Saturday, 30 April 2016

Antisemitism accusations - an attempt to smear anti-Zionists into silence


Michael Rosen takes issue with a new report that labels anti-Zionism as antisemitic

Blurring the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is part of an attempt to stop public criticism of Israel (Pic: Duncan Brown)
Blurring the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is part of an attempt to stop public criticism of Israel (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Last week saw the publication of a report by a group of MPs called the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism. It is an important document to confront, because it is part of a Europe-wide attempt to widen the definition of antisemitism to include root and branch criticism of Israel.
So, even as it highlights a form of racism that is on the increase in Britain, it prepares the way for what could be legal action against people who are opposed to the racism of Israel.
We need to be clear about what we’re talking about, so here are some definitions and distinctions:
  • Judaism is a religion observed in varying ways all over the world. All people who observe Judaism are Jews, but not all Jews observe Judaism. Those who don’t are usually called “secular Jews”.
  • Zionism is a political creed that created the nation state of Israel, which Zionists describe as the “Jewish homeland”. Plenty of non-Jews are Zionists (such as most members of Western governments) in the sense that they are in favour of Israel being this Jewish homeland.
    What’s more, it is quite clear that there is a real material difference between those Jews who take the creed at face value and go and live in Israel and those Jews who support Israel while preferring to live elsewhere.
  • Anti-Zionism is the political creed opposed to those who created and now run the state of Israel.
  • Jews, as a worldwide phenomenon, are neither purely a religion, nor a political movement. This is because many people who describe themselves as Jews either do not practise the religion, nor are they active Zionists.
    This leaves a proportion of people who are Jews either because they describe themselves as that, or because an outside authority claims that they are.
    The reasons usually given are that either or both of their parents are Jews, and this in turn may well be wrapped up with an idea of “Jewishness” which may include speaking Jewish languages and slang, having a taste for Jewish food or music, following Jewish festivals and the like.
  • Antisemitism is racism towards Jews - verbal or physical abuse, discrimination or prejudice. As with all racisms, antisemitism has appeared in many different places at different times in history and reached its most terrible form in the planned, industrialised and scientific genocide of Jews carried out by Hitler’s Nazis.
The parliamentary report uses all these terms. But in one key area it has blurred the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Here it is:
“Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include... denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
So if I should write that the Jews have every right to self-determination, but not if it is at the expense of others (as is the case with Israel), it would seem that now I, a Jew who is utterly opposed to antisemitism, am guilty of antisemitism.
Worryingly, this is part of a working definition of antisemitism proposed by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. The writers of this parliamentary report recommend that this definition is “adopted and promoted by the government and law enforcement agencies”.
The message is clear - anti-Zionists beware. Criticism of Israeli government policies will be permitted, but if you attack the core creed of Zionism, then we’ll call in the law.
The excuse for such a drastic change in the approach to antisemitism is the claim that people are using criticism of Israel as a cover for their hatred of Jews. The two main groups who come under suspicion for this are ­liberal or left wing groupings and some Muslims.
What is curious here is that, in my experience, if people both hate Jews and the state of Israel then they say so. One of the classic forms of antisemitism is to say that “the Jews” are in a “conspiracy” to take over the world, or that they are running the world.
Sometimes, they may say there’s a “Zionist” conspiracy to run the world - but that’s hardly a cunning disguise for a hatred of Jews.
Within this bit of conspiracy theory is the antisemitic idea that “the Jews” or “Israel” or “Zionists” run the US. Again, the people who believe this say so.
It’s a nonsense because the people who run US capitalism and the people who defend what it calls “America’s strategic interests” (often just a euphemism for “raw materials and markets we want to get our hands on”) are simply US capitalists, their officials, allies and armies.
This report highlights the fact that this kind of antisemitism has increased, but it confuses the matter by suggesting that it is hidden within criticism of Israel, rather than being nakedly obvious.
The effect of this is to put pressure on those who criticise Israeli policies - such as the butchery going on in Gaza - and give them cause to wonder if they have been caught up in what the report calls “antisemitic discourse”.
Meanwhile, the report has collated the most up to date statistics on hostility and violence directed towards Jews simply and only because they are Jews. It shows that this is on the increase.
But how much of this is old European style antisemitism (the kind with the bloodiest record) and how much comes out of the Middle East is not clear. We have to fight the merging of these very different kinds of racism.
For many of us, our experience has been that when we’ve marched against those who would desecrate Jewish cemeteries, we haven’t been supported by the Jewish establishment, but when we’ve spoken out against Israel, we’ve been vilified and in some cases threatened.
Even so, we have to go on opposing hatred and violence towards Jews while insisting that we have the right to oppose the hatred and violence meted out by Israel on the Palestinians.

India : A lack of water and wives in India


21 April 2016 Last updated at 22:57 BST
"Who would give their daughter to this village?" That's the question posed by one man in an Indian village devastated by an ongoing drought in the country.
The majority of young men in Gopipur, in the Chitrakoot district about 400 miles south of New Delhi, say that the shortage of water, and its crippling impact on the local economy, has made it harder for them to get married.
It's one of the unexpected social consequences of a drought that the Indian government now says is affecting at least 330 million Indians.
BBC Pop Up went to the community where nearly 5,000 people rely on a small naturally-fed well for drinking and bathing water.

China passes new laws on foreign NGOs amid international criticism


  • 28 April 2016
  •  
  • From the sectionChina
A Chinese soldier stands guard outside the Great Hall of the People as National People's Congress meetings continue inside in Beijing on 15 March 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe new laws could impose police supervision on foreign non-governmental organisations
China has passed new laws on foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) state media said, amid criticism.
The full text was not immediately available, but previous drafts stated that NGOs would have to submit to police supervision and declare sources of funding.
Critics say the laws amount to a crackdown, but China has argued that such regulation is long overdue.
There are currently more than 7,000 foreign NGOs operating in China.
The bill has undergone several drafts after international criticism that it was too onerous. The White House has said the bill will "further narrow space for civil society" and constrain US-China exchanges.
Amnesty International said on Thursday that the law was aimed at "further smothering civil society", and called on China to scrap it.
"The authorities - particularly the police - will have virtually unchecked powers to target NGOs, restrict their activities, and ultimately stifle civil society," said William Nee, Amnesty's China Researcher.
"The law presents a very real threat to the legitimate work of independent NGOs and should be immediately revoked."
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders described the law as "draconian" and said it would have "a profoundly detrimental impact on civil society in China".
The group said police would be allowed to exercise daily supervision and monitoring of foreign NGOs.

Stephen McDonell, BBC News, Beijing

Officials in Beijing say that for too long overseas organisations have been operating in an unregulated environment and that the new system will set clear boundaries governing their behaviour.
However some charities, environmental groups and aid organisations see this as a potential tool to crackdown on civil society in China.
They fear that new regulations could provide a smokescreen for what is actually political decision making by giving officials a range of measures to clamp down on NGOs found to be in breach of various technical requirements.
What was adding to stress levels prior to the introduction of the laws is that many were confused about the details.
People are asking: Who do they cover? What will the laws mean for their day to day operations? What are they really designed to do?

Xinhua reported the law had been passed by the national legislature on Thursday, without giving details of any amendments.
The state news agency reported this week that some restrictions would be eased, such as allowing more than one office on the mainland, and removing a proposed five-year limit on operations.
But other key features were likely to remain, said the Global Times, namely heavy police oversight where foreign NGOs must register with public security departments and must submit to their management.
Previous drafts stated that police would have the right to check the offices of NGOs, seal their offices, question employees and cancel activities judged as threats to national security.
Foreign NGOs would also be banned from recruiting members in mainland China, previous drafts had suggested.
Chinese officials answer questions about law regulating overseas NGOs during press conference at Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 28 April 2016.Image copyrightAP
Image captionChinese officials outlined the new law in a news conference in Beijing on Thursday
Critics had also raised fears that the definition of what constitutes actions that harm China's national interests was too vague.
Correspondents said the ambiguity largely remained in the final version of the law.
Officials who briefed reporters on Thursday declined to give specific examples of actions by NGOs that could constitute such violations, Reuters reported.
"If there are a few foreign NGOs, holding high the banner of co-operation and exchange, coming to engage in illegal activities or even committing criminal acts, our Ministry of Public Security should stop it, and even enact punishments," said Guo Linmao, of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
Image captionPeter Dahlin is the Swedish co-founder of China Urgent Action Working Group
The move comes after January's high profile detention of Peter Dahlin, a Swedish NGO worker who was accused of damaging national security.
He made a state television confession - which is rare for foreign detainees - before he was deported. He and his group were accused of breaking the law by supporting the efforts of Chinese human rights lawyers.
Local NGOs and activists are heavily policed and have been subject to increasing crackdowns under President Xi Jinping's rule. Last summer saw sweeping arrestsof nearly 300 lawyers and activists.

US 'drops planned Pakistan F-16 fighter jet subsidy'


  • 29 April 2016
  •  
  • From the sectionAsia
A US-made F-16 jet fighterImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe eight F-16s and their equipment would cost Pakistan over $700m
The US will no longer subsidise the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, a senior state department official has told the BBC.
The decision means that Pakistan will have to pay more than $700m (£480m) - two-and-a-half times the original cost - if it wishes to buy the aircraft.
It comes after Congress refused to approve funding for the deal.
Some US lawmakers had accused Pakistan of not doing enough to fight militants. India also objected to the sale.
However, Pakistan has argued that the jets are needed for anti-terror operations, and so the US should help with funding the purchase.
People close to the deal say it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will be willing to pay the full cost of the fighter jets, so it seems to be off for all practical purposes.
A spokesman for the Pakistan embassy in Washington, Nadeem Hotiana, told the BBC that arms sales were a long process and that he would not comment on the deal's current status.
"F-16s provide precision strike capability to Pakistan's ongoing campaign against militancy," he said.
"Pakistan believes that the threat from terrorist networks requires continued capacity building and both governments continue to work together towards this objective through a range of measures including the sale of these aircraft."
Pakistani soldiers near an air force base in Peshawar 18 September 2015Image copyrightReuters
Image captionPakistan is battling several militant groups at its borders
The senior US state department official, who asked to remain anonymous as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, says the Obama administration is still very much in favour of selling the fighter jets to Pakistan as it believes it is in the national interest of the United States.
However, Pakistan would have to bear the full cost of the F-16 fighter jets if it wished to proceed, he said.
The original arrangement had been that Pakistan would pay close to $270m, with the US foreign military financing budget paying for the rest.
However, top US lawmakers have expressed concerns over the US government's decision to sell the jets to Pakistan, saying they could be used against India rather than for combating terrorism.
Speaking on Wednesday, Congressman Matt Salmon said: "India-Pakistan tensions remain elevated, and some question whether the F-16s could ultimately be used against India or other regional powers, rather than the terrorists as Pakistan has asserted."

Debate over Chinese city's women-only bus


  • 29 April 2016
A screengrab of the women-only busImage copyrightChina News Service
Image captionThe bus carries a red "women only" sign and is decorated inside with cuddly toys
The introduction of a women-only bus in one Chinese city has riled some local men and sparked an online debate.
The new summer service will run during morning and evening rush hours in the eastern city of Zhengzhou, in an effort to cut the number of groping incidents, Dahe Daily reports. The local bus company says it'll protect women from being harassed when wearing lighter clothing, and also help breastfeeding mothers feel more comfortable.
Female-only train and metro carriages have been introduced in many countries withvarying degrees of success, but single-sex transport is a relatively new concept in China.
Women interviewed on board the bus said they were pleased with the service, with one telling a reporter: "Of course this is a good idea, it is very respectful to women."
But some local men are less impressed. One tells Dahe Daily that harassment isn't common on public transport: "The bus company has made a fuss over it - this measure will cause men to feel humiliated." Another man complains to China National Radio: "I had to wait a really long time for another bus to arrive because I wasn't allowed on."
video that has gone viral shows an elderly man remonstrating with the driver after being denied boarding. "You're discriminating against me! This is a public bus!" he shouts. Others appear unfazed, and wander off in search of another service.
It's become a hot topic of debate on microblogging site Weibo, with lots of women welcoming the idea, although one notes: "Not all men are bad, but aren't all men being discriminated against here?" There's support from male users too, although some think it promotes a general distrust of men. Many also feel an exception should have been made for the elderly man in the video.

Elephant summit: Kenya sets fire to huge ivory stockpile


  • 3 hours ago
  •  
  • From the sectionAfrica
Media captionThis fire will keep burning for a number of days, reports Anne Soy in Nairobi
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has set fire to a huge stockpile of ivory in an effort to show his country's commitment to saving Africa's elephants.
More than 100 tonnes of ivory was stacked up in pyres in Nairobi National Park where it is expected to burn for several days.
The ivory represents nearly the entire stock confiscated by Kenya, amounting to the tusks of about 6,700 elephants.
Some disagree with Kenya's approach, saying it can encourage poaching.
Before igniting the first pyre, Mr Kenyatta said: "The height of the pile of ivory before us marks the strength of our resolve.
"No-one, and I repeat no-one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death of our elephants and death of our natural heritage."
The burning comes after African leaders meeting in Kenya urged an end to illegal trade in ivory.
Experts have warned Africa's elephants could be extinct within decades.
But some conservationists have expressed opposition to the ivory burn in Kenya, the biggest in history.
They say destroying so much of a rare commodity could increase its value and encourage more poaching rather than less.
Botswana, which is home to about half of Africa's elephants, is opposed to the burn and its president did not attend the event in Nairobi.
Demand for ivory comes largely from Asia, with the main trafficking route being through the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The war on elephants, by Alastair Leithead, BBC News

Elephants in Amboseli National Park, file pictureImage copyrightReuters
The ivory is getting through because people are prepared to pay for it. Stopping the men with arrows and the corrupt officials is just one part of the solution - the other is destroying the hunger for ivory.
The love of ivory goes back millennia. Its pure, translucent beauty and the ease with which a tusk can be carved into intricate sculptures have given it a lasting value throughout the ages.
Tackling demand and destroying the market are both important but there are also ways of making elephants more valuable alive than dead.
In the parks and game reserves of Africa, close encounters with the most remarkable animals on the planet lie in wait - you just need time, patience and a good eye.

Ivory pyre in Nairobi National ParkImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe stockpile burned includes seized ivory carvings and statues

The African push to tackle ivory poaching, by BBC Monitoring

  • Kenya is struggling with poaching, and tough laws with huge fines and prison sentences do not seem to be a deterrent. Kenya Wildlife Service says it suffers from staff and equipment shortages.
  • Uganda is a conservation success story. Elephant populations have increased to around 5,000 after reaching a low of 700 in the 1980s. Kampala has set up a wildlife crime unit, and plans cross-border programmes with its neighbours.
  • Gabon uses paratroops to crack down on poachers who target elephants living in dense equatorial forests. The wildlife service has expanded 10-fold to over 650 guards with a much-increased budget.
  • Botswana adopted a shoot-to-kill policy in December 2013 in an effort to curb elephant poaching. It also placed a total ban on hunting in 2014 which extends to all animal species.
  • Tanzania's government has increased routine patrols, netting over 1,000 suspected poachers by the end of 2015.

Africa is home to between 450,000 and 500,000 elephants but more than 30,000 are killed every year for their tusks. Tanzania has lost 65% of its elephant population in the past five years.
The Kenyan ivory pyres are seven times the size of any stockpile destruction so far, and represent about 5% of global ivory stores.
Media captionHong Kong has a legal ivory industry
Some 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn will also be burned.
The street value of the ivory to be destroyed is estimated at more than $100m (£70m), and the rhino horn at $80m.
"We don't believe there is any intrinsic value in ivory, and therefore we're going to burn all our stockpiles and demonstrate to the world that ivory is only valuable on elephants," said Kitili Mbathi, director general of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

UN: Starvation threatens 2 million in drought-hit Somalia

Fri Sep 13, 2019 01:44PM [Updated: Fri Sep 13, 2019 01:52PM ] Home Africa Somalia A newly arrived woman fleeing from the drought...