Thursday 20 November 2014

Those pesky Jews, chasing money

Skysports reveals that Dave Whelan believes Jews, " money more than everybody else." Twitter responds as I suppose we should have expected it to.


Tuesday 18 November 2014

Close to tears

Image via @gpoIsrael
Whatever you are up to today, busy with essays or revision or work or applications or reading or even if you are just enjoying some quiet time, stop and look at the photo above. Let the image sink in. Four Jews murdered for being Jews.

Go on with your lives, being thankful every moment that this didn't happen in a place of worship near where you live.

Monday 1 September 2014

Thought for the Day

I never was one for poetry. I loathed it as a GCSE English student, spending my time analysing war poems by finding the most contrived hidden meanings possible and was never one, particularly, for writing them either. In fact, I have only ever written one poem and the less said about that, and the recipient, the better. But luckily for me, considering I have always wanted my blog to go beyond the usual prose about Israel and my life, I have friends who can write poetry. One, Adam Kayani, recently posted the poem below to his Facebook page and I reproduce it below. To convey a message so important and meaningful in rhyme is a skill I can only look upon with a mix of envy and pride. It's one that needs to be shared. Consider it your thought for the day, perhaps? Read on, share and enjoy.

People are dying all over the world right now.
Dictators, renegade generals and corrupt politicians all hold power
In countries where life expectancy these days is measured in hours.
They live it up in villas, chalets and wear Hugo Boss,
While the mothers of their people lie in the dirt weeping at their loss.
Their husbands, daughters, young sons and homes,
have been blown to bits by passing drones,
While behind a Macbook Pro in Washington DC
Sits an USAF cadet celebrating a great KD.
The western Champions of democracy and defenders of human rights,
Enforce 'international law' using raids in the night.
People have enough and rise up to topple their oppressors
Only to end up with leaders much the same as their predecessors. 
We are bound upon a wheel of fire death and pain,
All for no conceivable gain.
The dollars stack up and the oil keeps flowing,
All the while the panic keeps growing.
Groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS,
Go on the rampage causing an international crisis.
"They must be stopped! They're barbaric!"
The journalists become hysteric.
In desperation the West turns to the East for help and assistance,
They make a deal with the devil to end the resistance.
The crisis will pass and danger is averted
But the murderers and despots have not been converted.
Instead they now bear the seal of approval
And become immune from democratic removal,
Free to reign supreme over all that they see,
As long as they and their masters' foreign policies agree. 
And so people continue to die all over the world right now,
We watch it on TV and read it on twitter
Debates on Facebook get increasingly bitter.
But at the end of the day we turn in for the night,
Power down the laptop and turn off the light.
We go about our lives and complain about trains
and how our mums and dad are intolerable pains.
We do nothing to influence the men of influence and power,
Who sit right beneath our most famous clock tower.
Who live and work in our country and city 
Brokering deals, makes speeches and attending committees.
Why don't you take five minutes or any time that you can avail,
To fire off a tweet, letter or email.
Because only those who are enlightened and privileged as we are
Can make a tangible difference to places so far.
Its up to you to stop the people dying,
To dry the tears of that mother who's still crying.
People are dying all over the world today,
Its up to you if you think that's OK.

Adam Kayani

Monday 25 August 2014

They should have been friends

This photo I came across recently courtesy of the Peace Factory and the Palestine/Israel loves Israel/Palestine groups on Facebook gives me chills every time I see it. It sums up the horrific situation Israelis and Gazans find themselves in. It is a beautiful, yet heartbreaking photo of two young boys with a remarkably simple message.

Two young boys who never knew each other, despite living within mortar range of each other. Two young boys who have no opinion on the situation. Two young boys who are now dead because their leaders cannot seem to find anything better to do than relentlessly shoot at each other. Two young boys whose tragic deaths are being used on either side to score political points.  Two young boys who did not live to see their 5th birthdays yet saw two wars. Two young boys who could have loved but were trapped in a cycle of hate and violence. Two young boys who should and could have grown up together as friends rather than have their parents' generation's hate forced upon them.

Two young boys who could still be alive today if we had chosen peace not war; reconciliation not revenge; and love not hate.

Saturday 16 August 2014

The JC, Gaza and Charities

The Jewish Chronicle this week has apologised for running a Gaza Appeal advert by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) after complaints from its readers. There is a fundamental problem with complaining about running an advert from a charity. It's a charity. We like charities, we think they do good work helping people who suffer for all manner of reasons. There is an even bigger problem when a Jewish newspaper receives complaints about an advert calling to help Gaza's children. It looks like the Jewish readership of the JC somehow fundamentally objects to helping Gaza's children, or at least objects to advertising an appeal for Gaza's children. It also strikes me as incredibly unlikely that one of these readers complained to The Guardian after they published arguably a far more controversial advert than the JC have and they probably responded to those who did by crying for free speech. There is a problem with the DEC however, which I will get to later.

The JC's apology, first off, is worth noting. They claim that the advert is "not an expression of the JC's view". What? An advert calling for money to go to the children suffering in Gaza? I would very much hope it was an expression of the JC's view, an expression of every decent human being's view. As I have repeated, you can support Israel vehemently (as I do) and still support the Palestinians, have sympathy for their plight (whoever you blame for it) and wish to help them. This idea that somehow publishing (=supporting?) anything that highlights the situation in Gaza is anti-Israel/pro-Hamas is ludicrous and needs to go. No, it does not even matter if the advert does not mention Hamas and just focuses on children suffering. The cause is irrelevant.

I have no doubt, for a minute, that some of those objecting to the JC's publication of the advert do so because they feel to have any support for Gaza or the plight of Palestinians in Gaza is somehow to support Hamas, the group that is undoubtedly (also) responsible for their suffering. If you have been reading my last few blogs, you will know that I am not interested in the blame game and frankly even if you had the most convincing arguments regarding Hamas' complicity in the plight of Gazans, that does not make any appeals on their [Gazans] behalf any less important. Just because you believe Hamas, and not Israel, is to blame for the situation Palestinians in Gaza find themselves in, you cannot object to organisations trying to alleviate that suffering. 'Hamas is to blame therefore we don't have to care'?

Nor do I buy this idea that any money going into Gaza somehow ends up in the hands of Hamas. I don't really want to have this argument, but it is incredibly lazy just to state 'Gaza = Hamas' and somehow any money donated to relieve the undoubted suffering of Palestinians in Gaza must be going to Hamas. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that you have to be careful with donations and charities have to be careful when working in areas with such immense corruption, but to simply dogmatically assert that money going to Gaza goes to Hamas will not do.

There is a small facebook group calling for a boycott of the JC until they apologise, which I suppose is unsurprising. Upon receiving the apology, the group's admin posted a status complaining that it was not good enough.  It commits an awful example of genuine 'whataboutery' (as opposed to those Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan often like to complain about) asking why the JC chose to print a Gaza appeal and not one for an Israeli charity as if somehow the JC was faced with a direct choice. As if somehow advertising a Gaza appeal means you do not support the work of Israeli charities. It then asks if an Islamic paper would post a Magen David Adom appeal. I am inclined to agree that such a paper would not. Does this make an iota of difference? Of course not! Just because an Islamic paper may not publish a Magen David Adom advert does not mean a Jewish paper cannot publish a Gaza appeal advert. What a nonsense. It then tells me that the JC has chosen money over the sensitivity of the Jewish Community. I do not wish to be part of this Jewish Community then. Anyway, the group has fewer likes than my average per-post readership so I suppose I should leave them alone.

Inspite of all of that, there is reason to object to supporting the DEC (and by extension the JC's decision to run an advert by them). Obviously the JC do not support the organisation and were merely advertising a worthy message. Rather than object to the cause it supports, it is possible to object to the charities that collectively form the DEC. This idea that somehow charities are all saintly organisations is as much a nonsense as the idea that supporting the plight of Palestinians is anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas. Of the charities that form the DEC, three have been reported on by Stand For Peace an organisation that I have previously worked for, as having links to extremism. Those are Christian Aid, Oxfam and Islamic Relief. These are worrying reports and reports that do mean supporting the DEC should be approached with some caution - though it is worth noting there are 10 other charities that make up the organisation. We all have a right to know that our money going to Gaza to help children that need help right now will not end up in the hands of Hamas and be used to build terror tunnels or rockets. It is a great tragedy for the Israeli civilians that live at risk of these attacks but it is an even greater tragedy for the Palestinians who could so benefit from the money flooding into Gaza if it were all used correctly and to alleviate their suffering rather than to inflict it upon Israelis.

It is a tricky one for me. I do not think the DEC intends for its donations to be abused but it is a sorry fact that they will be. And it won't just mean the Palestinians continue to suffer, it will mean the money flows directly to terrorism. So we should be vigilant and careful and lobby hard to ensure the charities mentioned, and others, know exactly where their money goes but object to a Jewish Paper running an advert for Gaza? Do me a favour.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

This is called 'whataboutery'

I quite like that word. It sounds somewhat funny and it's relatively nice to say. It's also one I've only heard being used twice. Once by Mehdi Hasan and once by Owen Jones, both in reference to pro-Israel supporters attempting to deflect attention from Israel by highlighting other, worse, incidents in the world that somehow escape the world's attention. There is some truth to the idea that this is a cynical ploy and there is no question that the mere fact that IS is painting the Middle East red with the blood of Iraqis and Syrians, for example, does not render the Palestinian deaths in Gaza any less significant or tragic.

There are problems with this dismissing of 'whataboutery'.

Maybe I will concede that bringing up silence on IS in reference to Israel is not a great argument. However, when Owen Jones and others remain silent on Palestinians being oppressed and murdered in, say, Syria because Israel cannot be blamed, then I am perfectly within my rights to point this out. There is some weight to the claim that if you only care about 'human rights' when Israel is involved, then you are not pro-Human rights but just anti-Israel. There is absolutely no denying that if your moral compass only starts working when Palestinians are killed in Gaza but not when they are subject to the same fate in Syria or when they are supposedly oppressed in the West Bank but not when they are throughout the rest of the Arab world, then you have absolutely no concern whatsoever for the Palestinians, merely with bashing Israel. The Palestinian cause is a convenient cloak with which to hide your attacks on Israel and you flirt with anti-Semitism at best and are guilty of it in most cases.

Thursday 7 August 2014

A few things I have learnt

Despite Hamas' claims that they will recommence firing tomorrow morning at 8am when the current ceasefire is due to end, I remain optimistic that we may see an end to the fighting for now. With that optimism in mind, I thought I would write a few things that this most recent conflict has taught me.

1. Hamas really are really quite evil aren't they?

From human shields to indiscriminate rocket fire to terror tunnels to storing rockets in schools and firing them from Mosques, they really have shown their true colours once again. What a horrible, disgusting organisation.

2. My Mum is completely mental

As if this needed confirming. My mother took the opportunity to go to Israel at the height of the conflict, which I thought was crazy enough. Whilst I was in Barcelona I was informed that she had gone to Gaza with her hairdresser and had been allowed to hold a rocket. She was told, "Don't drop it or it will explode." Nervy stuff.

3. There is no military solution

Combined with this, Israel is not the entity to destroy Hamas. On her travels my Mum was informed that any operation to destroy the tunnels would take upwards of a year and reports from cabinet meetings is that it may be closer to five years. This would obviously be at the risk of thousands of lives, both civilian and those of Israeli soldiers. Hamas cannot be destroyed militarily.

4. Thousands more Palestinians will die needlessly

The reason does not matter. The sorry, sad fact remains that they will die and they will die in their thousands and people will pretend to care only insofar as they can blame Israel or Hamas. Their deaths won't bring about the end of Hamas nor the end of the conflict nor does proving Israel is responsible or Hamas is responsible actually achieve anything. This blame culture is almost as predictable as the cycle of violence and whilst it is not as destructive, it is as pointless and futile.

5. Anti-Semitism is growing

And growing fast. My old History teacher remarked that Russia's incursion into the Crimea gave his history students a unique opportunity to relive the events of the Crimean war of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, the latest escalation in Israel-Gaza has given Europeans a unique insight into what 1930's Germany was like. Synagogues were blockaded and destroyed, Jewish cemeteries vandalised, swastikas appeared on Jewish owned homes and property and just randomly, Jews were boycotted and the whole sorry affair is beginning to look eerily familiar to any European of a certain age. When you cry Free Palestine but harass a Jewish woman in Oxford Street; weep for dead Palestinians but draw a swastika on a home in Hendon; or scream anti-Zionism whilst throwing bricks through the windows of a synagogue you are an anti-Semite. Pure and simple.

6. People are ignorant

People accuse Israel of a disproportionate action when they have no idea what that actually means. People scream war crimes when their knowledge of international law is non-existent. People talk about human shields as if it makes a gram of difference to the Palestinians whose lives have been ended and destroyed. People tell Israel to stop complaining about harmless rockets conveniently forgetting they have no idea what living under rocket fire would be like. People call for Israel to flatten Gaza as if somehow every Palestinian should pay for the crimes of Hamas. Frankly, I'm sick of it all.

  • Israel's actions may or may not be disproportionate but let me tell you one thing, it has virtually nothing to do with numbers.
This is offensive to Israelis, blaming them for not dying but also suggesting that somehow if they did, killing Palestinians would be less bad. I've said it before and I will say it again, if you reduce proportionality to numbers, suggest Israel is disproportionate because it has killed more Palestinians, you advocate some sort of barbaric eye-for-an-eye Bible style justice. Let's be clear, if more Israels died this would not make the Palestinian deaths any less tragic. Crying about numbers suggests it would.

  • War crimes is a very serious accusation
Israel may or may not be guilty of war crimes but I can be sure as hell that everyone that accuses her of them has no idea what a war crime constitutes and certainly would never dream of accusing Hamas of anything anywhere near as serious. Firing petty rockets is the worst ever leveled at Hamas.
  • Palestinians die
This is tragic. End of. Stop justifying. Stop making it less bad. 
  • Rockets do kill
This is a simple one. I won't even bother discussing the impact of rockets on the lives of Israelis. They do kill and they do injure and there is no defence for them. End of.
  • As I have said before, there is no military solution in Gaza
Sure as hell flattening Gaza would not achieve a solution. It is a horrific thing to suggest and just as Jews are rightly horrified when people chant death to the Jews and incite genocide against them, so we should be when our very own do the exact same. 

People are ignorant and horrible and stupid and just wrong. It's offensive and counterproductive. Proving Hamas is to blame brings peace no closer than proving Israel is to blame. 

And finally, 7. There is still hope.

Despite everything I am still hopeful. Despite anti-Semitism and Western commentators suddenly finding moral compasses they can use to bash Israel and the persistent justification of death and everything else I have mentioned, I still have hope. I am moved by groups on Facebook that I have recommended before - Israel loves Palestine and Palestine loves Israel. I still read updates on those groups and believe that peace is possible, that the majority, even if they don't love Palestinians or Israelis, just want to get on with their lives and give their children a world free of shelling and rockets. I am moved by the Mayor of Sderot who tells me he wants to test peace with his neighbours. I am moved by pictures drawn by a boy in Sderot. 

I remain hopeful that we can move beyond the past as two peoples and reach out to our common humanity. When you realise the other side is just the same as you, maybe with a different favourite film or sport or whatever, you realise there is no 'other side'. When you realise there is no other side, there can be peace. Let's pray for that.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

"Give them back their childhood"

I recently went to my local synagogue for the first time in a few years to hear the former mayor of Sderot speak. He spoke remarkably well, especially given English is not his native language and without notes. A lot of what he said was nothing I haven't heard before, though it made me emotional hearing it said with such passion and feeling. It was also, perhaps crucially, nothing that even the most casual of Facebook commentators on Israel-Palestine won't have heard so I won't repeat it here, but two things really stuck with me:

1. He asked us to imagine children born in Sderot in 2001.

They would have just had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and all they will have known is rocket fire. 8000 rockets worth. 13 years of constant running for shelters and living in fear with the first thing they learnt being "Tzeva Adom" or red alert, the Israeli rocket siren alert. They've grown up such that they are unlikely to lead normal lives, every detail in their lives geared towards missile defence from ballistic windows in schools, playground toy structures that double up as bomb shelters and concerted efforts to ensure that wherever they are, they are never 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

It made me think of the Guardian article I was reading earlier. (Bear with me!) It made the point that there have been 3 wars in Gaza in the last 6 years. That means a 7 year old Gazan child, lucky enough to survive so far, has grown up, much like his/her fellow child a few miles away, with war. Imagine it for a minute. If your little brother or sister had seen 3 wars. Heck, if you had seen 3 wars. Lived through them.

When you consider the lives of children in Sderot (and other cities near Gaza and, unfortunately, increasingly more distant cities) and Gaza are so tragically similar, you realise there is a humanity missing from vehement supporters on both sides. Of course there arguments there to be had and ignorance to be dispelled - I would find it impossible not to defend Israel against cries of disproportionately and anti-Semitic libels (all too common amongst even the most learnéd of my friends) - she remains my country and a Jewish homeland that the protests across Europe are ironically yet unfortunately continually confirming the need for, but you realise what is truly important.

No child should have to grow up like this. This is no way for a child to live.

2. "I hope one day to test peace with my neighbours"

There was a shake in his voice that made this the most genuine thing he said all night. Of course I felt moved by his entire story, everything he had to say but this was one of the last things he said to us and the way he said it was so heartfelt and moving. He, just like most on both sides of the border, wants to live in peace. He wants his children to never have to see the inside of a bomb shelter. He wants the children in Gaza to live long lives, in prosperity that could have been theirs prior to Hamas. It's a genuine desire, one that most Israelis and most Palestinians genuinely harbour. It is one that is all to easy to forget about, to ignore when bashing Israel or defending her actions. It is one that is almost easier to dismiss as if it is not important, when it is the most important thing to remember during this conflict. He spoke movingly about peace, a Palestinian state and a Jewish homeland, about there being enough land for everyone to enjoy and prosper in.

It's easy to forget about the regular people on the ground when we discuss Hamas or Israel and the big players in the region. There are just two people, wanting to get on with their lives. Why don't we let them?

Sunday 20 July 2014

We're doing it wrong

I have recently liked two groups on facebook: 'Palestine Loves Israel' and 'Israel Loves Palestine'. I didn't know they existed until I read what I think is the best piece I have read on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I am glad to have found them. They put everything into perspective.

Whilst I sit here and argue with people on Facebook on whether or not Israel is committing genocide; post links complaining about BBC bias; and try to expose Hamas' use of human shields and their culpability in Palestinian deaths there are Palestinians, innocent civilians like you and me, fleeing their homes, living in fear and dying.

Whilst pro-Palestinians accuse Israel of genocide; suggest all Jews are responsible for the shelling of Gaza; blockade Jews inside Synagogues and the anti-Zionist-but-not-anti-Semitic brigade are out in force on twitter and the streets, innocent civilians are running from rocket attacks, living in fear and, also, dying.

Whilst we all rush to lay blame at the feet of Hamas or the feet of Israel homes are being reduced to rubble, livelihoods destroyed and families destroyed.

Whilst we all clamber to the moral high ground, accusing pro-Palestinians of deafening silence over Syria and Iraq or hiding anti-Semitism behind the cloak of legitimate criticism of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinian people, there are two groups of people who just want to earn a wage, feed their families and enjoy their lives.

Enough really is enough. I've had enough. I don't want to argue against ignorant anti-Semites on Facebook and Twitter anymore. It won't get me anywhere. I don't want to have constructive discussions with intelligent critics of Israel about settlements and Israeli policy. It won't get peace any nearer.

It's time for more of us regular civilians, pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian and hopefully pro-both, to 'like' Palestine Loves Israel and Israel Loves Palestine on Facebook and listen to stories from civilians under fire. It's time for more of us, including myself, to stop engaging in fruitless Facebook discussions. And what is more, it is time for peace. Peace doesn't come if you can prove Israel acted disproportionately. Peace doesn't come if you can prove that Palestinian deaths are tragic but somehow inevitable and therefore okay. We, mostly, all want the same things. Israelis no more want to live under fire than Palestinians want them to live under fire. Palestinians no more want to be shelled and live under Hamas than Israelis want them to be shelled and live under Hamas. When we realise that, we may get closer to peace.

Peace comes when you reach out to what is the other side in a genuine attempt to understand their situation and realise that we're all the same.

Saturday 12 July 2014

The Tragedy of Palestinian life

Israel should not and will not make any apologies for investing heavily in the Iron Dome defence system as well as bomb shelters to protect her citizens. That Hamas choose to keep its leaders safe in bunkers and bomb shelters, leaving its civilian population to look after the rockets kept in homes, schools and places of worship is a horrific war crime, one that leaves ordinary Palestinians fearful for their lives. But it makes you wonder, what exactly is Hamas hoping to achieve? Their genocidal intent is unquestionable and it seems to me that often when I read someone tell me that Hamas rockets don't kill, I sense a twinge of disappointment. Regardless of their obvious dreams to murder as many Israelis as possible, you have to feel that if they cared about Palestinian lives they would not fire rockets at a country they know will respond. It seems an obvious point, but one that is conveniently ignored whenever rockets are dismissed as (usually) ineffectual.

Whatever you think of Israel's response, you must admit that firing rockets into Israel is a ludicrously stupid thing to do - unless you are comfortable with placing every Gazan under the threat of one of the world's largest militaries. Indeed, that rockets have hit the supposedly holy should-be-our-capital Jerusalem as well as actually Palestinian cities in Hebron and Bethlehem, one is inclined to doubt Hamas has any commitment to the Palestinian cause and Palestinian life, rather they are willing to jeopardise both in order to score propaganda victories against Israel. When a Hamas rocket falls short, landing in Gaza, leaves UNRWA warehouses ablaze I think one is entitled to question Hamas' true motives. Palestinian lives are reduced to mere point-scoring machines and when Israel does not kill enough, pictures from Syria that are never before seen in the western media are circulated to make a dire situation seem worse. Over 100 Palestinians, terrorists and civilians, have been killed since the launch of Operation Protective Edge. The only thing more tragic than this number is the fact that Hamas and pro-Palestinian activists on twitter do not deem this enough. Instead, they must steal pictures of dead Palestinians from Syria that no one cared about because Assad, not Israel, was to blame and claim they too are amongst the Gazan dead.

No one truly cares about the Palestinians. Not Hamas and Fatah, the political entities that are supposed to represent them yet endanger their lives by firing indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities and refusing them access to bomb shelters. Not Arab countries that surround them who either restrict their rights (Lebanon/Egypt/Jordan) or murder them (Syria). Not Western governments who are too busy falling over themselves to confirm that killing people is indeed a bad thing. Not the pro-Palestinian activists littered about on Twitter who value Palestinian life so highly that dead Palestinians outside Gaza are only worthy of mention when not enough die in Gaza for their liking. And certainly not the antisemites who point out that hundreds more Palestinians die than Israelis and this proves the disproportionate nature of the Israeli response, implying that if hundreds of Israelis died too, the Palestinian deaths would be less tragic.

I wish there was a way for Israel to stop rockets raining down on her people without responding with air strikes that will kill innocents. I wish equally, perhaps even more, for the Palestinian people to be represented by political entities and supported by activists that value their lives above delegitimising Israel. That they are not is the real tragedy of Palestinian life.

Friday 11 July 2014

There should be no 'but'

One of my pet hates is starting a sentence like, "I'm not racist..." and following it with a 'but'. Invariably what follows is a racist statement, or a statement justifying racism. There is no but. It should just be "I'm not racist." I've noticed few examples of this that have frustrated me.

The first is "The Palestinian deaths are tragic but..." The next bit is, "Israel must defend herself," and something about how they are unavoidable and/or, "It is Hamas' fault." Both are true. Both are/should be irrelevant when discussing the tragic nature of Palestinian deaths. We need to distance ourselves from this culture where justifying death is permissible. There should be no but, there is no justification for the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians. Rather, let's say, and mean, "The Palestinian deaths are tragic and we pray there is a way to end them whilst still protecting Israeli civilians." Because you know what? There is. The removal of Hamas, but that is a political point we do not need to argue here.

This works the other way, the second is: "Israel has a right to defend herself but..." or "The rocket attacks are terrible but..." The but is usually followed by some reference to no Israelis dying or the fact that Palestinians do or some other statement contradicting the principle of the bit before the but. Again, there is no but. Israel has a right to defend itself, full stop. The rockets are terrible full stop. It's the same as above, stop justifying rocket attacks and stop reducing the capacity of Israel to defend herself.

Owen Jones is responsible for an awful example of the above, whilst his latest piece in The Guardian is horrific for other reasons.

Firstly, he quotes a human rights activist saying that Israel is targeted by "shitty rockets" and that Israel has bomb shelters etc whilst Gaza does not. The former is an example of "The rockets are wrong but..." That the rockets aren't very good is no excuse, is no justification for their use. This reward for Hamas' incompetence vs Israel's ability to protect her civilians is bizarre. The latter is simply false. Gaza is awash with bomb shelters. It's just that the civilians are not allowed to use them, Hamas forces them into the firing line using them as human shields.

Secondly, Owen, in one brilliant paragraph manages to both justify Hamas rockets into civilian areas *and* belittle the fear amongst Israelis that he states you should not belittle. It really is a feat of journalism not to be sniffed at. The first sentence of the second paragraph gets off to a good start. There is no defence for Hamas' firing of rockets into civilian areas and you should not belittle the fear that it causes Israelis in the bomb shelters. What he then goes to do is say 'but Israel has weapons and the rockets aren't very good' defending exactly what he states there is no defence for and belittling exactly that which he claims should not be belittled. What relevance does the ineffective nature of the rockets (which do kill, which do injure and which do damage property all whilst instilling a sense of fear into Israelis running for the bomb shelters) have? Similarly, why should the fact that Israel can defend herself and defend herself well make any difference to whether Hamas rockets are indefensible or Israelis should be scared of them? These two facts bear no relevance, not to media coverage (I mean, if Hamas fires a rocket into Israel, should the fact that Israel has "nuclear bombs" change the fact that Hamas fired a rocket into Israel?) and not to the initial statements that Owen makes and then dismisses.

Owen then tells us that 565 Palestinians were killed since January 2009. He also tells us that 28 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli security personnel have been killed in the same period. Seems a huge difference, right? Firstly, this has the horrible implication that somehow if 565 Israelis died, this would be okay. It is not Owen's intention, but the implication is some sort of barbaric bible-style eye for an eye justice would be preferable, as if somehow the 565 Palestinian deaths would be less bad if 565 Israelis had died. What's worse is Owen's deliberate misleading of his readers. In order to make it seem like more Palestinian civilians have been killed, he does not distinguish between, civilians and terrorists on the Palestinian side, but does distinguish between civilians and security personnel on the Israeli side. If you click on the link he provides, you will find that the number of civilians that died is about half that which Owen suggests it is, an intentional misrepresentation of the facts. Why distinguish on the Israeli side but not the Palestinian side? Is it because 565 reads much worse than the lower figure representing solely civilian casualties? Anything to make Israel seem even worse, eh? The irony of it all is, is that 242 civilians killed in the Gaza strip is still a horrifically high number, 242 higher than Israel wanted. 242 is still a tragically shocking number. Owen Jones, however, feels he needs to distort the facts to paint Israel in a bad light to suit his agenda. 242 deaths is not enough for Owen apparently.

Finally, in a bizarre move, Owen tells us that Human Rights Watch is not a "den of lefties." Perhaps. The organisation has its own anti-Israel bias that Owen would no doubt agree with. Its director, for example, finds it impossible to condemn unequivocally the kidnapping of Israeli teens. Every time he tried to, he managed to criticise Israel for her actions or mention the teens were settlers. As if either justifies the kidnapping and murder of innocents. Kidnapping teens is awful but...

Update 12/07/2014

I've just read Mira Bar Hillel's piece in the independent. Her overriding point is bizarre - because, in a democracy, there are politicians who believe and say horrible things, she is considering burning her Israeli passport. By her logic when Nick Griffin became an MEP we should have all been on the verge of burning our passports. Regardless, that's not what is wrong with the article. No, what's wrong with it is that she commits the cardinal 'but' sin. Not only does she make the same mistake as our friend Jones above, justifying Hamas terror because Israel can defend herself but she also places Israel and the Nazis on the same level. "I'm Jewish and the Holocaust was terrible - I should know right? My aunt and children perished but..."

Frankly, burn your passport Mira. Burn it now. We don't want Hamas apologists and Jews who compare Israel to the Nazis on our side.

Update 13/07/2014

Mira Bar Hillel read my blog. But she didn't read it very well.

Monday 7 July 2014

What exactly is 'proportionate'?

As you probably know from my Facebook and Twitter posts, I have recently downloaded the 'red alert' app, which sends a push notification every time a rocket is fired into Israel. About an hour ago, my phone couldn't keep up with the barrage of rockets that had been fired, with at least 80, reportedly, being fired into Israeli territory just today. Whilst Israelis run for cover, media outlets and Western politicians - as they did after the brutal murder of 3 Israeli teens last week - will call for Israel to act with restraint and no doubt accuse Israel of a disproportionate response. It is amazing how easy it is to clamber to the moral high ground when your starting place is a comfortable arm chair, sheltered (pun not intended) from the rocket fire that kills and injures Israelis. I ask two simple questions of everyone calling, perhaps with good intentions, on Israel to act with restraint:

1. What would you do? Just think about it for a minute.

2. What exactly is a proportionate response to indiscriminate rocket fire? Israel responds with targeted air strikes. Perhaps, simply returning rocket fire tit for tat would be proportionate?

I despair for the situation in the Middle East, truly I do. The cycle of violence looks like it is about to escalate, which will only lead to more needless Israeli and Palestinian deaths. (Initially that sentence read "deaths on both sides", but I decided to change it. This culture of "sides" and "us against them" is unhelpful.) What makes me irate, however, is people preaching at Israel, dictating what she should or should not do in response to attacks on her civilians, aimed at killing as many of them as possible.

I ask each and every one of you to download the app 'red alert'. Let your phone notifications reveal to you not only the joy of a new mention on twitter or a text from that person you're flirting with but also the horror and frequency of rocket fire into Israel. Perhaps you can change the sound to the actual alert sound thousands of Israelis will hear when you hear it, the only difference being they will run for cover and you will tell their government to act with restraint.

Update (8 July)

It has been pointed out to me that 'proportionately' does have a legal definition in international law. I must confess to not being aware of this, though initial research suggests that Israel is acting well within international law. What is important to make clear is that when I ask the question, I do so without reference to international law, knowing those who accuse Israel of disproportionate responses, make such accusations in the same way. When 'tweeter x' tells me Israel killed a Gazan woman and therefore did not act proportionately, s/he means that because Hamas are unsuccessful in their attempts to murder Israelis, Israel acts disproportionately when she responds and causes, regrettable, civilian casualties. S/he does not mean that Israel's act go against international law (though s/he may claim as much). Thus when I ask what would be a proportionate response, I do so (obviously) rhetorically but also in direct response to this individual. What exactly would be a proportionate response given Israel does act in accordance with international law? It is not enough for a response to be proportionate as far as international law is concerned for those who accuse Israel of disproportionate responses, so what exactly is proportionate?

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Let me ask you about Israel-Palestine

Recently, I have had a couple of internship interviews where I was asked the same question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely what I thought was the biggest issue on the Israeli side. Reading this, you may think I said something half-hearted about settlements or "disproportionate" responses, unable to think of anything I honestly think Israel does wrong. Or maybe you think the settlements are such a big issue that it is just obvious I mentioned those because they are, of course, the biggest problem on the Israeli side. I mean the conflict is about land right?

Wrong. I did mention settlements but only to dismiss it as my answer. I did so because I couldn't tell you for a minute what areas of land are considered part of Israel or part of a future Palestinian state. I couldn't explain the terms of the Oslo Accords and I don't have a working knowledge of the different areas that Israel is allowed to build on or isn't allowed to build on. Frankly, I am inclined to believe that virtually no one who lectures me on Israeli policy knows a damn thing about settlements other than they're, of course, very very bad. Believe me, it isn't as simple as the 'West Bank' being one big collection of settlements.  Simply put, that's about as much as I would claim to actually know. 

Instead I spoke about Israel's PR problem. I said that it is very easy to argue that media outlets are anti-Semitic or bias against Israel (which I think they are) and it may be the case that Israel operates from the position where she is guilty until proven innocent by which point it is too late. In an ideal world Israel would be held to the same standard as every other country; pictures of Syrian children would be considered newsworthy without an excuse to blame the Israelis; and I would look like George Clooney but we do not live in an ideal world. Of course Israel has to act in her interests, but I do wish our politicians would, for once, stop and think about their decisions and what they say. An excellent article on the failings in Israeli diplomacy can be found here. I mentioned the article in my response, though I could not remember the foreign secretary that it mentioned but I spoke of my own example that I think sums it up. An example that has, in the last 24 hours, taken heartbreaking turn. 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this blog on the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. The Israeli response to this deal was to declare the impossibility of negotiation with any Hamas backed government. As it happens, I agreed entirely but that is not the point. In the world that we live, when Netanyahu states that he cannot negotiate with a government backed by an entity that is committed to Israel's destruction he is accused of being anti-peace and looking for any excuse to back out of talks. And you know what? That is what it looks like. Sure it should not be like that. Sure Fatah should be condemned for being anti-peace by, um, you know, agreeing a unity deal with a terrorist organisation. But Netanyahu must have been aware that would be the consequence. Rather than unequivocally announce that peace was impossible with any Hamas backed government, his message should have been one of hope. Instead of suggesting this meant the end of peace talks, his message could have been that he hoped Hamas would back the peace talks and end their violence. Had the world seen this message, it may have been pleasantly surprised. This message would lend itself much better to the 'Israel wants peace narrative'. I do not, for a minute, disagree that it says a lot about the sorry state of the world that Israel, in stating it can and will not negotiate with an entity committed to her destruction, is the side labelled as anti-peace, rather than Fatah in agreeing a unity deal with them. But this is the reality Israel faces.

Had Netanyahu given this message to the world, he would have only had to wait a couple of days to come out and say, not "I told you so," but "I was mistaken - this is the same Hamas, as if proof were really needed." The latter comment, in my eyes, has a lot more force. Hamas was always going to prove my optimism could not have been more misplaced but that is exactly the point. Netanyahu did not need to come out immediately and state Hamas could not be negotiated with. Rather, he could have voiced his hope that there was still a possibility of peace, even with Hamas, and just been patient. Waited for Hamas to prove him wrong. Which they did. By kidnapping and murdering three innocent teenagers. Just a couple of days later. The tragedy is, this tragedy was bound to happen. Of course Hamas cannot be negotiated with. Of course Hamas would commit acts of terror that would ultimately prove Netanyahu right. It is also a great shame that this was not realised by a political mind I happen to have a lot of respect for. 

Sunday 15 June 2014

Habs vs Feminism

Recently I saw a comment on facebook (see left) that I found troubling. The comment, still there at the time of writing over four hours since its original posting, reads "Why are all these feminists such freaks[?] :s" and is posted in response to a video that can be found here. What I find troubling is that this comes from a Habs Boy, a supposedly intelligent individual in the process of having his excellence nurtured. The comment, however, displays (at best) an ignorance of Feminism and a worrying ease at labelling all Feminists as freaks based on a video of one and at worst an active sexist attitude and dismissing of a (probably still misunderstood) Feminism movement. Granted the video goes over the top (to make a point, of course) and, if I am honest, I don't really find the analogy beyond the bit about salt at the start particularly amusing, which I imagine (despite the seriousness of the point she is making) was her intention. Anyway, that's all irrelevant because she, and other Feminists, are not freaks, regardless of whether the video goes over the top or is/is not funny. Of course that seems quite an obvious point. Trivial almost. And, indeed, it should be. The problem, however, is that it isn't. Not amongst a troubling number of people you encounter on social media and in real life but, more worryingly, it is also not the case, in my opinion, amongst many at Habs.

As part of my Introduction to Politics course, we had a lecture on Feminism, which (don't tell my lecturer this), I think was the only good lecture in the entire module. It more than made up for the mish-mash of Monty Python, jumping around and awful jokes that characterised the rest of his lectures. Clearly enthusiastic about the topic and passionate about the content of the lecture, it was a superb introduction to Feminism. At the beginning of the lecture he asked who would consider themselves as a Feminist and a very small number of students (not including myself) put their hands up. I had never thought about it, if I am honest. I never considered myself sexist, but I certainly did not want to associate myself with the much more radical notion of Feminism that I assumed was just 'Feminism'. By the end of the lecture, however, I was completely turned and ashamed of my prior ignorance of what Feminism was and my attitude towards it. The lecturer ended with the following sentence: "I don't believe that my daughter's life chances should be any different from my son's life chances because she is a girl, but because they are likely to be, that is why I am a Feminist." I am paraphrasing slightly, but I think it sums it up brilliantly but, more importantly for someone like me who was ignorant about Feminism and what it was, simply.

Why? Because I don't, for a minute, think that many would disagree with that sentence. When faced with the question of whether a sister, for example, should have different life chances just because she is a woman, I am fairly confident the vast vast majority of Habs Boys (including our "all feminists are freaks" friend) would think this a ridiculous question to ask. Of course our sisters' life chances should not be affected by their being a woman we would proclaim, unaware that we had just proclaimed to be Feminists. There are many strands, many different Feminist ideologies and many methods of achieving that goal, but that is the basic goal. The problem, however, is that many would then follow that with a, "But, they're women so, you know. Not as clever." or "They lack banter," or "But they'll end up in the kitchen, so why does it matter?" If reading that, as a Habs Boy, makes you uncomfortable then good - do something about it; if your instinct is to try and argue that it is not the case or deny the seriousness of it, I am afraid you are in denial. Whether or not we actually believed those things to be true, the ease at which we were able to say them and laugh them off was, when I look back at it now, shocking. As I have already said, I am ashamed of that, past, version of me. Habs Boys come to see a level of sexist "banter" as entirely acceptable, unaware of the fact that sexist jokes aren't just jokes, they have a knack of describing real situations that real woman face every day.

It is that comment that demonstrates this attitude towards Feminism: the ignorance of what it really is and the dismissing of those that are Feminists and the severity of the sexism that women face, which is, of course, in itself, sexist. The ease at which a Habs Boys can label 'all' Feminists as freaks based on a video arguing that a girl is never asking for it when it comes for rape, unfortunately, does not surprise me. I would hope the comment is aimed at the over the top nature of the video rather than the point she is making, but the belief that somehow making the point, in any manner, renders you a freak is troubling. Any prejudice, including sexism, is based on ignorance, an issue that needs addressing at Habs. If I had a chance to go back to Habs and lead an Open Day tour, I would inform parents that the biggest problem at Habs is the ignorance of Feminism and the levels of sexism (jokes or not) that are deemed acceptable.

Sometimes I feel disingenuous when I describe myself as a Feminist given events in my past, opinions I used to hold and arguments I have had (a discussion over Twitter with William Thong, who won't mind a mention and the opportunity to remind me what I was like, about an advert a particular haunting memory), almost as if they preclude me from being a Feminist now. I am glad for the lecture I had and the change in my beliefs. There is no shame in admitting you were wrong. There will forever be disagreements within Feminism and what it entails - the Page 3 debate (I can't decide if I agree with the 'me' that wrote that blog!) at Warwick a good example of this, perhaps, but at its bare bones, it is a very simple idea. I can only hope that one day the boy in question will stumble across something that will make him self-identify as someone who believes in, "...the radical notion that women are human beings," which is how Cheris Kramarae described Feminism, and not think of himself as a freak.

Update 1 16/06/14

Since posting this I have received far more of a response than I expected. I think what has happened is I have struck a few nerves and offended a few sensibilities - 'of course I am not sexist' has been repeated on the comments to my blog. To clarify, Habs is an example I used simply because I went there. It is not to say Habs is the only place this is a problem, nor an attack on the character of all current or former Habs Boys (many of whom I would still consider friends). It is simply an example.

In  any event, I do not, for a minute, doubt the sincerity of these 'I am not a sexist/I am a feminist' statements. If you read above, you will note above that I state Habs Boys would agree that a women's life chances should not be affected by her being a women - in other words, Habs Boys, in the main, would be Feminists on my definition. But then, I would have agreed and I, like many, did not act in a way to back up that agreement.

The issue is two-fold:

1. An ignorance of what Feminism really is

Whether this manifests because of an association of Feminism with solely more radical Feminism or merely a refusal to engage with Feminism, consciously or subconsciously.

2. A sexist culture

This is the crux of the issue. When I was at Habs I would never have considered myself sexist and had I come across a blog like this, I would have responded in exactly the same way as every Habs Boy who has posted on my blog has. In the least patronising way possible, I understand - no one wants to be labelled a sexist. However, we have to come to terms with it. There are countless examples - some highlighted in response to my blog - of Habs Boys making comments that were horrifically inappropriate and that cannot just be dismissed as a harmless joke. Of course, as was highlighted, a sense of humour is important but suggesting that the Habs Boys - banter = Habs Girls is just one example of a sexist "joke" that is not acceptable but was deemed acceptable. These sort of jokes perpetuate already strong stereotypes that are held amongst boys at all boys' schools like Habs that girls lack a sense of humour. When the head boy makes this joke, it legitimises the very real problem of dismissing cries of sexism as a girl's inability to take a joke. "Of course that was okay, it is just a joke, I'm not sexist - I don't actually believe that women all belong in the kitchen in chains to prevent their leaving." You know what, the last bit of that is invariably true, Habs Boys don't, I would argue, believe those things. However, in telling the joke and dismissing any offence caused as 'just an inability to take the banter' there is a subconscious sexism, a subconscious belief that if girls 'had banter' (if they were more like men), they would have laughed and not been offended. Undoubtedly sexist comments are rebranded as jokes, laughed at and approved of and culture where sexism is tacitly accepted as perfectly fine develops.

The problem is not unique to Habs, of course it is not. But there is an undoubted culture at the school where sexism is viewed as not an issue or ignored, leaving the boys all too ready to dismiss cries of sexism as misunderstandings and poor banter - as I once did, and as many currently and will continue to do.

Update 2 16/06/14

There are another two issues that need addressing after further comments on this post.

1. The example used

My choice of example as a springboard for this post has been criticised, both for misunderstanding the initial comment made and because the comment itself is not a bad example. I have two issues with this. Firstly it conveniently ignores the point of the article and attacks a premise that has no real bearing on the conclusion. Feminism and sexism remains an issue regardless of whether I understand that example properly or not and, indeed, I could have used a different example from my time at Habs. Second, I think the comment is quite a good reflection of the problem, if by no means the worse. The video is of a women making a serious point about rape and the response is that all these feminists are freaks. What an absurd response! I don't think the women makes her point in an especially amazing way, but it is a perfectly legitimate method of making a incredibly serious point. Attacking her character skirts around the real issue of rape and attempted justification - a serious one - and is just wrong for she is no eccentric.

2. I ignore a real issue of militant Feminism

Rejection of rape justification is not militant Feminism. Getting passionate in your speech against rape justification is not militant feminism. Rejection of rape justification is about as basic as you can get when it comes to Feminism, there is nothing militant about it. To suggest that somehow the initial comment was lamenting the plight of Feminism corrupted by its militant strands is remarkably offensive and avoiding the issue at hand. If militant Feminism was indeed the target, a video of a regular Feminist making a bog-standard point should not have been the one commented on. I, of course, dispute this was the target in the first place.*

It is hugely ironic that on a post and resulting thread about sexism at Habs that includes more than the one example I used initially, the anti-sexists and Feminists of Habs take issue not with the content of the blog, but the initial example I used. Apparently the real problem for many is not sexism but my example. Telling.

*Update 3 16/06/14: It should be noted that one of the comments this is in direct response to has since been clarified and I had misunderstood its intention. I am glad to have said comment in a message as now that I understand it fully, I can properly appreciate it. I leave these paragraphs here only in response to other comments that have been made without such clarification and as a general point about the mainstream nature of the video labelled as 'freaky'. As I point out, I do accept that the example I used is a small one and grant it may have been meant differently to how I took it (though such carelessness in commenting is also part of the issue). It is by no means the worst example (therein lies the problem) but its use, I feel, is still justified and demonstrative of the problem, whilst also being current and the initial motivation for the blog post.

Monday 9 June 2014

Dream or nightmare? Take your pick

I've just finished watching my Mum and Dad on 'Building Dream Homes'. If ever there was a 20 minute snapshot into what both of them are like, especially my Dad, this was it. There are many David Levy-isms - repeatedly saying 'no' until the other person shuts up; suggesting that he won't wait more than 5 days for something to occur because, "We can get man to the moon and back," in that space of time; and his personal favourite, "Can I speak to a supervisor, or someone who knows what they are talking about," for example. I have a new favourite, featured on this programme: "You have a very strange understanding of the word 'today'." Also featured is my Dad trying and, at first, failing to open our new doors; a cup of coffee being made and my parents at work in their opticians (David Paul Opticians, Berkhamsted, where I ran a half marathon. Just saying). If that isn't good entertainment, I don't know what it is. It also gives you a small idea of what I deal with whenever I am home and my Dad is on the phone to a company and the birth of 'The David Levy Drinking Game'.

The programme is about the new extension my Dad decided to project manage, quickly deciding that if you want something done well, you may as well do it yourself. What began as a small repair to a wall that was the victim of subsidence turned into a complete renovation of the kitchen and living room, with my Mum regularly driving my Dad mad throughout the Autumn. For those of you that haven't watched the programme, you can do so here - believe me it is worth it, if only for the scene where my Dad attempts a golf shot. Those glass doors that now sit at the back of my house were not easy to source at all and, indeed, there was a moment when my Mum just said, "No. I don't want it anymore. Just don't bother." The only problem was, half the back of the house was missing at this point and not bothering was not really an option. Just a small insight into the project that wasn't given on the programme.

If anyone needs a project manager who comes with plenty of sarcasm, a working definition of the word 'today', ridiculous shoes and a son that sounds just like him, then my Dad is currently not really doing very much. Watch the programme and give us a call!

Monday 2 June 2014

So, you both agree that 'hummus' is good?

One of my favourite Bruno moments is when he goes to the Middle East to try and solve the Israel-Palestine conflict and manages to get agreement that hummus is good. For your amusement, the clip can be found here. The relevance, albeit tenuous, is the news that Hamas and Fatah have reconciled and are forming a unity government. Personally, I'm not sure how you can have peace talks with an entity that is now backed by an organisation that opposes them - ignoring the added complication of that organisation being a terrorist organisation sworn to Israel's destruction. I am also confused as to how Abbas can claim any commitment to peace if he is seeking unity deals with such organisations.

There are some positives:

1. If (a huge huge huge if) Hamas commits to peace talks and Israel's right to exist, there may actually be some viability in the peace accords. 

For ages I have thought the peace process was a complete sham - Abbas had absolutely no authority to negotiate on behalf of the Gazans. (He barely has any authority to negotiate on behalf of the West Bank Palestinians considering he is 4 years beyond his term, but let's ignore that.) Considering any peace deal presumably included Gaza as Palestinian territory, this was hugely problematic. Assuming a return to peace talks (a huge assumption, of course), this is no longer a problem and makes a peace deal that little bit more viable.

2. Elections

Fresh elections, long overdue, can only be a good thing.

3. A government including Hamas need not be 'Hamas' inspired. 

In other words, the new government could decide to not oppose peace talks and to not be committed to Israel's destruction. It's unlikely but it is possible. A new Palestinian government controlling Gaza and the West Bank could extend security co-operation existing in the West Bank to Gaza, which could prevent future terrorist attacks. Or it would, at least, be a start. If the status quo remains, if Hamas remains sworn to Israel's destruction and terrorist activity out of Gaza continues then Abbas has made his intentions perfectly clear. It is true that you don't make peace with your friends, but with your enemies, but Fatah were enemies enough for Israel. In short, If Hamas remains Hamas within a new unified Palestinian government, I fail to see how peace can be negotiated.

Israel is correct to halt peace negotiations with any Hamas backed government - for the time being. Only time will tell what the make-up and ideology of a new elected, unified, Palestinian government would be. Netanyahu and myself fear that Abbas' cuddling up to Hamas only means it will be more extreme than it currently is, which ends the peace process. Crucially, it need not be so. If nothing else, however, this reconciliation may just confirm what many Israelis have argued since the split - Hamas and Fatah are two sides of the same coin. And that is not a positive. Not for peace, not for Israel, not for the Palestinians.

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Guardian: Wrong about everything, all the time

Sometimes you read something that has you shaking your head in disbelief. Very often that 'something' is in The Guardian, my newspaper of choice for anti-Zionism, pro-Hamas and terrorist propaganda and general anti-Semitism. Because, you know, I like having my views challenged. A piece in response to the ADL's report on anti-Semitism (here) is no different, unsurprisingly. My favourite thing about the piece is that it describes anti-Semitism as a serious issue...The Guardian, ever masters of irony.

The end of the second paragraph is so laughable, I almost didn't carry on reading. It states that "common sense" (The Guardian invoking common sense - more of that irony) would have almost anyone in the world answer affirmatively to the question of whether another ethnic group thinks more highly of themselves. Seriously? I don't happen to think any ethnic group thinks more highly of themselves. This question, however, confirms that many subscribe to the view that us Jews view ourselves as the chosen people and thus as superior to others. "Oh those Jews, thinking they are better than us." Try saying that sentence without it sounding like you harbour resentment for that fact and/or for Jews. 

The next paragraph is horrifically misleading. It suggests that the question, "Do the Jews have too much power in the business world," was only asked in the Palestinian territories where the answer was bound to be yes. The question itself is quite simple, "Do you subscribe to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews rule the (business) world." Answering yes, regardless of location, is anti-Semitism. That The Guardian think there is discussion on this point is worrying. What, however, is much more disturbing is the strong implication that this question was not asked in other regions. I randomly clicked and discovered that 51% of French respondents and 57% of Polish respondents also subscribe to the view that Jews have too much power in the business world. Let's grant The Guardian's claim that Palestinians could not be expected to answer anything but yes (ignoring that the Middle East and Northern Africa region where anti-Semitism is the highest is made of, shock horror, more than just the Palestinians), and ask whether the French could also not be expected to answer anything but yes? The answer, of course, is 'don't be so ridiculous'. The Guardian would have you believe that only the Palestinians were asked this "leading question". 

The next paragraph is the worst of the lot. Believing that Jews talk about the Holocaust too much and, as implied, use it to justify the existence of Israel is, in my opinion, anti-Semitic. The latter is certainly anti-Semitic by any normal definition of the term. Secondly, The Guardian is justifying such anti-Semitism. It is apparently understandable why Palestinians believe the Jews talk too much about the Holocaust (bear in mind, again, that 62% of Poles, for example, also believe the same). Anti-semitism, therefore, is understandable. We can argue for centuries about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, and indeed it seems we are destined to do so, but to suggest that Palestinians have any justification for their belief that Jews talk about the Holocaust too much, i.e., their anti-Semitism, is a horrible horrible claim.*

At the initial time of writing, The Guardian piece included a paragraph on a question regarding loyalty to Israel, which has since been deleted for not being in line with "editorial standards". Interestingly, justification of anti-Semitism obviously is...(A CIFWatch piece on this article contains this paragraph in full and can be found here.) 

Anti-Semitism amongst all, not least Palestinians, appears to be an inconvenient truth as far as The Guardian is concerned.

*This paragraph has been edited in light of comments from a friend.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Miliband and Zionism

I've never been the biggest Ed Miliband fan, though that's probably mainly because after exams last year Warwick Labour assigned me the title of 'Fed Miliband' or the Milibands' older, fatter brother. The Ed Miliband comparisons have been frequent since. However, whether or not I look like the man has finally become utterly irrelevant - I, at least, have the strength of will to stand up for my beliefs and opinions. For better or worse, I am not afraid to post a controversial blog, to defend Israel's right to exist on twitter and call myself a Zionist. Ed Miliband, it seems, does not share such strength - as my friend Jordan highlights eloquently here.

I, however, would go one further. I would argue that Miliband's refusal to self-define as a Zionist is all the more reason to ensure this man never leads our country. This has absolutely nothing to do with believing in Israel's right to exist or being pro-Israel (though I would also argue believing in Israel's destruction would also be reason for non-election!) No, this is to do with integrity, strength of character and the ability to stand up for one's beliefs. Miliband lacks all three in alarming measure. There is no denying that for Miliband to do so would have political consequences because of the stigma attached to the word (as Jordan highlights) but that is all the more reason to be ashamed of Miliband for not coming out and defending his views unequivocally. To be scared of defending your views and the implications of them renders holding them worthless and hollow. 

Ed Miliband is a Zionist. That members of his party and the public would not accept that is no reflection on Miliband. It is a reflection on the ignorance and anti-Semitism that exists in across all three major parties and in Britain. However, that anti-Semitism will continue to exist for as long as our leaders are scared to stand up to it, more concerned with political capital and their political careers than standing up for what is right. This is another example of a spineless politician whose views are not worth the paper they are written on. It would have taken real strength of character and conviction in what one believes for Miliband to have said he was a Zionist. That he lacks that demonstrates why he is unfit to lead this country, just like the majority of politicians we are 'blessed' with. 

Unfortunately, we live in a world where it is the fools and idiots who are so full of confidence. George Galloway is a perfect example of this. The man is anti-Semitic, generally odious and a poor excuse for a human being but he is never afraid to stand up for his beliefs. He never shies away from defending what he believes in and regardless of that belief, that is to be admired. The pro-Israel camp could do with someone of his charisma arguing for our cause. That that is undeniably true demonstrates all that is wrong with British Politics today. Unfortunately, we have the Ed Milibands of this world on our side - the cowards who are afraid to stand up for their causes. Frankly, he may as well be an anti-Zionist. His refusal to self-identify as one suggests that the belief in Jewish self-determination is somehow something to be ashamed of. Or at least something he is ashamed of. I don't want him on my side if that's what he thinks. I certainly don't want him living in Number 10 with such a cowardly attitude. 

I am a Zionist and proud. Come on Ed, overcome that politician instinct so ingrained within you. Stand up for your beliefs, no matter how controversial they may be. Otherwise you're just another weak, spineless politician not fit to run a bath, let alone a country. 

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Israel Apartheid Week: Rethink

Every so often you read something that makes you shake your head in disbelief and wonder if it is really worth your time to even engage with the material. Today was one of those days. A friend pointed in me in the direction of an article written in Warwick's student newspaper, The Boar, on Israel Apartheid Week. The piece, worth reading only to give this response some context, can be found here. Frankly, I should have stopped reading when gender segregation in universities was described as, “...sometimes questionable.” No, ma’am, it is not just sometimes questionable, it is always wrong. Anyway.

Let’s ignore the debate about Israeli policy, we’ll be here until the cows come home for Kosher slaughter. Rather, let’s focus on some horrific comments in the article that simply must be challenged:

  • Israeli Apartheid week is about raising awareness of apartheid in Israel.
Perhaps this is worth a read:

IAW is an attempt to associate Israeli policy towards the Palestinians with the Apartheid policies in South Africa, a comparison not only insulting to Israel (and wrong) but also to those South Africans who suffered under Apartheid. Anti-Israel campaigners would do well to avoid such inaccurate, harmful and insulting comparisons. 

  •  “...We should concentrate on more ‘pressing’ or ‘worthy’ issues such as civil war in Syria, or gay rights in Russia” 
The reason Israeli Apartheid week is wrong has absolutely nothing to do with the Syrian Civil War or Russia’s gay rights record (though, the writer should make a better attempt at not belittling either). The fact that pro-Palestinian (read anti-Israel) activists have no concern for the Palestinians at the mercy of Assad because Israel is not to be blamed (unless you subscribe to one of the many Zionist conspiracy theories that suggest Assad is actually an Israeli proxy) is really neither here nor there. Though it is something that perhaps can be considered…
  • Mandela supported the Palestinian plight
So what?! Mandela was an avid supporter of peace, freedom, self-determination and, wait for it, Israel. It is clear what the writer is trying to do here. Mandela is a man who is respected across the world so if he supports the Palestinian plight, then we must all support the Palestinian plight. I call ad hominem. Hitler loved dogs, ergo we should all hate dogs? I don’t think so! Besides, the writer conveniently ignores that Mandela believed that Israel deserved and needed security and had the right to exist as a Jewish state, something many speakers at Israeli Apartheid week fundamentally disagree with. 
  • IAW is important because Ariel Sharon was painted as a hero in Western media
Consider it this way:
  1. Ariel Sharon was painted as a hero
  2. We must paint Israel as an Apartheid state
Yep, makes perfect sense.
  • "To critique the politics of the state of Israel is not anti-Semitism – indeed, many Jewish organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians also oppose Israel“
The first point is, of course, correct. It is interesting, however, how her proof of this is that there are Jews who oppose Israel. So? Jews can be anti-Semitic. And besides, no one ever denied that it is possible to critique the policies of the State of Israel without being an anti-Semite. It just seems that the majority attending IAW are unaware of this - read the report above. I need only note one example - the number of Nazi comparisons made by supporters at rallies during IAW. Critiquing the policies of the State of Israel is one thing, in fact, it is encouraged in a democracy like Israel. What is, and will always be, unacceptable and downright anti-Semitism whether the writer likes it or not, is any comparison between Hitler’s Nazi regime and Israel. The fact is IAW makes no efforts to distance itself from such comparisons. 
  • "I abhor the politics of Saudi Arabia – does that make me an Islamophobe?”
Well no. Saudi Arabia is an Arab state, not a Muslim state. There is nothing else really to say about this point, other than the lazy flippancy in which it is made is very telling. 

(Note, the US state department designates Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state; Wikipedia as an Arab state.)
  • "We must not ignore Palestinian blood because the news has deemed Syrian blood more worthy of attention”
I find this the most troubling point in the entire article. I am not sure where the writer has been the past few years (probably on an anti-Israel rally in a country with freedom of speech) but this is an absurd statement. We do not need to get into the ins and outs of news outlets and whether they focus to much attention on Israel or count the UN resolutions on Israel compared to those on Syria. Instead, let’s ask the following question: “Has a body of a child or family murdered in Syria ever gained international recognition and outrage as a photo of the aftermath of a supposed Israeli attack?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes. More than once. We live in a world where we are sheltered from those murdered in Syria until someone can con us into thinking they were murdered by Israel.

Perhaps I can suggest an addition to the writer’s list at the end. We can support the Palestinian cause, we can oppose Putin’s homophobia, we can deplore Assad’s slaughter and we can oppose anti-Semitism and the poison, lies and hate that is Israeli Apartheid Week. And damn it, we should.

Sorry, I can't remember

A woman is in court, accused of murder. The most fundamental question the jury is asked is: “Did she do it?” This question opens up a can of worms much more full than we usually imagine. Let’s call the accused Sarah. When we ask whether Sarah committed the crime, what we mean is did Sarah commit the crime or was it John or Emma or Luke. However, we ignore a question just as fundamental: is the Sarah in court is the same Sarah as the past Sarah who we suspect of the crime. In general, we ignore the question of what makes Person A the same person today as yesterday or tomorrow. This is the question of personal identity. John Locke’s account of personal identity, born out of his desire to understand what someone can be held legally and morally responsible for, is assessed in this post.

Locke’s account begins, as most great Philosophical works do, with a distinction. Locke distinguishes between sameness of substance, man (or woman) and person, with the former not our concern. According to Locke, a man is nothing more than a certain animal, so the physical body that we have. Sameness of man, therefore, is just sameness of physical body. However, this is not what Locke takes personal identity to consist in. Locke defines a ‘person’ as, “…a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places.” He goes on to state that sameness of person consists in sameness of consciousness, which we take to mean memory.

This is referred to as an account of psychological continuity, because there is a continuing of the psychological features of the person – that is their memory, their beliefs, their personality. For Locke, memory is what is most important. So if a person X, can remember doing an action Y, then person X was the person who performed that action. This what Locke refers to as: remembering from the inside. We have special access to our memory of past events, because we were that very same person that did them.

There are two cases which bring out Locke’s thought. One is a case that Locke himself considered: the prince and the pauper. If the consciousness or mind of a prince is put into the body of a pauper, and the pauper can remember being the prince, then we could say that the pauper is the prince! A modern day example is a case where two men (Brown and Robinson) are in a car crash and Brown’s body but not brain survives, but Robinson’s brain but not body survives, so Robinson’s brain is transplanted into Brown’s body. Locke would say that this new creation is the same man as Brown, but the same person as Robinson, if they can remember being Robinson, which we would suggest, because they share a brain, that the person would.

What this post has attempted to establish is what it means to be the same person throughout time. Why does this matter? Simply put because we reward and punish people for actions we say they committed. When we punish Sarah for murder, we are saying that the Sarah in court was the same Sarah as the one who plunged the knife into the victim’s neck. Locke’s theory of personal identity gives us a basis for coming to this conclusion. Sarah can be said to be the same person that committed the crime because it can be proven that Sarah remembers committing that crime. More on this later.

Let’s return to a case previously discussed, the prince and the pauper. Locke’s theory forces us to conclude that because the pauper can remember the prince’s past life, the pauper is the prince. From this is follows that the pauper’s body would be responsible for all of the prince’s actions prior to the transfer of consciousness and not responsible for the any of the pauper’s prior actions. Where we see the pauper’s body, the Law must see the prince’s actions - according to Locke. The question to be asked is “who” exactly are we punishing if the pauper’s body is put in prison. It seems fairly intuitive that, after the transfer of the prince’s memories, thoughts etc, it would still be the prince - despite the physical change.

Another case to be considered is that of children and the mentally impaired. Locke’s definition of “person” (thinking, intelligent etc) would render children and the mentally impaired not (at least full) persons. Oddly enough, the Law does exactly the same. We hold children and mentally impaired humans much less responsible, often to the extent where they are not held accountable at all, for their actions in virtue of the fact they are children or mentally impaired. Locke’s theory gives us a reason why we do this: children and the mentally impaired are, in the legal sense, not persons and therefore we do not hold them responsible in the same way.

In a legal sense, therefore, Locke’s theory seems to have a lot going for it. However, in a crucial way it falls down. Let’s return to Sarah and a statement made above: “Sarah can be said to be the same person that committed the crime because it can be proven that Sarah remembers committing that crime.” This leads to two fundamental issues:

  1. Believe it or not, it is virtually impossible to prove what someone remembers and what someone doesn’t remember
  2. To forget something would necessarily be a defence in a court of Law. 
The first one is quite simple. Only Sarah truly knows what Sarah remembers. Suppose Sarah claims to not remember murdering her physics teacher - do we believe her? In most cases we are likely to dismiss Sarah’s claim but Locke would force us to consider it more closely. If Sarah cannot remember committing the crime, she is not the same person that committed the crime. It seems uncontroversial to argue that we do not punish criminals for actions that literally another person committed. It becomes vital to prove whether Sarah remembers committing the crime, yet this is impossible to do.

The second one is just false. Sarah stands up and claims to have been under the influence of alcohol when she murdered the victim and therefore cannot remember doing it. Let’s suppose it can be proven that she did not remember it. Locke’s theory now forces us to believe that a different person committed the crime. Again, it seems uncontroversial to argue that we do not punish criminals for actions that literally another person committed. Do we acquit Sarah? Taking Locke at his word would force us to do so. Intuitively this seems wrong, Sarah is surely guilty of something, even if it is on diminished responsibility - and, indeed, the Legal system tends to agree. We assume that people remain that person even throughout lapses in memory - and hence we can punish them (or reward them) for actions they cannot remember committing. Sorry Sarah, it seems your appeal to Locke’s theory of Personal Identity won’t work.

There are limitations to Locke’s theory. He may help us answer questions of personhood when we consider princes and paupers or why children are not held accountable, but his theory is, at least in part, not compatible with our modern legal system. Can’t remember doing something? Tough luck!