Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Prince Charles, defender of faith, comes to Israel

This article of mine appears in the new edition of The Jerusalem Report, dated January 27, 2020

          Less than a week after Boris Johnson and his Conservative administration won a sweeping victory in the 2019 UK general election, it was announced that the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, would be making an official visit to Israel. The main purpose of the trip was to attend an event at Yad Vashem titled ”Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism”. Inevitably the gesture was seen by some as a resounding rebuff to the anti-Zionist antisemitism that had tainted the Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and had led, in part, to its electoral defeat.

          In all its 71 years Israel has received only one other such official visit by a member of the Royal family – that of Charles’s elder son, William, in June 2018. Charles himself, his brother Edward, and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, have all set foot on Israeli soil in the past, but not in an official capacity.

          Back in 1994 the Duke attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem honouring his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who had been awarded the title ‘Righteous among the Nations” for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. She is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Charles represented the Queen at the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and of Shimon Peres in 2016. Both visits were categorized as private. The Queen’s youngest son, Edward, made a little publicized trip to Israel in 2007. Edward was invited by the Israel Youth Award program, a self-development group for Jewish and Arab youth affiliated to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association. While in Jerusalem Edward joined the then Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, for Shabbat dinner.

          Prince Charles is scheduled to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on 23  January 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. He will be joining dozens of other world leaders at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, including the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as the kings of Spain and Belgium.

          In addition, according to a statement issued by Prince Charles’s office, January’s trip “will be the first time that the Prince has undertaken a programme of engagements in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has invited Charles to a series of events. This ecumenical approach to his official duties is entirely consistent with Prince Charles’s all-embracing concept of religion.

          The title “Defender of the Faith” was once conferred by the Pope on monarchs to mark outstanding support for the Roman Catholic church. When King Henry VIII broke with Catholicism in 1534, Parliament declared him "Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England", and later bestowed on him the title “Defender of the Faith” – the faith in question now being the protestant Church of England. When anti-Catholic sentiment was at a height in the 17th and 18th centuries this function of the monarch assumed particular relevance. Any royal who married a Catholic was barred from the succession – a disqualification ended as recently as 2013 by an Act of Parliament.

          So the profound shock to the British establishment can be imagined when, some years ago, Charles declared that on accession as sovereign he would want to be known either as “Defender of Faith” or “Defender of the Faiths”, since he saw his role as being supportive of the multitude of different faiths represented in modern Britain. The furore in government, religious and media circles was immense.

          It was the Queen, with her inimitable skill, who paved the way towards a resolution of the problem. In a speech in 2012, she took the opportunity to say that the Church of England's purpose "is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions", but rather the Church "has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country." As a result, Charles has recently been able to modify his original view. In an interview in 2015 he said that on his eventual coronation he will retain the monarch's traditional title as "Defender of the Faith", while "ensuring that other people's faiths can also be practised."

          Prince Charles has extended his positive support to many minority religions in the UK. He has shown particular interest in Islam. For more than twenty years he has been patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. “He makes all British citizens feel they are part of the grand historical narrative,” says the director, Farhan Nizami. “I don’t think there is another major figure in the western world who has as high a standing as he has in the Muslim world.”

          The Prince has studied Judaism as well as Islam, and is close to former UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Believing that Judaism and Islam both have a great deal in common with Christianity, he has said:. “The future surely lies in rediscovering the universal truths that dwell at the heart of these religions. All I have ever wanted to do is build bridges that span these chasms.”

          Charles’s sentiments bear a striking resemblance to those set out by then Chief Rabbi Sacks in the first edition of his controversial book “The Dignity of Difference” ­– a volume that outraged orthodox Jewish rabbis, and that some termed “heretical”. Even the London Beth Din declared that parts of the book were open "to an interpretation that is inconsistent with basic Jewish belief". Published in August 2002, the book was withdrawn from sale after a few weeks, with Sacks undertaking to rewrite passages for a second edition.

         His original text was taken to mean either that no religious faith contains the whole truth, or alternatively that all religions were equally true. A number of phrases in the book caused consternation, but one paragraph in particular seemed to orthodox Jewish critics to place Christianity and Islam on a par with Judaism.

          It reads: "God is universal, religions are particular. Religion is the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith. God has spoken to mankind in many languages through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims." That sentiment seemed to discount the central belief in Judaism of a particular covenant concluded on Mount Sinai between the Almighty and the Jewish people, under which Jews undertook to fulfil the multifarious commandments and obligations that were to be laid on them in the Torah.

          Unlike his friend Jonathan Sacks, Prince Charles crosses no red lines when he seeks to accord equality to all religious minorities, both in the UK and across the world, in the freedom to worship the Almighty in their own way, and when he works to heal division and conflict between them.

          Over the years it has become clear that Charles intends to encourage and support all the major religious communities in Britain. It is no longer a matter of comment when he dons Jewish or Muslim skullcaps in visits to communal events, or puts on religious ceremonial garb for the openings of Sikh and Hindu temples. The Prince also admires the Orthodox Church, not least perhaps because his grandmother, Princess Alice, was an Orthodox nun. He has made regular spiritual retreats to stay in the monasteries of Mount Athos, the Greek republic run by two thousand monks. He has incorporated Byzantine icons in the chapel in the grounds of his residence, Highgrove.

          On December 2, 2019, with the UK election campaign at its height, Prince Charles addressed 400 guests at a pre-Hanukkah reception at Buckingham Palace. He was unequivocal in his praise for the contribution to the life of the UK made by Its Jewish citizens, and his total abhorrence of antisemitism. The Prince said prominent members of the Jewish community had "literally transformed this country for the better" whilst others were cornerstones of their local communities. "In every walk of life," he said, “in every field of endeavor, our nation could have had no more generous citizens, and no more faithful friends.”

          There is no doubt that in Prince Charles the Jewish community in the UK, and Jews the world over, have a friend. In his closing remarks to his guests as Buckingham Palace he said:

          “In my own small way, I have sought to recognize the contribution of the Jewish community by various means, whether in attending or hosting receptions for the Kindertransport Association, or for Holocaust survivors, or attending events for the National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, of which I am Patron, or helping to build a Jewish Community Centre in Krakow – where I was privileged to fix a mezuzah to the doorpost – or in agreeing without a moment’s hesitation to become Patron of World Jewish Relief... I see this as the least I can do to try to repay, in some small way, the immense blessings the Jewish people have brought to this land and, indeed, to humanity.“

          Charles deserves the most generous and warm-hearted welcome that Israel can provide.


Published in the Jerusalem Post, 15 January 2020:
https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Prince-Charles-comes-to-Israel-614263

Published in the Eurasia Review, 18 January 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/18012020-prince-charles-defender-of-faith-visits-israel-oped/

Friday, 10 January 2020

The problem with Iran

        Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979 the world has grappled with problems centred on the Iranian regime. Consistently over the 40 years Iran has either carried out, or initiated through its proxy militias like Hezbollah or the Houthis, a series of bombings, rocket attacks, assassinations and terrorist actions not only in the Middle East, but across the world. Iran also made determined efforts for decades to develop nuclear power, with the aim – never openly acknowledged – of producing nuclear weapons.

        Finally in 2015, in an attempt to halt their nuclear programme and bring Iran back into the comity of nations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran. No doubt all those involved, including then-US President Obama, had the very best of intentions. They believed they had put Iran’s nuclear ambitions on hold for about 15 years, making the world a safer place if only temporarily, and believed that they had taken an important step towards normalizing relations with the Iranian regime.

        They were mistaken. To quote President Donald Trump, speaking on 8 January 2020:

        “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying "thank you" to the United States, they chanted "death to America." In fact, they chanted "death to America" the day the agreement was signed.

        “Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. The regime also greatly tightened the reins on their own country, even recently killing 1,500 people at the many protests that are taking place all throughout Iran.”

        Where did the civilized world go wrong? The mistake was the same mistake the world made in the case of Hitler. Nobody read Mein Kamf or, if they did, took it seriously until it was too late. But the philosophy underlying Hitler’s political beliefs was there, in black and white, for years before he was in a position to implement it. He might have been thwarted.

       The problem that Iran poses to the civilized world stems entirely from the Islamic revolutionary regime that the nation wished on itself back in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the figurehead for Iran’s new direction, became Supreme Leader in December 1979. His philosophy, which he made no secret of, and wrote about nearly 40 years before, required the immediate imposition of strict Sharia law domestically, and a foreign policy aimed at spreading the Shi’ite interpretation of Islam throughout the world.

        “We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” he declared. “Until the cry 'There is no god but Allah' resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.” Or again: “Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.”

        Pursuit of this fundamental objective of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state – acting either directly or through proxy militant bodies, which enables it to deny responsibility – in a succession of acts of terror, mayhem and murder directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shia Muslims as well. “To kill the infidels,” declared Khomeini, “is one of the noblest missions Allah has reserved for mankind.”

        He was unequivocal about the basic purpose of his regime. “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam and the suppression of the rule of the world conquerors ... We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world. We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”

        With the best of intentions world leaders have been pursuing a path that leads nowhere. The Iranian regime, now headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, has no interest at all in an accommodation with the West. It is intent on achieving the original goals of the Revolution – the destruction of Western-style democracy and its way of life, and the imposition of Shia Islam on the world. “We have to wage war,” wrote the first Supreme Leader, “until all corruption, all disobedience of Islamic law ceases.”

        This partly explains Iran’s unremitting hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia which, with Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world. This claim is hotly contested by Iran, which sees Saudi Arabia as its great rival for political, as well as religious, hegemony in the region.

        Trump has repeatedly denied that he seeks regime change in Iran – all he wants is a cessation of Iran’s terrorist activities and a renegotiation of the nuclear deal. These, if finally achieved through the tough sanctions imposed by the US, would indeed be welcome. But the fundamental purpose behind Iran’s Islamic regime means that a genuine accommodation with the rest of the world – which the ayatollahs seek to convert to Shia Islam – is impossible.


Published in the Eurasia Review, 11 January 2020:

Saturday, 4 January 2020

America bites back

          Iran has literally been getting away with murder for decades. On the night of December 29, 2019 the United States launched its first airstrikes in nearly a decade on the forces of Iran’s proxies. Four nights later it carried out a precision drone-based attack just outside Baghdad airport, and killed Iran’s top military commander and the leader of a major Iran-supported proxy fighting organization. 

          It has long been clear that a key aspect of Iran’s geopolitical strategy is to use proxies to execute its less savoury operations, thus avoiding direct responsibility for the atrocities committed at its behest. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Gaza, and a plethora of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq are, in addition to its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the instruments Iran uses to reach its political goals. For the past decade these groups have been recognized by the US simply as Iran’s tools, and have not been considered central enough to warrant direct retaliation.

          A rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on December 27 by an armed group known as Kataib Hezbollah (KH) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. KH is an Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militia operating in Iraq and throughout Syria. Founded in 2003 it is in sympathy with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah organization. The US has expressed concern in the past about pro-Iranian militias targeting coalition forces in Syria. This anti-KH operation was characterized by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman as “defensive strikes,” in retaliation not only for the attack on December 27, but for “repeated Kataib Hezbollah attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces.”

          KH’s leader, Jamal Jaafar al-Ibrahimi – also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes – was the alleged mastermind behind the US and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983. During the war in Iraq the group specialized in planting roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars to attack US and coalition forces. A string of other atrocities, abductions and murders are attributed to them. KH has been closely linked to Iran’s external military branch, the IRGC. Al-Mohandes operated in close liaison with the IRCG Quds Force commander, Qassem Suleimani. Now both have been eliminated.

          The first US airstrikes targeted at least five KH locations. The Pentagon says three were in Iraq and two in Syria. The targets included weapons depots and command posts, and the attack may have involved drones, according to some reports. The US says that the areas it struck were also used to “plan and execute attacks.” As for targeting Suleimani, President Donald Trump has explained the US action as a pre-emptive intelligence-based strike aimed at preventing an impending onslaught on American troops.

          A more fundamental issue is at stake. Taking advantage of the chaos currently reigning in Iraq, which is almost at a standstill as a result of mass anti-government protests and demonstrations, Iran is attempting to entrench itself even further inside the country both politically and militarily. It has certainly been building up resources to boost its anti-US, anti-Israel power base. In December reports emerged that Iran was moving ballistic missiles to Iraq.

          Iran’s dominant position within the Iraqi body politic has emerged as a key issue during the current anti-government crisis. Iraqi President Barham Salih has resisted recent attempts by the pro-Iran coalition to put forward nominees for prime minister that included a resigned minister and a controversial governor, Asaad al-Eidani. The mass street protests are supporting the president’s threat to resign rather than accept the pro-Iran coalition's candidate.

          Yet Iraq's current prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, clinging to office as the political storm rages around him, has condemned Suleimani’s assassination, just as he is reported to have "strongly objected" to the US strikes on KH positions in Iraq and Syria as "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation."

         The increasing attacks on US military bases by Iran’s proxy militias have plainly been an assertion of Iran’s powerful position within Iraq – a situation that has not gone unnoticed by the public. The street demonstrators saw Iran’s growing dominance as further evidence of the weakness and inadequacy of the old government establishment, which they are seeking to sweep away. How Suleiman’s death at Washington’s hands will affect the political dynamic the next few weeks will demonstrate.

          The extent to which Iran has managed to infiltrate Iraq’s political and military establishment was revealed in November 2019, when 700 pages containing secret intelligence cables were leaked to two US media organizations. They describe a carefully conceived plan, going back to 2014, for Iran’s ministry of information and security, along with the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, to expand Iran’s influence inside Iraq, and to identify and run sources at the most senior levels of government. The aim was to keep the country pliant and aligned to Iran’s objectives.

          The leaked cables reveal that Iranian intelligence officers co-opted much of the Iraqi government’s cabinet, infiltrated its military leadership, and even tapped into a network of sources once run by the CIA. The cables claim that so prevalent is Iran in Iraq’s affairs that Iranian officers effectively have free rein across key institutions of state, and are central to much of the country’s decision-making,

          The intelligence haul threw new light on how Iran’s agents operate, and the extent to which each prime minister and cabinet member was vetted to ensure they were serving the Islamic Republic’s interests.

          A key role in this operation had been assigned to Suleimani, head of the IRGC Quds Force and de facto leader of Iran's constellation of proxies across the Middle East. Suleimani it was who instituted the brutal crackdown on the early anti-government street demonstrations in Iraq, leading to scores of deaths and injuries. It proved ineffective. This has been one military operation from which Suleimani failed to emerge victorious. Now he has been removed from the scene. Popular protest and demand for reform, allied to a new US determination to crack down on Iran’s puppet militias, may yet carry the day – or, alternatively, Suleimani’s death may soften the popular anti-Iran sentiment. Time will tell.


Published as "Iran's entrenchment in Iraq" in the Jerusalem Post, 9 January 2020:
https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Irans-entrenchment-in-Iraq-613595

Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 January 2020:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/06012020-america-bites-back-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 6 January 2020:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/2020/01/06/america-bites-back/

Friday, 27 December 2019

Iraq in turmoil

          Iraq is in total chaos from two unconnected threats to its very existence. On the one hand domestic protesters have brought the country to a standstill with their demands for a total clear-out of the government – president, prime minister and all; on the other, ISIS is staging a full-scale regrouping in the vast areas that lie between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the north and government troops down in the south. 

          Anti-government protests began sweeping across Iraq in September 2019. They quickly turned violent as the government responded with assassination attempts and kidnappings of prominent activists. The latest to be killed was Alui al-Assami. On December 20 two unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle intercepted Al-Assami in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, fired on him and killed him instantly. Later that day protesters headed to the headquarters of political parties that are widely seen as affiliates of Iran. and set them ablaze.

         The government’s violent crackdown on protesters has led to the deaths of dozens in Nasiriyah, but it has failed to bring public servants back to work. So far the security forces, or Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), have killed nearly 500 protesters, most of them unarmed civilians. Well over 27,000 have been wounded. Live rounds are reported to have been used, and military-grade tear gas canisters fired directly into crowds.

          Meanwhile Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani has condemned the continued crackdown on demonstrations and called for an early election. After prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned amid national anti-corruption demonstrations, the Iraqi parliament missed its constitutionally mandated duty to nominate a replacement. Despite rumors to the contrary, no-one had been nominated by December 25.

          Officials say that Iran, a key player in Iraqi politics, wanted to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as education minister in the previous government. But protesters categorically reject his candidacy, along with anyone from the wider political establishment which has been in place since Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. They are demanding the resignation of both President Salih and of parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi.

          Electoral reform has been among one of the protesters' top demands, and the national parliament in Baghdad has approved several articles of a new draft election Bill. The draft law proposes changing the electoral system to a mix between direct voting and party lists, but this latter element has already been rejected by protesters, who believe it gives the parties too much power and would allow them to disregard voters’ wishes.

          It is obvious that some sort of resolution on the political front is still a long way off.

          Meanwhile ISIS is reforming and diversifying. On December 22, 2019 the BBC led its main news bulletins with a report indicating that two years after losing the last of its territory in Iraq, ISIS is re-organizing in the country. The report claimed that ISIS was mounting a sophisticated insurgency.

          The militants are now more skilled and more dangerous than al-Qaeda, according to Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official. A different kind of ISIS has emerged, he says, which, to avoid being a target, no longer wants to control territory. Instead – like their predecessors in al-Qaeda before them – the extremists have gone underground in Iraq's Hamrin Mountains.

          "This is the hub for ISIS right now," he said. "It's a long range of mountains, and very difficult for the Iraqi army to control. There are a lot of hide-outs and caves."

          The militants are benefitting from strained relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government. Kurdish intelligence officials estimate that ISIS is10,000 strong in Iraq with between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters, and a similar number of sleeper cells and sympathisers.

          Reestablished in northern Iraq , ISIS is raising money by extorting payments from farmers under penalty of destroying crops. It also has investments in markets ranging from car sales and fish farming to production of cannabis. It is in the ungoverned spaces in eastern Syria and across northern Iraq, particularly in the border areas between the Kurdish regions of Iraq and those that the central government controls, that have been taken over by ISIS. And small ISIS units are operating in the Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salahuddin, Kirkuk, Diyala and Anbar.

          ISIS has been recruiting followers among the tens of thousands of people housed in the Kurdish-run displacement camps in Syria, especially Al Hol, home to 70,000 people. To this must be added some 10,000 ISIS fighters in separate makeshift prisons.

          More than a year after Trump’s declaration of victory over ISIS, the movement is rising from its ashes like the legendary phoenix. A politically ravaged Iraq, its government clinging precariously to power, has provided prime conditions for ISIS to stage its comeback. Unless the West takes notice reasonably soon, the five-year battles of 2014-2019 may have to be fought all over again.


Published in the Jerusalem Post, 31 December 2019:
https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iraq-in-turmoil-Analysis-612593

Published in the Eurasia Review, 28 December 2019:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/28122019-iraq-in-turmoil-oped/

Published in the MPC Journal, 28 December 2019:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/2019/12/28/iraq-in-turmoil/




Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Britain repudiates Jeremy Corbyn - the Jewish dimension

This article of mine appears in the new edition of the Jerusalem Report, dated 6 January 2020
          Britain’s 2019 general election was both historic and unique. It was historic in the scale of the nation’s rejection of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn – not since 1935 had Labour suffered so massive an electoral defeat. It was unique in the fact that never before had antisemitism and the interests of the Jewish community played a role in a British election.

          Commenting on the election result the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone – suspended but never expelled from the Labour Party for a succession of antisemitic remarks – said: “The Jewish vote wasn’t very helpful.” But the Jewish vote was not very significant either. There are about 290,000 Jews in the UK, some 0.4 percent of the population. They tend to be concentrated in certain locations within the big cities – London, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. So although the Jewish vote could perhaps have influenced the result in a few constituencies, it could not possibly have had any significant effect on the overall picture.

          Nevertheless, the issue of antisemitism was undoubtedly a major factor before and during the election campaign in eroding confidence in the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and in the party’s eventual electoral downfall. The 2019 election was lost by Labour on two issues: Brexit and Corbyn’s unpopularity.

          Large swathes of Labour’s traditional working class supporters in the centre and north of England had voted Leave in the Brexit referendum, while Labour’s middle-class professionals and new, young, urban-based adherents were solidly Remain. In attempting to mollify both by adopting a so-called “neutral” position on the issue, Corbyn succeeded in satisfying neither. His core working-class support felt betrayed by his failure to carry through his initial promise to implement the result of the referendum, and deserted Labour in droves.

          Labour canvassers attempting to drum up support on the doorstep found that Labour’s Brexit failure was matched by a widespread rejection of Corbyn himself as a possible prime minister. He was perceived as unpatriotic, untrustworthy on the issue of the nation’s security, and tarred with the brush of antisemitism – in that order.

          The antisemitism issue had been highlighted in an unprecedented intervention by the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, shortly after the election was called. In an article in The Times, Britain’s leading newspaper of record, he virtually urged both the Jewish community and the nation as a whole, not to vote Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 Downing Street as prime minister. His article was endorsed almost immediately by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England.

          "With the heaviest of hearts,” wrote Rabbi Mirvis, “I call upon the citizens of our great country to study what has been unfolding before our very eyes,” setting out in stark detail some of the main failures in leadership on the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party that had marked Corbyn’s period in office. We have watched with incredulity, he said, “as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism. Even as they received unspeakable threats against themselves and their families, the response of the Labour leadership was utterly inadequate.

          “We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world. When the breakthrough came it was not without amendments, suggesting Labour knows more about antisemitism than Jewish people do.”

          “Mendacious fiction” was how the Chief Rabbi described claims by the Labour leadership to be doing everything it reasonably could to tackle anti-Jewish racism, and that it has “investigated every single case”. He maintained that there are “at least 130 outstanding cases currently before the party – some dating back years – and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved.”

          Rabbi Mirvis asked how complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition have to be in order to be considered unfit for high office.

          “Would associations with those who have openly incited hatred against Jews be enough?” he queried. “Would support for a racist mural, depicting powerful hook-nosed Jews supposedly getting rich at the expense of the weak and downtrodden be enough? Would describing as “friends” those who endorse and even perpetrate the murder of Jews be enough?”

          His wry conclusion was: “It seems not.”

          Elsewhere in the article the Chief Rabbi wrote: “Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe that this is the same party that they proudly called their political home for more than a century… This is the Labour Party in name only.”

          He concluded: “It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I simply pose the following question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? …Be in no doubt – the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

          The last opinion polls before election day were far from unanimous. Some predicted a hung parliament like the one Boris Johnson was seeking to escape from, with no party gaining an outright majority. Most forecast a small working majority for Johnson’s Conservative party, with the more adventurous suggesting a margin of error reaching as high as 40 seats.

          Then, on the dot of 10 pm, with the voting stations firmly closed, the media announced the result of the nationwide exit poll. To the total incredulity not only of the TV and radio presenters, but of the nation as a whole, it appeared that the Labour party had suffered a major defeat, losing nearly 50 seats, while the Conservatives, with a total tally of some 370 seats, had won a majority over all other parties of something like 80.

          Next day one UK journalist, Allison Pearson, wrote: ”Oh, that exit poll! Will we ever forget the sense of joy’n’relief intermingled when it flashed up on the BBC? Immediately, I called my Jewish friend. “Thank God, thank God,” she said, over and over, a lifelong Labour voter made politically homeless by the terrible Trots.” Pearson concluded her article with: “I hope the Chief Rabbi is pleased. The soul of our nation is intact.”

          Labour’s electoral débacle started early. The first results began to appear at about 11.30 pm. The first two were Labour seats returning candidates with reduced majorities. Then came Blyth Valley, a constituency so solidly Labour that it had been considered beyond the reach of the Conservatives. Lo and behold, it had confounded all expectations and chosen a Conservative as its Member of Parliament – a Conservative, moreover, tantalizingly named Ian Levy. Mr Levy’s family claims a 500-year ancestry in Blyth, a coastal town in the south-east of the county of Northumberland. So shocked by the result was Levy, a mental health worker, that with tears in his eyes he could hardly deliver his victory speech.

           Johnson won the election on a slogan of just three words – just as he had achieved his surprising victory in the Brexit referendum. On that occasion his campaign was masterminded by the maverick strategist Dominic Cummings, who devised the crowd-puller: “Take Back Control”. For the 2019 election, Johnson summoned back the young Australian strategist who had devised and carried through his two successful bids for the London mayoralty, and the Conservative’s 2015 general election campaign. Isaac Levido left his job as deputy director of Australia’s Liberal Party in August 2019 and came to the UK to put the Conservative party on a war footing, working under the general direction of Dominic Cummings. Cummings no doubt had a say in the three-word vote-winning slogan repeated constantly by Johnson during the campaign: “Get Brexit Done”.

          That slogan will persist at least until the UK actually leaves the EU on January 31, 2020. But Johnson has a broader vision for the country - a vision drawing its inspiration from Britain’s nineteenth century Jewish-born prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Back in the 1840s, while leading a rebel group called “Young England” in the Tory party (the predecessor of today’s Conservatives), he wrote two novels in which he expounded his view that the rapid industrialization of Britain had widened the chasm in society between the rich and the poor.

          Into the mouth of one of his characters in Sybil, or The Two Nations, he put: “Two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.” Although Disraeli himself never used the phrase “One Nation”, it was under that soubriquet that his political philosophy was subsequently adopted by the Conservative party, and had an enormous influence on its development. As Boris Johnson has declared: “I'm a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy.”

          Standing outside the prime minister’s London residence in Downing Street, after the final results of Britain’s 2019 general election had been published, Johnson reiterated the underlying philosophy of his predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli: “In winning this election we have won votes and the trust of people who have never voted Conservative before…Those people want change. We cannot, must not, let them down. And in delivering change we must change too. We must recognize the incredible reality that we now speak as a one-nation Conservative Party literally for everyone.” 

          Johnson shares with Disraeli another deeply-held political philosophy – Zionism. Like his eminent predecessor, Johnson has declared himself “a passionate Zionist.” Unlike Corbyn, who promised to recognize the state of Palestine and end arms exports to Israel if he became prime minister, Johnson is enthusiastically in favour of expanding all aspects of Anglo-Israeli trade, which has been growing exponentially in the past few years. Under the Johnson government, UK-Israeli relations are likely to become even closer across the board, not least in the high-tech, security and intelligence fields. Post-Brexit Britain is eager to expand relationships with friendly nations outside the EU. Israel stands high on that list. The UK’s 2019 general election is likely to prove highly beneficial not only to its Jewish community, but to Israel as well.


Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 27 December 2019:
https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Britains-rejection-of-Corbyn-proves-soul-of-nation-is-intact-612289

Friday, 20 December 2019

Turkey racks up tension in the eastern Med


          There was reason behind Turkey’s invasion in 1974 of northern Cyprus, an area largely inhabited by ethnic Turks. Turkey was reacting to a coup, masterminded by the then military junta in Greece, aimed at overturning the Cypriot government and substituting one favoring Enosis, or union with Greece.

          But strong-arm tactics, no matter how justified, had fallen out of favour. Turkey eventually seized nearly 40 percent of the island, and set up the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), but the world has never accepted its legitimacy. It has been recognized by no international organization and no country other than Turkey itself. Despite many attempts over the years to re-unify Cyprus, a political accommodation has never been achieved. As for dislodging the illegal Turkey-backed regime by military force, that has never seemed a viable option. No nation or international body has been prepared to take on Turkey’s formidable military machine.

          So for most of the past 45 years the issue has been one of those many unresolved political problems that the world seems content to view with a blind eye, like Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. But the discovery around 2010 of vast reserves of liquefied natural gas (LNG) off the coasts of Israel and Cyprus was bound to bring equally vast consequences in its train.

          Among the first, and perhaps the least anticipated, has been the creation of a new geopolitical entity in the eastern Mediterranean – a tripartite alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel that promises to bring both stability to the region, and the prospect of enormous technological, economic and environmental advances.
          The next, and even more surprising development, was the foundation in January 2019 of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) by a consortium consisting of Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Energy ministers from each met in Cairo in July 2019 to discuss how to accelerate the development of the region’s vast gas resources and to increase cooperation. The aim was to pave the way for a “sustainable regional gas market” by fostering regional energy cooperation.

          Turkey is not a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and does not recognize the government of Cyprus, its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), its maritime border agreements with Egypt, Israel or Lebanon, or the licenses that Cyprus has awarded to foreign energy companies. Having positioned itself outside the international agreements, Turkey has been drilling for some years in waters internationally recognized as being part of Cyprus’s EEZ. Accordingly, it was not invited to participate in the new Forum.

          The EU has repeatedly said it considers Turkey’s drilling offshore Cyprus as illegal and, together with the US, has warned Turkey to halt its operations. In July the EU suspended all EU-Turkey high-level dialogue, and asked the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey. In November 2019 the EU imposed new sanctions on Turkey, saying they would be lifted as soon as Turkey ceased its unauthorized drilling operations.

          Turkey is driven by a sort of illegal logic. Having seized and occupied northern Cyprus, it is now claiming a share in the vast oil and liquefied natural gas bonanza that has unexpectedly appeared off the coastline of its unrecognized Republic. It describes the areas in question as part of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot EEZs. Turkey does, of course, have a Mediterranean coastline, but it runs to the north of Cyprus, while the gas reserves are in the so-called Energy Triangle south and east of the island.

          On December 15 Turkey racked up tension in the region by sending a military drone to Cyprus to protect its two ships drilling for oil and gas. The drone flew from the southern coast of Turkey, landed in an air base in Turkish-occupied north Cyprus, and was immediately deployed on its first mission. Reacting to the immediate objections from the EU, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to close two key US bases on Turkish soil – Incirlik, from where American jets target Islamic State targets, and Kurecik, home to a NATO radar station.

          In adopting an obviously aggressive stance, Erdogan is reacting to the US threat of sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. He is also angry about recent votes in Congress recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. Erdogan is also making a pre-emptive strike against Washington’s plans to establish a security organization in the eastern Mediterranean based on the cooperation of countries like Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Jordan – a project reported to be discussed at the trilateral summit between Greece, Cyprus and Israel scheduled for December 19 and 20.

          Meanwhile the vast potential of the oil and gas reserves in the Energy Triangle is beginning to be realized. Israel is to start pipeline exports to Egypt before the end of 2019, while Cyprus has also reached a provisional deal to pipe gas to Egypt from its Aphrodite field. 


          A key infrastructure project in the region is the EastMed pipeline, planned for completion by 2025. With the political backing of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Italy this ambitious 2100 km pipeline is designed to link the offshore gas resources of both Cyprus and Israel to Greece and Italy. Turkey’s frustration at being excluded from these highly lucrative enterprises is understandable, but it is not likely to win a share by way of a maverick effort directed against the combined will of the rest of the world.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 21 December 2019:

Published in the MPC Journal, 21 December 2019:

Published in Israel Hayom, 26 December 2019:

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

An un-put-downable thriller

This review of mine appears in the new edition of The Jerusalem Report dated  23 December 2019

           In “The Persian Gamble”, Joel C Rosenberg picks up the threads of his riveting best-selling spy thriller, “The Kremlin Conspiracy”, and races ahead with the follow-up. 
          The Russian president, Alexander Luganov, has been assassinated, along with the head of the FSB, Russia’s security service. The killer is Oleg Kraskin, the president’s son-in-law who, totally disillusioned with the policies being pursued by the Russian government, is already preparing to defect to the United States.  But when Kraskin learns of a nuclear deal that Luganov is negotiating with North Korea, and realizes that it could trigger a new world war, he takes the split-second decision to kill the president. 
          Marcus Ryker, former US secret service agent, is in Moscow to spirit the defecting Kraskin out of the country, while Jennifer Morris, the CIA station chief in Moscow, is standing by to help him.  After the killing, Kraskin duly meets up with them, but an already difficult mission is made ten times more so when they realize that they are on the run with the man who killed the president. 
          From this beginning Rosenberg fashions a fast-moving page-turner of a thriller, played out in an entirely plausible contemporary setting.  The reader is held riveted by a plot in which succeeding events build, one after another, to a hair-raising climax..
          Rosenberg’s storyline is, in some respects, too convincing for comfort.  The elements that could make it happen are all present in today’s febrile world.
          The plot is easy to follow, though the storyline moves us rapidly from location to location.  To help readers chart their way through it. Rosenberg provides a cast of characters at the start of the book.  He lists no less than 36, each with a brief description. 
          The real villain in Rosenberg’s take on today’s world is Iran.  With nearly two billion dollars handed over to Iran by the US as part of the nuclear deal struck in 2015, Iran’s Supreme Leader approves the purchase of five Russian-made nuclear warheads from North Korea.  It takes a good deal of persuasion on Marcus’s part, but finally US defence and security chiefs authorize him to intercept the warheads before they reach Iranian soil.  Once they were in Iranian hands, they come to realize, war in the Middle East would become inevitable.
          In attempting to accomplish this larger objective Marcus Ryker, together with the defector-assassin Oleg Kraskin and CIA chief Jennifer Morris, have to avoid capture by the Russians.  The plane in which they hoped to bring Kraskin out of Russia is blown out of the sky, but they eject from it just in time.  Then it’s a cat-and-mouse game evading the police and security across Russia, while Ryker tries to convince his contacts back in the US about the Iranian-North Korean deal, and that the nuclear weapons are within Iran’s grasp.
          Finally Marcus makes a deal with the US government he will rejoin the secret service provided they allow him to intercept the five nuclear warheads, which are already at sea,.  Ryker’s efforts to track down the ship carrying the weapons, and the breathtaking series of events when he finally succeeds, forms the final section of Rosenberg’s novel.  The eventual showdown is between hero and villain Marcus Ryker and the Iranian leader who has masterminded the purchase of the nuclear warheads from North Korea, Alireza al-Zanjani.
          Marcus Ryker is a typical action-savvy hero figure in all but one respect.  He is a practising Christian, and his deeply held faith emerges time and again as the plot progresses.  This aspect of the novel perhaps explains why it has been published by Tyndale House Publishers.  Founded in 1962, Tyndal House is the world’s largest privately held Christian publisher.
          At nearly 500 pages “The Persian Gamble” is not a short book, but it is constructed from very short and sharp chapters – 93 of them.  As a result the reader is kept on the alert, reluctant to leave the story, turning time and again to the next short chapter, eager to follow one incident on to the next.  “The Persian Gamble” is a thriller that falls within the category of “un-put-downable.”  It is highly recommended.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Time for electoral reform in Israel

          Throughout Israel’s constitutional logjam it has been difficult to see the wood for the trees. The trees that have been blocking the view are the political maneuverings of the main protagonists. Many, if not most, voters believe that some form of unity government was well within the grasp of either Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz, if either – or, indeed, if Avidgor Liberman – had deigned to compromise. Their rigid red lines, however, proved too powerful a disincentive to do that. As a result the national interest, which is crying out for a return to effective government, has suffered

          The wood, hidden from view by these burgeoning trees, is the fact that it is Israel’s current electoral system which has landed the country in this mess. The way governments are elected is in urgent need of reconsideration and reform.

          What are its obvious weaknesses? To anyone nurtured in the bosom of US or UK democracy, the most obvious problem is that Israeli general elections do not return a majority party but require weeks of intensive back-room negotiations before a government can be formed, and that sometimes these negotiations fail to deliver. Having failed twice, what assurance is there that a third general election would yield a different outcome?

          Israel’s system presupposes that all governments will be coalitions. But no immutable law states that democratic governments must be coalitions. The normal result of general elections in the UK and the US is that one or other of the two main parties is returned to power with a working majority and subsequently forms a government. Neither require weeks of sometimes unsavory wheeling and dealing following elections.

          When the Israeli electorate go to the polls, they are asked to choose the one party among the many competing – sometimes 30 or more – with whose policies they most agree. The number of seats that each party gains in the Knesset is almost exactly proportional to the number of votes the party obtains in the general election. That is a democratic plus.

          The downside is that inevitably the nation’s vote is fractured. No one party can emerge as the outright winner. Hence the back-room trading and bargaining. Concessions are demanded by the smaller parties in return for their support. The policies finally agreed between the cobbled-together majority can be far from the policies any elector voted for.

          A considerable additional weakness in the current arrangements is the total lack of personal engagement between members of the Knesset and the people. MKs gain their seats because of their position on their party lists. In the US, citizens know who the two senators representing their State is, just as they know by name the individual who represents their constituency in Congress.

          The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each of which returns one member of Parliament (MP) in a first-past-the-post voting system. Once elected that MP is deemed to represent all the voters in the constituency, and any of them with a problem would look to “their” MP for help. Every voter therefore has a direct personal link with an MP, whether that MP is a backbencher or a minister – even the prime minister.

          The main disadvantage of first-past-the-post is that seats in parliament do not match the national voting pattern. Candidates can and do win a seat having gained far less than 50 percent of the votes in their constituency. The system produces large majorities but a democratic deficit.

          Proposals to reform Israel’s electoral system by combining the constituency concept with proportionality have been put forward on several occasions. The last attempt, in 1988, proposed that Israel be divided into 60 constituencies, each of which would elect one MK, while another 60 would be elected by the current system. Electors would all vote for both a candidate and a list. The proposal foundered.

          Back in 2005, President Moshe Katsav set up a commission to examine constitutional issues including the electoral system. It met regularly for more than a year, and it too finally favoured a combined system although with a different constituency structure. The commission’s recommendations, like earlier attempts at electoral reform, were not followed up. Nor indeed were subsequent efforts, like those of Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson in 2006.

          This is a nettle that must be grasped. The dire events of 2019 point in no other direction. Electoral reform simply must be a major element in the political program of Israel’s next government, whenever it is formed.


Published in Israel Hayom, 3 December 2019: 

Monday, 2 December 2019

Palestinians edge towards elections

          Elections have become fashionable in the Holy Land. Israel has had two of them in the past year and seems poised for a third. Now the Palestinian Authority (PA) has caught the bug. After lengthy haggling, the PA, Hamas, Fatah and a clutch of other Palestinian factions have agreed to hold elections for the legislature and then for president early next year.

          It’s not before time. The last effort was 14 years ago, back in 2006. The outcome was so disastrous that there has been little appetite for repeating the experiment. Hamas won more votes and more seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) than the ruling Fatah party, but when President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to form a government of national unity, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya refused to serve as prime minister under him. Instead, led by Khaled Mashal, Hamas mounted a truly bloody coup in the Gaza strip, and ejected Fatah bag and baggage. With brief periods of respite, Hamas and Fatah have been at daggers drawn ever since.

          The struggle between Hamas and Fatah for the soul of the Palestinian people began almost from the moment that Hamas was created in 1987 as a radical off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas regarded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964 to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”, as not effective enough, despite the string of terrorist actions it perpetrated.

          When the PLO entered into peace talks with Israel, Hamas was appalled. Its leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, condemned the first Oslo Accord agreement of 1993, and rejected the PLO recognition of the State of Israel. Yasser Arafat, he declared, was “destroying Palestinian society and sowing the seeds of discord and division among Palestinians.”

          Hamas was never comfortable either with the PA, which emerged from the Oslo accords, nor with its claim to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people. It rejected the PA’s “play it long” policy of pressing for recognition of a sovereign Palestine within pre-1967 boundaries, even though that was only the first stage in a strategy ultimately designed to gain control of the whole of Mandate Palestine. Equally Hamas opposed Abbas’s efforts to obtain recognition of a State of Palestine within the United Nations, since to do so would also legitimize Israel.

          At the heart of the Hamas-Fatah conflict is this fundamental difference about the most effective route to reach their common objective. Hamas has made no secret of its aspiration to replace Fatah as the governing body of the West Bank. Sometimes it chooses to acknowledge Abbas as Palestinian leader; sometimes it refuses to recognize him as PA president at all on the grounds that his presidential mandate, granted in 2005 for a four-year term, has long expired. Hamas has, moreover, consistently tried to undermine his PA administration by forming militant cells in the West Bank to launch attacks on Israel.

          Ismail Haniyeh, who became leader of Hamas in 2017, pursued the same hard line. Abbas reacted by attempting to force Hamas into submission through cutting financial support and restricting the Strip’s access to electricity. The many efforts at reconciliation between the parties, often sponsored by Egypt, have failed, and the Hamas-Fatah schism even led some to speculate on an eventual full-scale separation between the two Palestinian communities.

          The idea of new elections has come and gone several times over the past few years, always to be frustrated at the last minute. They were scheduled to be held between April and October 2014 in accordance with a Fatah-Hamas agreement reached in April 2014, but were delayed indefinitely. In October 2017, under a so-called Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, general elections were agreed to take place by the end of 2018. Once more they failed to materialize.

          On 26 September 2019, nothing daunted, Abbas again announced that he intended to set a date for elections. Hamas responded positively. but on 6 November Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a splinter terrorist organization active in Gaza, rejected Abbas’s terms, which specified that in order to be eligible to run, candidates would have to recognize the agreements signed by the PLO. Most of these, based as they are on the PA’s stated position of supporting the two-state solution, are anathema to Hamas.

          None the less, and protesting vigorously at the PA's decision to stop demonstrations in Ramallah in support of Palestinians jailed by Israel, Hamas finally, on November 26, signed its agreement to hold legislative and presidential elections in 2020. Judging by the past record, the chances of these elections actually taking place must stand at no more than 50-50.

          In any case, a possible hurdle stands in the way. On November 11 Abbas said that there would be no new Palestinian elections unless they included east Jerusalem. Chief of Hamas politburo, Ismail Haniyeh, endorsed that. East Jerusalem is administered by Israel, and its Palestinians citizens have the special status of “permanent residents”. Normally demonstrations of Palestinian sovereignty are not permitted within Jerusalem, but in the 2006 elections Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were permitted to vote (they did so at post offices), and there seems no good reason why the same should not apply in 2020.

          Free and fair legislative elections whose result is respected by the contending parties could start healing the divisions which ravage the Palestinian body politic. As for new presidential elections, they are overdue by a decade at least, and could restore democratic legitimacy to Abbas who, despite his 84 years, shows no signs of stepping aside. The question is – will they actually take place?



Published in the Jerusalem Post, 5 December 2019:
https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Palestinians-edge-toward-elections-609914

Published in the MPC Journal, 4 December 2019:
https://mpc-journal.org/blog/2019/12/04/palestinians-edge-towards-elections/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 1 December 2019:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/01122019-palestinians-edge-towards-elections-oped/


Thursday, 28 November 2019

Labour’s failures over antisemitism: the chickens come home to roost

This article of mine appears in the new edition of the Jerusalem Report, dated 9 December 2019
          Britain goes to the polls on December 12. Never before has a major political party entered into a UK general election campaign with two unresolved investigations hanging over its head. That is the position in which the British Labour party finds itself. Because the findings of the two inquiries, and their final reports, might influence the result of the election, it seems unlikely that they will be published before polling day. 

          Both investigations centre on the widely-held perception that the Labour party has been insufficiently diligent in its reaction to antisemitism within its ranks.

          To the surprise of everyone, and to the distaste of at least half the Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain’s Labour party in September 2015. Corbyn was a rebel. He was known to hold hard left-wing views, at variance with the social democratic policies of his own party. Throughout a long parliamentary career he frequently voted against his party. He despised capitalism, colonialism, America, NATO, the UK’s nuclear deterrent and Israel, among a variety of other issues. Contrariwise he supported Marxist regimes like Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, and groups using violence and terror to further their cause such as the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. He saw them as freedom fighters, and believed in engaging with them as a means of bringing opposing sides together.

          From the moment that Corbyn became leader, hard-left views on a variety of matters became mainstream within the Labour party. Among them was “intersectionality”, the accepted left-wing term for perceiving a direct link between all victims of oppression, whether sexual, racial, political, or economic. Palestinians were deemed oppressed, and therefore to be supported. Israel was deemed the oppressor, and therefore to be opposed. The conclusion, in approved left-wing doctrine, was unequivocal and unchallengeable support for the Palestinian cause.

          Some zealous supporters of Corbyn found it difficult to separate opposition to Israel from opposition to Jews generally – Israel was, after all, the Jewish state. In the case of some Corbyn supporters, anti-Zionism morphed easily enough into frank antisemitism.

          When some high profile Labour figures strayed so obviously beyond acceptable limits into openly antisemitic comments and were suspended from the party, public unease about the situation within Labour began to grow. In May 2016 Corbyn felt obligated to set up an inquiry into antisemitism within the party. He appointed Shami Chakrabati, then director of an organization promoting civil liberties, to chair it. In June 2016 she presented her report. It concluded that the party was not "overrun by antisemitism or other forms of racism", although there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" and "clear evidence of ignorant attitudes". In August 2016 she was made a life peer, and is now Baroness Chakrabati, shadow Attorney-General for England and Wales.

          Her report did nothing to stem the tide of antisemitism within Labour, nor to inhibit a succession of revelations linking Corbyn himself pretty closely with terrorists who drew no distinction between anti-Zionism and straightforward antisemitism. Meanwhile public criticism mounted about Labour’s ineffectiveness in tackling antisemitism within its ranks.

          In February 2019 nine Labour MPs resigned from the party largely on these grounds, and in May the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that it was setting up an inquiry into whether Labour had "unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish". The EHRC had only once before ventured into the political arena, by investigating a fringe right-wing racist party.

          The Equality and Human Rights Commission was founded in 2007, bringing together three former bodies concerned with promoting equality in specific social areas. Its remit is to ensure that equality laws are enforced, and that discrimination and harassment ae eliminated. It was given legal powers to compel employers and organizations to cease discriminatory practices and to make such changes as are necessary to prevent future discrimination or non-compliance.

           The EHRC investigation into the Labour party is one of the two whose report and recommendations are awaited.

          On July 9, 2019 three Labour peers – Lords Turnberg, Trieseman and Darzi – resigned from the party, accusing Corbyn of antisemitism. The following evening the BBC broadcast a TV documentary on its main domestic channel titled: “Is Labour Antisemitic?” During the program a number of former party officials alleged that senior Labour figures had interfered in the process of dealing with antisemitism complaints. The whistleblowers also claimed that they had faced a huge increase in antisemitism complaints since Corbyn became leader in 2015, and described the great personal strain they had faced in trying to handle them.

          Before the documentary was broadcast, Corbyn’s campaigning group Momentum tweeted a 40-second video which attacked the programme’s veteran director, John Ware, claiming that he had a “record of public political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn, his politics and leadership of the Labour party”.

          After the broadcast Jon Lansman, the co-founder of the Momentum campaign group, called it a “politically motivated documentary into a subject that demands serious and fair discussion”.

           The Labour party then activated the BBC Complaints process. It issued a formal objection to the programme by way of a 28-page letter. In it the party alleged that the documentary failed to meet the BBC’s standards because of “the tendentious and politically slanted script; the bias in the selection of interviewees; and the failure to identify the political affiliations or records of interviewees .” It claimed the programme, “a highly controversial, sensitive and contested subject” was “a one-sided authored polemic”.

          The BBC takes its complaints procedure very seriously. It publishes a 45-page document entitled: “BBC Complaints Framework and Procedures” which sets out in comprehensive detail how the public should go about registering complaints, and the step-by-step process followed by the BBC in dealing with them. The BBC is obligated to take all complaints seriously and to report back to the complainant, usually within two weeks. It has been considering the Labour party’s objections for four months.

          Shortly after the forthcoming general election was announced, The Guardian newspaper reported, on well-founded information, that the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit – the top level of its internal complaints process – had completed its investigation into Labour’s complaints about the documentary, and that none have been upheld. The Unit’s conclusions would back the programme makers.

          There is no indication, however, that the BBC will announce its findings before Britain goes to the polls on December 12.

          There may be other fallout, however. 


“Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum.”
          

          Since April 2017 the BBC itself has had an external regulator – the Office for Communications, known as Ofcom. It is authorized to act as a final appeal in the BBC’s complaints procedure. If the Labour party is dissatisfied with the BBC’s response to its complaint, it could apply to Ofcom. The whole matter may yet have a long way to travel.

          There are a number of other loose ends.

          “Is Labour Antisemitic?” featured interviews with a succession of Labour whistleblowers who explained that soon after Corbyn’s election as party leader, they found themselves contending with his most senior aides who continually attempted to subvert the system by meddling in disciplinary cases relating to antisemitism. Labour’s press team claimed during the broadcast that the staffers featured had political axes to grind and lacked credibility.

          As a result five ex-Labour party staffers are now reported to be suing Labour for libel over alleged smears they have been subjected to since the programme was transmitted.

          Separately John Ware, the TV director responsible for the programme, recently began libel proceedings against the Labour party over its public criticism of his reputation in public statements issued in advance of the broadcast.

          Either or both these cases could emerge into the public domain before December 12 reminding the British public, if reminder were needed, of the toxic issue of antisemitism that still clings to the Labour party. 

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 27 November 2019