Very occasionally (about once every five years of so), the Graun carries a sensible, balanced and thought-provoking article that I am able to unreservedly recommend. It happened on Saturday (print edition), when Jonathan Freedland asked “We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?”
Freedland contrasts the protest, publicity and outrage over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead four years ago, with the general lack of interest over the Syrian government’s ongoing atrocities; here’s a flavour:
There is no such clamour now. The Stop the War Coalition is not summoning thousands to central London to demand an end to the fighting, as it did then. On the contrary, its statements are content simply to oppose western intervention – of which there is next to no prospect – while politely refusing to condemn Assad’s war on his own people. Caryl Churchill has not written a new play, Seven Syrian Children, exploring the curious mindset of the Alawite people that makes them capable of such horrors, the way she rushed to the stage to probe the Jewish psyche in 2009. The slaughter in Syria has similarly failed to move the poet Tom Paulin to pick up his pen. Apparently, these Syrian deaths are not worthy of artistic note. The contrast has struck Robert Fisk, no defender of Israel. He puts it baldly: “[T]he message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the west and its Israeli allies, but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.”
Read the full article here.
Inevitably, Freedland’s argument provoked the usual response from the loons, conspiracy theorists, professional Israel-haters and outright antisemites who frequent Comment Is Free. It also resulted in a typically stupid letter from Baroness Jenny Tonge, the Lib Dem’s and House of Lords’ resident anti-Israel thicko and fanatic. The most charitable thing that can be said is that she seems to completely misunderstand Freedland’s central point:
Jonathan Freedland makes the usual plea “why condemn Israel?”. Israel claims to be a western-style democracy that respects human rights and international law. The US and the EU, as well as our own country, have social, academic, cultural and trade links with Israel, and many of us have friends or colleagues in Israel. To many UK citizens, it is their home too. Israel drove the Palestinians from their homeland and livelihoods in 1948 and for 45 years Israel has occupied the West Bank. The treatment of the Palestinians is brutal and humiliating, as I have witnessed. We are right to condemn Israel for its actions. We are right to demand a higher standard of behaviour from Israel than from Arab states that are only now struggling to achieve political change. I have been to Syria. Does Mr Freedland really want Israel to be judged by the same standards by which we judge Syria?
Prof Norm delivers a devastating riposte here.
But it’s not Tonge’s stupidity that I particularly want to draw to your attention, but this strange and (I would submit) sinister comment from Lindsey German of Stop the War (and the objectively pro-Assad ‘Counterfire’), quoted by Freedland:
Anxious for answers, I called Lindsey German of Stop the War, who told me the organisation was not active on Syria because that “isn’t Stop the War’s job”. Its focus is on what “Britain and the US are doing”. Why, then, was it so vocal on Gaza? Because the west “was very much in support of the Israelis, so it was very different”. (In fact, Britain did not support Operation Cast Lead but called for a ceasefire.) She adds that the Palestinian question “has its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”.
Assuming that Freedland quoted her accurately, what on earth did German mean by the Palestinian question having “its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”? After all, the Palestians do not have a “country” – which is, of course, the root cause of their tragedy. Can anyone suggest what German means by that particular statement?
PS: hidden away in the foul madness that is the Comment Is Free “discussion” that followed Freedland’s piece, is a reasonably sensible debate between one David Pavett and ‘Aloevera’ that drew my attention to this fascinating interview given by the late Fred Halliday in April 2010. Recommended.