Saturday, 30 May 2009

Ban Paintball??

Time out for this activity in Germany?
He may look wacky but he should be allowed to play his corner.

It would appear that the Federal Government in Germany is considering banning paintball. Why? Well after a disturbed individual called Tim Kretcshmer went on a rampage in March with his father's registered pistol, the authorities are seeking to clampdown. There is nothing new about this phenomenon at all. The UK has seen this several times. After Michael Ryan using a Kalashnikov and pistols embarked on a murder spree in Hungerford in 1987, the UK government imposed a ban on self loading rifles.

The following decade after another appalling crime the UK government banned hand guns. This latter ban was after a successful campaign, the snowdrops campaign that garnered much public support. The problems I have with groups like the snowdrops campaigners, is their arguments are emotional rather than practical. I am fully in favour of law abiding citizens having a right to own firearms. True enough both Dunblane and Hungerford were committed by madmen with legally owned guns. However the easy response is excessive statism and draconian legislation fuelled by hysteria and moral panic. There are other factors worth considering. Hamilton the mass murderer in Dunblane was under police investigation and had been the subject of several complaints. His licence should have been suspended by the police under the then existing laws.

Where have these laws left us? Quite simply the only people in the UK at the moment with possession of firearms are either criminals or police. The criminals of course face legal sanction if caught but they tend to regard that as par the course anyway. If you live in a rural area and someone tries to break in to cause you harm your only option is to become a victim of crime. These laws do not and have not made us any safer in that regard. As to the police well of course their firearms units are reasonably (although not especially) well trained. But they carry a huge and unnecessary burden. They are the public's sole guardian, the only people with any legal or practical means of disrupting violent crime against the individual. No wonder they make mistakes. Secondly have the laws worked and prevented gun crime? Have a guess what the answer to that one is? The simple truth is that gun crime has increased fourfold in spite of the UK having the most restrictive laws concerning firearms in the world. The laws passed by the Tories in 1987 and New Labour in 1997, have only acted against the law abiding citizen and keep no one safe.

Back to Germany then and Kretschmer. Kretschmer had been treated for mental illness according to the report by the BBC. He did not in fact posses a firearms licence. Secondly he did not it seems actually play paintball either! He was a loner and disturbed. Yet if the German government thinks that banning a sport that yes may be militaristic or plane wacky will keep anyone safe they are wrong. Just look to the UK for an example of how these laws don't actually achieve anything other than the appeasement of the morally outraged. I fully understand how many people reading this may think things like 'well isn't paintball weird anyhow' or even 'well why would someone want to own a gun anyway?' However when the governments curb these activities we see a disturbing shift in power from the individual to the state that I really do not like. I strongly welcome debate on this topic and views from abroad in places like the USA in particular.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Arabella Dorman's Evocative Iraq artwork

Down time

Too much too young perhaps

Arabella spent time in Iraq attached to the British Army as an artist in Basra. It's worth pointing out however she was not an 'official artist'. She captures the mood of soldiers and Iraqis alike at different moments. Frequently she depicts moments of 'down time' and here she brilliantly portrays the intimacies and camaraderie of service life. Her images can be viewed here. They also form part of an exhibition at the Frost and Reed Gallery, St James, London on 12-30 May. Well worth a visit her work does not just cover Iraq but other caricatures. Ring the Frost and Reed Gallery on 0207 839 4645.

Monday, 4 May 2009

'Not in my name'- The Hypocrisy of the anti-Israeli Left by Chas Newkey-Burden

This article is one I have just chanced upon. However it is a brilliant riposte to the position of those on the anti-Semitic left. Also it highlights the moral hypocrisy of those who constantly criticise Israel yet do not make a squeak about the behaviour of Islamists and the Arab states. I need not say any more, Chas in his article below has brilliantly articulated the arguments in favour of Israel and the hypocrisies of those that berate it.

Not in my name: Israel Chapter

This is an extract from Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, written by Chas Newkey-Burden and Julie Burchill, and published by Virgin Books.
This chapter was written by Chas Newkey-Burden.

‘When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, “Jews, go back to Palestine,” or sometimes worse: “Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine.” When my father revisited Europe fifty years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, “Jews, get out of Palestine.”’ - Israeli author Amos Oz.

Everyone knows the proverb of the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. As shown throughout this book, the modern hypocrite can be very skilled indeed at seeing and hearing no evil. When women are stoned to death in Arab states, when gay men are brutalised in Caribbean countries, the hypocrites’ ability to cover their ears and look the other way is remarkable.

However, the triumvirate cannot be completed for when it comes to the state of Israel the modern hypocrite just cannot stop speaking evil. They will fail to condemn – and sometimes actually support - terrorists who blow up school buses and pizza parlours. They will march hand in hand with people who – quite literally – fundamentally disagree with every basic political principle they claim to hold dear. They will openly question whether Israel even has the right to exist. And all along the way, they will show themselves to be devastating hypocrites.
The anti-Israel brigade would have us believe that the motivation for this vitriolic hatred of Israel is a genuine, compassionate concern for the fate of the Palestinian people. But do they really care about the Palestinians, or is their compassion somewhat selective, to put it politely? In reality, are they only interested in Palestinian suffering for as long as it gives them an opportunity to bash Israel?

This hypocrisy is not entirely modern. When the West Bank and the Gaza strip were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, those occupations of ‘Palestinian land’ drew not a whimper of protest from the people who spat blood at the ‘occupation’ of those territories by Israel. When Jordan killed thousands of Palestinians and drove just as many of them from their refugee camps into Lebanon, Israel-bashers saw nothing wrong with that at all. Neither did they take issue with Kuwait when it deported Palestinians in the aftermath of the 1991 Iraq war. Why were they silent in all these cases? Because none of them gave them a chance to bash Israel, of course.
Well established as this hypocrisy is, in the 21st century it has well and truly taken root as ‘supporting’ the Palestinians had become achingly fashionable. So when Hamas-sparked violence led to Palestinian students at a West Bank university being brutally beaten and shot by their own people, the Westerners who claim to support the Palestinians raised not a single word of protest or concern. Likewise, when Palestinian women are stabbed to death in “honour killings” across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, no anti-Israel Westerners lose a single moment’s sleep on their behalf.

Likewise, when Palestinian children are hospitalised after being caught in the crossfire of fighting between rival Palestinian factions, there is not a word of condemnation from the West. When Palestinian children are deliberately forced into the line of fire by their own people, where is the concern from those in the West who claim to be their biggest supporters? When terrorists are found to be hiding hand grenades in the cradles where Palestinian babies sleep, where is the outrage? If Israel is accused of torturing Palestinian terror suspects, the hypocrite is indignantly up-in-arms in protest without establishing a single fact but when Palestinians suspected of collaborating are proven to be brutally tortured – sometimes to death - by members of Islamic Jihad, again the silence is deafening.

Similarly, if these people are truly concerned about the Palestinians, then where are their words of praise for Israel when it flings open its hospital doors to them? Just one example: in May 2007 an eight-day-old baby from the Gaza Strip that was suffering with congenital heart complications was treated in a hospital in Israel. An Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance drove into the Gaza Strip, dodging Qassam rockets that were headed for Israel and collected the child for treatment at the Sheba Medical Center in Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Such cases are far from rare. But I’ve never heard a word of praise for these treatments from any of those in the West who claim to be concerned over the fate of the Palestinians. It’s the same with the refugee question. The heartbreak that the hypocrite feels for Palestinian refugees is only expressed in the context of slamming Israel. When it’s pointed out to them that the Arab world has done precious little to help the refugees, their interest dwindles. And what of the hundreds and thousands of Jewish refugees who were deported from Arab states? They’ve never received any compensation – as Palestinian refugees have from Israel – and no Westerner has ever cried them self to sleep on their behalf.

Any action taken by Israel to deal with Palestinian terrorists is met with abuse and distortion. The case of Jenin was typical. Following scores of suicide bombings organised from within the Jenin refugee camp, Israel entered the camp in search of the terrorists. As the fighting ended the media leapt into action to demonise Israel’s action. The Guardian described Israel’s actions as “every bit as repellent” as the 9/11 attacks. The Evening Standard cried: “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide.” The Independent spoke of a “war crime” and The Times claimed there were “mass graves”. The head of the United Nations Refugee Agency was quickly out of the traps to describe the affair as a “human rights catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history”. The EU was nor far behind in its condemnation.

Let’s examine the facts of this massacre, this genocide. In total 75 people died at Jenin. 23 of these were Israeli soldiers and 52 were Palestinians, almost all of them combatants. By even the most hysterical, loaded standards of language this does not constitute genocide, nor anything of the sort. Indeed, the Palestinian death toll would have been much higher – and the Israeli death toll non-existent - had Israel simply bombed the camp from the air. Instead, to avoid civilian casualties, Israel put their own soldiers at risk, sending them in on foot to search through booby-trapped homes.

When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon next visited Israeli troops, one of them asked him: “Why didn’t we bomb the terrorists from the air? That operation cost the lives of more than 20 of our comrades!” Sharon replied: “That is the painful and inevitable price that those who refuse to abandon their humanity have to pay.” In return for paying the painful price of eschewing air attacks, Sharon and the brave Israeli soldiers who entered a terrorist camp on foot were accused of genocide and massacre and spoken of in the same terms as the 9/11 terrorists.
However, the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. In 2007, another Palestinian camp, which had become swamped with suicide bombers, was attacked. This time, the gloves came off. The camp was surrounded by tanks and artillery that fired indiscriminately at the inhabitants. Snipers backed up this fire. The camp’s water and electricity supplies were cut off. Thousands of innocent Palestinians were forced to flee but not before at least 18 had been killed and dozens injured. The camp itself was reduced to rubble. Ultimately, the fighting killed more than 300 people and forced nearly 40,000 Palestinian refugees to flee.

This time, there was next to no coverage in the British media. There was no talk of genocide or massacre. Rather than condemning the attack, the EU and UN were quick to express their support to the army. Even the Arab League came out in support. So what had changed? You guessed it, this time the army dealing with the camp was not the Israeli army but the Lebanese army. How terrifyingly revealing this is of the hypocrisy of those who claim to care about fate of the Palestinians.

During the fighting, tanks and artillery had also fired at residential areas of Lebanon and civilians were inevitably caught in the crossfire. Just months earlier, the anti-war brigade has been marching through the streets of London to express their concern for the people of Lebanon who were caught in the crossfire of Israel’s fighting with Hezbollah. Strangely, the marchers couldn’t get off their self-righteous backsides when Lebanese civilians were being shot at by Islamic groups: this time, the people of Lebanon could go to hell as far as they were concerned.
How different it had been in the summer of 2006. “We are all Hezbollah now,” the modern hypocrites had chanted as they marched in fury against Israel’s latest battle for survival, as the rockets of that terror group were raining down on its cities and kibbutzim. If “Not In My Name” was an embarrassing slogan, then “We are all Hezbollah now” was little short of insane. How could these marchers, who say they oppose misogyny, tyranny, homophobia and genocide, march in support of an organisation which fanatically and brutally promotes all those things?

Because they’re hypocrites, of course, and because their frenzied hatred of Israel has utterly stupefied them. It was embarrassing for them, therefore, when Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah told them: “We don’t want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you.” As Martin Amis neatly put it, these demonstrators were “up the arse of the people that want them dead”.

But what were they doing up there? Many no doubt believed that during the war they were backing the little guy of Hezbollah against the big guy of Israel. The truth was somewhat different, though. Hezbollah was no little guy, it was backed by millions of pounds of Iranian and Syrian money. Neither were the two sides of the conflict as clear-cut as they believed. The Israeli Arabs of Haifa spent much of the summer sitting in bunkers to avoid being killed by Hezbollah rockets. Many of these Arabs cheered on the Israeli army throughout the campaign.
imilarly, Ethiopian Jews who Israel had previously bravely airlifted from oppression and starvation were particularly badly hit in Tiberias. How incredible that back in England, many of the groups whose members wear white Make Poverty History wristbands and campaign on Third World debt were willing to cheer as Ethiopians were bombed by Hezbollah.

So no, Israel was not necessarily the Goliath of the conflict. How could a nation the size of Wales, surrounded by millions who want it wiped off the map be a Goliath? However, the courage shown by its soldiers was immense. Lt Colonel Roe Klein was marching at the head of a unit of troops when a Hezbollah man threw a hand grenade at them. Lt Klein jumped on top of the grenade to save his troops, losing his life in the process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah were employing the standard cowardly tactic of hiding among women and children, with wheelchair-bound people a particular favourite. Throughout Israel, the population showed itself to be as brave and humanitarian as ever. Newspapers were full of classified advertisements in which families offered to house those from the north of the country who were under Hezbollah fire. Ultra-Orthodox Jews took in secular Jews, people living in small flats flung open their doors to large families with pets. The blitz spirit also saw youngsters from the big cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv organise treats for Arab children from Galilee.

The government arranged for celebrities to visit the bunker-ridden population of the north and even flew in a gay porn star to cheer up gay Israeli troops. As Hezbollah’s rockets rained down over northern Israel, weddings in the region had to be cancelled. So cinema producer Eliman Bardugo organised for those affected to have the chance to be married en masse on the beach in Tel Aviv. Some 50 couples took him up on the offer.
Meanwhile, in London, left-wing people took to the streets to cheer on Hezbollah as it butchered Israeli people. As, for instance, a Hezbollah rocket hit a kibbutz and killed 12 people including an ultra-orthodox Jew who was sitting next to a hippy with pierced ears. The more of these incidents happened, the further the marchers climbed up the arses of the people who wanted them dead.

It would have been familiar territory for many of them. When I went to see the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie in London’s West End, I had sat in an audience littered with white English men and women wearing keffiyeh scarves and some wearing Hamas badges. I see these people – and the marching Hezbollah-wannabes – as terror groupies, a sort of left-wing equivalent of the little boys who play army in playgrounds across England. But these are adults so they really should know better.

I’m not sure the terror groupies look the other way on the topic of Palestinian terrorism. They seem – sorry to say – almost turned-on by it. You surely can’t, after all, overlook something as big as the blowing up of buses or pizza parlours. There is no ‘bigger picture’ regarding people who do that. And why would you appropriate the uniform of the man who backed all that terrorism unless you actively had, well, a bit of a thing for him? For much of the audience, the play about Rachel Corrie must have been a gleefully pornographic experience. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes a picture can be worth far more than that. There are more than a thousand words in the play, about Corrie, the young US activist who accidentally died during an anti-Israel protest in Gaza in 2003. But none of them shed light on the now-canonised Corrie as much as a photograph taken of her by the Associated Press a month before her death. She was snapped burning an American flag and whipping up the crowd at a pro-Hamas rally.

Naturally, there is no mention of this photograph in the play. Neither is it mentioned that thanks in part to demonstrations of the International Solidarity Movement with who Corrie travelled to the Middle East, the Israel Defence Force was prevented from blocking the passage of weapons which were later shown to have been used to kill Israeli children in southern Israel.
Instead, the play is full of na├»ve anti-Israel propaganda from the mouth of Corrie. “The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance,” she wrote in 2003 as Palestinian suicide bombs were slaughtering Israelis. Lest we forget who the real star of the story is, towards the end of the play Corrie writes: “When I come back from Palestine I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work.” We’re back in self-indulgence territory, aren’t we? Not in my name. My name is Rachel Corrie. We’re all Hezbollah now. Thousands are dying but it’s all about me. The hypocrisy of the audience was depressing. I wonder if any of were even aware that Hamas had danced over Corrie’s grave when she died? To the Palestinians, a dead young American girl was a wonderful publicity coup. Had any of the audience travelled to the Middle East in a Corriesque trip of self-indulgence, the Palestinians would have crossed their fingers in the hope they too died.

As I say, the modern hypocrite is delighted to overlook misogyny, homophobia and brutal clampdowns on all manner of person freedoms in Arab states and the other side of this coin of hypocritical currency is the way they simultaneously overlook the extraordinarily positive record Israel has on such issues. Take the case of Golda Meir, Israel’s first female Prime Minister who took the top job in 1969, just 21 years into the country’s existence and a full decade before England had our first female Prime Minister. In some Arab states, women are not allowed to go to school. In Israel they can become the most powerful person in the country.
Meir herself was well aware of this spectacular contrast. In 1948, when she was a negotiator with the Jewish Agency, she set off on a secret mission to meet King Abdullah of Transjordan. The meeting was secret so she travelled with the Agency’s Arab expert Ezra Danin and posed as his wife. She recalled: “I would travel in the traditional dark and voluminous robes of an Arab woman. I spoke no Arabic at all but as a Moslem wife accompanying her husband it was most unlikely that I would be called upon to say anything to anyone.” How hypocritical it is of those left-wingers in the West that they can hate a country with tales such as these throughout its history.

It’s just the same with gay issues. Left-wingers who say they passionately believe in gay rights manage to put that passion aside when it comes to their view of the only country in the Middle East with a positive record on the issue. A wonderfully positive record, in fact. In 2006, within days of the country’s fighting with Hezbollah ending, I flew to Israel to research a feature on gay life in the Holy Land. Before leaving, I’d been warned by anti-Israel Westerners to expect to find a very homophobic country. Had any of them bothered to visit Israel, they’d have discovered it’s nothing of the sort. Workplace discrimination against gay people is outlawed; the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has openly gay members; in schools, teenagers learn about the difficulties of being gay and the importance of treating all sexualities equally. The Israel Defence Force has dozens of openly gay officers who, like all gay soldiers in its ranks, are treated equally by order of the government.

The Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples are eligible for spousal and widower benefits. The country has gay football teams. Most mainstream television dramas in Israel regularly feature gay storylines. When transsexual Dana International won the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest as Israel’s representative, 80 per cent of polled Israelis called her “an appropriate representative of Israel”. These facts are there for all to see but it is only on visiting Israel that you discover how happily the different sections of the society coexist. I interviewed a gay Israeli man on Tel Aviv’s “Hilton beach” – it is opposite the Hilton hotel – which is also known as the “gay beach”, where men openly check each other out and pick each other up. It is neighboured by the city’s religious beach which has separate bathing days for men and women. And all this is just yards from Tel Aviv’s Independence Park, which is the main gay cruising area in Tel Aviv. The cruising park in Jerusalem has the same name.

Elsewhere in Tel Aviv is the House of Freedom. Opened in the late 1990s, this is a shelter for gay, lesbian and transgender youngsters between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been thrown out of home after coming out to their parents. At the House they are counselled by social workers who then visit the parents and attempt to bring about reconciliation. Those attempts are often successful, each year hundreds of gay youngsters return to a better home thanks to this remarkable institution. And everywhere you go in the city, gay men walk hand in hand more openly that they even would in London’s Soho. It is staggering that Western left-wingers who claim to believe in gay rights can be so furiously opposed to tolerant Israel. The tolerance is not confined to Tel Aviv, either. When some in Jerusalem opposed the staging of the gay pride parade in the capital in 2007, the media presented a city on the brink of civil war. I happened to be in Jerusalem that week – though I didn’t attend the parade – and I witnessed no unrest. Perhaps the strongest opposition I witnessed to the parade came from a taxi driver. I asked him what he thought about the parade and he sighed deeply before saying: “Oh it was terrible for the traffic.” He was right, too!

By hating Israel, the pro-gay-rights left are not just proving to be hypocritical, they are also endangering the one hope that gay Palestinians have. The leading gay rights organisation in Israel organises Arabic gay evenings where gay Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza strip are invited to come and party with Israelis – and many take up the invitation. “We are their only hope,” says one of the organisers. “If they came out where they live, they would be killed but they can come and party with us in Israel.” As has been documented by human rights groups, gay Palestinians are routinely tortured and murdered by their own people. They often flee to the safety of Israel.

The attraction that Israel should hold for believers in the rainbow alliance doesn’t end with its record on women and gay men. I remember on a road trip from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv marvelling at a quartet of an ultra-orthodox Jew, an Arab, a uniformed Israeli soldier and a mini-skirt wearing girl in her late teens all engaging in friendly chit-chat as they waited for some traffic lights to change. Such sights are far from uncommon as Israel is home to one of the planet’s most diverse people: dreadlocked Ethiopians, and their fellow Africans from Yemen, Egypt and Morocco exist alongside people from Iraq, Iran, Russian and Latin America. Then there are Asians from the Far East and Israeli Arabs, the latter group enjoying more personal freedoms in Israel than they would in any Arab state.

My experiences in Israel might seem surprising to the reader who hasn’t been there – particularly given the predominance of reports casting the country as a villainous, apartheid state. There exists a peculiar unwillingness to accept good news from Israel, which contrasts with the way that paradigm-shifting reports on ‘The hidden modernity of Tehran’ are welcomed with open arms. When I attempted to include the scene that I had witnessed at the traffic lights in a magazine feature I wrote about the research trip to Israel, I had to go through an exasperating discussion with the commissioning editor. He didn’t seem to know that Israeli Arabs exist and insisted that the scene I described couldn’t have occurred. He’d never been to Israel but was quite sure that he was right and I was wrong.

He was in good company in his blissful ignorance. Within hours of my return from the trip, I received a call from a journalist acquaintance who asked me with genuine shock: “What’s all this about you going to Israel?” He said that a mutual journalist acquaintance of ours was “absolutely disgusted” with me for going there and that he hoped I was “going to put the boot in” when I wrote my articles. These were not close acquaintances, I hadn’t even spoken to one of them for nearly nine years and it must have taken them some digging around to find my new telephone number. They obviously thought it was worth the trouble to have a dig at a writer who was friendly to Israel. Apparently the “absolutely disgusted” man – a weekly columnist on a high-profile magazine - has since tried to get an article published that claims that Tony Blair murdered Yasser Arafat.

The editor of another magazine once told me I was not allowed to write that Yasser Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000. I asked why and he replied “because of a need for balance.” I pointed out that nobody, including Arafat, has ever disputed that he rejected Barak’s offer and the editor replied: “Well, I don’t know about that but you still can’t write it.” The article in question was an “opinion” piece and taking sides was the order of the day each week in that column. Not if the article was about Israel, it seemed. Get this for hypocrisy, though: the same magazine had happily published articles accusing Israel of “war crimes” and carried advertising accusing Israel of apartheid policies. Clearly, the need for balance is relative.
Not that there was much balance in the motion the National Union Of Journalists passed in 2007 to boycott Israel. As a writer I felt shame and despair at this motion. Those emotions of shame and despair were not joined by shock, though, because much of the British media has long been absorbed by a blind hatred of Israel.

Broadsheet newspapers print editorials that are so biased and distorted that Osama Bin Laden would probably blush at them and say: “Steady on! We can’t print that!” The BBC refuses to describe suicide bombers who blow up buses full of Israeli schoolchildren as “terrorists” even though it has used that term to describe bombers in London, Iraq and Indonesia. One of its correspondents told a Hamas rally that he and his colleagues were “waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people”.

Why did the NUJ choose Israel for a boycott? The country has an entirely free press. If the NUJ wanted to boycott a country, then Russia, China, Zimbabwe and Pakistan would have been more sensible options, given their record on press freedom. The timing, too, was ridiculous. Shortly before the motion was passed, BBC journalist Alan Johnston was kidnapped by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. So why did the NUJ respond to this by boycotting Israel?

The coverage of the Alan Johnston case was riddled with hypocrisy. Every day, the BBC devoted acres of space to the story. Yet the BBC largely ignored the plight of young Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped by Palestinians. Indeed, the BBC refuses to even use the term “kidnap” in relation to the snatching of teenager Corporal Gilad Shalit, preferring to say he was “captured”. I was in Israel during Johnston’s captivity and had a conversation about his case with an Arab from the West Bank. He said: “I’m surprised that they took someone from the BBC. Everyone knows the BBC is totally biased for the Palestinians. I bet they’re not so for the Palestinians now, though!” When I told him that the BBC was just as pro-Palestinian as ever, he raised his eyes to the heavens. “That’s strange,” he said.
True. But then Auntie Beeb has long shown its true colours on the conflict. A 2007 a leaked internal BBC memo written by Bowen blamed Israel for all the woes of the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that Israel had withdrawn two years earlier from Gaza!

Hmm, what we need is a man who can effortlessly show these BBC buffoons just how hypocritical they are. Step forward and take a bow Benjamin Netanyahu, former Prime Minister of Israel and all-round hero of both myself and my co-author. He was interviewed on the BBC during the 2006 Hezbollah conflict and made mince meat of his quizzer:

Interviewer: “How come so many more Lebanese have been killed in this conflict than Israelis?”
Netanyahu: “Are you sure that you want to start asking in that direction?”

Interviewer: “Why not?”

Netanyahu: “Because in World War II more Germans were killed than British and Americans combined, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the war was caused by Germany’s aggression. And in response to the German blitz on London, the British wiped out the entire city of Dresden, burning to death more German civilians than the number of people killed in Hiroshima.

“Moreover, I could remind you that in 1944, when the RAF tried to bomb the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen, some of the bombs missed their target and fell on a Danish children’s hospital, killing 83 little children.

“Perhaps you have another question?”
Perhaps indeed! Perhaps the academics who chose to boycott Israel at the same time as the NUJ might have asked themselves some questions too. In 2007, they voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions in a protest supposedly on behalf of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, back in the real world a young Jordanian-Palestinian woman, was graduating with a Masters degree from Ben Gurion University in Israel. Dana Rassas was trained by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev, and then went on to study the Israeli water desalination program at the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies at Ben Gurion University. As a result of her studies in Israel, Rassas is now helping to solve Jordan’s water problems. If they boycotters had their way, she’d never have had any of these chances.
To take a wider view, why is it that so many people who cling to the notion of human rights when considering the plight of the Palestinians couldn’t give a hoot about other groups around the world like the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Armenians and the Chechens?

Is it because these groups didn’t have the fortune of being in dispute with Jewish people? Either way, it is indisputable that the incessant focus of the human rights movement on the actions of Israel has allowed genuinely horrific human rights abuses in other parts of the world to go unnoticed.As we keep seeing, whatever it does Israel cannot win and so we end up returning to the graffiti seen by Amos Oz’s father in Poland. First: go back to Palestine, then: get out of Palestine. Anti-semitism has always been dominated by contradictions. The Jews have been attacked for being both communist schemers and capitalists plotting to take over the world. They can’t stop sticking their noses into others’ business yet they also must be attacked for keeping themselves to themselves. They were taunted for being too weak when the Germans tried to eliminate them from the face of the earth and are now slammed for being too strong when the Arabs try the same trick.
Ironically, for all the attention and criticism that Western hypocrites throw at Israel, the biggest questioners of the state and its actions are Israelis themselves. Israel’s Supreme Court is a thorn in the side of the government and army and frequently overrules both. It regularly examines petitions brought by Palestinian people and rules in their favour. Many of its judgements have restricted the options open to the army and in passing them, the Court has acknowledged that its rulings will cause Israeli loss of life but insisted that such steps are needed in the interests of humanity.

When terrorist leaders who have arranged the slaughter of Israeli people are killed by the Israel Defence Force, there is no cheering in the street as is seen among Palestinians when another school bus is blown up by a suicide bomber, a favourite tactic of there’s as seen in November 2000. Instead, commissions of inquiry are set up to examine whether the elimination of these men who wanted to blow murder their children was ethical and correct. On and on it goes, this relentless self-examination by a country that has faced abuse, distortion and calls for its destruction since the very minute it was established in 1948.

But then that’s the thing about Israel: strong, plucky, moral, deeply self-critical yet determinedly happy and upbeat, it is everything the modern hypocrite is not. I love it.
Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, written by Chas Newkey-Burden and Julie Burchill, is published by Virgin Books.

30 Years ago on this day..

Maggie at the gates of Number 10

(on a side note can you see how close the press got in those days?)

I think Blue is definitely the right colour for this post. 30 years ago today Margaret Thatcher assumed the premiership of the UK. Her extraordinary leadership bought both pain and progress for the country. Good articles from both the BBC and the Daily Telegraph outline her legacy. Text from the Telegraph below but I strongly urge readers to check out the BBC link above the slide show in that article is a good one.

Margaret Thatcher's tumultuous premiership

Margaret Thatcher stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street on that fateful day, May 4 1979, beaming and waving at the cheering crowds, but looking isolated and vulnerable.

Last Updated: 11:26AM BST 04 May 2009

Margaret Thatcher on the doorstep of No 10, with John Sergeant on the left Photo: PA
Was she the right person, people were asking, to tackle a Britain which was bedevilled by strikes and cursed by bullying trade union bosses who seemed to exert more power even than the Cabinets of Labour governments which preceded her administration?
How wrong her critics, with their patronising remarks, proved to be. For Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minister, was about to embark on what was undeniably the most tumultuous peacetime premiership of the 20th century.

She unprecedentedly won three elections in a row, during a period of Tory rule which kept Labour out of office for 18 years. And she would almost certainly have won a fourth election had she not, in 1990, been "betrayed" - to use her own word - by colleagues who brought about her downfall after 11 years in power. Now, 30 years on, the passage of time has not tempered one jot the feelings people still have about her. Her political enemies to this day regard her as little short of diabolical, while her supporters still refer to her in almost beatific terms. It is seemingly impossible to have luke-warm views about Margaret Thatcher. That is a mark of the impact she had made not only on this country but around the world as well. She fought a brilliant campaign in 1979. Her remark that she understood how to manage a household budget and was equipped, therefore, to run the country prudently, was a stroke of genius.

At one point during the campaign she unwisely agreed to pick up a grubby and struggling calf at the behest of photographers. Her husband Denis, shouted out: "Put the bloody thing down, dear. You'll kill it." The beast expired on the following day. The Tories won that 1979 general election, in the wake of the disastrous Winter of Discontent, with a comfortable majority in the Commons of more than 40. Mrs Thatcher famously stood in Downing Street quoting what was said to be St Francis of Assisi: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony... where there is despair, may we bring hope." In fact, some say the words are more likely Victorian.

She went inside to pick her new Cabinet, saying: "I feel an aura of calm." But there was nothing calm about the next 11 years: she transformed the derided so-called "sick man of Europe" into a robust, world economic power again. She tamed the trade unions, effectively emasculating the union leaders and handing them back to their members, as she put it. She responded to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands by doing what nobody believed she dared to do, sending a majestic task force 8,000 miles into the southern hemisphere, and driving the invaders off the islands.

She took on Arthur Scargill and defeated the miners after a year-long bitter struggle.
She ended the 13-year rebellion against the Crown in Rhodesia.
In 1984 she narrowly survived an IRA attack on the Grand Hotel, Brighton, saying two days later: "This was the day I was not meant to see." And she abolished the Greater London Council and other metropolitan authorities. Margaret Thatcher, who never promoted a woman from the Commons into her Cabinet, had complete control over her ministers. "I don't mind how much my ministers talk, as long as they do what I say," she said.

She strode the world like a colossus, opening up an entirely new relationship with the Kremlin - "I can do business with this man," she said of Mikhail Gorbachev - and she struck up an intense political relationship with Ronald Reagan, the US President. And she treated many European leaders and bureaucrats with what some people described as contempt and what her arch-enemy Edward Heath called "foghorn diplomacy". Brussels Eurocrats often visibly cowered before her handbagging tirades.

And she went on to defeat Labour, under the feeble leadership of Michael Foot in 1983, and in 1987 routed Labour again with Neil Kinnock at the helm. Even her political adversaries admired her for her conviction rather than consensus politics, and her "lady's not for turning" utter refusal to be budged off course. Left-winger Tony Benn once said he preferred her style of leadership to what he regarded as the fudged style of Neil Kinnock.
But her reign did not end as triumphantly as she would have wished. It juddered uncomfortably to a halt.

By the time she had been in power for 10 years, some Tory MPs started to mutter that she had been there long enough. And she was seriously weakened by a leadership battle with a barely known and insignificant Tory back-bencher stalking horse Sir Anthony Meyer.
She beat him easily but 60 MPs had either voted for Meyer or abstained - a hugely damaging blow to her authority.

Events followed thick and fast. Nigel Lawson (described by Thatcher as "unassailable") had already resigned a few days earlier. Sir Geoffrey Howe resigned from the Government and delivered a devastating Commons attack on the Prime Minister which shook her to the core.
Michael Heseltine, who had stormed out of the Cabinet in a rage over the Westland Helicopters affair three years earlier, announced he would challenge her for the leadership.
And on the day of that election she foolishly, some would say, attended a meaningless summit in Paris when her supporters thought her time would be more profitably spent at Westminster drumming up votes. She won, but not by a sufficient margin to avoid a second ballot.
Thatcher appeared on the steps of the British Embassy in Paris, looking shaken but boldly saying: "I fight on. I fight to win."

But on her return, her Cabinet colleagues, one by one, warned her that defeat stared her in the face if she did fight on. Reluctantly she announced she would quit and days later she left Downing Street for the last time, in tears. Feminists had applauded her arrival in Downing Street, but that degenerated into disappointment and even rancour. To this day they complain that she did nothing for women. At one point Thatcher said: "I owe nothing to Women's Lib."
But her premiership was not all sound and fury. She loved children and adored her grandson Michael.

One bitterly cold day in Beijing, scores of tiny children had turned out to parade in her honour. They were shivering and dressed in the flimsiest of clothing. Thatcher took on the might of the Chinese army and won. She approached a gold-braided officer and effectively told him: "Either you give these children some warm clothes or I go home." The officer cowered and complied.
She once attended a children's party at Westminster, urging them to eat up their sausages and baked beans. A year later, one parent said to his small daughter: "Would you like to go to that party in the House of Commons again this year?" The youngster replied: "Yes, but only if that nice dinner lady is there... "
At one stage, the current Tory leadership appeared to be trying to distance itself from her. David Cameron astonishingly once refused an opportunity to have his photograph taken with her - although she had agreed.
But he quickly realised that that attitude was unwise, to say the least. Margaret Thatcher, after all these years, remains an honoured figure in Tory politics and no doubt will remain so for years to come.
But perhaps her greatest misjudgment came early in her political career when she said: "There won't be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime."

Is NATO fit for role?

In fact as the US 'Surge' NATO will be rolled

Interesting article from the American Spectator. In short I believe that NATO is facing a crisis, one that has much to do with the European allies (with notable exceptions) lacking conviction. I hope to blog much more about Defence issues in the future and about the UK military. Here is the full text of the article below, I agree with the thrust of it although the comments concerning the Germans border on the puerile. Please comment below, interesting isn't it how after all the European political elites gushed over Obama they can't lift a finger to help him in Afghanistan?

What's NATO for Again?

By Doug Bandow on 5.4.09 @ 6:06AM

NATO has been with us 60 years. The organization staged the usual self-congratulatory anniversary ceremony last month, with President Barack Obama in attendance. Exactly what the organization is supposed to do these days isn't clear, however. A herd of heads of state and government celebrated the alliance's birthday without bothering to explain its purpose.
The original goal of NATO, articulated by Lord Hastings Ismay, the alliance's first Secretary General, was to keep the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in. The first objective was firmly achieved two decades ago when the Berlin Wall fell, the Eastern European satellites spun out of Moscow's orbit, and the Soviet Union collapsed.
Russia's oil-based rise has changed nothing: Moscow might be able to impose its will on neighboring Georgia, which was part of Imperial Russia as well as the USSR. But there will be no Red Army romp to the Atlantic. With ten times Russia's GDP and nearly four times Russia's population, Europe is more than capable of defending itself.

Meeting the second goal arose naturally out of the rubble of World War II. A few neo-Nazis might still meet furtively to discuss the coming of the Fourth Reich, but most Germans have run far from their past. Today the Bundeswehr is primarily a recruiting mechanism for social service agencies; indeed, when drafted two-thirds of young men choose alternative civilian work. The once feared German warriors are a memory.

The problem is not a lack of individual bravery. As of March, 34 German soldiers and policemen had been killed in Afghanistan. But Berlin insists on deploying military units to the north, where they aren't needed. And they no longer are combat-worthy. Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the military, observed: "Plainly put, the soldiers are too fat, exercise too little, and take little care of their diet." London's Daily Mail headlined one story: "German soldiers are 'too fat to fight' Taliban because they drink so much (while our boys go dry)." Europe can breathe a sigh of relief -- no one need worry about German soldiers singing Deutschland Uber Alles and goose-stepping down their own, let alone someone else's, streets.

Which leaves keeping America in, but to what end? The U.S. isn't needed to protect Europe from the Russians or Germans. Instead, Washington provides prosperous and populous allies, whose collective economy and population are larger than that of the United States, with a defense insurance policy at American expense. If the Balkans get messy, Washington sends in real military forces. If something should go terribly wrong with Russia, we know who the Europeans would expect to save the day. Hint: It wouldn't be the overweight and well-lubricated Bundeswehr.

Other members of NATO want the U.S. to believe that it gets something out of the alliance. But it's hard to see what. Albania and Croatia joined the organization this year. They added geopolitical liabilities rather than military assets to NATO. Proposals to bring in Georgia and Ukraine, which are involved in complex geopolitical disputes with Russia, risk another confrontation with nuclear-armed Moscow, this one in the latter's rather than America's backyard, and over conflicts in which America has no stake.

The U.S. isn't even getting much out of its allies for its number one geopolitical objective of the present, Afghanistan. The British, Danes, French, and Australians have fought. So have the Canadians and Dutch, who, unfortunately, will be going home over the next year or two.
But most of the nearly two score countries (NATO members plus other states) have followed the German model -- modest detachments deployed in regions and under conditions, called "caveats," designed to ensure that they are never shot at. Indeed, American commanders say that ISAF stands for "I Saw America Fight" rather than "International Security Assistance Force."

Consider the record of the Czech contingent. The Herald Sun (Australia) reported that "When asked by the Britons to attack Afghan rebels, the commander of a special operations unit (SOG) said 'we're not going to, it's dangerous,' then ordered his men to get in trucks and return to the base." At another point the SOG commander rejected a British request for aid by noting that his 35-member unit was on vacation. This is "help" that Washington doesn't need.

The Obama administration is having no more luck in enlisting additional European assistance than did its predecessor. So far the response to the president's plea, writes William Pfaff, is "65 men with two F-16s promised by Belgium; 12 trainers and a small troop contingent (probably from the gendarmerie) for the election in Afghanistan next month, with a larger French contribution to the new, combined European Gendarmerie Force that has already dispatched 300 to 400 men and women, all to improve Afghanistan's own national police, so far without conspicuous success." The Europeans also are promising a "civilian surge."

It comes as no surprise that the Europeans see little cause for fighting in Afghanistan, but NATO invoked Article 5 in 2001 with great fanfare for the first time as a show of support for the U.S. If the alliance is not needed to defend Europe and won't aid America elsewhere, then, really, what is its purpose?

Some alliance members recognize that NATO is failing its Afghanistan test. Warned British Defense Secretary John Hutton: "Success in Afghanistan is fast emerging as the test of NATO's relevance in this new post-cold war age." If the alliance can't act there, then "NATO will risk being irrelevant, a talking shop where process is everything," he adds.

In fact, that's all NATO has become. It's time to give NATO, at least an American-dominated NATO, a decent burial. The U.S. should pull out, leaving the Europeans to construct whatever continental security architecture seems best. If they want to sort out the Balkans, guard the Caucasus, or engage in some other far-flung mission, they should be free to do so. Without American forces.

At the same time, Washington could work out agreements with any European nations with real militaries that see the value of continued security cooperation. That likely would include Britain and France. And maybe Germany, if its soldiers would lay off the sausages and beer.