That Jones Isn’t Funny Anymore

By David Paxton

To observe Owen Jones at work is to see somebody carefully negotiating difficult terrain. He has been the vanguard for this latest form of full-time campaigner-cum-party surrogate disguised as a commentator. People for whom purpose and credibility are at constant odds with each other.

Jones is both inside the tent and outside and does wondrous work trying to square the circle. “All commentators are biased it’s just that I’m honest about it” is the line and it’s a typically good one. But the tension many political commentators experience between having friends in the game, being a player yourself, and commentating on that game, has rarely been more obvious than it is with Jones. And so his output constantly resembles tactics far more than just a writer trying to make sense of the world from their particular vantage point. And it’s those contortions (see him on Brexit), the tightrope-walking, and most of all, the tactical silences from the inside man of the Corbyn show, that made for such great spectator sport.

The Labour antisemitism saga has changed all that.

As a reminder of how far we’ve come it’s worth re-reading this Jonathan Freedland piece from March 2016. It’s obviously fair and, by today’s standards, very tame about Corbyn. It expresses genuine, and now obviously well-founded, fears within the Jewish community. It repeats the line that was standard for so long:

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn. No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But…

Corbyn’s now infamous response to this article, as recorded in the disastrous VICE documentary, went:

The big negative today is the Jonathan Freedland article in The Guardian. Utterly disgusting, subliminal nastiness, the whole lot of it. He’s not a good guy at all.  He seems kind of obsessed with me.

You can’t re-read this without seeing how the current move from problem to crisis was always nailed on. A critic is the enemy and the problem was not to be with Jeremy. Ever.

When the associations with antisemites first started appearing in the media during Corbyn’s leadership campaign, Jones addressed “these guilt-by-association smears” and explained that:

people like me – who support the Palestinian cause out of a sense of justice – will risk meeting or sharing platforms with people who indulge or possess anti-Semitic views.

This is the argument from accidental meeting. It could happen to anyone that supports the Palestinian cause for long enough. You take a risk by doing good. In fact, the harder you try for peace the more likely you are to get into trouble.

The corollary of this argument is the damaging lie that nobody can seek to do right by Palestine without enduring constant scandal. But of course, when faced with real problems these tireless fighters of antisemitism would act.

When Jones’ friend Jackie Walker was suspended by Labour for antisemitic comments, Jones certainly did act. He declared the ‘outrageous suspension’ as having ‘no justification’ and called upon his followers to email the party general secretary to have her reinstated. When Walker reverted back to type, Jones did not address his error, or even describe her actions as antisemitic. He called them ‘totally unacceptable’ and said no more, while dropping Jackie Walker down the memory hole.

Around this time Jones was simultaneously declaring how seriously Labour must take antisemitism. Sure, it still had nothing to do with Corbyn but it must be fought. Except when it’s a smear, that is. He set up this dual position early: we must fight it AND it can be used by nefarious political opponents. As if that matters.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents… There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

This two way position, the ‘walking and chewing gum‘ has served Jones well. He can constantly declare the necessity to fight antisemitism but if the allegations get close to home and affect political expediency, then he can remind us that it can also be ‘a convenient means’. Are there other forms of bigotry that have those fighting it accused of exaggeration by Jones? What utility does this nebulous accusation of bad faith have beyond cover for the guilty? And what is one meant to do with the information? The aims Jones claims to have would be best served without his efforts to leave that constant doubt in the air. It’s rarely specifically applied but instead just allowed to linger and be hinted at as applicable.

In March this year, David Collier revealed the fruits of his long investigation into the Facebook group ‘Palestine Live’. I wrote about it here. Jones, who had previously been vocal about other Facebook group revelations from Tories, said nothing. The scandal blew up. Here was a huge discussion about antisemitism in Labour, the leader of his party was implicated, it went on for days. And nada. Zip. The public commentator, honest about his bias, intent on addressing antisemitism, decided not to comment.

Then the antisemitic mural resurfaced and kicked up a major storm. Once again Jones said nothing. Nothing, that is, until Corbyn finally released a statement. It turned out to be a fuss about nothing, of course, because Corbyn simply hadn’t looked at the content of the controversial mural he was supporting during a controversy about the content of the mural. Within moments of the statement, Jones piped up with a thread to express his ‘relief’ that there was nothing to worry about because Corbyn had a completely plausible explanation. I think we are expected to believe that before seeing that statement Jones was poised to erupt in righteous fury after a period biding his time.

It was in that particular thread that Jones declared ‘all-out war’ against Labour antisemitism. And even included an emoji of a flexing bicep to underscore the muscular vigour with which he would undertake this ‘ceaseless war’.

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Also within the thread he explained why he knows Corbyn is not ‘anything close’ to an antisemite, he wrote:

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It is said that on the matter of antisemitism it’s Jews that should be listened to. Jones is meeting this idea some of the way by listening to Jews who share his opinions. Of course, when the Jewish Margaret Hodge declared Corbyn to be an ‘antisemite and a racist’, Jones declared this ‘a lie and a disgrace’. But again the message is clear, Corbyn doesn’t have ‘even the slightest softness when it comes to antisemitism’.

Circumstances quickly provided Jones with an opportunity to deploy his battalions when, in response to the mural, various Jewish groups and organisations, and many unaffiliated people merely concerned, decided to muster on the lawns of Westminster and demonstrate their anxiety regarding the leadership and the current malaise. I attended the event and met many people who are not regular protestors or enthusiastic joiners but felt they had no other choice. Their feeling can be seen in the choice of their slogan, ‘enough is enough’. Usually a protest is catnip for Jones and one would expect him to be all over this like rash on a baby’s behind. Instead he resigned himself to merely commenting that one of the people present was being insincere and, as Rob Francis notes:

Earlier that day, he’d also shared an article by Jewish Voice for Labour, a group set up last year which opposed Tony Greenstein’s expulsion from the party. He subsequently deleted the tweet as he claimed he’d got confused with a different organisation (Jewish Voice). It’s possible, but I’d note that 1. his original tweet said he wanted to provide some “balance” on the subject (balance?! What balance is there to provide on an anti-racist march?) and 2. whether accidental or not, the upshot was to give JVL a lot of publicity.

And so, for Jones, the war was over. And before it ever really began. His actions then and subsequently have been of a familiar type, enough outrage to keep his anti-racist credentials up but always with a view of protecting Corbyn and the project. Always ready to call things smears and complain about ‘weaponisation’. No criticism of value, no action of meaning.

Then we get to the last fortnight.

First a video surfaced of Corbyn addressing a crowd where he compared the length of the blockade of Gaza to the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Stalingrad combined. Labour have since stated that he was not comparing the actions of the IDF to the Wehrmacht, but merely the timeframe. As if the rhetorical worth of Leningrad and Stalingrad lies in comparative time frames (for example, the Labour antisemitism saga has now been going on for 7.2 Stalingrads). This, though perhaps at the mild end, is a comparison between the actions of contemporary Israel and the Nazis.

Jones said nothing.

Another video surfaced from one of Corbyn’s regular appearances on the propaganda station of Iran (his appearances on Press TV, including hosting a show, should be reason enough for censure). In the interview he takes up the cause of a convicted Hamas terrorist and calls him ‘brother’. Then he was asked to address the 2012 Sinai attacks. Corbyn suggested it unlikely that a Muslim would attack a Muslim during Ramadan and then, without any evidence beyond an appeal to the conspiracist’s favourite logic, cui bono, he confesses to ‘suspecting the hand of Israel’ behind the terrorist violence which included an attack on Israel itself. A false flag terrorist attack against their own country. This is straight conspiratorial antisemitism.

If one contrasts this with his reactions to the Skripal poisoning, where, despite lots of good evidence and expert opinion fingering the Russian state, Corbyn worked hard to avoid accusation. Treating Israel by different standards.

Jones said nothing.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse, it was revealed by James Vaughan that Corbyn hosted and chaired a meeting on Holocaust Memorial Day as part of a tour reportedly titled, “Never Again for Anyone – Auschwitz to Gaza”.

The leaflet handed out at the event juxtaposed Holocaust victims with people of Gaza.

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Holocaust minimisation, Holocaust reversal, take your pick.

The co-organisers of the event were the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) who, as Vaughan has pointed out, are content posting images like this on their website:

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The main speaker at the event was a survivor of Auschwitz. He claimed that the Israelis ‘act like the Nazis’ and that Elie Wiesel is the ‘high priest’ of the Zionists’ ‘Holocaust religion’. In a rare act of apparent contrition Corbyn released the following statement:

Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone. In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.

The apology, and the admittance that actions have caused anxiety, appeared to some as progress by Corbyn. I am more cynical. When an Auschwitz survivor starts saying these things, which I find repulsive, I accept that as a non-Jewish person, so detached from the Holocaust in comparison, I can’t really tell him to stop. I’m just not in the position to do so. And nor is Corbyn, and he knows we know this. Jones was quick to use this dilemma.

So despite the apology there apparently wasn’t much to apologise for. Always tactics. And it’s quite clever actually. Unfortunately, it ignores certain facts:

  1. Reports suggest that other Jews in the audience tried to dispute the thesis of the main speaker. Corbyn, as the chair, wouldn’t allow them to and saw to it that those in disagreement or ‘completely rejecting’ were removed. Including another Holocaust survivor.Survivor
  2. When sat there, Corbyn might have felt unable to protest (as Jones suggests), but this is to start the story in the middle. Corbyn didn’t have to be there at all, and what was said at the meeting could hardly have been a surprise, considering the theme. He chose to be in that position and now chooses to pretend that he had no idea.
  3. Corbyn didn’t just ‘appear on a platform’ as per his statement and Jones’ theory of unfortunate luck when being pro-Palestinian doesn’t stick. He gave the platform in parliament. He hosted the event. “I have shared platforms with people I gave platforms to” isn’t the excuse he thinks it is.
  4. The survivor wasn’t the only person of concern on the platform.
  5. And this really is the rub: Corbyn hosted the event on Holocaust Memorial Day, with a theme clearly implying that Israel was guilty of similar crimes to those commemorated. It’s one of the most offensive things I have heard a contemporary politician knowingly do.

Before we leave the Nazi/Israel comparisons I am reminded of what a clever socialist once said about them.

You get this comparison sometimes, a deeply offensive comparison, between the actions of the Israeli government and the Nazis. And I’ve heard that said by people who support Palestinian justice before… The reason that comparison is made is to cause deliberate offence.

We can only assume that Jones meant everyone apart from Jeremy Corbyn.

The fortnight wasn’t over.

It was also revealed that both Corbyn and McDonnell campaigned to have the word ‘Holocaust’ removed from Holocaust Memorial Day. Jones said nothing.

Though it was unacceptable to Jones when Jackie Walker complained about Jewish monopolisation of the Holocaust, we can only assume that silence is consent when it comes to Corbyn’s efforts.

And finally (ignoring all the other incidents not involving Corbyn), there’s the debacle of the “JC9”.

Weeks ago, it was reported that National Executive Committee member and candidate, Peter Willsman, had ranted about ‘Trump fanatics’ in the Jewish community as a reason for the complaints about antisemitism. He further suggested that he had never seen evidence of antisemitism within the party despite his sitting on the body charged with investigating cases when they arose. Corbyn was present at the meeting. So were the rest of the NEC. The report was ignored by all and when Momentum announced their slate for the NEC elections they called them the #JC9 (Jeremy Corbyn 9), and Willsman was one of them.

Jones expressed his approval:

But audio of the rant was released and the contents were bad. A decision about Willsman was obviously made because, in perfect Whatsapp synchronisation, the new members of the Mystery Gang (now with added Communism) decided they were for the #JC8.

Predictably, Jones received push-back from the Corbyn cultists for abandoning Willsman. In response, the next morning he posted the following:

And there we have it. Jones’ straddling of the divide is finally laid bare for the absurd sham that it is. We are told the problem exists on the ‘fringe’ when discussing conduct during a meeting of National Executive Committee, attended by the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and involving one of a group of candidates that use the leader’s initials as a handle. Conduct that was not acted upon until audio was released to the public.

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The problem of course is ‘just one man’. Much like the other individuals who Jones has had to discard once the discarding was approved policy. And so, like Jackie Walker, the fringe Peter Willsman will go down the memory hole.

Now we reach today.

Corbyn has just had published in The Guardian a piece titled I Will Root Antisemites Out of LabourWith the exception of a slightly panicked tone and an accusation that the Jewish press are exaggerating, it says nothing we haven’t already heard. In fact, in parts it’s simply copied and pasted from the article he put out in April:

 

Jones is fully aware of the April piece as he recommended it just two days ago. He described today’s slight rehash, rather wonderfully, as ‘exceptional’.

For three years there’s been incident after incident involving Corbyn followed by a litany of ridiculous excuses. “I didn’t see”, “I didn’t look closely enough”, “it was just diplomacy, I didn’t mean it”, “I shared a platform but I rejected the view without actually rejecting it”, “I don’t recall”, “I wasn’t aware of his past”, “I wasn’t chairing the meeting”. Again and again. Over and over. Not a single one of these excuses would be granted to any one of Jones’ political enemies but a torrent of them all added together are declared reasonable when it comes to Corbyn. According to Jones, Corbyn is just the unluckiest man in the world.

It is now inescapable that a great proportion of the current concern felt by the Jewish community about Labour and antisemitism is the fault and responsibility of Labour’s leader and a result of his actions and inactions over decades. The people trying to point out this obvious fact are gaslit by Jones who tells them, in their distress and during a fortnight where serious and repeated allegations have again been brought to light about the conduct of Corbyn, that they are gullibly falling for ‘smears’.

I believe that Corbyn is, in fact, an antisemite. Parsimony demands it as the excuse-making required to draw any other conclusion is now ‘just beyond ludicrous’, to coin a phrase. But if Jones doesn’t wish to admit Corbyn is an antisemite, or can’t see it, then that’s one thing. We can agree to disagree. But to be unable to link Corbyn to the problem, to not allow him to be responsible for his actions, is only to prolong the agony felt by others.

How, for example, are Labour meant to have a nuanced debate about the IHRA definition of antisemitism — which Jones claims to want — when it’s clear, be it a coincidence or not, that Labour’s changes to that definition provide escape clauses for the past actions of the very leader seeking to implement those changes? How is Jones going to be a part of that debate when he can’t bring himself to address any of the specific concerns about the leader?

There is no shortage of those that deny there is any problem at all. And they intrigue me. The question keeps coming up ‘don’t they know or are they lying?’ Is the loyalty and hope blinding them?

You can’t know a man’s mind, but with many of them I am sure they honestly can’t see or cannot understand it. Those who think this is made up by anti-Corbyn cabals are blind or/and stupid – but I believe they believe it. The flaw for Jones is that while keeping his anti-racism credentials as high as possible he has been adept enough to spell out what antisemitism is, and how it manifests. He simply can’t not know. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. As he once said:

The only way the left will come to the positions that I want, is that if people like me speak out passionately and argue this case which is to take antisemitism seriously…

This speaking out, alas, precludes any criticism of the person chiefly responsible for the problem.

So it’s worse than the deniers. In fact, it’s the worst. He’s telling the Jewish community ‘I am on your side’ while also working to undermine the solutions to their qualms. The problem is at the top of the party and Jones tells everyone it’s just ‘the fringe’. It’s just smears. (I have sometimes wondered if this isn’t all just a grand attempt to have that word redefined).

At the end of the movie Primary Colors, the protagonist, Henry, is in crisis. He has seen the politician for whom he works, Jack Stanton, fail to live up to the principles he espouses. Stanton turns on the full persuasion. “This is the price you pay to lead – you don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president?”. It’s a classic dilemma best summed up as ‘systems vs goals’. Or if you prefer, ‘principles vs goals’. Compromise your principles a little, but that’s ok when you accept that your goal is the greater principle in the equation. I have come to accept that it’s idealistic and naive not to accept the necessity of some of that compromise. It’s the world of politics. And we probably forgive Henry for his eventually accepting. But where is the line?

I’m reminded of something Jones said in his ‘All-out War’ thread:

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One can but guess what Jones thinks of the presentation these days as the leader of the party is credibly called a racist by his own MPs and endorsed by America’s Jew haters. But he was willing to abandon Corbyn to protect his dream of socialism. Good for him. However, since the election that dream is tied to Corbyn, and this time it’s just within reach, so Jones is willing to abandon the Jewish community instead. Wherever the line is, I posit that’s the other side of it.

I’ll finish with a prediction:

If Corbyn cannot get out from under this scandal — and the until very recently unthinkable happens — and he is moved aside then, as if by magic, Jones will publicly accept that everything wasn’t a ‘smear’. He’ll never call him an antisemite, but he will move from his current position and accept fault the moment he is politically able. And that’s his morality, and worth as a commentator, right there. And then Jones will once again set about walking his commentator/campaigner high-wire while trying to bring about his beloved dream of turning Britain into the Durham Miners’ Gala. But it just won’t be so funny any more.

In the meantime, Jones is playing all those that will listen to him for fools. By lamenting the distrust within the Labour party on this issue while consistently refusing to make any negative comments about Corbyn, he’s pleading for a cure while working day and night to sell you the disease.

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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.

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.