Monthly Archives: August 2009

Means, ends and reasons

Further to the crisis of confidence in Human Rights Watch of last week, the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, and the stunningly unfounded allegations of organ theft by Israelis, three scenarios and a two theories from S.O.Muffin.

In the comments to that piece, Eve Garrard reminds readers not to underestimate the importance of vanity on human affairs, and to think about the implications of publicly pillorying our policy makers for making mistakes.

David Runciman, author of a fairly recent book Political Hypocrisy: the Mask of Power from Hobbes to Orwell, and Beyond, also cautions against this, arguing that merciless pillorying promotes hypocrisy:

“Runciman argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics, but without resigning ourselves to it, let alone cynically embracing it. We should stop trying to eliminate every form of hypocrisy, and we should stop vainly searching for ideally authentic politicians. Instead, we should try to distinguish between harmless and harmful hypocrisies and should worry only about its most damaging varieties.”

Why are some forms of persecution treated differently from others?

Barkingside 21 draws attention to violence against Christians in Pakistan, and the peculiar British selectivity about international matters.

“On Wednesday 12th August the BBC reported on “Sectarian violence hits Pakistani town” an event that took place on 1st August. However, it was tucked away in the South Asia news section and was not deemed significant enough for the main world news page. It is an event that has gone largely un-noticed in the UK media and on the blogosphere. Even a post on the subject published on our own Red-i forum was withdrawn an hour or so later.”

It was brought to my attention by a local activist who happens to be a Pakistani Christian and he attended the protests outside 10 Downing Street and later outside the Pakistani Embassy in London. Also, as far as I can tell, not reported on mainstream media.

The story has been picked up since, [after I prodded an email discussion list] and Adrian gives a far more eloquent summary than I could, so just go and read that.”

The two state solution evaluated in issue 16 of Democratiya

Issue 16 of Democratiya (latest edition but I’ve been slow off the blocks) is partly concerned with revisiting the two-state solution in the light of Gaza.

“First, we asked a range of writers whether the two-state solution was viable after the conflict in Gaza, and if so what they saw as the obstacles to its realisation. Michael Walzer argues that two states is in bad shape, but remains the only viable solution and can be advanced by a combination of ‘internal unilateralism’ on both sides, and greater support by the US and EU. John Strawson argues the time has come for the international community to consider compelling the two parties to reach a compromise. Ghada Karmi makes the case for the one-state solution as realistic not utopian, while Donna Robinson Divine calls for both sides to go beyond those constitutive narratives around which identities have hardened and which have blocked progress. Martin Shaw calls for 1948 to be revisited as well as 1967 and for the idealism of the one-state solution to inform the two-state solution, while Alex Stein argues none of the existing ‘solutions’ remain viable and what’s really needed is imagination and radical new ideas. Menchem Kellner and Fred Seigel and Sol Stern warn of the dangers of moving towards two states without a radical change of attitude towards Israel by the Palestinian leaderships, while Eric Lee surveys the trade unions reaction to the conflict in Gaza.”

The kind of thing Caroline Lucas should have said about Mumbai

Terrorism is the attempt to advance political objectives by killing, maiming and terrifying innocent people. Terrorists instrumentalise people like you and me, deliberately harming us and using our deaths, injuries and fright to force change. We should try to comprehend terror, never justify terror. Terrorists should never  be permitted, still less encouraged, to view themselves as heroes on the ropes. Terrorists should view themselves, at best, as murderers who had to cauterise part of their conscience and humanity to commit their acts.

Caught this on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme yesterday (0836, Monday 17 Aug 09) and because its response to Miliband’s apology for terror was good, thought I’d try to capture it for posterity before it disappears from Listen Again.


“Shadow foreign secretary William Hague has condemned the Foreign Secretary David Miliband for saying there are circumstances in which acts of terrorism are “justifiable” and “effective”. Mr Miliband was speaking on Radio Four about the anti-apartheid activist, Joe Slovo. Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell and terrorism expert Andy Hull examine the foreign secretary’s comments.”


“JH: “Menzies Campbell, there are two questsions. Is he philosophically right when he says that terrorism is justifiable, and should he have said it as foreign Secretary?”

MC: “Well let’s take the second of these first. If I may say so I think William Hague’s quite right indeed quite reticent in describing the Foreign Secretary’s remarks as ill-judged. The timing of this! We’ve got 9,000 men and women in Afghanistan – what are they doing, they’re fighting against terrorism among other things. And to give any kind of succour to the notion that terrorism is a legitimate activity seems to me to fly in the face of that commitment. But of course as far as the first of these things is concerned, I would say no. Why – because I am someone of a liberal persuasion who is committed to peaceful change, and if you consider that terrorism almost certainly involves innocent people, it is rarely successful – how many instances can you point to of people being able to bomb their way to the negotiating table – and of course it hardens attitudes – you’ve only got to look at Israel to see how the attitudes of the Israel public have hardened – why – because of terrorism.”

JH: So in absolutely no circumstances – I dunno – the Hitler bomb plot, you would say that that was out of what should be considered.

MC: What I say is that the use of violence for political ends is unacceptable.

JH: Ah. That’s pretty clear. Andy Hull?

AH: You can’t kill your way to justice. I think however legitimate your grievance, terrorism is not a legitimate tactic.

JH: Not in any circumstances at all.

AH: No, I don’t think we should seek to justify terrorism. But I do think it’s important to comprehend it. I think if you take the current neo-jihadi Islamist threat that we face, I think that with all the best cops and all the best spooks we’re not going to be able to arrest or spy our way out of the problem. Which means we’re going to need to get to a place where people no longer want to blow us up, and in order to do that I think we’re going to have to try to understand what makes a bomber tick.

JH: And where do you stand on the wisdom or otherwise of a Foreign Secretary saying something of this kind?

AH: Well I think it was unwise because I think it’s wrong. I think, as I say, that however legitimate your grievance terrorism is not a legitimate tactic. And it isn’t effective either. It wasn’t bombs in Pretoria that ended apartheid and it wasn’t bullets in Belfast that ended the troubles. Al Quaeda bombs won’t bring about a global Caliphate.

MC: I agree with all of that. If you look at South Africa, for example, what it was was economic reality. De Klerk realised the economic future of South Africa was not going to be in any way sustainable if there was the continuing political divide. If you look at the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, their terrorism has not proved fruitful, and if you look at the Basque separatists in Spain, they have not achieved any of their political objectives by the use of terrorism.

JH: Can you, Andy Hull, point to any examples where the use of terrorism has been effective, putting aside any moral judgement one may make about whether it was right or wrong?

AH: No. It’s always the politics in the end that has the effects. But I do think that what we need in this country is a grown-up political debate that understands that you can understand terrorism without endorsing it. And I think that moral outrage about terrorism is understandable but we do need to get beyond it.

JH: Is there a danger, since you mention moral outrage, that moral outrage about a remark like that of the Foreign Secretary, stifles genuine debate – that there’s something we ought to be talking about here, but aren’t?

AH: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there is a danger that that moral outrage stifles productive debate, and I think it’s a shame. We saw it previously with some comments that Jenny Tonge made about Palestine. I think it’s important that we have an honest, open, grown-up debate about these issues, and that does mean that it’s reasonable to seek to understand the motivations of terrorist bombers.”

In Caroline Lucas’ response to Mumbai I missed this kind of genuine will to comprehend terror. Caroline Lucas blamed Mumbai on Israel and called this “looking at some of the root causes”. She politicises her ‘understanding’ to fit a well-known and pre-existing agenda; she extends this ‘understanding’ to some and not others. Compare her ‘understanding’ to Andy Hull’s and it quickly becomes clear why Andy Hull is heard respectfully when he calls on us to understand the motivations of terrorists, but Caroline Lucas provokes outrage.

Andy Hull wants to understand.

Update: on openDemocracy from a couple of years back, a different question is addressed: does terrorism work. Of course, even it if did work, not everything that works is good.

In support of the Jerusalem Quartet performance

Cross-posted on Engage.

After reading Gene’s reminder “Equally, boycott opponents have a right, and a duty, to express themselves as well”, I just sent this (which I’ve tweaked a bit since sending) to BBC and Cadogan Hall addresses listed on PACBI’s ‘call to action against the Jerusalem Quartet’s Proms Appearance’. I hope the links make it through their spam filter.


info at cadoganhall dot com
proms at bbc dot co dot uk
and the Quartet.


I understand you are coming under pressure from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to cancel the performance of the Jerusalem Quartet on August 29th.

Hopefully cancellation is out of the question, but given the intensity of PACBI’s campaign, I thought I should contact you with some reasons to go ahead.

If you look at the boycott, divestment and sanction calls PACBI references, it is clear that PACBI and other boycott campaigners such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are not interested in establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rather, they are interested in eliminating Israel. This was made clear when PACBI successfully cancelled joint simultaneous peace concerts in Israel and the West Bank. PACBI and the PSC cannot tolerate peace work and move to sabotage it.

Some Israeli political groups and human rights and peace-making NGOs draw a distinction between boycotting the occupation on the one hand, which they view as appropriate, and boycotting Israel in its entirety on the other hand, which they recognise as eliminationist. PACBI and other groups pursue the latter – the entire social, cultural and economic exclusion of Israel. PACBI seeks, indiscriminately, to break links between medical institutions and cultural ones alike. Nothing less than the total pariahdom of Israel will suffice. PACBI is attempting to end Israel’s existence.

Unlike the boycott of South Africa, to which the boycott of Israel is frequently compared, hardly any Israelis call for a boycott. Those who oppose boycott include the Israeli socialist party Hadash and peace-making NGOs such as Gisha (legal centre for freedom of movement), the Abraham Fund for coexistence, and Peace Now (for an end to the occupation). The boycott is widely seen by peace-makers on the ground as counterproductive to peace. It is inarticulate, it causes more of the difference and division which are exascerbating the conflict, and it abandons Israeli peace activists.

Israeli authorities have attempted to disrupt Palestinian cultural and academic affairs; I and other anti-boycotters have spoken out against these politically-motivated acts, as I do here.

Meanwhile even joint anti-war Jewish and Palestinian Israeli productions such as Plonter are prevented from staging performances in Israel’s neighbouring states; performances are held to ransom as if they could lever peace. And even joint Israeli and Palestinian Israeli relationships are the focus of PACBI’s ongoing attempts to drive a wedge into co-existence between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Wafa Younis’s life was in danger after she took her youth orchestra, Strings of Freedom, to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

This is the nature of the cultural boycott.

Israel is unlike South Africa in a crucial way: its neighbours have only recently formally accepted its existence, this acceptance cannot be taken for granted, and there are enduring armed movements which hope to eliminate Israel. In South Africa anti-apartheid activists sought majority rule. In Israel there is majority rule. Israel is the world’s sole Jewish state, which came into existence after the attempted genocide of the world’s Jews. Hamas, Hesbollah and other factions continually preach hatred of Jews, and call this resistance to Israel. Beyond Israel antisemitism is a regional norm.

A total boycott of Israel – the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions of which PACBI’s cultural boycott is part – assists Hamas and other eliminationists by posing an obstacle to peace-making. In short, Israel is not and never has been the sole aggressor in this conflict, nor does it act capriciously or sadistically, as you might think if you were to read only PACBI’s, or only the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s, narrative of the conflict. The settlers must leave the occupied land, reparations must be made to refugees, occupation must end, resources must be equitably distributed, infrastructure must not be used to control and subdue, and Israel’s neighbours must permit Israel to live in peace. In Israel and the occupied territories violence feeds on violence, extremism on extremism. The reason the conflict is intractable is because the causes endure, not because Israel is a brutal state.

Anti-Israel politics are frequently expressed as hostility to Jews. PACBI has been complicit in this, and seeks to diminish concerns about this.

Boycotters will insist otherwise, but hosting an Israeli orchestra does not amount to acceptance of the decisions and actions of the Israeli government. Nor does it amount to a solution to the conflict.

But societies in conflict are vulnerable to the prejudice, demonisation, dehumanisation and despair which haunts conflicts, and without cultural and social exchange there can be no coexistence. And yet cultural exchanges are under attack not from peace-makers but from those who wish to prolong division.

The last time the Jerusalem Quartet was targeted in the name of Palestine solidarity, the protesters were charged with a racially aggravated offence. Separately, protest leader Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign uses far right antisemitic materials in his arguments on behalf of Palestinians. He is part of a current of thinking that perceives anti-Jewish words and acts as a legitimate part of Palestine solidarity.

The attempt he led to disrupt the concert was met with boos from the large audience at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh.

I could think of many more reasons not to cancel the Jerusalem Quartet. Some of them would be to do with cultural exchange and some of them would be to do with art. None of them would be to do with discrediting solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Israel is engaged in a violent occupation and ongoing settlement of Palestinian lands beyond its own borders. Israel has demonstrated it is willing to turn large parts of Gaza to rubble and make security for ordinary Gazans meaningless in the name of protecting its own security. But the cultural boycott of Israel will not help end the occupation nor the violence – if anything it will exacerbate the division. Additionally I think (unlike boycotters) that the best way for international community to end the occupation is to learn about the conflict, represent it accurately, and demand and take action which addresses the causes of the conflict. The best way for artistic bodies in Britain to reach out to Palestinians living under occupation is to invite Palestinian artists and performers to this country and pursue their travel permits with the Israeli authorities. I would be more than happy to play a part here, should such an initiative arise.

Thanks for reading and best wishes,



Human Rights Watch – rockets from Gaza amount to war crimes

Human Rights Watch, whose contribution to documenting human rights violations in Israel and the occupied territories is hugely valuable, have released a 31-page report, Rockets From Gaza, of their investigation into the role of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza since November 2008.

The report documents the missiles from Gaza which jeopardised and terrorised the 800,000 Israeli citizens who lived within their range, and finds armed groups to have intentionally targeted Israeli civilians, in violation of international law.

The executive summary is informative; as well as providing an overview of the death and damage resulting from the attacks (including to Gazan families), there is a restatement of ethos:

“The purpose of the laws of war is not to create parity between parties to a conflict, or to assess their violations in light of their relevant capacities, but to minimize the harm to the civilian population.  Violations of the laws of war are not measured in the number of civilian casualties, but whether each side is taking all feasible precautions to minimize civilian loss.  Using unsophisticated weapons does not justify failure to respect the laws of war, nor does an adversary’s use of sophisticated weapons provide a pass to its opponents to ignore those laws. Disparities in military capability, however measured, are irrelevant. The taking of civilian life can be minimized only if both parties recognize their legal obligations to abide by the laws of war however sophisticated the weaponry at their disposal.

Human Rights Watch is committed to documenting the worst violations of the laws of war committed by all sides to conflict. It is to promote the principle that civilians may never be the object of attack, regardless of the relative strength of the attacker, that Human Rights Watch has published this report.

The laws of war require parties to a conflict to investigate and take appropriate punitive action against individuals within their control who are implicated in war crimes.  Hamas authorities have failed to take any action against Hamas commanders and fighters responsible for unlawful rocket attacks against Israel.  Hamas has reportedly taken violent steps to prevent other armed groups from firing rockets.  On March 10, the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported the alleged torture by Hamas police of 10 members of Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.[3] The paper reported that Hamas police detained the 10 men, from Khan Yunis, and tortured them to coerce them to sign pledges that they would not fire rockets at Israel.”

Recommendations follow.

Read the report.


Besides the BBC, is there any reporting organisation which hasn’t abandoned itself to partisanship on Israel and Palestine?

There are questions to ask about the integrity of Human Rights Watch because of how it raises money.

“An on-line Wall Street Journal op-ed posted two days ago alleged that Human Rights Watch officials went trolling for dollars in Saudi Arabia, and that the organization’s senior Middle East official, Sarah Leah Whitson, attempted to extract money from potential Saudi donors by bragging about the group’s “battles” with the “pro-Israel pressure groups.”

This is a serious allegation, and one I found difficult to believe, because Human Rights Watch has always been moderately careful about the optics of its fundraising efforts. The group’s credibility, of course, rests on its neutrality; playing traditional enemies off each other as a way to collect money from one (or both) sides in a conflict seems beyond the pale. (Let’s put aside for now the queasy-making image of a human rights organization venturing into one of the world’s most anti-democratic societies to criticize one of the Middle East’s most democratic states.)”

Human Rights Watch has since published a report about gunning down of white-flag-waving Palestinians. It was edited by Joe Stork, reported in Commentary to be vehemently anti-Israel, an inaccurate reporter and – far more seriously and untrustworthily for a human rights activist – a supporter of Palestinian terror against Israelis and (from the comments) a diminisher of human rights abuses against Iraqis under Saddam. It would be good to be able to trust HRW reports. It’s discredit if they employ biased editors, and it’s a shame that only the political right seems to be motivated to do homework on these authors. I suppose, from now on, we have to do this too.

The Rockets From Gaza report was authored by a researcher called Bill Van Esveld, based in HRW’s Middle East and North Africa section, where Joe Stork is also based (Esveld also co-authored the white flag report). I can’t see any signs of bias against Palestinians at all.

In the Huffington Post, he writes:

“Hamas’ attacks on civilians violate international law, but those violations are no excuse for a blockade that, as Israeli officials have implicitly acknowledged, amounts to collective punishment. “There is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal lives while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards” at Israeli communities, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on January 23, 2008.

After two years of looking the other way, the international community, and especially the United States, should be pressing not only Hamas to end its unlawful attacks on Israeli civilians but also Israel to end its unlawful punishment of 1.5 million Gazans.”

In comment to the BBC:

“HRW’s Bill Van Esveld said last Thursday that a Newsweek report quoted in a recent Israeli Foreign Ministry briefing was “as clear evidence of human shielding [by Hamas] as you’re going to get”.

Journalist Rod Nordland wrote on 20 January: “Suddenly there was a terrific whoosh, louder even than a bomb explosion. It was another of Hamas’ homemade Qassam rockets being launched into Israel – and the mobile launch-pad was smack in the middle of the four [apartment] buildings, where every apartment was full.”

But Mr Van Esveld said he was only aware of evidence of “three or four” such cases, and had seen more evidence of the use of human shields by Israeli troops than by Palestinian militants.”

No more time, but there is no reason to suppose an anti-Palestinian agenda on the part of Van Esveld. Stork’s anti-Israel, pro-terror opinions on the other hand, disredit him.

I fear, given the pursuit of Saudi funds, that HRW will be giving disproportionate focus to exposing the abuses of Saudi’s enemies.

I have frequently drawn on HRW reports and it is unbelievably dispiriting to be writing this update. Greens Engage is more concerned with Israel than (Black) Engage, because we hope that Green international policy makers, currently faced with Green Party anti-Israel bias, will be looking. We try to view Israel as critically and fairly as any other country might expect. How can we do this if deprived of basic facts we can trust?

Update 2: it gets worse for Human Rights Watch. Bias is a particularly disgusting thing in an organisation which purports to stand for human rights. There should never be a good reason for the subject of a negative report to turn round and say “They have it in for us”. But HRW have provided precisely that reason by eagerly publishing allegations based on such flimsy evidence that investigative journalists became interested in the editor, and discovered a past which should have ruled him out of publishing on this subject.

Lest the perhaps-murdered and their families, who should be at the centre of the publicity for the report, are lost in the fallout of Joe Stork’s bias, I would say that it would be good if anybody involved in combat or policing were issued with their own black box, or some way of recording their actions. I can see all kinds of problems with this, but in the end they are small fry problems if you view them in the light of a situation in which men and women in a citizen army (with, it follows, a proportion of bad soldiers) are sent to find and kill enemy combatants in heavily populated areas. To be honest, I would trust Israelis to know what to do with this kind of evidence more than I would trust an organisation like Human Rights Watch and its low standards of evidence. This is not to write off HRW. It’s a salutory reminder not to trust any organisation unreservedly, to search the web for critical responses to such reports before quoting them, and to keep in mind that there may be vested interests at work in writing, crediting and discrediting such a report. Some people want to frame Israel. Some people want to defend Israel’s reputation. Some people want the truth. I hope this blog is concerned with the latter, limited only by time and other resources.

So to end, an analysis of the Rockets From Gaza report from the JTA (discovered by searching for links to the report pages – there wasn’t anything else of substance).

Hesbollah stockpiles 40,000 rockets near Israeli border

The Times reports.

Iran is Hesbollah’s major funder and arms supplier. If anybody tangles with Iran’s nuclear facilities, the retaliation will come from Hesbollah and will be on Israel. The clerics who prop up Iran’s presumptuous leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad hate Israel because it is a Jewish state.

But – I can hear it already – Iranian nukes are different from Israeli nukes. Arming Hesbollah is not the same as arming Israel. If we boycott Israel and speak up for Hesbollah, Ahmedinejad and the ayatollahs, that will sort all this out – right?

The Israelis are trouble-makers, they only fight because they can.

An even war field will bring peace to the Middle East.


Peter Tatchell, Riazat Butt and Habibi on Imam Sheikh al-Sudais

Riazat Butt on Comment is Free:

“Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais can normally be seen leading prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, but this week he’s been charming the crowds of Banbury, Blackburn and Birmingham, where he attended a conference organised by the Ahlul Hadeeth Society called Unity of God: A Message Of Peace And Security. This evening, he will speak at the East London Mosque.

Rewind some years and he was describing Jews as “monkeys and pigs and worshippers of false gods”, Christians as “cross-worshippers” and Hindus as “idol worshippers”. His views were highlighted in a BBC Panorama programme on the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Following the broadcast, the MCB sent letters of complaint to the corporation about the accuracy and editing of the show, queries that were dealt with at length by Panorama editor Mike Robinson.

Between the earlier media reports and the programme featuring the sheikh’s comments, al-Sudais led a sermon at the East London Mosque that was attended by the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and the Racial Equality Minister Fiona McTaggart. One would have thought that these two guests, given their respective roles, would have been aware of who the sheikh was and what his opinions were: but still they went.

Peter Tatchell has asked why the Home Secretary is allowing al-Sudais into Britain. “Is it because of the close business links between the British and Saudi establishments? Al-Sudais was appointed imam of the Grand Mosque by the royal leaders of the pro-western Saudi dictatorship. His continuing tenure as chief imam is a damning indictment of the Saudi regime’s toleration of antisemitism,” he writes.”

Read the rest.

And on Peter Tatchell’s blog:

“The chairman of the East London mosque is Muhammad Abdul Bari. He is also the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

Although the MCB has condemned anti-Semitism, it has previously declined to criticise the anti-Semitism of al-Sudais and has continued to support him despite his anti-Jewish tirade.

“Al-Sudais has stoked religious sectarianism and anti-Jewish racism. He has never expressed any regret,” said human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who is urging the East London mosque and the MCB to publicly condemn al-Sudais’s “shameful prejudice.”

“As a condition for him being allowed to preach, the East London mosque and MCB should insist that al-Sudais apologise for his anti-Semitism and publicly state his opposition to hatred, discrimination and violence against Jewish people.

“The East London mosque received $US1m from the Saudis towards its new London Muslim Centre. The mosque’s links to Saudi Arabia go back many years, according to the BBC.

“I don’t understand why the Home Secretary is allowing al-Sudais into Britain, given that similar hate preachers have been banned. Is it because of the close business links between the British and Saudi establishments? ” queried Mr Tatchell.

“Al-Sudais was appointed imam of the Grand Mosque by the royal leaders of the pro-western Saudi dictatorship. His continuing tenure as chief imam is a damning indictment of the Saudi regime’s toleration of anti-Semitism.

“I am surprised that the Jewish community in Britain has not kicked up a big fuss about him coming to Britain,” said Mr Tatchell.”

Coming from somebody outside the community, that must be good to hear. Read the rest.

And Habibi.

It is a mystery that this hate preacher wasn’t headed off at the border. And if public funding for religious institutions should be contingent on anything, it should be on their not hosting haters.