The following article will be published in the New York Review of Books on March 20th:
Above: The opposition leader Vitali Klitschko at a rally in Maidan Square, December 2013
By Timothy Snyder
The students were the first to protest against the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych on the Maidan, the central square in Kiev, last November. These were the Ukrainians with the most to lose, the young people who unreflectively thought of themselves as Europeans and who wished for themselves a life, and a Ukrainian homeland, that were European. Many of them were politically on the left, some of them radically so. After years of negotiation and months of promises, their government, under President Yanukovych, had at the last moment failed to sign a major trade agreement with the European Union.
When the riot police came and beat the students in late November, a new group, the Afghan veterans, came to the Maidan. These men of middle age, former soldiers and officers of the Red Army, many of them bearing the scars of battlefield wounds, came to protect “their children,” as they put it. They didn’t mean their own sons and daughters: they meant the best of the youth, the pride and future of the country. After the Afghan veterans came many others, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, now not so much in favor of Europe but in defense of decency.
What does it mean to come to the Maidan? The square is located close to some of the major buildings of government, and is now a traditional site of protest. Interestingly, the word maidan exists in Ukrainian but not in Russian, but even people speaking Russian use it because of its special implications. In origin it is just the Arabic word for “square,” a public place. But a maidan now means in Ukrainian what the Greek word agora means in English: not just a marketplace where people happen to meet, but a place where they deliberately meet, precisely in order to deliberate, to speak, and to create a political society. During the protests the word maidan has come to mean the act of public politics itself, so that for example people who use their cars to organize public actions and protect other protestors are called the automaidan.
The protesters represent every group of Ukrainian citizens: Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers (although most Ukrainians are bilingual), people from the cities and the countryside, people from all regions of the country, members of all political parties, the young and the old, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Every major Christian denomination is represented by believers and most of them by clergy. The Crimean Tatars march in impressive numbers, and Jewish leaders have made a point of supporting the movement. The diversity of the Maidan is impressive: the group that monitors hospitals so that the regime cannot kidnap the wounded is run by young feminists. An important hotline that protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists.
On January 16, the Ukrainian government, headed by President Yanukovych, tried to put an end to Ukrainian civil society. A series of laws passed hastily and without following normal procedure did away with freedom of speech and assembly, and removed the few remaining checks on executive authority. This was intended to turn Ukraine into a dictatorship and to make all participants in the Maidan, by then probably numbering in the low millions, into criminals. The result was that the protests, until then entirely peaceful, became violent. Yanukovych lost support, even in his political base in the southeast, near the Russian border.
After weeks of responding peacefully to arrests and beatings by the riot police, many Ukrainians had had enough. A fraction of the protesters, some but by no means all representatives of the political right and far right, decided to take the fight to the police. Among them were members of the far-right party Svoboda and a new conglomeration of nationalists who call themselves the Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor). Young men, some of them from right-wing groups and others not, tried to take by force the public spaces claimed by the riot police. Young Jewish men formed their own combat group, or sotnia, to take the fight to the authorities.
Although Yanukovych rescinded most of the dictatorship laws, lawless violence by the regime, which started in November, continued into February. Members of the opposition were shot and killed, or hosed down in freezing temperatures to die of hypothermia. Others were tortured and left in the woods to die.
During the first two weeks of February, the Yanukovych regime sought to restore some of the dictatorship laws through decrees, bureaucratic shortcuts, and new legislation. On February 18, an announced parliamentary debate on constitutional reform was abruptly canceled. Instead, the government sent thousands of riot police against the protesters of Kiev. Hundreds of people were wounded by rubber bullets, tear gas, and truncheons. Dozens were killed.
The future of this protest movement will be decided by Ukrainians. And yet it began with the hope that Ukraine could one day join the European Union, an aspiration that for many Ukrainians means something like the rule of law, the absence of fear, the end of corruption, the social welfare state, and free markets without intimidation from syndicates controlled by the president.
The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights.
On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must be authoritarian, which means that the Maidan must be crushed.
The dictatorship laws of January 16 were obviously based on Russian models, and were proposed by Ukrainian legislators with close ties to Moscow. They seem to have been Russia’s condition for financial support of the Yanukovych regime. Before they were announced, Putin offered Ukraine a large loan and promised reductions in the price of Russian natural gas. But in January the result was not a capitulation to Russia. The people of the Maidan defended themselves, and the protests continue. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess; only the Kremlin expresses certainty about what it all means.
The protests in the Maidan, we are told again and again by Russian propaganda and by the Kremlin’s friends in Ukraine, mean the return of National Socialism to Europe. The Russian foreign minister, in Munich, lectured the Germans about their support of people who salute Hitler. The Russian media continually make the claim that the Ukrainians who protest are Nazis. Naturally, it is important to be attentive to the far right in Ukrainian politics and history. It is still a serious presence today, although less important than the far right in France, Austria, or the Netherlands. Yet it is the Ukrainian regime rather than its opponents that resorts to anti-Semitism, instructing its riot police that the opposition is led by Jews. In other words, the Ukrainian government is telling itself that its opponents are Jews and us that its opponents are Nazis.
The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew O’Hagan tells a fascinating story of what it was like to ghost write Julian Assange’s autobiography. He did this under contract with Canongate Books, a hip publisher based in Edinburgh.
O’Hagan has got hold of a character who could be one of fiction’s great monsters with a toddler’s grasp of other people’s motives and rights. Assange holed up talking without interruption for 3 hours at a time is strongly reminiscent of Hitler in his table talk and his lashings out at everyone as he sits in one of his bunkers (Ellingham Hall, the Ecuadorian Embassy) has been portrayed in Downfall. He has real enemies and he has imaginary ones as well. The many people who fall out with him do so because of envy or malice.
His paranoia has its comic side:-
He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued and the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers. But the pursuit was never as grave as he wanted it to be. He stuck to his Cold War tropes, where one didn’t deliver a package, but made a ‘drop off’. One day, we were due to meet some of the WikiLeaks staff at a farmhouse out towards Lowestoft. We went in my car. Julian was especially edgy that afternoon, feeling perhaps that the walls were closing in, as we bumped down one of those flat roads covered in muck left by tractors’ tyres. ‘Quick, quick,’ he said, ‘go left. We’re being followed!’ I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see a white Mondeo with a wire sticking out the back.
‘Don’t be daft, Julian,’ I said. ‘That’s a taxi.’
‘No. Listen to me. It’s surveillance. We’re being followed. Quickly go left.’ Just by comical chance, as I was rocking a Sweeney-style handbrake turn, the car behind us suddenly stopped at a farmhouse gate and a little boy jumped out and ran up the path. I looked at the clock as we rolled off in a cloud of dust. It said 3.48.
‘That was a kid being delivered home from school,’ I said. ‘You’re mental.’
There are some good moments with Assange, the expert hacker and courageous activist:-
At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.
That is why I didn’t walk out. The story was just too large. What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.
But on the whole the Wikileaks endeavour suffered from that symptom of the internet age, the short attention span, the hook, the click-bait and the Twitter storm of petty feuds:-
He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print. That is why they released so many cables so quickly: for impact. And there’s a good argument to support that. But, even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet. As for the book, he kept putting it off.
Assange makes a virtue of scientific journalism, where readers take the raw data and process it for themselves. But of course we can’t do that any more than we can make our laptops from oil, metals and silicon. We need context and background information to gauge whether a piece of information is significant or trivial.
I thought, if Julian was serious and strategic, that WikiLeaks should not only bale stuff out onto the web, but should then facilitate the editing and presenting of that work in a way that was of permanent historical value. Perry Anderson of Verso Books had the same thought, and I put it to Julian that the WikiLeaks Map of the World should be a series which provided for a proper academic study of what the biggest security leaks in history had revealed, with expert commentary, notes, essays and introductions. It would provide the organisation with a lasting, grown-up legacy, a powerful, orderly continuation of its initial work.
Julian came to lunch at my flat in Belsize Park. Tariq Ali came and so did Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review, as well as an American editor for Verso called Tom Mertes. Anderson’s idea was that Verso would publish a series of books, or one book in which each chapter showed how the US cables released by WikiLeaks had changed the political position of a particular country. A writer who knew, say, Italy, would introduce the chapter and the same would be done for every country and it would be very meticulous and well-made. Julian gave a big speech at the beginning, the middle and the end. He clearly liked Tariq but had no sense of him as someone who knew a lot more about the world than he did. Although the idea for the book had come from Verso, Julian preferred to give a lecture about how most academics were corrupted by their institutions.
…. . Anyone else would have jumped at the chance of the Verso project but as Julian drove off in a taxi I knew he would never call Tariq about this or lay any of the groundwork they’d agreed. Julian was already more concerned about claiming the idea for himself, an idea that he would never see to fruition. The meeting had called for responsible action, when what Julian loved was irresponsible reaction.
Everyone has one rule for themselves and another for the rest of the world but Assange takes this to the nth degree:-
Julian was getting a lot of flak in the press for making Wiki-employees sign contracts threatening them with a £12 million lawsuit if they disclosed anything about the organisation. It was clear he didn’t see the problem. He has a notion that WikiLeaks floats above other organisations and their rules. He can’t understand why any public body should keep a secret but insists that his own organisation enforce its secrecy with lawsuits. Every time he mentioned legal action against the Guardian or the New York Times, and he did this a lot, I would roll my eyes, but he didn’t see the contradiction. He was increasingly lodged in a jungle of his own making and I told Jamie it was like trying to write a book with Mr Kurtz.
He was in a state of panic at all times that things might get out. But he manages people so poorly, and is such a slave to what he’s not good at, that he forgets he might be making bombs set to explode in his own face. I am sure this is what happens in many of his scrapes: he runs on a high-octane belief in his own rectitude and wisdom, only to find later that other people had their own views – of what is sound journalism or agreeable sex – and the idea that he might be complicit in his own mess baffles him.
He has the common tendency to fight far more bitterly with those who share his world view than those who outright reject it:-
the Guardian was an enemy because he’d ‘given’ them something and they hadn’t toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable. The Guardian tried to soothe him – its editor, Alan Rusbridger, showed concern for his position, as did the then deputy, Ian Katz, and others – but he talked about its journalists in savage terms. The Guardian felt strongly that the secret material ought to be redacted to protect informants or bystanders named in it, and Julian was inconsistent about that. I never believed he wanted to endanger such people, but he chose to interpret the Guardian’s concern as ‘cowardice’.
He’s full of repugnant sexism and anti-Semitsm:-
They certainly had transcripts of our interviews, sittings in which he’d uttered, late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks, and where he spoke freely about every aspect of his life.
As well as wasting time to a heart-breaking degree, those who engage with Assange find themselves out of goodwill and out of pocket. Canongate tried to salvage the autobiography and published what they could.
Canongate Books, the Edinburgh-based publisher, has blamed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s “failure to deliver” the book he was contracted to produce for plunging into operating loss.
Accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, reveal Canongate tumbled to an operating loss of £368,467 in 2011, from a profit of £1.08 million at this level in 2010. Canongate acknowledged this was its worst performance “in many years”.
For Andrew O’Hagan it hasn’t all been a minus. He came out with a great story to tell, and that’s enough pay off for any writer.
(H/T – HJ)
The film Nymphomaniac has been getting some pretty good reviews – in the serious press, you understand, because this is most emphatically not a porn movie. As the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshore tells us, “It is about the most tender, platonic relationship imaginable: a depressed and exhausted woman and an elderly, vulnerable man, played superbly by Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Stellan Skarsgård .” Sounds promising, I thought – I might even go and see it when it hits the multiplex.
But the review goes on, and suddenly bells start ringing. Writing about the film’s director, Lars von Trier, Bradshaw notes that “He playfully alludes to his earlier films Breaking the Waves and Antichrist, and is still clearly prickly about the ‘Nazi’ controversy of two years ago at Cannes. Out of nowhere Seligman [the 'elderly, vulnerable man' - JD] pointedly explains the virtue of being ‘ant-Zionist, not antisemitic’”.
Ah! This Von Trier – he must be that director chappie who upset people at the Cannes film festival with ill-advised comments about Hitler. If, like me, you can’t really remember the details, or indeed, didn’t take very much notice in the first place, this Youtube clip is worth watching:
Well, it’s certainly good to have any misunderstandings cleared up: when he said “I understand Hitler” and “OK, I am a Nazi!” Von Trier was just being playful. And now he’s got a character in his new film making the distinction between “anti-Zionist” and “antisemitic”, it’s obvious that the director cannot possibly be an antisemite. I mean, just using the words “anti-Zionist” proves that doesn’t it? And, after all, even at Cannes he stated “Israel is a pain in the ass.” So it’s OK for the Guardian and its readers to like poor, misunderstood Mr Von Trier, and his latest (“heartfelt and even passionate” – P Bradshaw) film.
The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised
By Mark Ferguson, re-blogged from Labour List:
As I rule I try to write about the Middle East only when necessary so as to avoid the black hole into which all online commentary about the that subject inevitably falls. But sometimes someone who should know better says something so completely wrong – and they have to be pulled up on it.
Here’s what Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi said in a Westminster Hall debate:
“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.
“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”
Now it seems very clear to me that the situation in Gaza, and the hardship faced by so many of those who live there, is harsh. The Palestinian people deserve the right to their own state, and have suffered incredibly for many decades. Cameron once called the Gaza Strip a “prison camp” – that seems an accurate description
But to compare the treatment of people in Gaza to the holocaust is grotesque. Qureshi appears to be comparing the situation in Gaza with the mechanised and industrial extermination of an entire people. No-one who has seen the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz could honestly make such a comparison. No-one who has any knowledge of the mechanical way in which Jews were rounded up, shipped off and murdered in the Holocaust could compare any other form of oppression or repression to that cold, calculated and brutal attempt at extermination.
I’m afraid that however strong your feelings are on the undoubted injustices that the people of Gaza have faced, they are not seeing anything comparable to the holocaust.
Yasmin Qureshi should apologise. And she must do it today.
Update: I’ve had a response from the party – and it’s fair to say I’m not impressed. Here’s what they’ve said:
“These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”
Except it’s clear from reading the full quote of what Qureshi said (see above) and reading the whole Westminster Hall debate – which we’ve linked to – that Qureshi was making a comparison between the impact of the Holocaust and the situation in Gaza, whether that was her intention or not. Instead of trying to get her off the hook, the Labour Party should be telling Qureshi to apologise.
Update: Yasmin Qureshi has released a statement apologising for any offence caused by her remarks:
“The debate was about the plight of the Palestinian people and in no way did I mean to equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust.
“I apologise for any offence caused.
“I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.
“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”
Qureshi’s apology should draw a line under this, and rightly so. If there was no intention to cause offence or equate events in Gaza with the Holocaust I am happy to accept that. But it’s also a salutary reminder to MPs from all sides of the house – if you’re talking about hugely emotive topics, be careful with your metaphors, and don’t be sloppy with your language…
* H/t: Roger M
* Related posts at Labour List:
- The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
- The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
- As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
- Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
- Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”
This piece by J.S. Rasfaeli is so good that we’ve lifted it from That Place: not everything they publish is rubbish, and this article is a brilliant reply to the idiotic anti-Israel-fanatic rock “star” Waters. It also deals with a number of widely-held misconceptions about Palestinians (who are indeed, oppressed) in Israel:
Above: anti-Israel fanatic Waters’ pig drone (note Star of David)
Dear Roger Waters,
The other day you posted an open letter to Neil Young and Scarlett Johansson on your Facebook page. This letter was primarily made up of a series of questions regarding the Palestinian employees of SodaStream’s factory in Ma’ale Adumim, addressed to Ms Johansson.
I see that neither Neil Young or Scarlett Johansson has offered you any answers to these questions, so I thought I might have a go.
There are several hundred Palestinians employed at this particular factory, I don’t know each of their particular circumstances, so I have taken my lead from the people interviewed in this recent article, and this video.
Enjoy the answers Roger, I hope they shed some light:
Do they have the right to vote?
Since 1994 Palestinians have voted in Palestinian elections – presidential, parliamentary and municipal. Following disputed elections and violent power struggles in 2005/6 the Palestinian polity has been split: Gaza ruled by Hamas, and the West Bank dominated by Fatah. All the Palestinian workers at SodaStream are from the West Bank.
The last local elections in the West Bank were held in October 2012. The internecine Hamas/Fatah rivalry prevented both local elections in Gaza, as well as new presidential or parliamentary elections for Palestine as a whole, but this has nothing to do with SodaStream.
Do they have access to the roads?
In the article above several Palestinian SodaStream workers are interviewed. Four of them identify where they live: Achmed Nasser and Nabeel Besharat, from Ramallah, Ptiha Abu-Selat from Jericho, and Mohammed Yousef from Jaba.
Ramallah and Jericho are both in Area A of the West Bank, as defined by the Oslo Accords. This area is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, thus they should access to the roads there. There are several towns called Jaba in the West Bank; it is impossible to know which one Mohammed Youssef is referring to, and thus what his road access is like.
In Area C of the West Bank some Israeli-built roads are reserved for the use of Israelis (Arabs as well as Jews) travelling between communities beyond the Green Line, often known as ‘settlements’. This leads to frequent chatter in the West about ‘Jewish only’ roads. This is nonsense. How would this be enforced? Would traffic cops stop drivers and ask them to recite the Torah from memory?
Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?
SodaStream provides a bus service to take workers to and from the factory – as seen in this video. They pass through one checkpoint. It doesn’t appear too onerous, nor have any complaints been registered around this issue.
Do they have clean drinking water?
Access to water and other resources is of course a contested issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be a factor in any peace deal. But, to actually answer your question, the latest figures (from 2011) indicate that 89.4% of homes in the West Bank were connected to the water network, and 70.9% of respondents in a poll rated the water quality as ‘good’.
The West Bank’s agricultural sector, though under pressure from Israeli occupation and mismanagement, is functioning. People are not dying of thirst or water-born diseases in Palestine as they are in so many other places in the MENA.
Do they have sanitation?
The figures above apply to water for sanitation as well as drinking. One suspects that the employees of SodaStream, earning between three and five times the local average are able to afford a better standard of sanitation than their neighbours.
Do they have citizenship?
Interesting question. Until 1988 residents of the West Bank were citizens of Jordan. Jordan then stripped Palestinians of citizenship based on ethnocentric lines. Israel has not done this to its own Arab citizens.
The Palestinian Authority has been issuing its own passports since 1995. The United States recognises these as travel documents, but not as conferring citizenship, as they are not issued by a state the US recognises. However, in 2007 the Japanese government stated, “Given that the Palestinian Authority has improved itself to almost a full-fledged state and issues its own passports, we have decided to accept the Palestinian nationality”.
So the answer is yes and no. The West Bankers who work at SodaStream do however have something considerably closer to citizenship than Palestinians in Lebanon, who are denied both citizenship and residency, despite many families having been there for several generations.
Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?
According B’tselem, as of the ‘end of December 2013, 4,768 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons’. This number includes petty criminals, those who have maimed and murdered Israeli civilians, and very likely some poor souls who got scooped up by a crude judicial machine.
Law enforcement in the Occupied Territories is rough. Israel and the Palestinians are in a state of conflict; this does not engender light touch policing. But even its critics say that Israel does maintain the separation of its Legislative and Judicial branches. One hopes that the innocent will be set free – but this has little to do with SodaStream. One would expect the company to support any of its employees who were wrongly incarcerated.
Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?
As far as I am aware there are no categories of prisoner in Israel without the right to appeal.
In cases of Administrative Detention the prisoner may be held for six months without charge. This can be appealed in the Military Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court.
I am not aware of any SodaStream employees having been put into Administrative Detention.
Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?
Do you actually know whether the workers at SodaStream vacated homes or properties during the 1948 war?
If they did, then the answer is no, at this point they do not have the right to return to those homes (assuming said homes are still standing). However the so-called ‘Right of Return’ is a questionable ‘right’ at best. At the end of the Second World War millions of Germans were forcibly displaced from homes their families had occupied for centuries in Eastern Europe. The same happened to two million Greeks and Turks in the early 1920s, millions of Indians and Pakistanis during the Partition in 1948, and roughly 750,000 Jews from the Arab and Muslim world at roughly the same time as the Palestinian Nakba. Most of these Jewish-Arab refugees ended up in Israel, where they became citizens. None of these groups is said to possess a ‘Right of Return’, none of them have ‘the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before’.
The Palestinians are uniquely cursed with this notional ‘Right of Return’, not least because even three of four generations after the fact, the Arab states where the Palestinian refugees ended up have declined to grant them citizenship or equal rights.
Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?
This is too nebulous a question. I’m not sure anyone can answer it, least of all Scarlett Johansson. From the article and video above, one might draw the conclusion that, inasmuch as the workers at SodaStream have this right, their positions at SodaStream help them to more fully exercise it.
Do they have the right to self-determination?
The workers at SodaStream are all free to leave the factory and find other employment. Thus far it seems none have chosen to do so. Perhaps you should ask yourself why?
Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?
Again, a nebulous question – there is a room set aside for use as a mosque in the Sodastream factory (it’s in the video link). Prayer times are not deducted from break times. One of the more touching sections of that video is the part about the workers seeing each other pray, and families starting to celebrate each other’s holidays. In the Middle Eat this is new, and it is very profound.
So Roger, I hope that answers some of the questions you posed to Scarlett Johansson.
Part of me does suspect that you weren’t actually looking for answers to these questions– that you posed them rhetorically. What I would say to you, Roger, is that this part of the world doesn’t need any more rhetoric. Shrill, canting rhetoric is what got the Israelis and the Palestinians into the parlous state in which they find themselves. What is needed is calm, sober analysis, hard-headed realism, a sense of perspective and some good old-fashioned deal making by the politicians. You do no one any favors by adding to the noise, least of all the Palestinians who have chosen to work at SodaStream.
One last thing, Roger. At the end of your open letter, you tell Scarlett Johansson she is ‘cute’ but hasn’t been paying attention. This sails pretty close to what might be called ‘patronizing sexist bullshit’. Johansson is a grown woman who considered the facts and made her choices. You would do well to consider that. If you want to talk politics leave out the 1970s stand-up comic routine.
Cheerio Roger – think on it.
David Rich has a very good, and very depressing article on Dieudonne and his kind:-
“Making common cause” between Holocaust deniers, neo-fascists, the pro-Palestinian left, and the revolutionary Islamists of Iran is precisely what Dieudonné has spent the past decade trying to achieve. Originally from the political left, he has moved via anti-Israel rhetoric and the fascist Front National (FN) to the establishment of his own Parti Anti Sioniste (PAS, or Anti-Zionist Party). Alongside him in the PAS is essayist and filmmaker Alain Soral, who underwent a similar journey from the Marxist left to the FN before finding a political home with Dieudonné.
There are not many political movements that can embrace the neo-fascist right, the anti-capitalist left, and Iranian revolutionary Islamism. Dieudonné is close to FN leaders—Jean Marie Le Pen is godfather to one of his children—while also attracting fans who consider themselves to be left-wing radicals. He was a guest in Tehran of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and received Iranian funding for a film project. Historically, movements that successfully pulled off this kind of balancing act have tended to rely on anti-Semitism as their glue, expressed through the lingua franca of conspiracist anti-Zionism, and PAS is no different.
Strikingly, for a party that calls itself anti-Zionist, PAS’s political program makes no direct mention of Israel or Palestine. This is parochial, patriotic anti-Zionism, in which Zionism is portrayed primarily as a subversive, corrupting presence in French society.
Radio 4′s The Report had the journalist Helen Grady interviewing Dieudonne’s friends and followers. Sometimes they said “Zionist” where they obviously meant “Jewish” and sometimes they said, “I’m not antisemitic but Jews run everything”. Also, Dieudonne gave them the thrill of saying, or just hinting at, the forbidden. – not just “you don’t say that” but “you can’t say that” because it’s illegal in a state with laws against Holocaust denial. This was interpreted as special treatment for Jews while other minorities are fair game.
I was sorry the reporter didn’t ask them to explain who these Zionists are and what are these utterances that are so dammed by the laws – not that I agree with Holocaust denial laws or anti free speech and expression laws in general. In fact I would like to know how much these laws exacerbate the sense of resentment that is one of the emotional bases of Fascism. Certainly breaking them, or hinting that you were, gave the audience a lovely outsider frisson.
Some of these gagged folk came from immigrant communities – their parents from North Africa say – and they had good words to say of the Front National – at least they’re honest when the rest are hypocrites.
It was your worst gibbering blog thread taking flesh, with hideous whiffs of the 1930s, in all their bizarre irrationality.
Rich concludes with a warning for those who think It Can’t Happen Here:-
. .it would be complacent to assume that Dieudonné’s anti-establishment appeal, expressed through angry, transgressive satire and political stunts, could not find a British audience. The personal followings of Nigel Farage MEP and George Galloway MP demonstrate the appetite in the UK for charismatic, populist anti-politics. .. A Francophone comic with a taste for the surreal is likely to have trouble finding a mass audience in Britain; but his populist anti-politics, carrying a coded anti-Semitism and transmitted via social media, may have better luck in finding an audience..
The anti-establishment comedian who thinks all political institutions are a waste of time is Russell Brand, but to do him justice, he is nothing like as malevolent as Dieudonne, and I can’t see him doing Holocaust jokes or chumming up with David Irving. I can’t see him getting in bed with UKIP either, which is the closest thing here to the Front National. I don’t keep up with popular culture, and there may be obvious candidates for the Dieudonne role that I’ve missed.
Respect was a party that pulled in some of the political groups that are attracted to Dieudonne:- the pro-Palestinian Left and Islamists, and no doubt Holocaust deniers would pop up in such a crowd. Gilad Atzmon would be the obvious entertainer, but he’s not a man of any great charisma or the popular touch. However, it’s hard to think of the neo-Fascist right finding a home there, and Respect is now mostly a fantasy in Galloway’s head.
This project – a collaboration between the Cincinnati youth arts centre ‘Elementz’ and the (Reform synagogue) Temple Sholom – may seem a strange way of remembering the Holocaust. Some might even consider it inappropriate. But it’s clearly well-intentioned and seems to be raising awareness amongst these young people. It’s also in marked contrast to the trend in some “radical” circles these days to down-play Holocaust remembrance, or dismiss it as an “industry” or a pro-Zionist conspiracy.
Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.
Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.
The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:
Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.
“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”
As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”
“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”
As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.
“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism
“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”
Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)
Musicians, actors and artists have just the same right as the rest of us to express political opinions. Their fame as artists neither enhances nor diminishes the validity of their views; it can, of course, mean that their views receive a somewhat wider airing than yours or mine would. So it is with Robert Wyatt, former drummer with Soft Machine, who’s been paralysed since an accident in 1973, and since then has continued his career as a much-respected singer-songwriter and political pundit. It’s the punditry that’s worrying.
Like so many politically ill-educated people who adopt radical stances in middle-age, Mr Wyatt goes in for conspiracy theories - and conspiracy theories about Jews – sorry “Zionists” – in particular. He may or may not be personally anti-Semitic, but he certainly associates with people who are. He’s a friend of the holocaust-denier Gilad Atzmon, and a defender of the geriatric Jew-hater Roger Waters (who displays an inflatable pig adorned with a Star of David at his concerts).
In a bizarre article in Saturday’s Morning Star, Wyatt reveals himself as proponent of the “my enemy’s enemy” school of political analysis, with implied support for the present leadership of Iran and praise for the “refreshingly different takes on the news” of Putin’s Russia Today (and, less outrageously, Al Jazeera). But when it comes to Jew-hatred, Wyatt really goes off the rails, praising Pink Floyd’s anti-Semitic Roger Waters for “his brave stand against the zionazis ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” I won’t even dignify the filthy word “zionazi” with a response. But I note that Wyatt goes on to suggest that “anti-Semitism” doesn’t exist (at least not as anti-Jewish racism) because “Semitic language speakers include 300 million Arabs” – a banal exercise in word-play habitually used by people who think it’s clever to deny the existence of anti-Jewish racism.
Regular readers will know that this blog is clear-cut in its opposition to settlements on Palestinian land, and outspoken in our support for a mutually just two states solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. But we are also opposed to anti-Semitism masquerading as “anti-Zionism”. Wyatt may be an idiot, rather than simply a racist piece of shit. I don’t know which for sure, but I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt given his friendship with the deranged anti-Semite Atzmon, who is (presumably) the person Wyatt’s referring to when he writes about a “Hebrew-speaking Palestinian” . Wyatt is either a very ignorant man (a “prick off the wall”) or a very sick one: either way, why the hell is the trade union-funded Morning Star promoting his filth?
Doing ‘la quenelle’: Nicolas Anelka (R) with his friend Dieudonne
Of course! Footballer Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture (described by some as a “reverse Nazi salute”) isn’t antisemitic at all: it’s “anti-Zionist“! How stupid of all of us who assumed the worst, just because it’s the signature gesture of French comedian (and friend of Anelka’s), Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose hilarious anti-Zionist jokes about the holocaust have been misunderstood as somehow antisemitic.
By the way, if you don’t buy the line that la quenelle is “anti-Zionist” (as distinct from “antisemitic”), then the alternative explanation is that it’s “anti-establishment.” Either way, West Brom’s caretaker manager Keith Downing has stated that Anelka’s gersture “has nothing to do with what is being said. It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very well. I think speculation can be stopped now, it is rubbish really. He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it.”
So let that be an end to the matter…
…unless you’re one of those humourless zealots determined to see racism everywhere, in which case you may want to let West Bromwich FC know what you think about Anelka’s gesture and Downing’s reaction.