Friday, 1 August 2014

When Genocide is Permissible

Never. Well, sometimes. Or at least thinking aloud about it is okay. Why else would The Times of Israel publish such a thing? They may have removed it in short order, but as we know once things get on the internet ...

Yochanan Gordon's execrable screed shits on the memory of his ancestors. I am loathe to bring up history, but someone else once justified the extermination of Europe's Jews in terms of securing the national well-being of his people. Yet Gordon has done the world a service. By putting his thoughts down on paper, as it were, he has distilled the barbarism consuming Israel. The "facts" are crap, but the facts do not matter. The 800 or so words articulate a feeling, an impulse.

As Paul notes, Israel is founded on existential crisis, has fought three life-or-death wars, and is incapable of reconciling itself to the responsibility it has for the present state of affairs. That crisis runs through the Israeli body politic like gangrene. Sometimes quiet, very occasionally dormant, at other times the infection surges. The moments of apparent health increasingly fleeting, the periods of high fever ever more lengthy and tending toward permanency. See how Gordon invokes the idea Israel is under siege, that the West - who, as we know, offer muted criticism at best and munitions at worst - doesn't "understand" and doesn't care, that Gaza incubates anti-semitism and genocide of Jewish people, and how the home-made mortars and rockets of Hamas are statements of eradication. The kind of language, the hysteria, the poisoned collective consciousness of the Israeli Jewish majority is only a shade less bloodcurdling than North Korea's. The difference being North Korea faces a blockade by the world's most powerful nation. Israel, however, enforces a blockade with America's blessing. The Stalinist kingdom arguably faces a siege. Israel is carrying one out.

The poison of Israeli politics reflects its institutional set up as an occupying power. The capacity of the likes of Netanyahu - and worse - to talk up, to exaggerate threat and have it accepted is founded on this basic fact of Israel's existence. Just as racism elsewhere doesn't drop from the sky, so it is here too.

If a descendent of holocaust survivors arguing for genocide isn't irony enough, the further awful twist is the destruction of Gaza and the murder of its people is creating future enemies of Israel, some of whom - by its actions today - could pose it an existential threat tomorrow. History tends to show bloodshed does little to stymie bloodshed.

Local Council By-Elections July 2014

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- June
Plaid Cymru**

* There was one by-election in Scotland.
** There were three by-elections in Wales.
*** There were four independent clashes in June.
**** Others in July comprised of Patriotic Socialist (2), Blue (13), Tower Hamlets First (762, 744, 726), Mebyon Kernow (217), Liberal 121), Mebyon Kernow (58), It's Our County (835), English Democrats (20), and British Democrat (95).

Overall, 60,214 votes were cast over 40 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. For comparison see June's results here.

Is that a catastrophic result for Labour? On the face of it, yes. With local authority contests, however, not all is as it seems. Whereas last month Labour polled 45% of the vote, it did so off the back of very favourable contests. This month it hasn't been the case, as you can see by the Tory result. Yet the Conservatives still lost seven councillors and Labour gained five. You can now see that all the talk of Labour winning the election next year but not the popular vote might have some legs. We shall see.

The LibDems return to their normal level of support after a very poor June. Though local council by-elections screw around with the two main party percentages a great deal, this is a certain consistency to this level of performance. Despite what the polls say the vote share here is a likely pointer to next year. And, at the risk of sticking my neck out, the same is true of UKIP. Nearly everyone seems to think UKIP's support is going to significantly backslide. Maybe. Then again, among the hardest of the hardcore voters their support levels have been consistent. Sure, these are second order elections and "don't matter" to the majority of people but it's evidence that a large section of the electorate are in the UKIP voting habit. The more you prefer one party in second order elections, the more likely they'll earn it for the general. So I'm going to stick my neck out. Next year UKIP will poll in excess of 10% on the basis of their local by-election performances.

It's worth keeping an eye on the Greens too. They've picked up another councillor this month and appear to be taking by-elections more seriously. Only five candidates behind the LibDems, might we see them overtake the yellow party in numbers of seats contested?

And the BNP have made an unwelcome reappearance with a pitiful vote. Still, their tally of 58 managed to outpoll the combined efforts of four TUSC candidacies. Give it up comrades, your perspectives are bunk and you're on a hiding to nothing.

Five Most Popular Posts for July

This month's five most-read were ...

1. On the "Obsession" with Israel and Palestine
2. The SWP's Moral Vacuity
3. Investigating Paedophile Politicians
4. Effacing Rolf Harris
5. Lauren Goodger" Against Revenge Porn

No prizes for guess a post about Israel and Palestine would come top in July. I have no special insight into this interminable conflict, it's not something I've spent years researching, writing and arguing about. But what I do know about is British politics and how international issues are refracted through its narrow prism. That's where I have plenty to say and am likely to talk more about in the month to come.

The SWP, paedophiles and porn make up the rest. Nothing new there. As ever, there are a couple of posts that deserve a wider circulation. Foucault, Discipline and Work is something gagging to be worked up into a more substantial piece. Perhaps something to consider when I've finished my "secret project". And if it's further chin-stroking you're after, check out Inequality and British Capitalism, which could equally be dubbed 'Ed Miliband, Labour, and Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution'.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Does Israel "Cause" Anti-Semitism?

The great German socialist August Bebel once dubbed anti-semitism "the socialism of fools". This oft-quoted aphorism referred specifically to the conspiracy-mongers of his day for whom capitalism was the front for international jewry. But could it be that anti-semitism is the delusion of the desperate too? This question was raised in the Lords last night. Ex-diplomat and crossbencher Lord Wright of Richmond mused whether there was a link between the rise of anti-semitism in Europe and Israel's brutal assault on civilians in Gaza. He further suggested that its spread might be curbed in this country if the government acted resolutely against current operations, and pressured Israel to take the two state solution seriously by withdrawing from illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This drew two sharp responses. One from Lord Winston, who argued that if such a link was tenable, then "the affairs in Syria would cause anti-Islamic feeling in this country". Likewise, Lord Ahmed, "the Islamic faith is very clear - in such situations you should protect churches, you should protect cloisters, you should protect synagogues, you protect all innocent life."

Let's be clear about this. Israel doesn't cause anti-semitism. Lest we forget, the Holocaust and centuries of pogroms and massacres precede it. Yet as a species of racism, anti-semitism as a jumble of prejudices and attitudes are no different from any other set of ideas: they form and cohere in the crucible of history, and their breadth and acceptance waxes and wanes according to specific historical conjunctures. No collection of ideas free-float. There isn't an ideological grab bag from which perfectly rational beings pick and choose according to reasonable criteria. The notions, opinions, prejudices or otherwise each and every human being adheres to is done so because it speaks to their personal circumstances. There's something about an idea that makes sense, that helps people understand their situation, that anchors them in the world. For example, conservative views of various stripes find a readier audience among business people because it speaks to and orders the social world for them as business people. Similarly, socialism has a greater reach in trade union circles because, again, it provides a coherent explanation of the issues confronting them.

Let's explore this in relation to racism. When the BNP was on the rise during the last decade, where did this racist party find its wells of support? Here in Stoke it was almost-entirely white working class estates blighted by low pay, unemployment, and insecurity. Might there perhaps be a link? Or think about it in terms of a more pertinent analogy. After the September 11th terror attacks, British Muslims experienced greater press hostility, increased everyday racism, an epidemic of vandalism against mosques and an increase in physical attacks. Did Muslims "cause" the antipathy and violence they received? No. Was the increase in Islamophobia heavily conditioned by terrorist outrages and war in the Middle East? Undoubtedly. Does the context of war excuse racist abuse? Absolutely not. Understanding and explaining is not the same as justifying, apologising for, or accepting racism.

That brings us to anti-semitism now. Let's think about it from a Gazan viewpoint. If your family had their land and property stolen by Israeli settlers at the point of a bayonet, if the sprawling slum you now called home groaned under the weight of an economic blockade, was subject to periodic attacks by the Israeli army and friends and family were lying injured and killed, might anti-semitism strike a chord? Might the idea that the Holocaust was a myth to justify Israel's foundation find a ready audience? Could the stony silence of the West and, in some cases, their connivance with Israel's slaughter in Gaza lead some to think they're under Jerusalem's sway? Might this go some way to explain the support for Hamas, an organisation that - until 2006 - was formally committed to Israel's eradication? In Palestine itself where anti-semitism exists it is inseparable from the occupation and all that goes with it. It doesn't excuse it, but it does help explain it.

What then of the West? Unfortunately, anti-semitism is on the rise. The electoral support enjoyed by the French Front National, for example, has nothing to do with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. The explanatory axis there is secured in economic precarity and persistent mass unemployment. For long-term anti-semites in fascist parties and movements, Israel and Gaza is a pretext, not an impetus. And if some of their anti-semitic actions, like daubing the walls of synagogues and attacking Jewish cemeteries can be pinned on Arabs/Muslims, so much the better. What then of Muslim anti-semitism? Is Israel's behaviour merely an excuse as per white racists? For some, undoubtedly. For others, it's complex. Being a Muslim in the West is more "political" than perhaps any other religious identity, and it is an identity location that identifies more readily with co-religionists elsewhere. Palestine "speaks" to Western Muslims more because there, in its most extreme form, do you have the epitome of injustice to Muslims - all accepted without a qualm by Western governments. Their experience is identifiable, understandable. The anger and hate Palestinians feel is readily translatable to Muslim communities in the West. Anger against the occupation is shared, along with the hate. So when Israel continues the killing, so anti-semitism provides a simple, convenient but poisonous frame that, for some, makes sense.

Would the transformation of Israel from a belligerent warmonger to a paragon of peace make a difference to anti-semitism in Europe? Perhaps. Its actions can influence the ebbs and the flows. Ultimately, however, rooting out anti-semitism is a problem for politics here. Blaming Israel is easy. The hard work is putting into place policies that tackle the root causes of racism, whatever forms it assumes and from wherever it comes.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Palestinians and Intersectionality

Shamelessly ripped from here. Raises some interesting questions for carriers of "Israelis stop killing Palestinians, Palestinians stop killing queers" placards.


Eight questions Palestinian queers are tired of hearing
July 25, 2014

You might think that the main goal of a group of queer activists in Palestine like us in Al-Qaws should be the seemingly endless task of dismantling sexual and gender hierarchy in one’s own society.

It is. But you might think otherwise, judging from the repetitive questions we get during our lectures and events, or from inquiries we receive from media and other international organizations.

We intend to end this once and for all. Educating people about their own privilege is not our burden. But before we announce our formal retirement from this task, here are the eight most frequent questions we get, and their definitive answers.

1. Doesn’t Israel provide Palestinian queers with a safe haven?

Of course it does: the apartheid wall has sparkly pink doors lining it, ready to admit those who strike a fabulous pose. In fact, Israel built the wall to keep Palestinian homophobes out and to protect Palestinian queers who seek refuge in it.

But seriously: “Israel” creates refugees; it does not shelter refugees. There has never been a case of a Palestinian — a descendant of a family or families who were forcibly displaced, sometimes massacred, often thrown in jail without charge — magically transcending the living legacy of this history to find him or herself granted asylum in “Israel” — the state that committed these atrocities.

If some people manage to cross the wall and end up in Tel Aviv, they are considered “illegal.” They end up working and living in horrible conditions, trying to avoid being arrested.

2. Aren’t all Palestinians homophobic?

Are all Americans homophobic? Of course not. Unfortunately, Western representations of Palestinians, particularly lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Palestinians, tend to ignore diversity in Palestinian society.

That being said, Palestinians are living under a decades-long military occupation. The occupation amplifies the diverse forms of oppression that are experienced in every society.

However, homophobia is not the way we contextualize our struggle. This is a notion comes from specific type of activism in the global north.

How can we single out homophobia from a complex oppressive system (patriarchy) that oppresses women, and gender non-conforming people?

3. How do you deal with your main enemy, Islam?

Oh, we have a main enemy now? If we had to single out a main enemy that would be occupation, not religion — Islam or otherwise.

More fundamentalist forms of religion are presently enjoying a global resurgence, including in many Western societies.

We don’t view religion as our main exceptional challenge. Still, increased religious sentiment, regardless of which religion, almost always creates obstacles for those interested in promoting respect for gender and sexual diversity.

Palestinian nationalism has a long history of respect for secularism. This provides a set of cultural values useful in advocating for LGBTQ Palestinians.

Furthermore, religion is often an important part of Palestinian LGBTQ people’s identities. We respect all of our communities’ identities and make space for diversity.

4. Are there any out Palestinians?

I’m glad you asked that question. We have great Palestinian gay carpenters who build such amazing closets for queers with all the Western comforts you can dream of — we never want to leave.

Once again the notion of coming out — or the politics of visibility — is a strategy that has been adopted by some LGBT activists in the global north, due to specific circumstances. Imposing this strategy on the rest of the world, without understanding context, is a colonial project.

Ask us instead what social change strategies apply to our context, and whether the notion of coming out even makes sense.

5. Why are there no Israelis in al-Qaws?

Colonialism is not about bad people being mean to others (“bad” Israelis don’t steal queer Palestinians’ lunch money). Being super “good” doesn’t magically dissolve systems of oppression.

Our organization works within Palestinian society, across borders imposed by the occupation. The challenges that LGBTQ Israelis face are nothing like the ones faced by Palestinians.

We are talking about two different societies with different cultures and histories; the fact that they are currently occupying our land doesn’t make us one society.

Moreover, being queer does not eliminate the power dynamic between the colonized and colonizer despite the best of intentions.

We resist the “global, pink, happy, gay family” sentiment. Palestinian-only organizing is essential to decolonizing and improving Palestinian society.

6. I saw this film about gay Palestinians (Invisible Men/Bubble/Out In The Dark, etc.) and I feel I learned a lot about your struggle

You mean the films that were made by privileged Israeli or Jewish filmmakers portraying white Israelis as saviors and Palestinians as victims that needed saving?

These films strip the voice and agency of Palestinian queers, portraying them as victims that need saving from their own society.

Moreover, these films rely on racist tropes of Arab men as volatile and dangerous. These films are simply pinkwashing propaganda, funded by the Israeli government, with a poignant oppressed/oppressor love story the glitter on top.

If you want to learn about the reality of our community and our struggle, try listening to what queer Palestinians have to say, at the Al-Qaws or Palestinian Queers for BDS websites.

7. Isn’t fighting for gay rights a more pressing issue than pinkwashing?

Mainstream LGBT groups in the North would have us believe that queers live in a separate world, only connected to their societies as victims of homophobia.

But you cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism and other oppressions exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.

Furthermore, pinkwashing is a strategy used by the Brand Israel campaign to garner the support of queers in other parts of the world. It is simply an attempt to make the Zionist project more appealing to queer people.

This is another iteration of a familiar and toxic colonial fantasy — that the colonizer can provide something important and necessary that the colonized cannot possibly provide for themselves.

Pinkwashing strips away our voices, history and agency, telling the world that Israel knows what is best for us. By targeting pinkwashing we are reclaiming our agency, history, voices and bodies, telling the world what we want and how to support us.

8. Why do you use terms from “the West” like LGBT or queer to describe your struggle? How do you answer that critique?

Though we have occasionally been branded as tokenized, complicit with Israel, naïve and Westernized (by those based in the West), our activists bring decades of experience and on-the-ground analysis of cultural imperialism and Orientalism.

This has provided the raw material for many an itinerant academic. However, the work of those in the Ivory Tower is rarely, if ever, accountable to those working in the field nor does it acknowledge its power (derived from the same colonial economy) on activists.

We are accountable to our local communities and the values developed over years of organizing.

Language is a strategy, but it does not eclipse the totality of who we are and what we do. The words that have gained global currency — LGBTQ — are used with great caution in our grassroots movements. Simply because such words emerged from a particular context and political moment does not mean they carry that same political content when deployed in our context.

The language that we use is always revisited and expanded through our work. Language catalyzes discussions and pushes us to think more critically, but no word whether in English or Arabic can do the work. Only a movement can.

Ghaith Hilal is a queer Palestinian activist from the West Bank who has been part of Al-Qaws leadership since 2007.

System Amoebae adds

There is a hell of a lot to learn here, for activists around the world. Not just about Palestine, but about how everyone approaches particular oppressions. This critique of activism in the global north should be used to examine how we should focus on root causes: patriarchy and capitalism (and different types of apartheid where applicable) — remembering that CAPITALISM is a crucial part of that. Expanding the concept of patriarchy out from how it’s typically come to be used (men holding power over women) and linking it with capitalism in its broader sense is important as well.

Overcoming our Western, identity-based conceit should be high up on our list of ‘things to do’ as activists of any kind.