Thursday, 22 October 2015

Gaffes, Netanyahu and the Duke of Edinburgh

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has recently made one of the hugest gaffes imaginable. As everyone knows, he recently told the World Zionist Congress that Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews of Europe; he wanted to deport them, but was talked into the Holocaust by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has a reputation for gross tactlessness. Here are two of his classic gaffes, taken from a Daily Telegraph article:
""If it doesn't fart or eat hay then she isn't interested"- speaking about his daughter, Princess Anne.
"Can you tell the difference between them?"- The Duke's question after President Barack Obama said he met with the leaders of the UK, China and Russia. "
We can laugh at gaffes such as this, but Netanyahu's blunder has had far more serious consequences. He has been condemned for this statement by just about every one, even within Israel itself. Apparently, he has made this claim before, in 2012, but now appears to have done some further reading on the subject. As today's Haaretz says:
"The argument concerning Husseini's role was recently mentioned in a book by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, "Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East." The authors, like Netanyahu, draw a straight line between the mufti's support of Hitler and the policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat.
                   But even these two researchers do not claim that the dialogue described by Netanyahu ever took place. They say Hitler reached the conclusion to exterminate the Jews because of his desire to nurture Husseini, who opposed the transfer of Jews to pre-state Israel."

Netanyahu's faux pas has led some to say that he is letting Hitler off the hook by putting the blame on the Grand Mufti; he has also given Israel's opponents some excellent propaganda.
More seriously, I think, is that this blunder appears to be unfair to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and he is a man who deserves no sympathy. The Grand Mufti under discussion here, who met Hitler in WW2, was Mohammed Effendi Amin al-Husseini, (lived 1897 to 1974). Husseini was an active campaigner against the British pre-war mandate in Palestine, and a bitter opponent of Jewish immigration. He fled an arrest warrant in 1937, eventually arriving in Nazi Germany. While there, he actually did meet Adolf Hitler and made pro-Nazi propaganda broadcasts. He was known as "The Arabian Lord Haw-Haw", and was paid the equivalent in today's money of 12 million US dollars. He also played a key role in recruiting Bosnian Muslims into the Waffen SS. These units waged war against Yugoslav partisans (and civilians), gaining a grim reputation for atrocities. Some survivors of these units are said to have fought against the new Israeli state in 1948. Some authorities say that the Muslim SS were responsible for the deaths of 90% of all murdered Yugoslav Jews. Husseini eluded capture after the war, dying in Beirut in 1974. It hardly needs to be pointed out that even if he was not responsible for the Holocaust, he was unlikely to have opposed it.
Now, when I have had disagreements with the Pro-Palestinian Lobby (PPL) - my invented term - as distinct from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign - they emphatically maintain that they are anti-Zionist and not anti- Semitic. Any suggestion of similarity with the aims of the far right is met with righteous indignation (or is it self-righteous?). I accept this, and know that most PPL people are sincere in their beliefs, but, like it or not, there are anti-Semites in the PPL. Searchlight magazine has documented Neo-Nazis among Palestinian demonstrators in the UK, and even anti-Zionist Jews have been attacked by the far right on Gaza demos in Germany. This is not confined to neo-Nazi infiltrators, either. There are many PPL members (for want of a better word) who conceal their anti-Semitism. Occasionally, however, they let their mask slip, and I have experience of this. Pro-Palestinians often appear on my Facebook page, making swingeing attacks on Israel - and I never make any comment. But on one occasion, I did. Someone with an Arabic name made the comment "Crazy Jews". I was angered by this. Had he said "Israelis" or "Zionists", I would have said nothing. This time, I spoke out against it, to be answered by the comment: "Once a shithead, always a shithead". I congratulated this man with an Arabic name on his self-knowledge, and told him to take his self-analysis elsewhere.
To be fair, another PPL person did correct the Arabic man, suggesting that his unguarded utterance should be modified to "Crazy Zionists". This brings me back to the issue of gaffes - PPL members with Arabic names make them, the Israeli PM makes them and the Duke of Edinburgh makes them. Well, it's nice to know they have something in common.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Crime in Schools and Teacher Exodus - Many Causes and the Same Effect

I think we would agree that not all daytime television programmes are stimulating and informative (try watching the Jeremy Kyle programme). One honourable exception is the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC 2. One reporter working for the programme, Nicola Beckford, recently investigated the extent of crime in schools, both primary and secondary. 
The statistics that she received from 32 police forces make grim reading. The horrific murder of Anne Maguire does not appear to be so out of the ordinary as might be expected; in fact, it is a wonder that there have not been even more deaths of teachers, teaching assistants and pupils. As the BBC say:
"A total of 30,394 crimes were reported place at primary schools, secondary schools and further education establishments - excluding universities - in 2014, according to the data of 32 forces. In 2013, there were 28,444 crime reports.
Theft, burglary or robbery was the most common offence, with 13,003 incidents reported. There were 9,319 reports of violent crime, 4,106 reports of criminal damage or arson, and 754 reported drugs offences."
 So, although no-one is claiming that UK schools are danger zones, there is an increase of criminal behaviour that should be of deep concern to all of us. And, please remember, not all police forces revealed school crime statistics to the programme, which means that the true figure of school crime will be considerably higher.
Yet even these statistics are inadequate - as a retired teacher with more than 30 years experience, I can attest that there will be many more crimes committed in schools which never get reported as such. This happens for two reasons: firstly, the na├»ve and sentimental belief in childhood innocence that persists, despite the Mary Bell, James Bulger and Anne Maguire murders. Secondly, the fact that some Heads (not all) are reluctant to take appropriate action against violent and disruptive pupils because they believe it reflects badly on the school (and on them!). OFSTED, of which I have written many times before, takes a dim view of pupil exclusions for the same reasons.
Can I prove this? Well, yes, I can, but, as I do not have Parliamentary Privilege like  Tom Watson and other MPs, I must be circumspect in my revelations. Nevertheless, I know of many examples of Head teacher inaction, of which I offer a few here, taken from several decades:
1. In the 1970s, I knew of a London teacher who was attacked in the street by an irate parent, following a playground incident in school. The Head of the school threatened to give the teacher poor references if she prosecuted the parent, as it would besmirch the good name of the school.
2. In the 1980s, I knew of an incident at a primary school where a secondary school boy, the son of a parent governor at the same primary school, walked into a Year 6 class, attacked a pupil, then calmly walked out. Again, the Head took no action. The police were not informed, despite this clearly being a criminal assault.
3. In the "noughties", I  was told of a very small minority of pupils at one school who repeatedly abused, threatened and, occasionally, struck teachers and teaching assistants (other pupils suffered far worse). The Head took no decisive action against them because the school was in Special Measures, and any permanent exclusions (i.e. expulsions) would hinder the school's getting out of said Measures. Yet again, the school's reputation was regarded as being of more importance than the welfare of pupils and staff. In fact, the Head, on one occasion, refused to take action against a violent parent who had damaged school property because of the risk of adverse personal publicity.
I am well aware that other teachers, reading this, will know of far worse incidents, but I wanted to illustrate how Head teacher indifference/callousness/cowardice, call it what you will, has been a common factor in school crime for a great number of years. An extreme example of this can be found on the BBC page above, in the harrowing case of the ex-teacher Ian Corcoran, who was repeatedly and viciously attacked by a violent pupil over a lengthy period - again, no action was taken in his school by the powers-that-be to deal with this pupil.
I believe that if we are to tackle this problem, the attitude of the educational establishment must change drastically. In the USA, when a school gets into difficulties, the troubleshooting school principals always expel troublemakers, sometimes in scores - and are applauded for it. Zero tolerance, I am convinced, is the only way to deal with growing crime in UK schools. This is especially the case in primary schools, where troublesome pupils are treated with kid gloves in a number of ways. These children then go on to secondary school, where they are treated very differently. I know of many cases where such pupils continue with their antics when they arrive at secondary school, only to be summarily excluded.
It hardly needs to be said that facing violence, with no support from gutless Heads, is one reason for teachers leaving the profession. There are many others, as Michael Rosen has set out on his blog. To save clicking on a link, I provide them here (Thanks, Michael):

Tips for govt: how to guarantee teacher shortage

On the Guardian thread about teacher shortages and how they could possibly have come about, I posted some government policies to keep teaching recruitment and retention down:

1. Encourage the press to run stories saying that teachers are lazy and that there are thousands of bad ones.

2. Get the head of Ofsted to say the same.

3. Keep this up for decades. (both main parties)

4. Bring in hundreds of measuring and assessment systems, levels, targets, tests, exams, which then breed more 'rehearsal' tests and exams.

5. Bring in a punitive, rapid, unsupportive inspection system which ignores the fact that scores are attached to children so that if you're in a school where there has been turnover the inspectorate say that has nothing to do with us.

6. Run a new kind of school where the salaries of management are not open to public scrutiny.

7. Allow interest groups to open schools which take on proportionally fewer SEN, EAL and FSM pupils than nearby LA schools.

8 Allow covert selection and exclusion process to take place around these new kinds of schools because the LA schools have to pick up the pieces.

9. Use international data as if it is holy writ and ignore evidence that suggests that comparing countries does not compare like with like, that some countries which are 'top' are selecting. Obscure the differences between the countries by only talking about 'places' in the table, without ever making clear whether these differences are 'significant' or not.

10. Use China as an example of utopia in education without making a comparison between the two societies - as if education exists separately from the societies that produce the respective education systems.

11. Make sure that very nearly all the people running the state education system from government have no, or very little, state education experience themselves."

 That is very well said, but it omits the risk of day-to-day indiscipline and, as seen above, violence. Now, we may wonder why the government are not acting to deal with this worsening situation. Just how much worse can be found in a Guardian article of March 31:
"Almost four out of 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying, with 11,000 leaving the profession before they have really begun their career and record numbers of those who remain giving up mid-career, according to analysis of government figures.
The exodus of new recruits has almost tripled in six years, resulting in a crisis in teacher supply in a profession that has become “incompatible with normal life”, according to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers."

Unfortunately for teachers, this Tory government has one powerful factor working in its favour: The Recession. As job opportunities are restricted for graduates, many train as teachers. There are so many that it matters not how many teachers leave the profession, there is a ready supply of newly qualified teachers to replace them. Roll on the end of the recession?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and a Question for the Political Parties

Well, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be settling very well into his new role as Labour leader, despite the vitriolic and downright scurrilous attacks upon him, which have ranged from describing him as a security risk, to astonishing
ad hominem assaults in print, which have focussed upon his personal life. To his credit, Corbyn has weathered this somewhat hysterical campaign against him with commendable aplomb.His conduct in Parliament and at the Labour Party Conference has been measured and well balanced. All this is to his credit.
As a committed Labour voter, I cannot remember one Labour Party leader with whom I have been in complete agreement in all the years I have been eligible to vote. Corbyn has a number of policies which I support, and some that I don't. I am in complete agreement with him over the need to combat austerity, re-nationalise the railways and protect our welfare state - especially the NHS. I am also glad that, unlike the other parties, he recognises the importance of the Arts in our cultural life.
I part company with him over his apparent links to Hamas and Hezbollah via the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Stop the War Coalition, both organisations with which he is in close contact. Nor do I agree with his view that we should restrict (or abandon) military activities against ISIS. But - as I said, I have disagreed with Labour leaders in the past. None of these disagreements stopped me voting Labour then, and I shall vote Labour in the future.
Of course, we need to keep a sense of proportion here. We still have a Tory government which, prior to Corbyn's victory, was gloating at the prospect of an unelectable Labour leader who they could rout in the Commons and at Election time. The disgusting character assassinations made against Corbyn in the right-wing press though, seem to point to a change of mind. Perhaps they have suddenly recognised that Corbyn has been able to mobilise more popular support than they expected? As the International Business Times said:
"Tens of thousands of people have joined Labour after Jeremy Corbyn won almost 60% of the vote in the party's leadership contest on the back of a left-wing surge in support. The party has claimed now more than 352,000 people are full members of the reds after more than 40,000 people signed up on the back of the Islington North MP's victory on 12 September."
And this, surely, is the main achievement of Jeremy Corbyn: the fact that he has drawn in thousands of new supporters for his party. Some, undoubtedly, are ultra-left "entrists", but the majority, I am convinced, are sincere young people with ideals - in other words, the very kind of people who felt there was no future for them in organised politics. Full marks to Corbyn for that, and for making David Cameron jealous. As "The Spectator" said in 2013:
"134,000. That’s how many members the Conservative Party now has, according to Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome. Despite months of campaigning from the site, the only figure Conservative HQ would release is that 253,600 people voted for David Cameron as leader in 2005. Today’s number means that membership has nearly halved throughout Cameron’s eight-year term as party leader."
So, it looks as if Corbyn is set for a honeymoon period as Labour Leader - for how long, no-one can say. His problems with the right-wing press will doubtless continue, although I foresee problems with the minority of "ultras" who have slipped into the party, despite efforts to screen them out. They will doubtless create problems if Corbyn is seen to be compromising (as he will have to) on some issues ("No sell-out!"... I can hear it now). The pro-Palestinian elements might seek for a stronger stance on Gaza, etc, perhaps even calling for all pro-Israeli Labour Party members and MPs, such as the Labour Friends of Israel, to be expelled. If Corbyn does not meet their expectations, "No sell-out!" will ring out loud and clear. If he compromises on Rail renationalisation, I'll be displeased - but I'll just write a letter of disapproval.
 All this is for the future. I conclude with the question alluded to in the title. I would like to ask the Conservatives, LibDems and New Labourites (SNP, Plaids and Greens are exempt): "If Jeremy Corbyn is able to interest and involve young, idealistic people in mainstream politics, what are YOU doing wrong?"