Category Archives: law

Lone Green speaks out as Vienna’s Bundesrat hoists double standard

A Green Party member, Marco Schreuder, deputy in the 62-member Federal Council of Austria (Bundesrat), stood up as the lone dissenting voice against anti-Israel legislation passed on Monday.

The legislation singled out Israel’s anti-terror policy on detention for condemnation but – astonishingly – failed to acknowledge its neighbours’ similar or worse policies, including Syria, the paramilitary Israel-eliminationist organisations which operate on Israel’s borders, and the draconian detention measures meted out in Palestinian law to dissenters and gay people. These are well-documented by human rights organisations, feed the region’s authoritarian tendencies and it is seriously strange that they are ignored by the Bundesrat.

If the Middle East is a playground full of bullies, and you single out one bully for a kicking while leaving the other bullies to go about their violent business unhindered, then you’re obviously a bad politician. And if the bully you’re so singularly and enthusiastically attacking is Jewish, then they may reasonably feel attacked as a Jew.

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On the Goldstone Report into Operation Cast Lead

Richard Goldstone has withdrawn the ‘deliberately targeted civilians’ part of his report on the fact-finding mission he led into Operation Cast Lead. He writes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are conducting investigations, while Hamas has investigated nothing at all. He writes:

“That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”

and

“Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.”

An unsurprising outcry ensued, either with ideological objections to this revision, or to amplify the news that Israel had been vindicated of another unfounded charge, or to urge the world not to be diverted from the plight of 1.4 million Gazans, the violent deaths of over 700 people and the wider destruction of the conflict.

It’s worth mentioning that when the Israeli government of the time refused to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation, several prominent Israelis (including for example Ami Ayalon) criticised this decision, arguing that Israel would be even more exposed to bias if it kept itself outside the process than if it went along with it. It’s also worth understanding the grounds on which the Israeli government refused to cooperate – that, as a UN Human Rights Council initiative, the investigation was biased from the start and would inevitably function to rubber-stamp a foregone conclusion against Israel (Goldstone denies this unequivocally).

Bias should never be a plausible excuse for cooperating with a United Nations body, but sadly it is all too plausible. Reflecting on the UNHCR, Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:

“Many respectable folks have spent decades insisting that the “core issue” in the Middle East, if not the world, is the Israel-Palestine conflict – that it is the “running sore” whose eventual healing will heal the wider region and beyond.

That was always gold-plated nonsense, but now the Arab spring has come along to prove it. Now the world can see that the peoples of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain have troubles aplenty that have nothing to do with Israel. There could be peace between Israelis and Palestinians tomorrow, but it wouldn’t relieve those in Damascus or Manama or Sana’a from the yoke of tyranny. For them, Israel is not “the heart of the matter”, as the cliche always insisted it was. The heart of the matter are the regimes who have oppressed them day in, day out, for 40 years or more.

Yet it is not the suffering of these hundreds of millions of Arabs which has attracted the sympathy of the UN Human Rights Council. Nor has it stirred the compassion of left-leaning liberal types who pride themselves on their care for the oppressed. Few places get them excited the way Israel does.

So in 2009 Sri Lanka could kill between 7,000 and 20,000 civilians, displacing 300,000 more in its bombardment of the Tamils at about the same time as the Gaza conflict – but you will search in vain for the Goldstone report into Sri Lankan war crimes. Nor will you find Caryl Churchill writing a play called Seven Sri Lankan Children – asking what exactly is it in the Sri Lankan mentality that allows them to be so brutal.

There is no Goldstone or Churchill to probe the 4 million deaths in the Congo, the slaughtered in Darfur or the murdered in the Ivory Coast, let alone the civilian deaths inflicted by the US and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one is proposing an academic boycott of those nations or any of the other serial violators of human rights. Tellingly, two members of the four-person board of the LSE’s Middle East Centre are firm advocates of cutting all scholarly ties to Israel – but were only too happy for the college to receive £1.5m from the Gaddafi family.”

Jonathan Freedland’s point is that in order to demand justice for the oppressed, it’s necessary to address this double standard against Israel which diverts attention and resources from swathes of the world which require it.

A comparative search of different countries on the Green Party web site reveals the extent of the problem. Putting some energy into Green Party international policy for places other than Israel and the OPTs would be a good place to start.

Formal reprimand for Bathurst-Norman

Caroline Lucas, MP and Green leader, declared her support for seven acquitted campaigners who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory, backing their direct action.

Now the judge whose summing up was investigated for bias has been issued a formal reprimand. Active Green member Isca Stieglitz was one of those who complained. She posts the response in full on her blog at the Jewish Chronicle.

“I am writing on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to inform you of their decision in relation to your complaint against His Honour Bathurst-Norman.

You complained that the Judge’s comments during his summing up to the jury displayed a personal bias, that he was not impartial and that he swayed the jury improperly.

A number of complaints were received on this matter and the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have decided that they should be resolved in accordance with Regulation 26(1)(e)(i) of the Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2006 (as amended) on the basis that the complaints are substantiated wholly or in part. The Lord Chief Justice has exercised his disciplinary powers and, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, has issued the Judge with a formal reprimand. They found that a number of observations made during the summing up did not arise directly from the evidence at trial and could be seen as an expression of the judge’s personal views on a political question. This was an error.

In coming to this decision the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have considered the details of the complaints made, the comments of His Honour Bathurst-Norman and the advice of the Nominated Judge. The decision does not affect nor seek to comment upon the outcome of the trial and the verdict reached by the jury in the case.”

Given that the purpose of a summing up is to direct the jury’s attention to the most important aspects of a case, we can reasonably suppose that Judge Bathurst-Norman influenced the jury to some extent. And as Jonathan Hoffman observes, all of this has cost the public a lot of money.

Office for Judicial Complaints investigates EDO judge

Further to the surprise acquittal of the EDO smashers, the Brighton Argus reports:

“The Office for Judicial Complaints, which deals with objections over the conduct of judges and magistrates, confirmed that an inquiry into how Judge Bathurst-Norman handled the trial is under way.

The move follows a series of complaints from organisations including the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “The judge’s summing up seemed to be more of a character reference for the defendants and an account of the iniquities of Israel and America than a dispassionate appraisal of the evidence.

“Rather than test whether the defence of lawful excuse was available to the accused he appeared more intent on telling the jury why they would be morally wrong not to acquit them.”

You’d hardly think it was the same judge who served Paul Kelleher a 3 month custodial sentence for decapitating a statue of Margaret Thatcher. The jury in an earlier trial had been unable to decide whether he had lawful excuse for his action; Judge Bathurst-Norman ruled that he didn’t.

“I don’t doubt the sincerity of your beliefs,” he said. “Many people share them, particularly in relation to what is happening in Third World countries, and I would be the last person to deny any person the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest against matters which support his beliefs.

“But, when it comes to protest, there is a right way to protest and also a wrong way. The way people banded together last Saturday to demonstrate against the war in Iraq was the right and proper way to make their voices heard. The way you acted to knock the head off a valuable statue of a politician who left power over ten years ago and whose party is no longer the party of government, was very much the wrong way.”

On the other hand, in 2001, he handed down a “remarkably lenient” sentence to a procurement agent for the A. Q. Khan Network (smuggling ring which supports nuclear weapons programmes of Pakistan, North Korea and Iran). He got a fine and suspended sentence.

My guess is that to most people the EDO smashers look erratic and prejudiced, and their acquittal looks like erratic, prejudiced judiciary. But they were supported by Green leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, who tells SmashEDO that EDO is making bombs in Brighton, although EDO is not making bombs in Brighton. And if it were, providing it wasn’t in contravention of arms embargoes to the Middle East, it would be operating within the law.

The arms trade is a convoluted business, but EDO is operating within the law, isn’t it. And given that, if we’re against weapons, we need to use our opportunities and rights to try to change the laws about their manufacture, and not support the arbitrary smashings of vigilantes.

Caroline Lucas, democracy and singling out Israel

Raphael writes:

Caroline Lucas declared her support for seven acquitted campaigners who caused £180,000 damage to an arms factory, backing their direct action.

Weggis makes important points on the singling out of Israel, the strange description of criminal damage as “non-violent direct action”, and whether Smash EDO  should be thought of as ‘Gaza campaigners’. In response to her statements he wonders:

“I don’t know but I would hazard a guess that Israel is not the only customer of the factory that was vandalised and that those customers are also using those weapons for killing people. So, why are they not mentioned? I also suspect that there are other factories in the UK selling arms to undesirable regimes. Why have they escaped? Why is it that Caroline Lucas applauds this action directed at one single and specific case and not the general principle? Why did she not take the opportunity, as our “Leader”, to highlight Green Party Policy? Which is: “End all export subsidies and increase controls on UK arms sales, especially to governments who violate human rights.” i.e. ALL governments who violate human rights and not just Israel.”

There is another disturbing element in Caroline’s declarations.

She says: “However, in this situation it is clear the decommissioners had exhausted all democratic avenues and, crucially, that their actions were driven by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza.”

She adds: “I do think that there is a time when [non-violent direct action] is legitimate and I think that this was such a time.”

What “democratic avenues” had been tried and exhausted? If you exhaust “democratic avenues” – that is, if you fight and lose elections – does it justify you in imposing your views through direct action and violence? The message here, intentionally or not, is that it you don’t get what you want – that is, if your views are not democratically upheld – it is therefore legitimate and helpful to take up smashing. This has implications which are unfavourable to a political party which participates in a parliamentary democracy. Caroline Lucas is our first MP, but here she seems a little conflicted.

In this particular case, the target of direct action is an arms company which does not appear to have any significant involvement in Israel’s military. I have no sympathy for this or any other arms company, but it is clear that the choice of this company in relation to Gaza is irrational and random. Smash EDO started as a response to the Iraq War. Sussex police say that 20 people have been convicted following four demonstrations against the US-owned firm over the past two years. If it was citing Gaza that acquitted these activists on this occasion, then there’s something wrong.

The protestors could have, using exactly the same line of arguments, targeted the Israel Embassy, some cultural events [after all there is also a campaign in support of a “cultural boycott”], or, why not, a synagogue considered too pro-Zionist. As long as the actions would have been driven “by the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”, then, it would seem to be OK, even if there was not the merest probability of the action having any impact on the situation in Gaza.

Mira adds:

Not for the first time I wonder what kinds of act against Israelis – or  Jews as proxy Israelis – Caroline Lucas would not excuse as simply acting on “the responsibility to prevent further suffering in Gaza”.

On the aquittal of the smashers, Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor commented “I am convinced that His Honour would have ruled differently had he been sitting in the Sderot youth cultural centre, rather than on Brighton’s sunny shores.”

This appeal to “lawful excuse” does get you thinking though. Now, I’m anxious that this is not misunderstood as any kind of threat because we have no plans in this regard – but if, say, Greens Engage came to believe that it had exhausted the democratic processes of the Green Party, would Caroline Lucas consider us entitled to a more direct avenue of action?

Update: Steven Murdoch (p147) sets out some principles by which to judge destructive acts by political activists:

“When justifying a destructive act, activists reject a part of the rationale used to condemn their actions. They may reject the validity of the law that finds their action illegal, the premise that the negative effect of the action outweighed any benefit, or the position that the act is destructive at all. Activism often exists in opposition to the power structures that govern ethics within societies, so it is important to judge each action on its merit rather than simply accept the determinations of those in power.”

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.

Update:

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).