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Israel’s conflictual relationship with Israeli Arabs, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza lies at the heart of this year’s prolonged and passionate argument about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. More precisely it frames Jewish identity in the UK today and shapes the debate whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. This contentious British domestic question relates to the foreign reality of life in the Gaza strip and Southern Israel and to Israel’s role in major violent outbreaks in 2009, 2012, 2014, and during this year’s border fence protests in which 170 demonstrators were killed. Most observers see Israel’s reaction to the danger from Gaza as disproportionate. What then is known about the orchestrator of this threat to Israel’s security, Hamas?
Tareq Baconi in his Hamas Contained, Stanford University Press, 2018, provides insights into Hamas’ history, thinking and strategy. Hamas emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987 as a radical Islamist movement in competition with the PLO. In the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the USA with links to Iran, took 76 out of 132 seats, clearly beating Fatah with its 43 seats. This democratic victory threw an ill-prepared Hamas into government of Gaza (it lost control of the West Bank to Fatah) and triggered a debilitating blockade of the Strip by Israel. The USA under President G.W. Bush gave Israel the opportunity to place Hamas in the post- 9/11 frame by talk of a global war against terrorism. Bush used diplomatic, financial and military means to help Israel isolate the two million Palestinians living in the coastal territory, often described as the largest open-air prison in the world with its 70% youth unemployment, poverty and despair fostering attacks on Israel.
Since 2006, Hamas related groups have intermittently attacked southern Israel with rockets, and constructed tunnels to move vital goods in and out, as well as infiltrating fighters and suicide bombers to kill Israeli soldiers and civilians. Over time Israeli military retaliation aimed at curtailing Hamas’ capacity to strike targets in Israel, dubbed “mowing the lawn”, has become increasingly severe. In the course of 51 days, ending in late August 2014, Netanyahu unleashed Operation Protective Edge: aerial attacks on Gaza using F-16s, Apache Helicopters, dropping one ton bombs, followed by a ground assault into Gaza. Tareq Baconi writes that bombs struck housing, schools, hospitals, mosques and power generators, killing 2,200 Palestinians, 1,492 of them civilians and 551 of these children. “Within Gaza, eighteen thousand housing units had been rendered uninhabitable and 108,000 people were left homeless”. During this same period there were sixty-six Israeli combat deaths and six civilians killed.
Baconi tells the complex, and evolving, story of Hamas’ rise to power, its struggle with Fatah and the PLO, to its current containment within Gaza, whilst clearly explaining different strands of Palestinian thinking and ideology. He describes Hamas as defining its role, in contrast to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, as a religiously motivated resistance to “Zionist” settlements inside the territory occupied by Israel after the 1967 war, and until recently, more generally to the wider Israeli occupation since 1948. Against the PLO, the internationally approved negotiator of the Oslo accords, derided by Hamas for achieving nothing, Hamas presents itself as the movement for liberation of the occupied territories.
Hamas frames itself as the - last - anticolonial movement comparable to the ANC’s apartheid-era analysis of itself as fighting against Afrikaner “internal colonialism”. In its own eyes and those of many Gaza residents, Hamas is conducting an armed struggle, or asymmetric warfare, for the land and soul of the Palestinian people against an overwhelmingly powerful military enemy, for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Because of his efforts to explain objectively, Baconi risks being accused of providing Hamas with historical legitimacy. That is clearly not his intention. Nor mine. But Hamas’ interpreting the conflict in a frame of settler colonialism has as much, or as little, sense as the ANC’s old analysis. Both conflicts could be described as resistance movements facing an opponent with a dramatically different level of coercive military power and different history of occupancy of the contested land. The Palestine-Israel conflict has the additional complexity of each side’s ethnic identities and strong religious claims to a divinely mandated terrain. It is not called the Holy Land for nothing. Establishing new States did not work for “Christian nationalism” in South Africa. Baconi finds scant evidence of any ongoing commitment to the Oslo Accords or to peace-making initiatives on either side. Pursuit of a Two State solution has come to nothing.
Hamas statements from its internal and external leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshal, quoted in the book, refer repeatedly to the enemy as “Zionists”. There is no mystery how some of the Labour Left have been accused of anti-Semitism. For them, rather than framing Zionism as one protagonist in a clash of nationalisms, the interpretation motivating the Oslo Accords, Zionism is the powerful last remnant of settler colonialism. This account of the singularity of the conflict is not necessarily anti-Semitic though it easily drifts into anti-Semitism. Most politicized South African young blacks whom I met in the 1980s referred to the “Boers” when they meant the South African security forces. A few were unsurprisingly anti-white. Some Labour Party members surprisingly, disgracefully, have crossed the boundary into anti-Semitism.
Baconi charts how Hamas’ strategy and tactics changed as facts on the ground changed, notably in the shifting sands of the Arab Spring in Egypt, and the leadership changes it brought, from Mubarak to Morsi, from Morsi to Sisi. But Hamas has retained its character as a nationalist Islamist movement despite persistent efforts to lump it with Da’esh and Al-Qaida – both of which it actively opposes. And the leadership has tacitly put aside a major ideological prop: the refusal to recognize the state of Israel. Given future flexibility, Hamas could move from ceasefire to meaningful negotiations given the right conditions.
Otherwise there are no grounds for optimism. Lives in southern Israel are insecure. Lives in Gaza verge on the insupportable. A humanitarian crisis beckons. Israel’s military power has entrenched rather than defeated resistance. Whether the Israeli government retains any vestigial desire for negotiation, now the USA has de facto finally abandoned its role as peace mediator, remains to be seen. Baconi has written a courageous, if depressing, book. Future peacemakers would do well to read it.
The spectacular social and economic development of China, its vast size and population, have turned China into the ideological threat to the West. Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Korea in the 1970s, for different reasons, have all demonstrated that respect for individual human rights comes second to economic development. Discuss the condition of many countries around the world today and it’s not long before the words “authoritarian” and “China model” enter the conversation.
Words are telling. Consider “authoritarian” – note not dictatorship or tyranny. Authoritarian is used to characterise dictatorships rich in essential resources or key allies. Maybe we are indicating a point on a scale of oppression. Perhaps if you harass, imprison or kill more than a certain number of your political opponents, the more condemnatory word dictatorship kicks in. Language subtly betrays attitudes and relationships.
“The China model” also bears thinking about. Is this on a national scale a matter of cultural choice and self-expression, an identity statement, like a particular car chosen by an individual? But the Chinese Communist Party ruthlessly imposes its uniform political and economic template. There is no choice if you are a Uighur Muslim, or a zealous evangelical Christian, or Falun Gong or a young dissident, or a human rights lawyer or an investigative journalist.
Are we then inadvertently, unconsciously dumping the idea of universal values and undermining the integrity and interdependence of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as we celebrate its seventieth year? On what grounds do we soften reaction to violations of people’s rights to different freedoms and give preference to economic rights? These questions have no easy answer.
If democracy, democratic culture and human rights – the complete UN list – are the touchstone of Western values and inform foreign policy, talking about different models risks becoming a hostage to fortune. Dictators are happy to talk about the Asian model or the African model of democracy, particularly when they are locking up their opponents, rigging their elections, manipulating religious sentiments, or playing on tribal or xenophobic fears of one sort or another. In most instances, these aren’t different cultural ways of doing democracy. They are ways of reinforcing the idea that individual human rights confront social, political and economic rights in a zero sum game - when they don’t. Their purpose is to justify abuses of power and the enrichment of elites,
The West may rightly be shy about claiming that genuine democracy and respect for individual human rights are no impediment to economic development. It has an inglorious history of colonialism to overcome. And Africa is a constant reminder. Rwanda is a near perfect example of the West’s attitude. German and Belgian Trusteeship Rule in Rwanda prior to Independence in 1962 did little to promote economic progress and contributed to social divisions and the rise of ethnic identities. I tell the story in my Church and Revolution in Rwanda Manchester University Press 1974. Twenty years later the world failed to intervene to stop the genocide in which hundreds of thousands died. But did Rwanda really need authoritarian rule to achieve successful economic development?
Governments and some international NGOs present Rwanda and its economic progress as a model for the whole African continent. It is indeed impressive, rags to relative riches without, for example, the diamonds of Botswana. But even given the imperative of neutralizing ethnic tensions after the genocide, President Paul Kagame did not need to eliminate political opposition for the country to prosper.
The massacre by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front’s military of at least 4,000 internally displaced Hutu in Kibeho camp on 22 April 1995 spelt the end to an initial post-genocide government of national unity. Criticism of government became hazardous. The later assassination of Colonel Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg, and the attempted assassination of General Faustin Nyamwasa, former Kagame top intelligence officials, are two of the best documented cases of the perils of opposition.
In August 2017, Kagame won Presidential elections with 98.8% of the vote. According to Human Rights Watch, before and after the vote: “the Rwandan government continued to limit the ability of civil society groups, the media, international human rights organizations, and political opponents to function freely and independently or to criticize the government’s policies and practices”.
A democratic culture requires the promotion of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as the fabric of politics, civility and social harmony. Dictatorships, Presidents clinging to multiple terms in office through rigged elections and violence against opponents, are not different models of democracy, whether African, Middle Eastern or Asian, or early stages of a China model. They are models of tyranny. And the cost of opposing tyranny continues to be paid by those who try to overthrow it, as demonstrated by the extinguishing of the ill-named Arab Spring.
There is, of course, hypocrisy, arrogance and hubris in the West’s global promotion of its ideology of democracy. Gerrymandering in the USA, attempts to render voting difficult for African-Americans, a referendum in the UK manipulated by fantasy projections of the benefits of a no or a yes vote, are striking own goals. So is the influence of parts of the mass media that thrive on echoing resentment and xenophobia, and foster an ill-informed electorate. Growing inequality, high levels of relative poverty in the USA and UK, torture and rendition to “black sites”, lend themselves to counter-challenge through authoritarian propaganda: they are a gift for those who deploy social and economic rights to deflect attention from their own violation of individual rights.
The West is not likely to win the ideological or ethical argument while economics and GDP growth provide the West’s dominant master discourse, demoting all else. We sing with dictators too often from the same economistic song sheet. If democracies hope to occupy the moral high ground, they themselves need to set a better example and urgently reform their own political and economic practice. Meanwhile, when democratic leaders argue that they are engaging constructively with tyrannical regimes, they need to be challenged about what has been achieved by such engagement. And when the real motivation is transparently economic self-interest, the West’s ideological position and its moral argument simply founder on their own contradictions.
My old Professor at University College, Galway, used to remark that when he got into his small, beat-up car it would often drive straight to a pub. The big, red China model, with its disappearances, extensive surveillance of citizens, new facial recognition technology, social credit data, and, in Xinjiang, “vocational training centres” (re-education camps), is driving straight into a dystopian, Orwellian future. To governments tempted to jump on board, just don’t go there.
Pity the many decent, honest politicians seeking the Common Good, who, because of the BREXIT debacle, will fall under a blanket condemnation of the “political elite”. We now know where their colleagues’ choice of personal ambition before national interest has taken us. A combination of magical thinking and lying has produced the most threatening political crisis in living memory: government and opposition hopelessly reduced to warring factions or a calculating inertia. The current conflict and confusion, political irresponsibility and incompetence, are a clear and present danger to democracy.
Once you start lying, falsifying and spinning, it is extremely difficult to stop. The latest lie derives from the previous falsification or spin. Take for example the claim that in our representative democracy, referendums are legally binding rather than advisory. The sovereignty of Parliament is the lynch pin of our form of democracy, so referendums cannot be definitively decisive; we are not a small Swiss canton governed as a direct democracy. One false statement leads to another. You end up hinting there will be riots in the street if there is a second referendum.
David Cameron on losing the 2016 referendum was not legally obliged to introduce legislation to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty leading to the UK’s future withdrawal from the European Union. He scuttled away leaving the task to Theresa May. She was temporarily delayed by the Supreme Court ruling that it required an Act of Parliament to empower her to start the process of withdrawal. So it was Parliament which, in March 2017, responding to the majoritarian 17.4 million who voted to leave, and not to the 16.1 million who wanted to remain, authorized the government to trigger Article 50. And it has to be Parliament who revokes their former decision – or, on the other hand, ratifies the lengthy Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on our future relationship with the EU. However in their present state of mind, Parliament is barely up to revoking the menu in the Members Dining Room.
Division plus deadlock is not an ideal context for a - second - referendum. The inflamed language of Tory speeches indicates a further attempt to confuse and misdirect the public. A second referendum, we are repeatedly told, would be a “betrayal” of the public. The people have spoken. Well, 17.4 million have spoken and 16.1 million have also spoken …and said the opposite. Thanks to a blizzard of misinformation at the time of the June 2016 referendum nobody had much idea where BREXIT was heading or what the consequences of leaving the European Union might be. Two years went by before the government thought it worthwhile to acknowledge the views of the 48% who voted to remain. Theresa May is now presenting her marathon negotiation with EU principles and house rules, her – preliminary - deal, as an attempt to heal UK divisions, and respond to some of the Remainers’ needs. But the agreement she brought home does not work as a compromise between factions in the Tory Party, the Opposition, the Lib. Dems, SNP, or DUP with whom she has also been negotiating. Hence the current deadlock.
In these dire Vegan times I must watch my language. But our carnivorous British and European ancestors might have described the choice of BREXIT in June 2016 as buying “a pig in a poke” i.e. unseen (a poke according to Mr. Google is a bag, from the old French poque). This caveat emptor about not buying big items until you can see the goods has remained common sense for some five hundred years. Having been sold a pig in a poke over two years ago, the British public has the democratic right to evaluate what they have subsequently found in the poke. So who is betraying whom here?
The overwrought reaction of Brexiteers to the simple proposition of a second vote is telling. From the mightily ambitious Jeremy Hunt, looking relatively good as Foreign Minister after Boris Johnson, we get warnings of civil unrest if there were to be another referendum. Why do they want to frighten the electorate out of an informed democratic choice now that we have a better understanding of what the different options entail?
Just imagine it. A disproportionate number of elderly and old people voted Leave and younger people voted overwhelmingly Remain. So will we see Zimmer frames clashing with police shields, mobility vehicles running down Remainers, pensioners manning barricades in seaside towns, bowls clubs storming Wormwood scrubs? But, as the ERG would be the first to admit, we are not French. Mayhem as the British response to being asked to advise our representatives in Parliament about whether we want them to ratify Theresa May’s agreement with Brussels or call it a day and seek to remain in the EU? I don’t think so. I would foresee cancelling some police leave in case of Right-Wing extremist violence. Though they don’t need No-BREXIT as an excuse.
Theresa May has a way out though she will probably soldier on pursuing Project Fantasy, seeking further EU concessions, and be humiliated. It is high time she delivered the speech I wrote for her, on 22 September 2018, free of charge, still available but sadly neglected, BREXIT: The End Game (www.ianlinden.com/blogs.html ). She will now need an extension beyond the end of March 2019 for her next move. Unfortunately, affairs are so disorderly there are no suitable chess metaphors left.
And spare a thought for those MPs who also want to do the right thing for their country and constituents but struggle to understand what that might be. Project Reality would be a start: seeking the people’s advice through a people’s vote, asking them to choose between the EU-Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement or remaining in the European Union, recognizing we are reduced to choosing the least bad of the ways forward.
Red Notices, the requests made to governments through Interpol for the location, arrest and extradition of named individuals, were in the news this November. Ukrainian born Alexandr Prokopchuk, a Major-General in the Russian police who had led the Russian National Central Bureau of Interpol (MIA) since 2011, failed to get the top job as President of the international police organisation. During Prokopchuk’s time as leader of Interpol’s Russian office, Russia was a profligate user of Red Notices, targeting for example Bill Browder and other opponents of President Putin.
Prokopchuk studied Romance and Germanic languages and literature. So the selection committee were not worried about his talents as a linguist when they appointed a South Korean, Kim Jong Yang, Interpol Vice-President for Asia, as the new international chief.
This comforting little news story with a happy ending brought Red Notices into focus for many people, who, like me, had never heard of them. They are generally a good idea for dealing with criminals who flee across borders. But on closer scrutiny these Notices turn out to be popular with dictators who use them to harass dissidents and their political opponents who have fled abroad. Compared with polonium poisoning and chemical nerve agents, Red Notices seem quaintly legalistic and almost benign. But they can result in individuals innocent of any crimes, save opposition to tyranny, going to jail at home, or worse.
This is not the whole story. Before an arrest can take place, the government receiving a Red Notice, its Interior Ministry, must approve the request – in UK that is the Home Office and the term used is “certify” as in certify there is a case to be heard. Several months of judicial proceedings can follow before the case goes to court to decide whether the Notice complies with internationally agreed Interpol rules, for example, that the Notice should not be politically motivated. It takes two to tango, the host country and the country issuing the Red Notice. And when T stands for Terrorism and Turkey as well as Tango the stakes are high.
As Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State from 1997-2002, once said referring to terrorism “whenever the United States wages war on an abstract noun, it gets into difficulties”. After the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey in which over 300 died, sticking the terrorism label on opponents and dissidents became stock-in-trade for President Erdogan.. None have suffered more than members of Hizmet, the international Islamic Gülen movement, followers of Fetullah Gülen whose modernising writing and teaching is very far from hate-speech, incitement to violence or promotion of terrorism.
Hizmet was branded a Terrorist Organisation, FETO for short, by Erdogan. Massive purges of alleged Gülen followers from all walks of life followed. The movement’s emphasis on education alongside piety had resulted in Gülenists moving into positions of influence in Turkish society, forming an alternative power-base to Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party. Some followers had joined the coup which seems in retrospect to have been a secular-led. This gave Erdogan the opportunity to wipe out what he saw as a significant organised internal opposition. Tens of thousands of Gülenists have lost their jobs, and/or been imprisoned or forced into exile, their families persecuted. Teachers in Gülen schools outside Turkey have been abducted, others have received death threats. The purges have swept up many people beyond Hizmet. The main groups targeted are lawyers, civil servants and journalists as well as police and military. Association with the Kurdish insurgency in the south-east provides a further charge levelled against journalists.
So Turkey has been seeking the extradition of HIzmet members from the UK. Most recently, and prominently amongst them, are Hamdi Akin Ipek, a media tycoon, owner of Koza Holdings, Talip Büyük who managed the Gülen movement’s Fatih Colleges, and Ali Çelik, head of the Gülen-linked Bank Asya. In late November this year, Judge John Zani rejected the case for their extradition from the UK on grounds that the application was politically motivated. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), representing the Turkish government in British courts, are now taking the case to appeal. Even if Turkey’s applications fail, the subjects of Red Notices will have endured months of exhausting uncertainty and anxiety.
The point of the story is not simply that Judge Zani is upholding the rule of law over the political advantage the UK might gain by obliging Erdogan, a NATO ally and strategic trading partner. The real issue is this: do the Crown and people of this country really wish the CPS – whose time and staff we pay for - to represent a government which engages in human rights violations to a prodigious extent? The same might be asked of the Home Office which, when it certifies Turkish Red Notices, triggers the arrest of the named person, causing at the very least six months of legal costs, bail proceedings, anxiety and a life on hold. This is a remarkably effective way of harassing Turkish refugees who are under the supposed protection of the UK government. Some of them will, in addition, be receiving death threats and loss by confiscation of their, and their family members’, homes back in Turkey. Britain needs to re-read its international obligations to protect refugees.
I do not assume that all the targets of Turkey’s Red Notices are saints. But trumped up criminal charges often form part of the harassment game. And British government is perfectly well aware of these tactics.
Here is a very simple question. If the politically motivated use of Red Notices by Putin and the Russian government was so reprehensible it warranted a well-run campaign against Major General Prokopchuk’s appointment to President of Interpol, supported by the UK, then how come the Home Office is certifying politically motivated Notices from Erdogan and the Turkish government?
Answers on one side of A4. Bonus marks for explaining how this treatment of refugees is compatible with British values.