Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Truly Caught in the Middle

I posted today about the attempts by Islamists such as MPACUK to link the far-right group EDL to Zionists (read Jews). I mentioned that the tactics of both groups leaves Jews and Israeli supporters trapped in the middle. A comment on the MPACUK website reminds me that Jews are not just caught in between the far-right and the Islamists but is also a target of both.

On the article entitled, "Boycott success as Norway snubs Israel" someone has posted a list of companies to be boycotted under the heading "Yahud businesses that help fund Israel". I'm not suggesting that MPACUK is responsible for this or is guilty by association. What I'm saying is simply that we see an Islamist using this list.

The list seems to have first been posted on Stormfront here in 2003. In 2006 it appears on what looks like a Muslim forum in The Netherlands. It is posted on this facebook page in January this year (with a direct link to the Stormfront page) advising readers that boycotting Jews is the best way to help Palestinians. Next a full copy and paste is posted on scribd by a user from Malaysia on the 9th September and now it appears (for the moment at least as I suspect MPACUK will remove it) on MPACUK's website.

Let there be no doubt, both Islamists and Neo-Nazis hate the Jews. We truly are caught in the middle.

Caught in the Middle

The EDL and other groups have been busy, as we know. And I must agree with what John Denham said on Saturday:
If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence.
One of these tactics has been the use of Israeli flags. Not that the Israeli flag is inherently provocative but these groups know very well that waving the flag will annoy Islamists and Muslims alike (albeit for different reasons). The inevitable side-effect is that Islamists pathetically try to link these groups with Israel supporters.

MPACUK has posted two articles pushing this line. One entitled "Exposed! The EDL and Its Zionist Connection" had this to offer as proof of the headline's claim:
Their ruse is that they were marching against 'extremism' but their motives were soon revealed by their racist chanting and by the unfurling of an Israeli flag by the EDL skinheads.
The other ran under the line "Far-Right and Zionist Thugs Unite Against Palestinians" and again contained no evidence beyond the use of the Israeli flag.

Other Islamist groups are more subtle. The IHRC has two articles about the EDL events (here and here). Is it a coincidence that the pictures chosen for them just happen to be ones with an Israeli flag prominently placed?

All this leaves supporters of Israel in the middle. We know very well the games being played but are powerless to stop it. I suppose all we can do is declare clearly and loudly that supporters of Israel do not support the far-right and hope that people are intelligent enough not to be taken in by these tricks.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Over at Harry's Place they have a guest post from Will Straw introducing his blog "Left Foot Forward". The blog, apparently launched in late August, makes the following claim:
We are a non-partisan blog
Sorry guys but that just doesn't seem to be true.

Where to start? Well, the editor, Will Straw, is son of Jack Straw MP. He is a contributor to LabourList and declares himself a "Labour member and supporter" on the website Change We Need which is about a book he co-edited published by the Fabian Society.

The Assistan Editor of LFF is Shamik Das who also contributes to LabourList.

Other authors include Tony Dolphin (works for the IPPR which has strong links to Labour according to wikipedia), Laura Chappel (also works for the IPPR), Martin McCluskey (who tweeted "makes me proud to be Labour" 10th Sep).

Things get worse. On their "Thanks" page (presumably listing the people who have paid money to set this blog up, they ask for donations on the site) they give thanks to Progress which describes itself as, "the independent organisation for Labour party members and trade unionists." Also mentioned are Cathy Ashton (any relation to the Cathy Ashton who is a Labour member of the House of Lords?) and Peter Kellner (any relation to the Peter Kellner who is married to Cathy Ashton from the House of Lords?). There's also room to thank Marcus Roberts and Karin Christiansen who presumably are the same people who used those names to write contributions to the book mentioned above edited by Will Straw by "Labour members and supporters".

I'd be very interested to hear what definition Left Foot Forward has for "partisan" that allows such a blatantly Labour-supporting bunch to be called "non-partisan".

All Forgiven in the EDL?

Richard Bartholomew was posting about the EDL many months ago. In August he reported on a blog post from one Paul Ray bemoaning the involvement in the EDL of Chris Renton (apparently a BNP activist). In that post Ray announced his disassociation from the EDL. Interesingly, Ray has recently been posting somewhat about the EDL on his blog but the post from August has been deleted. Still accessible from google's cache though.

Is all forgiven now just as the EDL makes the headlines?

Thoughts on the EDL

The English Defence League has been busy recently and gained quite a bit of public focus. Much of the discussion has been concerned with whether the group (if they can be called a cohesive group) is racist or not and indeed a lot of time has been spent trying to uncover links to racist groups. This is, in my opinion, both wrong and dangerous.

It's wrong because the EDL are wrong even if they are not racist and it is dangerous because we may convince ourselves that the problem with the EDL is racism and thereby be unable to oppose them if we find that actually they're not racist (the question of whether they are racist or not is one I will come back to in another post soon hopefully).

So what really is the problem with the EDL? Well, I think there are many things and here are a couple.

The first is that we do not need any group to protest against Islamists, we have the police for that. If a group of people are planning to break the law to maim and kill Britons then the British police are the people charged with the responsibility of preventing that. Seen in this light we find that the EDL is little more than a vigilante group. One could argue that it is necessary to oppose the opinions of Islamists and that this is what the EDL is for. But we all know that it is useless for non-Muslims to try and convince those extreme Muslims that they've got Islam wrong. The very notion is absurd.

The second reason springs from the first. If the EDL is a vigilante group determined to fight/oppose Islamists whose definition are they using? A major danger with a group that has been set up to deal with one specific and narrow issue is that they find their remit too small. The number of actual dangerous Islamists in the UK is very small but the EDL will start to find Islamists everywhere because they've set themselves up to find them and oppose them.

The danger of the EDL is not that they're racist; it is that they are a vigilante group. If we treat them simply as racists we will get bogged down in debates about whether or not that is true and how best to oppose them. Treat them as the vigilantes they want to be and we can all take a clear and unequivocal stand against them without concerning ourselves with their ideas and beliefs.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Al Quds Day March Moved

The Annual Al Quds Day March run by the Islamic Human Rights Commission is tomorrow (Sunday 13). Suffice to say that I'm not a big fan of the event which generally involves a fair bit of supporting terrorism. Read about this year's event here.

However, this year they've been forced to move from Trafalgar Square to Pall Mall. According to a report from The Guardian, the IHRC is blaming threats from the English Defence League (a seemingly nasty bunch of people).

Raza Kazim, spokesman for the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "At the last minute after months of negotiation, the GLA told us two days ago we are not allowed to go ahead with the rally in Trafalgar Square. We are very annoyed. It seems they have bowed to the pressure from people like the English Defence League."

I would have more sympathy for the IHRC were they not also in the business of trying to pressure people on the back of acts of violence. I know this is some time ago but it was the example that came to mind (please feel free to send in your own examples). Back in 2006 John Reid (then Home Secretary) suggested that Muslim parents ought to look out for signs of extremism in their kids. The IHRC had this to say:
Reid's comments once again reflect the Blair government's absolute refusal to recognise that its policies have had a substantial role to play in the quagmire we now find ourselves, and only serve to endanger us further.
If the government is sincere in finding a solution, it needs to come out of this state of denial, stop pointing fingers at others and instead recognise the root causes and its own responsibility within that
That would be the IHRC suggesting (politely, of course) that Britain needs to change its policies in order to avoid acts of terrorism. So when they complain that the State has bowed to pressure from people threatening violence the complaint rings hollow since they wish the State would do the same but to their demands instead.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Marc Garlasco

OK, so anyone who recognises the name probably already knows the fuss being made about this guy. (For those who don't - he works for Human Rights Watch and has written many reports about Israel and has just been found to have a hobby for collecting Nazi memorabilia).

I don't really have much to add. Obviously collecting Nazi stuff doesn't make you a Nazi and I won't pretend to know what he's thinking. But having someone who does have such a connection to the Nazis sit in (self-appointed) judgement over Jews is a little unsettling to say the least. HRW are stuck in the unfortunate position of probably wanting to not have this guy in that position but not now being able to remove him without seeming to recognise that his position is compromised and thereby compromising all the reports he has worked on in the past for them.

But there's something that has recently turned up that is more compromising to his position in this regard. Someone has dug up a quote he gave to 60 minutes and put it on his wikipedia page. This was added less than 24 hours ago so probably hasn't done the rounds yet. Here is what he has to say:
I don't think people really appreciate the gymnastics that the U.S. military goes through in order to make sure that they're not killing civilians," Garlasco points out.

"If so much care is being taken why are so many civilians getting killed?" Pelley asks.

"Because the Taliban are violating international law,” says Garlasco, “and because the U.S. just doesn't have enough troops on the ground. You have the Taliban shielding in people's homes. And you have this small number of troops on the ground. And sometimes the only thing they can do is drop bombs.”
You hardly need me to point out that the Taliban aren't the only people violating international law and using human shields. Does it undermine his complaining about Israel's attacks on Hamas that he has made this comment about the Taliban? I'll let you judge that for yourselves.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

What is Fundamentalism?

Dan Rickman has written a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site entitled "Fundamentalism's flaws". A few things interested me about this article. The first was that at no point does Dan attempt to make any argument about the flaws of fundamentalism. The second is that the article itself seems to be little more than a moan about how Jews in the UK are becoming more religious and starting to believe the things that their ancestors believed for millennia.

But what was most interesting was one line in the opening paragraph:
Fundamentalism is hard to define
It's always, I think, an odd statement to say that a word is hard to define. Since words are nothing other than human constructs to convey a meaning if they were hard to define they would have little use to us. Words become hard to define only when an attempt is being made, or has been made, to change the meaning of the word or to use it for purposes other than the simple conveyance of an idea.

Thus the word "terrorist" is hard to define because its primary use is as a political tool. This is recognised by the BBC's reluctance to use the term (see their editorial guidelines). I looked at online dictionaries and found a simple definition for the term: "strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles". It carries no judgement about the truth value of those ideas or principles. It is simple and meaningful.

Dan prefers a definition based on a book by Sol Schimmel under which Orthodox Jews are defined as fundamentalists because they believe that the Torah was divinely revealed which is an "unreasonable" belief given the evidence to the contrary. Suddenly the term makes a value judgement about the truth of the beliefs.

My problem here is that the term is now drained of its meaning and is left as a simple pejorative. If a fundamentalist is someone who holds a belief which it is unreasonable to hold then calling someone a fundamentalist is no more than saying "I'm right, you're wrong but you're too stubborn to admit it!" Since the only criteria for being a fundamentalist are now that you won't accept the opinion of your interlocutor and that your opponent believes they are obviously correct both sides are entitled to call the other fundamentalist when the discussion ends without agreement.

Seemingly we can go further. If the term is used only as a pejorative to indicate ones belief that the other person is too stubborn to admit they're wrong then using the term is the verbal equivalent of stamping one's feet and storming off in a huff. Having failed to convince the other person of the truth of your own position you label him a fundamentalist and leave. It's a case of last word-manship: "I'm obviously right but he just won't accept it".

So I make this appeal - use the word correctly where appropriate and not at all where it's not. And then, Dan, you'd find that it isn't hard to define at all.

Jewish Opinions

There's an old joke: "two Jews, three opinions". It would seem that Jews have been opinionated since time immemorial. Indeed, God Himself complains to Moses about it (see Exodus 32:9). So, as a Jew, I have a biological compulsion to form opinions, stick fast to them and share them with others whether they want to listen or not.

In modern times this virtue of being a Jew seems to have become somewhat more important in the context of opinions. It now seems that being Jewish not only gives you the need to form opinions but also invests your opinions with significantly more authority. Barely a day goes by without someone giving their opinion "as a Jew".

Here are some Google stats for you:
The phrase "as a Jew" returns 18,200,000 results. Replace "Jew" with "Muslim" and you get 31,100,000. Less than twice as many for about 10 times as many people. Try "Christian" and you'll get only 4,920,000.

A variation:
"Jews for" returns 811,000 while "Muslims for" returns slightly more at 929,000. "Christians for" gives 606,000.

Obviously, being Jewish doesn't make your opinion any more valid than anyone else unless you're talking about being Jewish or about some point of Jewish thought. So why do so many people give their opinions "as a Jew" and why are Jews obsessed with forming groups with the title "Jews for..."?

I don't know. But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So in this blog I'll be giving my thoughts on topics that interest me, all given "as a Jew". Of course, I don't expect my religion to give many of my posts any more authority I hope only that they are interesting and thought provoking, and occasionally entertaining.

I'll also try and highlight, every so often, some of the more wacky intriguing "Jews for..." groups.

So please read, comment, email me if you like with ideas and suggestions (as well as tips for nice stories) and enjoy