Thursday, 27 November 2008

Obama dismisses growing world criticism of Israel

UN General Secretary President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann has urged the world not to refrain from labelling Israel an "apartheid" state, while calling for international boycotts, divestments and sanctions to help end the Occupation.

The UN's International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People has also heard Dr. Hans Koechler of the International Progress Organization call for political, legal and other coercive measures against Israel, echoing
a wide range of other NGOs and inter-governmental bodies.

These pleas for international action come in the wake of Switzerland's scathing criticism of Israel. Denouncing its flagrant violations of international law, the Swiss Foreign Ministry recently called upon Israel to cease its illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and other parts of the Occupied Territories. It may seem a small objection from a quiet little country. But, as guardians of the Geneva Conventions, the Swiss condemnation carries considerable moral weight.

Might all these laudable calls for justice and decisive international action prompt a rethink of Barack Obama's support for Israel?

It seems not. Instead, we find Obama's advisers working feverishly to assure Zionist lobby groups that the US will not only back Israel, but, like them, will actively boycott international gatherings which dare to challenge Israel's illegal and racist conduct.

Hence, the latest US negation of the World Conference Against Racism, or 'Durban 2'. (The actual 2009 meeting will be held in Geneva.)

As the Jewish Chronicle contentedly report:
"Advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have assured Jewish leaders that the United States will not take part in the so-called Durban II conference...The now-notorious 2001 Durban Conference became a forum for extreme anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. A senior executive from an international Jewish body said he had been told: "President Obama is fully aware of the dangers of participating in this conference."... But he said: "We are confident that the main problem now is not the US, which will certainly not take part, but the European Union members."
The JC also intimates its approval of Hillary Clinton's appointment - as has arch-neocon William Kristol - noting her campaign promise to "lead a boycott of the Durban II conference, should current efforts to rein in the forces of hatred fail".

Evidence, if it's still needed, of how team-Obama will act as the ongoing protectorate of Israel's hateful treatment of the Palestinians.

As with the ignoring of public objections to Clinton's warmongering record, Obama's hawkish and pro-Zionist appointments fit neatly with the dismissal of Durban 2.
In similar vein, Obama's retention of Robert Gates at the Pentagon is the latest insult to the US anti-war base who elected him.

Such dismissals of UN and other humanitarian bodies in favour of Zionist-military interests illustrate the type of token consultation that's been taking place over Obama's 'peace policies', while indicating the kind of
reactive agenda still to come.


Monday, 24 November 2008

Pain and resolve of the al-Kurd family

News reaches us of the sad passing of Abu Kamel al-Kurd.

Mr al-Kurd, 61, died of a heart attack two weeks after being forcibly evicted from the family's home in Sheik Jarrah, East Jerusalem. Subjected to years of wilful intimidation by the Israeli state and settler zealots, Fawzia al-Kurd has now lost her home and her husband. The stress of eviction and callous destruction of a protest tent set up outside the family's home finally proved too much for Abu Kamel who had suffered prolonged illness. One can only imagine the despair and heartbreak for this heroic family, forced to watch him live out his final days in this barbaric way.

One is entitled to feel anger. Instead, I try to focus on the questions of compassionate awareness and solidarity. And, I ask, when will those multiple friends of Israel, forever issuing peace overtures and assurances to this apartheid state, realise their collective inhumanity in failing to speak on behalf of the truly oppressed, the dispossessed, the brutalised other? Will it come while David Miliband tours Israel and speaks at his Labour Friends of Israel luncheons? Or when the BBC, in their shameful 'haste', finally turn up to 'report' the al-Kurd's plight? Or when 'peace' groups like One Voice utter their squeaky-clean denunciations of 'extremists' on 'both sides', never daring to mention the state monolithic violence being visited every single day on anonymous Palestinians?

Their silence, their prevarications, their complicity is why such human wreckage is allowed to continue: apologetic human inaction feeds violent state action.

It's why there has to be clear proactive support for people like the al-Kurds - just as there has to be active criticism and exposure of the forces currently starving Gaza into submission, causing 98 percent of its children to be traumatised. To speak otherwise only provides the powerful with the means to mystify the issues and hide their crimes.

Beyond the sadness, I keep the pleasing memory of breaking Ramadan fast last year with the al-Kurds during our part in the watchful vigil outside their now stolen home. I smile thinking about that lovely gathering, of the family's generous hospitality and kindness. And, again, of their quiet, dignified resilience in the face of imminent eviction and loss.

All these images convey, for me, the true essence of the Palestinian struggle for justice. It also informs my understanding of peaceful, assertive and mindful-resistant politics; or zenpolitics. Even at such moments, it inspires a positive belief that there will be due deliverance for the al-Kurds and all those living and dying under the weight of Israel's brutal fist. Israel may be able to wield its mighty armoury, political network and media calumnies. But the people it seeks to demoralise and break show no sign of being silenced.

Strength and love to the al-Kurd family.


Friday, 21 November 2008

One Voice partners and the Obama network

Liberal 'moderates' play a key role in promoting extremist violence.

It's a remarkable paradox when one stops to think about it. A thought that would be instantly dismissed by liberal politicians, journalists and civil others as absurdly extremist in itself. Yet, when one stands, directly or apologetically, in support of an Occupying power and its satellite friends, rather than with the Occupied and oppressed, all those 'moderated' liberal words and inactions provide the greatest impetus for ongoing state violence and the violent responses which emerge from that violent oppression.

Such is the truth behind One Voice and its various international partners, many closely linked to the incoming Obama administration. Behind all the stated aims of this body and its friends to peaceful co-existence lies a power network predicated on political, military and corporate repression.

Much of that consolidated power was observable at last year's World Economic Forum event, "Enough is Enough - Israel and the Palestinian Territories" (note the omission of "Occupied" in the title), where One Voice founder Daniel Lubetzky, in the audience, was hailed as a new young doyen of the WEF.

Here's Lubetzky singing the praises of the WEF, a collective manifestation of business-political elites serving to uphold the global neoliberal disorder:
"I went [to Davos] and was blessed to meet a lot of great people who have become very very important figures in my life. OneVoice would literally not exist today without the support of the World Economic Forum... It is a great platform to meet impressive people who want to do something positive."
The host for this event was Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF and one of One Voice's Honorary Board of Advisors.

After inviting Mahmoud Abbas's thoughts, Schwab introduced Tzipi Livni to the podium where she repeated the standard untruths about Israel's 'benign' 'disengagement' from Gaza, the 'lost opportunity' for Palestinians arising from Oslo and the need to 'embrace moderates/reject extremists'. None of the 'moderates' among this esteemed gathering, including Lubetzky, seemed inclined to the truth that it's Israel's violent state extremism which lies at the heart of the problem.

Avoiding mention of Israel's economic devastation of Gaza and the other Occupied Territories, Shimon Peres - a man deeply implicated in war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon - went on to tell the assembled business delegates about the wonderful opportunities for big dollar investments in the region, all helping towards a 'peace solution' - another useful clue to why One Voice and Lubetzky's PeaceWorks corporation are being embraced by the WEF.

Claiming provenance of the 'moderate Israeli-Palestinian voice', Lubetzky falsely portrays all other parties, with select exceptions, as indulging in useless "extremism", which, apparently, explains his decision to form One Voice:
"If you follow speeches in 2001 and 2002, the only people who were speaking like that were King Abdullah and Queen Rania [of Jordan]. Everybody else was in an “us” vs. “them” mentality: it was all about extremism."
This, presumably, includes all those bothersome 'extremists' who insist on adhering to international law and the multiple UN resolutions condemning Israel's state extremism.

Friends united

Still, Lubetzky can always find more 'moderate' voices among Westminster's three main parties, where friends of Israel abound.

During his talk as special guest to the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel, One Voice adherent Charles Kennedy had this to say:
"Liberal Democrats look around the world to identify who shares our values. We believe in the Liberal values of equal human rights for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or faith. Only Israel, of all the countries in the Middle East, underwrites these values by law."
Staggering praise, indeed, for a state which denies non-Jews any right to 93 percent of its stolen land. And this from the same man who led the purge against Jenny Tongue for daring to articulate how a persecuted Palestinian might, in desperation, resort to violence.

Kennedy's defence of Israel, praise for Blair and denunciation of people like Tonge is an effective promotion of Israeli violence. Lubetzky's and One Voice's engagement of Blair, while demonising Hamas, amounts to the same thing. Both help maintain the fiction that the Israeli state is somehow moderate, rather than driven, as so many atrocities have shown, by pure violent intent, designed to terrorise and break an entire people.

While Conservative Friends of Israel help keep old British-Zionist political and business connections intact, it's Labour Friends of Israel whose most 'moderate' voice provides the greatest guarantor for Israel's ongoing violence. Unsurprisingly, Foreign Secretary David Miliband's patronage of LFoI is closely complemented by his endorsement of One Voice.

While Israel was this week blacking-out its merciless starvation of Gaza - helped by the 'moderated' reports from the BBC - the 'moderate' Miliband was strolling around Sderot proclaiming that it's "become the front line of Israel's security", and that's why "countries like mine and others show solidarity with the people of Sderot..."

Beyond his token visits to the West Bank and 'firm' words to Tel Aviv on the problem of 'mis-labelled' Israeli products, Miliband's 'moderate' silence on Israel's high crimes and apartheid state illustrates how liberal voices merely serve to excuse the Occupation, thus encouraging ongoing Israeli murder. Miliband's speech to LFoI is a further template example of how this liberal genuflection to Israel, 'moderated' by appeals for a halt to settlement expansion, allows a 'ticked-off' Israel to continue, unopposed, with its systematic violence.

One Voice and the Obama circle

One Voice also enjoys the support of notable politicians and celebrities in the US, again serving to enhance its image while turning a blind-eye to Israel's violent conduct.

How reassuringly 'moderate' to have glam-figures like Danny DeVito and Brad Pitt on One Voice's list. Why would anyone doubt the bona fides of a movement supported by such 'peace-affirming' celebs? Intrinsic to this is a kind of moral blackmail, enjoining people to say "well, how can I argue with a group trying to, at least, bring people together - particularly when that organisation is endorsed by role-model stars?"

One Voice's courting of the 'Arab constituency' in the US provides another such dimension on liberal co-optation and persusion. Take, for example, the Arab American Institute (AAI), prominently listed as "organizational partners" of One Voice.

James Zogby, the AAI head, has been making apologetic statements on behalf of Obama's proto Chief of Staff and seasoned Zionist, Rahm Emanuel.

Currently in thrall to Obama, Zogby has been criticised by more disapproving Arabs as a self opportunist fixer. Claiming the mantle of foremost Arab voice in the US, he served the Clinton administration faithfully while it executed its genocidal sanctions policy against Iraq. Zogby has also promoted and bestowed plaudits on Clinton's sanctions-enforcer and most-favoured Zionist, Martin Indyk. Indyk has been active, of late, reassuring Israel that Obama has the full interests of Israel at heart - even in his proposed 'mediations' with Iran.

Zogby is also close to Clinton's old Middle East ambassador and current Obama aide, Dennis Ross, who has been straining similar political sinews to convince Israelis and concerned US Jews that Obama is staunchly on their side:
"I am convinced that he will stand by Israel. I am. If I wasn't convinced of that, I wouldn't be standing here. Do I think that at the end of the day he will do whatever's necessary if Israel's threatened? I do. You raised the issue of Jerusalem. That was at the AIPAC speech. And what he said, he said the following: "Jerusalem is Israel's capital." ...The fact of the matter is, Jerusalem is Israel's capital. That's a fact. It's also a fact that the city should not be divided again. That's also a fact."
Indyk, Ross and Zogby are all on One Voice's Honorary Board of Advisors.

In a thoughtful essay on Zogby and the AII , US-Palestinian poet Remi Kanizi reminds us what these kind of moderate supplications to Obama really mean:
"While Zogby wants us to be aware of the "political realities," the actual reality for many Arab Americans is simple: this appointment represents more of the same -- whether it is the hawkish policies of the Bush administration or the destructive Middle East policy that was wrapped in nicer packaging during the Clinton years."
Zogby is no less effusive about Oslo and Emanuel's part in it, a process which Kanizi properly consigns to the dustbin of history:
"Zogby then swerves in a bizarre direction by praising Emanuel’s involvement in the Oslo Accords. Emanuel is the person who coordinated the shaking of hands between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. The Oslo Accords (which Zogby endorsed) were a complete failure. During the Oslo years, illegal Israeli settlements doubled and the policy that emanated from the accords helped destroy the Palestinian economy. It is the equivalent of proclaiming that Emanuel was the ribbon cutter, unveiling the “bridge to nowhere.”"
And that's the principal point of Zogby's and his peers' residence at the One Voice board: to help maintain the language of 'moderation' and a politics of prostration to ongoing US/Israeli versions of the 'peace agenda'.

True voices of moderation and peace should be alarmed that such mavericks and extremists, posing as liberal ambassadors, are finding common cause with Obama to entrench Israel's violence. In similar ways, One Voice's appeal and connections across this network helps maintain the crucial fiction that Israel is, at heart, intent on peace and dialogue; a process, so the liberal narrative goes, forever undermined by Palestinian unwillingness to renounce extremism and guarantee Israeli security.

As Israel's inhuman punishment of Gaza goes on, with the blame continually inverted to its victims, ask yourself what part One Voice and its assembly of 'moderate' friends are playing in support of that killing and the obstruction to a just peace for Palestine.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

One Voice: whose voice?

The politics of co-optation, it seems, is getting evermore 'grassroots', and here's a fine example of the seductive form.

One Voice is a project which apparently promotes peaceful joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts towards a "two state solution". When stripped bare, however, we find a more stealthy agenda serving to disguise Israeli power through appeals to 'moderation' and challenges to 'extremism'.

Despite it's elite allies and the failure of a supposedly critical media to highlight its crimes, Israel is increasingly on the international back-foot. Ever-astute in the PR field, One Voice offers a more accommodating medium and tone through which Israel's fundamental interests can be softened and presented.

Much of One Voice's language is framed in ways which underline the need for Israeli 'security'.

In its site literature, one can find no proper recognition of elementary language and labels, such as:
* The Occupation, or Occupied Territories - as formally defined by UN and other international statutes.

* Israeli extremism and terrorism - only Palestine is denoted in these terms.

* Israel's apartheid policies - as defined by Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and (former) UN Rapporteur John Dugard.

* Israel's multiple violations of international law.

* The illegality of the Separation Wall - as ruled by the International Court of Justice (2004).

* The viability and justice of a "one state solution".
Donors, friends and Lubetzky's CV

One Voice is backed by an array of corporate donors, like IBM, with strong business connections to Israel, while its board supporters include Likud, Shas and National Religious Party members.

One Voice also lists would-be supporters without consulting them, while others have relinquished their connection on learning of One Voice's true agenda.

One Voice is closely supported by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organisation responsible for vast expropriations of Palestinian villages, and the synthetic alterations to Palestinian locales in order to disguise Israel's historical violations and ethnic cleansing.

One Voice seeks to break the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Following plans for a One Voice joint event in Tel Aviv and Jericho, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) made this explicit statement:
"According to the widely accepted boycott criteria advocated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the event falls under the category of normalization projects and violates the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, trade unions, political parties, and grassroots movements, for the following reasons:

1. Participants are required to join the One Voice Movement and sign a mandate -- ostensibly based on a "two-state solution," but without any commitment to international parameters -- which assumes equal responsibility of "both sides" for the "conflict," and suspiciously fails to call for Israel's full compliance with its obligations under international law through ending its illegal military occupation, its denial of Palestinian refugee rights (particularly the right of return), and its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.

2. The event is sponsored by Israeli institutions (mostly from the private sector) and endorsed by mainstream Israeli political figures from parties including the Likud, Labour and Shas. These Israeli "partners" are unquestionably complicit in maintaining Israel 's occupation and other forms of oppression.

We believe this event is being organized to promote a "peace" agreement that is devoid of the minimal requirements of justice, and that will leave the Palestinian people as disenfranchised as previous agreements have. The unfortunate and harmful support of Palestinian businessmen, religious and political figures, among others, for this event indicates either ignorance of the hidden agenda inherent in the whole initiative, deceptively camouflaged as a collective call for peace, or willingness to forfeit the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in return for advancing selfish interests.

We call on the Palestinian public and international supporters of a just peace in Palestine not to take part in this public relations charade that conceals a misleading political program that falls significantly short of international law tenets and the Palestinian national program."
The event was subsequently cancelled following the withdrawal of most Palestinian musicians, organisers and others who quickly came to see that One Voice does not truly speak in the Palestinian interest.

One Voice's founder, Daniel Lubetzky, is a businessman with strong corporate and establishment ties.

On his website, Lubetzky claims that he "wants to amplify the voice of moderates", dismissing Hamas as extremists. The fact of Hamas's democratic election holds no apparent relevance for Lubetzky. His calls for 'moderation' and 'dialogue' are coupled with standard attacks on other international 'deviants', such as the "authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez". Another recent entry castigates casual criticism of Rahm Emanuel, while omitting any mention of Emanuel's own hardliner Israeli leanings.

Another key connection here is Lubetzky's own past posts at multilateral capitalist agencies like the World Economic Forum and World Bank. As one useful analysis of the latter shows:
"The Bank's approach to development in Palestine hinges on the full acceptance of the status quo - including continued occupation and the presence of the settlements and the wall - as well as joint projects that require PNA-Israeli cooperation, often with a third international partner. Politically, these development projects threaten to legitimise Israeli claims in regards to the wall, Jerusalem, land annexation and settlements that have resulted in the fragmentation and ghettoisation of the West Bank and Gaza."
Little wonder Lubetzky's organisation is being bankrolled by big business, with its eyes on Palestinian investment opportunities.

One Voice's recent meeting with Tony Blair helps ilustrate this new 'peace'-cum-business collaboration in the making, all in tune with the Palestinian Authority's attempt to please Western interests. Little surprise, then, that Blair is backing One Voice as he takes time from his various financial board jobs to pitch big business interests around the West Bank.

The reasons behind Western political and corporate endorsement of One Voice should be obvious to any savvy observer. Lubetzky's organisation is a front for what those interests see as the 'future' of Palestine - one in which Israel remains the dominant political, economic and military force, even under any two state solution.

One Voice in Glasgow

Among others, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign SPSC have given cautionary notice to those, notably students, being seduced by One Voice's seemingly inspiring message.

I sat in on one such gathering at Glasgow University. Held in the University chapel, lending a 'let's come-together', ecumenical feel, it wasn't hard to see how One Voice's Israeli and Palestinian peace-declaring speakers and slide-show appeals was intended to attract much of its genteel, liberal-minded audience.

The sizeable (100, or so) meeting was opened by University Rector and advocate for One Voice, Charles Kennedy, who talked for a few minutes (much of it in jocular reminiscence of his student days here) about "difference and diversity" and how One Voice are serving to bring hope to this difficult situation. Kennedy's bland-speak and failure to discuss the actual issues was matched by a glowing tribute to Tony Blair and his current 'peace efforts' in the Middle East. The 'admirable efforts' of the Quartet were also noted before Kennedy handed-over to the panel - and promptly departed.

Kennedy's grand posturing, testament to a war criminal and apologetics for a body which has helped secure the siege of Gaza made me recall one of the more useful lessons I myself learned here as a student: how the process and trappings of 'high education' so often serve to mystify and neutralise rather than illuminate and inspire knowledge and truth.

And, as the One Voice invited guests proceeded to speak, that kernel of truth seemed never more evident. Posing as 'civic engagement', rather than political activism, it merely served to circumvent the core issues. We heard not one specific word about the main UN resolutions or Israel's multiple violations of international law. No one highlighted or invited exchange on the still-key issues: the border question, Palestinian right of return, the status of Jerusalem and the illegal settlements.

The introductory speaker, of Palestinian origin, opened with some background on the despair felt post-Oslo and in the wake of the two intifadas. But, though seemingly considered, it was couched in language which cast no specific blame on Israel's Occupation. Later in the meeting, he made a convoluted 'move-on' statement about land for Palestinians holding "different values" today from what may have seemed the case in 1948. Again, it was a moment begging for reference to UN resolution 194, advocating, from 1948 onwards, the standing right of Palestinians to return to their land.

He might also have noted the JNF's land-grab dealings in all of this ethnic cleansing - perhaps, even, Charles Kennedy's own patronage of that lofty body. Alas, the One Voice message doesn't include that kind of awkward detail.

Up next, the Israeli speaker's personal journey announced another desire for peaceful co-existence. Yet, it was an account, from Jewish immigrant to serving soldier and One Voice member, which failed to comprehend why she might be granted special 'right of return', while the state and military which she served continue to deny Palestinians their basic rights. Like many other peace-extolling Israelis, her peace-commitment was informed, as she related, after witnessing Palestinian rocket attacks. No doubt it was this primary fear over Israeli 'security', rather than Palestinian oppression, which prompted her facile claim that the Separation Wall - a "symptom" of the "conflict", according to her fellow-speaker - amounted to "only five percent" of Israel's security infrastructure.

In more moving terms, the Palestinian guest speaker recounted the suffering she, her family and community have endured in the West Bank. Her personal desire for an end to the hopeless impasse was, likewise, sincerely expressed. We heard here of her worthy desire to help unlock the wealth of Palestinian talent, and of her culminating belief in the two state solution. Yet, her apparent epiphany to the One Voice 'ideal' seemed little more than a hopeful submission to its false 'two sides' narrative.

It's here that we see the cynical promotion of One Voice's loaded appeal to 'Palestinian moderation', the implications of which seem lost on some Palestinians in their efforts to transcend the hopelessness and violence.

In particular, One Voice are pushing a 'both-to-blame' lingua franca which urges us to consider this 'vital' question: 'how do we defeat the extremists?' Precisely who the terrorists are was never specified at this meeting. The site literature is equally coy. But we're left in little doubt: it's the Palestinians. In contrast, there's only hollow silence from One Voice on Israel's massive state-terrorist arsenal, and the extremist brutality it has inflicted.

In another curious void, the two-state solution received not a moment of serious scrutiny or analysis as to what it might actually look like in practice. Rather, as in the literature, it was held aloft as a catch-all leitmotif, a kind of holy grail. No further thoughts. No examination. All we're told is that it's the preferred option of most Palestinians and Israelis.

Thus, the more awkward problems went conveniently unanswered: what form of two-state solution might this involve?; does Hamas get to have a say in any settlement?; will two states require the decisive removal of all the settlements - including those plush hill-top locales in East Jerusalem? More critically, with reference to the demographic time-bomb of Israel's 20 percent Arab population, what are One Voice's primary objections to a one-state solution?

Precisely none of this was up for serious discussion. Yet, it's here, in this sensitive omission, that the real Zionist fear of Israel losing its ethnocratic - rather than democratic -state composition can be discerned. As the Israeli activist Jeff Halper (whose ideas One Voice devotees might more usefully consult) notes in his excellent An Israeli in Palestine, even for many Israeli peace groups:
"the two state solution is an absolute and unassailable one; they cannot even contemplate another one, and in particular anything smacking of a bi-national state. This is because they are Zionists, and for them a Jewish ethnocracy - or a 'Jewish democracy' as they prefer to say - is sacrosanct." (p 78.)
This is also why One Voice is campaigning relentlessly against any notion of a one-state solution.

My own contributions to this assembly - noting the regrettable ways in which One Voice, Lubetzky and his corporate-backed project are neutralising the issues and misleading people away from fuller understanding and action - was met with a kind of respectful rebuke from all three speakers - the Israeli taking particular exception to my use of the term "apartheid" to describe the country she "loves". And from the introductory speaker came the convenient clarification that One Voice are 'not a political body', they're just 'working for peace.' Rather predictably, the microphone was denied as I tried to ask what One Voice really meant when talking about a two-state solution.

Throughout this meeting, nothing from the table gave the slightest encouragement for people to go and consult the actual 'one or two state solution' debate. Nor was there even a token nod to the standard non-reporting of the Occupation which has allowed Israel's military brutality to continue for so long. My own point noting the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and international action on the scale mounted against South Africa, was, of course, totally ignored by the panel. Instead, we were urged to embrace and donate to a group which talks in vague and passive niceties about pushing our respective politicians to do more.

The meeting ended with an audience invitation to the One Voice drinks reception (which I naturally avoided) and appeals to buy the One Voice-Paul McCartney pin badges on sale.

Afterwards, some of the audience spoke with me, registering their appreciations on being alerted about One Voice. One young student articulated it well in saying that this group is about instilling "quietism", thus serving to dull the actual issues of Israeli power. He also noted that this kind of soft-elitist institution is particularly conducive to harbouring such groups. Which pleasingly reaffirmed my faith in critical investigation.

Those attracted to One Voice's contrived message, please take note.



Some comments/exchanges on this article can be read here.
(Note added, 14 November 2008.)


Some basic information, reports and articles

Key UN resolutions on Palestine-Israel

2007 UN resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination

Opinion of the International Court of Justice (June 2004)

Route of Separation Barrier

Information on settlements

Settlement expansion violating peace process

East Jerusalem background

Discriminatory planning, building and land policies

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): West Bank Closures (September 2008)

OCHA: Map of West Bank Access and Closures (April 2008)

Checkpoints, obstructions and forbidden roads

Gaza Strip background

UN Envoy Desmond Tutu: Gaza: siege is an “abomination”

Tutu on Israeli “war crime” in Gaza

Report of UN Rapporteur, John Dugard

John Dugard: Israel's Occupation is like “apartheid”

Dugard on "apartheid"

UN Economic and Social Council: economic and social repercussions of the Occupation

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Protection of Civilians, data tables

Fourth Geneva Convention

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Malaysian blogger activists keep spotlight on ISA evil

Malaysia Today editor and radical blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin has been released from ISA detention. It's a remarkable outcome for this fear figure of the Malaysian elite. It seems an unexpected victory - and intriguing decision by a usually-cowed Malaysian judiciary. But it proves the vital lesson that intelligent mobilisation and information can have rewarding results.

Activist blogger and journalist Anil Netto has written copious daily - often minute-based - updates on RPK's incarceration, release and the ongoing anti-ISA vigils, including the brutal police clampdown on a peaceful rakyat presence in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya.

As Netto's popular dispatches show, this is a blog-dissidence that's serving to switch-on and inform a new generation of concerned and active citizens. It also continues to discomfort and alarm the elite.

The latest backlash from the Malaysian state comes in considerable response to this extraordinary network of blogger-led news and dissent. Indeed, in a media-savvy age where bloggers have rewritten the rules, such sites are proving deeply worrying for an establishment ever-used to issuing its comfortable propaganda via the standard press and electronic media.

And with voluminous traffic at Malaysia Today and collective Malaysian blogosphere now surpassing much of the Malaysian media, public rejection of the Internal Security Act is gaining similar ground.

The ISA remains the draconian instrument par excellence among a catalogue of coercive laws enacted by the British during the Emergency (1948-60) to counter the Malayan Communist Party. Under the enduring pretext of 'preventive detention', notes Aliran's Francis Loh, the ISA:
"has subsequently been used to detain political opponents across the whole political spectrum: alleged Communists and Marxists, trade unionists, peasant leaders, student activists, Islamists, church workers, so-called racial chauvinists, opposition party leaders, NGO workers, and other dissidents, not to mention government members of parliament, secret society members, identity card and passport racketeers, counterfeiters and smugglers of illegal aliens."
In short, it's the dragnet law of a 'national security' state designed to criminalise and curtail lawful political dissent.

Another victim of this ISA round-up is the resilient blogger and film maker Sheih "Kickdefella". In a recent Aliran edition, "Kickdefella" tells of his four day lock-up in Khota Bharu and Dang Wangi police stations, a time in which he felt a spiritual completeness and compassion for his police jailers, all of whom, it seems, saw in him a man of honour, innocence and integrity.

Such is the growing public esteem, even within the state apparatus, felt towards those prepared to sacrifice their liberty in challenging the ISA.

Parliamentarian Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily News reporter Tan Hoon Cheng have also been emboldened by their harrowing experiences of arrest and questioning, resolving, on release, to intensify their opposition to this catch-all law.

Sixty six detainees currently languish in the infamous Kamunting detention facility - past 'home' to many notable politicians, activists and academics such as S. Husin Ali, Kua Kia Soong and, in his early radical days, Anwar Ibrahim himself.

Now released - though, ever-aware of looming re-detention - RPK has rejoined the anti-ISA caravan and 'keyboard struggle' alongside Netto and a host of dedicated others.

Nothing so free and truthful could be imagined coming from the standard media. Indeed, it's a tickling paradox that all the corporate-political resources of a dutiful mainstream media are being subverted by these 'lowly blog-journos'.

With unfiltered, qualitative information coming via freely-accessible sites, how, one wonders, does the state and its media monolith respond? Well, as we've seen, by locking-up the bloggers or/and dismissing them as an 'unprofessional caste'.

Yet, as gathering demands for an end to the hated ISA and radical blog-traffic intensify, those reactions are proving to be well behind the curve.

As with past purges on Malaysiakini and other unsettling portals, further and more severe closure of servers and sites can always be expected.

Yet, with the many political and logistical difficulties posed by a mass assault on blogger activism, the outlook is still encouraging.

More power to your fingertips!


Friday, 7 November 2008

Obama: "Yes we can" - will he, can we?

So, Barack Hussein Obama finally reaches the White House, a landmark event for this new-generational African-American.

Black people in particular will rightly see it as a momentous achievement against the long, dark history of American slavery and racial oppression.

The ousting of Bush/Cheney and rejection of their alarming stand-ins, McCain/Palin, should also bring considerable relief to many sane people around the world.

Cheers have echoed. Tears have flowed. The commendations have rolled in.

Regardless of the circus politics driving it all, it's a zeitgeist moment for people like Jesse Jackson and the millions of rejoicing, hopeful black Americans.

Yet, on what more studied grounds can this be described as an "historic" day?

Beyond Obama's dazzling oratory, what are the serious possibilities for historical, progressive change? It's not a promising vista. Obama's victory may be a notable event, but it suggests very little or nothing as a challenge to America's ruling corporate order.

Ralph Nader has offered a truer assessment of Obama's campaign:

“This is show business.”

For those beguiled by Obama's stage presence, Nader looks back at celebrated black radicals and finds the new President lacking in something rather more elementary: "fire in the belly". “Rosa Parks had fire in the belly.” “Barack Obama does not have fire in the belly.”

For Nader, “the only point of this election is that the Democrats have no more excuses.” Having complained for years about lacking a comprehensive mandate for 'change', there should be no prevarication this time.

Recounting Obama's conservative Senate record, Nader concludes that the President-Elect has no interest in taking-on corporate power. As the consistent political and media exclusion of Nader himself illustrates, what prevails in America is “a two-party dictatorship... in thralldom to these giant corporations...”

“Why are they investing in Barack Obama?" For Nader and other voices for real democracy, it's a no-brainer.

Naomi Klein reminds us that the fixation with "big 'P' politics" during campaigns only obscures the true poverty of policy underneath:
"When societies are changing quickly, the media and the people are naturally focused on big "P" politics - who gets the top appointments, what was said in the most recent speech. Meanwhile, safe from public scrutiny, far reaching pro-corporate policies are locked into place, dramatically restricting future possibilities for real change."
What we get instead is a mass-focus on the event rather than how the policy minutiae serves corporate America. What the media help convey is a simulacrum of something “historic” - a self-congratulating nod to 'liberal fairness' rather than any consideration of how definitive, system-reforming change might result from such a 'watershed'.

Nelson Mandela's release from jail was, similarly, presented as “historic”. And, yes, it was such an event. Indeed, much more so than the Obama election in that it inaugurated a whole new body politic 'intent' on sweeping away an entire wicked system.

Yet, while Apartheid gave black people access to the voting booth – the definition of liberal participant democracy – and some marginal improvements, it has yet to transform the society in any “historical” way. As John Pilger reminds us, big international capitalism still calls the shots and the vast majority of blacks still live in abject poverty.

The definition of “historic”, one might say, lies in the event's outcomes rather than the event itself. Antonio Gramsci's “historical bloc” - denoting a long-term system/grouping of power relations, rather than just a change of party/leaders - offers a useful template for considering just how little the main architecture of US corporate politics will be undermined with Obama at the helm.

In speaking of saving Wall Street to help Main Street, all the evidence suggests Obama heading-up a damage limitation project of further appeasement and bailouts; all serving to manage the ravages of neoliberalism.
Obama's economic team inclusion of Clinton's former Treasury head Larry Summers is but one indication that there will be no break with past economic orthodoxies.

On close examination, says US author and academic Anthony DiMaggio, Barack Obama promises almost nothing that one could reasonably term historical change:
"Obama may have electrified crowds with his rhetoric and charisma, but no amount of smooth talk is enough to make up for a lack of economic and political vision. At the risk of offending the Obama-cult, I'm willing to admit that Obama's victory appears to be a non-historic event. Obama has provided little substantive evidence that he would seriously fight for progressive-left causes as president."
Obama's victory speech had his optimistic audience repeating the leader-elect's new mantra: "Yes, we can." It returned me to Blair's "Things can only get better" chorus in '97. And, of course, things did get better - for those at the top of the social tree, while things got terrifyingly worse for the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Like Blair's entry to Downing Street, coverage of Obama is another "historic" example of how the liberal mainstream insulate the prevailing order by peddling a safe understanding of 'serious change'; a seamless reportage of party political emotionalism, playing on public hopes and expectations.

Which is why BBC mainstays like David Dimbleby, Justin Webb and Matt Frei were waxing emotional during the election on America's 'historic rebirth'. Like Obama, they are where they are because they help keep the system intact, quite safe from any prospect of serious historical change.

Speaking at Democracy Now, John Pilger also brings us back from election euphoria to the more sober truth that Obama is "a man of the system".

As Pilger suggests, this is not to dismiss the sincerity of such hopeful outpouring - Bush/Cheney are, after all, being removed. Moreover, the desire for hopeful change, however incremental, is a human trait to be greatly admired.

But this kind of event allows the liberal elite and its media proxies to cultivate a tepid 'real hope' narrative, all serving to play-down expectations of meaningful change.

For Pilger:
"The lesson learned is that no presidential candidate, least of all a Democrat awash with money from America's "banksters", as Franklin Roosevelt called them, can or will challenge a militarised system that controls and rewards him. Obama's job is to present a benign, even progressive face that will revive America's democratic pretensions, internationally and domestically, while ensuring nothing of substance changes. Among ordinary Americans desperate for a secure life, his skin colour may help him regain this unjustified "trust", even though it is of a similar hue to that of Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations for Bush and now endorses Obama."
With a million-plus dead Iraqis, what value can we place in Obama's "yes, we can" foreign policy promises?

Despite opposing the war, Obama's Iraq withdrawal proposals look vague and non-committal. Even the removal of most combat troops will still mean a substantial military and administrative retention. It would still be occupation.

Will Obama be the spur to any serious engagement over Palestine?

Ask the suffering people of Gaza, whom, far from Obama's victorious Chicago stage, reserve a much more prosaic view of his 'enlightened America'.

Obama's first appointment as Chief of Staff is the pro-Israeli hardliner Rahm Emanuel. Hardly a fillip to any serious proto-peace deal. As Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah comments, Obama decisively distanced himself from all progressive US-Arab voices on the issue during the campaign. This might be construed as political risk-aversion. Yet, the appointment of Emanuel, notes Abunimah, reveals a more concrete confirmation of favourable intent towards Israel.

Likewise, as Obama contemplates a surge-based addition to US forces in Afghanistan, one is reasonably permitted to ask: what's really changed in the miltary policy arena?

Tariq Ali notes that, "talking in cliches and synthetic slogans" during the campaign, Obama's position on Afghanistan - and Pakistan - was even more belligerent than McCain - though, the available intelligence he receives, once in office, Ali thinks, may persuade him otherwise as to the folly of intensifying a military presence where the US is clearly being beaten.

As many of these key commentators say, only a re-concentration of the ground-based movements that got Obama elected can now help effect serious change. Ralph Nader has, to that end, helped initiate the post-election to begin the real task of pressure/lobby-driven targeting of Obama and Congress.

Can they and we, further afield, mobilise and argue for a radical alternative? Yes we can.


Some additional articles:

Hail to the Chief of Staff

Obama reassures big business on economic policy

Organizer in Chief

The Obama Illusion

A look under the hood of the (potential) Obama adminstration

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

"Blood on Their Hands": report damns Israel's killing of children

Media Lens have produced another outstanding Alert, citing a major report on Israel's calculated targeting of civilians, most notably children, in Gaza and the West Bank. It comes with a searing commentary from the ML Editors on the monumental silence of the mainstream media.

Which prompted this letter and set of simple questions to the BBC's Middle East Correspondent, Jeremy Bowen (with similar enquiries to David Mannion, Editor in Chief, ITN News, and Jim Gray, Editor, Channel 4 News).

Dear Jeremy,

The latest Media Lens Alert has highlighted a damning report, Blood on Their Hands, by the internationally-respected Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, detailing the deliberate, systematic killing of children across the Occupied Territories.

The content and message of this report should speak for itself. But, as Media Lens amplify:

“Since the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 859 children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The child death toll rose dramatically during the first six months of 2008, mostly as the result of a large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The massive assault, code-named 'Operation Winter Heat', was launched on February 27. The Israeli military killed more children (47) in the Gaza Strip during the first four months of 2008 than during the whole of 2007 (32 children). A total of 110 civilians were killed during 'Operation Winter Heat' in February-March 2008. (See our earlier Media Alerts: 'Israel's Illegal Assault On The Gaza "Prison"', March 3, 2008, 08/080303_israels_illegal_assault.php; and 'Israeli Deaths Matter More', March 11, 2008, 08/080311_israeli_deaths_matter.php)”

The Alert continues:

“But the report is even more damning than that. It concludes that Israeli forces "deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population." The human rights investigation also concludes that: "There is also strong and consistent evidence to suggest that [Israeli forces] deliberately kill Palestinian children in reprisal for the deaths of Israeli civilians or members of the [Israeli forces], which amounts to a war crime." (PCHR, op. cit., p. 46)”

In light of these damning conclusions and ML's illuminations:

1. Can you tell me where and when the BBC provided coverage of this report?

2. Do you agree with the report's evidence that Israeli forces "deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population."?

3. If you accept these findings, do you think Israel's violations should be more specifically and regularly highlighted by the BBC?

4. In similar vein, do you believe the failure of Britain, the US and wider international community to condemn and exert pressure on Israel over these killings should be made prominent in BBC reports?

5. I note that most BBC online reports have taken to stating that the Occupation is illegal under international law – with the “Israel disputes this” caveat. When a Palestinian child is killed by the Israeli Defence Forces, should BBC reports also state that such killings are illegal under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – and that Israel is a signatory to these Conventions and Protocols?

6. Given the report's key message - corroborated by multiple other respected studies - that Israel deliberately targets civilians, notably children, do you believe the public is getting unfair coverage of the Palestinian case – as indicated by the Glasgow Media Group poll?

As ever, I'd be greatly interested in your valued thoughts on these matters.


John Hilley