Friday, November 29, 2013

No Olive Branch for Palestine?

ABOUT 300 people from different parts of Britain came to Westminster on Wednesday to lobby their MPs about Palestine and the Palestinians. They came to raise awareness about issues like Israel's Prawer plan for displacing Negev Bedouin, about ethnic cleansing and house demolitions, and about settlement goods still coming into the European Union.

For those MPs who are already sympathetic to the Palestinians and their rights such lobbying by constituents can be encouraging, and let them know they are appreciated. For others - well it varies. A few years ago I was gratified by the way an MP whose affiliations are far from my own appeared ready to listen, even nodding his head in apparent agreement with some of the points I made. As he suggested I followed up my visit with a memo in writing, and some literature. Over the following months I saw little sign that he had altered his views or adopted any of the points I made in the slightest.

In contrast, some friends I joined the following year to lobby their MP found him pleasantly surprised to see so many of them concerned as they were, and they in turn were pleased a few months later to see this previously "pro-Israel"  Labour MP speaking out against the Occupation. Perhaps he had just needed their bit of encouragement.

I don't suppose many of Wednesday's lobbyists were expecting lightning conversions. But all the same, after finding MPs doubtless amiable enough, and feeling you've got them listening to reason, it is upsetting to see the latest example of Britain's contribution to peace efforts.

You and I might think that assisting Palestinians to develop their agriculture and economy, and obtain international recognition, is a good way to raise their confidence in a peaceful solution, and show that your motives in proposing a "Two state" policy are genuine. That's to say the least questionable when we're talking about the Israeli government, but what about the governments claiming to speak for us in Britain - or in Germany?
Here's Amira Hass reporting in Ha'Aretz:

Germany and Britain block Palestinian bid to join international olive trade group

    European diplomatic sources claim that letting Palestinians join the council could sabotage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
    by Amira Hass; Nov. 29, 2013

    The Palestinians have had to freeze their application to become a member state of the International Olive Council due to opposition by Germany and Britain.

    According to European diplomatic sources, German and British representatives claimed that letting the Palestinians join the council could sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks now taking place under American auspices. The talks’ resumption was conditioned on Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to try to join various UN organizations, and not address the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

    The Palestinian application, which was prepared this summer by the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry in Ramallah in the name of the State of Palestine, was supposed to be voted on at an olive council meeting in Madrid this week.

    Representatives of the European External Action Service argued that the council is purely a technical organization, and therefore does not fall in the category of the organizations that the Palestinians promised not to join. Moreover, they argued, membership would give the Palestinians access to technical assistance in an industry vital to their economy. But this view didn’t sway Britain and Germany, both of which opposed the application.

    The European Union’s member states are represented on the olive council by a single joint delegation, so if these states are unable to reach a consensus on a given issue, the rule is that the EU delegation must abstain from voting.

    Therefore, despite the External Action Service’s support for their bid, the Palestinians realized that the European Union’s vote wouldn’t be cast in their favor, and preferred not to suffer a diplomatic failure. Instead, they decided to postpone their application to a more opportune moment, Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

    A German Foreign Ministry official said in a statement: “The vote in this decision has not yet taken place and will be taken by the EU, not Germany. The German position related to questions on Palestinian statehood is well known.” No British response was forthcoming.

    The Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem said: “The membership to the IOC is in line with Palestinian institution-building efforts which the EU continues to support and has worked on for years. In that context, the EU looks favorably at improving Palestinian technical capacity in the olive oil sector.”

    Last October, the PA Foreign Ministry urged the International Olive Council to take urgent action to protect olive trees in the West Bank from settler attacks. It also urged the international community, and particularly members of the Quartet (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia), to condemn these attacks.

    According to data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, almost 10,000 Palestinian olive trees and saplings in the West Bank have been uprooted or damaged in direct attacks by Israelis since the start of 2013, up from about 8,500 in 2012.

    Asked about this issue, the Office of the European Union Representative in East Jerusalem told Haaretz: “The EU has condemned continuous settler violence towards Palestinian farmers and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It constantly calls on the Israeli authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.”

I've supplied that emphasis. Anyone who has been to Palestine knows the importance of the olive trees to villages, and anyone who follows the news can imagine the heartache for Palestinian farmers of seeing centuries of care and toil uprooted by army bulldozers or set ablaze by vandal settlers.

And now we see the EU, and particularly the British and German governments, taking sides with the those wreaking destruction, and  so that peace talks getting nowhere can proceed. They would make a desert, and call it "peace".

If they are that worried about anything that might derail peace talks, they might consider another item of news:

Israel approves 829 new settlement units near Jerusalem

Allison Deger on November 25, 2013 15

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Netanyahu announced then quickly cancelled an order to build 20,000 new settlement units. He had angered American officials, pressed their limits, and then tabled Israeli expansion into the West Bank when it seemed the negotiations process was on the line. But today Peace Now announced Netanyahu is moving forward with the settlement project, approving over 800 new units north of Jerusalem in the neighborhoods of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit, Nokdim and Amihai.

From the AFP:

    ‘The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,’ said Lior Amihai, a Peace Now official.

    ‘This is yet another move that threatens to derail the peace process,’ Amihai told AFP.

    Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has warned that ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of Middle East peace talks, which stand at an impasse little more than three months after they began.

    The new homes would be built north of Jerusalem in the settlements of Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim, Amihai said.

The new homes are not just being plonked down anywhere in the West Bank, nor on sites chosen for their view. Nor is it a matter of meeting demand for housing, for people will have to be found to fill them, and given incentives to move. The plan approved by the military is to reinforce a barrier being built between the present Palestinian Authority centre at Ramallah, and the rightful capital in East Jerusalem. It also helps divide the Palestinian West Bank into two.

      Ari Shavit said it was a ploy to a end to a two-state solution. “The trend is clear: Within a short time the number of settlers will increase dramatically, as will their ability to block any attempt to divide the land. If it continues this way, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government will put an end to the two-state solution, the Jewish democratic entity, and the Zionist dream,” the author of My Promised Land wrote in Haaretz.

That depends what "dream" you mean. As a warning Shavit's lament is already obsolete. So far as the right-wing settlers' leaders are concerned, the idea of sharing the country with anyone as equals, in whatever form or arrangement of states, is out, and democracy can be dispensed with too. They have little respect for Israeli citizens who will not join them , let alone Palestinians. They are building up their base of influence in the state, and talking to Washington hawks. It's not hard to see where they get their confidence.

There'll need to be some vigorous lobbying and campaigning to change the direction of Western help.  

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Resisting the Rise of Modi

WHILE Modi's friends in West like his dedication to business, BJP posters in Mumbai show the other side.

COMMUNIST PARTY of India (Marxist) General Secretary General Secretary Prakash Karat has warned that inter-communal violence in different parts of India is a part of an orchestrated campaign to create communal polarisation to help the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the coming elections.

Opening his party's conference at Palakkad,  in Kerala, southern India, Karat criticised the policies of both the ruling UPA and BJP as having nothing to offer people beyond rising prices and unemployment, and said that only the CPI (M) and Left democratic parties could bring a change by rallying the secular forces and creating alternative policies.

In selecting Narendra Modi as its choice for Prime Minister, the BJP has picked the man who most people know at Chief Minister of Gujarat, western India, where 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 in supposed "riots" that were more like organised pogroms. Police were ordered not to interfere with the violence, and though Modi and his supporters have denied responsibility, he is on record comparing the deaths to running over a "puppy" in your car.

There was a reminder of the link between the BJP and communal violence this year, in another state, Uttar Pradesh.  As an All India News report tells us:
 Three men accused of inciting deadly riots in Uttar Pradesh were treated as guests of honour today at election rallies in the western part of the state, where nearly 60 people were killed in communal violence in Muzaffarnagar three months ago.

BJP legislators Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana were garlanded by the party's state leaders at Narendra Modi's rally in Agra. Both men spent over a month in jail for instigating that Hindu-Muslim violence.

They were removed from the stage before Mr Modi arrived, an attempt by the party to allow its main man some distance from the controversial legislators.

Referring to the hardline Hindu supremacist RSS movement from which Modi came, CPI(M) leader
Karat told his party members "The BJP and RSS have decided to promote hardcore communal agenda by projecting Modi as prime ministerial candidate,"

He said that the UPA government is associated with high price rise, unemployment and massive corruption while the BJP is trying to project itself as the change in the next Lok Sabha elections but in effect the policies of both are same.

Karat said, "Narendra Modi is projected as BJP's prime ministerial candidate. He is one political leader who has the support of the all the big corporate and business house. The BJP and RSS have decided to promote hardcore communal agenda by projecting Modi as prime ministerial candidate."

He added that the credibility of the Congress is fast eroding among the people and only the CPI (M) or other Left democratic forces have the credibility and the confidence of the people.

While inciting inter-communal hatreds to divert discontents in India, the BJP is still looking to business interests there and in the West for backing. A petition from Modi supporters is trying to get the United States to lift its visa ban on the man from Gujarat, while Time magazine is considering featuring him as its "Person of  the Year". Some have unkindly recalled that in 1938 Time's  Man of the Year was one Adolf Hitler.  

Still, Modi has also been praised for his economic policies by none other than Goldman, Sachs.

In Britain, David Cameron says he is willing to meet Narendra Modi as a potential prime minister of India. But the running for Modi fan club member number one has been made by Labour MP Barry Gardiner(Brent North), who wanted to bring Modi over to address parliament this year.

This led to an angry demonstration outside Brent Civic Centre when Gardiner held his surgery there this Autumn, and at the weekend the annual conference of the left-wing Labour Representation Committee adopted the following resolution: 

This conference of the Labour Representation Committee condemns attempts to bring the right-wing Indian politician Narendra Modi to Britain, and urges the Labour Party and the Labour Friends of India to dissociate themselves from the Labour MP Barry Gardiner (Brent North) who has invited Modi to address parliament.

Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is held responsible for the organised pogroms in that state in 2002, when as many as 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed. A veteran'of the RSS movement inspired by Hitler, the BJP leader is campaigning as a 'Hindu nationalist' to become India's next prime minister. Already his supporters have been linked with communal violence in other parts of India, and attacks on socialists.

Yet because of his encouragement of Western investment in Gujarat, Modi hopes to be rehabilitated by Western governments. He recently had meetings with the British High Commissioner in Ahmedabad, promising advantages for British companies. Modi's past visits to Britain were used to raise funds here and his prestige back home. A visit now would fit his election campaign.

It is regrettable, to say the least, that his invitation came from a Labour MP, and it can only discredit the Labour Party. Narendra Modi is opposed by socialists in India, notably trade unionists in the state of Gujarat. His visit to this country is opposed by British Asians of all backgrounds, and by several Labour MPs. The LRC must add its voice to the opposition.

 Workers movement and Left in India should get our support.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Now is time to press for a nuke-free Middle East

MORDECHAI VANUNU and (right) Plutonium reactor at Dimona. Whistleblower who wants to free region of nuclear threat.  

PRESIDENT Obama has urged Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to try and wreck the agreement which the United States and other powers have reached with Iran, to ease off on sanctions providing the Iranians limit their nuclear development so it does not approach weapon-making capability.

So far the only governmental opposition to the agreement has come from Netanyahu, who is still threatening war with Iran, claiming the Iranians want to "destroy Israel"; and from the Saudi rulers who are already supporting a proxy war against Iran's sole ally Syria, and who don't want to see Iran's economy recover or restoration of its oil trading position.

The suicide bombs outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut last week, killing 23 people and injuring 167, are assumed to have been the work of a group linked with the Saudis. That the bombs killed passers-by in a mainly Shi'ite neighbourhood (or as BBC calls it "Hizbollah stronghold") is unlikely to have troubled forces that have carried out bombings against the Shi'ite communities in Iraq and Lebanon and murdered numerous civilians in Syria for being non-believers or the wrong sort of Muslim. (Hence the description "Takfiri" for jihadi fanatics who treat other Muslims as "kefir", heathen, and therefore legitimate targets).

Despite the provocations, it was announced at the weekend that peace talks between the Assad regime and its Syrian opponents will begin on January 22 in Geneva. Both the United States and Russia are reportedly backing these talks, aimed at producing an interim government, which could be seen as bad news for the Saudis, and the ally they keep denying, the government of Israel.
 Meanwhile in Iran, news of the agreement reached over nuclear development and relaxed sanctions seems to have been greeted with relief by most people.
With fuel and food prices climbing again in the past month, the news is a much­ needed breath of fresh air for a population stifled with polluted air, medicine shortages, currency devaluation, unemployment, and a host of other sanctions­-related realities that have broadly impacted daily life. As it reaps the political benefits of its success in the international negotiations, the administration of President Hassan Rouhani can thus return its attention to the country's immediate economic problems.
In return for significant Iranian concessions on its nuclear enrichment programme, the interim agreement signed in Geneva on 24 November provides Iran with up to $7bn in sanctions relief over the course of the next six months. The relaxations also include a suspension of sanctions on precious metal trade as well as the shipping and auto industries, and notably lift the European Union's ban on insuring ships carrying Iranian oil.
Some comments by Iranian experts overseas contained a hint of another angle:
 "The relief itself is modest and its expected duration uncertain, but it gives the Iranian government time to improve the management of the economy, stabilize the foreign exchange market, and regain the trust of the private sector in government ability to deliver in their promises of a greater involvement of the private sector in economic activities," says Hashem Pesaran, professor of economics at Cambridge University. 

Interestingly, the stock markets rallied at the news of an agreement both in Tehran and Tel Aviv, despite Netanyahu's war posturing. While Netanyahu's mouthpieces in the United States, the AIPAC lobbyists and following were screaming that Israel had been betrayed ("Munich", said the injudicious Harvard lawyer Dershowitz),and Senator John Bolton was howling for his war, Israel's own military and security experts seemed to be agreed that, actually, what has happened was not a bad deal.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has cautioned Netanyahu against launching an attack that would scupper the deal:
 As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly announces Israel is not bound to nuclear deal signed between world powers and Iran in Geneva, the West now cautions Netanyahu of carrying out an operation that would challenge the deal he dubbed "a historic mistake".

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday that Israel should avoid taking any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers.

Urging world leaders to give the interim deal a chance, Hague said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the agreement. But he urged Israel and others to confine their criticism to rhetoric.

"We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned," Hague told parliament.

Hague, who gave an update on the nuclear talks in Geneva, added he had not seen any signs that any country opposed to the agreement would try to disrupt it "in any practical way", but said Britain would be "on its guard".
The British top diplomat said however that he understood why Israel and Saudi Arabia are concerned with the deal. "They do all have very legitimate concerns about Iran's nuclear program and it's not surprising that people will be skeptical about any agreement. After all, Iran also has a history of not revealing the truth about its nuclear program to the rest of the world.",7340,L-4457902,00.html

That last sentence leads me to an important point. As Hague well knows, the one country in the Middle East which is known to be a nuclear power is Israel, which certainly has a history of not revealing the truth about its nuclear program to the rest of the world.

The late David Ben Gurion lied about it to the Knesset, and nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, 11 of them in solitary, for blowing the whistle about Israeli development and manufacture of nuclear weapons. In recent years Vanunu has twice been returned to the cell for having broken his parole by talking to foreigners.

Nevertheless, Vanunu has continued to raise his voice as best he could, both against Israel's forcible rule over the Palestinians and its nuclear madness. He has said that as a step towards making the world safe, such a volatile region as the Middle East should be free of nuclear weapons.

Surely now that Iran has agreed to dispel any suspicion that it intended producing nuclear weapons, and Syria has handed its chemical weapons over, it would be an especially good time to convince the Iranians they have done the right thing, and confirm the cleaning of the Middle East; by blocking any threat by the Saudis to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan, and demanding that Israel dismantle its nuclear capacity under international supervision too?. Now is the time to press for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East!

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Let Dror Feiler See his Mother!

DROR the mariner. Ex-para and musician whom Israeli government won't let back.

TWO years ago film director Mike Leigh decided to cancel his participation in a film school in Jerusalem, because of the Israeli state's treatment of the Palestinians, and more especially the government's moves to impose a loyalty oath on Israeli citizens. It cannot have been an easy decision to take. Mike grew up in Habonim, the Labour Zionist youth movement, and has many old friends, and indeed relatives, in Israel.

He bore no animosity to the organisers of the film event, whose invitation he had initially accepted, but what weighed in his mind was concern that his presence, so soon after the Gaza war, would be used and claimed as support for the Israeli government.

This thought-out decision was blown up differently on the front-page of the unsympathetic Jewish Chronicle:  

Zionism? To hell with all that, says film director

Mike Leigh's distaste for Israel is so bad he won’t even visit his 90-year-old aunt.

  I was reminded of the Zionist paper's horror at men failing in their familial obligation to visit elderly relatives when I heard about Dror Feiler's treatment by the Israeli authorities. Israeli-born Dror lives in Stockholm nowadays, but he would dearly love to meet again with his 90 year old mother in Israel.  Only the Israeli government says "No". They have an order forbidding Dror from entering the country. I am sure the Jewish Chronicle and other upstanding members of the community, including rabbis mindful of the Fifth Commandment, will have something to say about this.

I first met Dror some years back when we were both attending the founding conference of European Jews for Just Peace, in Amsterdam. I learned that Dror was born on Kibbutz Yad Hanna, in Israel, an unusual community in that its political affinity was with the Communist Party, in which his father Eliezer was active. Dror's mother Pnina was a founder of the kibbutz. 

Called up to military service, Dror complied as is common communist practice, and as was something of a kibbutz tradition, became part of an elite unit, a paratrooper. But in 1970 he was one of those who started their own tradition, by refusing to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli government could learn, albeit reluctantly, to handle pacifist "conscientious objectors", and after all it granted exemption for yeshiva students who are rarely pacifists, but it is another matter when soldiers or youngsters facing conscription announce where, and why, their consciences will not permit them to serve.

In 1973, Dror Feiler went to live in Sweden, and  renounced his Israeli citizenship, as it was a condition for gaining Swedish nationality. He studied music, becoming a musician and composer, and also an artist, as well as marrying Swedish artist Gunilla Sköld Feiler. In 2004 their artwork Snow White and the Madness of Truth made news when it was vandalised by then Israeli ambassador to Sweden Zvi Mazel, who claimed it glorified Palestinian suicide bombers, and was not interested in their explanation. The work included a pool of blood-coloured water and a portrait of Hanadi_Jaradat, who blew herself up with 21 people in an attack on Maxim's restaurant in Haifa.

Less sensationally, and more straightforwardly, Dror spoke and wrote about Israel and Palestine, and chaired the Swedish organization Jews for Israeli–Palestinian Peace (JIPF) and the European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP).

Turning from words to deeds, he was aboard the flotilla which included the Mavi Marmara, trying to take aid to Gaza, when it was boarded by Israeli naval commandos on May 31, 2010. He suffered some minor facial injuries at the hands of his captors, who were far from pleased to find that one of the dangerous prisoners they had taken was a former IDF comrade-in-arms!  In 2011, Feiler was involved in the Freedom Flotilla II, and was among the 15 activists arrested by Israeli authorities aboard the boat Dignité.

Taken into Israeli custody - and relieved of his mobile phone and other items - Dror was accused of attempting to illegally enter Israel - absurdly, when as he pointed out he had been taken into an Israeli port against his will,  Subsequently deported from Israel, Dror was glad to return to Sweden. But the Israeli authorities had not finished with him. They imposed a ten-year ban on him entering Israel.

Dror's mother Pnina, a nurse, is still alive. In fact at the age of 90, a member of Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, Pnina Feiler still travels to work as a volunteer with mobile health clinics working in Palestinian villages in parts of the West Bank where people have to travel far to get access to health-care and other services.

STILL CARING FOR OTHERS - 90 year old nurse Pnina Feiler

Dror Feiler is naturally very proud of his mother.  Wouldn't you be?

He would also like to see her.

There is an international petition asking Israel to show some decency for once, and let Dror Feiler in.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nearly 40 years after Birmingham bombings, families still kept from finding out truth

 I was in Birmingham yesterday, and as I hastened from a crowed city centre pub through busy early evening streets to New Street station, my mind briefly went to that other November evening almost forty years ago when bombs ripped through two other pubs nearby, blasting people, glass and rubble about in bloody shambles.

It was on November 21, 1974.
At 20:11 a man with an Irish accent telephoned the Birmingham Post newspaper and said: "There is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb in New Street at the tax office".[8] A telephoned warning was also sent to the Evening Mail newspaper.[9] The Rotunda was a 25-storey office block that housed the "Mulberry Bush" pub on its lower two floors.[10] The police started to check the upper floors of the Rotunda but failed to clear the crowded pub at street level. Six minutes after the warning, at 20:17, the bomb exploded inside a duffel bag, devastating the pub.[8] Ten people were killed in this explosion and dozens injured, including one woman who was so badly wounded she was given the last rites administered by the Catholic Church to those on the point of death.
Police were attempting to clear the nearby "Tavern in the Town" basement pub on New Street below King Edward House, when at 20:27 a second bomb exploded there, killing another 11 people and leaving many with appalling injuries. The bodies of the dead and injured were strewn about the ruined pub.[3] A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast.[11] The explosion was so powerful that several victims were blown through a brick wall into an area just below the main front entrance to King Edward House. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables; it took hours for firemen to remove them.[12] The two pubs were about 50 yards (46 m) apart.[3] Buildings near the pubs were damaged and passersby in the street were struck by flying glass from shattered shop windows.
A third device, an "Eversoft Frangex" bomb,[13] was placed outside a branch of Barclays Bank on Hagley Road but failed to detonate.[14]
Altogether, 21 people were killed and 182 people were injured. Most of the dead and wounded were young people between the ages of 17 and 25, including two brothers, Desmond and Eugene Reilly. One of the victims, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, had not been a customer. She had just gone into the "Tavern in the Town" to hand out tickets to friends for a party. She was killed seconds after entering the pub and had been standing beside the bag containing the bomb when it exploded. Her friend Jane Davis, aged 17, was the youngest victim of the two bombings
It was immediately assumed by the authorities and media that this was the work of the Provisional IRA, although neither they nor Sinn Fein have ever claimed or admitted responsibility. Six Irish men who had been living in the Birmingham area were arrested that night on their way to the Belfast ferry and the following year sentenced to life imprisonment. It took 16 years of campaigning and protests before their sentences were quashed, and the "Birmingham Six" were released as innocent.

More immediately after the bombing there was a wave of revulsion and hatred against Irish people in the West Midlands and around the country, and within two days the government was able to bring in the Prevention of Terrorism Act which it had been preparing. This has not prevented terrorism but it did enable police harassment and persecution of Irish people in particular, and has become permanent legislation that can be put to other use.

By sheer coincidence, while I was returning from Birmingham, a friend was posting an item on Facebook. Thirty-nine years after the Birmingham bombings relatives of victims have sought an inquiry, and are trying to get at the truth themselves, without much help it seems.

That was from last year, and since then though David Cameron appeared to agree there should be an investigation, the government doesn't seem to have moved.  Birmingham campaigners have continued their efforts to get attention. They protested when Martin McGuiness was speaking, sought a meeting with Gerry Adams at a London conference, and went to Warrington to meet Paddy Hill, one of the "Birmingham Six", who deplored the bombings, and told them that while under interrogation he had given three names to police of people he thought were involved.

West Midlands police have reportedly re-opened their investigations, something they previously said could not be done without fresh evidence. But today comes news that shows things in another light.

Justice For The 21 (J421) campaigner Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was among those killed when the bombs devastated the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town in Birmingham city centre, contacted the police and CPS to ask for records about the case.

But she said that the West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) said that files are so top secret that they cannot be accessed.
he sought access to the full transcripts of the trial of the Birmingham Six at Lancaster Crown Court in 1975, which she had been told were in the MoJ’s possession.

“They said it was out of the boundaries of cost and that the files should be in the National Archive,” said the 50-year-old lecturer.

“Yet the National Archive had already told me they held some of the transcripts, and the rest were with the Government.

“It just gets murkier and messier.”

 Julie Hambleton had been meeting a Detective Chief Superintendant Kenny Bell, head of the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit.

“On the last two meetings with Mr Bell he told us we would need half a day to go through the whole of the 1993 investigation in detail,” she said.

“But, all of a sudden, he has told us that the file is top secret and cannot be accessed."

In the aftermath of the Birmingham bombings I was in the West Midlands, and involved in opposing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and I remember some people saying they did not believe the bombs were the work of the IRA.  They also told me that not only were the pubs bombed not obvious targets but both were popular with Irish people.

A biographer of Ruairi O Bradaigh, then Sinn Fein president, says the IRA  leadership and  supporters were "horrified" by the bombings. Ó Brádaigh "made inquiries and confirmed that the IRA leadership had not sanctioned the bombs". Others have said that low-ranking members of the IRA were involved but the bombings were a "mistake".  Sinn Féin called the bombings "wrong" and said that if "issues relating to the IRA concerning the Birmingham bombings are still to be addressed, then it is very clearly the Sinn Féin position that this should happen".

Some time ago I wrote about the women from Ballymurphy who were demanding an inquiry into the British Army shootings of people in their town.
Unlike the people of Derry, who obtained the truth, if not justice, for the Bloody Sunday murders, but like those of Ballymurphy, the Birmingham victims have yet to be awarded either.

And we might also bracket Birmingham with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which occurred in May 1974, killing 33 people and wounding hundreds. The Ulster Volunteer Force later claimed responsibility though many believe they were assisted by, if not acting as a cover for, the British Army.

However complicated the truth about these awful events, and whatever discomfort it brings to politicians, the relatives of those who died, and indeed the people of both these islands, are entitled to demand it. 

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Posse in pursuit of Brian Klug: It's the Thought Police!

 AMONG the signatories gathered for that Kristallnacht anniversary declaration,  warning against rising racism and scapegoating of minorities and immigrants, is Dr.Brian Klug. (above) Brian is senior  research fellow and tutor in philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford and member of the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University.  He has held posts in Australia and the United States, as well as being an honorary fellow of the Parkes Institute for study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations at the University of Southampton, and co-editor of the respected journal Patterns of Prejudice.  His books include Offence: The Jewish Case (2009) and Being Jewish and Doing Justice: Bringing Argument to Life. (2011).

This week Brian Klug was the guest of the Jewish Museum of Berlin, speaking at a conference they hosted on Antisemitism. The event was timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. So it should please anyone concerned lest the lessons of history were not being learned or that antisemitism was not being treated seriously, along with other forms of racialism.

Instead the invitation to Brian Klug has aroused a furore from a pack of Israeli and American academics and "experts" assembled like yapping hounds by the Zionist huntmaster and unleashed in the pages of Israeli English-language media.

Is Brian Klug Doing Justice? International Scholars criticize an event at the Jewish Museum Berlin, Nov 8/9, 2013
 (Times of Israel)

 "Inclusion of anti-Israel speaker at Berlin conference on ways to tackle anti-Semitism sparks uproar",(Jerusalem Post).

Jewish Museum to host British professor who wrote that Zionism does not allow for a normal life. Dr. Brian Klug.

By Benjamin Weinthal, JPost
November 06, 2013

BERLIN – The Jewish Museum – and a British professor accused of rejecting Zionism – faced withering criticism for their role in a slated event to mark the 75th remembrance of Kristallnacht later this week.

A who’s who of academic and human rights critics on Tuesday blasted Berlin’s Jewish Museum for hosting a conference with Oxford philosophy professor Brian Klug because he contends that Zionism, the founding philosophy of Israel, “prevents Jews from having a normal conception of their own life.”

Klug is the keynote speaker at a two-day conference scheduled for Friday and Saturday titled “Anti-Semitism in Europe Today: the Phenomena, the Conflicts.” The second day of the conference will mark 75 years since the pogrom referred to as “Kristallnacht,” in which the Nazis and ordinary Germans burned synagogues, murdered Jews and sent German Jews to concentration camps.

Note that expression in the JPost headline "anti-Israel speaker".  Brian Klug was not invited to Berlin to speak about Israel, for or against, and nor does he dedicate his time, as a serious academic, to going around making propaganda speeches about the Zionist state. But in the way of thinking that guides headlines like these the world is divided into 100 per cent pro or anti Israel camps, and anyone, especially any Jewish person, who dares to differ or dissociate their self from anything Israel does is with "the enemy".  

The headline and the witch-hunt proclaimed against Brian Klug might put you in mind of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy, or the Daily Mail's
recent diatribes against Ed Miliband's left-wing academic father Ralph as the "Man who hated Britain".

Brian Klug is one of the editors of A Time to Speak Out, Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity, published by Verso in 2008.  He attended a counter-demonstration the following year to the Board of Deputies' rally proclaiming British Jews identification with Israel in its war on Gaza.

And that's far from all.

According to the "dossier" of charges drawn up against Dr.Klug,
"He denies that there is a new antisemitism and he affirms anti-Israel positions. He rejects Israel’s right to exist and collaborates with German anti-Israel agitators and activists (like participants on the Mavi Marmara). For Klug, antisemitism does not exist in our mainstream world. For him, antisemitism only exists in marginal neo-Nazi groups or among people who promote obvious antisemitic conspiracy myths. Brian Klug is particularly eager to use his “Jewishness” to fight the Jewish state of Israel".

German political scientist Dr. Clemens Heni told The Jerusalem Post, “Brian Klug is a bad choice as a keynote speaker at a conference on anti-Semitism because he denies that there is a new anti-Semitism. In his view this is a ‘myth,’ as he wrote in [New York-based magazine] The Nation.”*

Brian Klug has challenged the distortion of his views, and offered to send his critics a transcript of his talk at the Berlin museum.

Brian Klug has never belittled nor apologised for antisemitism. What he has disputed is the notion that the old antisemitism associated with the far right has been replaced by a supposed "new antisemitism" that expresses itself in, and explains, opposition to Israel, and is becoming a real frightening threat to Jews. In his essay  The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism published in 2004, he acknowledges that condemnation of the Israeli state can sometimes stray into hostility towards Jews, and that supposed attacks on "Zionists" have sometimes been a cover, or coded signal, for attacks on Jews. (he recalls the campaign against "Zionism" in Poland in 1957).

But Brian rejects the idea that Zionism was simply the movement for "self-determination" of an existing nation, the Jews, and points out that historically the movement to settle Jews in Palestine was seen by many Jews as jeapordising their rights in the countries where they lived, and not without reason. Balfour, of the famous declaration for a Jewish "national home", had previously brought in the Aliens Act restricting Jews fleeing Czarist tyranny from coming into Britain.

As for the Arabs, their frequent evocation of the Crusader kingdoms indicated that their opposition was to a European state being established in their midst and displacing Palestinians, and did not hinge on the new state being Jewish.

Turning to the creation of the State of Israel, in 1948, Brian pointed out that many Jews, and non-Jewish governments too, had supported it not from a conversion to Zionist ideology, but in the feeling after the Holocaust that Jews were entitled to a safe haven, which they could freely enter, and be free of persecution. If today it was not the safest place for Jews, one did not have to be an "antisemite", he argued, to envisage its future peace and security coming with ceasing to be an exclusively Jewish state, or forming part of a binational Arab and Jewish federal state.

Whereas blurring the distinction between Jews and the State of Israel, and confusing the issues of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, was neither good for the peace of Israel nor the fight against antisemitism, he concluded.  

This kind of argument will in no way satisfy the Thought Police  who are not interested in discussing what Brian Klug has to say but just want to shut him up, and stop anyone else from listening to him.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a historian and Islamic studies professor from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said that the “participation of Brian Klug in a conference on anti-Semitism” is highly problematic.  But Dr. Kedar, who before donning his academic robes served 25 years in the khaki of the Israeli military, as an Intelligence officer specialising in Islamic groups and Arabic media, also thinks the idea of Arab-Israeli peace is problematic.

Citing the supposed place of Jews in Islam, and the way Mohammed made a temporary peace with the city of Mecca before his army was large enough to take it, and slaughter or convert the inhabitants. This was the sort of peace with non-believers sanctioned by the Koran, he said, quoted by Rabbi Aharon Raskin. ‘The implication is clear,’ concluded the rabbi. ‘Israel’s continuing a farce of a treacherous peace can never work… Someone asked the real question later in the day: If this is the sort of peace that Muslims have in mind, how can it be that Israel continues to make treaties and give away land?’

Another of those joining the fray, Efraim Karsh,  professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London, said it was outrageous that a German-Jewish institution would provide a platform for a voice that “demonizes Israel” on the 75-year remembrance of Kristallnacht.

Karsh's objectivity may be judged from a 2011 op ed he wrote in Haaretz, articulating his belief that “the tragedy befalling the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 was exclusively of their own making”.’ He has attacked those Israeli historians who take a different view, and in turn been attacked by Israeli historians for the quality of his history. Howard Sachar says Karsh is the "preeminent scholar-spokesman of the Revisionist (politically-rightist) Movement in Zionism.  This year Dr.Karsh too joined the Beigin-Sadat School for Strategic Studies.

Among the luminaries making up the rest of the pack, we find "Dr.Denis McShane", whom  I take it is former Labour MP Denis MacShane, who chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, one of those bodies infected with the so-called EU "definition" of antisemitism which was notoriously the US Zionist lobby-inspired definiation, identifying it with opposition to Zionism.

I've criticised MacShane before for his unfounded accusations against his old union, the NUJ, but I underestimated his activities. In 2009 he helped set up a meeting between Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox, accompanied by his friend Adam Werrity, and a Mossad officer, to discuss plans for Iran.
Obviously Israel's strategic aims require operations on more than one front, though MacShane's role and useful status may have been reduced due to misuse of his creative talents on expenses claims. He had to resign from the Privy Concil at the beginning of the year, and on July 11 the Crown Prosecution Service said he would be charged under the Theft Act.    

Another authority quoted is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described by JPost as "a Jewish human rights group in Los Angeles". Quoting the author of a book on " Demonizing Israel and the Jews", he claims that some 150 million Europeans harbor extreme anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish attitudes.” and says “A quarter of European Jews fear being seen manifesting their Jewish identity in public. ” He says “According to media reports, Klug has said that ‘Zionism prevents Jews from having a normal conception of their life.’ ", and suggests - quite erroneously, that Brian would say the same about the Jews in the 1920s and 1930s.

 So it seems the good Rabbi not only regards anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments as interchangable, and makes no distinction between different historical periods, but he is prepared to make judgments about a genuine Jewish scholar on the basis of "media reports" about what he wrote, rather than having read Brian Klug for himself.  Perhaps that "according to media reports" was meant as a caution, but this is a poor example of rabbinical wisdom and justice.
In an email to the Post, Klug wrote, “The dossier compiled by [the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism] is a classic example of a kangaroo court. It distorts my work, misrepresents my views and maligns my character.

Reading it, I felt a little like Socrates at his trial: he opened his defense by saying that listening to his accusers he almost forgot who he was.”

Klug added, “Rabbi Cooper refers to a comment I made about Zionism. The quote is completely out of context. If he is interested, I would gladly send him the text of the lecture I have written for Berlin (but after the event, of course) and then he can make up his own mind about whether I am an appropriate speaker. I extend the same offer to you and to your readers.”
One of my first jobs for Brent Trades Union Council, at the behest of the late Ben Rickman (a fellow member of Unite the union, but also a member of Wembley synagogue) was to write a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in response to an international campaign they had initiated branding London mayor Ken Livingston an antisemite, and blaming him for both real and imagined instances of antisemitism. They never did reply. But then nor did they reply to two letters from the Jewish community in Oslo complaining that they had circulated a quite fictitious allegation concerning antisemitism in Norway. If we poor Jews in Europe "fear" to speak up for ourselves, then Rich Uncle in the USA will look after us - whatever we say.

  Last year, Berlin’s Jewish Museum came under fire for hosting Judith Butler, a professor in the rhetoric and comparative literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley. She told a sold-out audience of 700 at the museum that she accepts a “version of a boycott” against Israel, and stressed that the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement is “non-violent resistance” against Israel. Neither Professor Butler nor the museum have been forgiven.

Dr. Shimon Samuels, who heads the European office of the Wiesenthal Center, wrote an appeal on Tuesday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the website of the European Jewish Press. “Was the Berlin Jewish Museum created, at the cost of Germany’s taxpayers and international donations, to demonize Israel, serve as a fig leaf for anti- Semitism and to commit memoricide – the murder of the memory of those murdered?” Samuels asked.

He added, “Our center thus urges your chancellery to condemn the museum’s distortion of its role, launch an inquiry into its behavior and suspend public funding until a new management is appointed.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has misappropriated the name of a famous Nazi hunter and now its spokesman misuses the blood of murdered Nazi victims to smear democratic institutions and demand the German authorities depose officials and shut up Jewish speakers who refuse to toe the right-wing Zionist party line. "Human rights"? You must be joking. After hearing so often that would be boycotters breached acadenic freedom we are seeing a posse of "experts", hacks and right-wing academics acting for the Thought Police!

Thanks to Jews for Justice for Palestinians for bringing this affair to my attention, and also for providing an online excerpt of what Brian Klug really said about "the new antisemitism".

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Kristallnacht: It hasn't stopped

 THIS weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the infamous Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, actually several nights, in which the Nazi regime in Germany, a supposedly civilised and cultured Western country, unleashed savagery against Jewish people and property.

The excuse was the act of a 17-year old Jew in Paris, Hirshl Grynszpan, in shooting an official at the German embassy, a supposed act of "terrorism", though Grynszpan had been driven to it after hearing how his parents and others without citizenship had been mistreated, herded into 'no man's land' on the Polish border with only abandoned farm buildings as shelter from the harsh winter.

Hitler's aim with Kristallnacht was both to step up the exodus of German Jews, whose jobs and property could be seized, and to test out the world's response.

Since that week we have had a world war, the nightmare of the Holocaust, the formation of the United Nations with its Declaration of Human Rights, and assurances that Never would such horrors against masses of humanity be allowed to occur again. Racism, ill-treatment of refugees, collective "punishment" of defenceless civilians, state-sanctioned violence and hatred of minorities persist. 75 years after Grynszpan's parents were driven from their home, thousands of Bedouin are being made homeless under Israel's Prawer plan.

In Germany the Kristallnacht anniversary this year is being commemorated with official exhibitions and conferences, while in several countries in Europe it is the occasion each year for events opposing not just antisemitism but all forms of racism. In Britain, led by the Jewish Socialists' Group, the following statement signed by over 200 people, including rabbis, MPs, academics and writers, has been issued for Kristallnacht:

75 years after Kristallnacht: minorities in danger

On 9th/10th November 1938, Nazi stormtroopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria, which the Nazis had annexed. During these pogroms, 91 Jews were killed, thousands were taken from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were smashed and looted. The Kristallnacht pogroms presaged attempts to remove Jews from German life completely.

Many Jews left hurriedly to seek refuge in friendly countries, including Britain, but Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”. Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country”.

Despite wide public revulsion at the violence of Kristallnacht, powerful elements in British politics and business continued to admire Hitler and the Nazi regime.

75 years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees.

As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.

(Statement drawn up by Jewish Socialist magazine BM3725 London WC1N 3XX)

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Five Leaves Opens Shop

January 15, 2014, will be the twentieth anniversary of the attack by a gang of fascists on the Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham. They knocked down shelves, scattered books and assaulted staff members. Among the shop's staff who stood up to the thugs was Scots-born Ross Bradshaw.  More than two dozen Nazis from several towns took part in the attack, and many were soon arrested. Among them was a police inspector's son.

About 1,000 people marched through Nottingham in solidarity with the Mushroom Books workers. Mushroom survived the attack by fascists, and stayed in business, a centre both for readers and left-wing activists, though cynics complained that more visitors accepted buckshee tea and coffee than spent money on books. Like many bookshops around the country, Mushroom did not survive changing times and a decline in the trade, which together with a director's illness and disputes over ownership led to it entering liquidation in 2000.

By then Ross Bradshaw had already taken a job with the council, and taken up publishing, which he'd first tried at Mushroom with a book on allotments which still sells. Five Leaves still boasts that it's the world's biggest publisher of books about allotments, but that's along with crime fiction, poetry, books by regional authors, social and Jewish interest.

Another venture while still publishing as Mushroom Books was "You Are, Aren't You?", a book of poems by Michael Rosen published jointly with the Jewish Socialists' Group(JSG). More recent books under the Five Leaves imprint included Battle for the East End, by JSG member David Rosenberg, which was launched with others on related themes as part of the event commemorating the Battle of Cable Street.

There were also well-attended launch events in London for Mike Gerber's labour of love Jazz Jews (2010),  and last year for From Revolution to Repression, an anthology of Soviet Yiddish writing in translation.

But notwithstanding its expansion and bold forays into the capital, Five Leaves remains Nottingham based and focused on the region. Besides publishing, the company jointly organises Lowdham Book Festival in Nottinghamshire and sponsors an annual fiction prize for MA students at Nottingham Trent University. But tomorrow publisher Ross Bradshaw, who started his career and political perspectives like Sir Alex Ferguson, as an engineering apprentice, though with slightly different results, return to his love of selling books direct to the customer.

  Five Leaves is opening a new bookshop in Nottingham.  
   It is at 14a Long Row, in the city centre.

Ross says “When I came to Nottingham in the late 70s there were several independent bookshops and in subsequent years various chains were represented, but for many years there has only been Waterstones in the city centre. It's a great shop but there's plenty room for an independent as well.”

The new bookshop will specialise in history, politics and landscape; fiction and poetry; lesbian and gay books; and international writing, with an emphasis on independent publishers. Initial events will include a memorial evening for the Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney and a speaker from the peace movement in Israel.

By sheer coincidence, tomorrow happens to be the 75th anniversary of the Nazi pogrom and state-organised orgy of destruction and violence which became known as Kristallnacht. Of that I will have more to say shortly. Meanwhile, what better way to mark it than by the creative act of opening a bookshop! And just in time for folk to buy their Chanukah and Christmas presents!

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Long arm of the Bangladesh war, and blind eye of some British Leftists

CHOWDHURY MUEEN UDDIN (left) with Prince Charles, 
on visit to Leicester, in 2003

In December 2009  the Guardian had to publish the following in its Notes and Corrections:
 Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin: we apologise for publishing allegations that he was part of a group that abducted people in East Pakistan and was involved in the commission of genocide (Prosecute Bangladesh's war criminals, 7 October, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has never been prosecuted, charged nor even arrested in connection with these events. Mr Mueen-Uddin has consistently denied the accusations made against him as utterly false. We are sorry for the distress our article caused him.

This week the Guardian and other newspapers report that "A UK-based Muslim leader has been sentenced to death for war crimes after a "farcical" trial in Bangladesh, his lawyer has said.
Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, who lives in London, was sentenced in his absence at a special war crimes tribunal along with Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who lives in the US. Both were found guilty of abducting and murdering 18 people including nine university teachers, six journalists and three doctors in December 1971, during Bangladesh's fight for independence against Pakistan.

Mueen-Uddin's lawyer Toby Cadman said: "I would like to say I am shocked and appalled but this is pretty consistent with the way these trials have been managed over the past two years.
"There have been very bold statements by the prosecution and the [Bangladeshi] government about seeking his return so he can be executed, but no British court is ever going to send him back because of the death penalty and the fair trial concerns that have been raised.

"Receiving the death sentence after such a farcical trial is very difficult for him to deal with. If there was a credible process, he would have submitted himself to trial."

Neither the Home Office nor Scotland Yard could confirm whether an extradition request had been made for Mueen-Uddin. However, the Home Office does not extradite if the person faces the death penalty, unless the home secretary has been assured that the sentence will not be imposed.
A Home Office spokesman said: "As a matter of longstanding policy and practice the UK will neither confirm nor deny whether an extradition request has been made or received until such time as a person is arrested in relation to that request."

"During the 1971 war Mueen-Uddin and Khan were members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is allied with the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party headed by the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, a rival of the current PM, Sheikh Hasina. Hasina formed a special tribunal in 2010 to try war crimes suspects."

Whatever the problems of Bangladeshi justice, and concerns over whether it is going too far - with news today that 150 former border guards have been sentenced to death over a mutiny in 2009 - many Bangladeshis who remember the atrocities of 1971 have waited a long time for justice. If the authorities were only out to crush opposition, they point out, they would have found reasons to prosecute the main Bangladesh National Party rather than only pursuing the Jamatis.

It is many years now since a Bangladeshi socialist group in London complained that people wanted for major crimes during the Bangladesh war had found a safe haven in Britain, with the apparent connivance of the British government.

It named three men who had found positions at the East London mosque, one of them being Chowdhury Mueen Uddin.    

There was concern on the part of left-wing Bangladeshis that the Islamicists who had sided with Pakistan against their countrymen fighting for independence would use their positions here to miseducate youngsters about what happened in the war. There was also the suspicion that the British state might not be averse to Islamicist influence if it served to divide Asian youth and counteract left-wing tendencies.

As time went on it became evident that the Jamaat e-Islami party branch established in east London had become adept both at pulling strings in politics here and fundraising for the party back home. Though its vote had been going down in Bangladesh, its supporters have stepped up their aggression and violence as the war crimes prosecutions faced them.

 Mueen-Uddin, who heads the London organisation, known as Dawatul Islam, admits that he was supporting the Pakistan side in 1971, but insists he  was only a journalist, and denies any part in the militia which kidnapped and killed intellectuals.  As well as being vice-chairman of the East London mosque he helped set up the Muslim Council of Britain, and Muslim Aid, and is a former deputy director of the Islamic Foundation. He met the Prince of Wales during Charles's visit to the Markfield Islamic Foundation in January 2003.

Back in Bangladesh the Jamaat stands for an Islamic state, with sharia law, and calls for closer relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Supporters campaign against "un-Islamic" practices such as mixed dancing or indeed social mixing of any kind, and for strict punishments for "blasphemy". Jamaat has been accused of violence against Hindus and Buddhists, and against the Ahmadiyya community, which it wants denied recognition as Muslims, and treated as a conspiracy.
It might have dawned on even the thickest and most determinedly naive of British Lefts by now that this is not a progressive movement, whatever one thinks of the Bangladesh government. But that's not to reckon with the opportunism of the Socialist Workers Party, in or out of Galloway's Respect. The SWP might not have been interested in what Bangladeshi socialists and secularists had to say, but it knows a bandwagon, however dodgy or misdirected, and seeing that Jamaat supporters were marching in London against the war crimes prosecutions, it jumpe in to join them.

As Socialist Worker reported:
'Charlie Kimber, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, told the crowd, “The tide of revolution has swept through Tunisia and Egypt.
“Now the tide of revolution must sweep through Gaza, Syria and Bangladesh.”;

It will come as news to Tunisians continuing to fight for democracy and social justice that their heroic struggle is being lumped together with reactionaries who believe in neither, but we must assure them and anyone else, not least the Bangladeshi workers waging their own struggle, that internationalism in this country is not being entrusted to the Socialist Workers Party. 

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Farewell to Harry Ratner, but his legacy lives on

Harry Ratner, who died recently at his home in Derbyshire, must have been one of the few surviving members of a generation that came to revolutionary politics in the 1930s, and one who never sold out for selfish ambition nor, despite disillusion in dogmas and leaders, lost his faith in human beings or a socialist future.

Born in London in 1919, the son of a Jewish immigrant father who precariously tried his hand in various business ventures, his mother a French officer's daughter, young Harry was good at science and dreamed of serving humanity through medicine, or of what seemed like a new life of genuine communism that he heard about on the kibbutz in Palestine. But already at 16 he set out on the path that would be his for the rest of his life, joining the working class and the fight for socialism.

Though never so far as I can see aspiring to be a leading figure in the movement or possessing the kind of ego that the movement regrettably sometimes fosters and accepts in leadership, Harry had the intellect to think about issues and what we were doing, as well the dedication, honesty and integrity the movement needs if it is to be sustained, let alone to get anywhere.

I first met Harry in Manchester when I was about 16 myself, and though we did not remain in touch for long, he did have a lasting influence.

It was in 1959, the Socialist Labour League had just been formed that year, and already come in for witch-hunting attacks from two national newspapers, as well as denunciation in leaflets from the notorious employer-funded Economic League. The late Empire News, a Sunday paper which we had delivered on Saturday night so my parents could check their football coupons, carried a front-page story about Trotskyists plotting to ruin Britain with strikes and bring about a revolution. It said they had infiltrated the unions and the Labour Party, and had a newspaper called the Newsletter.

I'd heard of Trotsky as a leader of the Russian Revolution. As a matter of fact someone had even mentioned his name in our house several years earlier when the grown-ups were discussing  unpleasant events in the Soviet Union. And Mr.Rosenfelt, a friend of my parents, had said approvingly "Ah, now Trotsky was a real communist."  Which had stuck in my mind as interesting.

But a Trotskyist movement in Britain? Was it true? And could I agree with the nefarious methods it was using in industry - assuming one believed what was said in that Sunday newspaper?

One weekend, a friend at school persuaded me to go with him to a big CND rally. It was really big, the Free Trade Hall was crammed full, I think it was the one where Konni Zilliacus and the Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg were speaking. I don't remember what either of them said. But outside the hall as we'd waited to file in I saw a bloke in a cloth cap and raincoat,  selling The Newsletter. Naturally, 1 stepped over to buy a copy. That was my first encounter with Harry Ratner and with Marxism.

Some younger people with him sold me a Keep Left, and gave me a leaflet for a meeting the following week called "Youth Must Organise!". Before long I was actively involved, helping set up a Young Socialists branch, selling papers at the docks, and attending classes which Harry Ratner took on Marx' s Capital.  Harry patiently explained the theory of surplus value, and illustrated the workings of the system from his own experience - he was a shop steward in a textile engineering factory.  

Once, chatting over a coffee, Harry asked me about my background and what had brought me to Trotskyism. It never occurred to me, at 17, to ask about his life. Not till his book Reluctant Revolutionary came out did I learn that, like me, Harry Ratner had been a member of the Zionist youth movement Habonim, before he joined the Labour League of Youth, in Willesden, north west London. By an ironic twist, it was in Willesden, in 1964, that I was expelled from the Labour Party as it purged the Young Socialists.

A few years before I had attended my Labour Party ward meeting in Mandley Park, Salford, when the Party was expelling Harry Ratner, in its purge of Trotskyists. Not allowed into the meeting to defend his self, Harry would probably not have been surprised that the person who spoke against him was a Labour councillor who doubled as a leading Stalinist.

As he recounts in his book, talking about holding street corner meetings in London's East End in the 1930s, "One evening we would be attacked by the fascists as 'dirty Reds' and told to 'Get back to Russia', the next evening we would be attacked by Communist Party members as 'bloody fascists'."

The Labour League of Youth was divided between Stalinists, led by Ted (later Lord) Willis, and a smaller number inclined towards Trotskyism. Joining the latter faction, Harry met and worked with a young man called Gerry Healy, who was to have an important influence on his life and on mine. There is an amusing account in the early pages of Reluctant Revolutionary of their adventures out whitewashing slogans in Paddington at night. Later on, Harry was less amused by Healy's way of handling dissent, even when they were on the same side in some of the Fourth International's factional disputes.

Most telling, perhaps, is Harry's account of what might seem to some a trivial incident in the 1950s, when Healy bawled quite unnecessarily at a cafe waitress, and Harry thought to himself, "If Gerry is like this now what would he be like if we had power?"  Notwithstanding the unlikeliness of that contingency, such insights, if shared and talked about early on might have saved a lot of trouble.

Not that Harry Ratner, for all his mild and modest manner, was any milksop. Having gone to visit his mother in France in 1938, he heard poet Andre Breton, hitch-hiked through the country talking to youth, and witnessed the end of the Popular Front and the Third Republic. Helping the Trotskyists Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank escape as France fell, he was later arrested himself in London for sheltering Frank in his flat.

  During the Blitz young Ratner was involved in another kind of shelter, and Underground movement, when Londoners took refuge in the tube stations, and he found himself on a shelterers' committee with  a young Communist Party member, of later comedy acting fame, Alfie Bass.

Called up in 1941, Harry was drafted into the Pioneers Corps, with other misfits, including refugees and Spanish Republicans. He was involved in the Sicily and Normandy Landings, and the next time he turned up at his mother's flat in Paris he surprised her by arriving in British uniform, having hitched a lift with a Free French unit. He was able to report the liberation of Paris for the Socialist Appeal. But the defeat of Hitler's fascism was not the end of the struggle, it was a new beginning, as seen in the civil war in Greece, the strikes cum mutiny that were to come in the British forces in India in 1946, or the use of British troops against strikers in Belgium which Harry also reported for Socialist Appeal.

It was while he was on leave in 1942 that a different kind of event affected Harry's life. Going rambling with a pal in Derbyshire, he met Olive, who was to be his lifelong companion. She was bringing up a child and working in a laundry, where she led a strike. Having committed himself to the working class politically, Harry married into it. Olive initiated him into such important cultural matters as saving the best china for visitors. In his book he credits her with anchoring him in
real life and human relations.

Demobbed after the war, Harry found a job in a Manchester engineering works, then went on from pushing a broom to 'semi-skilled' status (to be classed as skilled you had to have served an apprenticeship).  Though his way wasn't always easy, what with blacklisting and hostile bureaucacy, he became shop steward, works convenor, and AEU branch president.

He was involved in the factional disputes which rent the Trotskyist movement, over eastern Europe, Korea and the Labour party, as well as leading industrial struggles. He worked full time for the
Trotskyist movement in 1957, when it won to its side many disillusioned Communist Party members, such as Peter Fryer, who had been the Daily Worker's reporter in Budapest when Russian tanks invaded.

Having had a bellyful of bureaucratic Stalinism -his despatches from Hungary were suppressed and he was expelled from the Communist Party, - Fryer soon found Healy's bullying regime more than he could stomach, and this talented journalist was lost to the paper he started. But he never went over to the Right. After pioneer work on British Black history, Peter Fryer became a columnist for Workers Press after Healy's downfall, and he provided the Introduction to Harry Ratner's book.

Harry Ratner soldiered on, and contributed something to the education of younger comrades such as me, as well as helping the Socialist Labour League (SLL) establish itself for a time as a serious alternative to the Communist Party's leadership among trade union militants. He seems to have become pessimistic at a time when as a newcomer I was excited by the apprentices' and seafarers strikes. Maybe this was due to the difference in our ages, or maybe it was his experience with the SLL's increasingly narrow and repressive leadership, dishonest and sectarian, imposing changes of line.

Besides his disillusion with the gap between the Party's perspective and the real situation and mood in the working class, at a particular time, Harry Ratner makes an important point in Reluctant Revolutionary about a constant tendency for hyperactivity to isolate members from the very working class which they are supposedly trying to influence. Indeed my later experience was that the leadership seemed to want to break members' ties and relationships deliberately, just like a religious cult.

Not only was any kind of cultural or social life frowned upon, but as the WRP deteriorated comrades who became involved in struggles or took their trade union responsibilities seriously could find themselves in conflict with whatever meaningless "party tasks" were supposedly necessitated by the "revolutionary situation". (So "revolutionary" that half the party's members only existed on paper and more than half the branches never met).

 Harry Ratner left the organisation for which he had done so much work, and came to question many of the ideas in which he had believed. But he never abandoned his loyalty to the cause of the oppressed or his honesty. The written work he has left is well worth reading, not just for his account of the past, but because he raises questions and issues which we continue to face. He has passed on the baton.   

  • His funeral will take place on Thursday 7th November at Markeaton Crematorium, Main Chapel at 2.00pm.  As was his wish there will be a non-religious celebration of his life. His wife, Olive has asked that in lieu of flowers, a donation can be made, if you choose, to Breast Cancer Awareness. Donations can be made through the undertakers. A.W. Lymn at the Ilkeston office, 01159 444 121 where Scot will take your call. Or at Markeaton on the day.

Some writings by Harry Ratner

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