sincere appreciation of the ghetto fighter and socialist, with an account of his life and struggles by David Rosenberg, and personal testimonies from Mike Schatzkin and Wlodka Blit-Robertson. Wlodka was smuggled out of the embattled ghetto as a child. The booklet also contains extracts like that I quoted from The Ghetto Fights.

Freedom in His Heart is available at £3 plus 50p postage and packing from Jewish Socialist Publications, JS, BM3725 London WC1N 3XX.

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Not going quietly

POLICEMAN trying move disabled people who chained wheelchairs together to block busy street by Trafalgar Square. "We are not going to go quietly into the night".

"THEY have picked on the wrong people". This excellent picture was taken by Louise Whittle, who was at today's demonstration and blogs as Harpy Marx (see link below).

was a BBC reporter in Trafalgar Square today, talking about - what else? - the Olympics. Not that anything was going on so far as I could see. But while both the Beeb and ITN were doing their best to arouse interest in the costly Games to come, something was happening around the corner and off camera, which perhaps we were not meant to see.

Disabled people, many of them in wheelchairs, blocked two busy road junctions around the square by chaining themselves and their chairs together in a line, with security locks. They were protesting the Con Dem government's welfare reforms, the use made of firms like Atos to declare people "fit for work" in order to deprive them of benefits, and the planned closure of Remploy factories which currently employ 2,000 people.

As a south London Remploy worker told a meeting of trade unionists recently "We won't go quietly into the night. We won't go quietly anywhere".

Planned cuts to the Disability Living Allowance could see 500,000 disabled people losing money, the charity Mencap has said.

Today's demonstration was organised by Disabled People Against the Cuts (Dpac). It lasted for two hours before police had to use bolt cutters to remove the chains. A BBC report had mentioned "traffic delays" in the vicinity without giving the reason.
"We are fed up with being vilified as scroungers by successive governments," said Dpac co-founder Debbie Jolly, from Leicester. "We are sick of hearing about disabled people who have died from neglect and lack of services or who have committed suicide because services and benefits were withdrawn from them. We want to make sure politicians know we will not accept these attacks on our lives any longer."
"It has been great," said Adam Lotum, 49, a father who recently lost his Disability Living Allowance due to the cuts. "People are talking about the issue now and we hope that that message is getting through to government – the message that they have picked on the wrong group – we are not going to stand for it any longer."

There could be a connection between today's demonstration and TV non-coverage and the build-up before the Olympics. Commentators and politicians interviewed today spoke about their fears that the Olympics, which are disrupting the lives of many Londonders, might themselves be disrupted by "protesters". They did not say that one group talking about such protests are disabled campaigners. That might risk arousing public sympathy with the protests.

Meanwhile there's a meeting on Thursday evening April 19 to Fight the Remploy Closures. Speakers include GMB Remploy national convenor Les Woodward, John McDonnell MP, Gail Cartmail who is Unite assistant general secretary, and Rob Murthwaite from Disabled People Against Cuts.
The meeting is at 7.30pm at the University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1E 7HY

On Friday there will be a demonstration starting midday outside the Department of Work and Pensions, Tothill Street, SW1H 9NA, and moving on to a rally at Old Palace Yard, SW1P 3JY.

There is another Save Remploy meeting called next week, on Thursday April 26, 6.30pm at Faraday House, 48-51 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AE. Speakers will be Remploy workers past and present. Organisers say "You've heard what the government has to say, now hear from the workers." They are calling on all to "join us in the fight to save Remploy!"

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Druids in Town. A timely reminder.
SILK banner of the Druids, and (right) Dave gets it on his bike.

IF you have only recently joined the readership of this blog, you may be relieved to know that it isn't all gloom and outrage, as now and then without detracting from our anger against governments and the system, there's news to let us lighten up a little.

Thanks to friends out West we have the good news that the banner of the Druids has been seen again in Somerset. Nothing to do with bardic robes or Midsummer night's ritual dancing around stone circles, but a bit of fine tradition nevertheless.

We've remarked before on Bridgwater postal worker Dave Chapple's ability to discover treasure, whether mining the memory of an old Mancunian militant in a care home, or digging out rich history from a heap of old union branch records in the cupboard, and bringing it to life by going to interview a participant.

This time it was going through the attic at Bridgwater Labour Party's Unity House that Dave, who is secretary of Bridgwater and District trades union council, and Labour councillor Brian Smedley found the colourful silk banner of the Druids Friendly Society, which had not seen the light for over 80 years. Now the banner has been donated to the town by the Labour Party, and yesterday Dave and Brian managed to load it on Dave's post office bike, take it through the town centre and deliver it to the Council Chamber just before the rain came on.

Dave Chapple said "This wonderful silk banner of the Bridgwater Independent Druids' Friendly Society was made by George Tutill in East London in about 1890 and is now in the care of Bridgwater Town Council at the Town Hall with a real chance it can be displayed for local people to see, if some basic conservation work can be completed. Friendly Societies-still existing today-were in some ways the 18th and 19th century precursors of trade unions and looked after working-class people with sick out of work and funeral benefits."

Measuring 12ft by 14ft, and complete with carrying poles, brass spearheads and silk cords and tassels in its original box, the banner dates from about 1890 and features designs painted in oils on both sides which show the two sides of its purpose. On one side there is an imaginative picture depicting characters in ancient dress, with Stonehenge in the background, and a Celtic cross, as well as the all-seeing eye often found in masonic designs.

But the other side shows a man in a modern suit, visiting a family with its sick and invalid breadwinner, and bringing some money. It is inscribed "I was sick and ye visited me".

At the end of the 19th century 1,145 Bridgwater people were registered with the Druids and this figure had risen to 2,000 in 1917. As Councillor Smedley explains:

"In those days,before a National Health Service, groups such as Friendly Societies provided sickness, unemployment and funeral benefits for Bridgwater's poor and actually saved families from destitution. This banner and what it stands for should serve as a reminder to today's generations of how ordinary working people organised and fought back against the injustices of of a society stacked against them and brings to mind the struggle that many people continue to face even to this day ."

See also, some references to Dave Chapple's historical work:

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Brute Force and a failure of intelligence

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16
Source: YouTube/LIKMA38 Link to this video

IT was a weekend the Israeli government and its PR and propaganda agencies could do without. One they would sooner forget. A senior officer - not just some raw conscript lower rank but a professional - was caught on camera wielding the butt of his M16 rifle into the face of an unarmed Danish protester taking part in the Jordan valley cycle run.

The incident was broadcast on Israeli television and went around the world on You Tube. As a result
Denmark has demanded an explanation from the Israeli government, and the Israeli prime minister, president and chief of staff felt compelled to criticise the officer. Lt Col Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley territorial brigade, was suspended by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) pending an investigation. It has been reported that on another occasion he threatened to bust the head of a military policeman who pulled him up for speeding.

An Israeli newspaper that normally supports the government carried a cartoon of Eisner swinging his rifle butt and demolishing a pile of Hebrew letters spelling "Hasbarah" - the word used for the Zionist state's international public relations work.

As if the military's intervention against the cyclists wasn't bad enough, it came on the same weekend that a major security operation was mounted to stop people going to Bethlehem to show support for the Palestinians. As Gershon Baskin in Jerusalem puts it:

"They sent 650 police and security folks to Ben-Gurion airport for a whole day. They conducted intelligence operations for weeks to identify the names of all of those planning to come. They spent hundreds of man- and woman-hours going through the Facebook and twitter accounts of hundreds of people....All to prevent a group of idealistic, pro-Palestinian activists from entering 'the only democracy in the Middle East.'"

The visitors had wanted to demonstrate how Israel acts as a jailor controlling who can enter or leave the Palestinian territory. With police seizing travellers and those who held up signs to welcome them, and foreign airlines enlisted to stop people even boarding planes if they were on the Israeli intelligence blacklist, the Israeli operation succeeded in making the point much more obviously than the protestors themselves alone could have done. Instead of one demonstration in Bethlehem they managed to spread the issue to Brussels and Manchester.

To add to the embarassment it turns out that far from being a triumph for Israeli intelligence, the preparation to meet the protest "invasion" was quite the opposite. As Ha'aretz reports:


Forty percent of the non-Israeli citizens whose names appeared on a Shin Bet blacklist ahead of Sunday's so-called "fly-in" protest by pro-Palestinian activists were added to the list despite the fact that the security service had no concrete information showing they were connected with the protest in any way.

'This information comes from a high-ranking Israeli source with knowledge of the blacklist, who added that the Shin Bet also had no solid grounds for believing that 470 of the 1,200 people whom Israel labeled as "pro-Palestinian activists" intended to do anything illegal.

"We put people on the list who are as far removed from anti-Israel political activity as east is from west," one Foreign Ministry official said. "We have insulted hundreds of foreign citizens because of suspicions, and have given the other side a victory on a silver platter."

"Direct damage has been done to tourism and to Israel's good name," the official said.

Organizers said on Sunday that their "Welcome to Palestine" protest, in which hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists were planning to participate in demonstrations in the West Bank, was a success that still advanced the Palestinian narrative even though many of the protesters were forced to stay home.

"It doesn't matter if eight people came or 800," said Lubna Masarwa, one of the organizers of the event. "What's clear is that there is a popular struggle that is gaining momentum and has the international support of thousands of activists. The Palestinians are not alone in their struggle."

A 23-year-old French woman who made it into Israel to take part in the protest said about half her group of 50 was detained. "The security forces in France and Israel treated us like criminals," she said. "It's very frustrating and surprising that the authorities cooperated with the Israeli claims and propaganda."

The list of banned passengers was inflated over the weekend in what one Foreign Ministry official called "overexertion."

"The net was spread too wide, bringing down innocent people," he said. That net did not spare holders of diplomatic passports, like a French diplomat and his wife who are due to begin working at the French consulate in Jerusalem this summer. The couple was planning to look for an apartment in Jerusalem, but the night before their flight they received an e-mail from their airline, Lufthansa, saying their tickets were canceled because they had been banned from entering Israel.

"The Population Registry people told us their flight route was suspicious because they were coming in on a connecting flight from Munich, not direct from Paris," said a Foreign Ministry official. "Only after we explained that the ticket from Munich was bought because it was cheaper did they take them off the list."

Lufthansa was one of about 20 airlines, mostly European, that Israel threatened with sanctions if they did not cancel the tickets of the passengers who appeared on the lists Israel sent them. Other airlines that canceled tickets included Air France, Alitalia, Easyjet and Turkish Airlines.

Other passengers who appeared on the blacklist despite having no connection to the protest include an employee of Italy's Communications Ministry who was supposed to meet with her Israeli counterparts here, and a Dutch member of the board of directors of German pharmaceutical giant Merck, who was part of a company delegation taking part in the dedication of a biotechnology hothouse at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in which Merck is investing 10 million euros.

Both were eventually allowed into the country.

It wasn't only foreign citizens who were banned from entering Israel, though: An Israeli woman from Kfar Vradim was informed the night before her flight home that she wouldn't be allowed to board the plane. There were other instances of Israelis being put on the blacklist.

The Shin Bet, which compiled the list along with the intelligence division of the Israel Police, did not respond to a request for comment. For its part, the Population Registry was also involved in keeping out certain passengers, but said it was following the Shin Bet's orders.

Some Israeli commentators have suggested that, far from being an isolated individual who was overreacting, Lt.Colonel Eisner reflected a deeper malaise which runs through the country's rulers, so that despite military strength they react with panic to a few hundred protesters.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Disabled hit back

LISTENING to a TV studio discussion on incapacity benefits the other evening I noticed that neither the government spokesperson nor anyone else was mentioning the fiction of recent years about "helping people back into work".

All we got was that old refrain about making sure the money reaches those who most need it, by which they really mean the bankers, the ministers with business interests on the side, and companies like Atos, the French computer firm which has a lucrative contract interviewing people and assessing their supposed fitness to be at work.

Not that the government can guarantee there is going to be any actual paid work. In fact, following on Cameron's promise in January to "kill the Health and Safety culture", it is slashing HSE inspections and staff so both adding to the unemployed and guaranteeing more dead or disabled. With firms being encouraged to take on people who are expected to work for their benefits, or Workfare, why would they bother hiring anyone, let alone disabled people who may need special arrangements?

As for the many disabled people who do often skilled work in places like Remploy, it was aanounced on March 7 that all 54 Remploy factories are to close. Maria Miller, the minister responsible said 36 could be closed by the end of the year, with the rest expected to follow.

The government claims that Remploy factories are inefficient, which is odd considering they were trusted with such work as special clothing for the armed forces and emergency services, and that more recently £1.8 million was handed out by the government in bonuses to Remploy bosses, presumably for their help in running down the company.

The closures will mean a potential 1,752 compulsory redundancies. Maria Miller claims there are better ways to assist the disabled, but with six people already chasing every job in this country, Remploy workers faced with losing theirs don't see it that way. Of those made redundant in previous closures in 2007 only 6 per cent found alternative employment.

Interviewed by the BBC after the minister's announccment last month, Les Woodward, 58, a wood machinist at the Remploy factory in Swansea, and a Remploy national convener, described the decision as "absolutely devastating".

"Angry is too small a word," he said.

"It's all part of the government cuts agenda.

"It's got nothing to do with looking after disabled people, there's no rhyme or reason to it.

"There are 54 Remploy factories employing 2,000 disabled people.

"All that is going to come out of this is that 2,000 disabled people are going to be added to the unemployment figures".

At a meeting of the Southern and Eastern Region TUC in London at the weekend, disabled delegates struggled to the mike but had a harder struggle to contain their anger with this government.

They called for support for a demonstration this Friday at midday, to save Remploy.
This will assemble at noon outside the Department of Work and Pensions in Tothill Street, SW1H 9HA,(nr. St.James Park tube or Westminster) and march to Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1P 3JY, for a rally with speakers.

It is supported by the GMB and Unite trade unions.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Israel frightened of peaceful "invaders"!

WELCOME committee greets those who made it at Ben Gurion airport.
Security and plain-clothes police soon moved in and made arrests.

SRAELI airport security and police arrested people who had come to welcome visitors heading for Occupied Palestine territory yesterday, and visitors whom the Israeli government does not want were held and prevented from entering the country.

For the second year running solidarity activists were demonstrating the way Israel controls access to Palestine as surely as it interferes with shipping to Gaza. This time they also exposed international collusion with the occupation, and Israel's extension of its "security" requirements to other countries, as many people were prevented from even boarding planes today for flights which that they had booked.

In Palestine itself, on Saturday, Israeli forces broke up a cycle tour in the Jordan Valley, assaulting the cyclists and arresting a number of them. The soldiers stopped the 250 participants at road number 60 in the West Bank village of al-Ouja and refused to allow them to start the bicycle tour, which would have taken them on a 25 kilometer tour of the Jordan Valley.

When the participants in the event sponsored by the youth group, Sharek, with the participation of water officials from the Water and Environmental Development Center of Al-Ouja Environmental Center, refused to obey orders not to cycle along the highway, the soldiers used force to disperse them. A number of the participants were injured and taken to hospital in Jericho while others were arrested, including international participants.

The tour was then canceled without the participants being able to complete their environment awareness tour in the Jordan Valley and Jericho area. The event was intended to also draw attention to the water problems facing the Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley, which is gradually being taken over by Israeli settlers.

Early on Sunday morning Swiss police prevented about a hundred Swiss and French pro-Palestinian activists flying to Tel Aviv from Basel, Geneva and Zurich. Their names were on a blacklist maintained by Israel. A spokesman for Geneva's cantonal police told the Swiss News Agency that 28 passengers with easyJet tickets were unable to board the plane to Tel Aviv as they had no entry permits for Israel.

The rejected passengers held a peaceful sit-in protest at the airline counter; police questioned one individual, but did not arrest him. According to “Welcome to Palestine” spokesman Anas Muhamed, 20 activists proceeded to Tel Aviv as planned.

A spokeswoman for Basel airport said that 21 people were prevented from boarding their plane, but that the small protest was without incident. Passengers were also turned away in Zurich; most were informed beforehand. A Swiss International Air Lines spokeswoman declined to say how many people were affected.

On Sunday, some 20 flights from Europe were scheduled to carry hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to Israel. As Israeli national radio reported, about 650 police officers were waiting at Ben Gurion airport.

Four French women who flew to Tel Aviv from Switzerland on Sunday were arrested upon arrival. The Israeli authorities have said that they will be deported along with five other activists who landed there without permission.

"The information we have obtained from activists is that there is a high presence of police there and the police are trying to prevent them from boarding," Anas Mohammed, a campaign spokesman, said."Besides that there has been the confiscation of a passport of one of the activists."

The Swiss and French activists had bought their tickets in advance and were due to fly on a 6:30am local time (04:30 GMT) flight to Tel Aviv, Mohammed said. "They are going to visit Palestinians who are under occupation, they are going to visit the West Bank."

At least 120 pro-Palestinian activists protested at Brussels airport on Sunday after a number of them were barred from flying to Tel Aviv. Three people were under "administrative arrest" for disturbing the peace after between 120 and 150 people protested, Kaatje Natens, a federal police spokeswoman, said. Activists said at least 60 Belgian and 40 French citizens taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" campaign were unable to fly despite holding airlines tickets.

Around 80 of them had made reservations with Brussels Airlines while the rest were supposed to travel with Lufthansa and Swiss Air, said Jan Dreezen of Palestine Solidarity, according to Belga news agency. "We demanded that these people be able to travel but they were obviously not authorised. Israel has clearly put pressure on these airlines and the Belgian government has regrettably cooperated in this intimidation," Dreezen said.

Brussels Airlines spokeswoman Wencke Lemmes-Pireaux confirmed that a number of passengers were forbidden from flying at the request of Israeli authorities but she said it was against company policy to say how many. "Several airlines have received from Israeli authorities a list of people who are not allowed to go to Israel," Lemmes-Pireaux said. "We are forced to follow the law so we could not take them aboard."

The British airline and the French carrier Air France said on Saturday they were cancelling seats on flights to Tel Aviv. The Guardian reported that had contacted three women passengers late on Friday to inform them that their seats had been cancelled on a flight to Tel Aviv scheduled to leave Manchester, at 09:00 GMT on Sunday. the airline said tickets were not refundable.

From Manchester today a local campaigner said an Israeli checkpoint inside Manchester airport had stopped three travellers, ripped up their boarding passes, and turned them away. Pro-Palestinian campaigners including trades unionists from Manchester Mental Health UNISON Branch who were there with their banners were "outraged". They may take up the issue with Manchester Labour councillors, one of whom chairs the airport authority.

Israeli police said early today that hundreds of officers were deployed at Israel's main airport to detain activists flying in. "Four activists have been detained after arriving on an El Al flight from Paris and are being questioned at the airport," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the Immigration Authority had on Wednesday given airlines the names of some 1,200 activists whose entrance to Israel would be barred.

It was reported later that Israeli police had arrested 40 pro-Palestinian activists from the “Welcome to Palestine 2012” campaign at Ben Gurion Airport. Some 33 French nationals, two Spanish activists, two Italians, one Swiss, one Canadian and one Portuguese were arrested.

What is striking about all these people being banned is that unlike those intercepted with the flotilla to Gaza, there is not even a pretence that any might be carrying weapons or other goods likely to endanger the Israeli state. They are simply persona non grata because of their political sympathies.

One woman entering Israel from Egypt was asked to sign a form undertaking not to engage in any pro-Palestinian campaigning. The Netanyahu government issued a letter suggesting those coming would be better engaged in protesting repression in Syria or the Hamas regime in Gaza. That is very kind of the Israeli occupier, ignoring such facts as Western governments imposing sanctions on Syria and Iran whereas Israel only has to face an amateur boycott.

It is also ignoring the point which the protesters are making, that Israel "the only democracy in the Middle East" is ruling over another people who have no place in that democracy, and exercising control over who can enter or leave - or even move between one place and another within the occupied territory - just like any jailor.

Crying like any delinquent that you should pick on someone else whose crime is allegedly worse is hardly a dignified posture for any government. Nor are people who have followed events likely to be impressed by the pretence that poor little Israel is victim of unprovoked aggression from Gaza, where Hamas has tried to maintain a ceasefire and indicated its willingness to endorse peace talks.

But the panicky reaction of Israeli authorities to this peaceful "invasion", of people who simply want to visit next door, following on the reaction to an octagenarian poet, is making an undignified spectacle of Israel abroad, and causing thinking Israelis to question whether their government is fit to rule.

It might be too much to for EU nationals to ask our MPs and governments by what right Israel maintains blacklists of citizens whom it will bar from entering Palestinian territory which it does not own. But if it is true that airline tickets can not be refunded we must surely demand that the lists be made public and airlines consider if they should serve Tel Aviv.

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