Friday, 25 July 2014

Gaza, Israel, and Multiplying Demons

Yesterday, I was chatting on the phone to a driving instructor friend. He told me that he has a number of Israeli pupils, one of whom told him that he hoped my friend wasn't surprised to find that he, the Israeli, didn't have a horn and a tail. I was not going to write a blog item about the Gaza tragedy, but the thought that someone might feel as this Israeli felt has jolted me into action.
I am only too well aware that, for some people, the slightest hint of what they see as pro-Israeli bias provokes them into litanies of condemnation of Israeli war crimes. I myself have encountered this on Facebook, and find it an interesting example of how one subject - the recent anti-Semitic attacks in France and Germany - can be perceived as another subject entirely (Gaza) by some concerned individuals. To be fair, I was not accused of being in the pay of Mossad (I congratulate my critics on their restraint), but I might be after this.
There really is a need for calming down and taking a more detached view of what is happening in Gaza. That does not mean we should ignore what is happening, or show indifference to the suffering of the people there. I simply mean that there are other issues surrounding this horrible situation that we should take into account. I am also aware that, for those being shelled, rocketed and bereaved on both sides, detachment is not an option. That should not preclude the rest of us from having a reasoned debate, whatever views we may hold.
My first area of concern is that Israelis and Jews everywhere really are being demonised. Professor Robert Wistrich has said:
"A recent survey has revealed a troubling rise in anti-Jewish prejudice in Britain. One in five believes the Holocaust was "exaggerated". A similar number believe Jews have too much influence and say they do not want a Jewish Prime Minister. In the last two years, assaults against Jews have increased by 75 per cent and the number of synagogue desecrations by 400 per cent."
Again, the recent violent "Pro-Palestinian" riots in France and Germany have seen openly anti-Semitic language being used by some demonstrators, although it is not clear yet whether these are people from the Middle East, local fascists, or both. Nothing that Israel may be doing in Gaza, or anywhere else, justifies this.
It needs to be said here, though some may say it is "obvious", that the people who campaign against Israeli action in Gaza encompass a wide range of opinions. There will be those who are genuinely concerned about the suffering of the Palestinians; there are people who want to change Israeli policy towards Gaza to being more lenient; the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), who want to abolish the state of Israel altogether and, of course, the neo-nazis who want to continue the Holocaust where Hitler left off. The recent demonstration on July 19th in London shows there to be growing concern about the Gaza situation - although there were no outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence that day - and I fully support the right of Palestinian supporters to peacefully demonstrate. I would, however, question the PSC's claim that the BBC is biased in favour of Israel; I find the BBC reports from both sides fairly. But that's just my opinion.
What no-one is saying, however, is that Hamas, with whom Israel is engaged in conflict, is not exactly an organisation devoted to love and peace. The Hamas Charter specifically states:
"Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement."
Well, that raises hope for the future of a settlement in Gaza. Hamas is an Islamist organisation, and, as readers of this blog know by now, that does not make them particularly tolerant of different opinions - religious or secular. Palestinian Christians know this well:
"Since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, the Christian population has shrunk to about 1,500, less than half it was a decade ago... the most telling commentary on the fate of Christians is their disappearance from Bethlehem. Since 1995, the city has been under Palestinian civil control, which has altered the demographics by changing boundaries, and its present population includes 20,000 Christians, one third of the population. Two decades ago, Christians accounted for 75 percent of the city's population."
Strangely, the PSC and others never mention this. Mention is never made, either, of the fact that Hamas, like the neo-nazis, deny the Holocaust. This does not reassure Israelis (or me) that Hamas is simply a resistance movement to Zionist aggression. The author of the Hamas Charter has clearly read the anti- Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion", beloved by Hitler and the Nazis. Article 22 states clearly:
"They (ie, the Jews) stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there. They also used the money to establish clandestine organizations which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies and carry out Zionist interests".
Now, of course, this does not mean that Israel should refuse to negotiate with Hamas, and, though I find Hamas to be a detestable organisation, they do have a point in demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Perhaps negotiations and peace will lead to a relaxing of the Hamas stand on Israel - if not their treatment of Christians. Still, you can't have everything.
What I do hope happens is that those of us not directly involved can discuss this issue without undue emotionalism. I often wonder why so many people get worked up into a near-frenzy over several hundred Palestinian deaths, tragic though that is, while 45 000 people are killed every month in internecine warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and no-one says anything (perhaps I should?).
As for Gaza itself, as the great classical conductor, Daniel Barenboim, a man with dual Israeli and Palestinian citizenship has said:
"Both Israelis and Palestinians are losers in this conflict".
Alas, while both sides seek to demonise each other, that seems unlikely to change. As Martin Luther King said:
"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows".

Sunday, 20 July 2014

MPs snub autism debate

£66,000 annual salary for each of the
639 absentees - money well spent
On 17 July, just 11 Members of Parliament turned up for a parliamentary debate on the provision of education for children with autism. The debate was opened by the MP for Burnley, Gordon Birtwistle, who raised the issue of the difficulties faced by parents when trying to get a diagnosis for their child, and the problems this can cause for that child's education.

"Children with statements of special educational needs are eight times more likely to be excluded than their peers, and children with no statement are 11 times more likely to be excluded," he said.

11 MPs out of a total of 650 represent a 1.69% turnout, a disgraceful showing for a debate of such importance to many parents. They do not seem to have a problem showing up for the pantomime of Prime Minister’s Question Time just to howl and bray at their opponents. As the quorum for the House of Commons is 40, which represents an eye watering 6.15% of MPs, the debate on autism could have no effect anyway, other than worthy rhetoric.

If MPs imposed upon themselves the turn outs they are proposing for trade union ballots, perhaps some of them might discover what a hard day’s work really means.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Today's Industrial Action and an Ideal Strike.

At the moment, I am listening to the Jeremy Vine programme on Radio Two. As might be expected, the responses from listeners calling in are divided about today's industrial action by public sector workers.
The reasons for strike action are easily ascertained.
Unison boss Dave Prentis speaks for many when he says workers have been left frustrated by pay freezes, adding that "enough is enough".

"When Cameron brought in the two-year pay freeze, our local government workers, our members, had already had a one-year pay freeze.
"So they've had a three-year pay freeze and then a 1% increase when inflation has gone up by something like 20%," he said.

For some lower paid public sector workers, the pressure is becoming unbearable, with many taking a second job and even using food banks. All unions involved today have legitimate grievances, and I do not intend to repeat them here.
What I would like to focus upon is the reaction from Conservative politicians and some elements of the press. As might be expected, they are not - apparently - very pleased. Education Secretary Michael Gove says:
"It's an ideologically motivated minority who are intent on confrontation" - a remark I shall return to later.
The Daily Mail trumpets:
"Treasury figures suggest the strike could cost the economy up to £250 million!"
Francis Maude, the Tory minister, says, writing in the Mail:
"Today public sector union leaders are pushing strike action which is totally unnecessary and will benefit no one. 
Across Britain, millions of people could face disruption. Parents could be hit by school closures, while some day centres for the elderly may be affected along with other local council services such as libraries and refuse collection".
He forgets to mention that his government has closed down many day care centres for the elderly by cutting the welfare budget.
There is much more of this kind of stuff, should you care to look for it, on the Tory Party website and in the Daily Telegraph. The Prime Minister, significantly, is muttering darkly about anti-strike legislation.
What amazes me is the ferocity of the condemnation expressed by those who oppose the strike. Anyone would think that the unions had called an all-out, indefinite strike under revolutionary Marxist leadership. This is simply not true - it is a one day strike by six unions, whose members will be back at work tomorrow. It is also worth remembering that the money lost to the economy is compensated by the loss of wages to today's strikers, who are paid out of the public purse.
We can only wonder what Conservative politicians would consider an ideal, acceptable, strike. I suggest it would be a lunchtime walkout by unpaid volunteers in charity shops in support of reduced wages for trade union officials. It would happen on a wet Tuesday, when there are fewer people about - but only when the present recession is over, and under a Labour government.
Yes, that's ridiculous, but there is, I think, a sinister angle to the Tory reaction to today's strike. The arch-humbug, Michael Gove, speaks of an ideologically motivated minority. What he is not saying is that a similar minority appears to be at work in the Conservative Party.
Norman Smith, the BBC political correspondent says:" Conservative ministers hope popular annoyance will buttress support for their plans for further action to curb the power of unions.
  In particular, Prime Minister David Cameron is keen to include plans for a strike ballot threshold in his party's next manifesto.
Today's strikes enable ministers to turn up the heat on Labour by pressing them to condemn the industrial action being carried out by their big union supporters."

This, I believe, is a serious -if hidden- threat to the trade union rights of all workers. Already, we have heard Tory politicians talking about curtailing the right to strike for teachers. I believe that they are serious about this, but if they succeed, it will not be enough for them. The arguments they employ at present against teachers striking can be used against all public sector workers, from firemen to dinner ladies. I extend my support to all fellow trade unionists on strike today (I'm not on strike, because my union did not direct it), but I advise vigilance. If teachers are prevented by law from striking, it could be you next.