Friday, January 16, 2009

Worst wave of hate for quarter of a century

From the Jewish Chronicle

Anglo-Jewry is in the middle of the worst outbreak of antisemitism in Britain since the Community Security Trust started keeping records a quarter of a century ago.

Since the start of the Israeli offensive into Gaza on December 27, more than 150 incidents across the country have been recorded.

CST director of communications Mark Gardner said: “Antisemites are using an overseas conflict as an excuse for their racism, and this should be clearly condemned by all sectors of society. In particular, we are seeing the inevitable antisemitic impact of many years of anti-Israel hysteria, in addition to an enraged response to TV and newspaper images of this conflict.”

There have been assaults on individuals, an arson attack on a synagogue, dozens of incidents involving hate mail, emails and threatening and abusive telephone calls and many daubings and graffiti.

Communal leaders have been involved in a flurry of political activities this week, meeting Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Monday and Communities and Local Government secretary Hazel Blears on Tuesday.

Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council and Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies, said: “The community should feel reassured that their concerns are being clearly and regularly articulated at the heart of government during these difficult times.”

One aim of the meetings was to persuade the government to speak out about the startling rise in antisemitism. The only mention by a minister had been a letter from Mr Miliband to Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald last Friday, in which he said: “I am alarmed at the attempts of extremist voices in the UK to use the conflict to legitimise antisemitic sentiments. I remain concerned by reports of this rhetoric manifesting itself in violent acts and threats against UK synagogues and the Jewish community.”

On Tuesday, the CST, in a deputation with the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council, presented Ms Blears and junior minister Sadiq Khan with a dossier of the incidents. They outlined their concerns about security, particularly near schools and campuses.

After the meeting, Ms Blears said: “The government strongly condemns the increase in antisemitic incidents and understands the fears and concerns of the Jewish community in Britain. British Jews, like all communities, must be able to live their lives free from fear of verbal or physical attack.”

On Wednesday, Ms Blears sent a letter to all synagogues in Britain saying that the government would not “tolerate racists and trouble-makers disrupting our local communities” and that “international events, however distressing, provide no justification for violence”. She said it was “important to recognise, and to build on, the excellent interfaith work and dialogue that both the Muslim and Jewish communities have developed in recent years”.

A young Orthodox man was viciously beaten after last Wednesday’s pro-Israel rally in what is perhaps the most serious incident.

Daniel Lowe, from Hendon, a bearded Orthodox Jew who wears a kippah, was a founding member of MuJewz, the Muslim-Jewish dialogue group at Oxford University. He had attended last Wednesday night’s pro-Israel rally in Kensington and was on his way to visit friends nearby afterwards when he was attacked.

He said: “As I was about to knock on their door, someone behind me said hello.” He turned to find two men of Asian appearance, one wearing a Palestinian flag on his jacket, the other wearing a keffiyeh. “They asked me where I had been. When I told them it was none of their business, they punched me in the head, pushed me to the ground and kicked me.”

Mr Lowe said the attack made him even more determined to attend Sunday’s Trafalgar Square event: “Jews shouldn’t be attacked for expressing their views in public.”

On Tuesday, a gang of Palestinian supporters forced their way into the offices in central London of the Israel lobbying organisation Bicom after a man called saying he was delivering a parcel.

Eight men and women — one armed with a loudhailer — shouted at and intimidated staff, ripped out computer cables, cut telephone lines and threw leaflets out of the windows.

One staff member said: “They were very aggressive, and asked whether we were Jewish and why we were supporting Israel. It was very frightening.”

It is understood that detectives at Westminster are investigating the criminal damage and viewing CCTV footage of the incident.

Bicom chief executive Lorna Fitzsimons said: “The vandalism and thuggery at our offices and against my staff this morning was utterly reprehensible. Bicom is a pro-peace organisation that promotes understanding and dialogue, often promoting moderate Palestinian voices for the sake of a speedy and peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.”

Both Marks & Spencer and John Lewis contacted suppliers this week to ask whether goods they stocked originated from Israel.

But both companies insisted that they were regular routine calls and that the timing was coincidental.

On Saturday, three protestors were arrested after occupying an Israeli-owned cosmetics store in central London.

The protestors chained themselves to the door of the Ahava store in Covent Garden, forcing it to close for around five hours. They also hung a banner in the window accusing the company of “funding Israeli war crimes in Gaza”.

A protest in Belfast on Saturday by pro-Palestinian campaigners against a stall selling Israeli products is being investigated by police as a racially motivated incident. Video footage posted on the internet showed the Sea Spa stall, which sells Dead Sea cosmetics, being deluged with leaflets from a balcony above as demonstrators shouted “Boycott Israeli goods”.

In Bristol, one man was arrested after about 30 pro-Palestinian protestors entered a city centre branch of Marks & Spencer, filled their trollies with Israeli produce and then refused to pay.

Birmingham City Council failed to agree a statement on the Middle East crisis after a debate on Tuesday. Both the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and the Labour opposition had released statements before the meeting supporting an immediate ceasefire, but could not resolve their differences. A discussion document supporting sanctions against Israel had been presented by four out of the 120 city councillors, from the Labour, Lib Dem, Conservative and Respect parties. But it was not tabled as a resolution, nor was any vote taken.

A speech by Muslim academic Azam Tamimi, who spoke at last Saturday’s anti-Israel rally, shouting: “We’re all Hamas now,” has been reported to the police.

A CST spokesman said it had taken “numerous enquiries” about whether the speech breached anti-terrorism legislation.

“The CST will do its utmost to ensure that the police are made aware of our community’s concerns. We have been asked about a speech at last Saturday’s anti-Israel rally that may breach glorification of terrorism legislation. This will be passed to police for their consideration and possible investigation.”

Israeli sources confirmed this week that a planned flying visit by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to London had been postponed after Downing Street failed to give him the opportunity of a meeting with Gordon Brown.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Playing with fire (again)

It is no great surprise that Stephen Sizer's blog, in recent days, has featured a series of posts stridently critical of Israel's campaign in Gaza. Nor is it any great surprise that there is little comparative criticism of Hamas, nor any great expression of compassion for the 1,000,000 Israelis now within range of Hamas rockets (not even the 2,000 Israeli Messianic Jews now within range). I have in the past blogged on Sizer's apparent blindness to Palestinian terrorism and to Israeli pain, and little on his blog persuades me to change this assessment.

I have also blogged and written in the past about Sizer's use of dubious sources and loose language. Sizer claims to take these criticisms on board, which makes this post of his surprising. I have reproduced Sizer's post in full, in bold, at the end.

Not only is Sizer relying on reports of a conversation which he himself admits is disputed, but notice how he introduces the post. "For all the speculation about the power of the Israel Lobby, the conversation between George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert is a candid insight into perceptions of power, if not their reality also." Not only is Sizer casual about introducing the classic antisemitic myth of "Jewish power" into the debate, but he is also linking to a highly dubious source, the article in the London Review of Books by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the alleged power of "The Israel Lobby". For those who are unfamiliar with this article, it was an edited version of a "Working Paper" which later became a full-length book. A collection of rebuttals can be accessed here. Particularly devastating is ALan Dershowitz's response, here.

Here is a key extract (emphasis added) from Dershowitz's well-referenced piece:

"This particular lobby – which the authors [like Sizer] ominously capitalize and reference with the definite article ("the Lobby") – uses the undue influence of Jews in America to get the United States to do the "fighting, dying … and paying" for wars that are not in its own interest, causing American soldiers to die for Israeli interests. It was "the Lobby" that, according to Walt and Mearsheimer, drove the United States into the war against Iraq, and threatens to drive us into a war against Iran. In other words, real Americans are being killed because other Americans, whose primary loyalty is to the Jewish nation, are manipulating America’s political, media, academic and cultural leaders, as well as ordinary American citizens. American Jews who support Israel – even in a critical way – are thus being disloyal to the United States by placing the interests of a foreign state above the interests of their own country.

If these charges sound familiar, it is because, as I will show, they can be found on the websites of extremists of the hard right, like David Duke, and the hard left, like Alexander Cockburn. They appear daily in the Arab and Muslim press. They are contemporary variations on old themes such as those promulgated in the notorious czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

, in the Nazi and America First literature of the 1930s and early ’40s, and in the propaganda pamphlets of the Soviet Union.

In essence, the working paper is little more than a compilation of old, false, and authoritatively discredited charges dressed up in academic garb. The only thing new about it is the imprimatur these recycled assertions have now been given by the prominence of its authors and their institutional affiliations. As David Duke observed: "The Harvard report contains little new information. I and a few other American commentators have for years been making the same assertions as this new paper." It "validates every major point I [Duke] have been making." It should have been easily predictable – especially to "realists" – that their "Harvard report" would be featured, as it has been, on neo-Nazi and extremist websites, and even by terrorist organizations, and that it would be used by overt anti-Semites to "validate" their paranoid claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy."

I would encourage LBF readers to read the whole of Dershowitz' piece to see how he substantiates this damning indictment of Mearsheimer and Walt.

This of course leads to the question of why Sizer is linking to M & W, without the slightest critical comment. Isn't Sizer supposed to be repudiating antisemitism? Most readers of his blog will be unfamiliar with the rebuttals of M & W and may not recognise the antisemitic undertones to their piece. But Sizer is regarded as a leading scholar on Christian Zionism, and insists that he "repudiates anti-Semitism". If he repudiates anti-Semitism, it follows that he recognises antisemitism and knows what it sounds like: he cannot play the naive innocent. So again, why the irresponsible language about the "power" of the "Israel Lobby"? Why the irresponsible link to Mearsheimer and Walt? Isn't Sizer supposed to be repudiating antisemitism?

The stakes are high. Anyone with half a brain can see that a strident anti-Zionism is increadingly fuelling antisemitic violence and incitement: see here, here and here for a few recent examples. It is also fuelling anti-Christian violence. It follows that Israel's critics need to be scrupulously careful about the language they use and the sources they cite. It seems to me that Sizer, once again, is not being careful enough. For shame.

(The text of Sizer's post follows.)

For all the speculation about the power of the Israel Lobby, the conversation between George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert is a candid insight into perceptions of power, if not their reality also.

Independent Newspaper carried the story of Olmert's conversation with Bush on page 20 of their early edition today but then edited it out of the later edition.

Here is the version of the disputed conversation taken from today's

"Israel and US offer differing reports on UN resolution abstention

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert claimed he had called George Bush to override US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

by Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Tuesday 13 January 2009

The US and Israel offered conflicting accounts today over alleged Israeli intervention to prevent the US voting for a United Nations ceasefire resolution last week, a move that apparently left the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, humiliated.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, speaking at a meeting in Ashkelon in southern Israel last night, claimed that he had been forced to call George Bush, the US president, to override Rice. According to Olmert, Rice had been planning to vote with the other members of the security council for the resolution. But the resolution was passed with 14 votes for, and one abstention. Olmert, in a speech in Hebrew, is reported to have said:

"When we saw that the secretary of state, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favour of the UN resolution ... I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech. "I said, 'I don't care. I have to talk to him now'. They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, 'You can't vote in favour of this resolution.' He said, 'Listen, I don't know about it, I didn't see it, I'm not familiar with the phrasing.'"

Olmert said: "He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it - a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged."

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said today: "I've seen these press reports. They are inaccurate." Olmert's version coincides with the one offered up by other members of the security council the day after the vote. It is also known that Rice had been planning a press conference before the vote but abruptly cancelled it to take a call from Bush."

Reuter's version of the conversation speaks of Olmert, "Pouring on political bravado in a speech late Monday..." Their article concludes: "Olmert, under police investigation over alleged corruption, resigned as prime minister in September but is serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed after Israel's February 10 parliamentary election."

Enough said.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Israel launches ground offensive

This piece is from Harry's Place.

The IDF ground offensive into Gaza is more reminiscent of Jenin than Grozny.

If Israel wanted to do a Grozny (the city that was essentially leveled and turned into a ghost town by Russian bombing and artillery fire in the war against the Chechens), it could manage this fairly easily. After all, Gaza is a relatively small, compact, sealed-off strip of land. Of course this would be accomplished at the cost of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties, but it would likely put an end to the rocket attacks on southern Israel. However for the vast majority of Israelis this is morally unacceptable.

By contrast in 2002, as part of its operation against Palestinian fighters in the West Bank, Israel did not launch a massive and indiscriminate air assault. Instead it sent troops into Jenin. The result was between 50 and 60 Palestinian deaths, almost all of them fighters (not the massacre of 500 originally reported and eagerly believed by so many). But the Jenin operation also cost the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers.

That is to say, Israel sacrificed the lives of its own sons to avoid massive casualties among Palestinian non-combatants.

That’s the aim of the ground assault: to destroy and secure Hamas positions that could not be struck from the air without a high risk of civilian casualties, even if it endangers the lives and safety of Israeli soldiers.