May 16, 2009

The real John Strawson?

I had to put a question mark there because I'm not sure what the real John Strawson amounts to. It seems like only yesterday but was actually 11th January 2009 when the assault on Gaza by Israel was in full swing that John Strawson co-signed a letter to the Times (UK) denouncing Israel's actions in Gaza as, among other things, aggression and therefore a war crime. I think that's what it was saying:
ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

The letter was signed by many people, especially lawyers with reputations for handling human rights type cases. Here's how John Strawson's name appears:
John Strawson, University of East London
Now Strawson is a member of Engage's editorial board, whatever that means. I can't find an editorial board page on the Engage site at the mo' but check out this comment from a perplexed soul called Keith P at Engage who clearly follows these things:
“collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.”

This analysis seems inconsistent in tone, content, and logic to all that presented here and advanced by David [Hirsh] in the name of Engage. Are we to assume that Engage’s editorial board is fundamentally divided as to whether what we are witnessing and have been witnessing in Gaza is a war crime or a justifiable act of defence against an existential threat to the lives of Jews?

The petition in question is here:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5488380.ece

Looking forward to any clarification on this.
Thanks.

If ever there was a fool's errand it's asking Engage for clarification especially about John Strawson. See Hirsh's rapid response:
Keith,

Engage has no collective position on “whether what we are witnessing and have been witnessing in Gaza is a war crime or a justifiable act of defence against an existential threat to the lives of Jews?”

Engage is a campaign against antisemitism, not an Israel/Palestine campaign or discussion group.

I tried to sum up what I feel are some of the central ideas of Engage, but it is only my attempt. Here http://engageonline.wordpress.com/about-engage/

John Strawson is one of the most incisive and committed campaigners against antisemitism that I know. I’m proud that he thinks of himself as being part of Engage.

. And a minute later John Strawson, who was lucky to be reading the site at the exact moment that Hirsh was posting a response, posted an ever so slightly defensive response of his own:
Kieth P should read the letter more carefully. It is making a certain legal point – which I have made in comments here. The letter in addition to making it clear that Hamas’s rockets and suicide attacks are war crimes ends by saying

“We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.“
I can't see anything in Strawson's response that actually contradicts Keith P's point that John Strawson lent his name to allegations of Israel committing war crimes and that this contradicts the apparent Engage position that it is antisemitic to accuse Israel of war crimes over "cast lead" and possibly over anything as you'll see if you look at the rest of that thread.

Well now, Strawson has a post on Engage denouncing the Universities and Colleges Union for being "obsessive" about Israel with regard to a recent resolution. In the post he says the following:
The resolution itself is factually inaccurate and erroneous on international law. First Israel did not set out to remove an elected government. It is a myth that the Hamas was the elected government of Gaza. After the Hamas-led front won the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006, the organization attempted a coup against the elected President (Abbas) of the authority in 2007, and was constitutionally removed from office. It then retreated to Gaza – not as the elected representatives of the people but as failed coup-plotters.

Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war (which I absolutely opposed) was “aggression”. Even the rather pathetic Arab League’s report “No Safe Place” concludes “due to the uncertain meaning of ‘aggression’ it could make no finding on the question of whether Israel’s offensive constituted aggression” (16:2). The UCU boycotters are clearly legal experts in a very special sense.

Now let's look at that letter to the Times again:
Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.
And the post again:
Nor is it legally tenable than Israel’s war (which I absolutely opposed) was “aggression”
And the Times letter again, remember John Strawson is a stickler for reading things properly:
Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary
So what is John Strawson all about exactly? I find it quite disturbing that he can so angrily accuse a questioner of carelessness when he clearly contradicts himself so readily without any acknowledgement that he could actually have changed his mind or he felt, when presented with evidence of what Israel was actually doing by the various other co-signatories to the Times letter, he couldn't actually deny that Israel was engaged in aggression and that the aggression did constitute a war crime of itself without getting into the atrocities within that conflict: the crimes within the crime.

There's more disturbing stuff in the same post and actually what looks like a breach of the European Union Monitoring Committee's stupid working definition of antisemitism. Look at this:
The truth is that the obsessive and irrational character of the boycotters means that for them the actual adoption of any resolution is neither here nor there. What they want is the opportunity to continue to circulate crude anti-Zionist propaganda at every opportunity. Attacking Israel and normalizing historical and political falsities is their aim. It is not the boycott but the continual fueling of hate against Israel, Israelis and Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel that is the purpose. In this sense the twisted logical of debating a motion that cannot be legally adopted becomes a clear political campaign.
Say what?
Israel, Israelis and Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel that is the purpose
Which Jews would they be then, these "Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel"? What does it mean even? Does it mean that the Jewish identity itself depends on Israel? Does it mean that criticism of Israel is intrinsically a criticism of Jews generally or just those "Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel"? And if "Jews whose national identity is shaped by Israel" differ from Jews generally, what is the difference?

He's a strange one, this John Strawson. He goes public via the Times newspaper, the jewel in the crown of the Murdoch media, denouncing Israel's war crimes. He accuses someone who notices this for not reading properly. He then insists that Israel committed no war crimes or at least no aggression having already said it did indeed commit an act of aggression. He rounds off by apparently asserting that the Jewish identity is a national identity shaped by a colonial settler state that most Jews do not come from and have no demonstrable connection to. And no doubt, given Engage's support for the EUMC's stupid working definition of antisemitism, he takes the view that it is antisemitic to blame all Jews for Israel which is a tiny bit of the definition that I agree with.

Well I suppose we couldn't agree on even a small thing for long but who or what is the real John Strawson?

UPDATE: John Strawson is now claiming that the final paragraph of the letter to the Times that he put his name to was nothing to do with him because it was tacked on after he signed it. Let's see what he says in the comments under his own Engage post:
Brian will find several academics who will argue that Israel committed aggression in the Gaza war. Indeed a letter to the Sunday Times (January 11 2009) signed by myself – and many other international lawyers – had this position in its last paragraph. The section was added to the letter after I had signed a different draft and published without my permission.
Neither "Brian" nor anyone else, at the time of writing, has challenged Strawson over his ill-tempered response to "Keith P" back in January when he told Keith P to read that same paragraph more carefully. Back in January that final paragraph epitomised Strawson's position. Now it's nothing to do with him and he didn't consent to his name appearing as a co-signatory. Would it not have made more sense for Strawson, rather than insulting Keith P, to simply disown the letter when it was all fresh in his mind?

But then he would have been all too clear that it's not just the final paragraph that mentions Israel's "aggression". Look back at the letter, it appears in the paragraph above and seems to be the main point of the letter.

Another question here is has Strawson taken up the issue of his name being taken in vein with whoever organised the letter? I think we should be told.

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