Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

ABCTV News24’s The Drum on sexism, Syria and divestment

I appeared tonight on ABCTV News24’s The Drum (video here), alongside Rowan Dean and Jacqueline Maley, talking about a range of political issues.

I argued that it was legitimate for pension funds to divest from organisations or companies that go against people’s morality such as big tobacco, the thuggish Murdoch empire or fossil fuels (quoting the 350.org campaign).

The Gillard government’s campaign against sexism and misogyny is a little rich, I said, if one actually looks at its policies towards women here and overseas, not least in a place like Afghanistan where we’re backing the worst kind of warlords. So women friendly.

When discussing Syria, it’s important to not over-simplify the conflict between “good” rebels and “bad” government as the situation is very complex. Undoubtedly the government is committing war crimes but the so-called opposition is often instituting a brutal form of sharia. Outside intervention is causing a disaster and President Assad may have life in him yet.

DRMs_Program_1001_512k (full video of the program)

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How the Australian Zionist lobby corrupts political process (and politicians and reporters join in)

It’s nearly Christmas and that must mean yet another year of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum. The Australian media has virtually ignored the whole thing because they’re a) lazy b) not curious and c) clueless how to write about the shamelessness of witnessing so many politicians pall around with pro-occupation Israeli figures. These are the same sorry folk who in years to come will claim they were the finest opponents of Israeli criminality. As if.

We won’t forget.

The program is run by Australian Albert Dadon (the man has a history of being a younger face of the same, old Zionist lobby that re-hashes Israeli propaganda over a few glasses of chilled shiraz). This year former Israeli minister Avi Dichter appeared in London despite his deeply troubling past.

This off-the-record conference revolves around insulating against ever-growing voices damning Israeli violence and colonies. Keep having your secret meetings, people, Israeli actions are clear for the world to see.

JWire:

Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbott, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister for Homefront Security Avi Dichter and Sir Malcolm Rifkind were among the high-profile politicians and powerbrokers at a major conference of Australians, Israelis and British in England this week.

The Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue, founded and chaired by Melbourne-based businessman and philanthropist Albert Dadon, brought almost 50 leading opinion makers and shakers to London for a two-day off-the-record conference at the House of Commons.

Among the issues debated in the tri-lateral dialogue were Iran, the UN vote on Palestine, the Arab Spring and the BDS campaign.

Dadon said the idea for the conference was to discuss “issues of mutual strategic interest” and to help delegates understand the “difficulties facing our democracies”.

Dadon, a Melbourne business identity,  founded the Leadership Dialogue in 2009 between Australia and Israel. In January, at the Leadership Dialogue in Jerusalem, he included British delegates for the first time.

Among the Australian delegates in London were Labor MPs Michael Danby, Mike Kelly and Bernie Rippoll and Liberals Kevin Andrews, Josh Frydenberg, George Brandis, Kelly O’Dwyer and Christopher Pyne.

Joining Olmert and Dichter among the Israelis were MKs Ronnie Bar-On,Nachman Shai and Ronit Tirosh. Silvan Shalom and Avi Dichter had to return to Israel early.

The UK delegation included John Spellar MP, James Arbuthnot MP and Stuart Pollak, the director of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
This is the sixth edition of the Leadership Dialogue, with previous sessions held in Australia and Israel. It is the first time it has been held in Britain.

The Jerusalem Post:

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter will attend a gala dinner in London on Tuesday night, as part of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue (AIULD), a forum designed to strengthen the three-way relationship between Australia, Israel and the UK through bringing together opinion leaders and decision makers from each country.

Dichter will travel to London without fear from arrest. Last year the British government amended the controversial universal jurisdiction law, used by activists to obtain arrest warrants for alleged war crimes aimed at Israeli dignitaries who visit the UK.

The law previously allowed private complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military personnel even if they were not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed elsewhere. High profile targets in recent years have been former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Dichter will join MP Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia; former prime minister Ehud Olmert; and Alistair Burt, Foreign Office minister for the Middle East at the prestigious dinner in central London, organized by the London-based think tank The Henry Jackson Society.

The speakers are set to discuss topics of mutual geopolitical interest, bringing together perspectives from all three countries along with the global context.

The Australia-Israel Leadership Forum (AILF) was launched in 2009 when Australian Albert Dadon took a delegation of leading Australian politicians, academics, businesspeople and media to meet their counterparts in Israel. The trip was led by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was then deputy prime minister.

In January 2012, UK participants joined the forum for the first time. The inaugural Australia- Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue included 15 senior politicians and decision makers from both government and opposition from all three countries along with key journalists.

Subjects that the group have discussed include national security, international relations, health, education, water technologies and climate change A two-day conference will kick off on Tuesday in parliament, organized by the Conservative Friends of Israel with AIULD delegates set to discuss an array of issues including the US leverage in the region following the presidential elections; working towards a two-state solution; the battle for Israel’s democracy, Arab Spring, Iran and the campaigning against Israel and how it is played out on campuses in Europe and Australia.

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Why boycotting Israeli academia is necessary and principled

My following piece appears today in ABC’s The Drum:

An academic boycott of Israeli universities isn’t an attack on freedom of speech. The evidence tells us these institutions are key battlegrounds for breaches of international law towards the Palestinians, argues Antony Loewenstein.

New Zealand’s $20 billion national pension fund announced this month that it was divesting from three Israeli companies that were complicit in the building of colonies in the West Bank and the annexation wall that runs deep into Palestinian territory.

“Findings by the United Nations that the separation barrier and settlement activities were illegal under international law were central to the fund’s decision to exclude the companies,” the responsible fund manager for investment, Anne-Maree O’Connor, said in a statement.

The companies targeted were Africa Israel, Danya Cebus and Elbit Systems. The last firm has a deep relationship with the Australian Government and recently scored a large contract with the Australian Defence Force. Canberra has no hesitation in assisting the corporation despite its troubling legal and ethical record of working on occupied, Palestinian land.

New Zealand’s pension fund pursued a key element of the boycott, divestment and sanctions(BDS) movement that is increasingly utilised as a non-violent method of resisting illegal Israeli actions. Similar tactics were widely embraced during the decades-long struggle against apartheid South Africa.

The latest and public stand of BDS has occurred in Australia. Dr Jake Lynch, the head of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), recently refused to assist an Israeli academic from Hebrew University, Dan Avnon. Lynch’s centre abides by an academic boycott against Israeli universities.

The key point was stressed by Desmond Tutu when he argued for academic BDS by saying, “while Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has the backing of Palestinian civil society and calls for actions in solidarity. It states:

It is important to stress that all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct collaboration with state agencies in the design and commission of these violations.

The CPACS story has run in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian for 10 days, no other media organisation has touched it, and the agenda has been to smear Lynch and his supporters as anti-Semitic, irrational, anti-Israel and dangerous. Lynch’s ability to respond to these libellous allegations has been limited. The Liberal Party has called for restrictions on academic freedom (paywalled) in a warning that a Tony Abbott-led government may withhold funding from university centres that don’t fit a conservative political worldview.

The media coverage in Australia has seen a litany of politicians – the Liberal Party lined up to pat Israel on the head – Zionist lobby heads and journalists – Australian reporter Christian Kerr accused Federal Minister for Tertiary Education Chris Evans on his Facebook page of “anti-Semitism” for not immediately saying Lynch should be ostracised from public view – condemning Lynch for bringing division to a conflict that supposedly needs “balance”.

Monash University’s Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work, Philip Mendes, a self-described Left Zionist Jew who uses McCarthyist smears to monitor public criticisms of Israel, called Lynch a “nut job” on his Facebook page and accused the BDS movement as standing “not for human rights, but rather for the ethnic stereotyping and demonisation of all Israel Jews”. In other words, anti-Semitism.

The casualness with which the anti-Semitic slur is used indicates a paucity of intellectual heft and political desperation. The word has become so cheapened by its overuse and the Zionist community is largely to blame. It’s not for establishment Jews to dictate acceptable forms of debate over Israeli actions. When real anti-Semitism exists in the world, the Jewish community should not be shocked that its crying wolf syndrome makes action far more difficult. Thankfully, the anti-Semitism allegation is increasingly treated with the contempt it deserves by the non-Jewish community.

The paucity of the Australian debate is unsurprising when any deviation from a hardline, pro-occupation stance is condemned by the Zionist community and most mainstream politicians. Independent thought isn’t welcomed, assisted by constant Zionist lobbying of journalists and politicians and constant free Zionist lobby trips for reporters and politicians to ensure commitment to the appropriate talking points. Israel is a democracy. Israel craves peace. Israel loves Arabs. Palestinians are predisposed to terrorism (the clear implication of a recent opinion piece by the Labor backbencher Michael Danby.)

Away from the parochial discussion in Australia, Israeli behaviour has never been more understood and condemned. BDS is thriving globally because Israeli actions are so blatantly extreme. Palestinian human rights offices are ransacked, plans for expanding illegal colonies in the West Bank continues apace, Israel recently murdered countless Palestinian civilians in Gaza and former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman says Europe is acting towards the Jewish state like it’s the 1930s. There’s been no condemnation of this Holocaust analogy by the Zionist lobby in Australia or elsewhere. There’s clearly selective outrage when it comes to using the Holocaust in making a political point.

Business as usual, a hope that much discussed “peace talks” will change the facts on the ground in Palestine, is a delusion that is only spoken by global officials and a Zionist leadership who don’t believe Israel should be pressured to do anything. BDS is a logical response to this impasse. Within Israel itself, activists pushing BDS may soon face legal sanction for doing so in the “Middle East’s only democracy”.

Ignored in the current faux controversy over Jake Lynch is the evidence that proves the complicity of Hebrew University in the maintenance of the occupation – not least the stealing of Palestinian land for its Mount Scopus campus – and the justified reason why CPACS takes the stand that it does. Moreoever, Sydney University itself has a relationship with Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology, an institution with deep connections to the Israeli military and occupation. Sydney University should feel public pressure to cut these ties.

Note that there has been virtually complete academic, journalistic and public silence in support of the position taken by Lynch. This is not, as Zionists would like the public to believe because there’s no support for the movement – the cause of Palestine is now far more popular in Australia and globally than Israel – but a culture of intimidation and bullying by the Israel lobby and its media and political friends makes it clear that a price will be paid for speaking out. Their silence is shameful.

Academic BDS is a more than justified position because the evidence for Israeli universities being key battlegrounds for the Zionist state’s breaches of international law towards the Palestinians is overwhelming.

It doesn’t matter, as claimed by the Hebrew University academic Dan Avnon and his supporters, that he’s doing fine work building bridges between Israel and the Palestinians. His institution stands proudly in support of the Jewish state and its complicity must come with a price.

Israeli academic Neve Gordon has expressed one of the most eloquent reasons the international community must back BDS to avoid his children continuing to live in an “apartheid regime”.

It’s ironic that the Israelis and their propagandists globally are such fans of pushing for boycotts themselves against any person or country that dares challenges its policies. Just recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned a professor with critical views from attend his meeting with German leader Angela Merkel.

Academic BDS isn’t an attack on freedom of speech. Should the freedom Israeli academics are keen to preserve, asks BDS founder members Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki, “which sound more like privileges to us, [continue] without any regard to what is going on outside the walls of the academy, to the role of their institutions in the perpetuation of colonial rule?”.

Israel is not a normal country and proudly practices apartheid against Palestinians. Jake Lynch has taken one small step in publicly stating his opposition to our complicity in these crimes. His decision is an example of how principled academia should behave.

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2SER Radio on Israel/Palestine and Australian UN vote

I was interviewed on Friday:

Relations between Australia and Israel remain tense after the Foreign Minister Bob Carr called in Israel’s ambassador on Tuesday, to convey strong concern over plans to expand settlements on Palestinian land.

Carr told the ambassador that building new settlements threatens the viability of a two-state solution.

Israel announced the plan just a day after the historic vote to give Palestinians observer status at the UN.

In that vote, Australia abstained, which was viewed as a shift away from always supporting Israel on the international stage.

So why is the Gillard government taking a different approach to Israel and will it have any lasting impact?

2SER’s Mark Robinson spoke with journalist and author Antony Loewenstein.

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Tale of principled Sydney University academic on Palestine and BDS

The following story appeared in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper yesterday on its front page:

The Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which has thrown its support behind controversial Palestinian leaders, has cited its boycott of Israel for refusing to help an Israeli civics teacher who has designed programs for both Jewish and Arab children.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon is credited with developing and implementing the only state program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab high schools.

He approached the head of the Sydney University centre, Jake Lynch, for assistance with studying civics education in Australia under a fellowship agreement between the two institutions.

But Associate Professor Lynch rebuffed the request, citing the centre’s support for the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The centre helped establish the Sydney Peace Foundation, which awards the Sydney Peace Prize. Past recipients include the controversial Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi.

The centre’s website says it “promotes interdisciplinary research and teaching on the causes of conflict and the conditions that affect conflict resolution and peace”.

Professor Avnon contacted Associate Professor Lynch, expressing interest in spending time at the centre and meeting him.

Associate Professor Lynch emailed in reply: “Your research sounds interesting and worthwhile. However, we are supporters of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and that includes the call for an academic boycott of Israeli universities.”

The BDS movement explicitly equates the Jewish state with apartheid-era South Africa.

The campaign was started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organisations as a form of “non-violent punitive measures” against Israel until it “complies with the precepts of international law”.

The BDS campaign has included protests outside the Max Brenner chain of coffee shops, which are Israeli-owned.

The boycott was led in Australia by Greens council members in Sydney’s inner-west, including former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne, whose council voted to support the boycott in 2010. It was dropped after widespread criticism from the federal and state governments, business leaders and the Jewish community.

In 2003 the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Dr Ashrawi provoked fierce debate and protests, arising from her role as a Palestinian spokesperson in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli hard-liners loathe Dr Ashrawi, branding her a propagandist and an apologist for terrorism.

Professor Avnon – who has written on moving beyond the Jewish-Palestinian divide to develop a new sense of citizenship in Israel – said of the centre’s decision: “I find it ironic that you promote a policy of boycott that does not distinguish one individual from another. It is ironic because, like myself, many (probably most) intellectuals and scholars in relevant fields are doing our best to effect change in Israeli political culture. We pay prices for going against the institutional grain. And then we turn around and meet such a ‘blind to the person’ policy.”

Professor Avnon continued: “One common tendency that must be changed if we ever want to live sane lives is to debunk categorical and stereotypical thinking when dealing with human beings.” He received no response from Associate Professor Lynch.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence rejected a call from Associate Professor Lynch in 2009 to cut links with the Hebrew University and a second Israeli institution, the Technion, in the city of Haifa. “I do not consider it appropriate for the university to boycott academic institutions in a country with which Australia has diplomatic relations,” he wrote in response at the time.

A spokesman for Dr Spence said his position had not changed.

The spokesman said Associate Professor Lynch was “entitled to express a public opinion where it falls under his area of expertise”, but added, “on this particular matter he does not speak for the school, the faculty or for the university”.

The Australian was unable to contact Associate Professor Lynch yesterday.

Professor Avnon said he had received “heart-warming, collegial and positive responses” from other staff at Sydney University. “I look forward to associating with them and learning from and through them about Australia’s policies in civic education and other issues,” he said.

Today the paper publishes this story:

The head of the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies has defended his refusal to assist an Israeli civics teacher who has designed programs for Jewish and Arab children with research work in Australia.

In a stinging critique of Australia’s foreign policy, Jake Lynch said the centre boycotted Israeli institutions “because of the deficiencies of official foreign policy and diplomacy by Australia and other influential states”.

He said supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel sent a “message of unacceptability for Israel’s expansionist policies and militarism”. “The message has not been clear enough from many governments, including Australia’s, and that has contributed to the problem,” Mr Lynch said.

“By withholding our co-operation on an institutional level, we are doing our bit to make up for that.”

The Australian revealed yesterday that the centre had rejected a bid by Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon, credited with developing and implementing Israel’s only state program in civics written for joint Jewish-Arab high school students, for assistance with research on the basis of the policy.

Civics education is one of the most sensitive subjects in the Israeli school curriculum. Earlier this year Professor Avnon took a strong stand in a clash over the treatment of a senior education official over the treatment in the curriculum of the incidents of 1948 that led to the birth of the Jewish state. He warned in local media against “an agenda that places an emphasis on nationalistic values at the expense of civil values”.

On moving beyond the Jewish and Palestinian civil divide, Professor Avnon has warned how “locked horns represents a static headlock, which causes psychological and sociological immobility and consequently a diminished quality of life”.

The ban on Professor Avnon provoked anger from the Coalition, which called on Foreign Minister Bob Carr to reveal if the centre declared its pro-BDS stand before receiving a $47,000 grant from AusAid in 2010. Associate Professor Lynch said this was like comparing “apples and oranges”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop demanded Senator Carr repudiate the BDS campaign.

“The decision of the centre to put a ban on contacts with Israeli academics is completely at odds with the aims of a centre that purports to be dedicated to studies in peace,” Ms Bishop said.

The centre is outspoken on other policy issues, with its most recent annual report attacking the war on terror and accusing “official Australia” of attempting to sweep the issue of West Papua “under the carpet”.

Sydney University provides two salaried staff positions, including Associate Professor Lynch’s, at the centre.

Associate Professor Lynch said the centre received research income tied to specific programs and “a few diddly amounts” as a part of Sydney University’s school of social and political sciences.

Two letters appear:

I fundamentally object to Sydney University academic Jake Lynch’s rejection of Hebrew University’s Dan Avnon’s initiative in seeking assistance in teaching civics in Australia for Jews and Arabs and Lynch’s support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (“Uni peace centre rebuffs Israeli civics teacher”, 6/12).

This movement is misguided and will surely produce the exact opposite to the effect intended. From a perspective not directly connected with Israel or Judaism, I profoundly disagree with Lynch’s stance on this.

I believe the BDS movement is supported by people who are racist and anti-Semitic. The movement has no intention of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and if, perchance, they do, are so misguided that they obviously have no idea how this peace could be brought about.

I hope that Lynch can see a broader perspective and reassess his decision and disown any association with the BDS campaign.

Duncan Miller, Brisbane, Qld

Christian Kerr’s article makes no reference to the issue of Israel’s continued flouting of the rules of international law. Neither is there anything about the occupation of Palestine, about settlers stealing Palestinian lands, about the siege of Gaza affecting 800,000 children.

History teaches that the chances of respecting human rights are increased, not when a professor tinkers with a civics curriculum, but when courageous individuals take stands against easy establishment views.

The people mentioned in Kerr’s article – Hanan Ashrawi, Fiona Byrne and Jake Lynch – have taken such stands. May they continue to do so.

Stuart Rees, chairman, Sydney Peace Foundation, Sydney University, NSW

Jake Lynch sent me the following correspondence yesterday to be published so people understand the agendas of the Murdoch press and read his full answers. I salute his public stance, far too rare for academics today. Standing up for justice in Palestine has never been more important:

A reporter for the Australian newspaper, Christian Kerr, asked me for comment about my support, and that of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, for the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and specifically a boycott of Israeli universities.

The story arose because I declined a request last month by an Israeli academic, Professor Dan Avnon, to name me as a University of Sydney contact on his application for a Sir Zelman Cowen fellowship, which underwrites exchanges between the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In explaining my decision, I cited CPACS’ policy, which was adopted, and has since been affirmed, by the Centre’s governing Council.

Mr Kerr asked me specifically whether there were circumstances in which the policy would lead to a distinction between responses to individual academics, and their institutions.

My reply:

There is a distinction between – on the one hand – engaging with Israeli academics who are representing themselves, and – on the other – entering into institutional arrangements between Australian and Israeli universities. As an example of the former, we in CPACS hosted a talk, a number of years ago, by Emeritus Professor Jeff Halper, co-founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He was invited to Sydney, and his visit supported, by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine. Our role was to book a room in the University, and publicise the event among the University community.

As I explained to Professor Avnon, I have nothing against him personally, and his research sounds interesting. He contacted me to ask whether I would agree to his naming me as a University of Sydney contact person in his application for a Sir Zelman Cowen fellowship. I explained, in my reply, that this would involve us in an institutional arrangement with Israeli Higher Education, and as such I would decline to do so, under our support (as a Centre) for BDS. I made the same point in my email that the University spokesperson made to you – that this is a policy of CPACS, not of the University or any other part of it.

The substantive point is, we are compelled to have recourse to initiatives from civil society, such as the BDS campaign, because of the deficiencies of official foreign policy and diplomacy by Australia and other influential states.

Australia’s vote at the UN General Assembly, to abstain on the question of observer status for Palestine, represents a welcome improvement on other recent votes, such as the one in November 2010 when we joined just six other countries in opposing a motion condemning Israeli ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem. But the fact that this slight shift – from the extreme pro-Israeli fringe of world political opinion, slightly more towards the centre – is greeted as noteworthy here, is eloquent of the shortcomings of Australia’s policy stance and record of previous responses. For the Palestinians’ right to self-determination to be accorded even the very modest recognition that UN observer status confers, should not be seen as a great controversy but rather as a basic pre-requisite to any prospect of peace with justice – which is to say, peace with sustainability.

As has been remarked, it also sends a signal that Israel’s continuing lawless behaviour – its ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory; its illegal settlement-building and its disproportionate killing of civilians – are deemed unacceptable by the world at large. I welcome the calling-in of Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, to hear complaints about the announcement of new settlements following the UN vote, but, again, this is a very modest step and it comes after so many sub-optimal responses in the recent past.

It is that clear message of unacceptability – for Israel’s expansionist policies and militarism – that the BDS is calculated to send. The message has not been clear enough from many governments, including Australia’s, and that has contributed to the problem. By withholding our cooperation on an institutional level, we are doing our bit to make up for that.

(To anticipate responses you may receive… Sure, lobbing rockets into civilian areas, as some Palestinian armed factions do from Gaza, is also unacceptable – but on that score, there is no shortage of condemnation, and the Palestinians pay a heavy political price for it).

Follow-up question

In a later email, Mr Kerr asked me about a grant I successfully applied for under the International Seminar Support Scheme, run by AusAID, in 2010. Had AusAID asked me, he wanted to know, about CPACS’ policy, before giving me the grant?

I replied that no, they had not, and neither would they have any occasion to, since the two issues are entirely unconnected. Any attempt to link them would, I wrote, be ‘comparing apples with oranges’.

The rules of the ISSS specify that it is to be used only to meet the expenses of delegates from developing countries attending conferences, and indeed that is what we used it for, when we hosted the biennial global conference of IPRA, the International Peace Research Association.

There is a list of eligible countries for delegates, which, while not applied strictly in every case, certainly does not and would not include Israel, purely on the basis that it is not a low-income country.

Broader issue

There is a broader issue with the way in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is generally reported in Australian media. In my research project, A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict, I played ‘two versions’ of TV news stories about conflict to audiences in four countries, including Australia.

One of the stories here was about an episode of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, involving a small exchange of fire on the Gaza border and the arrival in the region of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to broker the next round of the ‘peace process’ – the ‘talks-without-conditions’ invariably favoured in ministerial rhetoric about the conflict, here in Australia and elsewhere, which have so miserably failed to bring peace.

Anyway, the most widespread response among research participants was one of déjà vu: a mental switching-off, with a widely expressed view that the same report could have been played, in its essentials, ten, 20 or even 30 years ago.

When the same story was re-versioned with some new material, however, audiences sat up and took notice. One new element was a map showing the ‘amazing disappearing Palestine’ – how the territory available to Palestinians has been shrunken, divided and reticulated by decades of illegal land-grabs. And the other was an interview with a Palestinian refugee here in Sydney, who likened the situation on the occupied West Bank to setting out on a journey ‘from Marrickville to Glebe’ only to meet ‘fourteen army checkpoints’ along the way.

These are key facts, essential to any serious understanding of the conflict. Their impact on a jaded Sydney audience, who expressed great appreciation for them as helpful to clarify the story, shows their rarity value. Why are they so rare, in television reports about the conflict? Perhaps because reporters instead contrive to set the boundaries of what an influential media researcher, Daniel Hallin, called ‘legitimate controversy’ in a way that owes nothing to the realities on the ground, and everything to the partial view that has prevailed, in recent times, in the mainstream of Australian politics.

It’s important to emphasise how parochial this view is. It is not odd that people active in the BDS campaign wish to signal the unacceptability of Israeli militarism. Quite the contrary – in global terms, it is odd that leading politicians here do not do so more strongly and more often. It is not odd that Australia does not oppose Palestinian observer status at the UN – it is odd that it does not support it.

For Julia Gillard to be greeted, as she was on her trip to Israel in early 2009, shortly after the last attack on Gaza, as having been ‘alone in standing by us’, signals clearly how out of touch she was. The message she sent last week, that her own preference would have been for Australia to cast its UN vote in the ‘no’ column, indicates the continuing inadequacy of her stance on this issue. Thanks to the Labor MPs who ensured that ignominy, at least, was avoided – and to Bob Carr for calling in the Israeli Ambassador for a telling-off.

These are baby steps towards the mainstream of world opinion, and they need to be lengthened and strengthened. The BDS campaign is there to keep that issue on the agenda.

6 comments ↪

3CR interview on Palestine/Israel and international justice

I was interviewed this week by 3CR’s Different, Like Us radio program about the recent UN vote on Palestine and the possibility of taking Israel to the International Criminal Court:

2 comments ↪

My Q&A with Federal Senators about Australia’s future in Afghanistan

On 4 December I went to Canberra to give testimony at the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee on Australia’s overseas development programs in Afghanistan (here’s my opening statement with links).

The following transcript is the Hansard record of my statement and questions from the Senators (they were Greens MP Lee Rhiannon, Liberal MP Helen Kroger, Liberal MP Alan Eggleston, Labor MP Ursula Stephens and Liberal MP David Fawcett):

LOEWENSTEIN, Mr Antony David, Private capacity

[12:03]

CHAIR: I welcome Mr Antony Loewenstein to the hearing. The committee has received your submission as submission No. 8. We note you are an independent journalist and author, and you spent time in Afghanistan in 2012. Do you wish to make any alterations or amendments to your submission?

Mr Loewenstein : That statement is fine. I have actually written a longer one. When I was asked to do it I was overseas, so it was short and sweet. But I have a slightly longer statement to read this morning.

CHAIR: Okay. Well, we do have this statement here, so if you would like to add to what was in this.

Mr Loewenstein : It is a little bit longer, just to add a few details.

CHAIR: If you would, and then we can ask you questions. Please proceed.

Mr Loewenstein : Thank you. I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to give evidence today. As an independent journalist and author who visited Afghanistan this year to investigate privatised military and intelligence, and the role of aid and NGOs in helping or hindering the people, I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on how Australia could improve its standing in Afghanistan after the bulk of Western forces leave in 2014.

Afghanistan has been broken and exploited for more than 30 years, and the decade since 2001 has been no different. When America and its allies, including Australia, invaded in October 2001, there was no concrete plan to improve the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens. Almost immediately, the West empowered, funded and trained the worst warlords who had caused the chaos in the last decades. We backed President Hamid Karzai, a corrupt leader with no legitimacy who runs, today, a thugocracy.

This should not disguise the fact, however, that many Taliban are equally brutish, attacking civilians and NGOs. They are currently self-financing through taxes on poppy farming, kidnappings and extortion. Notwithstanding this, they may be the only reliable force after 2014 capable of expelling foreign jihadis.

Australia’s record in Afghanistan, still largely untold, is not a pretty one: endorsing extreme violence, some undertaken by our own special forces; brutal night raids; and partnering with warlord Matiullah Khan, a man with a shocking record of criminality and of running the drug trade in southern Afghanistan. WikiLeaks documents confirm this.

We ignored history in our collusion with rogue regimes and elements in Latin America in the eighties and Vietnam in the sixties and seventies; that leads us once again to partner with individuals and groups that guarantee blowback, increased terrorism in the West, and resistance. The reality on the ground, which is away from embedded journalism—how, sadly, most reporters go when they are there—is a dirty war that involves Afghan militias and mercenaries working with US special forces and our own to rout the Taliban in a futile effort to eradicate an indigenous part of Afghanistan. This is the reality I saw when I was there.

The people, according to recently released polling by Democracy International for USAID, remained ‘broadly dissatisfied with the way formal democracy works and expressed a lack of confidence in formal elected institutions, including the National Assembly and the President’. Just nine per cent said they were very satisfied with the way democracy works. This is our legacy in Afghanistan, and aid delivery is intimately tied up with these dismal results.

The American and Australian project in Afghanistan has failed, and accepting this is vital before prescribing a solution. Pakistan, an unreliable ally for years, will be central to brokering any peace treaty between the Americans and the Taliban. We can no longer heed the delusions of people like Karl Eikenberry, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, who wrote in the Financial Times recently that progress was ‘tangible’.

What is needed now is a focus on the Afghan people. One country that has heavily invested in the future is Norway. It is currently discussing how to contribute in a non-military way while continuing to provide aid. A recent report by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre noted that since 2005 Norway has taken ‘a principled approach to separating military and development activities’. I would encourage Australia to move in the same direction, reducing the Afghan perception that we are little more than defenders of the Karzai clique.

One of the key justifications for the NATO war in Afghanistan was helping women. This was always based on a deception, because the West, according to another report by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre in 2012 talked about empowering women but:

High-profile declarations of commitments to and funding for women’s rights have been occurring in parallel with other policies that have undermined the very institutions and conditions on which such gains depend, such as a formal justice system, a functioning parliament and a non-militarised political landscape.

Australia has, sadly, fallen into the same trap, blindly following an American strategy that prioritises counterinsurgency at the expense of building Afghan-run civil groups.

Independent aid delivery is the only way Afghans will respect the donor and the aid. Instead, we have seen the West far too often utilise for-profit and armed groups to damage the process. The exact number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is unclear, though the Obama administration is keen for a residual force to continue counterterrorism activity. The number could be anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000, with a host of private contractors and mercenaries who are largely unaccountable. Washington is keen to avoid the situation in Iraq today where a newly independent nation largely ignores the demands of America and pursues its own path despite the daily violence that still plagues that state.

A key demand of the government in Baghdad—and Australia in my view should offer this to both Iraq and Afghanistan—is reparations for the destruction caused by our presence and occupation. It is the least in my view and in the view of many Afghans that we can do. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s to parliament in October this year mentioned none of this and instead offered platitudes, dishonestly stating that Australian troops have ‘kept us safe from terrorism’. The opposite is in fact true and officials and elected politicians should be honest enough to admit the long-term effect of occupying a Muslim nation.

As a journalist who has visited some of the most troubled places in the world, including Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Palestine, a key lesson for governments and aid groups is avoiding the NGOisation of a troubled land. One organisation that has attempted to navigate the tough line between aid and independence is Medicines Sans Frontiers, MSF. They refuse to play the game set by foreign forces—namely, implementing nation-building projects demanded by Afghans and the US. It is unavoidable to deal with the Taliban in some parts of the country and it is our responsibility to institute policies that accept this reality and find the least compromised way to do it.

Michiel Hofman, a former MSF country representative in Afghanistan, has reasoned that NGOs have a choice when delivering aid. He argues:

MSF has been able to carve out operational space in Afghanistan through regular, direct, and transparent negotiations with all the warring parties and though complete financial independence from Western- and Afghan-government sources. We also enforce a strict no-weapons policy in its medical facilities. Our independence and purely needs-based approach to providing aid is enabling the possible expansion of operations into other war-wracked parts of the country, such as Kunduz province in Afghanistan’s troubled north. While other groups lament the lack of “humanitarian space,” we see it opening by maintaining our independence and dedication to helping Afghans, without an agenda.

Australia and the West cannot blame the Afghans for failing to nation build when they have been working with a corrupt and inefficient central government. Far less money from us and others should be funnelled through Kabul officials. Our mandate has been to build local forces and infrastructure, but the gains have been minimal and fleeting. The West is doing harm with its current policies. We are not neutral and are therefore paying the price for siding with a bankrupt Karzai regime.

Even when Australia commissioned an independent assessment of its mission in Uruzgan province, an assessment undertaken by the respected NGO The Liaison Office, which is based in Kabul, AusAID dismissed the findings this year because they were too pessimistic.

In conclusion, undoing the mess that Australia and its Western allies have created in Afghanistan will take time. But acknowledging past mistakes and crimes is an important start. Afghans will need aid after 2014 but not in my view if it is delivered alongside the barrel of a gun.

Senator STEPHENS: I have a couple of questions. You were in Afghanistan in 2012.

Mr Loewenstein : I was.

Senator STEPHENS: Whereabouts did you manage to get to?

Mr Loewenstein : I was there in May for three weeks. I was in Kabul and the area nears there in Surobi and near Kandahar. I was there independently. I was not embedded with the Australians, the Americans or anyone else. I was there working on a book and a film. I was investigating the role of private security and private intelligence post 911, particularly in Afghanistan but also elsewhere, and how that has in many people’s view corrupted the ability of Afghanistan to grow, because often foreign companies—including those from Australia—have a profit motive to continue conflict. I am not saying that an NGO based in Sydney, for example, is the cause of the war. But I am saying that the fact that the Australian government, the American government and others hire for-profit companies to deliver aid is an issue. In virtually every case in Afghanistan and Iraq has not delivered any positive results for the Afghan or Iraqi people.

Senator STEPHENS: How did you get around?

Mr Loewenstein : Independently. I had a local fixer—a guide, you might say. I had no security. It is possible to do that, despite what one might read. The country is clearly dangerous in parts, but it is possible to get around independently.

Senator STEPHENS: Who was your local fixer?

Mr Loewenstein : I would rather not say his name.

Senator STEPHENS: That is fine.

Mr Loewenstein : He is an Afghan who has worked with other Western journalists.

Senator STEPHENS: Did he provide private security?

Mr Loewenstein : No.

Senator STEPHENS: Just interpretation services.

Mr Loewenstein : Yes. Often when journalists go to conflict zones or troubled spots they get someone who is called a fixer. They are usually men—they can be women, but usually it is a man. They are fluent in the language and can be a guide. There are no weapons. You travel in unarmed vehicles.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of journalists from Australia who go to Afghanistan do not do it that way. They go embedded with the Australian troops and the result is that they get a very myopic view.

Senator STEPHENS: You said you went to Kabul and where else?

Mr Loewenstein : To Sarobi, near Kandahar, and Jalalabad as well.

Senator STEPHENS: So, you got down to the south.

Mr Loewenstein : I did not actually go to Kandahar, but I went nearby. There are certain parts of the country which would be inaccessible any other way apart from being embedded, this is true, and I would not have gone there for security reasons.

Senator STEPHENS: I was interested in your commentary that you have a very particular view about the Afghanistan war. Having said that, can we put that aside and think about the terms of reference for this inquiry which is Australia’s overseas development programs in Afghanistan. Your argument is definitely not that Australia has not got a role to play; Australia definitely has a role to play. In terms of where you see things playing out after 2014, what would be your biggest fear?

Mr Loewenstein : Many of the speakers—I heard some of them this morning and yesterday—will say, as everyone will say, ‘No-one knows what is going to happen when there is a transition of sorts.’ In other words, what kind of government is left standing when the vast bulk of Western troops leave? President Karzai is unlikely to stay in that role, so there will be some kind of election.

Senator STEPHENS: On that point, he is not eligible to stay in that role.

Mr Loewenstein : He is not, but like in many countries he could change the constitution, which has happened in other countries before. No, he is not eligible at this stage.

Senator STEPHENS: It is hardly likely to happen in this situation, is it, given the extent to which he is reliant upon foreign aid and the conditions of all of the agreements that have been signed?

Mr Loewenstein : True. It is quite likely that he will not be there, but I would not say that it is impossible. The fear of many people is that the country, clearly, is not ready in a quasi-civil situation that descends far worse. The ability for independent aid groups and others to operate there becomes close to impossible and they all pull out. The country is run in an increasing brutal way from Kabul or elsewhere by a Taliban-style government. That would be very regrettable. I think the reasons for that would be complex. I would say that the Western involvement would be a part of a reason, but not the only one.

Senator STEPHENS: Thank you.

CHAIR: You talked about Norway being a model to follow. Do you want to expand on that? What is the difference between Norway and the Australian approach?

Mr Loewenstein : Not everything that Norway would do; I am not putting them up as a utopian option. I am saying that there has been a lot of discussion within the Norwegian government since 2015 around the potential dangers of militarising aid. That conversation has not happened to the same extent either in the US government or in elements of the Australian government. I spent some time with both Norwegian representatives in Afghanistan and also people who have spent more time in Afghanistan than me. They are aware—and this is something that Australia, publicly at least, has not been—of the danger of the aid militarising. One of the programs that they are talking about continuing after 2014 is still, as much as possible, to contribute to the sense of supporting women, which is something that many Westerners and Afghans are concerned about.

Also I think we have to understand that there is a desire of some in the Norwegian establishment to reverse the narrative. The narrative and the fear we often hear is that, if the West pulls out, the country descends into chaos. The reality is that the West has been there for over 10 years and the country has been in chaos. So, what many people in the government in Norway are saying is that the Western presence is not making stability more likely; it is actually making it less likely. I am talking about a military force. Norway, in many parts of the Norwegian establishment, is acknowledging—and they have had a military presence there too—and is aware of the fact that it is doing more harm than good.

CHAIR: What is the alternative? You said, ‘avoid NGO-isation’. Who delivers programs if you do not want the government or the military to do it? NGOs are perhaps the last groups out.

Mr Loewenstein : NGO-isation is not to suggest that NGOs should not be involved; it is a term that has been coined that suggests that there is often an overreliance on foreign NGO workers at the expense of local interests. In other words, having recently been in Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and other places you do not necessarily see a request that no NGOs be there. You simply see the fact that, when contracts are given to many NGOs from the local governments, often the vast bulk of that money does not go to the local people. It is going to foreign contractors who are taking the money out of the country. In other words, local groups are not being empowered.

I am not arguing that NGOs should not be there. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is not a perfect organisation—no organisation is—has tried with profound difficulty to navigate that line of having no military aspect to their aid. There have been times when it has had to pull out. There have been dangers and, undoubtedly, it has had losses. But I think too often there is a problem in that when western states are involved in Afghanistan they can see no alternative, apart from having a soldier with a gun next to the person who is delivering aid. That, I think, is creating in the Afghanis’ minds—and the studies bear this out—a great deal of distrust about that. That is one example.

NATO has set up many basic hospitals around the country. The problem with that has been that a great deal of Afghans will not go to those hospitals because they fear if they do they are seen as siding with the occupation forces and that could mean problems for their family. That is a pragmatic reality on the ground.

CHAIR: What about other organisations like the Red Cross? Are they in Afghanistan?

Mr Loewenstein : They are and they are doing some good work.

CHAIR: Are there any others that you can mention?

Mr Loewenstein : There are certainly some Afghan organisations that are doing good work. As I said, my position is not to say that the west and Australia should throw up their hands, and say: ‘That was a fun 10 years; we’re out of here’—not at all. I guess what I am saying is that often a delivery of that aid in the last decade and the results in the areas have been problematic. The liaison office report, which was an Australian-commissioned report and which AusAID, for reasons best asked of them, dismissed its findings—found that in Uruzgan province, where Australian troops have been for a long time, there have been some minor benefits. But those are profoundly fleeting and unlikely to survive once Australia pulls out. So there are groups doing fine work on the ground there, but I fear that often AusAID is not listening to that advice.

Senator KROGER: Can I just follow up on a couple of points that you have raised, Chair. Firstly, given that you were there for three weeks and you were there independently and that the communications you had on the ground would have been very different to those communications had you been embedded, as you suggested, did you come across evidence of the locals not supporting, for instance, hospitals because they were seen to be supporting a military-funded, organised thing, whether it was a hospital or something? Did you come across hardcore evidence to suggest that was the case?

Mr Loewenstein : I met a few people who did. I am not going to say that in three weeks I was obviously the expert on every issue in Afghanistan but, as I said, a lot of the evidence is twofold. Firstly, some of the people I spoke to in some villages—for example, in Sarobi, which is about three hours from Kabul—were saying that through a translator. The picture of how locals in different areas see western troops is complex. I would not for a second suggest that every Afghan sees a foreign troop as an occupier. They might see that fact—’Yes, they are literally occupying our country,’ but undoubtedly in some areas some western forces have provided positive outcomes. That is for sure. But what I also read and from speaking to many people who are both Afghan, NGO workers and foreign NGO workers is that a lot of the established health centres, for example, in many parts of the country, were not very well frequented because of the sense that if someone sees you going into that centre, whether or not you support the occupation, the fear is that it is a very tribal culture and that people are worried that they would suffer a consequence of doing so.

Senator KROGER: Thank you. I will follow up on this if there is time, Chair.

Senator RHIANNON: You stated in your submission that you would encourage Australia to:

… cease funding warlords in provinces and engage Afghan civil society to establish a more just and democratic future.

You have touched on this, and it was useful to hear about the experience with Norway, but can you expand on that to a greater degree?

Mr Loewenstein : One of the issues in the way that many Western states have chosen to behave in in the last decade or 20 years, as we know, is partnering with elements—war lords—whose records were very clear. I am not suggesting for a second that the options that NGOs and others have are perfect ones: they are not. Groups like MSF talk about the individuals that they need to engage with, and there is no doubt that sometimes you are dealing with people who you do not particularly like. You do not like their records, but they are the people who are in charge.

The difference is that what Australia has chosen to do—and America as well, and many Western powers—is not just dealing with who is there but empowering, funding and arming them. As a result, as the liaison office showed very clearly, many people in local areas—not least, in Uruzgan province—do not trust the Australian presence there because of who they are partnering with. In other words, Australia has a choice. If you choose to work with, arm, train and fund a war lord, you know they are a war lord. It is not like it is a secret whether they are or they are not.

Again, I am not saying that everyone is going to believe in utopia in Afghanistan; I do not expect that. But I think that Australia and other countries have a choice about whether they continue to fund those groups. The problem has been that the vast bulk of the money we are giving to Afghanistan, and that the West is giving to Afghanistan, is going through the Kabul government—through the Karzai regime—and the result of that is that they are themselves subcontracting, you might say, to various war lords around the country. That has failed, because in various parts of the country the Taliban’s power has never been as strong.

I think that Australia has a choice to support, particularly, local Afghan NGOs who are there. They exist. Some of them are doing wonderful work. It is not hard to find out who they are. They work in areas and get access to areas that foreign troops often cannot or, more importantly, into areas where we actually do not want the military presence in the first place.

It seems to me that in many cases elements of the Australian government and AusAID actually do not really want to think of that as an option. There is a certain mindset which says that the military comes far before hearts and minds.

Senator RHIANNON: We probably have less than two years to go before the bulk of the troops are to be withdrawn. Picking up on the points that you have just made about who the military associates with and the message that sends to the locals, would there be benefits from reassessing who those relationships are with in that period? This Kahn, often described as a warlord: if we reassess those relationships and changed who we were working with, could that make it more beneficial in this very challenging transition period?

Mr Loewenstein : Yes. If AusAID and the Australian government actually wanted to assess the benefits of the aid that they have given in the last 10 years, the results on the ground and what that has achieved or not, they will find that in the vast bulk of cases the results are poor at best. The idea of continuing what has failed for over 10 years would seem to be absurd, on its face.

As I said, what needs to happen—and Norway and other countries are starting to have this conversation—is with the kinds of groups in Kabul and elsewhere that you could partner with to provide aid. The question of aid is not simply to assist the Afghan people because the Australian government cares about the Afghan people. We are doing it, frankly, for pretty pragmatic reasons. I think there needs to be a sense that the damage that our support for the worst elements of Afghan society has had in the last 10 years means that we have a responsibility to partner with local groups.

There are foreign groups who are doing good work in Afghanistan, but they are not tied to the military at all. The fear is that when the vast bulk of our troops leave next year, which is what is being suggested by the Gillard government, we will still maintain a military presence there. The occupation will be rebranded—troops will be rebranded as ‘trainers’. That is what we have seen in Iraq with the Americans when they left under President Obama.

The danger is that if the same framework of counterinsurgency, which has not worked for 10 years, continues then the ability for Australia to contribute positively will be seriously jeopardised.

Senator STEPHENS: Just on that point, did you listen to the evidence of the previous witness?

Mr Loewenstein : Yes.

Senator STEPHENS: This was exactly the point he was making, that after 2014 the presence of Australian support needed to be exactly that: training the trainers and supporting the infrastructure. I do not quite understand why you dismiss that out of hand.

Mr Loewenstein : No, what I am saying is that what the Americans and Australians are wanting to do in Afghanistan they have not achieved in Iraq. In other words, the closure of the Iraq war, from the Western presence perspective, was to sign a deal with the Iraqi government to have a small, long-term military presence—call it troops, call it trainers. We should not ignore the fact that there are now up to 100,000 private contractors, not all military, operating in Afghanistan today. Many of those individuals will stay; many of them are foreign; many of them are not accountable.

My point is that, in many parts of Afghanistan, many Afghans know and see those individuals and forces operating. We can dress it up any way that we want, but the reality is that they are seen as contributing to the problem. If we believe that training the Afghan security force is important and in our national security interests or because it is what America wants us to do, we have to ask ourselves: has what we have been doing for the last years in training actually worked? Is the Afghan security force now in any shape to defend the country? You could argue we should therefore stay there longer. Some Afghans will say yes. I heard the gentleman here say yes. I respectfully disagree and that is principally because our role in training is not as benign, possibly, as he would suggest. It is not benign.

Senator RHIANNON: There was some discussion yesterday about the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund as a means to avoid the pitfalls of corruption. I wonder if that is an issue that came up when you were in Afghanistan and what your views are about the ARTF and about generally addressing corruption. I know it is a huge issue but I would like to hear your thoughts.

CHAIR: It will have to be the last question.

Mr Loewenstein : I will make this very brief. The issue of corruption clearly is central. One of the questions that Australia and AusAID need to ask themselves is: where is our money being invested? The idea, after occupying Afghanistan for so many years, that in 2012 we can hope to rely on or invest in the Karzai government—which is what we are principally doing—is a fundamental error. If we keep on doing that until Karzai stands down or is replaced, which I suspect is likely, then that is a profound problem. We have created, after what will be 12 or 13 years on the ground, an environment that says that we are not serious about addressing corruption.

Australia cannot be serious in talking about addressing corruption when the vast bulk of the money that we have given to Afghanistan has gone to corrupt officials and the government. The argument that often comes back is: we have to deal with the government that we have. That, to me, is a fundamentally flawed way to see it because, ultimately, we have created the Karzai government how we wanted it to be. There was an election a few years ago and, on any judgement, Karzai did not win. It was a fundamentally flawed and corrupt election.

The challenge that we have, which I keep coming back to, is that Australia and AusAID need to provide support for local organisations that are doing work on the ground. There is a list of names that I can give you of local groups who are doing good work, who need support and who are not tied to the Karzai government or others. That is the challenge. Unfortunately, very few of those groups are getting support from Australia or the US.

Senator RHIANNON: You spoke earlier about Norway and how they are conducting their work. Are they reducing their work directly with the Karzai government? Are they taking a different path?

Mr Loewenstein : They have. Certainly there is still an association. It is the government of the country and to some extent it is impossible to completely disconnect from the government that runs the country.

There are a few quick points. We should not ignore the fact that, outside of Kabul, the Karzai government’s ability to operate is minimal. At least one-third of the country, if not more, is not controlled by the Afghan security forces anyway but by insurgents, the Taliban et cetera. Norway, I think, have said that they are aware of the challenge—that, as the security situation has the potential to deteriorate, we just do not know what will happen between now and 2014. A lot of Afghans I speak to say they are upset by the fact that too many in the West paint an apocalyptic picture. While things may not be great, they might not be appalling. Obviously, I hope they are right and I am not for a moment suggesting that it is going to be an apocalypse there. I hope it is not. But the point is that we need to be alive to the fact that there are local groups who are not necessarily desperate for support but who are saying there is a different way of delivering aid. Norway, I think, is showing one way, amongst others, of how that can be done.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: We have another five minutes. Senator Fawcett.

Senator FAWCETT: In your remarks at the start, you mentioned the concept of reparations.

Mr Loewenstein : Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you define for me what reparations would look like, as opposed to the money that is being poured in by donor nations under the title of ‘aid’?

Mr Loewenstein : One of the aspects of reparation which do not often get talked about in a practical sense in much of the West is reparation for lost lives. This came up also with Iraq, as I mentioned in my introductory statements, and the Iraqi government has asked—thus far unsuccessfully—America for reparations for the individuals who have been killed by the Americans in that war zone. There is no doubt that, since 9-11, there are examples of the US paying families who have lost loved ones for certain incidents, but it has not been a policy. It is not for me to say what a life is worth. I am obviously not going to say that. But I do think that there is a consistent failure by Western governments to account for the damage they have done not only in an infrastructure sense but also in a human life sense.

I do think it is separate from supporting aid groups and aid development, and I would like that to even be on the table. What that means in a practical sense, how much we are talking about, who makes that decision: I have my own views about that, but, again, I think that even for an Australian government to put that forward, to say what we think would be a reasonable amount, or to begin a conversation with the Afghan government—or, for that matter, an Iraqi government—would show a great deal of leadership, which most other countries have not shown.

Senator FAWCETT: Thanks.

Senator RHIANNON: Can I just ask about the mining sector. AusAID have spoken about this in terms of Afghanistan as well as in a wider context. Do you see a way in which mining in Afghanistan could support the people of Afghanistan, rather than multinational or Australian mining companies supporting them?

Mr Loewenstein : The short answer is: I wish I could say yes. But there is virtually no country on earth that is a post-conflict zone or a current conflict zone with the massive natural resources that Afghanistan apparently does—the evidence of that is clear—that have managed this well. When I was there, I spent time with individuals in the Afghan parliament, not in the government but in the parliament, who are involved in this. They were actually coming to Australia to get advice from the Australian government on how to, in their words, manage the mining sector well. I gave them perhaps a different perspective on how I think Australia is managing its mining boom.

I think the issue here is really that there are elements in the Afghan government who are very keen to start the mining industry. At the moment, the industry is almost in limbo because the country is unsafe. The irony is that many of the natural resources in that country are now owned by India and China. In a geopolitical sense, they have been rather clever. They have had no troops on the ground at all and, in the last few years, they have found a way with the Afghan government to get ownership of resources. They are not actually mining it yet; it is on hold. And there are various Western multinationals who are keen to be involved if the security situation improves.

But, unfortunately, I would be concerned if AusAID and others are advising the Afghan government to ‘manage mining’ ethically or efficiently when the advice that AusAID is giving to various countries, including Papua New Guinea—having seen what that actually means in practice—has been a disaster for the PNG people and has not actually benefited them much at all; if anything it has done the opposite. So, if that is the advice AusAID is giving to the Afghan government in talking about efficient, ethical or sustainable mining, I would question that program.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the ARTF, do you think that that is a worthwhile channel for Australian aid money or will you give greater emphasis to going through NGOs?

Mr Loewenstein : I think the issue of local NGOs has been largely ignored for a long time. This is not just my view; it is the view of many Afghans that I spoke to. There is such disillusionment with the Afghan government, full stop. The idea some have that the Afghan Karzai government, which essentially is a Kabul government which does not have much influence in vast parts of the country, will manage a fund well is laughed at by most Afghans. As I said, there is a way to speak to local NGOs. I am not just talking about an NGO with one or two people. I am talking about local NGOs who would welcome support but with the important caveat that it not be tied to any kind of military or occupying force.

Senator RHIANNON: You said you had a list of groups that you could supply us with. Could you take that on notice.

Mr Loewenstein : I can.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. I think we will have to stop at that point, Mr Loewenstein. Thank you very much for your interesting evidence.

Mr Loewenstein : Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Proceedings suspended from 12:41 to 13:37

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My evidence at the Senate committee on Australia’s overseas development programs in Afghanistan

On 4 December I gave testimony in Parliament House in Canberra at a Senate committee on Australia’s role and responsibilities in Afghanistan after the vast bulk of Western forces leave in 2014. I submitted a short statement to the committee back in September and was then invited to travel to Canberra for a more thorough discussion (full transcript coming soon.)

Here’s my opening statement with links added for context: 

I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to give evidence here today. As an independent journalist and author who visited Afghanistan this year to investigate privatised military and intelligence and the role of aid and NGOs in helping or hindering the people, I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts on how Australia could improve its standing in Afghanistan after the bulk of Western forces leave in 2014.

Afghanistan has been broken and exploited for more than 30 years and the decade since 2001 has been no different. When America and its allies, including Australia, invaded in October of that year, there was no concrete plan to improve the lives of its citizens. Almost immediately, the West empowered, funded and trained the worst warlords who had caused the chaos in the last decades. We backed President Hamid Karzai, a corrupt leader with no legitimacy who runs a thugocracy.

This shouldn’t disguise the fact that many Taliban are equally brutish, attacking civilians and NGOs. They are currently self-financing through taxes on poppy farming, kidnappings and extortion. Notwithstanding, they may be the only reliable force after 2014 capable of expelling foreign jihadis.

Australia’s record, still largely untold, is not a pretty one, endorsing extreme violence, some undertaken by our own special forces, brutal night-raids and partnering with warlord Matiullah Khan, a man with a shocking record of criminality and running the drug trade in southern Afghanistan. Wikileaks documents confirm this.

We have ignored history, in our collusion with rogue regimes and elements in Latin America in the 1980s and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, that leads us once again to partner with individuals and groups that guarantee blow-back, increased terrorism in the West and resistance.

The reality on the ground, away from embedded journalists, is a dirty war that involves Afghan militias and mercenaries, working with US special forces, to rout the Taliban in a futile effort to eradicate an indigenous part of Afghanistan.

This is a reality I saw in Afghanistan. The people, according to recently released polling by Democracy International for USAID, remain “broadly dissatisfied with the way formal democracy works and expressed a lack of confidence in formal elected institutions, including the  national  assembly and the president.” Just nine percent said they were very satisfied with the way democracy works.

This is our legacy in Afghanistan and aid delivery is intimately tied up with these dismal results.

The American and Australian imperial project in Afghanistan has failed. Accepting this is vital before proscribing the solution. Pakistan, an unreliable ally for years, will be central to brokering any peace treaty between the Americans and the Taliban. We can no longer heed the delusions of people like Karl Eikenberry, the former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, who wrote in the Financial Times recently that progress was “tangible”.

What’s needed is a focus on the Afghan people. One country that’s heavily invested in the future is Norway. It’s currently discussing how to contribute in a non-military way while continuing to provide aid. A recent report by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre noted that since 2005 Norway “took a principled approach to separate military and development activities”. I would encourage Australia to move in the same direction, reducing the Afghan perception that we’re little more than defenders of the Karzai clique.

One of the key justifications for the NATO-led war in Afghanistan was helping women. This was always based on a deception because the West, according to another report by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre in 2012, talked about empowering women but “high profile commitments to funding for women’s rights have been occurring in parallel with other policies that have undermined the very institutions and conditions on which such gains depend, such as a formal justice system, a functioning parliament and a non-militarised political landscape.”

Australia has fallen into the same trap, blindly following an American strategy that prioritises counter-insurgency at the expense of building Afghan-run civil groups.

Independent aid delivery is the only way Afghans will respect the donor and the aid. Instead, we’ve seen the West far too often utilise for-profit and armed firms to damage the process.

The exact number of foreign troops that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is unclear though the Obama administration is keen for a residual force to continue counter-terrorism activity. The number could be anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 with a host of private contractors and mercenaries, largely unaccountable. Washington is keen to avoid the situation in Iraq today where a newly independent nation largely ignores the demands of America and pursues its own path despite the daily violence that still plagues the state.

A key demand of the government in Baghdad, and Australia should offer this to both Iraq and Afghanistan, is reparations for the destruction caused by our presence and occupation. It’s the least we can do. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s statement to Parliament in October this year mentioned none of this and instead offered platitudes, dishonestly stating that Australian troops have “kept us safer from terrorism”. The opposite is true and officials and elected politicians should be honest enough to admit the long-term effect of occupying a Muslim nation.

As a journalist who has visited some of the most troubled places in the world, including Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Palestine, a key lesson for governments and aid groups is avoiding the NGO-isation of a troubled land.

One organisation that has attempted to navigate the tough line between aid and independence is Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF). They refuse to play the game set by foreign forces, namely implementing nation-building projects demanded by Afghans and the US. It is unavoidable to deal with the Taliban in some parts of the country and it’s our responsibility to institute policies that accept this reality and find the least compromised way to do it.

Michiel Hofman, a former MSF country representative in Afghanistan, has written that NGOs have a choice when delivering aid. He argues:

“MSF has been able to carve out operational space in Afghanistan through regular, direct, and transparent negotiations with all the warring parties and though complete financial independence from Western and Afghan government sources. We also enforce a strict no-weapons policy in medical facilities. Our independence and purely needs-based approach to providing aid is enabling the possible expansion of operations into other war-wracked parts of the country…While other groups lament the lack of ‘humanitarian space,’ we see it opening by maintaining our independence and dedication to helping Afghans, without an agenda.”

Australia and the West can’t blame the Afghans for failing to nation build while they’ve been working themselves with a corrupt and inefficient central government. Far less money should be funneled through Kabul officials. Our mandate has been to build local forces and infrastructure but the gains have been minimal and fleeting. The West is doing harm with its current policies. We aren’t neutral and therefore paying the price for siding with a bankrupt Karzai regime. Even when Australia commissions independent assessment of its mission in Oruzgan province, undertaken by the respected NGO The Liaison Office based in Kabul, AusAid dismissed the findings this year because they were too pessimistic.

Undoing the mess Australia and its Western allies have created in Afghanistan will take time but acknowledging past mistakes and crimes is an important start. Afghans will need aid after 2014 but not if it’s delivered alongside the barrel of a gun.

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Baby steps towards neutering the fundamentalist Zionist lobby in Australia

Interesting piece in the Australian Financial Review that outlines the decreasing power of the Israel lobby to bully its way into the corridors of power. As importantly, its belief in apartheid in the West Bank shows that they speak for nobody but the Israeli government. They will never be independent players and should be ignored accordingly:

No, it doesn’t change things,” an insouciant Foreign Minister Bob Carr told the Weekend Financial Review after he led a successful revolt against Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s insistence that Australia vote against upgrading the status of Palestinians at the UN.

“Australia is, and always will be, a friend of Israel. They have their own democracy. They have a system that enables them to throw out prime ministers and ruling parties. They have the rule of law and their Supreme Court can overrule the government of the day on difficult issues.”

However, “good friends speak the truth to one another and, as a friend of Israel, we have a duty to highlight our concern about the settlement activity which is illegal under international law.”

Carr’s pro-Israel credentials date back to his formation of the Labor Friends of Israel group in 1977 which, along with one-time Labor prime minister Bob Hawke and prominent Liberals, maintained close relations with powerful members of the Jewish lobby such as businessmen Frank Lowy, Jack Liberman and the late Peter Abeles and lawyer Mark Leibler.

But at the end of the week it was Carr and Hawke, with former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans, who played such an effective role in lobbying caucus against taking a stand at the UN opposed to an upgraded Palestinian status.

The UN vote in New York on Friday morning Australian time was carried by 138 votes to nine, with 41 countries, including Australia, abstaining. This new “non-member” status at the UN might make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue Israel in legal forums like the International Criminal Court.

Palestinians view the vote as a symbolic endorsement for their cause. A growing group of Palestine supporters in Australia, including Australian Muslims, would have regarded any Australian “no” vote as one which effectively meant continued support for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

A mark of the increasing sophistication of the local pro-Palestine-state lobbying effort is reflected in the fact that Ross Burns, a former Australian ambassador to Israel, appears at public events on behalf of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

“No one should doubt Australia’s commitment [to Israel]”, Burns says, “but Gillard is taking it all too literally by agreeing with everything [current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu wants.

“This is a very significant development in terms of the debate in Australia,” Burns says, due to the manner in which a hotly contested issue “has come out in favour of the Palestinians,” although Australia formally abstained in the vote.

Neither party in this conflict likes to dwell on simple statistics. But Burns’s comments also go to the fact that there are about five times as many Muslims in Australia as there are Jews, who number about 100,000. While nearly two-thirds of Australia’s Jewish population lives in Melbourne, the proportion of Muslims in Sydney is equally concentrated, where they enjoy significant electoral clout in federal seats in the city’s western suburbs like Werriwa and Blaxland.

Peter Manning, author of the book Us and Them: Media, Muslims and the Middle East, detects a move away from strong local public support for Israel in the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s, partly a result of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, quarantining of the Gaza Strip, and increased Israeli settlement of the occupied territories. According to Manning in 2007, after the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon 68 per cent of those taking part in a poll had a negative view of Israel but two years later, after an Israeli invasion of Gaza, a more equal 24 per cent sympathised with Israel, 28 per cent with the Palestinians and 26 per cent with neither.

In 2010, according to Manning, another poll showed 55 per cent described the conflict as “Palestinians trying to end Israel’s occupation” while 32 per cent preferred “Israelis fighting for security against Palestinian terrorism’’. Last year, yet another poll showed sympathies were almost evenly divided, but 63 per cent were against settlers building on occupied land and 51 per cent thought we should vote ‘‘yes’’ for Palestinian statehood, compared to 15 per and 20 per cent “abstain’’.

For other reasons Friday’s UN vote resonates with those interested in post-war Australian history. It marked the 65th anniversary of an early UN General Assembly vote, with a strong role played by then Australian external affairs minister H.V. Evatt to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

The entrenched quality of Gillard’s position was, according to Leibler – national chairman of the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council – “an instinctive reaction when the [Hamas-launched] rockets [from Gaza] were landing specifically in civilian areas in Israel. This is unacceptable and you have a right to defend yourself.”

“Julia Gillard has understood the reality and has understood it from day one. She’s been less concerned about the company we keep, as distinct from doing the right thing in the circumstances.” Gillard has a long history of close connections with prominent figures who have close connections with Israel.

Albert Dadon, who runs the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which has annual meetings alternating in each country, included Gillard in his first group to Israel and, more controversially, employed her partner, Tim Mathieson, as a consultant before she became Prime Minister.

Leibler is more blunt: “Do we look at what other countries are doing and fit in or do we do the right thing?

“This PM has always been far more supportive of us than Bob Hawke. When Gareth Evans was foreign minister I was president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and even at that stage we had substantial issues with him.”

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How Australia proudly defends Zionist apartheid

Canberra-based academic and writer Rick Kuhn appears in a book I co-edited this year with Jeff Sparrow, called Left Turn (still on the publisher’s best-seller list, six months after its release).

Today in the Canberra Times Kuhn has a powerful piece about Israeli apartheid and the Australian government’s bankrupt position:

Has Labor’s position on Israel really changed?

One week Julia Gillard cheers on Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza, the next the parliamentary ALP caucus rolls her over recognition of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly.

The shift does not mean that Labor is now hostile to Israeli apartheid. Labor has a slightly different view from Israel, the United States and the Coalition about how best to preserve Israel as a racist state. Labor’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, understands that the Arab Spring means that minor concessions have to be made to prop up the credibility of the Palestinian Authority, which is Israel’s policeman on the West Bank.

The laws that define Israel as a Jewish state mean that its Palestinian citizens have second-class status. They are not allowed to live in most areas, their separate schools are underfunded, they are ineligible for many welfare services and public sector jobs, Arabic is treated as inferior to Hebrew.

After living for decades under Israeli occupation, the Palestinians of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem have no say at all over Israel’s policies. Jews – like me – have a right of ”return” to Israel so long as they can demonstrate their hereditary Jewishness through their mothers’ lines. Palestinian refugees born in what is now Israel and their children and grandchildren have no right to return.

Australia abstained in the General Assembly’s overwhelming vote to accept Palestine not as a member of the UN but just as an ”observer state”, like the Vatican. Gillard had wanted Australia to vote against the resolution, with Israel, the United States and a handful of its clients.

The General Assembly decision will not improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

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Speech in support of Wikileaks and against 11 years of war in Afghanistan

This month is the 11th anniversary of the Afghan war, a disastrous conflict that has achieved nothing more than destruction for Afghans and foreigners. Yesterday Sydney’s Stop the War Coalition held a rally to mark this anniversary as well as supporting Wikileaks and Julian Assange in their struggle to tell the truth about Afghanistan, via the Afghan War Logs. I was one of the speakers. Below are my remarks (speech begins at 23:21) and my notes:

  • Since 2001 in Afghanistan, at least 2000 US soldiers have died.
  • 2.4 million US soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Almost 100,000 US war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were treated for post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 alone.
  • Unknown numbers of Afghan civilians killed.
  • Reality on ground in Afghanistan, little infrastructure, intense fighting, huge civilian casualties, empowering of warlords, Taliban emboldened, very few girls have been educated.
  • This is the war we’re told by our leaders is worth fighting.
  • Strong impression when I was in Afghanistan this year was sheer futility of it all, profound ignorance expressed of what the West was doing there and who we’re fighting.
  • This is what WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Logs showed us, the secret war, the war our leaders don’t want us to see.
  • Why I’ve supported Wikileaks since its inception, 6 years ago this month, in October 2006.
  • Today Julian Assange is right to resist extradition to Sweden. He’s right to fear the US. He’s an “enemy of the state”, akin to an al-Qaeda terrorist or the Taliban insurgency.
  • Today we’re all “enemies of the state”, defending an organisation that shames most media outlets. Too few journalists in my profession speak out in support of Wikileaks, preferring to mock Assange.
  • Where’s the accountability of politicians or journalists who backed Afghan war and demonised WikiLeaks for daring to tell us the truth?
  • 11 years of lies about Afghan war and we’ll be leaving the country in 2014 in a complete mess. We owe the Afghan people financial compensation for destroying their country.
  • Australian government must support Assange in his search for justice and as citizens we must demand the end of the Afghan war now plus hold our elites responsible for launching it.
  • WikiLeaks is model of collaborative journalism and civic democracy.

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Overland Journal tackles “After Zionism”

The following review of After Zionism by Jeff Sparrow appears in Overland Journal:

After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine
Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor (eds)
SAQI

In the media, particularly in Australia, the ‘two-state solution’ to the Palestine/Israel crisis – that is to say, the proposition that peace depends upon the creation of a new Palestinian state alongside Israel – serves as an identifier more than an actual idea. If you pay lip service to ‘two states’, you are a responsible, serious person. If you don’t, well, you aren’t.

Julia Gillard supports two states, as does Tony Abbott. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, David Cameron and just about every other Western leader: all agree this is the only realistic and reasonable basis on which the crisis might be resolved.

Yet if a two-state solution were ever realistic or reasonable, it’s almost certainly not now, because Israeli settlers have relentlessly continued their colonisation of the land out of which this putative Palestinian state might be carved: half a million of them, along with a huge network of roads and housing complexes and other infrastructure, are now ensconced in the Occupied Territories. Without the removal of the settlements, any new state would necessarily be a Bantustan more grotesque than those established under Apartheid – and there’s no prospect whatsoever of an Israeli government carrying out mass evictions.

In practice the two-state solution functions increasingly as a rhetorical gesture, an irritable reflex response by defenders of the status quo. The ritualised commitment to two states works like Augustine’s famous prayer: ‘Make me chaste – but not yet’. The very implausibility of the proposal is in fact its point. One can buttress one’s liberal credentials by bloviating about the necessity for a Palestinian state – and then, because that’s not on the agenda, dutifully join the chorus defending Tel Aviv’s latest atrocity.

The importance of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, a new collection of essays edited by Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor, is that it reorients a topsy-turvy discussion.

The mainstream consensus about Palestine makes the acceptance of ethnically defined states – nations that consciously privilege some citizens over others on the basis of their ethnicity or religious beliefs – the political default.

Now, of course, ethnic chauvinism was the basis for most nationalisms in the early modern period but few people today would accept its premises in other contexts today. Australia and the US were also colonial settler states but no-one – at least, no-one of any moral integrity – looks at the dispossession of the native Americans or Indigenous Australians as policies to be defended, let alone continued.

Yet, as Jonathan Cook notes, ‘since Israel’s creation more than six decades ago, members of the Palestinian minority have been forced to live in a self-declared Jewish state that systematically discriminates against them – a fact that even Israel leaders are increasingly prepared to concede, though they have failed to take any meaningful action to correct such injustice. Poverty among the Palestinian minority exists at a rate four times higher than among Jewish citizens, proper up by a system of segregation in education.’

Even more tellingly, Loewenstein quotes Peter Beinart’s explanation of what his defence of Israel entails.

‘I’m not asking [Israel] to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes,’ Beinart says. ‘I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.’

Because Beinart, the leading representative of liberal Zionism in the US, has been grappling honestly with these issues, he spells out what most commentators are afraid to say: the fundamental illiberalism upon which the two-state consensus rests. In no mainstream debate other than Israel/Palestine has the notion of equal rights been so systemically redefined as bad thing.

The Zionist colonial project was based on expectations from a different age, taking for granted that homicidal anti-Semitism lurked ineradicably in the West, so that Jewish people would be relentlessly persecuted unless they lived under a Jewish state.

Those assumptions were wrong.

In the developed world, anti-Semitism has become an ideology of a crackpot fringe. And has Israel become a place of safety, a magnet for Jews the world over? On the contrary. Most Jews in the West have no intention of moving. Why would they? Omar Barghouti quotes former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, about Israel: ‘Few of us know any other existential reality apart from our unrelenting war with everyone, all the time and over all issues.’

By contrast, the underlying assumptions of the one-state solution are much more compatible with contemporary democratic sensibilities. Barghouti puts it like this: the argument for ‘a secular, democratic unitary state in historic Palestine … is the most just and morally coherent solution to this century-old colonial conflict, primarily because it offers the greatest hope for reconciling the ostensibly irreconcilable – the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinian people, particularly the right to self determination, and the acquired rights of the colonial settlers to live in peace and security, individually and collectively, after ridding them of their colonial privileges.’

In other words, the one-state argument is not, as some Zionist apologists suggest, about driving Jews into the sea. It’s a position – or, rather, a range of positions, since there are different versions of the argument – predicated on the notion that people with different ethnic and religious identities can, in fact, live together, even after the process of decolonisation.

The obvious example is South Africa. For years, defenders of apartheid told the world that majority rule meant that whites would be massacred by blacks. They’d lose their culture, their identity, their very lives. Apartheid might have been ugly but it was necessary in pre-emptive self-defence – or so the argument went.

South Africa today might not be perfect but apartheid nonetheless came to an end without a hint of the reprisals and massacres that white racists prophesised. So why not in Israel?

The various essayists in After Zionism don’t put forward a consensus. Their differing positions as to how a one-state solution might be achieved and what it would look like hint at the difficulties ahead. But they offer at least glimpses of a way forward.

Two states, by contrast, seems less and less like a solution and more and more like a roadblock.

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