Israel’s Kent State
By Moshe Yaroni
Having worked on the issue of Israel and its myriad conflicts for many years, one gets used to tragedy and even to stunningly abhorrent behavior. And indeed, I have seen more than enough of both from all sides in this conflict.
But every once in a while, things take a turn, and that turn is punctuated by a singular, stunning event. The murderous raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla this day was one such event.
I waited to start writing this until there was some official statement from Israel. I did that because I want to start off with Israel’s explanation for this horror. Here’s what the IDF spokesperson said, in part:
During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that it seems as if part of the participants onboard the ships were planning to lynch the forces.
I am sure, as is always the case, there will be those who believe this version of events. But frankly, I can’t see how anyone can do so unless they are so desperate to justify Israel’s action here that they’ll believe anything. Let’s examine the IDF’s version of events.
We begin with the point that these were civilian ships and Israel boarded them with commandoes—soldiers who are disposed toward combat situations and are not meant to police unarmed civilians. They’re fighters, that’s their purpose. But the IDF claims that an assortment of international activists deliberately provoked a violent confrontation (using potentially deadly weapons, but which still leave them ridiculously overmatched) against heavily armed and trained soldiers in order to “lynch them.”
Does that seem remotely credible? It only seems so if you believe the activists on board these ships were willing to risk and actually sacrifice their lives in order to create a scandal for Israel. Of course, Israeli hasbara (propaganda) is well-practiced in casting all Arabs and Muslims as suicidal lunatics, aided by the suicide bombers who represent an infinitesimal percentage of those populations. But this collection of international activists, including many Jews, Americans and Europeans, apparently are also willing to give their lives, and rather cheaply, according to this story.
No, the IDF version of these events doesn’t begin to pass the laugh test.
When I first heard confirmed reports of this massacre, I thought of the Kent State shootings in 1970. That horrific tragedy, like this one, was the result of a government using ridiculously disproportionate force against civil disobedience.
But at Kent State, the shootings resulted from high tensions and one person losing control, causing others to follow his lead. Was that the case here? I suppose one must allow the possibility, but the quick response of the government certainly gives the appearance that it was not that simple.
Friends and colleagues can tell you, I have been very critical of the Free Gaza Movement’s politics. Before this incident, I had criticized them for refusing to carry a letter and package from Noam Shalit to his son, Gilad. I’m familiar with many of the core activists and know some of them personally. I know their agenda is more than humanitarian; it is more than breaking the siege on Gaza, and it is more radical than I am comfortable with.
But I also know they are non-violent, and quite serious about that. They’re also not stupid, which any group of civilians would have to be to intentionally get into a violent clash with a significant military force. And while I may not be on the same page with them politically, they are entitled to their political views. And the action itself of breaking the blockade, carrying goods to the besieged Strip and showing some support for the million and a half innocent people of Gaza who bear the burden of this policy that has only strengthened Hamas is brave and positive.
The bottom line is that Israel raided these ships with commandoes, and the end result was a great deal of needless bloodshed. And apparently, according to the IDF spokesperson, as reported by journalist Gregg Carlstrom, they couldn’t even wait to do it until the ships had passed out of international waters, which makes it, if no explanation is forthcoming, an act of piracy as well.
Israel crossed a line today, in a way not dissimilar (though certainly of a much smaller scope, thankfully) to the line they crossed in their massive attack on Gaza in 2008-09. Whatever Israel’s detractors have said over the years, this incident, like Operation Cast Lead, was far beyond anything Israel has done in the past.
This was a shocking massacre, and there’s no way to pretty that up. These were people engaged in direct action of civil disobedience. True, the siege on Gaza should simply be lifted, but being that it’s there, yes, Israel can be expected to take action to stop the flotilla. But this doesn’t just go above and beyond and justification, it zooms light years past it.
The IDF talks of gunfire, but apparently the guns in question were taken from soldiers during the confrontation, not precipitating it, according to the IDF spokesperson’s statement: “According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines. ” All of this begins with the Israeli tactics used to raid the ships.
Israel’s excuses are weak. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Ynet, “It was obvious to all that this was a media provocation, aimed at reaching a confrontation with Israel…We are not Shiite suicide attackers, and it is the soldiers’ duty to defend themselves.” If it wasn’t such a tragedy, I’d be rolling my eyes.
It is now up to the international community, and especially the United States, to take action. If the Obama Administration is to have any credibility left on this issue at all, it must forcefully denounce this action and call for an end to the siege of Gaza. The latter is not likely to happen, but the former is an absolute must. Without it, Obama will begin to be seen throughout not only the Arab and Muslim world, but also by Europe as little different from his predecessors on the Middle East issue.
No doubt as well the leaders of AIPAC, the ADL, AJC and similar groups will be quick to support the IDF’s absurd story here. The Jewish telegraphic Agency offers portent by simply parroting the IDF line and framing the incidents as “Protesters on ship bound for Gaza killed in rioting.”
We can do better, and we must. If there is to be any hope of stopping Israel from committing to this suicidal and murderous course it is on, and bringing its supporters around the world down with it, incidents like this must be denounced firmly, with calls for real accountability. This was a serious crime and it cannot be tolerated or excused away.
(From ‘Realistic Peace in Israel-Palestine’; h/t: riki lane )
David Cameron, Nick Clegg and even Ed Balls are all agreed: David Laws is a wonderful man, a fine public servant and as honest as the day is long. He made an entirely understandable mistake over the incredibly complicated and unclear Commons rules about accomodation expenses (the ACA, or “Additional Costs Allowance”).
That being so, then why exactly did he have to resign?
Here, by the way, is a clause from those fiendishly hard-to-understand rules:
ACA must not be used to meet the costs of a mortgage or for leasing accommodation from:
- a close business associate or any organisation or company in which you – or a partner or family member – have an interest; or
- a partner or family member.
It has also been suggested that the Daily Telegraph‘s motivation in breaking this story was, at least in part, homophobic.
The admirably sensible Chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, has given that line of argument short shrift: “…public concerns about Laws’s expenses claims are almost certainly not on this occasion motivated by irrational homophobia. They might well be motivated by a more justifiable ‘second home-ophobia’ instead.”
29th May 1940
One has to gather any major news nowadays by means of hints and allusions. The chief sensation last night was that the 9 o’c news was preceded by a cheer-up talk (quite good) by Duff-Cooper [Minister of Information], to sugar the pill, and that Churchill said in his speech that he would report again on the situation some time at the beginning of next week, and that the House must prepare itself for “dark and heavy tidings”. This presumably means that they are going to attempt a withdrawal, but whether the “dark tidings” means enormous casualties, a surrender of part of the B.E.F., or what, nobody knows.
30th May 1940
The B.E.F. are falling back on Dunkirk. Impossible not only to guess how many may get away, but how many are there. Last night a talk on the radio by a colonel who had come back from Belgium, which unfortunately I did not hear, but which from E’s. account of it contained interpolations put in by the broadcaster himself to let the public know the army had been let down (a) by the French (not counterattacking), and (b) by the military authorities at home, by equipping them badly. No word anywhere in the press of recriminations against the French, and Duff-Cooper’s broadcast of two nights ago especially warned against this… Today’s map looks as if the French contingent in Belgium are sacrificing themselves to let the B.E.F. get away.
Borkenau says England is now definitely in the first stages of revolution. Commenting on this, Connolly related that recently a ship was coming away from northern France with refugees on board and a few ordinary passengers. The refugees were mostly children who were in a terrible state after having been machine-gunned etc., etc. Among the passengers was Lady ——–, who tried to push herself to the head of the queue to get on the boat, and when ordered back said indignantly, “Do you know who I am?” The steward answered, “I don’t care who you are, you bloody bitch. You can take your turn in the queue.” Interesting if true.
Orwell turned his wishes into prophecies – common enough, of course. He thought at the time that the only way that Britain could defeat Nazi Germany was through revolution or else by the government turning Fascist itself, in which case the war was not worth it. He was wrong on both counts, and later admitted it.
In June 1945 he wrote:- “Never would I have prophesied that we could go through nearly six years of war without arriving at either Socialism or Fascism, and with our civil liberties almost intact.” which he ascribes to people feeling unable to influence events in any way, and so therefore just continuing on their daily round.
Cross-posted from Dave’s Part:
IT IS particularly cowardly to enter a place of worship and gun down dozens of people peacefully practising their religion. But that is exactly what happened in two mosques in Lahore today, and such an unimaginably wicked crime underlines the toxicity that religious sectarianism alone can generate.
For the avoidance of doubt, this was not some distorted form of class struggle, refracted through a Muslim ideological prism. Nor was it a cynical Washington ploy to divide the ummah for the benefit of Tel Aviv.
There is no meaningful sense in which blame for the massacre can be laid at the door of the Pakistani bourgeoisie, which if anything would prefer internal stability as the most propitious framework for it increasingly precarious rule. Wage labour, after all, comes undifferentiated by sect.
The principle reason that at least 42 people have been slaughtered is that they adhered to a brand of Islam which adherents of another brand of Islam object to as heretical. They were, to paraphrase a standard British euphemism, the wrong type of Muslims. If I believed in Hell, my sincere hope would be that those responsible would rot there.
It was the misfortune of those that perished at prayer to subscribe to Ahmadiyya. The perpetrators were Sunni, and almost certainly Taliban operatives. That alone immediately points to the involvement of the Pakistani state, particularly the hardline Islamist faction dominant in the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.
The only tenable attitude for the left is one of abhorrance towards reactionary proto-theocratic factions of all stripes. We have just been accorded a small-scale preview of what will happen if such currents are ever allowed to prevail.
The furore that erupted in some circles over the SWP’s stunt at the BA talks was, imho, somewhat excessive. Yes it was stupid and counter-productive but it appears to have been a spontaneous action on the part of some over-excited (and young) rank and file SWP’ers after some rousing speeches at their ‘Right to Work’ conference, rather than a considered decision by the group’s experienced members and leadership.
The decision of the SWP to support Jerry Hicks in the election for general secretary of Unite is a much more worrying (though less commented upon) indication of this group’s retreat from rational class politics. Hicks is a supporter of the Galloway-”Respect” outfit that did so badly at the general election, though (strangely and inexplicably) his campaign within Unite is mainly backed by the Labour Party entrists “Socialist Appeal.”
The announcement came out of the blue on Tuesday of this week. It had, apparently, been agreed at an SWP (Central Committee?) meeting on the previous Saturday. Prior to that, all the indications were that the SWP and its leading Unite members agreed with the decision of the main left grouping within Unite (the United Left), to support Len McCluskey.
The United Left put out the following ‘more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger’ statement:
” (The) United Left is proud to be a genuinely broad-based socialist rank and file
movement in Unite the Union, bringing together working class shop stewards
and activists of no particular political affiliation, the Labour Party,
Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Communist Party and other
groupings. By uniting together the forces of the Left in UNITE we seek to
overcome our differences and make a strong and effective voice for the Left
in our Union, to build a strong fighting back union based on effective lay
member democracy and control, and with a socialist vision politically for
“The United Left at its 2009 hustings meeting in Manchester democratically
agreed to support Len McCluskey for General Secretary by an overwhelming
vote and therefore calls on all United Left supporters to actively support
his candidature and work hard for his victory in the forthcoming UNITE The
Union General Secretary election.
“It is with deep regret that we note that the Socialist Workers Party at its
meeting on Saturday 22nd May 2010 has agreed to call on all its supporters
to back Jerry Hicks for General Secretary, in the full knowledge that this
will bring its members in United Left in conflict with the democratic
position of United Left. It is of particular concern to the United Left
National Co-ordinating Committee that this decision was made not by SWP
United Left supporters alone, but by the SWP as an independent political
party, the majority of whom are not members of UNITE The Union and have no
rightful voice in the affairs of UNITE let alone United Left.
“United Left NCC has no wish to exclude SWP members from United Left, but
must insist on the following standards of conduct from SWP United Left
supporters for the duration of the UNITE General Secretary election:
SWP members in United Left must not use the United Left e-group or any
other United Left vehicle for communicating support for Jerry Hicks
SWP members in United Left must not openly campaign for Jerry Hicks,
including submitting nominations or distributing leaflets. If they wish
to do this they should withdraw from United Left (and not attend United
Left meetings) for the duration of the General Secretary election.”
The leading SWP’er within Unite, Pete Gillard, replied “on behalf of SWP members in Unite“, as follows:
“The SWP members of the United Left accept the decision of the National Coordinating Committee with regards to our participation in the UL, following our decision to support Jerry Hicks in the General Secretary election.
“SWP members who attended the 8th May NCC meeting, which agreed on the principles behind the NCC’s statement, fully concurred in that decision. We recognized at the time that this might affect us at some time in the future depending on our decision over the election. Following the SWP’s decision on Saturday, Pete Gillard immediately offered his resignation as National Editor.
“While we have what is clearly a significant difference over the General Secretary’s election, on most issues we will still be united. We will be opposing the attacks from the ConDem government and their allies amongst the employers. We will be voting for the same motions at the Policy Conference next week. We will be working to build a fighting back union with lay control at every level. We are still committed to building a United Left.
“It is for that reason we wish to continue to participate in the UL as fully as possible over the next six months around the general questions of organizing solidarity and fightback, even if we are rightly to be excluded from any discussions about the GS election.
“We would like to correct one part of the NCC statement. The decision to support Jerry Hicks was voted on exclusively by SWP members who are members of the union. As on all questions other SWP members had opinions, but the decision was taken by those who will have to carry it out.
“We hope that in the future what we have in common will prove more important than the current differences. We are going to have a long hard fight under this government and, however difficult it may be achieve at times, in the end unity is necessary.”
What is most immediately noticeable about both statements is the polite, non-confrontational tone of each of them. The leadership of the United Left is sorry to have to break with the SWP comrades, just as they (the SWP) are anxious not to burn their bridges with the United Left. Indeed, one furious United Left supporter wrote (to Pete Gillard):
“I do not see that the courtly exchanges between you and Martin ( Martin Mayer – Chair of the United Left) does any credit to either of you. What you are doing will damage the chances of building a serious politically focussed union to fight for our class in the hardest economic period any of us have seen in our lives. That Martin sees this as some equivalent of the Eton v Harrow cricket match does not in any way lessen your culpability, whether that is through stupidity, treachery or some other vice is less important than that you and your more experienced comrades knew the damage that is being done and are willing to trade the defence of the class for a few headlines in a paper that few read.”
* the United Left is the joint organisation formed out of the former T&G Broad Left and the former Amicus Unity Gazette group;
* the United Left held a hustings in Manchester last year that overwhelmingly backed Len McClusky as GS candidate: Hicks walked out (twice);
* Hick’s platform is an incoherent jumble of policies not noticeably to the “left” of McCluskey’s…
*…but Hicks is on record as arguing that retired members should have the same rights within the union as employed members: a fundamental attack on rank and file democracy and, indeed, trade unionsim itself;
* a split in the left vote could let in the Stalinoid right-winger Les Bayliss.
No-one (at least no-one at Shiraz) is arguing that McCluskey is the perfect candidate. But he is supported by the main left grouping within the union. Comparisons have been made with the PCS in 2000 when some on the left (including the AWL, but not the SWP or the Socialist Party) supported Mark Serwotka against the ”Left Unity” candidate Hugh Lanning, and Serwotka won. I’m not that well up on the details of what happened in the PCS then, but it does seem to me that the comparison is misplaced, if only because Serwotka stood on a clearly superior platform to Lanning, whereas Hick’s platform is little or no better than McCluskey’s. Perhaps even more importantly (and PCS activists may want to correct me on this), I suspect that the United Left is more representative of the majority of rank and file activists within the union, than was the PCS ”Left Unity” group that backed Lanning in 2005.
Anyway: the SWP’s willingness to break with the United Left, its willingness to back a politically incoherent and egotistical poseur like Hicks, and its lack of explanation for doing so, all suggest an organisation that is fast losing touch with the labour movement and with rational working class politics.
One final point: the SWP’s (self-) exclusion from the United Left over this business may well have the thoroughly undesirable effect of giving the Stalinist CPB an opportunity to increase their influence within the left of Unite.
If my postings here have been a bit thin on the ground lately, it’s because as well as my day-job, I’ve been playing with the very busy ‘Zenith Hot Stompers’, a fine traditional jazz band established in 1963 and based in the Midlands.
It’s a great honour to be playing with the Zeniths, even though the circumstances that led to this were not happy: their regular drummer (and de facto leader) Derek Bennett, was diagnosed with leukemia. I’m very pleased to be able to report that Derek has been responding well to the horrible chemo, and is now in remission. But he’s still too weak to return to his rightful place behind the traps, so in the meanwhile Zenith fans are having to put up with yours truly.
I’d nearly forgotten just how joyous and wholesome good trad jazz can be. I’ve also had to brush up on Jelly Roll Morton and his breaks, “spanish tinge” interludes and double-time moments – all of which the Zeniths specialise in. This is both an entertaining band and a serious jazz outfit: they’ve backed the likes of Humph, Wally Fawkes, Chris Barber and Wild Bill Davison in their time.
I thought they’d have one or two Youtube clips up there, but apparently not. So to get a flavour of the kind of thing we’re doing, here’s a clip about the father of British trad jazz, George Webb who died in March of this year. I think it tells you something about the warmth and solidarity that is felt by these musicians towards their own: I hope when the time comes, that I get half such a good send-off:
The following letter was sent to Nick Clegg and to the Observer:
First of all may we take this opportunity to congratulate you and wish you every success in the new job. We parents in this detention centre need to express our concerns about our children here detained. We need your help as we believe you as leader and participant in this government can take action to protect our civil liberties and human rights. We do appreciate your courage to speak openly about the immigration problems and that makes us think very highly of you. We know that it has been agreed that no children should be detained for immigration purposes but we are still here in the detention centre with children facing deportation.
All of us are vulnerable people with medical conditions suffering from depression and fear of persecution if returned to our country. We feel angry to know that the court allows people to stay in this country who are trying to blow up buses, underground, airports and have not been deported. We have been dragged up and down from our houses to detention causing so much stress to families and children.
Is this because we are a soft touch? Is this because we can not afford to pay good lawyers? We have been often victims of the political system where every time there is a crisis we get the whiplash.
There are about 12 families here in the detention centre and 14 children, plus two pregnant women and one of them has been here about eight months. The children’s ages range from one year old to 16 years old. They have been out of school for a long time. Most of them speak English as their first language and do not speak their mother tongue.
They were born in this country and do not know any other country apart from England. They ask questions about why they are here, why they are different from other children and we often haven’t got the answers for them. We do think that we have been harshly treated by the Home Office where every case is refused and go through the courts wondering if we are living in the perfect world.
We sought protection from a country we believe in and which has a tradition and good values of democracy. We have escaped our countries because of fear of persecution. Our lives and our children’s are in danger. We are living an endless nightmare. We have been in the country for a long time from two years to 11 years. All we want is to have a life and live with decency. We do not want to be a burden on tax payers. We want to take part in building the economy. We want to demonstrate to our children the decent way of living, not the culture of laziness.
We want a system working wisely. We do agree to maintaining border control but not to the extent where families can be destroyed and human rights abolished.
We hope that our voices can be heard and our children will be the last in detention.
Please we are kindly asking you to take action and end our nightmare for families and children.
Shpresa, Kalpesh, Sejal, Sheila, Nazik, Leila, Iman, Akbar, Naeema, Sehar, Khoa and all the families in the detention centre
Yarls Wood detention centre, Beds
Nothing wrong with it in principle, but…
…either the SWP stunt today was intended to disrupt the Unite/BA negotiations, or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, then what exactly was the point?
Crucially, did it have the support of any of the Unite/BASSA members involved in the dispute?
SWP blogger Lenny “Seymour” Tombstone’s account is simply bollocks on stilts:
“What I can assert with reasonable confidence is that the protest did not disrupt negotiations…”
Yet more evidence that these people (the SWP) are simply not serious. And don’t understand the meaning of the word “solidarity” (as opposed to “substitutionism”).
The final episode of “Ashes to Ashes” on BBC 1, demonstrated that mainstream television can still produce intelligent and entertaining drama.
I personally loved it, because it reminded me of the best years of my life.
I didn’t fully understand the ending: I got it that Gene Hunt was dead already and that Alex, Ray, Chris and Shaz were going back to the future: but what about all those stars? And was Jim the devil?
Was it, in fact, yet another variation on the Faust story?
Viewers of the 1980s police drama learned that Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, had in fact died in his first week as a policeman and had been the apparition who had regularly appeared to DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes).
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the series’ climax, Ashes to Ashes co-creator Matthew Graham said: “It’s been hard keeping the secret, even my family didn’t know.”
He added: “I don’t tell them anything. So they know nothing in advance. It is an emotional ending.
“I guess we very rarely finish a show, where you really know that you are saying goodbye to a group of people.”