February 28, 2011

Obsessing over obsession

Here's Nick Cohen in The Observer obsessing over those who he claims are obsessed with condemning the State of Israel.  You can guess at the nonsense he's coming out with so I'll skip directly to Michael Rosen's comment:
Hey, don't worry about it. There is now a special job for people who are obsessed with people they claim are obsessed about Israel. Hey, they say, look at those crazy, dangerous bastards who are obsessed with Israel, we're watching out for them night and day, day and night, minute by minute, we know what their real aim is, we're building a picture of them, that Jeremy Bowen - he's one of them, that Guardian newspaper - that's another of them, they're all obsessed, obsessed, obsessed, we're keeping a track on their obsession with an utterly un-obsessed interest...
Comments are now closed, mercifully because you can imagine the hasbaraniks out in force.

February 26, 2011

Who learned what from whom?

I got a text yesterday telling me that I'd had a letter published in The Independent so I bought a copy. Here's what I was responding to:
Ian McEwan was absolutely right to criticise Jewish settlements on the West Bank (News, 21 February) when receiving his literary prize in Jerusalem. Hopefully the emerging democracies in the Arab world will soon be able to emulate Israel's openness.
Stan Labovitch
Here's what I wrote:
Stan Labovitch seems not to have noticed that across the Arab world people have already found something to emulate in Palestine.  From where else did this generation learn the art of intifada?
And here's what they published:
Art of intifada is catching
Stan Labovitch hopes that Arabs will soon be able to emulate Israeli democracy (letter, 23 February). He seems not to have noticed that across the Arab world people have already found something to emulate in Palestine. From where else did this generation learn the art of intifada?
Mark Elf, Dagenham, Essex
Nice headline of its own but I rarely call the zionist occupation of Palestine "Israeli democracy".  Still there is one good thing.  You see how I italicised the word intifada? Well The Independent didn't see fit to do that. That means that for them the word "intifada" has now passed into the English language and that is good news.

February 24, 2011

McEwan's lousy acceptance speech, and reasons to be be cautiously optimistic

Ian McEwan went to Jerusalem, shook the hands of apartheid officers, hobnobbed with war criminals, and gave a lousy acceptance speech, though I must admit not as lousy as the petulant and self-indulgent comic relief delivered last year by Margaret Atwood and Amitav Gosh after they collected their tainted million dollar. As you'll remember, Atwood and Gosh dedicated their acceptance speech to criticizing those who dared interfere with their sacred right to be given money, and compared their predicament to that of writers tortured and imprisoned for their writings. McEwan, while clearly unhappy about being so inconvenienced, calibrated his speech to appease the criticism and at least tried to prove he was not, as he was in fact, mollycoddling apartheid.

McEwan is an imperial liberal who believes passionately in the supremacy of European culture. Of course, perish the thought that he would define it that way. He would rather call it "secularism", or "rationalism", or whatever. But it is what it is. He is not therefore the first person one would turn to for supporting an anti-colonial struggle. Just listen to how he describes, in Jerusalem, the uprising in Egypt:

When Egyptians decide en masse to reform their society and think constructively, and take responsibility for their nation into their own hands, they will be less inclined to blame outsiders for all their misfortunes.

Because of course, Egyptian misfortunes have nothing to do with outsiders. Nobody poured billions of dollars into Egypt each year for forty years to maintain a brutal and tyrannical regime. Nobody feted and embraced Mubarak for the way he starved his people for the benefit of global neoliberal accumulation. It was all the fault of Egyptians who failed the test of maturity administered by the white man. They did not "take responsibility" for their fate. They were not "constructive." Maybe, of course that is exactly what McEwan implies in this formulation, they deserved tyranny.

There is only so much one can get from someone who thinks that way. But that is precisely the test of a campaign like BDS, which seeks to impose itself through public moral pressure. For a campaign like BDS, success is ultimately not measured by the supports of friends, but by the grudging compliance of people like McEwan. While he was able to resist the pressure to boycott, he was not able to ignore it. The speech he gave in Jerusalem was racist, white supremacist, misleading, confused, and Islamophobic, but it was also a rare across the board condemnation of Israel as a political entity from a purely liberal perspective. McEwan went where almost no imperial liberal had gone before, even condemning Israel's discriminatory Right of Return for Jews. It was evident from his own words that he didn't go there because he wanted to, but because he felt compelled by the pressure building up over his acceptance of the tainted prize. That's good.

Speaking about money, McEwan also donated the prize money to Combatant for Peace, which is emerging as an Israelo-Palestinian joint money-laundering services for celebrities with a dirty conscience. In a twist that is familiar from the history of other social movements, one the effect of the success of BDS is more money flowing to organizations that normalize the occupation, organizations such as "combatants for peace" which promote a false equivalence between the oppressor and the oppressed using the phony language of the "cycle of violence." Nevertheless, the fact that Israeli money associated with such prizes as the Jerusalem Prize is becoming too dirty for McEwan to take home should count as an achievement.

Now for the speech itself. McEwan checked all the check boxes of a good "political" literary speech about the "situation" in the Middle East. He mentioned (twice) the holocaust, alluded to the "clash of civilizations" theme, promoted his pet secularism, bashed Hamas with the canned bullet points for bashing Hamas, commended Israeli democratic culture (failing to note that it is for Jews only), and criticized the settlements and the massacre of Gaza. As a bonus, he even presented a history of the European novel that would have easily earned him a B in a not too demanding freshmen course. Impressive.

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile parsing some of the speech's contradictions and entanglements, because its political unconscious is rich with insight about the decrepit state of Western intellectual life. My rule for reading is that the treasure is always hidden beneath the weakest argument. I would like to focus on two points in the speech in which politics and literature intersect, the meaning of violence, and the power of literature.

The framework McEwan invokes to explain "the situation" in Jerusalem is an opposition between creativity, that is artistic, scientific and political ingenuity, and the nihilism of violence.

I'd like to say something about nihilism. Hamas whose founding charter incorporates the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy towards Israel. But (to take just one example) it was also nihilism that fired a rocket at the undefended Gazan home of the Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, in 2008, killing his three daughters and his niece. It is nihilism to make a long term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories. ...

...Look to the editions in this book fair, the numbers translated in and out of Hebrew, or to the number of successful patent applications, (astonishing for a small country) or the numbers of scientific papers cited, the breakthroughs in solar energy technologies, the sell-out concerts around the world for the Jerusalem Quartet. The creative energy index is high and so is the capability. But where is Israel's political creativity? What do national politicians have to compete constructively with Israel's artists and scientists? Surely not the concrete mixer? Surely not the eviction order? We have all read the documents leaked to Al Jazeera. That was surely not the best Israeli politicians could do...In this context, the opposite of nihilism is creativity.

To describe political violence as nihilism is to deny it an interiority, to reject the possibility that it might form part of a distinctively human project, a form of action that is intelligible, that is rooted in positive goals, aspirations, plans, feelings, that is executed with creative force and ingenuity, that its failures and successes can be exhilarating, satisfying, crushing, disappointing. This is a strange statement coming from a novelist who, a paragraph later, can assure us that

There is no man, woman or child, Israeli or Palestinian, or from any other background, whose mind the novel cannot lovingly reconstruct.

Surely, then, after that declaration of the omniscience and infinite empathy, the novel and the novelist should be able to reconstruct lovingly the mind of a suicide bomber. Surely the novelist who holds that principle should be able to reconstruct lovingly even the mind of those who are now systematically ethnically cleansing East Jerusalem (and whose hand McEwan shook). If McEwan were to seriously apply his professional insight to the political situation he is facing in Jerusalem, he should have been able to reconstruct in his imagination a plausible series of choices and circumstances that ended with the Protocols being cited in the Hamas charter, and furthermore, do so "lovingly." Such an empathy guided attention to human existence in its particularity does not preclude a negative judgment, but it does preclude exactly the kind of rhetorical knee jerk that characterizes McEwan's canned bashing of Hamas. (And don't even bother asking why McEwan reserves his vitriol to Hamas rather than, for example, the venality and the torture chambers of the Abu Mazen bantustanat.)

If McEwan were to apply the tools of his trade to the political situation he is facing in Jerusalem, he would not have made a distinction between the nihilism of Israeli politicians and the ingenuity of Israeli scientists. The flechette bomblet, the corner shooting rifle, the smart fence, the DIME bomb, are all products of the ingenuity and creativity of Israeli scientists and at the same time essential elements of the crimes McEwan describes as "nihilism". And the scientists are hardly alone. The politicians who designed the "matrix of control" that dominates Palestinian lives, are they not creative? The peace process that never ends and never progresses, is it not an ingenious solution to the actual challenges that Israel's generals and statesmen faced within their own understanding of "the situation"? The legal system that makes the territories at once subject to Israeli power and outside Israeli law, is it not a brilliant solution to the position of Israel as a colonial settler state in a supposedly "post-colonial" world? The uniquely Israeli separation between citizenship and nationality, is it not an ingenious way to institutionalize racism against the native people while maintaining the appearance of a liberal democracy within the green line?

I don't think McEwan is incapable of these insights. After all, if the vain Ehud Barak, a death squad commander and mass murderer, was able to muster the empathy needed for imagining himself becoming a Palestinian terrorist, I have no doubt McEwan can as well. It is not his imagination that failed, but his will. It is a matter of intellectual cowardice.

For if McEwan were to actually think about the politics he entered by being awarded the prize, if he thought through the violence of both sides, not as the equivalent abstract failure of creativity but as two distinctive, concrete, and morally worlds apart, human projects, he would have had to make choices. The one choice that he would have had to deny himself is the course of action he actually took, of believing that he can do good by pretending that everybody is on the same side, that the conflict can be solved simply by re-framing it, and by lecturing everyone to get good and "creative". At least, he he would have had to deny himself the comfort of not knowing that his lecture and even his wagging finger against the settlements did nothing more than armed the apartheid regime with a continuing sense of normalcy and legitimacy.

McEwan addressed his remarks to "Israeli and Palestinian [citizens]". He mentioned a long list of mostly British, but also a few non-British, writers. The living writers from the area he mentioned however, are three Israeli authors, to be precise, David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua, and Amos Oz, whom he calls "the conscience of the country." There are, significantly, no Palestinians among the authors. Palestinian authors do not inspire McEwan. For someone given a prize for his contribution to freedom, for someone who eulogizes literature for celebrating the downtrodden, that seems at least eyebrow raising. He knew he was going to the contested city of Jerusalem. He knew there are Jews and Palestinians there, and that the downtrodden there, that's mostly Palestinians. He could have faked it, googling the name of a Palestinian writer. He could have actually read something by a Palestinian writer. He could have at least apologized that he hasn't read anything by a Palestinian. But he chose neither. There may be two people in Jerusalem, but there is only one culture worthy of attention for McEwan in Jerusalem, an Israeli-Jewish one.

The three authors he mentions are not just any authors, but pillars of the Israeli establishment and globe trotting celebrities like McEwan, writers whose every shopping list, let alone literary work, has been translated into most European languages. We can safely conclude that McEwan's access to the literary cultures of the region is strictly filtered through the glitzy side of European culture industry and its politics. The content of that politics is reflected in what he presents as a European history of the novel.

The English tradition is just one among many, but it is intimately connected with all others. We speak of a Jewish tradition in the novel -- a vast, complex tradition, but still bound by common themes: a sometimes ironical attitude to a god; acceptance of an underlying metaphysical comedy and above all, in a world of suffering and oppression, deep sympathy for the individual as victim; finally, determination to grant to the downtrodden the respect that fiction can confer when it illuminates the inner life. We find the strands in the existential allegories of Kafka's In the Penal Colony and The Trial; in the sadness and beauty of Bruno Schulz, in the work of Primo Levi as he gave individual voice in the nightmare of the Shoah, that industrialised cruelty which will remain always the ultimate measure of human depravity, of how far we can fall; in IB Singer's fiction, which conferred dignity on the cramped lives of immigrants; in different terms we find a parallel theme in Saul Bellow, whose agonised intellectual heroes struggle ineffectually to flourish in a raucous, materialist culture. Always, the victim, the stranger, the enemy and the outcast, the face in the crowd, becomes a fully realised being by the grace of fiction's magic dust -- a dust
whose recipe is an open secret -- full attention to detail, empathy, respect.

This tradition is vigorously upheld in Israel's literary culture -- and right from the beginning of the founding of the state. A recent discovery for me has been S Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh, published in 1949 -- the luminous account of the clearing of an Arab village during the '48 war -- and of a protest that never quite leaves the throat of its narrator as the houses are demolished and the villagers driven from their land.

There is a British novel. There is an Israeli novel. And there is a Jewish novel, whose focus on the holocaust and the victim ties together Israeliness and Europeanness. The common thread of all is, allegedly, the focus of the outcast individual, a focus which is "vigorously upheld in Israel's literary culture." This literary history builds a facile continuity between the major literature of Europe, embodied by Jane Austen, the minor literature of Jewish European authors (such as Kafka, already a stretch, what two authors could be further away as these two), and the literature of Israeli Jews. The history of the novel that McEwan offers thus affirms the two major points of Zionist ideology, that Israel fulfills Jewish history and that Israeli culture is European in essence.

Now, to put it mildly, McEwan, who doesn't read Hebrew, speaks in ignorance and is merely shuffling stereotypes. His crowning example, S. Izhar's Khirbet Hize'a, is an exception, almost a freak accident, not merely in Hebrew literature, but even in its author's own career, whose major work was an epic paean to the "conquest" of the Negev. Unlike the works of the three superstars, Khirbet Hize'a was kept carefully hidden from the world, only translated to English for the first time in 2008, when there was no longer any danger that it would inform Europeans about the events narrated, and thus could be repackaged as another example of superior Israeli sensitivity. And Khirbet Hize'a doesn't focus on the "inner life of the downtrodden." How could it? It is a tale told by a soldier of an ethnic cleansing army and from his point of view, illuminating, and in a rather flattering way, the inner conflicts of the colonizers. Reading Khirbet Khize'a as proving the Israel's high moral sensitivity is like reading "Heart of Darkness" as proof of the higher morality of Europe. (which, by the way, is probably McEwan's point.) Comparing Izhar to Kafka, if McEwan had wanted to actually do that, would only have highlighted the sharp discontinuity between Israeli and Jewish diasporic literary forms and sensibilities.

The paragons of that Euro-Judeo-Israeli continuum (which perforce must erase Palestinian literature, as the latter can only spoil the argument) do not quite fit the enlightened role that McEwan makes for them. Apart from the fact that A.B. Yehoshua's literature and public pronouncements are both hostile to the Jewish diaspora, and apart for the fact that this died in the wool racist described Arab writers writing in Hebrew as a threat to Israeli culture, Yehoshua not only endorsed the mass murder in Gaza (which McEwan called nihilist), but anticipated it, advocated for it, and defended it after the fact. It is true Yehoshua opposes the settlements. But McEwan should have taken the time to ask why. Already in 2004, Yehoshua explained his support for removing the settlers from Gaza on the assumption that it would facilitate genocidal war crimes:

After we remove the [isolated] settlements and after we stop being an occupation army, all the rules of war will be different. We will exercise our full force. We will not have to run around looking for this terrorist or that instigator -- we will make use of force against an entire population. We will use total force. Because from the minute we withdraw I don't want to know their names. I don't want any personal relations with them. I am no longer in a situation of occupation and policing and B'Tselem [the Israeli human rights organization]. Instead, I will be standing opposite them in a position of nation versus nation. State versus state. (J. Cook, 2006)

David Grossman was not as precocious, but he too made himself available for the defense of the slaughter of civilians in Gaza in 2009. a few days into the massacre, in a disgusting New York Times op-ed that reads like a strategy brief from a consigliere to his mafia don, Grossman endorsed the slaughter of by then over 400 people, mostly civilians, and wounding of thousands, as made necessary by Hamas's (imaginary) refusal to compromise. Amos Oz was not far behind. On the same day he joined his friend Yehoshua in op-eds in Italian newspapers, dutifully repeating the line of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, that "Hamas was responsible for the violence".

If these three are the "conscience of a country", that country would be better off without one. You probably couldn't find anywhere finer examples of the employment of literary skill and notoriety for the purpose of, not the "determination to grant to the downtrodden the respect that fiction can confer when it illuminates the inner life", but rather the determination to provide the political and military establishment with rhetorical cover as they go on killing the latter with impunity.

How could McEwan get Israeli culture so wrong? The simplest answer I believe would be the right one, "class and race." McEwan knows about Israel what he reads in the Guardian, and what he is told by his glitzy Israeli celebrity friends, friends who share his class prejudices and his white supremacist beliefs about Western culture. If you're looking for insight, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for evidence that Israel is becoming so unpalatable that even the McEwans of the world cannot afford to remain silent, there is your evidence.

Julian Assange to be extradited

I only know that Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame has lost his case against extradition to Sweden from an email I get (several times a day) from The Daily Beast. I find it very strange that the event hasn't appeared on any of my iGoogle headlines. Also among many disturbing issues in the case The Guardian reported that
While Riddle [the magistrate] acknowledged that there had been "considerable adverse publicity against Mr Assange in Sweden", including from the prime minister, if there had been any irregularities in the Swedish system, the best place to examine them [is] in a Swedish trial, he said.
Amazing that with all that we now know of miscarriages of justice in the UK, a member of the UK judiciary can place so much reliance on the integrity of a non-British court. He must think theirs are better than ours. I hope he's right.

February 23, 2011

BDS From Within protests Ian McEwan in Jerusalem

The flier that was handed to McEwan contains this message:

Ian McEwan did not need to receive the Jerusalem Prize in order to come to Israel/Palestine and express his views. Distinguished scholars, such as Judith Butler and Naomi Klein have visited Sheikh Jarah and other parts of Israel's backyard, without legitimizing those responsible for the crimes of apartheid and occupation committed there. By accepting the Jerusalem Prize, McEwan has allowed the perpetrators of these crimes, such as Nir Barkat, to exploit the occasion, and disseminate the blatant lie "we promote tolerance here in Jerusalem, an open city". When families in east Jerusalem are expelled from their homes to make way for Kahanist settlers, and when 9 year old children in Silwan are abducted from their beds by the Israeli police in the middle of the night, this city is neither tolerant nor open. Furthermore, McEwan's compliments to Israeli "democracy" are vacuous in view of these facts. McEwan has assisted the Israeli establishment in conveying a false message of "business as usual". He should return the prize, and atone for shaking the hands of apartheid and occupation.
According to the organizers, the man holding the banner is the great grandson of Shmuel Yosef Agnon, a literature Nobel laureate.

Whatever happened to that stupid "working definition of antisemitism"?

You know the one, the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Working Definition of Antisemitism. Well Richard Kuper may have the answer. Here he is on the JNews website:

Antisemitism and delegitimisation

Critics of Israel are increasingly accused of delegitimising Israel and encouraging antisemitism. This creates a climate of suspicion in which the onus is on critics to somehow demonstrate they are not antisemitic.
Tuesday, 22 February, 2011 - 14:01
London, UK
The strong fight-back by Israel and its supporters against the country’s deteriorating public image has been sometimes crude, sometimes carefully pitched. The dissemination of a draft ‘working definition’ of antisemitism by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005 has proven particularly effective. Inadequate as a definition and never formally adopted, it is not up for discussion by those who could change it. Yet it is increasingly presented today as the definition of antisemitism. It cannot bear this weight.

It came about in 2004 after the EUMC published a report highlighting the need for an operational definition of antisemitism to provide a common standard for data collection across the EU. Eventually, the EUMC posted a ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’ on its website.
The document was produced behind closed doors after a consultation with Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee and others (see Roth, ‘Proposal for a Redefinition of Antisemitism’), but not including those experts, cited in the original report, who sharply distinguished between antisemitism and legitimate opposition to Israel – even though theEUMC intended the definition to be ‘in line with the theoretical arguments’ in the report.
Let’s look at the document itself. It is unclear whether ‘Working Definition’ means the whole document (which fills a single A4 sheet) or just this paragraph which is in bold italics and preceded by the phrase: Working definition:
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
If this is indeed the definition, it is so vague as to be useless as a practical tool. If it is the entire document (headed ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’), then it is not only unwieldy but also untrue to the original report which clearly differentiates political criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The ‘Working Definition’ leans towards conflating them.
Following the quoted paragraph, the document continues: ‘In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’ This single sentence has dominated the way the ‘Working Definition’ is read.
The use of ‘could’, here and later in the document, is loaded. Following six relatively unproblematic examples of antisemitism, the document again focuses on Israel and lists five ways in which antisemitism ‘could’ be manifested, which are both confused and tendentious. The text says that ‘the overall context’ should be taken into account. Yet, regardless of context, one of the examples – ‘using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism’ – could hardly be anything but antisemitic. As for the remaining examples, the word ‘could’ draws attention to only one possibility – antisemitism.
Take, for instance, its example of “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”. This could be antisemitic. Equally, denying that same right to Basques, Catalans, Scots or indeed the Zulu or Afrikaner nations/peoples, could be racist. But there are all kinds of non-racist reasons why someone might not support these national causes. The right to national self-determination is after all not the primordial right.
Or consider this: ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’. Of course this is wrong. It could be antisemitic. But no-one makes this accusation when Zionists routinely conflate Jews collectively with Israel. Indeed it is hard to have a discussion about Zionism without this notion coming up positively, expressed clearly in the idea of Israel as the Jewish state, acting on behalf of all Jews (e.g. Olmert in August 2006: “This is a war which is fought by all the Israelis. I believe that this is a war that is fought by all the Jews.”)
The document is riddled with problems; which perhaps is why, contrary to what the European Forum on Antisemitism claims, the ‘Working Definition’ was not adopted by theEUMC. As Beate Winkler, EUMC Director, said at the time, it ‘should be viewed as “work in progress” … with a view to redrafting.’
In fact, the document appears to be dead in the water as far as the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the successor body to the EUMC, is concerned. They recently told me that feedback on initial testing of the document ‘drew attention to a number of issues which impacted on its effectiveness as a data collection support tool.’ In other words, it wasn’t useful. ‘Since its development we are not aware of any public authority in the EU that applies it,’ the FRA official added.
Moreover, ‘The FRA has no plans for any further development’ of the ‘Working Definition.’ (24 August 2010)
The latest FRA publication on the topic - its Working Paper Anti-Semitism: Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001-2009 (April 2010) does not even mention the ‘Working Definition’. It does complain (p.3) that: “Even where data exist they are not comparable, since they are collected using different definitions and methodologies.” That was precisely the reason why a operational definition was called for in the first place. The ‘Working Definition’ clearly does not do this and is not fit for purpose.
None of this has stopped the perversely named ‘EUMC Working Definition’ from taking on a life of its own. The European Forum on Antisemitism has translated it into no fewer than 30 languages; in the United Kingdom an All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Antisemitismendorsed it uncritically (Sept 2006), as did the National Union of Students (March 2007, reaffirmed in 2010). Careless bloggers now even refer to it as the ‘EU definition’.
The reservations in the document, where things ‘could, taking into account the overall context’ be antisemitic, have all but disappeared in practice.
This document has little to do with fighting antisemitism and a lot to do with waging a propaganda war against critics of Israel. It is time it was buried.
Richard Kuper is a former chair of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, an organisation of more than 1,600 Jews in Britain. He grew up in apartheid South Africa and has been a political and social activist, publisher, trade-unionist and university lecturer.
This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source
So the answer to the question, whatever happened to that stupid "working definition of antisemitism"? is that it has been quietly dropped. This doesn't stop zionists across the media, not just "careless bloggers", from citing it as a basis for their bogus allegations.

Where now for Blair?

A gem from Mark Steele in The Independent:
The most worrying side to world events is if Gaddafi and Berlusconi both depart, there'll be hardly any world leaders left to offer Tony and Cherie Blair a free holiday. It only needs Murdoch to be overthrown and the Blairs will have to go to Pontins at Camber Sands.
Good one.

The full transcript of the conversation between Ian McEwan and Shimon Peres at the Jerusalem Prize Ceremony

ian mcewan great injustice israel

Ian McEwan: Nice meeting you, Mr. President.

Shimon Peres: Oh Ian, can I call you Ian? What a pleasure to meet you! You must know I am a great admirer of your books!

Ian McEwan: I am truly honored. Anything in particular?

Shimon Peres: you know, we used to have that Zionist song when I was young, that we would cover the homeland with "a dress of concrete and cement." And we did it! When you look at Jerusalem today, look at the mountains. A dress of concrete and cement. Isn't that wonderful? Your "Cement Garden" always reminds me of that.

Ian: But, Mr. President. I am not certain that this is what the book was about. I was more interested in children trying to cope with an extreme situation.

Shimon: Exactly what I meant! Weren't we all? Children in extreme situations? I was barely passing thirty when I plotted my first false flag terrorist attack in Egypt.

Ian: I hardly think thirty qualifies as a child. But perhaps, Mr. President, you are confusing my novel with "the lord of the flies?"

Shimon: Not at all! Not at all! Just coming out of the holocaust, traumatized, really, just like those children, having to deal with Nasser's attempts to tie down our hands with peace. Syria offering us peace. The King of Jordan ready to divide Palestine with us. The US even offering our little state a defense pact if we only agreed to make peace with Egypt. That was the time when I started my political career. You can't imagine how lonely and endangered we felt. We were scared to death. We had to be creative. Apropos the holocaust, I really liked how you managed to insert a mention of Dachau in the very first paragraph of your speech today. That's the thing I admire about creative types like yourself. If you ever want to be an ambassador for Israel, call me.

Ian: Oh Mr. President, I am flattered...I hardly think...oh...but there was something I wanted to discuss with you.

Shimon: Of course, Ian, I always enjoy conversations with writers. Thankfully, I don't know how it is in Britain. But Israeli writers always enjoy the illusion that they have the ears of our politicians. Let's walk to the pastry table and you tell me everything what's on your mind.

Ian: It's the settlements.

Shimon: Yes, the settlements. Terrible business. Terrible. Shortsighted. We are digging our own grave. When I started the settlement project, we had young men and women with values. They treated their Palestinian neighbors like...

Ian: You started it?

Shimon: But of course, Ian. Those were the days. Just after the Six Days War. Covering the homeland in "a dress of concrete and cement". Fence and stockade. After 1967, we were at the beginning again. We were reborn again and then reborn again again. God has granted us a second start, to do in Judea and Samaria what the generation before us did in Jaffa and Lydda and Haifa. We were so beautiful, so energized!

Ian: I don't know what to say.

Shimon: If you care for the advice of an old Israeli politician, when you don't know what to say, mention the holocaust!

Ian: Mr. President, no offense, but I need to insist. I came here to be honored for my "contribution to the freedom of the individual in society" and I must tell you that people all over the world are shocked by the way Palestinians in this city even are denied their freedom.

Shimon: Ian, I am with you on that. It is terrible. But as you said yourself in your speech, unlike Hamas, at least we "have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse" and we at least have "a precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel." What can I do that there is nothing like that on the other side?

Ian: That's not what I read from wikileaks. But why don't you just stop the confiscations here in Sheikh Jarrah?

Shimon: We are ready to talk about everything. We and the Palestinians need to negotiate. It's not that complicated. We give a little. They give a little. And we reach a compromise. But if they don't want to talk.. if they only want to do shows and publicity stunts like that damned flotilla...

Ian: You need an international treaty to stop kicking defenseless people out of their homes?

Shimon: This khummus dip is excellent. Too bad I have to watch my cholesterol. The doctors believe they can keep me alive forever...and sometimes I start believing that too.

Ian: I was hoping I could make a difference.

Shimon: But you did already. Wait! Stand still for the camera. Here, give me your hand. Like that. Thank you guys! You're doing a fantasic job. Ian, you have no idea how much the moral support of people like you means to us. Here on the Jordan River is the frontier of Western Civilization, the frontier of Europe. We stand between you an the hords of fanatical Islam that want to take over the world. Egypt can succumb to the masses. Bahrain can succumb to the masses. Jordan can succumb to the masses. But Israel will always remain a civilized, Western country. We protect you from them with our lives on the line, so that, as you said in your speech, you can live in Britain, "in relative stability." Never forget that!

Ian: What about the Palestinians here in Jerusalem?

Shimon: It's tragic. But their situation here is temporary.

Ian: what about the settlements?

Shimon: Ian, Ian! You know about Bismark, do you? Bismark said that politics are like sausage. If you want to be able to enjoy them, you don't want to see how they are made. What's going on here is not very pretty. But this is the price you pay for keeping your country prosperous and safe. And all we ask in return is a little appreciation and a little support. I'll tell you what, next year, you should bring your wife and I'll take you around the desert in a Jeep. The desert is amazing on a starry night.

Ian: Why do I suddenly feel so dirty?

Shimon: you have dip on your tie.

February 21, 2011

Aaron Porter resigns as NUS leader

Aaron Porter, remember him? has resigned as leader of the National Union of Students.  Here's The Guardian:
The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, is to stand down amid fierce criticism that he did not fight hard enough to prevent university tuition fees from almost trebling.
The 26-year-old, who has led a high-profile campaign against higher fees and education cuts since he took the post in June, said the union needed a "fresh start".
A source at the NUS said Porter was facing too much personal abuse from students angry that the union had not taken a harder stance against fees and cuts.
Personal abuse? That's funny because he had claimed that it was racial, nay more, antisemitic abuse that got to him.

February 19, 2011

No applause for Israel shock!

At least I think that's what happened. There's a BBC Radio 4 programme called Any Questions and this week's edition had George Monbiot, Doug Richard, Susan Greenfield and Kelvin McKenzie. You can read their credentials on the site. What I'd like you to do is give the programme a bit of a listen and see if you hear Kelvin McKenzie, in the context of western support for Arab dictatorships, saying "Israel is our friend". I've heard this nonsense many times but this time it was in front of a live audience and what I think happened next was that no one applauded. George Monbiot was applauded for his condemnation of the UK arming dictatorial regimes. Doug Richard had a swipe at Monbiot for that. But McKenzie clearly thought that "Israel is our friend" was a substitute for any reasoned comment about anything else in the Middle East but listen for yourself.

I'm a little anxious now that I may have switched the radio off too soon.  Maybe he was applauded after all so perhaps someone could let me know.


UPDATE: Many thanks to Gert in the comments for listening to the programme and confirming that there was no applause for the vacuous statement, "Israel is our friend".

Obama blocks resolution condemning Israel's settlement activity

Yet another capitulation by Obama to the State of Israel:
The United States on Friday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory after the Palestinians refused to withdraw the Arab-drafted text.

The other 14 council members voted in favor of the draft resolution. But the United States, as one of the five permanent council members with the power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against it and struck it down.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told council members that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity." She added that the U.S. view is that Israeli settlements lack legitimacy.
But she said the draft "risks hardening the position of both sides" and reiterated the U.S. position that settlements and other contentious issues should be resolved in direct peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of Britain, France and Germany, condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank. "They are illegal under international law," he said.
And look how far the UK ambassador has stuck his neck out:
He added that the European Union's three biggest nations hope that an independent state of Palestine will join the United Nations as a new member state by September 2011.
He forgot to mention that it won't actually have any territory.