The Vicar of Glibley

By Ben Sixsmith

I feel sure that Giles Fraser, the Church of England priest and Guardian columnist, is a nice man: a loving husband, a devoted father and a loyal friend. But with such authority it is not enough to be nice, and in his work he can be obtuse, sentimental and smug. His writing spreads like treacle throughout Britain’s media; sweet but sick-making.

Reacting to the case of Charlie Gard, a young child whose parents were denied the right to seek experimental treatment for his terminal illness, Fraser tweets:

We need more love in the world not more bloody science.

More science, of course, could have saved little Charlie’s life. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate around his treatment it is an absurd thing to say when other children’s lives depend on the continuation of medical progress. The difference between medical science advancing and not is the different between them living decades and days. No amount of love would heal the wounds inflicted by the latter possibility.

Still, this was a tweet. None of us are at our best on Twitter. Yet this is entirely characteristic of him. Time and again he proclaims lofty platitudes. Promoting gay marriage, he wrote that…

What I find in the Bible is a gradually expanding consciousness that God is love and not an instrument of oppression. And there is always more of that inclusive love to discover.

So that’s it? Goodbye millennia of moral teachings? So long centuries of philosophical argumentation? Some Christians who support gay marriage, like Daniel Helminiak, analyse Biblical and theological teachings in depth. For Fraser, love is all you need. It was enough to justify abandoning his Church Times column as a protest against the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “moral opposition to homosexuality”.

I mention this because it illustrates Fraser’s habit of plastering quasi-theological, cod-philosophical rationalisations on his moral and aesthetic instincts. Floating in a kind of spiritual self-righteousness he rarely analyses their complexities and contradictions, or attempts to find his place in a coherent tradition. He denies, for example, that Jesus sacrificed himself – not with reference to scripture or theological arguments but as it is “a disgusting idea”. I am no Christian and, thus, in no place to condemn heresy but the unmerited assurance of Fraser’s judgements is absurd.

This is more obvious when he writes on politics. Community is a good thing, he believes, and so he argued in one column that is wrong to expect people to abandon or dilute their culture. I sympathise. Our conceptions of meaning and identity are wrapped up in our cultural characteristics and we lose something when they are deconstructed. But wait! Fraser is an advocate of mass immigration. If we have large ethnic minorities in Britain how can we maintain a united, cohesive and efficient society if people speak different languages and hold different values? Fraser does not mention this. It is too complicated.

Fraser sounds oddly conservative in this article. “The very nature of community is that there is a boundary between those who are in it and those who are not,” he says. ” To speak of community without any sense of a difference between being in it and out of it evacuates the term of any possible meaning.” This sounds like a Straussian argument for border control. It is not, of course. Fraser wants some kind of cultural patchwork. Yet it feels as if he likes everyone to have their traditional cultures except the ancestrally English. When he visited what sounds like a charming little village fete he wrote “how white”.

At the end of his article Fraser salutes Muslims for their “resistance to the hegemony of integration”. Given that some Muslims resist integration by forming sharia courts where domestic abuse is sanctioned; secretly circumcising little girls and running away to Syria to join ISIS you would think he would at least qualify his admiration. Nope. His feelings resist empirical contradiction.

Fraser is sadly naive about jihadism. Responding to a Radio 3 broadcast of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, in which nuns choose to die before renouncing their faith, Fraser asked what what have happened if it had been a story of Islamic martyrdomThere would have been outrage, he said, for “isn’t this religious extremism”? Well, no, not in the sense that people use the term. What people fear about jihadism is not people dying for the faith but people killing other people for their faith. Was Fraser asleep for the last two decades?

Sometimes he acknowledges acts of terrorism but he can’t believe they have anything to do with religion. Reacting to last year’s in Berlin, where a Muslim drove a lorry into a crowded Christmas market, Fraser wrote that terrorism cannot be inspired by faith because religious people “trust in God’s greatness” to heal the world and act on his behalf. This is one view of faith. It is not one most people share. I do not think Muhammad would have liked indiscriminate terrorism but is Fraser not aware that he was a brutal conqueror and statesman who very much thought he was doing God’s will in politics and war?

Despite all this hazy, subjective, impressionistic writing, Fraser thinks that he has a monopoly on reason. Of conservative Anglicans, he says that, “rather than laugh at them or argue with them, the best thing is probably ignore them”. Some of the words I have written here is harsh but I think this sentence excuses some severity. Why should the same treatment not be accorded to him?

Fraser’s columns often seem like sermons: heartfelt, urgent and emotive. Yet as far as I can tell the authority of priests is lower than that of God. Analogously, if not equivalently, the authority of political commentators is lower than that of data, logic and tradition. Our value depends on our ability to channel them.

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Brussels: The danger of under-reacting

By Jake Wilde

 

In the days after the cowardly, murderous and unjustifiable attacks upon Brussels, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France, stood out for me as the one European leader prepared to address the enormity of the challenge facing Europe. Valls said:

“We are at war, in Europe we have been subject for several months to acts of war. And faced with war, we need to be mobilized at all times.”

 

After the Paris attacks Valls said that France’s war against Daesh would take place both abroad and domestically. In respect of the former the method was clear – military action in Syria and Iraq. As part of the latter Valls warned that Europe must take strong measures over border controls:

“It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt.”

 

Valls was at the European Commission on 24 March renewing his push for a Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive, a measure that would oblige airlines to hand EU countries their passengers’ data. Although nobody thinks of this measure as a panacea on its own it would be an important step in applying controls over free movement.

 

On the same day Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian of politicians being driven by the prospect of there being “big money” to be made out of “terrifying” the public, and of “megaphoning” the attacks to “promote” Daesh’s cause, He mocked the warnings of the security services and talked of England “becoming old East Germany”. Jenkins instead called for “a quiet and dignified sympathy”, to “downplay” the attacks and not to “alter laws”. In other words, to do nothing.

 

The problem with Simon Jenkins’s approach is that it assumes that a love of freedom and democratic principles flows intrinsically through the veins of the whole population of Europe. There might have been a time when, in liberal elitist circles untroubled by exposure to extremist religious and/or political ideology, this was an easy assumption to make.

 

Here’s where Simon Jenkins is wrong and Manuel Valls is right. For too long Europe has simply assumed that the brief post-war interlude of peaceful, progressive liberalism – Western Democracy™ – was a benign contagion. That the belief in its principles was so inherently powerful that all who grew up in, migrated to, or became part of through “expansion”, Europe became automatically imbued with them. Or, put another way, that integration just worked without having to do anything. That is simply untrue now, if it ever was.

 

In 1961 Ronald Reagan said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

 

Reagan’s words have not been heeded. Perhaps they were assumed to be a relic of a Cold War era rhetoric. That somehow they no longer applied because communism, in Europe at least, has been defeated. We have stopped fighting for freedom in Europe because we think we won.

 

The threat of Islamism is no different to the threat that communism posed. Individual human rights; freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and expression; democratic elections; an independent judiciary; the right to a fair trial; legal protection for minorities and independent trade unions. All of these rights, the hallmarks of Western Democracy™, cease to exist in an Islamist society in just the same way as they did in communist ones. Yet we have failed to recognise this threat or, if we have, then we have not taken it seriously.

 

Jenkins’ article exemplifies the attitude that we have, as Valls says, “turned a blind eye to terror”:

“We closed our eyes – everywhere in Europe including France – to the progression of extremist ideas, Salafism, neighbourhoods which through a combination of drug trafficking and radical Islamism perverted, and I’ll use this word again, a part of the youth.”

It is no longer necessary to look far to see gender segregation, calls for blasphemy laws, and the oppression of female and Jewish political activists. And that is in just one UK political party.

 

Just as with communism there are both external and internal threats. The attacks by foreign nationals that characterised the Al Qaeda methodology have been replaced by the use of radicalised national citizens of European countries to undertake Daesh’s bombings and shootings. In his article Jenkins draws a comparison with how UK governments handled the IRA (though some may dispute his recollection of events). I think this comparison is wholly invalid. The IRA were trying to force the UK government to cede territorial control of a defined geographical area. Daesh are not. Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.

 

After every atrocity there is a routine, outlined by Douglas Murray in The Spectator recently:

“All of the ‘models’ [have] failed.  So here we are – stuck with a problem our politicians have given us and to which they have no answers. Perhaps all this pointless chatter is just what people do to distract themselves before they have to face up to that fact.”

 

We can no longer under-react. We should listen to Manuel Valls and finally start to fight the war we are in.

Owen Jones’ choice

By Saul Freeman and Jake Wilde

Over the last week we have written an article each on Owen Jones. Although Owen and us are “of the left”, it’s fair to say that Owen occupies a different section to us two most of the time. We are variously described as Red Tories, Blue Labour, Blairites, liberal interventionists and neocons. Owen is none of those things. However Owen wrote an article on 15 March where he stated “anti-Semitism is a menace”. Condemnation of anti-Semitism is a binary choice and you either do or you don’t. So Owen’s condemnation was to be welcomed and here was something that we thought would unite Owen and us..

But when we read his article we, independently of each other, found things that made us nervous. One week on and we have decided to write this conclusion to the discussion jointly.

In 2004/5 Owen Jones was a student at Oxford. Although he describes his time at Oxford as a period where he didn’t really get involved in party politics he did take the time to edit Wikipedia entries on Israel, Hamas & Palestine.  He has written today about those entries and sought to provide context, the main one being that he was very young (19) at the time.

In these entries Owen did some of the following:

  • He identified other contributors as Zionists and used this as the basis to refute the value of their contributions on the subject of Israel.
  • He proclaimed that Jews were not an ethnic group, referring to “the notion of Jewish ethnicity” as “a lie” and used this as a device to undermine the case for Israel as the Jewish state, representing Jewish self-determination.
  • He dismissed reference to Hamas suicide bombings as “West-centric”.
  • He removed reference to Hamas war crimes as “unnecessary and out of place”.
  • He stated that the main reason Israel’s boundaries are disputed is down to the occupation of the West Bank & (as it was then) Gaza, with no reference to other more structural causes from neighbouring states.
  • He stated that “The Israeli occupation is one of THE most important issues of this period. Historians in the future will simply not understand the modern era without referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Arab nationalism, Muslim-West hostility, Islamophobia, September 11th, Islamic terrorism, the “war on terror”, both Gulf Wars, the Afghan war – all of these issues which dominate our time cannot be understood without reference to the occupation of Palestine.”

In these posts, edits and commentaries, we think Owen exhibited just about every one of the views and behaviours associated with the anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic Left. You can read Owen’s version of events and decide for yourself though it is unclear from his piece today whether he does or does not hold these views any more.

However it seems that Owen’s general view, as expressed today, of these Wikipedia entries is that, because they were over ten years ago, they have no relevance today and discussion of them is a sign of “grudge”. Now at face value that might be a reasonable (if dismissive) approach.  

So let us get closer to the present day. Owen claims to have impeccable credentials and points to his articles and writings since his Oxford days as evidence of him having put clear blue water between himself and the elements of the UK Left that propagate an anti-Israel agenda. An agenda that has helped land us where we are today – a UK Left riven by anti-Semitism.

There are some problems with his claims. Owen says he has never campaigned for BDS but in March 2015 he is billed on a panel to deliver “workshops on building powerful BDS campaigns”. His recent article on the government’s’ proposed ban on boycotts specifically mentioned BDS. He made the effort to denounce anti-Semitism but then rather spoiled it all by quoting Barnaby Raine, an issue addressed in more detail here.

Owen has also contributed articles for, and shared stages with, the Stop the War Coalition, who have a sickeningly long and very current history of publishing anti-Semitic articles and, on occasion, bad poetry. These recently deleted gems can be found at http://therealstopthewar.wordpress.com

He has also published a condemnation of Israel for killing a child and then refused to retract it when independent evidence proved his mistake.

And he has indulged in the modern version of the blood libel with an obsessive reference to Palestinian children injured or killed by Israel during the 2014 conflict with Hamas yet makes no reference to the thousands of Jewish Israelis (many, of course children) targeted by Hamas rockets during the same period.

We worry that such behaviour looks like tolerance of anti-Semitism. Yet if Owen understands anything about the nature of current Left wing anti-Semitism he will appreciate that his student Wikipedia posts are almost a textbook example of how we have got here. Owen’s place in the cycle is clear. At Oxford Owen was also a member of the Oxford University Labour Club, currently the subject of an investigation by the Labour Party into allegations of systemic anti-Semitic bullying and abuse. He is neither the root cause of nor to blame for OULC’s descent into the anti-Semitic pit. But if Owen cares about eliminating Left wing anti-Semitism he could use a public disavowal and forensic demolition of his “former” views as a once in a lifetime opportunity to lay bare the roots of this left-wing disease, and try to break the cycle.

The alternative is that, in ten years’ time, the “new Owen Jones” will write an article condemning anti-Semitism on the left without being able to locate it, and will dismiss evidence of their previous anti-Semitism as “naïve ramblings” while simultaneously sharing platforms with anti-Semites.

Let us be clear. This is not about extracting an apology from Owen. It’s about grasping this opportunity to break the seemingly endless loop of left-wing antisemitism. Not about using smoke and mirrors to deflect criticism away from Jeremy Corbyn. Not about introducing false equivalence with Islamophobia, as Corbyn himself also did today.  The anti-Semitic left have denounced Owen leaving him with a clear choice to make. Either he follows through on his denunciation of anti-Semitism and refuses to have anything to do with those who indulge in it, or he provides cover for them. We hope he will choose the former and we will support him for it, whatever our differences on other issues.

 

But Owen, but…

By Jake Wilde

Owen Jones has today written a largely commendable article on what he correctly describes as the “menace” of antisemitism. As a prominent writer on the left he is also right to focus on what ‘the left’ should be doing about it. His condemnation of antisemitism, and those who espouse it, or tolerate it, is to be welcomed.

I had a mild row with Owen recently over his use of the word “but”. The thread can be found here. I say that up front as, having just praised Owen, I am about to use the word “but”.

There can be no doubt that Owen has two things in his mind at the moment. Firstly his utter horror at a genuinely left wing Labour Party being consumed by daily discussions around the deplorable behaviour and attitudes of its members, rather than talking about policies. Secondly that these behaviours and attitudes are threatening to engulf a leadership that Owen has personally endorsed and committed to. His column today is then both necessary and brave.

But (there it is) I have a number of problems with what Owen has written.

Firstly it is simply not true to say “The issue of antisemitism arises because of revelations centred on a Labour Party activist named Vicki Kirby.” To assert this is about as disingenuous as it’s possible to be. The charge of antisemitism, or at best the tolerance of it, has dogged the Corbyn leadership from day one. Indeed Corbyn’s relationships with known antisemites was the subject of regular discussion during the leadership election. The Vicki Kirby case is simply the latest in a long and regular stream of antisemitism scandals afflicting the Labour Party, and especially so since Corbyn’s election. If you think otherwise then there’s probably little point in reading on.

It is this false premise that allows Owen to excuse Corbyn from any involvement in the Vicki Kirby case:

“For those making it all about Jeremy Corbyn, it should be noted that both the suspension and its lifting took place under the old regime.”

Fine, Jeremy Corbyn was certainly a long way from having personal involvement in the “old regime”. Yet this attempt to place the blame onto Ed Miliband and ‘the moderates’ ignores the role of the NEC and our old friend Ken Livingstone, amongst others, in the “old regime”. Let’s not pretend that Ken is in blissful ignorance of the Vicki Kirby case and let’s not pretend that somehow Ken has no role in the ‘new regime’.

Nobody is making it all about Jeremy Corbyn as an individual. What people are making it about is Jeremy Corbyn as a leader of the ‘new regime’ and what message Corbyn, John McDonnell and Livingstone have sent, over many decades, to those members of society looking for a left wing home for their antisemitism.

The second problem I have is the equivalence that Owen chooses to give to the problem of antisemitism and what he calls “Islamophobia”. “Both forms of bigotry…exist within progressive circles and within the Labour Party.” There is no evidence at all that members of the Labour Party are expressing anti-Jewish views and anti-Muslim views in similar numbers. However there is clear evidence of sexism within the Muslim community with male Muslim Labour Party members intimidating and bullying female Muslim Labour Party members, forcing them to give up being activists and candidates. That, however, is not “Islamophobia” – that is sexism. An enquiry into sexism in the Labour Party would yield interesting results, with the starting point being the Shadow Cabinet. And that is before you get to the misogynistic abuse that the likes of Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy, Caroline Flint and Gloria Del Piero regularly receive from Labour Party members and their “affiliated supporters”. Yes, you know who I mean.

Finally I am always disappointed when I read phrases like this:

“It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism one the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination.”

That disappointment is not because of what is said (though a writer of Owen’s skill should surely be able to come up with a new way to say it) but what is omitted. Since Owen brought up the issue of Islamophobia it is surely not beyond his imagination to also say this:

“It is possible to passionately oppose Islamophobia on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Hamas and support Israel’s right to existence.”

Just for once I would like to see a socialist make the argument for Israel’s right to national self-determination in the same breath as Palestine’s. Only then might we start to see some progress in forcing the antisemites out of the Labour Party and back under their stones where they belong.

 

Don’t let’s be beastly to the North Koreans

By Citizen Sane

It’s not surprising. Finding something ridiculous in The Guardian and being surprised is like peeling a banana and being astonished to find there’s a banana in there.

Avoiding Guardian articles is more difficult than it used to be. I stopped buying the damn thing years ago and only visit Comment Is Free when I’m feeling masochistic. But in this age of social media there’s a good chance you’ll see at least half a dozen links to their website on Twitter or Facebook every day. And that’s how you’ll come across something like this: Dangerous, isolated and primed for war? North Korean clichés debunked wherein Hazel Smith (professor of International Relations and Korean Studies, and director of the International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire) will put you in the picture.

The piece purports to be a corrective to clichéd conceptions about the people of North Korea. Which would be fine, although I’m not convinced that people in the West particularly have any conceptions about the residents of the nation itself – more likely they pity the millions of people who have to live in a brutal slave state under the rule of a psychopathic dynasty. Instead most of the article reads like an apologia for the regime itself.

North Korea, you see, is “idiosyncratic”. Idiosyncratic. Never mind the substantiated reports of widespread torture, starvation, summary executions, political imprisonment and death camps (not mentioned once in the extract, by the way). These are just quirks. North Korea is a bit whacky that way, like an eccentric uncle or something.

First myth: North Koreans are different from you and me. North Koreans, argues Hazel as she constructs a straw man so big it can be seen from space (along with, funnily enough, images of a blacked out North Korea at night), are not educationally backward or lacking sophistication. Indeed, despite a “relentless socialisation campaign” (her words) glorifying the Kim family, North Korean society still isn’t completely closed off, despite the best efforts of a regime that, to quote Christopher Hitchens, treats Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual rather than a work of literature. Hazel goes on to point out that the DPRK has high levels of literacy and university enrolment but, alas, the government works hard to prevent the free flow of information, permitting access to foreign books and films only if a genuine “need” can be demonstrated. I’d like to see how many such requests there are every year and how many are granted (and how many citizens requesting the materials are seized in the night and sent to prison as enemies of the revolution). I wonder if North Korea has a Freedom of Information Act? Seems unlikely, but then by supposing that I may well be falling back on the lazy clichés that this article is so keen to upend.

Next myth: North Korea is a dangerous and irrational military power. You’d be wrong to think that, despite any evidence to the contrary. No doubt when the DPRK threatens to attack Japan or the United States it’s just being idiosyncratic. It’s just larks. High japes. Banter. The DPRK’s military is dilapidated and poorly funded, they couldn’t possibly be a serious threat to anybody (apart from their own people, of course. And still no mention of the death camps in the article. How curious). They only spent $4.38bn on defence in 2009, for example, a trifling 15.64% of its GDP. A totally reasonable sum for a – no doubt – peaceful nation. Besides, North Korea only has an estimated four to eight operational warheads whereas the United States has over 2,200. There you have it then. North Korea has nuclear weapons, the USA has nuclear weapons. It’s all the same.

Next myth: North Korea is a criminal state. There’s no evidence to support this, it’s all just whispers, smoke and mirrors. Besides, all our media reports are founded on “allegations from defectors and unnamed US officials”. Defectors! Pah! Who could trust those traitors? There’s no real evidence that the state itself is behind any of this.

But hang on. I thought the point of this piece was to show how our conceptions of the people of North Korea were wrong? Indeed, a response on Twitter from The Guardian’s very own Guardian North Korea Twitter account (yes, they really do have one) stated that the author is arguing that “North Koreans – rather than rulers of – are active agents of their own destiny”.

“Active agents of their own destiny.” Apart from those in the death camps, of course. Did I mention that this article doesn’t even refer to the death camps?

Far from debunking any myths, this article instead ignores a very obvious truth: that North Korea is a uniquely paranoid and dangerous regime and that the people it endangers the most are its own. Of course the North Korean people are not any different to the rest of us: they’re just unfortunate to live in a concentration camp masquerading as a country. This article, constructed around puncturing myths that don’t even exist, is nothing but a thinly veiled justification of that regime.

Where else but The Guardian could you read DPRK propaganda dressed up as a piece about challenging prejudices?

P.S. The article doesn’t mention the death camps. Can’t remember if I pointed that out.

Sunny Hundal: Gaza, Falsehoods, Moral Equivalence

By Jamie Palmer

At a time when the Middle East is convulsed by conflicts in which neither party has much to recommend them, the war in Gaza benefits from a rare moral clarity. A liberal democracy and the world’s only Jewish State came under attack by an openly eliminationist and genocidally anti-Semitic totalitarian terrorist organization. In a saner world, support for the former from democrats of all stripes would be a foregone conclusion. But, alas, we live in this one.

The Left’s deranged hesperophobic tendency has, of course, gone completely berserk. But images of broken Palestinian children being removed from the rubble of Gaza – often presented as if the conflict is about nothing else – have helped to give their hysterical views a veneer of reasonability, and their madness has begun to infect the opinions of otherwise clear-minded people.

One such person is Sunny Hundal. I have many differences with Hundal, but he is not someone who can be readily bracketed with anti-Western head-bangers like Mehdi Hasan and Owen Jones. Hundal supported military intervention in Syria and, domestically, he has been supportive of counter-extremism efforts by organisations such as Quilliam to combat homegrown radical Islam.

The Gaza war, however, has completely screwed up his critical perspective, and he has gone beyond simply condemning Israeli policies and actions, and has endorsed the Tricycle Theatre’s recent refusal to host London’s annual Jewish Film Festival as long as it accepts funding from the Israeli embassy.

His recent Guardian debate with Nick Cohen on the subject opens with a paragraph of anti-Israeli half-truths, canards and falsehoods, and since they form the moral basis of his call to boycott the Festival (to which I’ll return), they should be dealt with.

The issues are complex, and the first of them unfortunately necessitates a stat-heavy response, but I’ll be brief as I can:

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by keeping Palestinians under a goods and people blockade.”

The Israelis are not capable of unilaterally enforcing a blockade of Gaza since Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing. Furthermore, a post by Elder of Ziyon has just reminded us of the following:

  • Crossings closed due to their vulnerability to terrorism have no effect on imports because those remaining open are more than capable of meeting Gaza’s needs. Israel invested 80m shekels expanding the Kerem Shalom crossing for this purpose and it is never at maximum capacity.
  • Israel does not impose a limit on Gaza’s exports (although Israel no longer imports them).
  • Besides a small list of “dual use” materials, Israel imposes no restrictions on Gaza imports either, and allows dual-purpose goods to be imported under certain conditions. Israel’s anxiety about such materials has been vindicated by the discovery of the sheer scale of the tunnel network Hamas has been busily constructing.
  • Israel’s naval blockade, like the closure of crossings, is a response to Hamas terrorism not its cause. Incidents like the Karine-A affair have made Israel understandably nervous about arms arriving in Gaza by sea.

The Kerem Shalom crossing, incidentally, remained open throughout the conflict, despite continuous Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, until – in an act of Palestinian incompetence or perversity – it was itself subjected to rocket attack on Sunday August 10.

Before that, according to the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs:

On August 6, 236 trucks carrying 4,196 tons of goods and supplies entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Among the trucks that entered were:

131 trucks carrying 2,526 tons of food

5 trucks carrying 27 tons of medicine and medical supplies

43 trucks carrying 313 tons of humanitarian supplies

6 trucks with 110 tons of equipment to help repair infrastructure.

1 truck carrying 7 tons of agricultural supplies

A team of 22 doctors from the West Bank entered the Gaza Strip in order to assist current medical staff.

Further shipments are detailed on the same site, but overall between the start of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July and the ceasefire on 5 August, Israel transferred 40,550 tons of supplies into Gaza via Kerem Shalom.

Since Israel imposes no restrictions on food, fuel and medicine passing through the crossings, Hundal should be required to explain why he is blaming Israel for Gaza’s terrible hardship and exonerating Hamas and the PA of their own responsibilities to Palestinians.

The medical shortage – according to the PA – is caused by Hamas theft. The fuel shortage is caused by Hamas’s refusal to pay market prices for fuel from Israel or to accept Egyptian fuel through Kerem Shalom. Hamas found it could enrich its officials at Gazans’ expense by imposing exorbitant taxes on fuel and other materials imported illegally through the smuggling tunnels. Which is why it is Hamas and not the Israelis who impose limits on what may enter Gaza legally through the crossings.

As Ynet recently reported, the upshot of all this is that while Gaza languishes in poverty, rampant theft and corruption has allowed Hamas to become “a movement of millionaires”.

As for people:

The IDF acceded to the request of hundreds of Palestinians who hold foreign citizenship to leave the Gaza Strip. The Erez Crossing in northern Gaza also remains open to Palestinian pedestrians for humanitarian cases.

Does Hundal realise that last year, the nation he accuses of being a systematic abuser of human rights treated 180,000 Palestinians in Israeli hospitals? Or that Israel opened a purpose-built field hospital on the Gaza border to treat Palestinians injured in the current conflict?

For good measure, Hundal goes on to claim that Israel “denies Palestinians clean water”. This is also false, not to mention inflammatory. Israel has met and even exceeded its obligations under Oslo with respect to the division and provision of water resources. Hamas, on the other hand, has been in repeated breach, and it is the excessive drilling of ‘pirate wells’ that has caused Gaza’s water supply to become contaminated by seawater.

For a full analysis of the various issues relating to water resources, see this fairly comprehensive article and supporting documentation posted at the Gatestone Institute.

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by continually building illegal settlements on their land despite international agreements”

Even if one puts the illegality of the settlements beyond dispute, this is a ridiculous assertion. While I share Hundal’s implied dislike of Israel’s ideologically irredentist strain, the actual construction of settlements beyond the Green Line does not necessarily prejudice a 2 State agreement, still less constitute a “systematic abuse of human rights”.

Many of the largest settlement blocks will be incorporated into Israel anyway under an agreement, and compensated with land swaps from Israeli territory bordering Palestine. Outposts will be dismantled and evacuated, just as they were when Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza. It will be difficult and painful, and the Israeli government needs to do more to prepare public opinion for these concessions, but in the event of an agreement it will get done.

Meanwhile, Hundal may wish to ponder why it is that the settlement of Jews within what will one day be Palestine is such an egregious sin in the first place. Approximately 1.7m Arabs live safely and freely as members of Israeli society, afforded equal rights, protections, and equality before the law. Will Palestinian Jews be permitted to remain in their West Bank homes should they wish to do so? Will it be safe for them to do so? Or will a 2 State agreement necessarily require the removal of all Jews from the territory?

When people agonise about the construction of Jewish settlements, I can’t help noticing that there are very few Jews left in the rest of the Middle East. Ancient Jewish populations have long since fled or been driven out of neighbouring Arab countries, their remaining numbers reduced to triple, double or even single digits. It would seem there are those for whom it is an act of forbearance to hem Jews into the sliver of the Middle East constituting Israel proper.

Hamas, of course, with whom Israel is at war, refuse to grant even that. Israel is often accused of being a racist nation. But the stark contrast between Israel’s imperfect but genuinely pluralist society and those of its neighbours is one worth considering when assessing the moral balance in this conflict.

“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by ignoring the peace process”

No there isn’t and this allegation reveals an astonishing ignorance both of what actually happened during the most recent round of negotiations, and of the reasons for their failure. Beginning with the second of these, the talks most certainly did not collapse due to Israeli indifference. On the contrary, as The New Republic’s report disclosed, Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni tried to persuade the Palestinians to return to the table.

Lest it be forgotten, Israel released 78 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were serving time for the murder of Israeli citizens. Israel got nothing tangible in return. Only a commitment to temporarily suspend applications to international bodies, which, in any case, the Palestinians violated before the talks had even fully collapsed.

When it became clear that the Palestinians were unprepared to commit to continued negotiations, irrespective of whether the final prisoner release went ahead or not, Israel cancelled it. The announcement of a unity government with Hamas destroyed whatever remained of the process.

But, more to the point, belief in the idea that Israel has ignored the peace process requires a wilful failure to appreciate the commitment and flexibility Bibi Netanyahu and Livni showed on the core issues during negotiations themselves.

For a detailed analysis of the Kerry talks and the reasons for their failure, see this excellent post over at the anonymous mugwump blog (which also addresses the issue of settlements in more depth).

“Last week both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused [Israel] of war crimes, and it wasn’t the first time.”

It sure wasn’t! But an accusation made is not an accusation proven, and Hundal would do well to handle Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports relating to Israel with greater caution.

In 2010, the Gita Sahgal affair revealed the scale of Amnesty’s moral confusion concerning theo-fascist ‘resistance’ movements. A similar confusion can be detected in their credulous coverage of the latest Gaza war. Despite abundant evidence provided by the IDF that Hamas uses human shields to protect military targets, and uses hospitals and ambulances for military purposes, Amnesty reports it is agnostic on these matters, while entertaining no such doubts about allegations of Israel’s egregious wrongdoing.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have played fast and loose with the terms “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” to describe Israeli military actions during this war, to the point where the seriousness of such language doesn’t appear to merit a second thought.

When the BBC published a report pointing out that a disproportionate number of Gazans killed by Israel during the war were fighting-age males, it appeared to dent HRW’s repeated charge that Israeli shelling of Gaza had been untargeted. Not to be deterred, HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth responded by carefully balancing the likelihood of Hamas disinformation with the possibility that Israel had simply been targeting young men, irrespective of whether or not they were combatants.

The fact that both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty draw significant numbers of their staff pool from pro-Palestinian activist groups like the International Solidarity Movement and even pro-militant propaganda outlets like the Electronic Intifada, should give the fair-minded pause. As should the uncritical repeating of highly unreliable eyewitness testimony and uncorroborated statements by Hamas officials in their readiness – no, eagerness – to accuse Israel of war crimes before all the facts are in.

In October 2009, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch and its chairman for 20 years, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he expressed his dismay at the direction Human Rights Watch had taken since his departure, particularly in its approach to the Middle East. Earlier in the year, the organisation had accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. To which Bernstein objected:

In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports on Israeli crimes and violations are not to be dismissed outright, by any means. But, regrettably, nor do they have the automatic moral authority in this context that Sunny Hundal appears to assume.

In the opening paragraphs of his article, Bernstein also made a point pertinent, not only to the Middle East conflict in general, but also to the side-show quarrel over the Tricycle boycott:

At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by focussing on dissidents[.]

One of these self-critical mechanisms is culture. Advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are attacking Israeli culture and academia, in order to narrow the available platforms on which pro and dissenting Jewish and Israeli voices may meet their opponents. For them, the debate is over.

This leads Hundal to justify his position on the boycott of the Jewish Film Festival with precisely the kind of moral equivalence Robert Berstein cautioned against. Hundal to Nick Cohen:

Britons have very limited options to influence the Israeli government, and boycotting their money is one of their very few tools. You’ve advocated boycotting Press TV and raised concerns about Russia Today in the past, partly because they are state-funded and toe that line. What if people accused you of singling out Persians or Russians? I’m sure you would agree with me in applauding any group that rejected Syrian, Hamas or Russian state money too.

The Tricycle was guilty of this same moral failing when – absurdly – its director protested that she would not hesitate to ban a Hamas-funded film festival on the same grounds.

If Hundal and the Tricycle, in their hurry to be seen as scrupulously even-handed, cannot see an objective difference between the propaganda arm of a totalitarian theocracy and the free forum for ideas represented by the Jewish Film Festival, then I suppose it follows that they should see no particular reason to support a liberal democracy as it defends itself from a fascist foe.

Bernstein’s article is an eloquent reply to this thinking:

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.

Hamas is not a noble resistance movement and it has no interest in responsible or even competent governance. It is simply another head on the Salafi jihadi hydra currently tearing the Middle East to pieces. These groups are cults of death which will somehow have to be destroyed. When that finally happens it will be a deliverance for all those they terrify and control, including Gazans. If anyone’s skeptical on this point, I recommend spending some time listening to what Hamas actually say. And reading their foundational Charter.

Israel – tragically – is trapped in an occupation from which it has been unable to disentangle itself. Not because it is “ignoring the peace process” but because its government and its people understand the threats they face far better than Sunny Hundal and the deeply unsympathetic NGOs he cites.

As Israel responds to rockets fire and low-level incursions, Hundal prefers to offer tendentious claims about settlements and sanctions, and manages to excuse Hamas any responsibility for the dire state of the polity it governs. All to justify an attack on artistic expression; itself a spiteful proxy attack on the Middle East’s embattled democracy.

The Battle of Hastings

by Tom Doran

A society of laws: the Supreme Court of Israel, Jerusalem.

People like me know the script when it comes to defending Israel against its outright haters, the people currently attacking synagogues all over Europe in the name of Palestine. They are unhinged, implacable, terrifying… But for this very reason, a known quantity. We’ve been here before, again and again. We have Seen This Movie.

But there is another category of anti-Semitic discourse that is much harder to pin down, in large part because it doesn’t know it’s anti-Semitic. This we might call the MISTIA tendency – “more in sorrow than in anger” – which seems appropriate, since it is an idea swathed in a pseudo-intellectual haze.

It goes roughly like this: “We love Jews, we really do. Christ, Spinoza, Einstein… Ten out of ten all round. But as your friends, we must sorrowfully – nay, ruefully – be brutally honest: you’re not living up to our expectations. The rest of us are counting on you to be nice and enlightened and harmless, but there you go, blowing up innocent Arabs just because you feel like it. It’s a tragedy, I tell you.”

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, in the past. I am an unabashed philo-Semite, and this has occasionally led me to moralise excessively, as if I were somehow owed Jewish virtue. But as I’ve spent more and more time learning and thinking and talking about the Middle East, and especially since visiting Israel, I have painstakingly sought to train myself out of it. I don’t always succeed.

But at least, as many a British journalist has sighed in relief, I’m not Max Hastings. Here I should say that I respect the man enormously. His works on military history have been commended to me by people who know, and his breadth of knowledge and intellect are evident in his writing.

But not for nothing did Private Eye dub him – unfairly, but still truthfully – “The World’s Worst Columnist”. When he’s on form, he can be quite astute, but when he gets it wrong, he really gets it wrong. His recent Daily Mail column is a textbook example, and is – if only by implication – one of the most anti-Semitic things I have ever read in a British newspaper, and I read the Guardian.

To be absolutely clear: there’s no doubt in my mind that Hastings is wholly innocent of any conscious anti-Jewish bias. Indeed, it’s apparent from the piece that he sincerely considers himself a friend and ally of the state of Israel, and to a large extent this is probably the case. But this only makes the implications of his argument all the more disturbing.

The central accusation – that Israel is employing wildly excessive force in Gaza to the end of punishing innocent Palestinians – can quickly be dispensed with. The disingenuous “proportionality” argument has already been demolished by better writers than me; I direct you in particular to this pointed rebuttal from Israeli parliamentarian Hilik Bar and this longer meditation by Shany Mor. Suffice it to say, those making the claim simply don’t take into account Israel’s real choices, nor do they care to.

The rest of the column makes an argument, or observation, that I happen to agree with in its broadest outlines. Israeli politics and society have indeed experienced a noticeable – but often exaggerated – extremist drift in the past couple of decades, and it is intensely worrying to many of us.

But you know who else worries about it? Israelis. Constantly. The coarsening, brutalising effects of endless war are, like everything else in the Jewish state, a hotly disputed topic. Even solidly right-wing Israelis will, as a rule, acknowledge the problems posed by the growing strength of the nationalist far-right and the ultra-Orthodox community. A senior aide to Benjamin Netanyahu did so to me in person.

This is because, for all this, Israel is still a modern, self-critical democracy. If you’ve ever spoken to an Israeli soldier or politician – again, an effort very few critics of Israel bother to make – you know that each and every military action they take is agonisingly weighed against its potential consequences to an extent most Western powers barely aspire to. Hastings himself is conscientious enough to quote some of these figures in his column, thus dynamiting a central pillar of his own case.

I should also note, in passing, that the piece abounds in the most basic of factual errors. Barack Obama, to cite a representative example, is called “the only recent US president to try to persuade Jerusalem to moderate its policies”. This would be news to most Israelis, since pleas for Israeli moderation have been made, in public and private, by every American president since Eisenhower.

But all this falls within the bounds of reasonable disagreement and basic incompetence. What does not, and what gives this article an unmistakably sinister dimension, is the sentiment expressed in the following sentence, third paragraph from the top:

[T]he Jewish people have been historic standard-bearers for civilisation.

Hastings, somewhat evasively, puts this in the mouth of “much of the world”, but it’s clear from the rest of the article that this reflects his personal feelings. In a rhetorical tic characteristic of the new anti-Semitism, he keeps citing Jewish people who agree with him as if this somehow bolstered his argument. “A historian friend, himself a Jew”, “a team of Israeli documentary-makers” and “many other Jews” are all conscripted to form a kind of Hebrew phalanx around Hastings’ own words.

For those of us steeped in the Israel/Palestine debate, this itself is an enormous, honking klaxon warning. If your criticism of Israel is legitimate, then why do you feel the need to prove it by stressing the Jewishness of your citations? When criticising the government of, say, Venezuela, does anyone feel the need to keep inserting variations on “…as many Venezuelans will concede”? Of course not, because Venezuelans, unlike Jews, are seen as individuals.

Here we get to the heart of the matter. Look again, and closely, at the sentence extracted above. On its face, it’s a sentiment I share to a large extent: Jews have indeed laid more than their share of asphalt on the road to modernity. But in this context, the implication is unmistakable: Jews, more than any other people, are expected to uphold “civilisation” on behalf of the rest of humanity.

Think about that for a moment. “[S]tandard-bearers for civilisation”; this is a much different claim than “many great historical figures have been Jewish”. Who exactly asked to bear this standard, and in what sense could they have spoken for the Jewish people as a whole? When did they – all 14 or so million of them – apply for this job?

In this way, in the guise of friendship and solidarity, the Jews are collectively made to bear the moral burdens of all humanity. This is not a new demand, to put it mildly. That Jews are uniquely obliged to be paragons is merely a sick inversion of the ancient Christ-killing slander, even if meant benignly.

My country, the United Kingdom, spent 30 years fighting a violent insurgency based in its sovereign territory. Thousands of civilians, in Northern Ireland and the mainland, lost their lives to terrorism. This was a profound test of the British state, and this test was not passed with flying colours. We locked hundreds of people up without charge or trial, shot innocent civil rights protesters and too often allowed brutality to run unchecked among our fighting men.

We should be ashamed of all of this. But when most British people consider our record in Northern Ireland, they do so in cognisance of the full historical context. They acknowledge the toll random attacks on civilians take on a society, the impossible choices asymmetric warfare forces on governments, and that the behaviour of many, even most British officials was exemplary.

When it comes to Israel, this considered approach is jettisoned. If Palestinian children are dying, it must be because Israelis want them dead, or simply don’t care. Defenders of Israel are so bored with saying this we could cry, but one more time: no nation on Earth would tolerate the deliberate targeting of its civilians – however ineffective – with equanimity, and without resorting to decisive force.

To Max Hastings and others who would be critical allies of the Jewish state, I say this: the Jews are not an example, or a lesson, or a tragedy. They do not exist for your moral edification, nor to uphold an abstract thing called “civilisation” on your behalf. They are, in fact, human beings, with all that implies.

This post originally appeared on Tom Doran’s blog at the Independent.