The wisdom of Freedland, stupidity of Tonge…and sinister evasiveness of German

October 24, 2012 at 7:52 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Guardian, Human rights, internationalism, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, relativism, revolution, Syria, terror, thuggery)

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.

33 Comments

  1. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    I’m sorry Jim, while I appreciate your arguments, the article below by Gideon Levy, nicked from behind the Haaretz paywall is damning. While A ‘no state’ outcome would be the best, two-states is effectively dead. A multiethnic state is the only practical forseeable outcome.

    If any of the HP fanboys and girls are inclined to demur, they should consider the hue and cry should these same attitudes be expressed by europeans towards jews.

    Most of the Jewish public in Israel supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank.

    A majority also explicitly favors discrimination against the state’s Arab citizens, a survey shows.

    The survey, conducted by Dialog on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews. The survey was commissioned by the New Israel Fund’s Yisraela Goldblum Fund and is based on a sample of 503 interviewees.

    The questions were written by a group of academia-based peace and civil rights activists. Dialog is headed by Tel Aviv University Prof. Camil Fuchs.

    The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children.

    A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

    A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter – 24 percent – believe separate roads are “a good situation” and 50 percent believe they are “a necessary situation.”

    Almost half – 47 percent – want part of Israel’s Arab population to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.

    Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent ) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs. Only 31 percent think such a system is not in force here. Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.

    The survey distinguishes among the various communities in Israeli society – secular, observant, religious, ultra-Orthodox and former Soviet immigrants. The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent ) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.

    The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group – 70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces.

    The group classifying itself as religious is the second most anti-Arab. New immigrants from former Soviet states are closer in their views of the Palestinians to secular Israelis, and are far less radical than the religious and Haredi groups. However, the number of people who answered “don’t know” in the “Russian” community was higher than in any other.

    The Russians register the highest rate of satisfaction with life in Israel (77 percent ) and the secular Israelis the lowest – only 63 percent. On average, 69 percent of Israelis are satisfied with life in Israel.

    Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist – 68 percent of them would not mind having Arab neighbors in their apartment building, 73 percent would not mind Arab students in their children’s class and 50 percent believe Arabs should not be discriminated against in admission to workplaces.

    The survey indicates that a third to half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.

    The survey conductors say perhaps the term “apartheid” was not clear enough to some interviewees. However, the interviewees did not object strongly to describing Israel’s character as “apartheid” already today, without annexing the territories. Only 31 percent objected to calling Israel an “apartheid state” and said “there’s no apartheid at all.”

    In contrast, 39 percent believe apartheid is practiced “in a few fields”; 19 percent believe “there’s apartheid in many fields” and 11 percent do not know.

    The “Russians,” as the survey calls them, display the most objection to classifying their new country as an apartheid state. A third of them – 35 percent – believe Israel practices no apartheid at all, compared to 28 percent of the secular and ultra-Orthodox communities, 27 percent of the religious and 30 percent of the observant Jews who hold that view. Altogether, 58 percent of all the groups believe Israel practices apartheid “in a few fields” or “in many fields,” while 11 percent don’t know.

    Finally, the interviewees were asked whether “a famous American author [who] is boycotting Israel, claiming it practices apartheid” should be boycotted or invited to Israel. About half (48 percent ) said she should be invited to Israel, 28 percent suggest no response and only 15 percent call to boycott her.

    • Alain said,

      Levy’s survey is worthless. Only 38% of those polled — the entire survey contained only 503 respondents, a suspiciously small sample — were in favour of annexing settlements to start. Why not herald this fact? “Most Israelis against annexing settlements”… how’s that for a headline? So this poll (whose methodology is glaringly suspect… here’s an analogous survey: “If you committed a capital crime would you prefer to be executed by hanging or electrocution?”) has been twisted to say things that it does not say. What did Mark Twain say about statistics? (In fact the organization that originally commissioned the poll withdrew its sponsorship some time ago. But Levy needs an axe to grind…) Here’s a small sample of what’s wrong:

      Levy admits that “the survey conductors said that the term ‘apartheid’ “was not clear enough to some interviewees”, which may explain the following additional quote by Levy about the results: “39 percent believe apartheid is practiced “in a few fields”; 19 percent believe “there’s apartheid in many fields” and 11 percent do not know.” Further, it’s unclear how ‘apartheid’ – widely understood as a systemic policy of separation based on race – could be characterized as a dynamic localized in certain fields. It seems possible that Israelis were expressing their belief that “discrimination” occurs in certain fields, which is a far different phenomenon than ‘apartheid’.

      http://cifwatch.com/2012/10/23/harriet-sherwood-cherry-picks-results-of-poll-to-smear-israel-with-apartheid-label/

      An exposé of racism in Israel is laudable but this effort is risible. Indeed, if racism were the issue in the Israel-Palestine dispute, I would think that the shoe is largely on the other foot. (See the roundup of Palestinian polls in the link above.)

      • Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

        Oh only 2 out of every 5 Israeli jews supports annexation and ethnic cleansing. Nothing to worry about there — jog on!

    • Alain said,

      @Faster…

      The “annexation” at issue is not that of the West Bank en masse but of the settlements, which comprise an estimated 5% of the West Bank. The Palestinians have long acknowledged (at Camp David, Taba and other negotiations) that most of these settlements (which largely border the Green Line) would be absorbed into Israel in exchange for similar areas on the Israeli side, i.e. land swaps. That is hardly “ethnic cleansing”. In fact most of the settlements themselves were either founded on land that had been previously settled by Jews (kibbutzim that existed before 1948 but were destroyed by the Jordanians after they occupied the West Bank) or on land acquired through purchase.

      As for the notorious “survey”, here is a more thorough deconstruction of Levy’s conclusions:

      http://storify.com/avimayer/haaretz-and-apartheid-the-full-picture

  2. blergHhhhhhhhhhhh commemetayraryer said,

    One could equally point out that the likes of Shiraz Sauce, Harry’s Place, Professor Norm and other sundry cosmopolitans have next to fuck all to say about the ongoing ‘low intensity’ conflict in Congo that is claiming the lives of around 45,000 people every year. Pray tell Jim, given the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Congo – why the continued silence?

  3. Alex Ross said,

    Bob-from-Brockley has some excellent commentary on “pro-Palestinian” pseuds who are only concerned about Palestinian refugees when they are being attacked by Israelis rather than Syrians. He (rightly) concludes that they are more concerned with hating Israel than defending the rights of Palestinians.

    My problem, however, is that a similar logic can often be applied to people who are only interested in the Syrians insofar as they can make a cheap point about “pro-Palestinians”. I.e. – being pro-Israel is what matters and not defending the rights of ordinary Syrians. When a sentence starts with whatabout the…you can be generally guaranteed that the person uttering it doesn’t really give a fuck about the other group concerned. (I’m not including Bob nor JF in this category BTW).

    It’s even rarer for those obsessed with I/P to discuss any other conflict outside the ME (e.g. Congo, Chad, N/K, South Ossetia, West Papua etc.) and on the few occasions that they do, they always feel compelled to crowbar some bloody reference to I/P at the end.

    So blergHhhhhhhhhhhh has a point.

  4. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    btw Jim are you still in favour if Donald Trump raping the planet?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/25/donald-trump-joke-not-harmless

  5. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    all for jerbbs of course….

  6. Jim Denham said,

    I still think Uri Avnery has a pretty decisive response to those who (for a variety of reasons) either reject two states for supposedly “practical” reasons (usually, in fact, a cover for ideological/religious objections to the existence of Israel), or who have genuinely given up in despair:
    http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/avneri-on-romney-and-the-two-state-solution/

    As Avnery points out, whatever the problems with two states, they are as nothing when compared with the problems accompanying the only conceivable alternative: a single, bi-national state:

    http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/binationalism-and-the-sad-story-of-judah-magnes/

  7. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    My opinions haven’t been taken from an SWP cut out and keep list of political positions.

    As I said, I appreciate the arguments: the right to self determination; (zionism = jewish nationalism, so why should it be treated any different from any other cultural nationalism); Israel as a refuge (why should people be expected to live on the mass grave of their families and wait for it all to kick off again – as it did in Poland for example); the myth of Israeli jews all being from Europe; etc. However, the right for jews to live where they want cannot take precedence over the right of arabs to live where they want, or anyone else for that matter – there must be the same rights for all – and the expressed desire for self determination is a mockery when millions of people are held captive and the Israeli government goes out if its way to make life miserable for Palestinians.

    http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/

    I have come to the point where I can no longer ignore the reality of actually existing zionism. Socialist zionism and Labour zionism are no more. The only future for Israeli jews who want to live in peace with their neighbours (and cousins) is post zionist.

  8. bler4egHH omceonmretatry said,

    Meanwhile in the youkay. Our criminal justice system in action:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/oct/25/pc-alex-macfarlane-jury-discharged?CMP=twt_gu

    Our health care system in action:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-20087078

  9. Babz Badasbab Rahman said,

    I think the difference between Israel and Syria is clear. Israel does what it does to the Palestinians with decisive Western political, ideological, economic and military support (granted there is the odd feeble ticking off from the EU).

    So in effect we as in the West are morally responsible for their actions. Western civilisation gives Israel billions every year in economic and military aid, it’s hi tech sector invests billions into the Israeli economy giving Israel the tools it needs to create state of the art offensive military equipment which it uses on Palestinians, it sells it advanced lethal killing machines at heavily subsidised prices which it uses on it’s neighbours on a regular basis and it was responsible for it’s ill thought out creation (55% of Palestine to 33% of the population? Yeah that was smart).

    The Syrian Regime on the other hand is independent of the West. We are in no way responsible for it’s brutal crackdown, the only way we are responsible is purely from an international human rights point of view where every life counts and is worth the same and not just the ones the Western media reports so in effect we must go down hard on every single human rights crime being committed whether there is a geo-political and/or economic stake or not. A quick search on Google is quite revealing with regards to where the worlds worst human rights violations are taking place. Of course they are barely reported in the mainstream media (and hence nor on this blog) but that’s nothing new.

    With regards to Syria, backing the rebels like all leftists should and would hope the secularists get in power and set up a democratic Government asap (which I guess will be shared with Islamists).

  10. Jim Denham said,

    You make some fair and true points, Babz: but Freedland’s point is about the inconsistency and double-standards of the “left” with regard to Israel and Syria.

    Btw: what exactly do you mean by “A quick search on Google is quite revealing with regards to where the worlds worst human rights violations are taking place. Of course they are barely reported in the mainstream media (and hence nor on this blog) but that’s nothing new” ?

  11. levi9909 said,

    We know what Freedland’s point was and it was wrong. There has not been silence on Syria and there have been weekly protests in London against the Assad regime. Also the UK government has condemned Syria out of hand. Gordon Brown’s government may have paid lip service to a ceasefire during Cast Lead, presumably by both sides. but it supported Israel’s attack on Gaza, as you and Freedland know, Jim.

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Mr Elf (aka ‘levi9909′) : Freedland’s comments (and mine) were directed against the double standards of the liberal/”left”: the pro-Assad brigade like Counterfire and “left” antisemites like you.

  13. levi9909 said,

    Freedland’s comments and yours are wrong, just plain wrong. Most of the left has been totally against Assad. There is some division for sure but it does not amount to “silence on Syria”. And the nonsense about Stop the war deliberately misses the point that the west supports Israel but doesn’t support Assad, au contraire.

    It’s funny but usually you’d be bashing the SWP but the SWP doesn’t fit your ludicrous thesis about the left and Syria so you turn to Counterfire and they’re not as helpful to your argument as you make out.

    And on the subject of the SWP and Alex Ross’s praise of Bob from Brockley, SW had the plight of Palestinians in Syria covered back in March this year.

    All in all with hundreds of comments making Freedland look utterly ridiculous, hasbara seems to be getting more and more difficult. Still you keep on keeping on, Jim.

  14. blergHhhhhhhhhhhh commemetayraryer said,

    Speaking of double standards Jim, I notice you haven’t addressed my point about the silence in regard to the ongoing death toll in Congo. It’s almost as if you’re being sinisterly evasive.

  15. Alex Ross said,

    “there have been weekly protests in London against the Assad regime”

    Funny. I’ve been scouring the STWC website and can’t find any references to anti-Assad protests. Is there another prominent “left wing” organisation backing these protests or is it just the poor Syrian exiles on their own??

    And blergHhhhhhhhhhhh still has a relevant criticism of the tedious I/P obsessives on both sides.

    • levi9909 said,

      I don’t know who’s supporting specific activities but you are still missing the point that if you want our government not to support Assad, you have what you want: it doesn’t support Assad. It did support Israel over cast lead (in spite of the “wise” Freedland’s half-truth – at best – over UK calls for a ceasefire) and it does support Israel over most things in spite of Israel’s colonial settlement, its ethnic cleansing, its segregationist system and its relentless violence.

  16. Alex Ross said,

    Surely there are reasons to protest other than simply condemning **your** government over its involvement in this or that atrocity – such as creating greater awareness of a problem, showing solidarity with people who are generally fucked over and feel ignored by the eye of the global media etc.
    As an example, I remember a number of my Tamil colleagues getting very involved in the protests in 2009 around appalling human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan army. They took photos of the demos on their smartphones and sent them back to their loved ones back home. However, their sense of enthusiasm for popular protest soon dissolved into despair given the lack of interest by the wider UK public. I turned up to 2-3 demos – but the momentum soon dissolved into nothing. Noone cared.

  17. levi9909 said,

    I remember when Palestine solidarity demos attracted only about 500 people. These things take time. Now, expressing solidarity is a good thing even if it won’t achieve anything other than raising morale but Freedland is making a bad faith allegation of antisemitism on the false premise of “silence on Syria”. Let’s not forget that. Jim, of course. is making the same bogus allegation.

    Clearly the reason for such widespread protests against Israel is the fact that it is perceived as a western colonial asset, much like South Africa and Rhodesia were. If people are spending too much time hand-wringing over other issues and not enough time on the streets, that doesn’t mean they don’t care and it certainly doesn’t mean that the only explanation for anti-zionist protest is antisemitism.

    By the way, is there any evidence for the UK calling on Israel for a ceasefire during cast lead? I think Freedland may be over-egging the pudding a tad there.

  18. Jim Denham said,

    Mr Elf: Freedland nowhere even mentions “antisemitism.” But I do. I say you’re an antisemite, but not because of Syria. In your case it’s because of what you said/wrote about the attempts by the families of the Olympic games massacre victims to get a minute’s silence at this years Olympics.

    Btw: on your blog you also lie about Freedland’s record on Israel, by stating that he’s “rarely critical”: as anyone who reads his stuff in the Graun will know, he’s highly critical of Israel – and indeed is in the Syria piece. But perhaps, for you, it’s just that he’s not for the total destruction of Israel that makes him objectionable.

    As for your claim that “most of the left has been totally against Assad: I presume, therefore that you do not include the Morning Star, the Stop the War Coaltion, Seumas Milne in the Graun, or the Andrew Murray/Counterfire axis as being within the “left”? If so, I might just agree with you.

  19. levi9909 said,

    “Mr Elf: Freedland nowhere even mentions “antisemitism.””

    He didn’t have to, you idiot.

  20. Jim Denham said,

    “He didn’t have to, you idiot.”

    Err…

    So it’s Ok to say what you like about people without citing any evidence?

    Right: now i get your method, Mr Elf.

  21. levi9909 said,

    Look at your comment number 12: “Freedland’s comments (and mine) were directed against the double standards of the liberal/”left”: the pro-Assad brigade like Counterfire and “left” antisemites like you.”

    It was you who said he was aiming his article at “antisemites”. Now wherever did you get that idea? If he’s not alleging antisemitism against Israel’s critics, then what is his point exactly? No don’t tell me. You already did. His point was to defend Israel against legitimate criticism by clearly implying antisemitism. You noticed it yourself and then decided to un-notice it.

    You might want to check your own method there Jim.

  22. Jim Denham said,

    Freedland does not use the term “antisemites” about the double-standards brigade – fact.

    I do not know whether or not he privately considers you to be antisemites – if so he keeps it to himself – fact.

    It’s me who calls you antisemites – fact.

    Still, as we seem to be agreed that the cap fits, please feel free to wear it, Mr Elf.

  23. levi9909 said,

    We certainly did agree on something but sadly you now seem to be backtracking. You effectively said that Freedland (and you) were alleging antisemitism. I agreed that that is indeed what Freedland was alleging. Our only point of departure is that I say his allegation is false and I condemn it on that basis whereas you are rather keen on false allegations of antisemitism.

  24. bler4egHH omceonmretatry said,

    Posh corporate lawyer pretending to be woman on HP Sauce is outraged:

    “We need a committee to ask ‘are you now, or have you ever been affiliated with an organisation that has a link with another organisation that might have a link with an individual who supports Islamists’.”

    Human excrement pure and simple.

    Btw Jim – you still never addressed my question about the Congo. If I ask a third time, do I get an answer?

  25. Jim Denham said,

    Mr Elf: Freedland nowhere accuses those like you who downplay what Assad is doing but are always ready (sometimes correctly) to condemn Israel, of being antisemites. That’s simply a fact. Give me quote where he does. Given that he’s a Guardianista, I suspect he *doesn’t* think you’re antisemites.

    But I do.

    We could go round and round in cricles like this forever.

    • bler4egHH omceonmretatry said,

      Four million dead in Congo and counting. No one gives a fuck of course (least of all smug liberal western vermin), just so long as the Coltan keeps flowing.

  26. levi9909 said,

    Jim, you’re wasting my time and your own. He actually says, “it is not simply a bias against Jews” by which he means it is a bias against Jews together with something else. Bias against Jews is often known as antisemitism unless you’ve got another word for it.

    And I don’t downplay what Assad is doing, I want Assad overthrown and I want the State of Israel abolished. All very straight forward. The Assad regime is illegitimate and so is the Israeli state.

    I don’t think there’s anything left for you to not understand.

  27. Jim Denham said,

    “I don’t think there’s anything left for you to not understand”: no there isn’t, Mr Elf.

    I understand that:

    1/ You’re an antisemite.
    2/ You’re a fucking idiot.

    Now stop wasting my time and just go away.

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