Saturday, December 30, 2006

The new Christmas myth

This Christmas, the international charity War on Want saw fit to print a seasonal greetings card on which Mary, Joseph and the Christ child were depicted as Palestinians subjected to oppressive treatment by Israeli soldiers beneath the shadow of the security 'wall'. I wrote to them, and then submitted a complaint to the Charitiies Commission, who will respond in due course. Here is the text of my covering letter to the CC, followed by the longish letter that went to War on Want.

Covering message:

I'm writing to ask whether the Commission does not agree that a Christmas card produced by the charity War on Want contravenes the Charities Act in respect of politicization. The card shows Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus being subjected to a security check by Israeli soldiers, and seeks to draw some sort of parallel between their plight and that of Palestinians in the West Bank. That such a link can be made I would not quite deny, but I am profoundly conscious of the imbalance such a linkage may create (and doubtless has created) in the minds of the uninformed, in that no context whatsoever is given for the security check. Inasmuch as IDF security checks are aimed at preventing terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings, it is unlikely that a reasonable person would object to them, even though they do cause hardship to some. The UK has used similar checks for the same purpose, notably in Northern Ireland (where I have experienced them at first hand), but War on Want directs its message against Israel only, without regard for the actions of other countries and without reference to the homicidal nature of Palestinian terror attacks. Nor does the card even hint at the fact that much Palestinian poverty has come from high levels of corruption within the Fatah party when it was in control, or the blockage of funds by the US and EU because the current government of Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, cease violence, or enter peace negotiations. All this and more seem to me to make the political message conveyed by the War on Want card highly controversial and unbalanced. I have covered these and several other points in a letter to Payul Collins at War on Want, a copy of which is attached to this e-mail. Assuming that War on Want still seeks to combat poverty worldwide, their adoption of a biased political agenda rooted in one side of the political spectrum must surely be questioned. It fits, I fear, with War on Want's recent report on the 2006 war in Lebanon, where it is stated that they found no evidence that Hizbullah placed rocket launchers, redoubts, or other military positions within civilian areas — a conceit that has since been exposed as a serious falsehood and one that flies in the face of overwhelming pictorial and testimonial evidence. It seems that War on Want has a political agenda, and that that agenda is to condemn Israel while lending support to a notorious terrorist organization. I trust this troubles you as much as it does me.

Thank you


Letter to Paul Collins at War on Want:

Dear Mr Collins,

I realize you will by now have seen more e-mails on the subject of
your Christmas card than you would like. I don't know whether you
have any intention of replying to them, or even of reflecting on what
many of them say, but I do hope you will try to take them into
consideration for your future policy in this matter.

I have always admired War on Want and its work, but in recent years
have been disturbed by the growing politicization of the
organization. This is not because I do not make the link between
poverty and politics, but because I think you have in many cases
become one-sided in a way that is not helpful. This refers, in
particular, to your treatment and portrayal of Israel, and is
exemplified in the card you have produced showing the Holy Family
being searched by IDF soldiers. While I do understand what you meant
to convey by this, I cannot be persuaded that the parallel you draw
is anything but factitious and, in the end, meaningless.

The correct parallel is this: Christians, Muslims, Druze, and the
followers of other religions are treated better in Israel than in any
other country in the Middle East. That is a fact (and I say that as
an Arabist/Persianist who has spent some forty years studying the
region). Let me give you a very simple example of what I mean when I
speak of Israeli tolerance. The largest religious minority in Iran is
that of the Baha'is. As you may very well know, they have never been
liked in that country, but since the Islamic Revolution they have
been subjected to severe forms of persecution: some 200 members have
been executed and many others imprisoned and tortured, while their
most sacred shrines have been bulldozed to the ground. They are
forbidden to meet for worship, to hold jobs in teaching or the civil
service, to attend university, and much else besides (receiving
pensions, for example). This same religion is banned in every Muslim
state, and the punishment for membership is, strictly speaking,
execution. Hatred of Baha'is reaches levels that are only surpassed
by hatred of Jews. In Israel, however, not only do Baha'is have full
rights, they have been permitted to build their two holiest shrines
and a string of gardens, terraces, and highly visible religious
buildings right along the front of Mount Carmel, in Haifa. Their
supreme body has its centre there, and pilgrims from all round the
world visit the holy places on a regular basis.

That is, in a nutshell, the difference between Israel and the
countries surrounding her. Complete tolerance in one, total absence
of tolerance in the others.

Why, then, would you choose to portray an intolerant Israel through
the images you chose to put on your Christmas cards? No doubt, you
will say, because IDF soldiers search peace-loving Palestinians at
check-points throughout the year. But your use of Christmas
iconography to make that point is inflammatory and profoundly
misleading in more ways than one. Perhaps there is a message to be
conveyed here, but I find it troubling that, of the messages that
might have been communicated, you have chosen one that lacks context
and uses a deliberately emotive imagery. Why is it more important for
you to tell recipients of your card that IDF soldiers search
Palestinians than to tell the story of Palestinian suicide bombings
that prompt such searches? Bombers have been carried to their
destinations in ambulances, or have dressed as pregnant or veiled
women, or have tried to pass security checks as children. Given that
each successful attempt at penetration by terrorists brings in its
wake death and injury, often on a massive scale, can you please
suggest why the Israel Defence Force should not attempt to police
their borders? Perhaps you would be willing to go on television here
in the UK and announce that you regard all attempts to prevent acts
of terror as something despicable, that you mock the work of our
security forces, that harassing would-be terrorists is somehow
equivalent to maltreating the Mother of God?

There are so many stories you might have chosen, but you chose this
one, distorted and decontextualized fable. You might have told the
story on your card of the abuse of Palestinian children, children
taught in school to hate Jews, children trained to become suicide
bombers and to aspire to the status of martyr from an early age,
children given Kalashnikovs instead of bicycles. Or perhaps you think
that is all something to admire, plucky kids trained by plucky
parents. You might have told the story of how innocent young women
are murdered in the PA territories in honour killings, by their own
mothers, fathers, brothers, and cousins: just holding hands with her
fiancé was enough to end the life of a young Palestinian woman shot
by a Hamas morality patrol earlier this year. Or do you just dismiss
all that as 'tough love'? No doubt passing through an Israeli
checkpoint is many times worse than having to watch every moment in
case you look at the wrong young man in the wrong way and are caught
doing it. You might have told the story about how gay Palestinian men
and women face death and beatings on a regular basis. Or that those
who can flee to Israel, where they are taken in and given protection.
Instead, you chose to say that instituting checkpoints to prevent
terrorist activity is a foul and dishonourable thing. I was born and
brought up in Belfast, and I can still remember having to pass
through military checkpoints just to go shopping. On the other hand,
I remember how my entire family came within inches of being
slaughtered when a bomb exploded beneath a train they were travelling
on. I never once complained about the checkpoints, because, like
everyone else, I didn't want to be in a shop when a bomb went off.

You might, indeed, have told the many stories of Israelis of all
ages, from all walks of life blown to shreds while out shopping,
eating in restaurants, attending bar mitzvahs, having lunch in their
university cafeteria, taking the bus home. The people who planted
those bombs or who turned themselves into bombs were motivated by
hatred, not a love of peace and justice and tolerance. I take it War
on Want condemns killings such as those. Why, then, does it hold up
for contempt an image of peace-keeping soldiers doing their best to
save lives?

There are many other stories you might have told: anti-Semitism
straight from the Third Reich on Arab and Iranian TV screens, calls
for the slaughter of Jews in Friday sermons from PA mosques, the
clauses from Hamas's Charter that describe all efforts at peace-
making, all international conferences, all negotiations, all attempts
to compromise as 'a waste of time'.... Or the story of how Israel is
one of the most racially mixed countries in the world (whereas most
Arab countries are not), or how Israel is one of the most
economically successful countries on the planet, helping the Third
World (remember the Third World) with its technology and medicine....

You need to do some hard thinking, and you need to start by examining
your own heart. I am a liberal, probably very like you, and, also
probably like you, I believe in taking a moral stance in public
matters. We probably want the same things, including a prosperous
future for the Palestinian people. You seem to think that this will
happen if we support Palestinian intransigence, force Israel to
abandon her defences, and maybe even allow Hamas and Hizbullah to
fire rockets onto Israeli towns without hindrance. Maybe you don't
think that, maybe you really would like to see both sides make peace
and live together. If that's so, then please think twice before you
make another card that condemns Israeli security measures and says
nothing about the reasons why they have been put there in the first

Thank you for reading this.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Friday, December 22, 2006

Letter to Tony Blair

Here's a copy of an open letter I wrote to Tony Blair during the Lebanon conflict this summer, and which was later published in the Jerusalem Post. It calls for Mr Blair to continue his support for Israel, and sets out the reasons why I thought then (and think now) that such a stand was appropriate and moral. Sadly, the international community betrayed Israel and, through that, itself in letting a terrorist organization target rockets on innocent civilians then walk away from that, not just to survive, but to regroup, arm itself with even larger numbers of weapons, and become strong enough to threaten to overthrow the democratically elected government of Lebanon. I thought at the time, and I still think, that the international news media were malicious in their representation of the war, given the myths that were created and the relative absence of good reporting from the Israeli side. Something strange happened then, something almost unprecedented in the history of warfare: a terrorist organization armed and financed by a meddling foreign power and abetted by another, in breach of UN resolutions, and acting out of a total commitment to the destruction of a UN member state won the sympathy of the world's media and a majority of democratic states. Meanwhile, a small country that has lived from its inception under the threat of annihilation by its neighbours, retaliating against attacks on its civilian population, and acting in fulfillment of a UN resolution (that it vacate Lebanon, something it had done 6 years previously) became the object of opprobrium from all sides. How did Hizbullah pull off that remarkable piece of sleight-of-hand? By placing its fighters and terrorists bang in the middle of civilian population centres or within yards of UN posts. What a clever move that turned out to be: if the Israelis killed civilians when firing on bunkers or rocket launching pads, Hizbullah won a PR victory. If the Israelis held back from taking out a launch pad for fear of harming civilians, Hizbullah could stay in place in order to fire more rockets on — guess whom — Israeli civilians. By some perverse calculus, the international community thought the Israelis were the bad guys and Hizbullah must be terrific defenders of civilized values. Most of my fellow liberals thought the same thing. To them, as always, Israeli lives (be they Jewish or Arab) don't matter. Two terrorist organizations (Hamas and Hizbullah) and two ugly dictatorships (Syria and Iran) are the good guys now. At least the Mosleys and all those other supporters of Hitler used to have the basic honesty to define themselves as fascists, and thought it a good thing to march for the; today's fellow travellers tell us they are left-wing and liberal activists for peace and justice, and don't have any honesty at all when it comes to their essential racism (Palestinian lives are worth more than Jewish lives), their hatred of peace (keeping a terrorist group in business is better than forcing them to the negotiating table), and their insouciance in matters of justice (a country that obeys a UN resolution is to be condemned, an organization that breaches one is applauded).

For what it's worth, here's my letter to the man who is now in the Middle East on a mission to sort it all out.

4 August 2006

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

Dear Mr Blair,

I’m writing to encourage you to continue to do your utmost to see a just and realistic end to the fighting in Lebanon, and to support you in your determination to ensure that Hizbullah, an organization with a long history of terrorist activity against Israeli and Western targets, be not allowed to emerge from this conflict still intact and capable of regrouping, re-arming, and, in the end, growing strong enough to accomplish its long-stated goal of destroying the state of Israel.

Let me say, very briefly, that I take a particular interest in this conflict. I used to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, but my specialization has always been in Iranian affairs, specifically aspects of Shi’ite Islam. I am also a regional coordinator for the Israel Peace Forum, and much involved in presenting an accurate and nuanced picture of the Middle East conflict as a whole.

I believe that your analysis of a wide arc of terror is entirely accurate, and that failure to act now against the spreading evil of radical Islam may expose this country, its allies, and many other nations round the globe to increasingly severe acts of terror that will shift, given time, to more conflict of the kind now seen in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I know that international pressure for a ceasefire in Lebanon is intense, and I realize that time must be running out for you and those few nations who have seen the real danger Israel now faces. Please stand firm. To leave Hizbullah largely intact would be to guarantee greater and bloodier fighting in the years ahead. The danger, as I am sure you are aware, is not only to Israel, but for the people of Lebanon, who may find themselves at Hizbullah’s mercy. Not only that, but a perceived victory for Hizbullah would permit both Syria and Iran to extend their baneful influence further through the region. If Hizbullah is seen to be capable of fighting with reasonable success against one of the world’s best armies, how may that not be interpreted elsewhere in the Islamic world? It would certainly be a boost for recruitment to radical jihadist ideology, to active jihadist groups, and to international organizations like al-Qaeda.

Here in Britain, support for terrorism among large sections of the Muslim population is an alarming trend that must surely be cut off before it grows to unmanageable proportions. I believe you are right to call for the glorification of terrorism to become an offence, but I also believe you have been taking advice from sections within the Muslim community that are committed to an anti-Western, anti-British, and anti-Semitic view of the world. If Hizbullah should proclaim even a partial victory, I would expect to see more young Muslims here flock to the banner of jihad, whether to fight abroad or here in the UK.

In the Middle East, force alone will not solve a deeply embedded problem. But one thing I am certain of and that is so long as its neighbours do not recognize Israel and her right to exist, there will never be peace. With a terrorist organization in control of Gaza and dominant in the West Bank, with a terrorist army on its borders, and with an apocalyptic Iranian president determined to wipe her from the map, Israel is faced with the greatest threat ever suffered by any nation since these islands faced the armies of the Third Reich.

In the 19th century, a sectarian group of Shi’ite Muslims in Iran, believing the advent of their Messiah, the Twelfth Imam, to be imminent, purchased and made arms and prepared for the final jihad. They made ready to fight in order to bring the Imam to earth. Today, there are reliable reports that President Ahmadinezhad holds an identical belief, that he anticipates the return of the Imam in a short space of time, and that he may be preparing to force his hand by initiating the holy war necessary to his advent.

Given that context and the knowledge that the destruction of Israel would win its author acclamations from every quarter of the globe, I fear for Israel. I have seen documents that suggest al-Qaeda already possesses nuclear materials. I know, as you do, that Iran is bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Even a small number of such weapons in the hands of Hizbullah could wreak untold calamity on the people of Israel and open up chaos in international affairs. Unlike Mr Ahmadinezhad, I do not wish to sound apocalyptic. But I do believe that the elimination of Israel is planned, plotted, and even scheduled with great care and seriousness in more than one country. And I am convinced that, if Israel disappears, the consequences for all of us will be fearful.

You are a resolute politician, and I think you see this threat more clearly than most. If there was ever a time to act, I think this is it. If an international force does enter Lebanon, can you ensure, in tandem with the United States, that it will have teeth, that it be empowered to implement UN Resolution 1559, that it be capable of disarming Hizbullah with or without the cooperation of the Lebanese government, that Israel, which has never been the aggressor in the wars it has fought, be enabled to contribute to the downfall of this fascist-like group, and that both Israel and Lebanon finally enjoy secure borders across which they can work together to mend the breaches that have opened up between them?

Backed by an ideology of martyrdom through suicide or fighting — an ideology with deep Shi’ite roots, now disseminated from Tehran — radical jihadist Muslims have come to seem invincible. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Lebanon, they are starting to believe they can triumph over the forces of democracy, reason, and justice. They are starting to think they can destroy Israel, win back Spain, and impose shari’a law in Europe.

Just as our parents and grandparents fought the dark ideology of Nazism in the 1930s and 40s, so I believe this generation has the heaviest of responsibilities face to face with this growing threat to all civilized values. Not just the West, but the peoples of the Islamic world too may see their way of life changed for ever should the totalitarian spectre impose itself and its deadening hatred of life on all we and they hold dear.

I don’t like to speak in terms of historic moments or symbolic conflicts, but I’m afraid that, as this struggle intensifies, I am bound to do so. Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Russian communism. It may or it may not be your destiny jointly to lead the free world in this clash of civilizations. But I ask you to hold firm now and in the future, not just here in Britain, but in the Middle East, where a sort of Armageddon is being fought on the television screens of the world.

Excuse my prolixity and my overwrought language. I intended something simpler. I wanted to say in a few words what I have now written in four pages. By all means ignore most of this, if, indeed, it ever crosses your desk. But promise me one thing: that if it is your destiny to stand up for Israel in the time of its greatest peril, you will not prove fainthearted.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Saturday, December 16, 2006


The most common defence used by many anti-Semites on the left is that they are not anti-Jewish but anti-Israel, that criticism of Israel is not the same as hatred of Jews. In principle, of course, they are right. Many Jews are critical of Israel, and non-believing Jews are often critical of Judaism. There is no automatic connection between anti-Israel feeling and anti-Semitic sentiment. And yet it often feels like that. Anti-Israel activists on the left often come perilously close to conflating these two attitudes, particularly when their 'criticism' of Israel passes the limits of vigorous political discourse and emerges as hate speech. It is a real conundrum for leftists to get caught in this particular dichotomy. As leftists and liberals, they are committed to anti-racism and the promotion of the rights of all people to self-determination. The left has had a long and honourable history of fighting anti-Semitism, and many liberals today still combat it, especially when it's far-right anti-Semitism they have to deal wth.

But many more — a majority, it seems to me — find no trouble in so identifying with the Palestinian cause that they turn a blind eye to the virulent anti-Semitism that chokes Palestinian society, Arab society in the surrounding states, and the Muslim world in places like Iran or even secular Turkey. They never speak out against it, as they certainly would do if it were anti-Semitism of the BNP or Le Pen variety. Now, I find this both curious and frightening. If they are unaware of Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, they must be staggeringly ignorant of the region. You don't have to be able to reads Arabic or Persian to grasp what goes on: you just need to look at newspaper cartoons, TV shows (including children's television), or the imagery used in school textbooks. If they do know about it and don't speak out, they have clearly jettisoned their leftist and liberal principles. They might as well join in the calls for a second Holocaust.

But it's not just the manifest anti-Semitism or left-wing support for it that demeans anti-Israel activists. It's the way in which so many of the accusations they make about Israel or the pro-Israel lobby follow in a straight line from anti-Jewish diatribe throughout the centuries. When they claim, as so many do, that Israel lobbyists control the media or exercise a controlling influence in the politics of Western countries, or that wealthy Jews back Israel (as if this is particular to Israel, and not to many other countries, notably the Saudis and other oil-rich states), or that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, or that Israelis target Palestinian children, then they are simply echoing many of the standard anti-Jewish accusations of the Third Reich and earlier. The grasping Jew, the Jewish cabal, the sacrifice of Muslim or Christian children are now incantations of the left, masquerading as criticism of the Jewish state.

When Georgetown professor Hisham Sharabi says 'the Jews are getting ready to take control of us', he would be more at home in pre-Nazi Germany than the United States. When Jewish students are specifically and often rudely excluded from conferences or expelled from classrooms, that is no longer political debate, that is anti-Semitism. Here's what a University of California students had to say about her experiences when campaigning for a student union post: 'People spit [sic] on me and said "Zionist" and kept on walking. I was spit [sic] on a couple of times. I was called a conservative Zionist bastard, a f**king Jew. There was another girl helping me out who happened to be Catholic, `and a guy said "Hey, are you a Jew girl?"' Left-wing pro-Palestinians or the world's new brownshirts? My sentiment here is echoed in the following statement by Laurie Zoloth, a former Professor of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State: 'I cannot fully express what it feels like to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled "canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rights under American license", past poster after poster calling out "Zionism=racism" and "Jews=Nazis". This is not civil discourse, this is not free speech, this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control.'

Here's Professor Norton Mezvinsky of Central Connecticut State University: '[Jews believe] the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value'. This, he says, allows Jews to consider that the killing of non-Jews does 'not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion'. 'The killing of innocwent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue'. Criticism of Israel? I know exactly how any Jewish readers of this blog will be feeling as they read those words. Here is part of a letter by emeritus professor Helen Cullen in the University of Massachussetts student paper: 'Judaism and Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race'. Neither Mezvinsky nor Cullen has been arrested for a crime of hate speech. As Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer put it: 'The fusion of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism inevitably takes one beyond the borders of Israel and im[plicates any Israel supporter, group of supporters, and Judaism as a religion.'

It seems to be a fact that the current growth in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence is in part fuelled by anti-Israel sentiment and the demonization of Israel. Were this to be a plain political argument (as we might argue about a Kurdish state, or Tibetan or Xinjiang independence, or the situation in Northern Ireland), it would be unlikely to cross over into racist statements, slogans, or physical abuse. If I were to attend an anti-Israel rally and kept my mouth shut, I would suffer no abuse. If an orthodox Jew wearing kippah, pe'ot and tzitzit turned up, I rather think he would be sworn at or worse. But I support Israel, and he might not.

I have just been reading Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer's book The Uncivil University, from which I have taken many of the examples above. It makes frightening reading. I recommend it, above all to those of you on the left and centre who do not yet understand how closely anti-Israelism is linked in the minds of many. Some, particularly those within the Muslim community, are aware of the link and do not think it matters. Others, I imagine, may feel uneasy at times, but may exclude the anti-Semitism from their thoughts because they feel that, in their hearts, they are not anti-Semites, or sense that their left-wing views preclude anti-Jewish feeling. Thinking like that, however, makes it all too easy not to see that denial of the Jewish right to a homeland (and only the Jewish right) is itself a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Yet others may not see any of this. They may think their votes against 'occupation', 'Israeli apartheid', and 'Zionist conspiracies', or their support of Palestinian s right or wrong, even their recreation of Palestinian terrorists as 'militants' or 'freedom fighters' all add up to nothing more than a rigorous protest against a rogue state. They need to think again. And the last two groups need to ask themselves a hard question: if anti-Israelism is, in fact, a substitute for the oldest hatred in the world, if it really echoes the views and expressions of the Third Reich, if it allows Arabs to kill Jews because they are Jews — then what am I doing here, holding this placard, printing this leaflet, cheering this Hamas speaker?

Friday, December 15, 2006

All the problems of the Middle East go back to 1948?

Recently Swiss journalist Pierre Heumann interviewed the editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh, a man of Palestinian origin. Here is a short extract from that interview (thanks to Ratna Pelle)

(Ahmed Sheikh:) In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can teachers do their jobs in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

(Pierre Heumann:) Who is responsible for the situation?

(Sheikh:) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

(Heumann:) Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

(Sheikh:) I think so.

(Heumann:) Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

(Sheikh:) The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

(Heumann:) In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

(Sheikh:) Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

I have seldom read anything quite so fatuous. In the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, numerous Arab, Turkish, and Iranian reformers bemoaned at length the state of their countries, the backwardness of the people, the despotism of their governments, the sclerotis afflicting every element of their societies, from religion to education to politics to trade to their legal systems. Universally, they expressed wonderment at the extraordinarty progress the infidel nations of Europe had made while the Islamic world basked in an unwarranted belief in its own eternal supremacy. Students and diplomats travelled to Europe and returned home dismayed, and wrote in books and pamphlets of their dismay. They told of how Europeans had parliaments that made laws suitable for social change; of how kings were constrained by constitutions; of how universities transmitted the most modern forms of leaning; of how scientists made daily discoveries concerning the nmatural world and the heavens; how medicine was changing people's health; of how courts handed down justice; and they made a sharp contrast between this dynamism and the sluggishness that had overtaken every inch of their own world. Not only that, but the Europeans were steadily colonizing the lands of Dar al-Islam. The shock at finding such a great disparity was exacerbated by the long-standing conviction that God's will was being carried out through the spread of Islam and would be completed in the eventual dominion of that faith in every corner of the earth. To find that a people utterly despised in the Qur'an and the Traditions, abetted in many places by that most debased of all infidels, the Jews, had advanced so far beyond the Muslims as to make it unlikely the latter would ever catch up or ever surpass the world of unbelief again was a massive blow to the collective ego of Arabs, Iranians, Turks, and the other peoples of the Islamic realm.

The repsonse to this varied. To begin with, secular reformers like Malkum Khan in Iran or the Young Turks within the Ottoman empire argued that Muslims had to break free from the stifling burden of tradition that had been preserved by the religious establishment. With time, new laws were made based on Europen law, schooling was refashioned along Western lines, universities were established and modern disciplines were taught in them, books were translated from French, English, and German, military standards were overhauled by instructors and advisors brought from Europe, constitutions were drafted and in some places adolpted, parliaments were brought into being. As this process got under way, some religious reformers got into the act: men like Jamal al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and the latter's disciple Rashid Rida agreed that Islam had fallen behind, but believed that things would only improve when Islam was reformed from within, in the conviction that the Qur'an, the Traditions, and the shari'a still held the answers to men's problems. During the 1920s, Rashid Rida set out a doctrine that would eventually send all this effectively into reverse. 'Abduh had expounded the notion of a return to the ways of the first three generations of Islam, the Salaf, but had seen this in a reformist fashion. Rida turned Salafism (as this movement came to be known) into something stultifying: Muslims had to restrict themselves to the world of the 7th century, had to reject Western ways, and had to revive Islam, not so much to reform it, as to make it greate again by fighting back against Western influences and modern thinking.

There's no need for a history of Salafism here, but it was this style of Islam that started to win followers through organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Mawdudist movement in India and Pakistan, and it was this deeply traditionalist approach that stood waiting in the wings while Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani nationalisms ran their course. As nationalism, whether through Nasserism in Egypt or the Ba'athist Party in Syria and Iraq or the state-sponsored Aryanism of Pahlavi Iran stumbled and broke down, the Islamists were ready to make their bid for power. How far they have advanced since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 is manifest everywhere today: al-Qa'ida, Hamas, Hizbullah, Tablighi Jamaat, Hizb al-Tahrir, and dozens of other groups, some terrorist, some politically radical exponents of Salafi Islam, have embarked on a last jihad against the West.

In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice has been squandered on spreading deeply conservative Wahhabi Islam throughout the world, or in building palaces for princes on a scale unprecedented in the history of the world. Politics, education, the law, culture itself have all been boxed inside the restrictive practices of the shari'a. Everywhere else, the Muslim world remains economically, educationally, religiously, and politically behind the rest of the planet. When the oil money runs out, the theocracies and monarchies will still stay be in place, and things will get progressively worse.

What has any of this to do with Israel? Theodore Herzl was a babe when the first glimmerings of Islamic backwardness pierced the clouds of centuries of tradition. Things were already bad back in 1848, one hundred years before the state of Israel came into being. But everywhere you go in the Islamic world, you find the same complaint: put things right in Palestine (i.e. drive out the Jews and create a radical Palestinian state) and suddenly all those problems dating back to the 19th and 18th and 17th and 16th centuries, those years of stagnation and lost enterprise, those centuries of incuriosity about the wider world, that long interregnum during which the glories of the Islamic Middle Ages were allowed to fade into obscurity and lie forgotten — all those problems will go away. Palestine will become a world-class economy, Saudi Arabia will become a world-leader in political and educational freedom, Egypt will build industries to match those of China, Iran will become a haven for political and religious refugees.... And that nasty, filthy, 'shitty little country', Israel, with its Nobel prizes, its world-ranking universities, its vibrant democracy, its tolerance, its dynamic cultural and social life, it respect for human life — that will be gone, and we will all be able to breathe peacefully again. It stands to reason, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The well-meaning road to a deep injustice

Most liberals are well-motivated. We decry injustice, we deplore tyranny, we protest at the loss of innocent life in wars, we condemn wrongful imprisonment and the use of torture, we make what Liberation theologians call 'an option for the poor', we hate racism, we are never easy with bigotry, intolerance, or discrimination of any kind, we make a moral stand against religious fanaticism, we defend the weak, we try to do good in the world. Some of us derive our inspiration for these positions from a religious belief, others, like myself, are inspired from more secular convictions.
Of course, we are not always the best of people, whether in our personal lives or in public, but we do try to place ethical considerations above other concerns. In our innocence, we are inclined to believe that the human situation is redeemable, though the more cynical among us tend to accept the lessons of history and just seek to make the best of a bad case.
Yet there is something about Israel that seems to bring out the worst in some liberal people. Their motives are often laudable, but the results can be less than a real liberal might like. I know why most liberals support the Palestinians and condemn the state of Israel, and I have sympathy with those feelings. I just happen to think they are, in large measure, misplaced. The Palestinians have no state, they are a displaced people who suffer poverty, their lives are restricted, many of them die as a result of Israeli military intervention. Internationally, they have acquired a reputation as the world's great resisters, nobly fighting against a brutal occupation, coerced by superior military force to use their own bodies as weapons in their anti-colonial struggle. This presses all the right liberal buttons, and I have to admit that, if I didn't know any better, I might fall for that same representation of Palestinian virtue and Israeli evil. In fact, I do not.
Before I say more about that (and some of this will have to wait for further postings), let me just glance at the most egregious instance of what I consider to be a broad injustice about Israel. Let's for a moment assume that Israel really is the beast she is painted, that Israelis really are brutal occupiers and sadistic oppressors. Fine, you have every right to protest in the streets and put pressure on your governments to do something about this. But wait a moment. Almost every day, liberals and left-wingers are holding solidarity protests, initiating boycotts, signing petitions, and even travelling to the occupied territories to join hands with the Palestinians. Yet when did you last see a protest about the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet? When were you last asked to sign a petition condemning human rights abuses in Iran? Who last button-holed you about the monstrous regime in North Korea? Who travels to Darfur to show their solidarity with the Christians and animists who are being slaughtered by Arab Muslim forces? Or to other parts of Africa, where cruelty and corruption mar the lives of millions?
In Bangladesh, a journalist called Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has just gone on trial for his life. His crime? To ask Bangladesh to recognize Israel and to take steps to end religious extremism before it leads to further acts of terror. Neither The Guardian nor The Independent have run so much as a news item about this brave man and the likelihood that he will be sentenced to death for seeking peace and non-violence. Nor has the BBC, that great defender of human liberty (and opponent of Israel) mentioned him or the system that may condemn him to death for such horrid 'crimes'. In fact, none of the liberal press has spoken out. Yet these same newspapers and broadcasting organizations feed us a daily diet of anti-Israel propaganda.
That's only one example. It's very hard not to get the impression that much of the left and centre,

urged on by a series of post-modern political convictions (some of merit, others not), has actually become negligent in its commitment to justice and human rights for all, using a heavy-handed approach to the Middle East problem as an excuse for a collective loss of vision when it comes to other parts of the world. What is worse, to make the Palestinians the only truly worthy cause and commitment to them the only real badge of honour on the left and middle ground, serves to erase much if not all of the moral capital that such convictions may have built up.
There is no consistency in any of this. Left-wing academics call for a boycott of Israeli universities, despite the fact that Israeli universities operate a policy that allows entry to all races and religions, do not accept government censorship, encourage open debate, and are not used as centres for Zionist propaganda. They do not seek to boycott Arab universities that forbid entry to Jews, or Iranian universities that are closed to the Baha'is, the country's largest religious minority, Egyptian universities that are (according to a report by Human Rights Watch) drowning in censorship, Muslim universities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere where the very idea of open debate is anathema, Chinese universities that control what students can and cannot learn and what teachers can and cannot teach, or any of the genuine human rights abuses affecting higher education worldwide. Only Israel. Only Israeli institutions. Only Israeli academics who refuse to condemn their own country.
Israel has an internationally-criticized security fence. It was built for one purpose only: to reduce or eliminate incursions into Israel by Palestinian terrorists, including suicide/homicide bombers. In that respect, it has been eminently successful, cutting attacks by 80 percent and more where it has been built. Even the Palestinians admit that it now forms a virtually insuperable barrier to their murder operations. In an interview with Hizbullah's al-Manar TV channel (15/11/06), Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah stated that the Palestinian terror organizations had every intention of continuing their suicide missions, but that there were factors that interfered with this. 'For example,' he explained, 'there is the separation fence, which is an obstacle to the resistance, and if it were not there the situation would be entirely different'. In other words, the fence saves lives. Why any liberal would want to see it torn down is quite beyond me.
But there's another aspect to this fence issue. This is that — whatever the media might want you to believe — it's not the only security barrier in the world. I don't know exactly how many there are, but the first one I ever became aware of was in my home town of Belfast, where the 'peace wall' kept Protestants and Catholics apart (and, asd far as I know, still does in places). Another is the concrete and barbed wire barrier being built by the Chinese government along part of its border with North Korea. Then there's the extensive fence being built by India to keep out terrorists operating from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and which will eventually stretch to several hundred killometres. Closer to Israel, the Saudis are building a 550-mile fence to shut their border with Iraq. This will consist of a barbed-wire topped fence, backed by barbed-wire pyramids, sand berms, underground movement sensors, command posts, sniffer-dog patrols, and all manner of other surveillance techniques. At 550 miles, it will be considerably longer than the 73-mile Hadrian's Wall a couple of miles from where I'm writing. And, if any American liberals should be reading this, do please note that your government is about to start work on an even longer (700-mile) barrier along the Mexican border, not to stop terrorists, but to prevent illegal immigrants getting into US territory. An earlier barrier built in the 1990s near San Diego is a ten-foot high wall of welded steel.
Yet one fence and one fence alone figures in news stories, on banners of protest, in political speeches. One fence and that one fence only is forever on the lips of liberals, not in praise of its life-saving properties, but in condemnation of its very existence. A fence designed to save the lives of innocents has become an 'Apartheid Wall', an affront to civilization, a symbol of oppression and racism. Why? Given so many fences (and those I have listed are by no means the only ones), why does the one fence that has shown itself capable of keeping terrorists away from schools and cafés and shopping malls come in for this disproportionate criticism? Why would liberals be so discriminatory? Is it not racist to say that, of all peoples in the world, the Jews have no right to defend their lives and homes? It's fine for Indians, it's fine for the Chinese, it's fine for the Saudi Arabs, it's fine for the Northern Irish, it's fine for the Americans to build their fences, but not for the Israelis? Now, I don't doubt that many liberals may find some fault in those other barriers; but they never say so. They never take to the streets waving placards denouncing those fences. Just the one in Israel. They call the other barriers fences, but the one in Israel a wall. If you can't see that this is ugly, racist, discriminatory, and offensive, I must ask just what sort of liberal you take yourself to be.
In the same way the fence is singled out, so the very state of Israel is singled out. As a liberal, I don't doubt that you support the whole post-colonial enterprise, whereby peoples round the world have asserted their independence, created autonomous states, and now govern themselves, some well, some badly. We Irish know this better than anyone, for we were the first people in the world to throw off the yoke of imperialism. We started our battle for independence a couple of centuries before anyone else. So I sympathize with all people who seek to create viable states for themselves. It is, indeed, a matter of honour for liberals and left-wingers to speak out on behalf of all legitimate nationalist aspirations.
But it seems that sympathy for nationalist aspirations ends when it comes to the Jews. Only the Jews, it seems, have no right to build a nation state on their ancestral and religious homeland. Only the Jews are to be condemned to wander the earth for ever, persecuted, driven from land to land as the mood takes one territory or another. Hooray for the IRA and their bold struggle for a united Ireland, hooray for ETA and the claims of the Basques, hooray for the Tamil Tigers and the Tamil people, above all, hooray for Hamas and Hizbullah and their noble endeavours to take back all the lands that ever belonged to them, historically or mythically, it doesn't matter which. But to oblivion with the Jews for even daring to create a national home where they might be safe from persecution. Let's march with banners that say 'We're all Hizbullah now', condemning Zionism as the greatest evil that ever walked the earth.
So everyone is allowed to have a state except the Jews. If you will take care to read their literature, you will see that the Palestinians do not just want a state of their own. They want the Jews out. Every last one of them, from every inch of Israel. If the Jews won't leave, they will kill them. They will leave no trace of them, their synagogues, their kibbutzim, their hopes, their aspirations, their love for their Holy Land. And all those people-supporting left-wingers and liberals out there shake hands with that aspiration, saying Israel has no right to exist, denouncing the very idea of Zionism as fascist and evil, endorsing the idea that the Jews are behind every conspiracy, that Zionists control the media, tell the US how to frame its foreign policy, and are the masterminds behind the global economy.
If you think that, or half of that, or a quarter, let me explain something to you, very calmly, very quietly, and in short words. You may think you are a liberal, but you are not. You may think you are an internationalist, but you are not. You may think you are a socialist, but you are not. You are an anti-Semite. Think it through. How much of your anti-Israel rhetoric would Adolf Hitler have found hard to stomach? How would the notion that Jews alone of all the earth's peoples have no right to govern themselves or to protect themselves from those who seek to kill them run in the far reaches of the far right? How would the Palestinian aspiration to commit a second Holocaust play in the degenerate middens of totalitarian fascism?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I am afraid

I’m afraid. Let me try to explain why. I was born four years after the end of the Second World War. Throughout my childhood and early youth, I was taught about why that war had been fought, why it had been essential to defeat Nazi Germany, and why we must never let something like that happen again. Above all, it was instilled in me that we must never allow a second Holocaust to happen. It had been the greatest crime in human history, and the Nazis had been the greatest criminals of all time.
The worst thing about the Third Reich was that it came to power in a modern nation, a nation that prided itself on its culture, its science, its legal system, its religious and social values. This was the horror, that something primitive, bestial, and anti-human came out of what both Germans and their neighbours considered a civilized and progressive people. Even today, when we read or watch newsreels about the Reich, the Nazi Party, the SS, the vast apparatus of that singular evil, we are confronted by a cold-hearted wickedness that has no parallel in modern history. It remains the supreme evil of modern times, despite the emergence of many tyrannies and tyrants since its time.
When we think of German fascism, we think of the ruthlessness of the blitzkrieg, the extermination of villages, the destruction of Warsaw, the mass killings of Jews by einzatsgruppen, the torture and murder refined by the Gestapo, the utter abuse of innocence by a conscious option for evil, and, above all, the death camps. To my generation, the swastika and the totenkopf, the chic black uniforms, the rallies, the goose-stepping formations, the diving stukas, the barbed wire, the piano-wire hangings, the gas chambers, the watchtowers, the jackboots, the Hitlergrüss salutes, the lightning-flash SS badges, the black coats of the secret police, the U-boat packs, and the overweening arrogance all spoke of one thing: an evil so removed from good that it should never be repeated, however long the human race endures.
I began by saying I am afraid. Afraid of what? Of the truth that, just over sixty years after the end of that long and costly war, after the Nuremberg trials that laid bare Germany’s infamy, after the sorrow and grief that consumed Europe and Russia, I hear our understanding of that evil abused. It is as if a new generation has forgotten what Nazism was all about, as if all our common understandings have been twisted until they are no longer recognizable.
In what way? In the repeated statements found among sections of the left and centre that describe Israelis as Nazis, that speak of a ‘Palestinian Holocaust’, that define Israel as the new Reich and its actions on a par with those of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. It is scarcely possible to say how sick and frightened it makes me to read such remarks, not least when I realize that they are often made by seemingly intelligent, well-educated people. What is worse, they have become part of a wider distortion of historical truth that denies the Holocaust, blames the Jews for having provoked Hitler and everyone who ever persecuted them throughout history, and finds an excuse for its anti-Semitism in mealy-mouthed declarations of guiltlessness: ‘I am only anti-Zionist’.
So let’s put some of this to rest. Leaving aside the Suez debacle (in which Britain and France were also involved), Israel has only ever fought defensive wars. Again and again, Israelis have fought, not just for their own lives, but for the life of their nation — a nation created to provide a haven for Jews in a world that had just disposed of six million of them. They have never used the total war tactics of the Nazis, nor have they once envisaged the genocide of the Palestinians. If they had really been Nazis, does anyone imagine they would have left a Palestinian alive? If they really used Nazi military tactics, do you think the death toll in the recent war in Lebanon would have been around 1,000, most of the dead Hizbullah guerrillas?
There’s simply no point in using derogatory terms like ‘Nazi’, ‘genocidal’, or ‘racist’ if they don’t fit. And such language doesn’t fit Israel. Criticize Israel by all means — Israelis do it all the time — but play fair. Too many people on the Left have betrayed their own ideals of honesty and justice by demonizing a people whose only wish is for peace and security. There are things wrong about Israel, and you should take care to identify them and write to your nearest Israeli embassy about them: you’ll find a listening ear, and maybe your criticisms will do real good. But there’s no point in standing on street corners with a megaphone, yelling to the general public that Israelis are Nazis, because only someone as badly informed as yourself will listen to you.
What frightens me more than anything, though, is the hypocrisy. Left-wingers and liberals always had an honourable history of opposition to anti-Semitism. They stood up for Jews, in the same way Jews in the 60s were among the most active figures in the American Civil Rights Movement. Back in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, it was a matter of honour for liberals to defend the Jews in their own countries and Israel abroad. But now? The Left has sold out totally to the lure of anti-Semitism. ‘We only hate Israel,’ you say? Then why have so many left-wingers and liberals joined forces with the Palestinians and other Arabs, or with Iranians or Pakistanis, whose cultures are saturated with the most obnoxious anti-Jewish imagery and rhetoric that has existed outside the Third Reich? I’m not talking here about something half-hidden, some dirty secret that you might well not have come across. I’m talking about mainstream TV shows, broadcasts on a variety of national radio stations, children’s cartoons, school textbooks, mosque sermons, and large political rallies.
It’s all there: the hooked noses, the grasping hands, the conspiracies, the sacrifice of Christian and Muslim children, the mixing of their blood with matzo flour, the secret cabals, the sheer Nazi-like horror of the filthy, blood-sucking, world-dominating Jew. If you think you’re a liberal, then what in God’s name induces you to throw in your lot with real Nazism and pour scorn on Jews who have been fighting for their lives for well over sixty years?
You say you haven’t seen any of this? Then you really are a fool to give your support to a society you know next to nothing about. You consider Hamas ‘freedom fighters’: have you noticed the salute they give in rallies? You think of Hizbullah as ‘heroes of the resistance’: have you ever seen how they salute? If it was Hitler up on the podium, no-one would be surprised.
This all requires a more detailed discussion. For the moment, I will only say that this link between modern Arab anti-Semitism and the Third Reich variety is not accidental. While Jews were dying in Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Birkenau, the Palestinian leadership was collaborating with the Reich, recruiting troops for the SS, and planning to build a death camp in Hebron. Jew-hating fascism did not die with the overthrow of the Third Reich: it moved to the Arab world where, believe it or not, the world’s liberals now sing its praises, thinking they are fighting for Palestinian freedom. If you are still in any doubt about how sick this is, read the Hamas Covenant, which openly calls for the slaughter of all the Jews in Israel, or early documents of Hizbullah, where the same aim is made explicit, or the more recent calls by the Iranian president, Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, to wipe Israel from the map. They want to finish the job Hitler started. Don’t take my word for it, read any of the books and pamphlets in which just this claim is made. I forgot, you probably don’t read Arabic. I do. Don’t you think that you, as an intelligent and open-minded liberal, might actually base your view of this on something more solid than a couple of articles in The Guardian? I read The Guardian too, but I don’t swallow everything its extraordinarily biased op-eds say about the Middle East.
Where does this leave us? You, the anti-Israel liberal, me, the pro-Israel liberal. At loggerheads, I suppose. But there is a difference: I believe in your inherent goodness because some sort of love of humanity must inform your political options, your love of free speech, of human rights, of the right of all peoples to independence and nationhood. I know you are impelled to support the Palestinian cause because of such imperatives, and I admire your impulse. But I also think — or, rather, know — that you are ignorant, perhaps profoundly so. Otherwise, I cannot in all conscience imagine why you would so freely give your voice and your actions to support a people who seek only genocide, and withhold your support from the very people that has suffered the greatest act of genocide in the last or any other century.
If you believe in the self-determination of peoples, why do you condemn the establishment of the single state of Israel, the only Jewish state in two thousand years? From the very beginning, the people of Israel have sought for the creation of an Arab state next to theirs. Given peace and security, there are few limits to what Israel would do to make a Palestinian state an economic and cultural success. They have never talked of genocide. The Palestinians talk of little else. Hamas explicitly rejects peace treaties, peace conferences, compromises, and negotiations. Why would a peace-loving liberal extend the hand of greeting to such intransigence and spit on the hand that offers all of that and more? If liberals can support the worst sort of anti-Semitism, doesn’t that open the way to forces that will crush us all, Jews and non-Jews alike?
Now do you understand why I am afraid?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Is Israel an ‘Apartheid State’?

This is an old piece, from 2005. Nevertheless, it addresses in brief some of the 'Israel is an aparheid state' issues. I shall post something more detailed on this later.

Last week, the UK’s Association of University Teachers, a body to which I was once proud to belong, did a very strange and unacademic thing. By a slim vote of 96 to 92, with opposed voices still to be heard, they passed a resolution to boycott two (possibly three) Israeli universities.
Come again? I hear you say. Academics boycotting universities and their fellow academics who teach and research in them? Have they gone quite mad? Probably.
There is supposed to be a reason for all this, a reason much trumpeted by Birmingham lecturer Sue Blackwell and her politically correct entourage of wreckers and spoilers. The problem is that the reason — ‘Israel is an apartheid state’ — is so far from the truth as to be hideous and laughable simultaneously.
So intent is the monomaniacal Ms Blackwell on promoting the Palestinian cause that she forgets there is an Israeli cause as well, and certainly cannot see that it might be better. Academics aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. They’re supposed to weigh both sides of any argument and reach a rational conclusion. To conclude that the Israelis are just as evil as Nazi propaganda made the Jews out to be, or equating them (as is often done) with Nazis, while pretending that the suicide-bombing Palestinians are pure victims, innocent actors in a drama during which they have done no wrong, is as anti-academic a pastime as any I’ve ever seen.
Is Israel what its detractors claim it to be, ‘an apartheid state’? Let’s look at intentions first. Apartheid was written into the old South African constitution, and covered just about every walk of life. Israel (like the UK) doesn’t have a constitution, but it does have a very explicit Declaration of Establishment and perfectly clear Basic Laws that make any form of racism, religious discrimination, or abuse of human rights illegal.
‘The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.’ Not many sentences like those in the pre-Mandela constitution. Or perhaps we misunderstood the poor souls.
The Israeli Supreme Court, reckoned by many to be among the best in the world when it comes to human rights, has repeatedly opposed the army and the government, demanding and securing Arab rights. I don’t remember that happening in apartheid South Africa, but maybe I just have a bad memory.
In Israel, the rights of women, gays, the disabled, religious minorities, and all races are secured by law. Palestinian gay men and women frequently flee to Israel to escape persecution and possible death. There is as much press freedom, free speech, and political dissent as you will find in the UK, sometimes more. All citizens have the right to vote. Again, I don’t remember any of this in the old South Africa. More to the point, I hadn’t noticed any of these rights and freedoms in any of the Arab states, including the region under the Palestine Authority.
In Israel, Arabs vote, are elected to the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court, and attend university. Thirty percent of students at the Hebrew University are Arabs, although Arabs form only eighteen percent of the population. The proportion of Arab students at the school rises every year. In the Givat Ram campus, almost half of students in some courses are Arab. Why on earth is the AUT boycotting Arabs?
Arabs run businesses, work in the civil service, teach across the educational spectrum, worship in mosques and churches without restriction, enjoy a free press, and retain Arab culture. The Centre for Jewish Arab Economic Development in Herzliya works to improve conditions for Arabs and help them set up businesses. There must have been a lot of organizations like that under apartheid.
Oddly enough, a Jew wishing to do any of these things in an Arab country would run severe legal and physical risks. Mosque sermons in the West Bank and Gaza often urge worshippers to go out and kill Jews. Of course, there aren’t any Jews in Arab countries now, since they were all expelled years ago. If Sue Blackwell’s so hot on refugees, one wonders why Jewish refugees don’t count for her.
It hardly needs saying that Israel is not a paradise. What country is? There is discrimination there, as there is in Europe or North America. But that is not apartheid, otherwise the AUT should boycott almost every country on earth, especially Muslim countries that practise religious discrimination as a matter of course.
The AUT has placed itself in a ridiculous position by seeking to enforce a boycott against a country that is actually one of the freest and most just in the world. By calling white black, by harming the very people they claim, by ignoring the astonishing record of human rights abuses throughout the Arab world, by providing emotional support for Palestinian terrorism (no condemnation or boycott there), they have given notice that they honour no academic principle, least of all the truth. By making a racist gesture (82% of Israelis are Jews), and by instituting a political test (Israelis who condemn their own government may avoid the boycott) they have brought slime and muck into the universities for which they work.
Here’s a simple test. Sue Blackwell should visit Israel, and, specifically Haifa. There she will see a remarkable array of gardens, terraces, white neo-classical buildings and a golden-domed shrine that are the world centre for a small religious group, the Baha’is. In Israel, the Baha’is enjoy an exceptional level of tolerance and support. In Iran, just after the revolution, the holiest shrine of the Baha’is (Iran’s largest religious minority) was razed to the ground by bulldozers. There and elsewhere in the Arabo-Muslim world Baha’is have been executed, imprisoned, and subjected to apartheid-like restrictions solely by reason of their faith. Sue should make a tour of the West Bank and Gaza and claim to be a Baha’i seeking to build a house of worship. Her reception might give her some idea of what it was really like to be a black under apartheid.

Defeating Terror in the Middle East

Something untoward has been happening in international affairs, as many—but not enough—of us understand. In a war between a democracy and a terror organization created and run by a totalitarian regime, nation after nation has sided with the terror organization and condemned the democracy. In a struggle between a small country determined to defend itself against aggression on a grand scale, pressure was brought to bear that stopped the fighting while leaving the terrorists still in possession of hardened bunkers and a massive arsenal of rockets. A war on terror has been stopped in its tracks just as real gains were being made. A dangerous and destabilizing force has remained intact, ready to re-group, re-arm, and await its moment.

In a conflict that symbolizes more than any other the unremitting war between a free and open society and rogue states and organizations who will not compromise or enter into negotiations or attend peace talks or participate in conferences, the forces of democracy were utterly betrayed. Terrorists bent on the destruction of the only true democracy in the region have been pulled out of the fire they started by a United Nations that has lost all sense of morality and a world community that has forgotten the lessons of the 1930s and 40s.

Israel has been forced to accept a ceasefire that bids fair to leave Hizbullah in a stronger position than ever. More young men now flock to enlarge its numbers. Within days of the ceasefire, the Shi’ite terrorists were already smuggling arms into Lebanon. Some of those arms have come via Turkey, a NATO member state and an applicant to join the EU. An Israeli attempt to stop this breach of the ceasefire was met with harsh accusations from the Secretary General of the UN. Hizbullah, who had started the war and now broken the ceasefire, was not made the subject of censure.

It is six years since Israel pulled out of Lebanon completely. Part of the agreement was that UN resolution 1559, which called for the disarming of Hizbullah, would be implemented. It was not. Neither the Lebanese government nor the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, lifted a finger to implement it. In that period, Iran proceeded to finance Hizbullah and arm it to the teeth. It already has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. The new UN resolution, 1701, doesn’t even mention disarming Hizbullah, and the Lebanese government and UN have already made it clear that they have no intention of doing so. Iran, busy refining uranium for ‘peaceful’ purposes, just sits there, doing what it wants while the world sleeps.

Hizbullah and its masters in Tehran simply do not want peace. Here is what Hizbullah’s founder, Husayn Fadlallah said about peacemaking: 'We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world. It is the hated enemy that must be fought until the hated ones get what they deserve... Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.' And here are some statements by the present leader of Hizbullah, Hasan Nasralllah: ‘Israel is our enenmy. This is an aggressive, illegal, and illegitimate entity which has no future in our land. Its destiny is manifested in our motto: “Death to Israel”.’ And it isn’t just the Israelis or Zionists they hate. Here’s what Nasrallah would like to do to the Jews in general: ‘If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’ Sound familiar? Have you ever seen a photograph of a Hizbullah rally? The Nazi salutes may look familiar as well. ‘God bless Hitler’, as a recent placard put it.

A strengthened Hizbullah backed by a jubilant Iran and a sneering Syria will return to the battlefield in a last attempt to wipe Israel from the map. But Israel's hands are tied. She cannot do a thing to stop this inevitable countdown to greater bloodshed. Already, Iranian clerics are calling for rockets to be fired on Israel from behind their own borders. One day those missiles may contain nuclear warheads. If that happens, it will signal the greatest possible victory for the forces of Islamic terrorism throughout the world. There will be no turning back. From that day forth, a sense of divine mission will drive another generation of die-hards to greater and more reckless acts of terror against the West. Against democracy. Against freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and intolerance and the over-reaching claims of theocratic totalitarianism.

Those of you who watched the Israeli port city of Haifa being pummeled by Hizbullah rockets may not have seen shots from the downtown sections up to the front of Mount Carmel. If you had, you would have seen one of the most beautiful sites on the Mediterranean coast: a golden-domed shrine, an arc of gleaming white marble buildings, flower-filled gardens, and nineteen terraces climbing from the foot almost to the top of the mountain. This is the international centre of the Baha’i religion, a small worldwide faith for whom the Holy Land is sacred. It is against the law to be a Baha’i in any Muslim country. In some it is punishable with death. In Iran, Baha’i shrines and cemeteries have been bulldozed to the ground. That is undoubtedly the fate that awaits the Baha’i centre in Haifa if Hizbullah should march in.

Israel is, out of all proportion, the most tolerant country in the Middle East. Millions of Christians have been driven out of Lebanon (see below *), thousands from cities like Bethlehem. Christian populations have fallen everywhere in the Muslim world. But in Israel, Jews, Christians, Baha’is, Druze, and others mix freely in an open society. Women enjoy full rights. Gay men and women flee to Israel from the Palestinian territories to escape beatings and execution. Arabs have seats in parliament and act as Supreme Court judges. Israel is a country just like our own. Hizbullah wants to destroy it. Iran wants to create a second Islamic state on its ruins.

The UK government must put pressure where it is needed, above all on the UN, to demand an end to Hizbullah. Not a period of grace in which it will come to dominate and wreck the region. If this cannot be done, and if Iran, Syria, and other terror-financing states cannot be reined in, the mindless onslaught on civilization and human dignity will grow more and more fierce. Iran already has rockets that can reach southern Europe. Terrorist volunteers are already active in Britain.

* Note on Lebanese Christian demographics and emigration (verbatim from

'The head of the powerful Maronite church has long contended that Lebanese emigrants total about eight million with Maronites making up the overwhelming majority. Muslims are currently believed to hold a 55-45 percent majority among Lebanon’s population at home, which are estimated at 4.5 million by the latest U.N. statistics.

According to As-Safir, a statistical study on the demographics of the electorate by researcher Kamil Feghali reveals the following:

In the early 1900s the demographic situation was largely in favor of Christians. On the basis of the number of eligible voters born starting 1910, the study reveals that 68.8 percent of the electorate was Christian, 29.2 percent Muslims, and the rest Jews.

Based on the number of eligible voters born starting 1930, the Christian electorate constituted 52.4 percent of the total voter population, while Muslims constituted 46.5 percent.

Calculations based on the number of voters born starting 1939 show a par between the Christian and Muslim electorate with each claiming 49.7 of the electorate.

The percentage of Christian electorate shrunk to 36.5 percent while that of the Muslims grew to 60.1 percent on the basis of the number of eligible voters born starting 1960. The percentage of Christian electorate further decreased to 27.5 percent while the percentage of Muslims climbed to 72.4 for eligible voters born starting 1979.

The percentage of decrease by Christian electorate between 1975 and 1979 was between one and three percent, while the percentage of increase within the Muslim electorate between 1975 and 1979 registered a corresponding one to three percent.

Calculated in 2005, Feghali forecasts that the percentage of Christians within the electorate population would be around 26-27 percent while that of Muslims would be around 73-74 percent.'

Friday, November 03, 2006

A speech I haven't made

The following is a draft for a hypothetical speech, intended for a mainly liberal audience, to be delivered after a pro-Palestinian speaker. It rehearses some of the points I made in the introduction to this blog, but takes some of them further, particularly in the contrast it draws between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I know I have the support of the pro-Israeli set, but the rest are likely to be unsympathetic, more likely downright hostile. They are intellectuals, well-educated, and, like myself, liberals. Except that they think they are exhibiting their liberal credentials by supporting the suffering people of Palestine. It's the middle of winter, people are cold, the setting is a small lecture room lit by fluorescent tubes, and the pro-Palestinian speaker has just wowed his audience with a fervent speech that comes close to incitement to terrorism, all to loud applause. Karl Popper once wrote that you have to tackle your opponent, not at his weak spots, but at the spots he thinks are his strengths. Let's see what happens. Imagine your own cat-calls, laughter, applause – what you will.

‘I'd like to thank the last speaker for contributing so solidly to my argument. Maybe you thought he was blazing the truth in support of Palestine, but think twice and you'll see that his arguments were flimsy and his motives questionable. What he wants, although he didn't say it in so many words, is the destruction of Israel. I wonder how many of you have thought what that would mean. And if you do think hard about it – we're talking about a second Holocaust – I wonder if your applause will be so loud next time round.

‘But let's start with some basics and look at some things you may not have thought about before. Let's start by saying that I'm probably a lot closer to you than you might imagine. Forget about Israel and Palestine for the moment. In the broadest terms, I think of myself as a liberal, somewhere around the centre of politics, with influences both from the right and the moderate left. I guess many of you occupy much the same territory, and that most of you are probably much further to the left.

‘What do I mean by a liberal? There's no need here for a lecture on the subject. I'm sure you all have your own ideas, but I like to think we probably share most of them. I believe in democracy, in the rights of women, in the rights of gay people, in freedom of worship, in the abolition of capital punishment, in human rights in general, in the right to work and raise a family, in the right to form trades unions, in the right to justice and a fair trial, in the illegality of torture, in free speech, an open press, and investigative journalism... I’m sure you get the idea.

‘It is – and I say this without the least hint of irony – because you are inherently good people that you believe in principles like these. Whatever our individual flaws, we come together as men and women to remedy the many greater ills in the world, and this makes us liberals. Whether we are right-leaning or left-leaning liberals, I'm sure we share all or most of those values. So why are you on one side in this debate, while I'm on the other? I could sit down with any one of you for half an hour, and we could talk about values, or books, or films, or music, and we'd find we agreed about eighty percent of the time. So what's the problem with Israel?

‘Let's look at that simple list of liberal values again, shall we? I started with democracy. Well, doesn't it worry you that Israel is and has been from its inception the only working democracy in the Middle East, that no Arab state has ever had a functioning democracy, or that the Palestinian Authority has alway been at the mercy of armed gangs? The recent 'democratic' elections in the PA were won by a strongly-armed faction that is still killing its opponents — something that, in my book, disqualifies those el;ections from the epithet 'democratic'. Why do your sympathies lie with countries that violate the most basic principles of democracy, while you heap scorn on a nation whose citizens, Jew and Arab alike, have freedoms that might be envied in most parts of the world?

‘The rights of women. Doesn't this speak for itself? In the Arab world, women are veiled, they are murdered in honour killings, they are brutalized by genital mutilation. Not everywhere, of course. In some places, women have made great progress. But in Saudi Arabia they can't vote or drive cars, and in many places, including the Palestine Authority, they are subject to great restrictions. And what about gay rights? I’m sure you’re all ardent supporters of gay rights. It’s something I believe in too. It’s a decent, liberal thing, to ask for human rights for all. But, if you’re gay, I strongly recommend you to stay away from Gaza or the West Bank. Whether you’re waving a Palestinian flag or rooting for those so-called ‘freedom fighters’, if you admit you’re gay, you’ll wind up in serious trouble. It's not impossible that you will, in fact, wind up dead.

‘The New Republic recently described what can happen to someone of different sexual orientation: ‘The lucky ones are forced to stand in sewage water up to their necks or lie in dark cells infested with insects; others are simply starved to death. These horrific crimes have motivated hundreds of Palestinian homosexuals to flee to Israel.’

‘Why? Paul Varnell, writing for the Chicago Free Press, offers a hint: "Which Middle Eastern country has a variety of gay organizations ... has members of parliament who speak out on behalf of gays ... has a head of state (willing to) meet with gay activists? ... Israel." I might add, which Middle Eastern country actually encourages Gay Pride marches? Egypt? Iraq? Jordan? Lebanon? Syria? The PA? Turkey? Keep guessing. It is, of course, Israel. So why are you waving the flag for a country that oppresses gays and women, and attacking the only country in the Middle East that doesn’t? I thought you were meant to be liberals.

‘In a region of mixed religions, tolerance and freedom to worship and publish religious books is vital to a healthy community. Let’s take a simple example of how this does and doesn’t work. You may have heard of a small religious community (about 6 million worldwide) known as Baha’is. The Baha’is are anathema in every Muslim state, where their meetings are banned, their buildings wrecked, their graves desecrated, and worse. In Iran, hundreds have been imprisoned and over one hundred executed since the revolution. Their most sacred shriens in Iran have been flattened by bulldozers. The Middle East remains the most dangerous region for them. Except for Israel. Travel to Haifa and you will see a small religious city fronting the slope of Mount Carmel, set in some of the most beautiful gardens in the Middle East. It’s a popular tourist site, made up of a golden-domed shrine, and an arc of white marble buildings ranging from an archive building that resembles a Greek temple, and the domed seat of their supreme ruling body. This is their world headquarters. This is Israel. You are liberals. Yet you support a regime that makes membership in that religion a crime. In 2003, the PA declared Islam to be its official and only religion. And you demonize a country that offers freedom of worship to all its citizens. Don’t you believe you should think a little harder?

‘I mentioned capital punishment before. I don’t know any liberals who are in favour of capital punishment. Except most of you here tonight. You condemn Israel, which abolished capital punishment years ago, and praise Palestinians, who retain it, officially and unofficially. Is that wise or consistent?

‘Work the rest out for yourselves. Doesn’t it matter to you that, after the appalling Sabra and Chatilla massacres, thousands of Israelis were on the streets in front of the Knesset, protesting? You don’t do that sort of thing in any Arab country, unless it’s a government-organized demonstration. Doesn’t it bug you that the Israeli Supreme Court has handed down so many judgements in defiance of both the government and the military? Doesn’t it upset you that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a free press?

‘Back in 1987, American Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, possibly the most liberal justice in history, described Israel as the country where civil liberties could best be protected by the judiciary, that Israel had succeeded very well in balancing the demands of civil liberties with the pressures coming from the security situation. He’s a liberal, he hates torture, capital punishment, false imprisonment, and all the rest as much as you or I do. And he makes Israel his role model. He looks up to Israel. And he’s living in the heart of a great democracy, not in the PA territory, where people are shot in the head without trial.

‘Israeli citizens, Jew and Arab, Druze and Baha’i, Christian and Muslim, enjoy better human rights than people in most so-called democracies in Latin America, Russia, Africa, and, above all, the Middle East. It’s a real democracy that has never given way to tyranny. Why have so many Arab leaders been thugs and bullies? Many Arab states and Islamic organizations have issued statements declaring support for human rights. It all looks good in English. But read the Arabic or Persian on the other side – something I am, incidentally, capable of doing – and you will see every ‘right’ qualified by ‘the laws of the shari’a’, that’s to say religious law. Are rights in Israel subject to Jewish law? Only for those who choose to be so qualified.

‘Let’s take a trivial thing, namely alcohol. In Muslim countries, alcohol is seldom freely available, and then only in tourist hotels. You don’t get a choice. Religious law takes away your right to drink, even in moderation. In Israel, you’re free to drink and only have to worry if you get drunk and smash up the bar. As I said, it’s not a major topic, but it illustrates the difference between Muslim countries and Israel perfectly. In Israel, adults are treated with respect and left free to make their own choices in matters of sexuality, drinking, religion, music, and so on. That’s what a liberal country looks like. We can recognize it because it resembles Britain in so many ways. Countries like the PA-controlled territories are inherently repressive. So why do you want to replace Israel with a state that would stand for everything you abhor? And, as I shall explain in another post, 'replace' is precisely what I mean: Hamas, Hizbollah, and their backlers do not want or plan to establish a democracy; they have made it clear that they intend to found an Islamic state, a state that will take away at one swipe all the freedoms now available to the citizens of Israel (who will, incidentally, have been forced to leave or exterminated by that point).

‘I want to live in a country where women wear bikinis on the beach, where my gay friends can go to their own bars to drink, where my wife isn’t insulted if she leaves the house on her own (as used to happen to her in Morocco), where I can attend a concert of classical music in the evening, openly buy a book by a heretic, teach at university without finding myself under arrest and facing trial because I said the Prophet was an inch shorter than the traditions say he was, go to a charity ball and dance all night, meet a woman I don’t know in a bar and spend the evening talking to her about work, talk to a journalist about government plans without being picked up by the security services two days later, publish my latest book without it being censored…. I can do all these things and more in Israel, none of them in the average Arab country or under the Palestinian Authority. Or perhaps you think citizens should be kept under a tight rein. What sort of liberals did you say you were?

‘And just in case you thought I only make cheap arguments about trivial matters, let’s get this where it should be. In the 1930s and 40s, the Jewish people of Europe lost 6 million to the most frightening outpouring of racial hatred the world has ever known. I don’t doubt that you’ll agree that the Nazis were among the greatest criminals in human history. So why are you so behindhand in condemning the Palestinian leadership of that time for collaborating openly with the Nazis, advising Himmler on the Final Solution, and making plans for their own concentration camps in the event of a German victory? Jewish survivors of the Holocaust had to face enemies like these (all allowed to escape punishment as war criminals) when they battled their way to the Holy Land through British embargoes and dangerous sea journeys. A true liberal would know exactly where his or her sentiments lay. The creation of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust is one of the greatest achievements of human history. The Jews never deserved to be treated as they were and as they are now. I can feel nothing but shame for you, if you are liberals and cannot see where true justice lies. Perhaps it is enough to hope that, as liberals, you will take stock of what I have said and re-assess your attitudes towards Israel. If you do, you may find that Israelis are human beings after all, and that you may come to like them and discover you share thoughts and feelings you never imagined.

‘And if any of you can begin this process tonight, can manoeuvre your brains round the huge obstacles placed before you by Arab propaganda, will you please join me in applying your considerable intellects to the most pressing question on the face of the planet today? What is that? Just this – to acknowledge how unremittingly monstrous both our civilization and that of Islam have been to the Jews. Today, that hatred, that visceral contempt for the Jews is most widely seen in two places: in the Muslim world and among left-wing and liberal Westerners. If you don't believe me, read more of this blog. I plead with you to think twice in the light of what I have said this evening. And having thought twice, it’s time to consider how you can use your talents and those precious, open-hearted liberal principles of yours, not to add to the hurt and pain of the Holocaust, but to help Israel and, in so doing, help the suffering Palestinians in the best way possible. Because a secure Israel is the best guarantee of Palestinian freedom and prosperity one could hope for.'

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Does the title of this blog strike you as an oxymoron, a contradiction, not just in terms, but in categories, assumptions, method and intent? If so, I’m not surprised. Once upon a time, no self-respecting individual on the political left-to-centre would have hesitated to stand up to defend Israel and the Jews from an assorted gang of fascists, anti-Semites, and distinctly anti-democratic Arab regimes. Today, hatred of Israel has become the sine qua non of left-wing and centrist allegiance, the cause, like anti-apartheid activism many years ago, that somehow defines and galvanizes those with a liberal conscience.
What has changed? Has Israel really become the oppressive, neo-colonial, apartheid state it is now regularly portrayed as in the media and in political speeches round the world? Or have left-wingers and liberals changed their core beliefs? Or can it be that none of this has taken place, yet our perception of Israel and its enemies has been tainted by a mixture of misreporting and propaganda?
I have always been a liberal. For the same reason, I’ve never belonged to any one political party because, like many other liberals, I find it hard to fit my conscience inside the narrow boxes of party politics. If I see a left-wing idea that seems to me liberal in its aims, I’m happy to embrace it; likewise a policy of the Lib Dems or the Tory party, provided there’s a likelihood of it proving a real benefit to the public.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that my definition of liberal may not correspond to yours. I’d be worried if it did. If you’re the sort of person who believes in toeing a particular party line, who never questions official policy, then you’re not likely to see eye-to-eye with anyone but your fellow-party members anyway, and this blog will probably leave you apoplectic.
But if you understand the importance of flexibility in political matters, if you have an open mind and know how to put it to good use, if you accept that people with broadly similar views may rub along quite nicely together, then I’d ask you to consider my liberal credentials and then, if you find them reasonable, to ask whether such a person as myself, in defending Israel, might have good grounds for doing so.
Here are some of the things I believe in.
1. Democracy. Not the George Bush variety, which can be imposed by force, but real, grass-roots democracy that emerges from free political institutions and is buttressed by all the elements of an open society, from freedom of speech to the rule of law. I believe all people deserve to rule themselves through democratic institutions, but that few in the world are free from tyranny. Democracy does not come easily, however, and it may take a long time for it to emerge in many parts of the globe: military force will not establish it where there is no historical experience of political freedom, little education, or religious and other traditional barriers to independence of thought and judgement. Cases like Spain and Portugal, where vibrant democracies emerged after the collapse of the absolutist regimes of Franco and Salazar, are exceptional. Countries like Afghanistan or Iraq will not move to genuine democracy just because we or the US have suppressed this faction or another. For all its faults, however, democracy is to be preferred to other systems of government, inasmuch as it has shown itself a much better matrix for the creation of human freedoms than any other. The distinction between closed and open societies made by Sir Karl Popper is quite crucial to any understanding of why this is so. It may be worth saying that Popper is the thinker who has formed my ideas more profoundly than any other.
2. Freedom of speech. Most of us don’t know how vulnerable this vital freedom can be. I have been on the front line of more than one debate about the right to free speech, and have seen at first hand the sacrifices that have to be made to achieve it. Many years ago, I was the first person to call in question the use of censorship by the institutions of an authoritarian religious group, and I have since defended Salman Rushdie and other writers and thinkers challenged by Islamic fundamentalists. It is only through complete freedom of the press and other media that a healthy democracy can breathe. But such a freedom, like others, is open to abuse, and it is as important to be able to make the media accountable as it is to let them say what they like.
3. Secularism and freedom of religion. As an atheist who emerged from stifling religious conformity, I value secularism as one of the most precious principles of a free modern society. The advantages of secularism are not limited to atheists and agnostics, however. On the contrary, when set in a democratic context, it provides an unparalleled defence for religious people against those forces that threaten them in particular. I make a point of contrasting European secularism with Islamic theocracy/semi-theocracy. In Islamic countries, there is only full religious freedom for Muslims (and even then, only within approved limits). Imagine my native Northern Ireland if one side or the other dominated (as used to happen). In secular states, believers are able to meet freely for worship, to seek converts, to publish books and pamphlets, to build houses of worship, and everything else they may wish to within the law. Secular states are liberal, religious or religiously-dominated states are not. Secularism promotes tolerance, allows even bizarre forms of belief room in which to breathe, discourages fanaticism, and provides laws that are equally applicable to members of all faiths and none without discrimination.
4. An end to racism. I was brought up in a society in which religious intolerance excluded all other forms of communitarian hatred. I have never understood racism, and believe everything that can be done should be done to eliminate it. To that end, I favour integration over multiculturalism. I know that seems to contradict the leftist/liberal consensus, but my preference is dictated by the fact that multiculturalism often serves as a code for disguised racism. Some far-right parties like the BNP have embraced multiculturalism wholeheartedly, for they see it as a clever way of keeping whites and non-whites separate, effectively in ghettoes. My take on this is broader than it may seem. I love the richness of mankind’s different cultures. Without it, my own life would be considerably impoverished. I know two Islamic languages, I love Persian poetry, Qawwali music, Moorish architecture, and much else; I also love France and Italy, read Portuguese, and could not bear life without fado, the extraordinary music of Lisbon. But I believe all of this would be nothing more than haphazard tourism if I didn’t feel fully integrated into the society to which I belong. In the background lie my affection for my native Irish culture and the love of English literature I developed, first as a student, then as a writer. Proud as I am to be Irish, I am equally proud of the British heritage that has been made so generously my own. I want my fellow citizens to belong to this society and this culture as much as I do, I want us all to speak the same language with different accents, I want us all to be proud of our cultural backgrounds; but I do not want us to be cut off from one another by our languages, our religions, or our cultures. When I lived in Iran, I spoke only Persian, ate only Iranian food, and wore Iranian clothes: I gained from that, above all in the friendships I was able to make. But I never gave up being British and Irish and never pretended to be what I was not. That’s what integration is about, and that’s why I support it.
5. Gay rights. Watching so many Christians and Muslims wriggling about on the hook they have made for themselves in this area, a hook forged by an atavistic inability to feel love or compassion for their fellow men and women, I believe the rights of homosexuals have become a crucial test of our commitment to genuine liberal and modern values. It is precisely because I do not know what it is to be gay that alerts me to the danger of prejudice, in the same way that I do not know exactly what it is to be black or Jewish or Indian or Muslim. Just looking at photographs of young Iranians being hanged for being gay, or reading accounts of the beatings and killings meted out to gay men and women in the Arab world make me intensely aware of how tolerance of human differences is hard to find and nurture.
6. Women’s rights. My chief concern here is for the rights of women in Islam, who now remain the world’s least emancipated female community. I try to remain abreast of developments in this area, including matters such as honour killings, female genital mutilation, mut’a and misyar marriages, and the treatment of maids in the Arabian peninsula, the Gulf states, Jordan, and elsewhere. The treatment of women is a matter for liberal concern, yet it receives relatively little attention from our home-grown liberals, perhaps because it is seen as politically incorrect to say anything negative about Islam. This reaches its apogee in the attitude of some radical feminists who argue that we have no right to demand an end to practices like veiling and genital mutilation because they are part of someone else’s culture. The rights of women, like all other rights, are universal in intent and must be made so in practice. To sanctify oppression, pain, and exclusion on the grounds of culture seems to me one of the least attractive positions of a large part of the liberal left. I’ll have more to say about this later.
7. Capital punishment. I’ve never attended an execution, but I’ve seen enough photographs of before, during, and after to last me a lifetime and to instil in me an unwavering antipathy towards all such punishments. As a European, I’ve been brought up in an environment that recoils against the idea of state-sanctioned murder, despite the howls of our tabloid press to bring hanging back. While I remain uncomprehending about the United States and the US fascination with capital punishment, most of my concerns in this area are with public executions in the Islamic world, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia. Here again, there is very little public protest from European and American liberals.

This is probably as much as I need say at the moment. More of my political and philosophical views will be made clear as this blog continues. But let me emphasize again: I hold my opinions independently, not as a paid-up member of a political party, church, religion, or other grouping. My views are open to challenge and reconsideration, but only on the basis of hard evidence and intelligent argument. If you find yourself in broad agreement with most of the things I’ve said, then — however much you may currently find yourself opposed to Israel and Zionism — I ask you only to read further, to take on trust the possibility that, if we see eye to eye on so many other things, perhaps some of what I say about Israel and the Arabs may turn out to be reliable.
I’m not writing this blog to win accolades from my fellow liberals. I expect quite the opposite. But I believe passionately that Israel has been given a hugely unfair press, that what passes for debate in this area is little more than spin and propaganda, and that genuine liberals, if they can only break away from the stereotypes they’ve been presented with so far, may find much in Israel to admire. Far from being the monster it is painted as, intent on the killing of Palestinians, on the theft of Palestinian land, perhaps even on the final expulsion of all Palestinians, Israel may show itself as the remarkable country I believe it to be, a country more sinned against than sinning, a place of tolerance, enlightenment, and progress.
If my arguments are correct, and if they are given a fair hearing, Israel will emerge from this blog as a country to admire: a lively democracy with checks and balances like those of any Western country; a people as mixed racially, religiously, and culturally as those of any western European state or the US; a highly educated, technologically advanced, scientifically questing nation; a land rich in religious and national meaning for a people who had been without a home for two thousand years; a nation ruled, not by tribe or clan or terrorist faction, but by the rule of law; a country, like ours, with problems, from discrimination to poverty to religious extremism; and a country, unlike ours, whose people have known, from the first moment of their existence as a nation, the constant battering of armies, the relentless onslaught of terrorist gangs, and the unending baying of blind and biased international opinion. For a liberal, there much to like about Israel. It just sometimes needs a bit of work to find it amidst all the prejudice, double standards, and rank hypocrisy.