Eric Pickles and Christianity: militantly ignorant

April 8, 2014 at 11:30 am (Asshole, atheism, Christianity, conspiracy theories, fantasy, posted by JD, reblogged, religion, Tory scum)

You don’t like it? Go back to Atheostan 

More of the comedy of “politically correct persecution of Christians” from the UK:

Militant atheists should “get over it” and accept that Britain is a Christian country, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

That’s what a “Communities Secretary” is for is it? I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have one in the US, not at the federal level at least. We don’t have one for sport, either, or one for faith. How impoverished we are. Anyway so the job of the Communities Secretary is to piss on people who are part of the wrong kind of “communities”?

“I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish,” said Mr Pickles.

“Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church.

“Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”

Get over what? Wanting to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics?

Funny that he’s accusing other people of intolerance.

NB: Comrade Coatesy, with his knowledge of France, has an interesting take on all this

 

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Cameron suppressed report showing immigration is good for UK

March 5, 2014 at 8:13 am (censorship, Conseravative Party, David Cameron, Europe, immigration, Lib Dems, posted by JD, reblogged, Tory scum)

From Adam Bienkov at  politics.co.uk

The prime minister has suppressed a report on EU migration after it found overwhelming evidence that immigration has been good for the British economy.

The report, commissioned by Theresa May, was due to be published at the end of last year but was shelved “indefinitely” by David Cameron after it failed to find evidence to support cutting immigration.

Officials say they were inundated with evidence from experts and businesses arguing that EU migration has been positive for the UK.

“They can’t bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing,” one official told the Financial Times.

Civil servants complained that the central claims of the report were not backed up by the evidence within it.

Conservative sources also pointed the finger at the Liberal Democrats for trying to block the report.

The revelation follows an intervention by the Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday claiming that the coalition’s immigration cap would make it much harder to cut Britain’s budget deficit.

“Because [immigrants] are more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure,” OBR chairman Robert Chote told MPs.

Higher net migration allowed a “more beneficial picture” for public finances than would otherwise be the case, he added.

The revelation also comes as chancellor George Osborne addresses eurosceptic groups within his party, who are putting pressure on the government to restrict free movement within the EU.

“The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn’t come from those who want reform and renegotiation,” he will tell the Fresh Start group of MPs.

“It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said the government’s report on the impact of EU migration was “ongoing”.

“We will publish it when it is ready,” they added.

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What the Brit left’s saying about Ukraine

March 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm (Europe, imperialism, internationalism, James Bloodworth, labour party, left, political groups, reblogged, Russia, stalinism, trotskyism)

By James Bloodworth (reblogged from Left Foot Forward)

Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has just delivered his response in the House of Commons to foreign secretary William Hague’s statement on the crisis in Ukraine. The statements from both sides were fairly predictable – both condemned Russian provocations – but the Labour foreign secretary was right to press the government on what action it plans to take in order to pressure Russia into pulling back from Crimea. This was especially important considering the revelations yesterday evening that the coalition is seeking to protect the City of London from any punitive EU action against Russia.

But what about the rest of the British left? Well, here we find a wide range of positions, from the Stop the War Coalition’s apparent attempt to pin the entire blame for the Crimea affair on the West to Left Unity’s somewhat abstract and blanket opposition to “foreign military intervention” and “foreign political and economic intervention”.

The Labour Party

Douglas Alexander told the House of Commons that there could be “no justification for this dangerous and unprovoked military incursion”. In terms of resolving the crisis, he insisted that firm measures were needed to apply pressure to Russia, saying that the international community needed to “alter the calculus of risk in the minds of the Russian leaders by…making clear to the Russians the costs and consequences of this aggression”.

The shadow foreign secretary also mentioned the coalition’s apparent unwillingness to upset the City for the sake of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he was “afraid the United Kingdom’s words will count for little without more credence being given to these options and a willingness at least to countenance their use in the days and weeks ahead”.

The Stop the War Coalition/Countefire – 10 Things to Remember About the Crisis in Ukraine and Crimea

Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire has written a lengthy 10-point post in which she tries to paint the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a rational response to NATO/EU provocations. There is a lot that’s wrong with the piece, and you could do worse than read this take down of German’s article in the Economist.

“Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture…Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and Nato have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’.”

The Socialist Workers’ Party – Putin Raises the Stakes in Imperialist Crimea Crisis

Much clearer in its stance has been the Socialist Workers’ Party (surprisingly perhaps), which has condemned much of what has been taken as read by Stop the War Coalition and Counterfire as “Moscow propaganda”:

“Those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a “fascist coup” are parroting Moscow propaganda. He fell because the section of the oligarchy who had previously backed him withdrew their support…Putin claims to be acting in defense of Ukraine’s Russian speakers—a majority in Crimea and widespread in southern and eastern Ukraine. But beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.” – Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker

The Alliance for Workers Libery – Russian Trade Unionists and Leftists Oppose Invasion of Ukraine

The Alliance of Workers’ Liberty has published a statement on its website from the University of Russian University Workers, which is unequivocal in its denunciation of Russian aggression:

“Declaration of the central council of the ‘University Solidarity’ union of Russian university workers:

“The central council of the “University Solidarity” union expresses its concern at the situation caused by the decision of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia on 1 March 2014, granting the president of Russia the right to use Russian armed force on the territory of Ukraine.

“We believe that this decision does not help the defense of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and that it promises grave consequences. Support to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine can be given by other means, by the means of state and popular diplomacy, by economic cooperation, by human rights.”

International Viewpoint (Fourth International) – No War with Ukraine

Encouragingly, the Fourth International has also condemned what it calls the “foreign policy adventurism of the current regime” in Moscow:

“War has begun. With the aim of protecting and increasing the assets of the oligarchs in Russia and in Yanukovich’s coterie, Russia’s leadership has undertaken an invasion of Ukraine. This aggression threatens catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian and Russian peoples – most especially for the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Ukraine’s southeastern industrial regions…Today, the struggle for freedom in Russia is a struggle against the foreign policy adventurism of the current regime, which seeks collusion in forestalling its own end. The RSD calls on all sincere left and democratic forces to organize anti-war protests.” – Statement from the Russian Socialist Movement

Left Unity – Against Nationalism, Corruption, Privatisation and War

Left Unity is an interesting one, and appears to draw a (false) moral equivalence between unwanted Russian military intervention in Ukraine and economic assistance requested by the Ukrainian government to support its ailing economy:

“The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.

“Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.

“Whether under the flag of US, NATO, Russia or the European Union, military intervention only ever makes the situation many times worse. So it is in Ukraine. The West’s hypocrisy in condemning Russia for breaking international law is breathtaking: nevertheless, Russian troops hold no solution to the crisis.”

Communist Party – Solidarity with the Communist Party of Ukraine

At the more extreme end, the Communist Party takes the Moscow line that the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement is ‘fascist’:

“The failure of  EU leaders to uphold the 21 February Agreement on early elections has given sanction to a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government that threatens to destabilise the country and sets dangerous precedents for the future. The open involvement of US, EU and NATO leaders in the build up to the coup exposes it as part of the drive  to change the geo-political balance in Europe in ways that threaten security and peace in Europe and the World… The Communist Party of Britain pledges its support to the Communist Party of Ukraine in its resistance to fascism, predatory capitalism and  imperialism.” – Robert Griffiths, CP general secretary

Workers’ Power – Neither Moscow nor Berlin – for workers’ internationalism

…as does Workers’ Power:

“The bourgeois nationalist parties have taken power in an anti-democratic coup, using the fascist paramilitaries and rebellious police forces. Workers should make it clear they do not recognize the legitimacy of this government, its orders, the laws, and decisions of the counter-revolutionary Rada…The working class should not wait for outside intervention from Russia, nor allow the reactionary, undemocratic new regime to consolidate its power with the May 25 elections, held at gunpoint.”

As for the Twittersphere:

Gallowayj

OJj

Mehdij

Seamusj

And on the right…

Liamj

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South Africa’s biggest union breaks with ANC and CP

February 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm (africa, posted by JD, reblogged, socialism, stalinism, unions, workers)

Strictly speaking, the Metalworkers’ union NUMSA hasn’t yet completely broken with the “Triple Alliance” of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the COSATU trade union federation - but it’s been obvious for some time that the union is firmly set on that course. This a tremendously important development in South African politics, in which the ANC and the CP have, traditionally, more or less taken for granted the right to lead the working class and the trade union movement. At its special congress in December, NUMSA announced that it will not campaign for, or finance the ANC, though individual members remain free to do so “in their own time and using their own resources.” It also called upon COSATU to take a more independent, pro-worker approach. Interestingly and encouragingly, NUMSA’s leadership seems to be quite resistant to the blandishments coming from expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, noting his role as a “tenderpreneur” capitalist.

This speech, by NUMSA’s general secretary Irvin Jim was first published in The Bullet. Readers should not assume that Shiraz agrees with everything in the speech:

NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim. [Photo: NUMSA]

“Manifestos and Reality”

A Presentation to the Cape Town Press Club by NUMSA General Secretary

Irvin Jim

I speak to you today with a powerful and united mandate from 341,150 metalworkers. They made their views extremely clear in our workers’ parliament in December last year – the parliament we called the NUMSA Special National Congress. In that parliament there was vigorous debate. Every delegate knew that they would have to account to their constituency. We are justifiably proud of our democratic heritage. We know that what we decide has the backing of our members. We don’t have to change decisions after the Congress has spoken, as some do, even though there are those who would urge us to “come to our senses” and take NUMSA in another direction from the decisions of that Congress.

And we are also justifiably proud of our militant heritage. Our union, right back from its beginning, has taken the side of the working-class and the poor. We have always been a union that champions shop-floor struggles as well as the struggles of working-class communities. We have always understood that workers come from communities and live in communities. Community struggles are workers’ struggles. So, as metalworkers we fight for policies and strategies that will create jobs. We want more working people from our communities to have jobs. We fight for water. We fight for houses. We fight for the safety of our communities. We fight against a police force which kills our people when they protest because they don’t have water. Because they don’t have houses.

We are also a union that has been in the trenches with revolutionary forces within the liberation alliance led by the ANC (African National Congress) and SACP (South African Communist Party). Yet when we speak out clearly in defence of the working-class and the poor, our allies attack us. They call us oppositionists because we reject the policies of the ANC and SACP which attack the interests of our members. They call us ultra-leftists suffering from infantile disorders because we refuse to betray the interests of the working-class and support an ANC and SACP whose leadership has consistently attacked the working-class.

Taking Sides, Splitting with Old Allies

We are not just talking about labour brokers. We are not just talking about e-tolls. We are talking about an ANC and SACP leadership which has clearly and unequivocally taken sides with international capital against us. There is no other way to look at it. The examples stare us in the face. At Marikana, the armed forces of the state mowed down workers who were demanding a living wage from an international mining company, Lonmin. The same happened during the farmworkers strike in the Western Cape. The same is happening now in Mothuthlung and Sebokeng and other communities across the country too numerous to count.

Our people are protesting because they have no water – that most basic of necessities. And the State… that very same state which failed to supply them with water… kills them for their protest.

Underneath all of this is a harsh material fact. The South African economy has not fundamentally changed. The structure remains the same as it was under apartheid… the same dependence on exporting raw minerals, the same enslavement to the Minerals Energy Finance complex. Far from an increase in the manufacturing sector – the sector which can really produce jobs – we have a rapid process of deindustrialization. We are not gaining jobs, we are losing them. In 2004 there were 3.7 million unemployed people in our country. Last year that had risen to 4.1 million. More unemployed, not less.

This will not stop until we fundamentally change direction. We, as a union, have understood that the ANC and SACP will not lead that change. It is the ANC and SACP which gave us GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). It is the ANC and SACP which has given us the NDP (National Development Plan). It is the ANC and SACP which is investing in improving the rail lines to Richards Bay so that more of our minerals can be exported.

We know that the current leadership, the very same leadership that calls itself anti-imperialist, is in a lucrative alliance with international capital. It has accepted its shares in the mining industry, but those shares were not given for nothing. They had a price, and the price is being paid by the working-class and the poor of our country. The price is a macro-economic strategy which focuses on maintaining profit, not jobs. This fact cannot be changed by a fig leaf called the Employment Tax Incentive Act. A fig leaf which claims to be about creating jobs whilst actually it is yet another attack on the working-class.

I want to say this very clearly and very straightforwardly. There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa – the number the NDP dreams about. That is to harness the profits of the mining and financial sectors and use them to build manufacturing industry. That is why we call for the nationalization of the mines and the financial sector. It is not some dogma from the past. It is an immediate and urgent requirement to save our nation.

The Star newspaper last week said “A Nation burns.” That headline said more than it knew. It is the nation that is burning. It is burning because it is being ruthlessly looted by international capital.

For the investors in London and New York and Berlin, South Africa is just another possible investment destination. They don’t care about the working-class and the poor of South Africa and we don’t expect them to. But now our political leadership has aligned itself with the global looters. Our political leadership is no longer able to represent the nation because it has a conflict of interest. Its real, material interest in the profitability of the mining and financial sectors prevents it from looking after the interests of the nation. The interest of building our manufacturing industry. The leadership’s interest in the profits of global capital prevents them from being the leadership that the nation needs – the leadership that Hugo Chavez represented in Venezuela, for example, or that Evo Morales has represented in Bolivia. Read the rest of this entry »

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The situation in Gaza is bad but to compare it to the Holocaust is grotesque. Yasmin Qureshi is right to have apologised

February 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, genocide, history, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged)

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

auschwitz.jpg

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:

  1. The Holocaust was not simply a moment in time
  2. The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked
  3. As we focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe – let us also remember what happened in Rwanda
  4. Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine
  5. Ed Miliband on Gaza: “a full scale ground invasion would be a disaster”   YARPP

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Answering Roger Waters’ questions

February 5, 2014 at 12:49 am (anti-semitism, Harry's Place, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged)

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.

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Labour owes Stevie Deans an apology

January 23, 2014 at 11:55 am (democracy, good people, labour party, law, police, posted by JD, reblogged, solidarity, truth, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):

Stevie Deans and Grangemouth

Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.

This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.

Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.

The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.

The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.

Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.

Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies.  So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress. 

What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.

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So what exactly DID Mandela think about Israel and Zionism?

January 13, 2014 at 10:27 pm (africa, good people, history, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, truth)

Given the enthusiasm with which the PSC and others push the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and the suggestion that Mandela endorsed that view, the following article by Jeff Weintraub is of considerable importance:

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The history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa, before and after the end of the white-supremacist apartheid regime, is a story with many complex, difficult, and deeply troubling aspects.  That complexity was highlighted once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision, on a pretext that looked pretty flimsy, to cancel his scheduled trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral on December 10—a decision so unwise and unfortunate, even scandalous, on the face of it that I still find it a bit inexplicable (though I’ve seen a range of speculative analyses).  President Shimon Peres had a plausible-sounding medical excuse that also kept him away.  Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, he’s smart enough that he must have realized how bad it looked for both of Israel’s top political figures to be absent from Mandela’s funeral, so I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t some complicate behind-the-scenes angle here that we may eventually learn about.  At all events, Israel was represented at the funeral by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five other Israeli legislators (including one African-Israeli Knesset member, Penina Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia).

I mention this recent unpleasantness mostly as background to a more important story about Mandela and his relationship to Israel, reported (below) by Alan Johnson, editor of Fathom.  It confirms for me something about Mandela’s record of which I was only partly aware, and gives me new reasons to admire Mandela’s historic role and greatness of spirit.
Here is a statement that Mandela made as President of the African National Congress in 1993, the year before he was elected President of South Africa.  (If you’re skeptical about whether the quotation is accurate, you can also find it on the ANC website.):

As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.

This formulation is clear, straightforward, and important.  And as far as I can tell, it was Mandela’s consistent position through the end of his life.

Mandela and the ANC were, of course, thoroughly committed to the Palestinian cause and regarded the PLO as a fellow liberation movement.  So it’s unsurprising, as well as entirely proper, that Mandela would have endorsed the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation and national self-determination.  What is more striking, in this context, is that Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported Israel‘s right to exist.  That is, he didn’t just indicate a willingness to accept Israel’s existence as an unavoidable (though perhaps unwelcome) fact of life, but asserted that Israel has a right to exist.  And he supported Israel’s right to exist, explicitly and unambiguously, on the grounds that Jews have the same right to national self-determination as any other people.  That cuts to the heart of what is as stake in the whole controversy.  Everything else is details—though the details are obviously very important.

(Lest anyone think that I am overdoing the significance of Mandela’s position on these issues, it is worth noting that, to this day, almost no one in the entire Arab world has publicly accepted that Israel has a moral right to exist or that Zionism is a legitimate national movement—even people who, over time, have grudgingly come to accept the idea of making peace with Israel for reasons of prudence, realpolitik, or simple exhaustion.  I can think of a few exceptions, but they can be counted on my fingers.  As the New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner, who spent years covering the Middle East, wrote in 2003:

I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism  legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the  Jews’ claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a  Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange  question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his  view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of  Arabs today. Even the many who favor peace with Israel under certain conditions  accept its reality but not its legitimacy.  [....]

(“On the Israeli side,” Bronner added, “there are similar denials” regarding the legitimacy and moral claims of Palestinian nationalism—though nowadays significant numbers of Israelis, and certainly a major proportion of Israel’s supporters world-wide, do accept, at least in principle, that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.)  And I know people here in the US who have no desire to see Israel destroyed but who reject, or at least are uneasy about, recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, though they have no trouble accepting the legitimacy of an Irish or Greek or Turkish or Egyptian or Palestinian nation-state—which means, whether or not they’re fully aware of it, that they don’t really accept that Jews have the same rights to political self-determination as other peoples.

In short, Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported the principle that can be summed up with the formula “two states for two peoples“.  Like it or not, that fundamental principle continues to be the only possible basis for a just, durable, and non-catastrophic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, in turn, can work only in the context of a more general Arab-Israeli peace settlement that includes genuine Arab acceptance of Israel’s existence and security.  That outcome is by no means inevitable, and in fact there are many good reasons for feeling pessimistic about whether it will actually happen.  But all the realistically conceivable alternatives lead to catastrophe.  So it’s a good idea to take Mandela seriously on this matter, as on many others.
—Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  And speaking of the details …  here are a few of Mandela’s statements to reporters during his visit to Israel in 1999, after retiring as President of South Africa.  On the one hand:  “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.”  But on the other hand:  “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.”

Mandela made these statements toward the tail-end of the Oslo era, before the dramatic collapse of the supposed “peace process” in 2000.  But they still sound like a good basis for a package deal.  Some tendencies in the Arab world have been inching in that direction over the years (and the broad outlines of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement along these lines were put forward, albeit with significant gaps and ambiguities, in the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002—which, so far, has not been followed up from either the Arab or the Israel side).  Other tendencies have been moving even further away from it. All the available evidence suggests that a solid majority of Israelis are willing, in principle, to agree to a peace deal on this basis—but most of them have no confidence that it’s actually a realistically available option.  What will happen in the future remains to be seen … though, again, excessive optimism would be foolish.

[Update 12/16/2013:  I've been reminded that there is a a quotation from Mandela floating around the internet in which he accuses Israel of pursuing "apartheid policies" like the old South Africa.  This quotation is often cited by people hostile to Israel.  But it happens to be a fake.  To be fair, it appears that the person who originally wrote that statement didn't pretend that it was an actual quotation, but instead meant it to suggest what Mandela would say if he were really expressing his innermost thoughts.  But it now gets quoted and re-quoted as something Mandela actually said—which he didn't.]

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Racism; Censorship; Disunity

January 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm (academe, Anti-Racism, censorship, Feminism, Free Speech, intellectuals, murder, post modernism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, relativism, strange situations, tragedy, truth, women)

Read this piece. Think about it. Share it:

Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)

By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):

On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:

Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.

That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):

This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.

Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

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On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »

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The word of 2013: “intersectionality”

December 31, 2013 at 5:08 pm (academe, Feminism, Guardian, Harry's Place, intellectuals, language, middle class, multiculturalism, post modernism, posted by JD, reblogged, relativism, statement of the bleedin' obvious)

As a keen follower of structuralism, post-structuralism and other post-modern banality and pretentiousness, I’ve noted the increasing use of the word “intersectionality” (often accompanied by the exhortation “check your privilege”) throughout 2013. ‘Sarka’, a BTL commenter at That Place, wrote the following (which I found very useful, and reproduce below without permission). As usual, when we reblog a piece, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all of it:

“Intersectionism” is one of those tiresome constructs that are either just cumbersome names for the obvious (even if we confine ourselves to viewing the social order just in terms of positive/negative relative privilege, it is clear that in any complex society more than one criteria is at work, and these “ïntersect” or at least interact…see my old hands of cards dealt to individuals simile) or else if explicitly or implicitly assigned more explanatory content, they are very dubious….

E.g. in the Graun article on “intersectionalism” much was made of the “huge explanatory power”of the thing….WTF? Surely only to people so mentally challenged that it has never struck them before that being e.g. female and gay, or disabled and black and poor, may multiply relative disadvantage Duh – as you Americans so irritatingly say, Go figure! No shit Sherlock! And wouldn’t that be characterisation rather than…er…explanatory power?

But obviously when apparently reasonably intelligent people make totems out of truisms something more is going on than the belated growth of two brain cells to rub together.

Here – to be very crude – the elevation of the truism is cover for a) the activity (well described by you, elsewhere) of establishing and adjusting competition in victimhood hierarchies, or indeed the apparently zero-sum victimhood market, and b) despite the apparently differentiating dynamic of intersectionality (it seems to admit the existence of different forms of oppression), it enables some supposed – usually very very thin – unity of all the variously oppressed against their oppressing oppressors, conceived (by their aggregate privilege!) to be responsible for the whole bang caboodle of oppression..Or alternatively – blacks used to blame whites, feminists used to blame men, the poor used to blame the rich, gays the straights etc etc… but rather than pulling these strands of oppression apart, “ïntersectionality” tangles them all together again….Suggesting that the fault is in the aggregate: it is white, western, straight, male, rich people who are ultimately responsible for every form of oppression, and every form of oppression is – though separate – ultimately traceable to the same source.
Hence it is a faux pas, e.g. to criticise brown people, especially poor ones, for oppressive behaviour to women or gays, for they are not the real source of the trouble…which can only lie with any with a greater aggregate of trump cards in their hands.

This is what [Laurie] Penny laughably thinks of as “structural explanation” – which in another guise presents itself as the (essentially wilfiully paralysed) position that no kind of injustice or oppression can be addressed unless ALL injustice or oppression is addressed…

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