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

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Is Iran losing its grip?

          Iran’s international power structure is under severe threat from mass disaffection.

          Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979 swept the Shah from Iran’s Peacock Throne, its leaders have been painstakingly building Iranian influence in the Middle East. The regime has been single-minded in pursuit of political and religious hegemony in the region. Its strategy – which has included the acquisition of nuclear capability – has involved strengthening the power of Shi’ite entities and coordinating them into what has been called a “Shia Crescent”. This arc of Iranian influence now stretches from Lebanon across to Syria, then to Iraq, through Iran itself and via the Gulf state of Bahrain down to Yemen. In Lebanon, Iran exercises control by way of Hezbollah, in Yemen it sustains the Houthis, and up to 70 percent of the citizens of the Island kingdom of Bahrain are Shia, though it is ruled by a Sunni royal family.

          In the last few weeks severe and widespread popular protests have erupted across Iran’s sphere of influence. This wave began in Iraq, was followed in Lebanon and, on Friday November 15, burst out inside Iran itself, triggered when the government announced a 300 percent increase in the price of fuel linked to a tightening of the rationing system. Motorists are combining to block roads and switch off their engines and, in some cases, abandon their vehicles.

          A succession of popular protests have been plaguing Iran for a good few years. Massive corruption at the highest levels, allied to economic mismanagement and continuing political and social suppression, have certainly not been helped by severe and extended US sanctions. The situation might be convincing some Iranians that their main hope lies in regime change.

          So the Islamic Republic is struggling to maintain its legitimacy at home, as well as its influence abroad.

          In both Iraq and Lebanon demonstrations against corruption and a lack of economic reform have erupted recently and show no sign of diminishing. In both countries, the unprecedented protests are demonstrating that for ordinary citizens Iran and its proxies have merely served to worsen their conditions.

          In the face of that harsh reality, all Iran’s successes count for nothing. Yes, Hezbollah scored a success in last year’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon, and secured valuable seats in the cabinet. But now they are associated in the public mind with the failures of the government, and protests are as great in Hezbollah regions of Lebanon as elsewhere.

          In Syria, Iran has allied itself with Russia and even with arch-enemy Turkey, in preserving President Bashar al-Assad in power. Iran’s long-term objectives in the Middle East depend on maintaining a power footprint in Syria. But it has done nothing towards resettling the millions of Syrians who are internally displaced, nor the millions of Syrian refugees living in camps in Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere.

         Writing in the journal Foreign Policy, Hanin Ghaddar, Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute's Geduld Program on Arab Politics, believes that in building its power base in the region, the Iranian regime failed to notice that “power requires a vision for the day after,” as she puts it. “As events unfold in the region, Iran is failing to rule. Iraq and Lebanon are good examples.”

          Iran created proxies in both countries, gave them power through funding and arms, and helped them infiltrate state institutions. Today, she maintains, state institutions in Iraq and Lebanon instead of protecting and serving the people, have to protect and serve Iranian interests.

          The protests in Lebanon have arisen because the Lebanese public are realizing that the enemy is within – it is their own government and political leaders, especially since Hezbollah has acquired a tight grip on so many levers of power. In fact Lebanon is widely referred to as “a state within a state”. For decades Hezbollah has prided itself on protecting the poor and dispossessed. Now Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has sided with the authorities against the people in the streets. So now. for the first time since Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s, Lebanese Shi’ites are turning against it. In Nabatieh, the group’s heartland in the south of Lebanon, Shi’ite protesters even burned the offices of Hezbollah’s leaders.

          Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, resigned some weeks ago. One projected successor has withdrawn his candidacy. Whenever a new government is formed its first challenge will be the economic crisis, rooted in years of state waste, corruption and mismanagement. Its second will be to contain the nationwide protest movement that wants to see the old elite gone from power. Meanwhile protesters are burning tyres, throwing stones at soldiers, and blocking roads across the country, as the demonstrations show no sign of slackening.

         In Iraq hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets since October 1, demanding more jobs, an end to corruption, and better public services. On November 15 Iraq's top Shia cleric gave them his support. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shia Muslim cleric, said that corruption among the ruling elite has reached "unbearable limits". Many people, he said, lack basic needs while top leaders "share the country's wealth among themselves and disregard each other's corruption."

          Although Iraq contains the world's fifth-largest proven reserves of oil, nearly three-fifths of its 40 million people live on less than six dollars a day, and millions lack access to adequate healthcare, education, clean water and electricity.

          The protesters – Sistani presumably among them – believe that Iran, as well as the US, are more concerned with wielding regional influence than the needs of ordinary Iraqis. One of the demonstrators’ slogans is “Iran out, out.” 

          The Iranian regime may be good at extending its power base, but it has shown itself woefully inadequate at the business of governing people.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 November 2019:

Published in the MPC Journal, 23 November 2919:

Sunday, 10 November 2019

ISIS women - the new danger

    “Remaining and expanding” (baqiya wa’tatamaddad) became the official slogan of Islamic State back in 2015, when its first territorial losses began to register. It was quoted defiantly on Monday October 28, 2019 by an ISIS wife to journalists visiting the al-Hol holding camp, after US President Donald Trump had announced the death of self-styled caliph and leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

        Al-Hol, one of several such camps in north-eastern Syria, is where some 70,000 supporters of Islamic State – the equivalent of a moderate-sized town in the US or the UK – are retained. It is crammed with tents housing the thousands of children and their mothers, most of whom remain fanatic supporters of ISIS. One woman, wearing a black abaya and face-covering niqab, told reporters: “Our faith will not change. The day of revenge will come, and the Islamic State will remain…Even if our men are captured, we are also soldiers of the Islamic State.”

        This defiance is not unexpected. Even before the Turkish incursion over the border into Syria on October 21, Al-Hol was awash with the violent ideology of ISIS, into which the children were being indoctrinated day by day.

        ISIS women had turned one of the tents into a court that administered Islamic State’s version of Sharia law. In September they found a 16-year-old girl guilty of apostasy. After the verdict was announced, women pulled knives from their black abayas and began stabbing her repeatedly. Kurdish police intervened and bore her off to a clinic, but later she died.

        Several other inmates have been attacked or killed by fanatical ISIS women. On October 1, Kurdish police stormed a tent and rescued two women who had been sentenced to death, and were about to be executed by stabbing. The women fought back with knives and pistols. A Western observer who visited the camp in June reported that the foreigner annex of al-Hol “seems to hold a small core of organized and extremely militant women who plot and prey upon others...” She said hard-line detainees were trying to maintain the cruel strictures of the caliphate inside the camp, including whipping women who were caught smoking, and encouraging their own children to beat up the children of those deemed unbelievers.

        Abdul-Qader al-Ofeidly, commander of the Kurdish police force known as Asayish which guards the camps. told journalists that a raid in September had uncovered hand grenades and the body of a woman who had been killed by other detainees.
        In recent weeks, detainees have stabbed a number of guards and beaten other residents to death. Al-Hol, in particular, has been described as a “ticking timebomb”, and a “mini caliphate”. Most such stabbings take place in a high-security area known as the Annex, home to some 10,000 hard-line women ISIS supporters from countries other than Syria or Iraq. “Foreign women are trying to impose religious classes on all women in the camp,” said al-Ofeidly.

        The Kurds have long warned that they cannot hold the prisoners indefinitely, and now say their forces are stretched thin as they send hundreds of guards as reinforcements to join the forces resisting Turkey’s incursion over the border. They have also halted operations against ISIS, which continues to stage attacks in Syria and Iraq.

        The Kurds in north-eastern Syria are administering not only holding camps, but a number of prisons detaining ISIS fighters. A few days after some of its Kurdish guards had left, more than 100 ISIS detainees escaped from one of the prisons. Shortly afterwards hundreds of ISIS wives also fled nearby camp Roj. On October 11 dozens of residents in al-Hol attacked an exit gate in an apparent escape attempt before Kurdish security forces brought the situation under control. Video from a closed-circuit camera showed security forces chasing women in black robes through the center of the camp.

        The Kurdish-controlled Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are struggling to maintain order both in holding camps and prisons. The ISIS leadership, spurred on by the death of al-Baghdadi, is exploiting the chaos to mobilize its adherents, men and women. The remaining guards at al-Hol have been attacked and had petrol poured over them, while the body of a 10-year-old child was found in a backpack, guards told a visiting journalist.

        Meanwhile at the Ain Issa camp, home to some 13,000 women with suspected links to Islamic State and their children, at least 750 people are reported to have fled. After Turkish shelling struck close to the area on October 13, they began to riot and scared away the guards. Jelal Ayaf, the co-chair of the camp’s management, said sleeper cells within the civilian section emerged during the riot, and attacked the remaining guards.

        Western countries, including the US and the UK, have refused to repatriate citizens who joined ISIS, fearing they may not have enough evidence to convict them in criminal courts. Kurdish police force commander, al-Ofeidly, maintains that it is the foreign women who are the main threat in the camp, and echoes calls by Kurdish leaders for their home countries to take them back. Continued inaction by the West on this front may soon result in the very outcome prophesied by the women zealots of Islamic State – ISIS will remain and it will expand.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 November 2019:
Published in the MPC Journal, 10 November 2019: