My following article appears in today’s edition of Crikey:
The war in Iraq is a debacle and no amount of semantic fudging can change that reality. While it is encouraging that a number of US media outlets have finally acknowledged that civil war is raging in the occupied nation, the Iraqi people have known this fact for years. It’s a shame so few Westerners were listening.
The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn wrote this week that George W. Bush and Tony Blair (and by extension, John Howard) simply refuse to accept that foreign occupation is the main reason for the insurgency:
An Iraqi government will only have real legitimacy and freedom to operate when US and British troops have withdrawn. Washington and London have to accept that if Iraq is to survive at all it will be as a loose federation run by a Shia-Kurdish alliance because together they are 80 per cent of the population. But, thanks to the miscalculations of Mr Bush and Mr Blair, the future of Iraq will be settled not by negotiations but on the battlefield.
Behind the headlines of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, however, lies alternative US plans that much of the mainstream media has ignored.
He alleges that James Baker has told one of Saddam’s lawyers that Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s former deputy prime minister, will be released by year’s end to negotiate with the US on behalf of the Baath Party leadership.
The Bush administration has continued to negotiate with insurgent groups (except al-Qaeda), and hopes to instigate a coup against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Americans are desperate for a cease-fire, so the implication is clear; military means have failed.
Hayden told Democracy Now this week that the Americans are hoping that a ceasefire would allow them to “go after” Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Key American planners are also determined to restrict Iranian influence in Iraq, conveniently forgetting that the “democratic” governments elected by the people on a number of occasions are directly aligned to the Islamic state.
There has been a noticeable shift in war rhetoric in the last weeks. Iraqis are being blamed for the country’s troubles, not the countries occupying the nation.
Scott Burchill, lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, writes that Australia’s role in Iraq will continue without policy options of our own:
Despite overwhelming opposition from the Iraqi people, US and Australian troops will stay until a reliable Vichy-style dependent client willing to protect Washington’s regional interests is securely in place. Canberra seems committed to this goal out of loyalty to its alliance partner, if not Australia’s national interests. Stability is still some way off. Much blood is still to be shed.
According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pope Benedict XVI has invited the 83-year-old former adviser to Richard Nixon to be a political consultant, and Kissinger has accepted.
Quoting an “authoritative” diplomatic source at the Holy See, the paper reported Nov. 4 that the Nobel laureate was asked at a recent private audience with the Holy Father to form part of a papal “advisory board” on foreign and political affairs.
Although many in the Western media still worship at the feet of Kissinger (Murdoch’s Australian regularly features his rantings), at least one journalist clearly took a stand:
Four years ago, Barbara Walters, who calls Kissinger “the most loyal friend,” was entertaining Kissinger and his wife at a dinner party for a D.C. politician when ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, who died last year, suddenly piped up, “How does it feel to be a war criminal, Henry?”
How has Human Rights Watch responded to the [Gaza] challenge?
It criticized Israel for destroying Gaza’s only electrical plant, and also called on Israel to “investigate” why its forces were targeting Palestinian medical personnel in Gaza and to “investigate” the Beit Hanoun massacre.
On the other hand, it accused Palestinians of committing a “war crime” after they captured an Israeli soldier and offered to exchange him for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. (Israel was holding 10,000 Palestinians prisoner.) It demanded that Palestinians “bring an immediate end to the lawlessness and vigilante violence” in Gaza. (Compare Amira Hass’s words.) It issued a 101-page report chastising the Palestinian Authority for failing to protect women and girls. It called on the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate steps to halt” Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.
Were this record not shameful enough, HRW crossed a new threshold at the end of November.
After Palestinians spontaneously responded to that “unknown voice on a cell phone” by putting their own bare bodies in harm’s way, HRW rushed to issue a press release warning that Palestinians might be committing a “war crime” and might be guilty of “human shielding.” (“Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”)
In what must surely be the most shocking statement ever issued by a human rights organization, HRW indicted Palestinian leaders for supporting this nonviolent civil disobedience:
“Prime Minister Haniyeh and other Palestinian leaders should be renouncing, not embracing, the tactic of encouraging civilians to place themselves at risk.”
The international community has for decades implored Palestinian leaders to forsake armed struggle in favour of nonviolent civil disobedience. Why is a human rights organization now attacking them for adopting this tactic?
Is it a war crime to protect one’s home from collective punishment?
Is it human shielding if a desperate and forsaken populace chooses to put itself at deadly risk in order to preserve the last shred of its existence?
Indeed, although Israeli soldiers have frequently used Palestinians as human shields in life-threatening situations, and although HRW has itself documented this egregious Israeli practice, HRW has never once called it a war crime.
It took weeks before HRW finally issued a report condemning Israeli war crimes in Lebanon. Although many reliable journalists were daily documenting these crimes, HRW said it first had to conduct an independent investigation of its own.
But HRW hastened to deplore the nonviolent protests in Gaza based on anonymous press reports which apparently got crucial facts wrong.
Why this headlong rush to judgment?
The Australian’s media diarist has clearly done her research:
A level of respect
Melbourne writer Antony Loewenstein let fly after being described as an “anti-Zionist blogger” in an article by Rebecca Weisser in The Australian’s Higher Education Supplement that questioned his appointment to the board of Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies. “Have these people no respect for a best-selling author?” Loewenstein wrote in an angry blog entry attacking Weisser and other “Zionist clowns”. Possibly, but Loewenstein’s only published work, My Israel Question, has so far sold 5987 copies, according to Bookscan.
A few points for the intrepid Murdoch journalist. I’m based in Sydney (though published by Melbourne University Publishing.) A subtle geographic difference for some, but one worth noting. My tongue-in-cheek comment regarding respect of a best-selling author was obviously lost in translation. Clearly understanding sarcasm isn’t the writer’s strong-suit.
Finally, my book has sold far more than 5987 copies since its August release, but again, let me guess the Australian simply relied on the notoriously unreliable Bookscan figures? Making a call to my publisher was too much to ask.
I look forward to journalist Amanda Meade’s best-seller book on office reporting.
The recent London murder of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko has once again focused world attention on the increasingly authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin.
Russian authorities are determined to deny any responsibility for the targeting of a key Putin critic, but evidence already points to Kremlin involvement (though this being modern Russia, any number of theories are plausible.)
It was announced overnight that traces of polonium 210 had been found at the London offices of exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky (a supposed friend of Litvinenko.)
Yesterday’s Crikey featured Guy Rundle’s concise summary of the likely reasons behind Litvinenko’s death, but there are many other angles to this story that require examination.
He didn’t mince his words and directly blamed Putin for her death. While he didn’t provide direct evidence at a public forum, it was clear that he believed Putin must be held responsible for his country’s decline. Litvinenko was known to have been investigating Politkovskaya’s death, so was he targeted because he knew too much about her killers?
Last Friday the BBC screened a previously unseen interview with Politkovskaya. She alleged that Putin deliberately provoked terrorism, including the 2002 Dubrovka theatre siege and 2004 Beslan school massacre.
“The birth of democracy was hard. But it was born, and he is killing it,” Politkovskaya said. “His years in the Kremlin have meant that the next generation will have to do a great deal, take a giant leap, to get out of the problems.”
She went on to accuse Putin of creating a new generation of terrorists, partly due to his inflaming of the war in Chechnya and leaving “a Soviet country with a downtrodden media and with strong fascist undercurrents.”
Two journalists at Politkovskaya’s paper have now received death threats, one for investigating the figures behind her killing. It is unsurprising that so little independent media exists in Russia in these circumstances.
With the British Home Secretary John Reid issuing a statement in the Commons regarding Litvinenko’s death – though he places no blame at Putin’s feet – a diplomatic row between Russia and the UK is looking likely.
The deaths of both Litvinenko and Politkovskaya display a worrying tendency to eliminate a government’s opponents. International pressure may be muted, however, by the pulling power of Russia’s immense natural resources.
We are told that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Australia (even the Israeli press links to the same article.) The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) claim that attacks on Jews and “anti-Semitic incidents” were at a near-record high in the past year. The report’s author, Jeremy Jones, explains:
“The most important thing is that when people think they can get away with it [antisemitic incidents], that’s when they commit them. The atmosphere [during the war in Lebanon] was right for attacking Jews and getting away with it. It’s not what happens in the Middle East, it’s how the media covers it [that incites antisemitism].”
Is that clear? It’s the media’s fault, and not Israeli actions, that anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. And who especially?
This is particularly the case when antisemitic views are broadcast on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), as in the minds of racists this signifies that bigotry has received government imprimatur.
The report provides no evidence for such an allegation yet the tone clearly implies that even interviewing, say, Hamas spokesmen or dissenting Jewish voices, is tantamount to inciting anti-Jewish hatred.
The full report can be read here. It’s a long-winded and dishonest report. This is unsurprising considering the authors, but a few points need clarification. The report claims that the “Left” is infused with anti-Semitism. Some commentators are accused of daring to suggest that Israeli policies in the occupied territories are akin to apartheid. Others have argued, myself included, that being anti-Zionist is a legitimate political position. Of course, in the report’s eyes, this is contributing to anti-Semitism. In such circumstances, critical voices are, almost by definition, inciting Jew-hatred.
It is worth remembering the words of US historian Norman Finkelstein. He told Democracy Now in February:
In the United States among those people who call themselves supporters of Israel, we enter the area of unreason. We enter a twilight zone. American Jewish organizations, they’re not only not up to speed yet with Steven Spielberg, they’re still in the Leon Uris exodus version of history: the “this land is mine, God gave this land to me,” and anybody who dissents from this, you can call it, lunatic version of history is then immediately branded an anti-Semite, and whenever Israel comes under international pressure to settle the conflict diplomatically, or when it is subjected to a public relations debacle, such as it was with the Second Intifada, a campaign is launched claiming there is a new anti-Semitism afoot in the world.
There is no evidence of a new anti-Semitism. If you go through all the literature, as I have, the evidence is actually in Europe, which is Dr. Ben-Ami’s half-home ground, Spain, but throughout Europe, the evidence is, if you look at like the Pew Charitable Trust surveys, anti-Semitism has actually declined since the last time they did the surveys. They did it in 1991 and 2002. They said the evidence is that it’s declined. And the same thing in the United States. What’s called the “new anti-Semitism” is anyone who criticizes any official Israeli policies. In fact, my guess is had people not known who wrote Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, that book would immediately be put on the A.D.L.’s list of verboten books, an example of anti-Semitism, because he says things like the Zionists wanted to transfer the Arabs out. That’s anti-Semitism. It has nothing to do with the real world. It’s a public relations extravaganza production to deflect attention from the facts, from the realities…
His words could apply equally to Australia. Violent attacks on Jews do occur, and real anti-Semitism does exist. Such outrages should be condemned and prosecuted, but the ECAJ report is so politicised as to make its contribution negligible at best. Any criticism of Israel is deemed unacceptable. Damning Israeli actions in Lebanon is inappropriate. It is unsurprising, therefore, how few individuals speak out against such dishonest practices.
Half-way through the report appears these paragraphs:
The shallowness and intellectual dishonesty in some of the debate on the Middle East in Australia was evident in the reception accorded a book written on Israel and Australia’s Jewish Community by an individual with no particular expertise, experience or skills but who identified himself as a Jewish critic of Australian Jewry and of Zionism. While the book was riddled with factual inaccuracies and sloppiness, it was speedily given iconic value by a range of critics of Israel, including overt antisemites.
It was promoted and sold by extreme right wing political organisations, available at a bookstand which otherwise exclusively sold fundamentalist Islamic texts at a Muslim fair and the author was promoted by a variety of far-left groups existentially opposed to Israel.
The author’s personal moderated internet discussion forum published a series of items making offensive comments about individuals opposed to Holocaust denial and others accusing critics of the author of using “every weapon in the Jewish armoury of self-victimisation” , while the author himself used offensive anti-Jewish language, but the utility to anti-Israel groups and individuals of having a self-identified Jewish person who was eager to criticise Israel and Australian Jewry seemingly over-rode any concern with factual accuracy or concern with racism.
The report’s authors are too gutless to actually mention my book by name, My Israel Question, or my name itself (they’ll be happy to know that there will be many more surprises on these matters in 2007.)
Despite the best efforts of Zionist agitators everywhere (including this report’s author, Jeremy Jones, who penned a review for the Australian Jewish News that reached new heights of hilarity), my book has become a best-seller and is now well into its 3rd reprint. Of course, Zionists may comfort themselves with the thought that my book appeals to a very narrow section of society, but in fact the amount of mail I’ve received from across the country and overseas – young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish, left and right – proves that My Israel Question has in fact spoken to many, sick of the tired, old militant Zionism that has failed time and time again.
Zionist “logic” works like this. Police the political and media arena for any comments that may be “suspect.” Attack mercilessly, accusing the individual of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, racism and a lack of patriotism. Watch the media take up the story. Sit back and enjoy the feeding frenzy. Of course, such tactics may have worked for many decades, but not anymore. Even leading Zionist Isi Leibler – who wants a Jewish TV channel to rival al-Jazeera – understands the current situation:
There is no disputing that at every level we are losing the global war of ideas. Despite clear evidence that fanatical Islamic fundamentalism threatens the basic fabric of Western civilization, Israel, and by extension the Jewish people, are now generally perceived as pariahs.
In contrast to the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel was universally acclaimed for having valiantly defended itself as a David vs Goliath against the combined might of Arab armies bent on her annihilation, today the image of the Jewish state has been reversed. Now it is the Palestinians who are the noble underdogs. Despite every conceivable effort to reach an accommodation, including disastrous unilateral withdrawals and spurned offers to retreat to the virtually indefensible 1967 borders, much of the world perceives us as conquerors who routinely kill innocent civilians and deny human rights to oppressed neighbours.
Israel and Jews are “losing the global war of ideas” because the Jewish state’s actions can no longer be spun to hide its brutality. World public opinion has noticed. It will take more than better PR (and a Jewish TV channel, could there be anything more parochial?) to reverse the tide. Better behaviour is rewarded. Just look at the US. Its international reputation has never been lower. We all know why (hint: Iraq and torture aren’t a good mix.)
If the Jewish community establishment wants to be taken seriously, it will have to do better than accusing me of inciting anti-Semitism or the “Left” of contributing to Jew-hatred. These mothers-of-all-distractions are about as effective as US foreign policy. The convenient conflation of Israeli criticism with anti-Semitism is a ploy that is both dishonest and counter-productive. I fear that these ghetto-minded Jews will only understand the failures of their tactics when international isolation forces them to either change (like the white minority in apartheid South Africa) or simply be forgotten as a racist relic.
Indeed, the tactics of the peace movement are working. Israel’s support is ever-more marginalised. The occupation is rightly seen as a blight on the Jewish state. Militant Zionism is now openly challenged in the public arena. There is much work to be done, of course, but the current ECAJ report on anti-Semitism simply contributes to the public’s perception that Jews are incapable of tolerating dissent.
US President George W. Bush still believes in democracy in Iraq and dismisses “pessimistic” readings of the country. One wonders what his advisers are telling him and how insulated from reality he has become.
Patrick Cockburn is the Independent’s Middle East correspondent and author of the recently released, The Occupation. His newspaper published his special report yesterday that painted a devastating picture of present-day Iraq. Some “highlights” follow:
Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call ‘the Saigon moment’, the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. “They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried our by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles,” said the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari with a despairing laugh to me earlier this summer. “But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen.”
It is getting worse. The Iraqi army and police are not loyal to the state. If the US army decides to confront the Shia militias it could well find Shia military units from the Iraqi army cutting the main American supply route between Kuwait and Baghdad. One convoy was stopped at a supposedly fake police checkpoint near the Kuwait border earlier this month and four American security men and an Austrian taken away.
The US and British position in Iraq is far more of a house built on sand than is realized in Washington or London despite the disasters of the last three-and-a-half years. President Bush and Tony Blair show a unique inability to learn from their mistakes, largely because they do not want to admit having committed any errors in the first place…
Everything in Iraq is dominated by what in Belfast we used to call “the politics of the last atrocity”. All three Iraqi communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – see themselves as victims and seldom sympathize with the tragedies of others. Every day brings its gruesome discoveries. Earlier this month I visited Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq that has a population of 1.7 million people of whom about two thirds are Sunni Arabs and one third Kurds. It not the most dangerous city in Iraq but it is still a place drenched in violence. A local tribal leader called Sayid Tewfiq from the nearby city of Tal Afar told me of a man from there who went to recover the tortured body of his 16-year old son. The corpse was wired to explosives that blew up killing the father so their two bodies were buried together…
An expert on the politics of Iraq and Lebanon recently said to me: “The most dangerous error in the Middle East today is to believe that the Shia communities in Iraq and Lebanon are pawns of Iran.”
But this is exactly what the prime minister does believe. The fact that the largest Shia militia in Iraq – the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al- Sadr – is anti-Iranian and Iraqi nationalist is conveniently ignored. These misconceptions are important in terms of practical policy because they give support to the dangerous myth that if the US and Britain could only frighten or square the Iranians and Syrians then all would come right as their Shia cats-paws in Iraq and Lebanon would inevitably fall into line. In a very British way [and American too, of course. Editors] opponents of the war in Iraq have focused not on current events but on the past sins of the government in getting us into the war. No doubt it was all very wrong for Downing Street to pretend that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was a threat to the world when they knew he was not. But this emphasis on the origins of the war in Iraq has diverted attention from the fact that, going by official statements, the British government knows no more about what was going on in Iraq in 2006 than it did in 2003. The picture Blair paints of Iraq seldom touches reality at any point. For instance he says Iraqis ‘voted or an explicitly non-sectarian government,’ but every Iraqi knows that the vote in two parliamentary elections in 2005 went wholly along sectarian and ethnic lines. The polls were the starting pistol for the start of the civil war.
Blair [and Howard and Bush] steadfastly refuses to accept the fact that opposition to the American and British occupation of Iraq has been the main cause of the insurgency.
Read the whole thing.
TONY JONES: The PM is as you’ve heard quite emphatic about the consequences of pulling out. He says it would be a coalition defeat, it would be a victory for the terrorists, it would cause immense instability in the Middle East. What do you say to those arguments?
MAJOR PETER TINLEY: I was always taught that if you make a mistake, you make amends. The reasons for going to war were wrong. It was morally bankrupt, the whole notion of us being there, so the pretext is wrong. If that’s the case, then we need to take good, hard, courageous decisions now to get out and get out whilst we can. This war will drag us in further and further. It’s a civil war and the power vacuum that was created as a result of this invasion is clearly at the feet of this Government.
The Australian government’s Iraq policy is completely dependent on Washington (and now Britain says it may keep troops in the country until 2016, hopefully at a time when Tony Blair has already faced charges of war crimes.)
There is little sweeter than watching the slowing disintegrating Bush administration virtually begging for Iranian and Syrian assistance to handle the “new phase” in Iraq.
Marvel at the lessening of US influence in the Middle East.