Saturday, October 16, 2004

Just another swear word

Benjamin Pogrund Saying that apartheid lives on in Israel is a potent but vicious lie

South Africa''s apartheid died in 1994, but the word is alive: Israel is accused of being "the new apartheid" while its founding ideology, Zionism, is attacked as "racism". How true are these accusations? Mere repetition, however frequent, widespread and fervent, does not in itself give them validity.

Describing Israel as an "emerging apartheid" gathered force in the run-up to the UN anti-racism conference in Durban in August-September 2001 and was given aggressive expression there. However, after pressure by democratic countries, the subsequent conference of governments expunged virtually every attack on Israel from its final document. The 9/11 destruction a few days later pushed the "new apartheid" campaign to the back burner. But in Chicago, Ramallah, Johannesburg, London, Cairo, Sydney, the phrase is increasingly heard.

If the apartheid label is appropriate, it provides a potent political weapon. If, however, the usage is wrong it reduces the vile system of racism perpetrated in South Africa to just another swear word. It also raises questions about the motivation of those who apply it. Clear purpose can indeed be discerned in the efforts to make the apartheid stigma stick: to have Israel viewed as, and declared, illegitimate. That is, to challenge its right to existence — and to ensure that Israelis are made unwelcome abroad and that it becomes politically correct to boycott Israeli products and to discourage investment in the country.

The situations inside and outside the Green Line, the borders determined by the 1967 war, are intertwined but separate. First, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is the occupier and no occupation is benign. Everyone is suffering — Palestinians as victims and Israelis as perpetrators. Everyone suffers deaths and maimings in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. Both sides are brutalised and corrupted. But however ugly it is, it is not apartheid. Palestinians are not oppressed on racial grounds as Arabs but are, rather, the competitors in a national/religious conflict for land. One group imposes harsh control over another, but this applies to any situation of conflict and conquest anywhere; to call it apartheid stretches meaning to illogical lengths.

The word "Bantustan" is often used in an accusatory way to describe Israel''s policy about a future Palestinian state. Bantustans were the tribal mini-states created as a means of depriving the black population of citizenship in "white" South Africa. The common element between Israel and the apartheid state is control, seen especially in restrictions on freedom of movement; so too is the grabbing of land. But the root causes are different. White South Africans invented the Bantustans to pen black people into defined reservoirs of labour, being allowed to leave only when working for white South Africa. The Israeli intention is the opposite: to keep out Palestinians, having as little to do with them as possible.

Second, Israel inside the Green Line. In South Africa pre-1994, skin colour determined every single person''s life: where you were born, where you lived, which school you went to, which bus, train, beach, hospital, library, park bench and public toilet you used, with whom you could have sex, what you could study, which jobs you had and hence how much you could earn; and ultimately, where you were buried.

In Israel, Arabs are approximately 20% of the population. In theory they have full citizenship rights; in practice they suffer extensive discrimination, ranging from land use, diminished job opportunities and lesser social benefits, to reports of a family ordered off a beach. None of this is acceptable, and particularly in a state that prides itself on its democracy. Discrimination occurs despite equality in law and is buttressed by custom — but it is not remotely the South African panoply of discrimination enforced by parliamentary legislation. Anyone who says that Israel is apartheid does not appreciate what apartheid was.

Nor does "Zionism is racism" stand up to scrutiny. Israel has a Jewish majority and they have the right to decide how to order the society, including defining citizenship. If the majority wish to restrict immigration and citizenship to Jews, that might be undesirable in universalist terms but it is their right, just as it is the right of Saudi Arabia not to allow Christians as citizens. Yet it is also clearly unfair to give automatic entry to Jews while denying the "right of return" to Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the wars of 1948 and 1967. This unfairness is a tragic consequence of war, which again is anything but unique to Israel.

The Jewish state was born in pain: it was attacked and Arabs suffered mass dispossession in the war for survival. The many thousands of Arabs who remained in Israel now constitute a sizeable minority. Most countries have minorities; the question is how they deal with them. Some, such as Burundi and Rwanda, or India in 1947, erupt into terrible violence. Greece has an estimated 200,000 Roma who enjoy almost none of the benefits that other Greeks take for granted. Christians are targeted for attack in Nigeria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia and China.

A crucial indicator of the status of Israel''s minority is that Arabs have the vote; black South Africans did not. Certainly, Arab citizens lack full power as a minority community, but they have the right and the power to unite among themselves and to ally themselves with others. Change is possible in Israel, and is happening. One example: Mosawa (The Centre for Equal Rights for the Arab Population in Israel), acting on a recent law banning discrimination, has launched court action against a website offering jobs to Jews only.

Health is a visible indicator of progress. In South Africa in 1985 life expectancy was 71 years for white people; 61 for black people. In Israel, the gap between Jews and Arabs in the 1980s was 2.3 years; in the 1990s it was 1.2 years. And life expectancy for Arab males, at 74.4 years, compared with 69.6 for the white majority in European countries.

Critics dub the separation barrier that Israel is building the Apartheid Wall. The barrier, supported by most Israelis in the hope of gaining security against suicide bombers, is being used as a cover to seize land from Palestinians; it is the cause of immeasurable suffering. Machiavellian, a land grab, misperceived or thieving the barrier might be, but it''s not apartheid.

Underlying everything is the nature of Israeli democracy. That in turn depends on the conception of the Jewish state. Which in turn depends on the definition of who is a Jew. Each is evolving. Meanwhile, visionary, courageous leadership is lacking. Palestinians undermined the Oslo accords by continuing violent attacks; Israel undermined the accords by continuing to build on the West Bank and Gaza.

The spurious "apartheid" and "Zionism is racism" accusations confuse and distract. Instead, South Africa''s experience should be put to positive use. What can be learned? For Israel, that armed might and oppression cannot crush a people''s spirit and passion for freedom. For Palestinians, there is the African National Congress''s switch to armed struggle in 1961, with the decision not to kill civilians: this proved crucial in persuading white people that they had nothing to fear in negotiating with the ANC. And the most basic South African lesson of all, contact across the lines of division: to create trust so that an agreed future can be forged between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis, and between Israelis and Palestinians.

© Benjamin Pogrund, 2004

Benjamin Pogrund is director of Yakar''s Centre for Social Concern in Jerusalem. He was deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, and is author of books on Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela and the press under apartheid. This article is abridged from a seminar paper.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Telegraph | News | Raid on Bigley's brother

[Telegraph accuses Ken Bigley of collusion]

Dutch intelligence officers raided the home of Kenneth Bigley's brother last night. An intelligence officer from the Foreign Office is understood to have accompanied them to Paul Bigley's home in Amsterdam.

The raid came amid claims that the British hostage was free to roam his kidnappers' home in Iraq and was "caged" only for terrorist videos.

Paul Bigley's computer was seized and he was interrogated about his alleged contact with the Tawhid and Jihad group, which yesterday claimed responsibility for Thursday's killing of at least 35 children in Baghdad.

Material from his computer was downloaded and sent back for analysis in Britain as he was forced to make a five-page statement.

Mr Bigley has been an outspoken critic of the Government's handling of his brother's case and has established his own contacts in the Middle East but denies being in direct contact with the kidnappers.

In Fallujah, Mohammed Kasim, an Iraqi-born gunman with a British passport, said the latest video of Mr Bigley showing him shackled in a cage had been staged to "terrify" the British public. There was no way of verifying the claim, particularly in a country awash with rumour and conspiracy theories.

Two of Mr Bigley's American colleagues were beheaded by the captors, believed to be the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Gruesome footage of the murders was transmitted on the internet.

The Bigley family will take renewed hope from the account offered by Kasim.

"If they wanted to kill him they would have done this immediately after they kidnapped him," said Kasim.

"Instead they want to use him to press on the British kingdom." Kasim, 35, is one of two Britons believed to have joined the "resistance" in Fallujah, a stronghold of armed opposition to the US-led presence in Iraq.

An Iraqi translator met him in a coffee shop close to Hamid al-Hamoud mosque.

Kasim spoke fluent English, but refused to show his passport. He also declined to provide any details of where he lived in London, saying: "I want to keep my family safe."

He said he spent the mornings translating websites of foreign newspapers on behalf of the "resistance" and the afternoons manning checkpoints on the main street.

Kasim said he did not belong to Zarqawi's group, Tawhid and Jihad. But the resistance, organised under an 11-member "Mujahideen Shura council", has close ties with Zarqawi and is believed to be protecting him in Fallujah.

Kasim claimed he heard news of Mr Bigley "every day". He said the cage and chains were set up only for the video recording.

"They made this video for two reasons. They wanted to scare Tony Blair. They also wanted revenge for Saddam Hussein for the way in which he was displayed by the US military after his capture."

According to his account, Kassim was born in Fallujah and is a member of the dominant Dulaimy tribe.

He moved to Britain 12 years ago to study at a university, and says he married an Englishwoman who converted to Islam and bore him two children.

Kasim said he returned to Fallujah six months ago and said he had taken part in a raid on a US convoy.

"I am born in Iraq and I should fight with my tribe. I cannot see my town under siege and destroyed so I came from the UK to Iraq to fight.

"I was crying every night when I saw the news. I will go back to my family when the occupation ends and Iraq gets its freedom."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head on the left.

This is a series of copy and pastes from the Weekly Worker letters page.

Workers' Weekly 2/9/2004

Sion Griffiths avoids the real challenge to the ‘personal’ politics of the fake ‘left’ raised by the Economic and Philosophic Science Review (Letters, August 5).

This accuses single-issue reformism (feminism, black nationalism, gay rights, etc) in the very first paragraph of being “the last refuge of anti-communism, which will provide history with the most reactionary, last-ditch defenders of the monopoly-imperialist ‘free world’ system in its final counterrevolutionary debacles. When the personal became the political, it was endless variants of extreme individualist philosophy which were being deliberately aggressively promoted …So-called ‘human rights’ became more successful than ever as a battering ram for the western imperialist controllers’ non-stop worldwide propaganda priority to wipe out communism.”

The EPSR’s point was made in a letter to the Weekly Worker: “Dream on if you think that reforms have banished racism, or reduced violence, or made for happier families, or replaced drugs and booze for discontented youth, or taught society to really value all people equally … or improved the environment, or stopped international imperialist tyranny” (July 22).

It is typical of the subjective politics now dominant that Sion Griffiths ignores this crisis of the ‘left’ in order to make a venomous personal attack because of only seeing some insult to homosexuality in the EPSR piece. But there is no insult; and the real phenomenon of homosexuality itself as such is not the issue. The cynical individualist nihilism of some gay politics (and many other single-issue philosophies) is the problem, typified by the sabotage of the Palestinian march to air the personal feelings of hurt homosexuals.

Gays should feel offended and intimidated by continued barbaric backwardness of international capitalist society on these questions, but a revolutionary world of workers’ states is the only long-term guarantee of real human enlightenment on all the rotten discriminations still prevalent in an insecure, class-divided society. Have you checked out your school playground insults lately?

But Sion Griffiths can only make jeering jokes about proletarian dictatorship, typical of current ‘left’ ignorance about, and hostility to, the real, historic-making achievements of the world’s workers-state experiences so far, despite their inevitably “brutal” realities too (as referred to, neither in praise nor admiration). And this single-issue anti-communism will last throughout the whole dying counterrevolutionary era of ‘free world’ degeneration.

All the other issues about ‘politically correct’ crassness on gay questions, and doubts about the phenomenon continuing when society is no longer macho-dominated from class or hierarchical struggle, can be debated academically; but wouldn’t they be best postponed in favour of the world seeing its way to a total Palestinian victory over the whole post-1945 Jewish/imperialist colonisation attempt, one unavoidable key on the way to the world revolution?

Another major EPSR point which Sion Griffiths managed to completely ignore in order to pursue personal ‘homophobic’ venom.

Royston Bull


Worker Weekly 9/9/2004

Royston Bull calls for “a total Palestinian victory over the whole post-1945 Jewish/imperialist colonisation attempt” (Letters, September 2).

As an anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist Jew, I have not been invited to take part. Perhaps Mr Bull can provide the address, so that I can claim my share of the benefits that I have gained from this conspiracy.

Roland Rance


Workers' Weekly 16/9/2004
All Zionist?

Roland Rance in his witty note is presumably asking that the post-1945 ethnic-cleansing of Palestine be termed ‘Zionist/imperialist colonisation’, as opposed to “Jewish/imperialist” - telling us that he as a Jew has not benefited from this conspiracy yet (Letters, September 9). The implication is that the millions of Jews now occupying Palestine must obviously all be Zionists, and that no Jews in the rest of the world get any benefit or comfort at all from the building of the state of Israel into an enormous military power and the most dollar-aided country on earth.

That anyone can have such naive delusions would be slightly more credible if Roland Rance could be heard denouncing the foundation of the state of Israel and all its works.

Royston Bull


Workers' Weekly 23/9/2004
Patronising Bull

Royston Bull offensively suggests that my “naive delusions would be slightly more credible if [I] could be heard denouncing the foundation of the state of Israel and all its works” (Letters, September16).

I don’t intend here to detail my 28 years of active campaigning against Zionism and for Palestinian rights. The fact that Mr Bull appears unaware of this says more about his lack of involvement in this struggle than it does about me. This lack of involvement is reflected in the remainder of his ignorant comments about the Middle East, and about the presumed benefit to Jews of Zionist oppression.

Mr Bull’s letter appears beneath one from my friend Tony Greenstein, outlining the Zionist sympathies of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Like Tony, I have been denounced by the AWL as an anti-semite; like him, I have been banned from campuses as a result of Zionist pressure, backed by the AWL; like him, I have been reviled by the Jewish Chronicle and other elements of the official leadership of the Jewish community in Britain. I do not need any patronising remarks from Jew-hating bigots about my naivety and lack of involvement.

My Respect branch has now submitted a policy motion opposing Zionism and supporting Palestinian return to the forthcoming Respect conference. Some Weekly Worker readers may disagree with the call for a unitary, secular and democratic Palestine; but, even if you oppose this clause, I hope that you will back the rest of the motion. In particular, the statement that “Respect opposes Zionism as a political movement whose aim is the dispossession of the Palestinian people. Respect denies the false equation of anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, and will oppose any attempt to ascribe collective responsibility to Jews for the crimes of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement.”

Roland Rance


Murky waters
If the Weekly Worker’s dedication to ‘free expression’ must extend to the rantings of the deranged Royston Bull, he should not get away with slandering comrades, whether from malice or ignorance.
Back in the days when Bull was relatively sane, we both worked on the daily News Line, published by Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party. Then and after the WRP was keen on supporting the Palestinian cause (indeed I was asked to join the paper because of my interest in the Middle East, and also wrote in the Labour Review on Zionism). But I do not recall Royston Bull taking any active part in such campaigning, then or later.

Perhaps this helps explain his assertion that criticism of his anti-Jewish remarks “would be slightly more credible if Roland Rance could be heard denouncing the foundation of the state of Israel and all its works”. I don’t always agree with Roland, but anyone involved in Palestinian solidarity and anti-Zionist work would know his record of active opposition to the Zionist state and “all its works”, both here and in Palestine. He should not have to lower himself to reply to the likes of Bull, who appears to have only discovered Palestine by way of his voyage into neo-Stalinism.

It seems odd though that Bull has not considered the part played by the late Joseph Stalin and his foreign minister Gromyko in supporting partition in Palestine and arming the Israeli state to drive out Palestinians. The Soviet Union itself had used ethnic-cleansing - for instance, the mass deportations of Chechens. Twenty million Soviet citizens perished in the war against fascism; but in Russia today, ravaged by ruthless capitalism, we have the obscenity of Stalin’s portrait carried alongside Hitler’s by the brown-red alliance, and a former Ku Klux Klan leader welcomed by nationalists and so-called communists to proclaim war on “dark-skinned peoples” and “Zionists”. Maybe history is being rewritten.

Royston Bull’s reference to overturning the “post-1945 Jewish/imperialist settlement” suggests he has drifted into very murky waters.
Charlie Pottins

Workers' Weekly 30/9/2004


The attack on Roland Rance, a comrade and friend for many years, by Royston Bull is quite amazing (Letters, September 16). Anyone active in anti-Zionist or Palestine solidarity work in the past 20 years would have had difficulty in not coming across Roland. He was editor of Return, a magazine of Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists, and active in a score of campaigns such as that to free Samir and Jawad, the two Palestinians framed for the bombing of the Israeli embassy and the Zionist headquarters, Balfour House, in London.

Indeed, strange as it might seem, I don’t seem to have come across the name of Royston Bull before in connection with Palestine. There are only two possible explanations. Either Mr Bull has never lifted a finger to become involved in solidarity work with the Palestinians and prefers to use the issue as a stick to berate others; or it is because of some variant of the world Jewish conspiracy. I leave it to your readers to judge.

What is astounding is not the anti-semitism (and homophobia) of Mr Bull, which can be found among the more lumpen and conspiratorial sections of society, but how such a creature could have risen to a position of influence within the Socialist Labour Party. For this Arthur Scargill owes us all an explanation.

Tony Greenstein


Into the sea

In reply to Charlie Pottins and Roland Rance, the issue is about political understanding, not boasts about who does what or grotesque distortions about who did what (Letters, September 23).

Millions on the ‘left’ - Jews and others - claim to be “anti-Zionist” or even for a “unitary secular state covering the entire 1945 land of Palestine” without being at all prepared to denounce the “founding of a home for Jews in the Middle East” as one of the foulest acts of imperialist hypocrisy ever, and certainly as the most endlessly poisonous colonisation of all time.

Currently, that western imperialist stunt to achieve a militarised toehold permanently in the Middle East which ‘no one can object to’ on grounds of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, etc is providing the American empire with just the sort of perpetual provocation and unbeatable armed back-up that it needs to keep its planned warmongering offensive in the region on the boil.

Without returning to these sick post-war decisions - precisely those backed by Stalinism along with all the rest of the revisionist theoretical imbecilities with which the world communist movement was destroyed - and reversing them, then nothing but a joke ‘Palestinian return’ can come about, such as that contained in the evil fraud called ‘the two-state solution’.

Utopian make-believe can pretend that one day the Jews will accept the dismantling of ‘Israel’ for Rance’s “unitary, democratic, and secular Palestine” and happily budge up, ‘supporting Palestinian return’ to their entire 1945 positions and post-colonial expectations; but the reality of the modern Zionist-imperialist juggernaut and its whole history proves this will never happen without war. But the prospect of endless Middle East warmongering is here already, relentlessly worsening, as the paranoid American empire’s economic crisis deepens.

In this uncontrollable-war perspective, the only serious anti-imperialist position is to be for the west’s defeat, including driving this rotten Zionist stunt into the sea. [my italics]
Royston Bull