Monday, 25 May 2009


All the big boys have lined up to condemn North Korea for its nuclear test, but when will the world ever learn that the worst way to deal with a rogue state is to isolate it and threaten it? That just enables the delinquent rulers to tell the people what danger they are in and to strengthen their grip. The way to encourage "regime change" is to remove the threats and lower the tension.

I am not sure that Iran should really be called a rogue state. It's electoral system is not much less democratic than that of Great Britain, and if it has a nuclear weapons programme it is surely defensive and not offensive. Iran has not invaded a neighbour for centuries, and the ancient Persian empires were more devolved and multi-cultural than most European ones.

Israel, which has invaded its neighbours at least six times in 61 years, has never been put under pressure for its nuclear weaponry. Indeed it has never admitted to possessing it. Mordechai Vanunu, who alerted the world to the scale of the problem in 1986, was kidnapped, spent 18 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, and is now not allowed to emigrate from Israel. If the world can't condemn Israel it should not condemn anyone.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nakba Day! Anniversary of the declaration of independence of Israel and the formal beginning of 61 years of war. So let's pay attention to Sri-Lanka and Burma, where other peoples are being oppressed in their own lands. The cases are not strictly parallel of course; historic situations never are. The Tamils never were the majority in Sri-Lanka, and many of them are descended from ancestors brought in by the British as cheap labour, but they are a big minority - the majority in large areas of the North - and now they are being attacked by a government that offers them no option but surrender. Burma is controlled by one of the most appalling regimes in the world, which has never accepted its defeat in the only general election it ever organized, and which maintains its people in poverty and ignorance.

Just as Palestine was abandoned to Zionism thanks to President Truman of America, who used his power to swing the vote in the UN, so the Burmese generals are kept in power with Chinese complicity and the Sri-Lankan government owes much to Japanese aid and investment. The wider world too has a share of responsibility, failing to use the methods which were so successful in putting an end to apartheid in South Africa.

But the main point I want to make is that no one blames Buddhism for oppression in Burma and Sri-Lanka - two countries with Buddhist majorities, and no one should blame Jews or Judaism for oppression of the non-Jewish minority in Israel and of the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. The aims and methods of Zionism owe nothing to the religion of the great prophets who shaped the Jewish religion, and many of those who most vehemently denounce Israel do so in the name of Judaism.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Stern reality

Last night I listened to a talk by Nicholas Stern, now Lord Stern, on climate change. He was very lucid on the risks that we run, but less so on the remedies. At one point he said 'No doubt, economic growth can't go on forever', but he didn't follow it up. In fact he was talking about how to resume economic growth in a way that reduces our greenhouse emissions. But he spoke only of action by governments and corporations; he did not talk about how individual life-styles can and must change drastically. He made no mention of the fact that livestock production is thought to emit more greenhouse gas than motor cars, though eating less meat is probably the greatest single contribution each of us in the rich countries can make.

The fundamental problem is one of differences in wealth and income. As long as some people are vastly richer than others, the rich will be able to go on spending on forms of consumption with a big carbon footprint. The only way to distribute cuts fairly is by rationing. In World War Two, the British willingly accepted ration books, which ensured that there was enough food for everyone and that we all shared the hardships. Genuine action on climate change will feel like a war; time to rediscover rationing!

Not that it will be easy! Electricity, for example, can be produced from anything from near zero to 100% fossil fuels. It would therefore be difficult to ration its use according to its carbon footprint. Perhaps the simplest would be to ration a few things with a large footprint, such as meat, gas, petrol and coal. This would also have the psychological effect of reminding people repeatedly that all consumption has ecological costs.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hawks and doves.

Shimon Peres, architect of Israel's nuclear programme in the 1960s, has managed for fifty years to pass as a dove, so what is a hawk like? He has been in Washington this week, warming up the Administration for Netanyahu's visit next week. He warns that Iran's alleged search for nuclear weapons threatens the whole world.

Perhaps it won't work. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Tuesday that America wants Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How awkward it is that Iran is already a signatory, and indeed is on the committee preparing the review conference for next year!

Despite all the propaganda about Ahmadinejad being the new Hitler, there is nothing to suggest that Iranians are irrational. If they obtained nuclear weapons they would be subject to the same logic that kept America and the Soviet Union from mutual destruction. Nor should the language of 'wiping Israel off the map' be taken as a call for the wiping out of Israelis. East and West Germany were wiped off the map twenty years ago without anyone getting killed. The world would be a more peaceful place if those Israelis who don't want to share a state on equal terms with Palestinians went back home to America, Australia, South Africa, Russia and Europe.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Muslims helping Jews helping Muslims

A Palestinian friend sent the following inspirational piece:-

From a talk by Hussein Hamdani

"In his recent book, Among The Righteous (Public Affairs Press), Robert Satloff, who has served since 1993 as executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, unearths the lost stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

When the Nazis occupied the countries of North Africa and sought to round up Jews and expropriate Jewish property, Satloff notes: 'In every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti- Jewish campaign spin more efficiently. ... And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.'

Nor was it only in North Africa that Muslims saved Jews. During the Nazi occupation, the Grand Mosque of Paris provided sanctuary for Jews hiding from German and Vichy troops, and provided certificates of Muslim identity to untold numbers of Jews.

Satloff quotes reports describing the mosque 'as a virtual Grand Central Station for the Underground Railroad of Jews in France.' This story is told in a 1991 film Une Resistance Oubliee: La Mosquee de Paris (A Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris) by Derri Berkani, a French documentary filmmaker of Algerian Berber origin.

Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation -- those of Albanian origin and refugees alike -- were saved. It is the only European country occupied by the Nazis to come out of the Second World War with more Jews then before the conflict.

Norman Gershman has profiled many Albanian Muslims in a photography exhibition and book titled Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. Besa is a code of honour inspired by the Holy Qur'an and deeply rooted in Albanian tradition demanding one take responsibility for the lives of others in their time of need."


Throughout the Middle Ages, Muslims and Jews supported each other in the face of Christian hostility. When they were expelled from Spain and Portugal they fled together to Ottoman lands, where they could live in peace. In the twentieth century, the Zionist leaders decided to get Christian backing for their plan to expel Palestinians from their country. Given that most Christian Zionists in America see the return of all Jews to Israel as the prelude to their conversion to Christianity, Armageddon and the Last Judgement, I doubt whether it is wise for Israelis to put their trust in that kind of Christian "friends".

It is time for Muslims and Jews to realize that they are each other's real friends. The loudest and boldest voices calling for an end to Israeli racism and oppression are Jewish. Both inside and outside Israel there are dozens of Jewish organizations calling for justice and democracy for Palestinians. It is easy to see why: Zionism is a secular movement, bringing the Jewish religion into disrepute and seeking to involve all Jews in responsibility for past and present injustices. The future lies in Muslim-Jewish collaboration as equal partners within a multi-cultural democratic state.