Thursday, 28 September 2017

Road to anti-Semitism

Letter in the Daily Telegraph, 28 September 2017

SIR – In his analysis of America’s Antifa phenomenon (Sep 23 - see beneath), Rob Crilly omits one important aspect.

Anti-fascists in today’s America have become enslaved to the fashionable “intersectionality” that perceives a link between all manifestations of oppression, however diverse. Female victims of sexual inequality are related to black victims of racial inequality and to victims of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inequality.

Palestinians, Left-wing opinion has decreed, are quintessential victims. Their villainous oppressors are Israel, which it accuses of every sort of monstrous criminality. The logical outcome is that if one opposes racism, homophobia and sexism, then one must oppose Israel, and by extension all those who support Israel, and by a further extension all Israelis, most of whom just so happen to be Jews. The fact that half of all Israelis oppose the policies of their government is immaterial.

This is why the Charlottesville violence differed from the Battle of Cable Street, that seminal moment in the history of anti-fascist action. The Cable Street anti-fascists were Jews supported by non-Jewish friends, neighbours and fellow workers, who hated the anti-Semitism of Oswald Mosley and his bully-boys, and were determined to make a stand against them. Antifa, on the other hand, contains within itself an anti-Semitism as hateful as that mouthed by the fascists it opposes.

Neville Teller

Antifa:  The rise of America's shadowy far-left

Antifa defies standard definitions.

There is no leader, organised network or membership roll. Nor does it have a coherent policy platform to promote, although most adherents describe themselves as anti-government and anti-capitalist.

It has its roots in the anarchist movement but today is a loose network of autonomous anti-fascist groups, ranging from anti-racist organisations, groupings with their roots in Black Lives Matter, or far-Left communist and socialist movements.

Then there are the less traditional members, the gun clubs and self-defence gyms.

It is easier to define in terms of what it is against: Fascism, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Its name, after all, is a contraction of anti-fascist.

Supporters say it is perhaps best understood as a tactic. Militant direct action - often violent - is its most salient feature, used to prevent the hard Right from organising, putting on rallies or even holding punk music gigs.

During the past year, that has extended to shutting down Trump supporters.

As Mark Bray, author of a new book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, puts it: “Our goal should be that in 20 years those who voted for Trump are too uncomfortable to share that fact in public. We may not always be able to change someone's beliefs, but we sure as hell can make it politically, socially, economically, and sometimes physically costly to articulate them.”

Rob Crilly

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Will Guterres deliver justice for Palestinian refugees?

           António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres became Secretary-General of the United Nations on January 1, 2017. Once Portugal’s prime minister, he was UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005. For ten years he headed UNHCR, the world's largest humanitarian organization, during a period when unprecedented numbers of people fled their homes to seek safety or a better life elsewhere. He used his time in office to achieve fundamental organizational reform, cutting staff and administrative costs, while expanding the organization’s emergency response capacity during the worst displacement crisis since the Second World War.
        At the end of his term Guterres had more than 10,000 staff working in 126 countries; and the UNHCR was providing protection and assistance to over 60 million refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. The only refugees for which the UNHCR had no responsibility was the Palestinians. This is one desperately costly anomaly that the new UN Secretary-General must address sooner rather than later, as he seeks to reshape an organization that most world leaders agree is in urgent need of change from within.

          Reform of the whole UN organization now looms large on his agenda. Ever more urgent calls for action are emanating from world leaders as diverse as Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Monday Sep 18, 2017 US President Donald Trump hosted a high level meeting on the subject, which ended with 128 nations signing a declaration of support for UN reforms, only Russia and China abstaining.

          Humanitarian concerns underlie one of the reforms to the UN structure urgently requiring attention. Some 5 million Palestinians under the aegis of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) are doomed to perpetual refugee status.

          At around the time the state of Israel came into being, something over half the non-Jewish population of what used to be called “Palestine”, some 750,000 people, left their homes. The 1949 General Assembly resolution establishing UNRWA called for “the alleviation of the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestine refugees.” Yet the resolution also stated that “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.” In other words, the new refugee agency’s mission was intended to be temporary.

          Nearly 70 years have passed. The “temporary” UNRWA has been transformed into a bloated international bureaucracy with a staff of 30,000 and an annual budget of around $1.2 billion. As for the number of Palestinians registered by UNRWA as refugees, that has mushroomed from 750,000 in 1950 to 5.6 million today. How could such a situation have been allowed to develop? The transformation occurred according to the diktat of UNRWA itself, which decided to bestow refugee status upon "descendants of Palestine refugees," in perpetuity. The growth in UNWRA’s client base is therefore exponential, justifying an ever-expanding staff and an ever-increasing budget. It has been estimated that by 2050 the number of UNRWA’s “Palestine refugees” will reach just short of 15 million.

          When the civil conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, some 3 million UNRWA registered Palestine refugees were living in some 58 camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. By early 2017 up to 280,000 Palestinians had been displaced inside Syria, and a further 120,000 had fled to neighbouring countries. But what has justified this perpetuation of refugee status on millions of human beings?

          The three key policies pursued by the UN’s main refugee organization, the UNHCR, which Guterres ran so effectively, are voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. As a result UNHCR has resettled literally millions of unfortunate people who have left their homes, willingly or unwillingly, over the years. A major effect of UNRWA’s humanitarian activities, on the other hand, has been not only to maintain millions of people in their refugee status decade after decade, but to expand the numbers as generation has succeeded generation.

          Over the past 70 years UNRWA has allowed itself to become a tool of those Arab states intent on using the Palestinians as bargaining chips in their anti-Israel politicking. For the receiving states to resettle and absorb these people into their new places of residence would be to remove a formidable negotiating advantage, and have the effect of legitimising Israel. The result? Jordan today contains over two million Palestine refugees, of whom 338,000 are still living in camps. In Lebanon an Amnesty International study described registered Palestine refugees as living in "appalling social and economic conditions". Following Lebanon’s civil war in 1990, the 400,000 Palestine refugees living there were barred from professions such as medicine, law and engineering and were not allowed to own property. A very partial relaxation of these harsh conditions was granted In June 2005 to Lebanon-born Palestinians.

          For its part, UNRWA – unlike UNHCR – made no effort to achieve integration or local resettlement. It washed its hands of any involvement in “final status” considerations.

          None of this is good enough. There has been talk of dismantling UNRWA, or of absorbing it into the UNHCR, or of radically amending its terms of reference. Any of these would be preferable to allowing the present state of affairs to run on indefinitely. Guterres must put this pressing issue high on his agenda for UN reform.

          The signs are good. Guterres is a reformer by temperament. He himself has argued that the UN’s unwieldy bureaucracy and structure need to be reshaped for a more interconnected world. UNWRA which keeps Palestinians permanently dependent as refugees is not currently fit for purpose. If it is to remain in operation, its remit requires fundamental reconsideration, its terms of reference need to be substantially amended, and its functions must be subject to rigorous and continuous scrutiny. If it cannot subject itself to this degree of reform, then it should be wound up, and its functions transferred to the UNHCR. Since this step would require a majority vote in the UN General Assembly, it would represent a major diplomatic challenge for the UN’s new Secretary General.  Antonio Guterres seems the very man to take it on, and succeed.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 30 September 2017 as:
Justice for Palestinian refugees - will Guterres deliver?

Published in the Eurasia Review, 25 September 2017 as:
"Guterres - The Hope Of Justice for Palestinian Refugees"

Published in the Mashreq, Politics and Culture Journal, 27 September 2017 as:
"Guterres - The Hope Of Justice for Palestinian Refugees"

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The intriguing background to the Balfour Declaration

         On November 2, 1917 a letter was delivered by hand from Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, to Lionel Walter, the second Baron Rothschild, at his home at 148 Piccadilly, a prestigious address if ever there was one.  The letter contained within in the historic Balfour Declaration, the document generally accepted to be the foundation stone of today’s Israel. 

          A question rarely asked is why Balfour addressed his letter to Lord Rothschild, rather than to Sir Stuart Samuel, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. After all, the Board of Deputies, its origins going as far back as 1760, was – and remains – the body officially representative of Britain’s Jewish community. The Board has been storm-tossed on many occasions during its long life. The reason it was not the recipient of Balfour’s historic communication is connected with a particularly tempestuous episode in its history. 

          Back in 1871 the Anglo-Jewish elite, led by the recently retired editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Abraham Benisch, set up an organization to protect Jewish rights in backward countries. Both Benisch and his co-founder, Albert Lowy, were passionate believers in the emancipation of downtrodden Jews across the world. Calling itself the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA), it proved to be an effective means of influencing both British and foreign governments in opposing antisemitic activities. 

          The AJA quickly grew in size and influence, and by 1878 it had attained sufficient status for the Board of Deputies to agree to form a Conjoint Committee with it, through which a unified position on the protection of Jews worldwide could be presented to the government. Although the two bodies worked together well enough, something in the nature of a power struggle developed as each strove for recognition by the government as representing the Jewish community in the UK.

          On one matter, however, the leadership of both bodies was agreed – opposition to the wave of pro-Zionist sentiment that was sweeping Britain, an opposition rife among old-established Anglo-Jewish families.

          In 1917 the Board of Deputies was led by David Lindo Alexander, and the AJA by Claude Montefiore. Both were convinced anti-Zionists. In their view national identity and religion were completely separate. They were Englishmen of the Jewish persuasion. There was no such thing as the Jewish nation, and they saw absolutely no need for a separate state for Jews. 

          The Conjoint Committee, composed of selected members from the Board and the AJA, was led jointly by Alexander and Montefiore. Aware that Chaim Weizmann had gained the ear of the prime minister and leading members of the Cabinet, and fearful that the government was on the verge of declaring itself supportive of the Zionist cause, the joint chairmen drew up a statement of their position on the Zionist issue on behalf of the Conjoint Committee. Dated May 17, 1917, they sent it to The Times.

          The editor of The Times, a member of the upper echelons of the British establishment by virtue of his position, was George Geoffrey Dawson. He was certainly aware that prime minister Lloyd George, foreign secretary Lord Balfour, and other Cabinet ministers favoured the Zionist cause. It was no secret, either, that a conference had been convened in London by the English Zionist Federation for Sunday, 20 May, 1917. 

          No doubt to their disappointment, Alexander and Montefiore did not find their letter in the correspondence columns of The Times on Friday 18 May. Nor did it appear in the Saturday edition. On the Sunday the Zionist conference duly took place.  As it got under way, Weizmann made a momentous announcement. "I am authorized to state in this assembly that His Majesty's Government is ready to support our plans". For the first time Weizmann declared publicly that the Zionists could rely upon British support and protection during their progress towards their final aim – "the creation of a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine". 

          The wind had been taken out of the Conjoint Committee’s sails. Their letter was held back for another few days, while news of Weizmann’s announcement spread. When it finally appeared on the 24th of May, its attack on Zionism and its argument that establishing a Jewish national identity in Palestine would stamp Jews everywhere as 'strangers in their native lands', seemed petulant and ineffective. 

          On the Monday morning, a Bank Holiday, The Times published three rebuttals. A letter from Lord Rothschild emphasized that the anti-Zionists did not represent Britain’s Jewish community. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz asserted that the views of the Conjoint Committee belonged to a very small minority. A letter from Chaim Weizmann, as chairman of the English Zionist Federation, regretted “that there should be even two Jews who think it their duty to exert such influence as they may command against the realization of a hope which has sustained the Jewish nation through 2,000 years of exile, persecution, and temptation.”

          In the next few weeks the pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle was bombarded with letters and statements from rabbis, readers, community leaders, synagogues, and Jewish organizations, the vast majority opposing the anti-Zionists. The resultant furore led the Board of Deputies to permit a vote to be tabled censuring the Conjoint Committee, and on June 17 it was passed by 56 to 51, with six abstentions – presumably the six Board members on the Committee. The result: the resignation of the Conjoint members, swiftly followed by that of the President of the Board, David Lindo Alexander, the co-signatory of the letter. Elected in his place was Sir Stuart Samuel, elder brother of Herbert Samuel, a former Home Secretary and later to be the first High Commissioner in Palestine. 

          When Balfour penned his historic letter only four months later, the Board of Deputies was still heavily tainted by the Conjoint Committee affair, and Samuel had scarcely settled into his new position as its President. The Declaration could not be despatched to an organization so equivocal about Zionism. Lord Rothschild, a leading figure in the Anglo-Jewish community and a strong supporter of Zionism, who had written to The Times to condemn the Conjoint Committee’s statement, was the obvious recipient.

          On Sunday December 2, 1917 London’s Royal Opera House was filled to capacity. Rothschild was chairing a meeting of thanksgiving for the Declaration - thanksgiving directed, one presumes, equally to the Almighty and the British government. Besides the government officials present, Zionist dignitaries were led by Chaim ‎Weizmann and included Nahum Sokolow, secretary-general of the World Zionist Congress, Herbert Samuel and Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz. After speeches by clergy, officials and even an Arab representative from Palestine, the occasion ended with loud cheers and the audience singing “Hatikvah.”

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 24 September 2017 as:
"The Balfour Declaration - why Lord Rothschild?"

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The persecuted Yazidis

          If freedom of religious belief is a fundamental human right, then surely no people is more deserving of universal sympathy and support than the persecuted Yazidis. With a long history behind them of victimization and oppression under Ottoman rule­ – more than 70 genocidal massacres are on record – in recent years their maltreatment has, if anything, intensified.

          The Yazidis are a minority religious sect within the Kurdish nation. Almost all Kurds adhere to Sunni Islam; the Yazidis, although ethnically Kurdish, have preserved their own religious beliefs over the centuries. The Yazidi religion, dating back to the 11th century, is said to be derived from the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, founded some 3,500 years ago by the prophet Zoroaster, perhaps better known as Zarathustra. Zarathustra’s beliefs, like those of many ancient sages, have echoed down the centuries. “Thus Spake Zarathustra” was the title of a 19th century philosophical novel by Friedrich Nietzsche, and later of a tone poem by Richard Strauss which became the theme music for Stanley Kubrick’s iconic science-fiction movie: “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. 

          Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic faith which is not Abrahamic, but the Yazidis have incorporated into it elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The religious persecution that the Yazidis have been subjected to derives from their worship of Melek Tawwus, or the Peacock Angel, one of seven angels central to their beliefs. Its importance to the Yazidis led to their being dubbed “devil worshippers”, and to have led in the past to massacres. In post-Saddam Iraq, Al-Qaeda denounced Yazidis as infidels and slaughtered them in their hundreds. To Islamic State (IS) their mere existence was like a red rag to a bull.

          Although the Yazidis had once inhabited a wide area stretching across eastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq, and western Iran, by 2014 only the community in Iraq was still numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Most lived in two areas: Sheikhan, a collection of villages and towns to the northeast of Mosul, and Sinjar, a mountain area close to the border with Syria.

          It was in June 2014 that IS formally declared the establishment of a "caliphate" – a state to be ruled in accordance with Sharia law by God's deputy on earth, or caliph. It demanded that Muslims across the world swear allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In its first months IS appeared unstoppable, conquering huge swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. On August 2, 2014, IS forces captured the city and region of Sinjar.

          Yazidi civilians were told to convert to Islam immediately or be killed. More than 100,000 fled to take refuge on Mount Sinjar. The UN said that they ended up in nine locations on the mountain, a craggy, mile-high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah’s ark.

          Those who couldn’t flee were rounded up. Many of the men were massacred. Thousands of Yazidis were either executed and thrown into pits, or died of dehydration, injuries or exhaustion on the mountain. According to Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil, herself a Yazidi from Sinjar, well over 6,000 Yazidis – mostly women and children – were enslaved and transported to IS prisons or military training camps. Some were conveyed to the homes of fighters across eastern Syria and western Iraq, where they were locked away, raped and beaten, or sold. By mid-2016, while some had escaped or been smuggled out of the caliphate, 3,793 remained in captivity, many as suspected sex slaves to IS members.

          The crisis is so bad that Yazidi clerics have amended their religious law to accept these girls back despite their having been raped, and to erase the shame on their families, which traditionally could have resulted in the girl being killed by her own family members. If any of the girls or women become pregnant, the Yazidi religion now permits them to have an abortion.

          The rise of Islamic fundamentalism has compelled thousands of Yazidis to seek asylum in Europe and beyond. According to some estimates, 70,000 people, or about 15% of the Yazidi population in Iraq, fled the country. Some 25,000 are reported to have settled in Germany.

          Now upwards of 500,000 Yazidi are in refugee camps across the Kurdish region. Their homeland, the villages in the Sinjar district, has been completely destroyed. In the camps they are facing ethnic and religious oppression, as soldiers and local aid workers deny them the collective opportunity to recover as a community. 

          To survive, the Yazidis need a refuge. So full marks to the organization calling itself “Yazidis International” (YI), working out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Dedicated to educating the public about the Yazidis and the crisis they are facing, it implements a variety of projects aimed at to preserving the Yazidi faith and culture, while working to empower the Yazidi community worldwide. In particular it is lobbying Congress to ease the immigration of Yazidis into the US.

            YI is supported by national and international faith groups and interfaith groups in the US, Canada and around the world. Commercial organizations and banks have signed up to support its work. It is in collaboration with the UN body IAHV (the International Association for Human Values), with the Iraqi humanitarian group “Humanity,” which has been delivering immediate help to Yazidis in need. It is also in a working partnership with HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the US organization founded in response to the late 19th- and early 20th-century exodus of  Jewish emigrants from Russia, but still very much alive and kicking. 

          Justice for the crimes Yazidis suffered, including sexual enslavement, has so far proved elusive. Nor is the persecution and killing by any means over. "The genocide is ongoing,” said officials of the UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry on August 3, 2017, “and remains largely unaddressed by the international community, despite the obligation of states ... to prevent and to punish the crime."

          One Yazidi man put the situation in more graphic terms.

          "The Yazidis' wound is still bleeding," he said, at a ceremony attended by several thousand people including the mayor and other local dignitaries, held at a temple at the foot of the mountain that dominates Sinjar. "The Kurds and the Iraqi government are fighting for Sinjar and we are paying the price."

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 15 September 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 15 September 2017:

Published in the Mashreq Politics and Culture Journal, 17 September 2017:

Sunday, 10 September 2017

War-torn Syria – can Saudi Arabia broker peace?

        Devastated after years of conflict, Syria remains a huge battlefield, the scene of at least six separate military clashes.

        Still raging is the initial domestic battle between the Assad regime and Syrian opposition groups seeking a democratic alternative, both sides now bolstered by outside forces – Assad by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia; the opposition by Sunni Arab groupings. The second conflict is between Assad’s forces and those of Islamic State (IS), originally seeking to absorb the whole of Syria into its self-proclaimed caliphate. Thirdly there is the struggle between the 10-country US-led coalition against an IS which continues to be beaten back. Fourthly Turkey, while joining the fight against IS, mounts air strikes equally against the Kurdish Peshmerga troops ­– the Kurds and their campaign for autonomy are a long-standing source of friction within Turkey. The fifth conflict is the anti-IS campaign of the Peshmergas, the “boots on the ground” that the US coalition refused to place, and notably more successful than most of the other anti-IS activity. Finally, IS finds itself battling intermittently against a number of jihadist Sunni groups, including those pledged to al-Qaeda, that reject its claims to be the basis of an eventual world-wide caliphate.

        The maelstrom that is Syria has thrown up continuous attempts to resolve the fighting and settle the future of the country. Saudi Arabia has been involved in this effort from the very beginning, and is now taking a lead.

        The Syrian civil conflict was triggered during the so-called Arab Spring – that surprising manifestation of revolutionary zeal by the Arab masses, eager to throw off the authoritarian and often despotic rule which shackled so many of them. Saudi Arabia was, of course, no supporter of revolution, and in facing down its own potential Arab Spring it pursued a canny domestic policy. In essence the kingdom bought off its potential opposition by deploying its enormous wealth to enhance the incomes and social welfare of its population, spreading its largesse also among some of its fellow Gulf states. 

        The one exception to Saudi’s support for the status quo in the Arab world was Syria.

        There Saudi sided with the revolution, providing vast financial aid and weapons to the forces opposing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. At the heart of this policy lay the intense rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran for hegemony of the Muslim world. Syria had become an essential element in Iran’s effort to enhance and extend its Shia Crescent of influence, an effort which encompassed Hezbollah in Lebanon, and support for disruptive forces in many of the Gulf States, including Saudi itself, intent on substituting Shia for Sunni rule.

        Given that before millions fled the country, 74 percent of Syrians practised Sunni Islam, the Saudi government wants to use its religious authority and economic resources to acquire influence over a post-Assad order. The last thing it wants to see is Iran taking over from IS as a dominant power in Syria.

        A variety of peace efforts, starting virtually at the beginning of Syria’s internal conflict, reached a degree of success in December 2016, when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2254. This envisaged a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political transition to end the conflict. That same month the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey, and Russia agreed to hold Syrian peace talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and since then peace has been pursued on a twin track – via the Astana route and by way of further Geneva peace talks under the auspices of the UN, though the Astana Process has the support of the UN’s special envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

        The Astana round in May 2017 resulted in the establishment of four “de-escalation zones” where combat operations were halted and conditions for humanitarian access provided. The deal was rejected by some rebel groups including the Democratic Union Party which believed the ceasefire zones were "dividing Syria up on a sectarian basis". A fragile ceasefire agreed between Moscow and Washington in July 2017 covering a small area of south-western Syria, similarly did not meet with unified approval.

        In fact, division between the various Syrian groups opposed to Assad has been a bugbear of all peace efforts so far. Now Saudi Arabia is taking the initiative in trying to effect a reconciliation. 

        The main body representing the Syrian opposition is known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). Currently two other groups, known as the Cairo and Moscow platforms, also claim to represent the Syrian opposition and have attended UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva alongside the HNC. Assad's negotiators have not so far met directly with the opposition, on the grounds that there is no unified delegation.

        Now Saudi plans to host a meeting of all the main Syrian opposition groups in an attempt to “unite the ranks of the opposition”, in the words of Nasr Al Hariri, an HNC spokesman. The meeting is planned for October 2017.

        Even if Saudi succeeds, the biggest bone of contention in the UN Geneva-based peace process would remain the future of Bashar al-Assad. There is “no place for Assad in Syria’s future,” said a Saudi foreign ministry official on 7 August 2017. That was, until quite recently, also the position of the US. Assad must go,” said ex-President Obama in October 2015. Following the poison gas attack in April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said there was “no role” for Assad in Syria’s future and that “steps were under way” to remove him.

        There seems to have been a subtle shift in the US position. A US State Department official said on 7 August that while Washington “does not see Bashar al-Assad as having a role in the future of Syria … we believe the Syrian people must decide their own future through a political process that is credible, legitimate, and transparent.”

        This change of tone indicates that “we are definitely headed toward implicit acceptance of him staying for now in power,” said Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Itani believes the shift reflects the new military realities in Syria and a US desire to shift focus to Iran. Rex Tillerson said recently that “Iranian military forces inside of Syria must leave and go home.” Their departure from Syria was an “end state condition” for the US administration. 

        While Saudi Arabia would doubtless approve of expelling Iranian forces, it would find the prospect of Assad remaining in power in a reconstituted Syria much less appealing. In this, it would be reinforced by a new unified Syrian opposition, if indeed it succeeds in welding it together, come October.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 9 September 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 September 2017:

Published in the Mashreq, Politics and Culture Journal, 15 September 2017:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Charlottesville and Cable Street - the essential difference

Modern fascism emerged in Italy during the first world war.  Waging war had required the establishment of an all-powerful state able to mobilize the whole nation. After the war fear of left-wing agitation, fostered in part by the Russian Revolution of 1917, led to widespread approval of the authoritarian rule that had arisen in Italy. As a result a fascist party under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini eventually took control of the nation.

Italian fascists believed, among a host of other things, that liberal democracy had become obsolete, that individual rights should be subordinated to the needs of the state, and that society should be purged of supposedly inferior elements.

These ideas, prevalent also in the thuggish Nazi party then fighting to establish itself in Germany, found their echo in the United Kingdom. Oswald Mosley, a scion of a minor aristocratic family, became a member of parliament when only 22. Having joined and then left both main political parties one after another, he founded his own party which veered increasingly towards the extreme right.  Then a visit to Mussolini in 1931 led him to create the British Union of Fascists.

Faced with violent anti-fascist disruptions to his meetings, Mosley established a corps of black-uniformed paramilitary stewards, nicknamed Blackshirts.  With his use of the Nazi salute, a flag highly reminiscent of the swastika, and a misplaced nationalism backed by rabid anti-Semitic propaganda, Mosley clearly saw himself on a par with Hitler, as the potential dictator of a fascist Britain.

“I openly and publicly challenge the Jewish interests of this country,” he declared in April 1935, “commanding commerce, commanding the Press, commanding the cinema. dominating the City of London."

Mosley and his blackshirts were about to provoke the iconic anti-fascist protest of the modern age – a protest that historian Mark Bray describes in his just-published “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” as a potent symbol of how to stop fascism, an incident central to the anti-fascist mythology, a kind of North Star in the fight against fascism and white supremacy.

In late September 1936. posters appeared across London declaring: “Mosley speaks in East London. Four great meetings. Four marching columns.”

He was threatening to march thousands of blackshirts right through the streets of East London's large Jewish district, known as Whitechapel. This was interpreted by Jews and workers alike as a challenge to battle. The British communist party equipped its cohorts with banners and placards reading "Mosley Shall Not Pass!"

On Sunday, October 4, when the police tried to clear a route for the blackshirts through Cable Street, they met determined resistance. Vast numbers of East Enders, including Irish dockers and railway workers, came to help Jews build barricades. In the ensuing encounter the anti-fascists completely outnumbered blackshirts and police combined.  The police retreated and ordered Mosley to leave. Resolute defiance had won a famous victory.  The Battle of Cable Street went down in history as a prime example of how the forces of intolerance could be overcome by ordinary people acting together in a good cause.

Exactly, it has been claimed, what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11 and 12, 2017.

Nominally the rally on Saturday, August 12 was organized in opposition to a plan by local officials to remove a statue of Robert E Lee, the Confederacy’s top general, from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.  This seemed to be one in a series of such protests mounted in other Southern cities against taking down Confederate monuments, but the forces behind this rally ran much deeper. Right-wing extremism, including white nationalism and white supremacy, had been on the rise for some time.  The Robert E Lee statue was to prove a flashpoint.

Tensions had begun increasing on the evening of Friday, August 11, when a group of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia's campus chanting Nazi and white supremacist slogans, including "White lives matter"; "you will not replace us"; and "Jews will not replace us."  The phrase "you will not replace us" has been reported by the Anti-Defamation League to "reflect the white supremacist world view that... the white race is doomed to extinction by an alleged 'rising tide of color' purportedly controlled and manipulated by Jews."

So, just as in Cable Street, we have a group of extreme right-wing fascists shouting anti-Semitic slogans amid a flood of other hate-filled messages, bent on fomenting a violent encounter with those opposed to them.  Where the comparison falls down is when we examine the motives of many of those  by no means all who came to confront them.

The protest was orchestrated by the establishment that calls itself “Antifa”.  Not really a structured organization, Antifa consists of loosely affiliated groups that are, by and large, socially leftist, anti-capitalist , even anarchist, but decidedly anti-racist. Many are also violently anti-Semitic.  Using anti-Zionism as a convenient cloak, Antifa demands that American Jews who support Israel are banned from public life, and it prohibits Israel-supporting Jews from participating in their events.  It advocates the elimination of Israel as a sovereign state, and promotes the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.  As one commentator recently wrote: “from the American Jewish community’s perspective, there ought to be no distinction between its abhorrence and concern over the white supremacists, and its concerns and abhorrence of the radical left.” 

Why is Charlottesville different from Cable Street? Because anti-fascists in 2017 America have become enslaved to the fashionable “intersectionality”, which perceives a link between all manifestations of oppression, however diverse. Equal pay for women is related to Black Lives Matter. Left-wing opinion has decreed that Palestinians are quintessential victims. Their villainous oppressors are Israel, which it ridiculously accuses of every sort of monstrous criminality from harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians to apartheid to genocide. The logical outcome? If you oppose racism, homophobia, sexism, then you must oppose Israel, and by extension all those who support Israel, and by a further extension all Israelis, most of whom, by a curious chance, happen to be Jews. You must deny them a voice, ban them from public life, cut them off from academic interchange, boycott or disrupt their artistic performances.

The Cable Street anti-fascists were Jews supported by non-Jewish friends, neighbours and fellow workers, who hated the anti-Semitism of Oswald Mosley and his Nazi-aping bully-boys, and determined to make a stand against them.  Antifa, on the other hand, contains within itself an anti-Semitism as prejudiced and as hateful as that mouthed by the fascists it opposes.  Therein lies the essential difference. 

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 4 September 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 September 2017: