I’ve liked Iain Banks’ writing ever since reading The Wasp Factory in the 1980′s. And although I never met him, I’ve liked what I’ve seen and heard of him personally: self-deprecating, witty and obviously a good leftie.
His humanity, humour and courage were all in evidence when he announced that he had terminal cancer a couple of months ago, adding that he’d asked his partner to do him the honour of becoming his widow.
So it was with genuine sadness that I heard about his death yesterday.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I agreed with everything he said and did. His decision to refuse to have his books published in Israel was, in my opinion, stupid, counter-productive gesture politics of the worst kind, and all too typical of the antics of the BDS campaign and the PSC (especially, it seems, the Scottish PSC).
The fact that immediately following his sad announcement, Banks agreed to let the Guardian publish his views on Jews and Israel, doesn’t make those views any less stupid or ignorant.
David Hirsh at Engage came in for some stick for attacking Banks at the time, but I like to think he (Banks) was a big enough guy, and serious enough about politics, to have taken the criticism on the chin:
What would you do if you only had a year to live?
What would you do? You’d do the important things, right? Iain Banks decided to have the stupid things he’d written about Jews re-published in the Guardian.
“A sporting boycott of Israel would make relatively little difference to the self-esteem of Israelis in comparison to South Africa; an intellectual and cultural one might help make all the difference…”
Yes, because white South Africans only care about Rugby while Jews spend their time with their noses in a book… Mike Cushman came up with this one ages ago: “Universities are to Israel what the springboks were to South Africa: the symbol of their national identity.” And Tom (Israeli archeologists are nastier than Nazi killers) Hickey too: “we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere…”
“Israel and its apologists can’t have it both ways, though: if they’re going to make the rather hysterical claim that any and every criticism of Israeli domestic or foreign policy amounts to antisemitism, they have to accept that this claimed, if specious, indivisibility provides an opportunity for what they claim to be the censure of one to function as the condemnation of the other.”
Jews as hysterical? People who say that “every criticism” is antisemitic? Classic Livingstone Formulation… The conflation of criticism with demonization combined with the charge of raising antisemitism in bad faith in order to silence “critics”.
“Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human.” [ach you know what comes next...]
The Jews should know better? The Jews should have learnt more at Auschwitz? Well, take your pick. Chris Davies? Jacqueline Rose? Desmond Tutu? “My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?”
Why does everybody who comes up with this garbage think they’re really clever, brave and original to have thought of it?
Iain Banks’ illness is terrible news for a talented writer, a man who always seemed to be one of the good guys. I’m sad that he thinks that this clichéd, dangerous and stereotyped nonsense is the most important thing that he should do now.
Graun obit here
Saturday it rained hard all day. That wasn’t encouraging for those of us who were going to Pedal on Parliament. However Sunday was windless, and only a haar to shut out the son. In this spring of constant freezing winds and even snow, the weather passed as balmy.
Last year’s Pedal on Parliament was the first. The organisers expected a few hundreds. 3,000 showed up. This year we were 4,000 strong. It was very satisfying to wait in Middle Meadow Walk and see the snake tail of the procession extend right along the Meadows. All sorts of cyclists waited, from finger-thin lycrists to a woman who looked like George Orwell’s spinster cycling to morning service, from trick cyclists to wobbling kiddies.
I don’t think our actual ride had such a dramatic effect as last year, when a mass of cyclists took over the Royal Mile, essentially owning the streets for once. For reasons of traffic flow we were marshalled in batches. The sense of numbers being united for a cause, which is part of a demonstration, was there when we were waiting for the ride to begin but lost when we cycled in dribs and drabs.
We got more of the mass feeling at the gathering in front of Holyrood Palace.
The rally began with David Brennan, the instigator of the first Pedal on Parliament, laying out the theme of making cycling ordinary:-
We aren’t ‘cyclists’, we’re everyone – from the mum taking her children to nursery to the road cyclist doing 100k at the weekend. But we’re also the kids in the back of the car looking wistfully out of the window because their parents can’t risk them riding to school, the people who drive to the gym to ride on stationary bikes because the roads are too fast and busy. There’s a real hunger out there for conditions where everyone can ride, from 8 to 80 and we’re calling on the Scottish government to make the investment to make that a reality.
Cycling is a single issue campaign, which means that the responses of the crowd are unlike those at a left-wing demo. At the rally the police got a round of applause because they were on bicycles and had stopped the traffic for us. The media got a cheer because they are mostly on our side. The Saturday Glasgow Herald had run this editorial, which could have been a campaigner’s press release:-
Cycling should be a simple idea whose time has come. It is a cheap and available activity that has been shown to have positive effects on longevity, health and well-being. It is a convivial activity and a great morale booster. It is easily incorporated into daily life, especially in summer. It can be enjoyed at any level from a toddler on a pink trike to the Lycra-clad fanatic putting 100k under his wheels each weekend. If enough of us swap four wheels for two, cycling could make a significant contribution to tackling climate change as well as relieving congestion and improving air quality. Yet for generations cycling has been in decline. Transport policy has focused on cars and lorries and the way we travel has made us less healthy. Cyclists have become regarded as a rather eccentric minority, often viewed with outright hostility by motorists. Most Scots now consider cycling too risky, with some justification. (Another cyclist died on Thursday after a collision with a pick-up truck south of Inverness.)
To return cycling to levels that can contribute to healthier living and the shift to a low carbon economy, without a rise in road deaths and injuries, major changes in public policy will be required. As transport is devolved, the Scottish Government must take the lead on this issue.
The SNP administration talks about safer cycling and has a target of 10% of all journeys being taken by bike by 2020 but its rhetoric has not been matched by action.
Around £25 per head per year needs to be spent to achieve that goal. The actual spend is less than £3. Only a concerted campaign, supported by opposition parties at Holyrood, prevented cuts to the budget for active travel (cycling and walking) last year.
The Green politician got the warmest reception but a Tory councillor could be applauded when he pointed to Boris Johnson and his London cycling schemes and Andrew Mitchell, who cyclists don’t see as a snob supposed calling the police plebs, but as another cyclist being discriminated against.
The Times has been campaigning for safe cycling ever since one of their journalists was killed cycling, and gave us a front page picture on Monday.
Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament, wrote in The Guardian:-
None of us had ever organised a demonstration of this scale in our lives, half of us had never even met each other until the day before the first demo, and we were astounded when somehow – through a mixture of determination, tweeting, mass flyering, blogging and countless emails – we managed to assemble 3,000 cyclists on the Meadows in Edinburgh to lobby Scotland’s politicians for more investment and better conditions for cyclists of all kinds.
We were delighted to be joined not only by the “lycra brigade” but by hundreds of families, with several kids even completing the ride on balance bikes. The day was both moving and joyful, a carnival of cycling and a serious attempt to show the politicians that investing in cycling wasn’t just something for existing cyclists, but for everyone.
Fast forward a few months, and essentially nothing had changed – for all the warm words from our politicians about how we were “pushing on an open door”. While the walking and cycling budget had at least stopped declining, it was nowhere near the level that was needed to see real growth in cycling across Scotland.
We were invited to meet the minister for transport, Keith Brown, but although he listened, it didn’t translate into any real action. He recently told the BBC that modernising Scotland’s transport meant building more motorways, and they’ve managed to find the money for a programme of road building while cycling has to wait to see if it gets a few crumbs out of “Barnett consequentials” (windfall money from the Westminster budget).
While Westminster’s all party cycling group’s recent Get Britain Cycling report laid out a realistic roadmap of how mass cycling could be achieved, Scotland is stuck with the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, a document that is neither a plan nor provides much in the way of any action. Though Scotland’s health, pollution and carbon emission reduction policies rely on achieving a growth in bike use, it doesn’t seem to have any real idea of how to achieve it, other than yet another campaign urging road users to be nice to each other. Once again, Scotland was getting left behind.
With no leadership coming from the top, we knew we were going to have to supply the political will ourselves. Following the lead of the Dutch and the Danish who took to the streets repeatedly in the 1970s to get their cycle paths, we started planning the next mass demonstration. This time our message was explicit: “we are everyone”.
The message has got out that cycling is a rational and healthy means of transport, not just a pursuit for eccentrics or sports maniacs in lycra. Now we need the money and the transport policies to follow the message.
Nigel Farage is used to getting an easy ride. Most of the British press fawn over him and even political opponents (including Labour) have evidently decided to avoid direct attacks and criticism.
So the heckling and minor jostling he and his supporters received on Thursday in an Edinburgh pub, and some mildly critical remarks from a BBC Radio Scotland interviewer, seemed to come as a terrible shock: the saloon bar loudmouth suddenly turned into a priggish prima donna and left Scotland in a frightful huff.
I don’t know who the people who organised the Edinburgh protest are. They have been described as “left wing nationalists” so I suspect I for one wouldn’t agree with them on Scottish independence. But their representative on last night’s Newsnight came over as quite reasonable, and another organiser, Liam O’Hare is quoted in today’s Graun saying: “The people who demonstrated were internationalist. We opposed Nigel Farage coming as we believe in a society that welcomes immigrants, that welcomes people from all walks of life, wherever they come from, but doesn’t welcome racists like Nigel Farage.”
Farage and Ukip are not (quite) fascists. But they are thoroughgoing racists and general-purpose ultra-reactionaries. The nearest recent UK precedent would be Enoch Powell and the semi-official movement he built round himself in the late sixties and early seventies. The left didn’t pussy-foot about when it came to Powell: so why are most of us so polite when it comes to Farage and Ukip?
P.S: Check out Mr Galloway’s craven comments, here.
I took part in the Pedal on Parliament last year. It was a heartening sight, with thousands of cyclist meeting in the Meadows and then cycling down the Royal Mile to a rally in front of Holyrood Parliament. Just for once, we owned Edinburgh’s narrow, dangerous streets.
Pedal on Parliament is happening again, on Sunday 19th May. Assemble at the Meadows to take part in the ride, which kicks off at 3pm.
What we want
1. Proper funding for cycling.
2. Design cycling into Scotland’s roads.
3. Slower speeds where people live, work and play
4. Integrate cycling into local transport strategies
5. Improved road traffic law and enforcement
6. Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians
7. A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training
8. Improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy
Making Scotland a cycle-friendly nation
The great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go safely everywhere. – Enrique Peñalosa
Cycling should be the obvious solution to many of Scotland’s ills. It is cheap, healthy, democratic and convivial, benefits local economies and makes the streets a safer place for all. Cyclist benefit themselves – physiologically their bodies are, on average, many years ‘younger’ than non-cyclists’, and they suffer less from the ‘western’ diseases that beset Scotland so – and they benefit others, cutting congestion and improving air quality. And yet bikes barely seem to be taken seriously as a mode of transport while the majority of Scots don’t cycle, simply because they feel it is too risky. Although statistically the benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the risks, poor design and maintenance of roads and cycle routes, dangerous driving, and lack of enforcement mean those risks remain unacceptably high. Making Scotland safe for cycling and walking, and – more importantly – making it feel safe, could transform our cities and villages and the lives of the people who live in them.
The Scottish government has already made a start. It led the world in signing up to a low-carbon future, part of which will include much higher levels of cycling. The Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) set the target of having 10% of all journeys in Scotland made by bike by 2020. Whilst many of the individual points in CAPS are welcome, CAPS does not add up to a coherent, researched and costed path to reach the 2020 target – and nor has it received anything like the necessary funding. Furthermore, even the existing funding levels are under threat. The history of UK cycling policy is full of strategies which have been quietly shelved when it becomes clear that their targets are not going to be met. We hope the Scottish government will not join Westminster in this hall of shame.
We call on all Scotland’s politicians, of all parties, to sign up to the following eight point manifesto in order to make cycling a realistic choice for everyone, from eight to eighty – and show the rest of the UK that cycling doesn’t just belong on continental Europe, but in the country where it all began:
1. Proper funding for cycling, with a high and rising share of the transport budget committed to cycling nationally, and locally.
If cycling is to reach 10% of all trips then there needs be serious investment. We ask the Scottish government to to commit a minimum of 5% of its transport budget – revenue and capital – to cycling within an overall commitment of 10% of the transport budget to active travel. Further, local authorities should also commit a share of their transport revenue and capital budgets to cycling at least in proportion with the percentage of people cycling to work or school in their area until in total, spending on cycling from all sources reaches a target of £25 per head per year.
To put this into perspective, 5% of the £2bn annual Scottish transport budget equates roughly to £100m, or £20 per head, which is comparable to the £1.32bn over 11 years that the Low Carbon Scotland report proposed spending on active travel (including walking). At the moment in Scotland actual spending is nearer £2-£3 per head. In contrast, in 2010, the Netherlands spent €30 per head (around £25) on installing and upgrading its cycling infrastructure which is already streets ahead of anything found here. Cycling England’s 2005-2011 Cycling City and Towns project invested around £10 per head and achieved significant growth in everyday cycle use, saving around £2.5 for every £1 spent, principally in reduced congestion. Other studies have shown that money invested on cycling and walking networks can pay back up to nineteen times the amount spent, a better rate of return than any other transport investment. If cycling levels rise to 13%, the benefit to Scotland would be between £1-2bn.
2. Design cycling into all of Scotland’s roads and junctions, with improved and strengthened national design guidelines in line with best practice internationally.
Improved provision for cycling must include a commitment to transforming Scotland’s roads and junctions. The existing design guidelines, Cycling by Design, should be revised in line with best practice internationally – particularly drawing on the experience of the Netherlands where 25% of trips are by bike. These standards should be incorporated into the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges and local authority road design guidance and should form minimum national standards for any new road or any road being substantially maintained or upgraded, whether local or trunk road. In addition, the Scottish Government should investigate whether it is possible for these standards to be made binding on roads authorities. Each local authority should commit to creating a dense network of direct and dedicated cycling routes with separation from traffic where needed, particularly on busy roads. Cycling infrastructure should be suitable for cyclists of all kinds, whether fast commuters or children on their way to school. Importantly, it should not bring cyclists into conflict with either pedestrians or heavy traffic. Such designs don’t just benefit cyclists, they benefit everyone who uses the roads.
3. Safer speeds where people live, work and play.
There are significant road safety benefits to a 20 mph speed limit. In residential areas, the presumption should be that roads authorities should apply 20mph speed limits as the norm in these areas. Lower speed limits should also be considered for unclassified rural roads where all road traffic faces a completely unacceptable risk of accident.
4. Build increased cycling into local transport strategies.
Local councils are best placed to know how cycling and active travel can be improved in its own area. Each local authority should be required produce its own local cycling action plan with clear targets to increase cycling levels in line with the national target of 10%, using the existing cycling levels as a guideline. Funding to support this should be ring-fenced and councils required to report against their progress every year. As well as working towards a coherent joined up network (see point 2), plans should include integration with public transport, including buses and trains, making cycling a seamless and practical part of even longer journeys. Local authorities should take cyclists into account when drawing up their maintenance plans, with a duty to give equal consideration to off-road tracks and infrastructure when planning gritting, road cleaning and repairs. Resurfacing roads and fixing potholes should take cyclists’ needs into consideration as well as motorists.
5. Improved road traffic law and enforcement.
While acknowledging that road traffic law is effectively reserved to the UK Government, traffic law must do more to protect the most vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians, children and older people. The CAPS already includes a commitment to investigate the feasibility of introducing ‘strict liability’ – we would reiterate that this must not be sidelined. Restrictions on parking in bike lanes and on pavements should be strictly enforced and, given a lack of police action on these issues, those local authorities that have not requested decriminalisation of parking enforcement should be encouraged to do so. Where 20mph zones have been brought in they should be properly policed and sentencing must be appropriate when drivers cause harm.
6. A comprehensive package to eliminate the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians.
This is a pressing problem. Heavy lorries are associated with a disproportionately high risk of death or very serious injury to cyclists and pedestrians. For example, despite being just 6% of road traffic, lorries were involved in around 20% of all cyclists’ fatalities in London. CAPS already has targets for reducing cycling casualties but the onus must not just be on the cyclists to keep themselves safe. The Scottish government should engage with the UK Department of Transport with a view to developing a comprehensive package of measures to reduce the risk to cyclists and pedestrians, based on up to date evidence of what works. These might include better training, mirrors, sensors and warnings, or limitations on movements of large freight vehicles during the morning and evening peaks. Equally they might include complete redesign of junctions to remove conflict between bikes and lorries.
7. A strategic and properly funded programme of road user training.
Much is made of developing training for cyclists in the CAPS yet Bikeability is not fully funded, and Cycling Scotland is dependent on volunteers to carry out vital training in schools. But training should not be confined to children – nor even just to cyclists. All Scottish residents should have access to affordable cycle training, whether children, adult returning cyclists, and those in later life. Further, HGV drivers, bus drivers and other professional drivers should be required to take an on-bike qualification (or a theoretical module if physically unable to cycle) as part of their licensing requirement and be made aware of the needs of both pedestrians and cyclists, and the Scottish government should press the UK government to introduce these measures .
8. Solid research and statistics on cycling.
We can only improve decision-making and policy development with solid research. The information that records how many people are cycling is very poor at the national level and inconsistent at the local level. This makes it difficult to monitor what is happening and which interventions have greatest impact. At a minimum counts should be carried out twice a year using standardised protocols for data collection and handling, taking into account cyclists using off-road facilities as well as those on the public highway. Where possible electronic counters with public displays should be used, as in Copenhagen and other cities, which count the number of cyclists passing through certain areas as these can provide both feedback and encouragement. These would become a talking point and a public reminder to cyclists that they are part of a growing band taking control of their health – and their freedom.
There is all to play for and so little to lose. Proper investment in cycling is not a zero-sum game. It will bring so much more than the expenditure put in, benefits which will gradually be reflected in a changing, healthier population. We all know our natural resources are not infinite and we would irresponsible not to think of ways of making them last, but cycling is hardly a hair-shirt option. Rather it is a joyous way to get about – but one that has become confined to a hardy few because of the conditions on our roads. From Kirkpatrick MacMillan onwards, Scotland has a long history of popular cycling which has been all but forgotten. We believe these times can come again and Scotland can once more be a beacon for the world.
Full article with footnotes here.
For once you can believe the hype. This is not just the best Bond film ever, but it’s a bloody good, intelligent thriller by any standards. Under the direction of Sam Mendes, the Bond franchise has caught up with, and maybe overhauled, the Bourne brand that looked set to consign 007 to the dustbin of history.
Actually, a central theme of Skyfall is the idea that Bond may be past it, rendered obsolete by modern technology, the end of cold-war certainties and -not least- by advancing middle age, too much booze, and declining physical prowess. Judi Dench’s M is similarly threatened with enforced retirement as the politicians question her competence, MI6 having unfortunately allowed a list of its top agents round the world to fall into the hands of a vengeful lunatic who also manages to blow up their London HQ. Said lunatic is ensconsed with his henchmen on a deserted island and bent not so much on world domination (so passé) as upon the humiliation of those who failed to appreciate him when he was himself an M16 agent. Played with evident relish by a camp, giggling Javier Bardem, this may just be the most interesting Bond villain yet, and certainly the first to display such a degree of sexual and emotional ambiguity.
In fact the triangular love-hate relationship between the baddie, Bond and M is the other leitmotif of the film, culminating in a suitably Oedipal penultimate scene that is actually rather moving.
There are, of course, the required high-octane action scenes: the opening sequence in Istanbul is a buttock-clenching chase by car, motorbike and train before the action moves to the vertigo-inducing skyscrapers of Shanghai. There are a few self-referential jokes at the expense of previous Bond films (the new Q – a spotty young nerd – says “we don’t go in for exploding pens these days”). Even the old silver DB5 is retrieved from a lock-up, giving Dench/M the opportunity for a joke about ejector seats.
There are, naturally, the obligatory Bond girls, one of whom is pretty, black, British and a good sport. The other is sultry, foreign, untrustworthy and clearly destined for an unpleasant end. Bond’s relationship with both is fairly superficial but not blatantly sexist. And for the first time ever, Bond has an intelligent and profound relationship with a woman: M/Dench, of course.
I won’t risk giving any more away and spoiling it for you, but I must just add that in many ways you get two films in one. The final action-scenes move to the Highlands of Scotland as Bond decides he can only win by fighting in ”the old fashioned way.” This is more Buchan than Fleming and the pace slows (in a good way), the film becoming austere, brooding and almost elegiac.
No question, then: the best Bond film ever. And in the complex, troubled and intelligent portrayal by Daniel Craig, the best 007 ever.
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has long been known as more fanatically anti-Israel than the rest of the PSC. Whereas the ‘main’ (ie English) PSC generally evades the issue of whether Israel has a right to exist in any shape or form, the SPSC make little secret of their desire to see the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. And while the rest of the PSC make at least some efforts to avoid the charge of antisemitism, the SPSC seems not to even care.
Jackie Kemp writes in the Observer about the SPSC’s shameful disruption of performances by the Israeli dance company Batshava:
Batsheva, the Israeli contemporary dance group, should have been one of the hits of this year’s Edinburgh international festival. They got five-star reviews for their witty, sexy and creative show.
As Batsheva are an ethnically mixed group of performers who danced to a “mash up” including the Star Wars theme and Wagner and who, at home, have incurred the wrath of the Orthodox community for a routine involving them stripping off to a Passover song, it would seem bizarre to hold them responsible for any Israeli government policies. Surely it would make as much sense to blame the ballerinas of the Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) for Putin’s human rights abuses. Indeed, Batsheva’s choreographer, Ohad Naharin, has said he is “in disagreement” with his government whereas the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky, Diana Vishneva, has maintained a studied silence over the fate of Pussy Riot.
But while Mariinsky played a sumptuous Cinderella at the Festival theatre to sell out audiences, with a line of chauffeur-driven cars waiting outside to pick up dignitaries, including government ministers, the Batsheva had a very different fate. Their show played to half-empty houses and was continually disrupted inside the theatre. It was a tense and nervous – if well-coiffed in shades of grey – Edinburgh contemporary dance audience that made it into the foyer through the hundreds of shouting demonstrators taking up most of the pavement outside.
The night I was there, the show was stopped three times; the next night it was four. As an audience member, I must confess I felt alarmed and vulnerable. I didn’t know what was about to happen. The 82-year-old Dutchman next to me patted my arm and murmured: “This is not Kristallnacht. I remember that”
Despite the courage and professionalism of the performers on stage it must have been a nerve-racking gig for them; in other countries protesters have remained outside the theatre. No one was arrested for any of the disruptions, the Scottish police taking the view that it was not illegal.
The dancers were being held responsible for the situation of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza on the very thin grounds that their work had been praised by the Israeli government and they take government money – both things that apply to the Mariinsky.
A group of Scottish writers headed by Scotland’s national poet Liz Lochhead (who has also taken government money on occasion) even wrote to the press calling for a cultural boycott of all Israeli companies and artists. This was what was effectively being imposed on the rest of us by the pickets outside.
I felt personally deeply ashamed and upset that these renowned international artists who were visiting the EIF were unable to perform their show in peace. I have spent the last year researching a book (Confusion to Our Enemies: Selected Journalism of Arnold Kemp; Arnold was my father). In the course of that, I read up on the work of my grandfather Robert Kemp – he was one of the founders of the Edinburgh festival and coined the term the fringe.
It was started in the aftermath of the Second World War, to bring back the joy, colour and vibrancy of cultural expression into people’s lives, lives that for the most part had been grey and miserable. It was started so that people from different countries could communicate heart to heart in the international language of art and culture.
It would be a tragedy if people who live, not in the shadow of war but in relative ease and comfort, manage to achieve their wish and create a cultural climate in Scotland where it is impossible for artists to perform because of the passports they hold.
The greatest tragedy of all is that disruption and attempted boycotting of liberal Israeli artists (and academics) will not help the Palestinians’ struggle for a viable homeland: it will, if anything, set it back. The truth is that people like the SPSC are motivated not, primarily, by support for the Palestinians, but by hatred of Israel and all its people.
There is a name for those who attack people solely on the basis of their nationality, ethnic and/or national origin: racists. That’s what the SPSC are.
By Dale Street (cross-posted from Workers Liberty)
Why do some people think that campaigning in solidarity with the Palestinians is “a bit anti-Jewish”? This is the question (supposedly) addressed by an article in the spring newsletter of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).
Of course, we can and should support Palestinian rights without being at all anti-Jewish. But there are many reasons why some people think that the dominant form of what passes for Palestinian solidarity is “a bit anti-Jewish” (or maybe rather more than just “a bit”).
Some people may have found it “a bit anti-Jewish”, for example, when the SPSC marked Holocaust Memorial Day by reading extracts from a play (“Perdition”) which claimed that the Holocaust was made possible by Zionist collaboration with the Nazis.
Commemorating another Holocaust Memorial Day by giving a platform to a pro-Hamas supporter of suicide bombings who has advocated that Israeli Jews should “go back to Germany” (Azzam Tamimi) might have struck some people as “a bit anti-Jewish” as well.
Expressions used by the SPSC’s media officer might also be seen by some people as being “a bit anti-Jewish”:
“Israel is a hydra-headed monster, arrayed against this monster are the forces of human progress. As soon as the scales fall from the eyes of international Jewry with regard to the racist and fascist ideology that is Zionism, the world will begin to emerge from the iron heel of war and brutality in the Middle East.”
And then there is the SPSC’s spirited defence last year of one of its members, charged and found guilty of racially motivated breach of the peace after abusing a Jewish student. (His appeal, heard earlier this year, was thrown out in less than a minute.) This too might seem “a bit anti-Jewish” to some people.
Other reasons why what passes for ‘Palestinian solidarity’ might be deemed “a bit anti-Jewish” include: incorporating traditional anti-semitic tropes into criticisms of Israel; judging Israel by standards not applied to other countries; forming alliances with anti-semitic organisations; and refusing to recognise national rights for Israeli Jews.
But none of the above is dealt with in the article in the PSC newsletter – despite the fact that these represent the actual substance (or some of it, at least) of the charge of anti-semitism which is raised against a certain form of ‘Palestinian solidarity’.
Instead, but all too predictably, readers of the article are treated to a particularly crass version of a Zionist conspiracy theory (i.e. in order to rebut the charge of anti-semitism, the writer employs a traditional anti-semitic trope).
“Those who accuse us of anti-semitism can be divided into roughly two groups,” explains the writer.
“One is calculating and prepared to use any lies to further their own interests,” he continues, “the Israeli elite benefit from favoured relations with the EU and billions of dollars in aid from the USA.” In other words, and more succinctly: rich Jews.
Included in this group are “many Israeli politicians (who) are well aware of the effect on someone’s career of being labelled an anti-semite and exploit this fact ruthlessly whenever they can.”
Anti-semitism, by this logic, is not a real phenomenon. It is a false accusation made in bad faith by “the Israeli elite” and “many Israeli politicians” in order to promote their own interests and stifle criticism of Israel.
The other group “who accuse us of anti-semitism” are “mainly Jews brought up on scare stories about how non-Jews are, by definition, anti-Jewish and ready at a moment’s notice to turn on their Jewish neighbours.”
“The complexity of history,” the writer continues, without a trace of irony, “is blacked out by the Zionist censor’s pen.”
“Who knows,” for example, “the story of the Jew Leon Trotsky, elected to represent Russian workers in St. Petersburg in 1905, despite the Tsar’s deliberate strategy of organising police-led massacres of Jews?”
Yes indeed! Every non-Jewish primary school pupil in Glasgow knows “the story of the Jew Leon Trotsky.” Only the Jewish ones, left in ignorance by a few strokes of the “Zionist censor’s pen”, are unaware of the 1905 St. Petersburg Soviet!
Even by the SPSC’s own standards, this is a dire level of argument: somewhere in the world there is a Board of Zionist Censors, controlling everything read by Jews in order to ensure that they do not discover “the complexity of history”.
Thus, one group of Jews raises the accusation of anti-semitism out of malice, and the other out of ignorance. It’s as simple as that!
Suggestions that advocates of ‘Palestinian solidarity’ could be tainted by anti-semitism are also dismissed as insulting to the anti-fascist heroes of ‘Palestinian solidarity’ campaigning:
“We are the ones who have successfully challenged right-wing revisions of the Holocaust which attempt to question the number killed or the very existence of the extermination programme. … We stand on the shoulders of the generations who organised and fought for a better world before us.”
But what of ‘left-wing’ revisions of the Holocaust, in which the latter is portrayed as a joint Zionist-Nazi endeavour, which Zionists exploited (“ruthlessly”, as the SPSC writer would put it) in order to establish Israel? The SPSC is not only silent about that form of revisionism, but actually propagates it.
But all this is of no account to the SPSC.
Having dismissed to its own satisfaction accusations of anti-semitism as lacking in substance, it can now continue with its vital building of ‘Palestinian solidarity’.
After last Saturday’s Israel-Scotland Women’s Euro qualifying game (cue chant: “Without guns, you’re rubbish”), the SPSC has launched a retrospective campaign against Glasgow’s Kingswood Bowling Club:
“Human rights activists and BDS activists only discovered through the pages of the ultra-Zionist ‘Jewish Telegraph’, and after the event, that an Israeli bowling team had played against a Scottish team at Kingswood Bowling Club in Glasgow last week.”
“Please call or text the secretary or e-mail him and tell him courteously that you object to Kingswood Bowling Club hosting an Israeli team at the same time that Israel denies Palestinians enough water to maintain crops.”
Anyone wanting to know what a Zionist, and presumably therefore “ruthless”, bowling team looks like can click here.
The SPSC’s John Wight: a Nazi-quoting antisemite.
Example #1 (lovingly reported on 18 June at Socialist Unity, who prevent us linking):
According to the Sunday Herald:
“It wasn’t much fun being an Israeli footballer at Tynecastle yesterday. Lashed by the rain, barracked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators – and seven goals down at half-time…against a noisy backdrop of protests about the imprisonment of Palestinian footballers. The Israeli national anthem was jeered, and the players booed…the demonstrators’ chants for Scotland to score 10″
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Link to story: Signeul’s side inflict rout on suffering visitorsPosted by skidmarx 18 June, 2012 at 10:34 am
absolutely brilliant protest.reminded me of similar protest some years back at a men,s U21 game between the two in Livingstone(or was it Hamilton?). on that occasion we were frisked and scanned and all palestinian flags/posters were confiscated by the police.inside we were constantly filmed and photographed by special branch goons. however we managed to get a few flags in thanks to female protesters who had secreted them in their undergarments.best of all, scores of balloons were blown up inside and formed to make Palestinian symbols. throughout,there was non stop chanting,so important as the game was being broadcast live in Israel. well done everyone. couldn,t make it myself due to going to the well attended and important REFUGEES ARE WELCOME/STOP THE EVICTIONS demo in Glasgow.Posted by iain brown 18 June, 2012 at 11:22 am
A couple of weeks later the same fans chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Jews off to the gas” to fans from Lodz, a city whose population was a third Jewish before the second world war. Lowles says it is not just the supporters who are prone to nationalism. Jan Tomaszewski, a former Polish goalkeeper, said last August he was ashamed of the current Polish team which was made up of players who were not “true Poles”. Tomaszewski, now an MP for the rightwing Law and Justice party, said: “This hotchpotch lacks only a cannibal from Africa, who once ate a Polish missionary. This is not a Polish team. There are Colombian and German stray dogs.”
Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way:
1/ People are innocent until proven guilty, and that applies to Andy Coulson as much as to anyone else.
2/ I believe Tommy Sheridan perjured himself in court in December 2010; in my opinion anyone who doubts that must be blinded by irrational loyalty to Sheridan and/or willful disregard of the evidence.
Having said all that, it’s good to see Cameron’s former director of communications being held to account for (allegedly) lying on oath about his knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World while he was the editor.
What I fail to understand, and I invite readers with a more sophisticated grasp of the law (specifically Scottish law) than mine to explain, is how these allegations against Coulson, even if proven, show that Sheridan’s conviction is unsafe (something that his supporters and Tom Watson MP are claiming).
The allegation against Coulson is that when he was called as a defence witness, by Sheridan, to give evidence at the 2010 trial, he lied about his knowledge of the hacking operation carried out against Sheridan by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by the News of the World.
Sheridan was convicted by a majority verdict at the High Court over his evidence, in which he’d denied lying to former comrades in the Scottish Socialist Party about his private life when he sued the News of the World in 2006 for libel.
Even if charges are brought against Coulson (they haven’t been yet) and a court finds him guilty, how does that call into question, in any way, the perjury conviction against Sheridan? How would it be relevant to the specific grounds on which Sheridan was found to be guilty? This has yet to be explained. Or rather, the only explanation so far offered by Sheridan supporters, simply doesn’t make sense: they say that a conviction for perjury requires not only someone to have lied on oath but for the lie to have materially affected the outcome of the trial. If that is so (and at least some people with knowledge of Scottish law disgaree), then it seems highly unlikely that Coulson will be convicted.
The other fairly obvious point that Sheridan’s supporters seem to have ignored is this: is it not possible that Sheridan and Coulson both committed perjury?
I’m sorry I didn’t take my camera to the Pedal on Parliament event yesterday. It started in the Meadows, and the lines of cyclists under the avenues of cherry blossom were a splendid sight. The police estimate for numbers was 2500. Spokes estimate 3000.
There are some great copy-proof pictures on Flickr.
It was a bright day with a freezing north east wind, and the clothes you wear for cycling are not the warmest ones for standing around in waiting for the pedal march to begin. All ages there – small kids on cycles with stabilisers, smaller ones on bike seats or in buggy-trailers. Bikes of every descriptions – old roadsters, mountain bikes, racers, unicycles and tandems for three. People in smart, sponsor-logoed club clothing or in tweed suits, though of course day glo yellow cycling jackets predominated. Then through the Meadows, and down the Royal Mile. To the motorists we must have been their nightmare – the contemptible speed-impediments bunched together, in huge numbers. To me, used to being a minority on the literal fringes when cycling through the streets, it was heartening to be in the mainstream for once and part of a dominating majority.
Then down to Holyrood. The grass area below the new Scottish parliament is a good area for rallies – it’s spacious, and also sheltered from the wind.
The politicians who addressed us had won clout for their activities on behalf of cycling. One stressed that they were not talking about “funding for” but “investment in” cycling – that is, cycling is not an add on, but as an integral part of transport and the economy in general. Others (I didn’t note who said what) evoked Stockholm and Scotland’s climate change measures.
In Edinburgh cycling has increased from 1% to 7% of road use and it has been assigned 5% of the transport budget. Pressure from local groups like Spokes, along with some effective councillors, have made a great difference. My naked eye has seen far more cyclists commuting and, as a spin-off, more cycle shops opening. Near where I work two more have opened in the last year. I’d say there were six within easy pushing-your-cycle distance.