Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘LIBG’

Over the Edge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th September, 2014

This article first appeared in the online edition of InterLib, the magazine of Liberal International British Group (LIBG).

IDFThe Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is a past master at inventing Orwellian names for its military operations. “Protective Edge” sounds so reassuring and 100% defensive, but for the people on the receiving end in Gaza this summer it was anything but. The completely disproportionate response to Hamas provocation led to well over 2,000 Palestinian deaths, two thirds of them civilians (according to the UN), including several hundred children. Many more were injured and over half a million displaced; the psychological trauma, particularly of the very young, has been incalculable. Whole districts were flattened, homes demolished; even some UN schools and facilities were attacked. Night after night we had to witness the sickening spectacle of the region’s foremost military power pounding a people trapped in a narrow strip of land from which there was no escape. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.I

I curse Hamas and whichever other militant group was responsible for firing rockets into Israel, for that was itself a terrorist act, albeit on a far more limited scale. There can be no justification for targeting civilians in that way, though the rockets were so primitive that it is maybe absurd to use the word “targeting” anyway. Six civilians were killed in Israel, including a child and one Thai national. That’s six too many. 66 Israeli soldiers also perished in the conflict, some from “friendly fire”. I curse Hamas and other militant groups for undermining attempts at getting some sort of negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestine dispute. But I also curse them for letting Israel portray itself once again as the victim, whereas for decades it has increasingly been the oppressor.

GazaGaza itself has been under a tight blockade by Israel, denying the territory true autonomy. Even Gaza’s fishermen have regularly been prevented from going out to catch their fish, often risking arrest or attack when they do so. Over in the West Bank, the Occupation continues unabated. Palestinians there are regularly harassed and humiliated by the IDF and militant Israeli settlers, some of whom have stated overtly that their aim is to push all the Arabs out of Palestine into Jordan. Water is diverted to serve Israeli settlements, Palestinian olive groves are frequently uprooted, houses demolished, building permits for Palestinians routinely refused. Moreover, for several years now, what can only be described as ethnic cleansing has been going on in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their dreamed-of Palestinian state. But the Israeli government is doing everything it can to prevent that happening, instead working to claim all Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish State, despite the fact that the city is holy to all three Abrahamic faiths.

There are noble Jews in Israel, as well as in the diaspora outside, who are horrified by the way that what started out as an idealistic vision after the genocide of the Holocaust has turned into a nightmare. They are sickened how successive Israeli governments have acted in contravention to the very teachings of the Jewish religion. Israel has become a rogue state, violating both the Geneva and Hague Conventions on a daily basis. It uses targeted assassinations, subjects Palestinian prisoners to torture and inhuman treatment, incarcerates children, and is steadily making the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state impossible. Binyamin Netanyahu puts two fingers up to the United States and the rest of the West, because he knows he that so far he has been able to get away with murder. The settlements expansion continues apace; immediately after the Protective Edge operation, the biggest land-grab by the Israeli state for 30 years took place, near Bethlehem.

For me, Protective Edge was the final straw. The callous indifference of the Israeli government – and, I regret to day, of a significant proportion of the Israeli population – to the suffering wrought on the people of Gaza made me want to vomit. As the brave Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote, it was if they considered killing Palestinian children no more important than killing insects. Accordingly, I believe it is time for Britain officially to take a principled stand, as increasingly large numbers of Britons are doing. The UK should recognise the state of Palestine now. And individuals should seriously consider whether the time has not come to boycott Israel, and Israeli produce, as I have decided to do, until the blockade of Gaza is lifted, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank removed, the disgusting apartheid barrier (“security wall”) is pulled down and Palestine is set free.

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Ming Campbell’s View of Britain and Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th June, 2014

Ming CampbellNeither hard nor soft power by NATO and the EU can be as effective as when carried out in tandem, the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell declared in his Tim Garden Memorial Lecture at Chatham House last night. He stressed that there are no plans to create a European army, despite claims to the contrary, but said there is much to be gained from European military cooperation, not least in cost effectiveness. Most of Ming Campbell’s text was about the political benefits of British membership of the EU (as one might expect from one of the grandees of the Party of IN), and included a mea culpa that he and his parliamentary colleagues had not done enough over the past four decades at promoting those benefit to the British public. If people had listened to the Liberal Party in the 1950s and enabled Britain to join what evolved into the EU at the beginning, we would have had more chance to shape it, Ming said. He was scathing about the Conservative obsession with an EU Referendum, declaring this is not the time to be scaring away foreign investment from those for whom Britain’s place in the EU is considered value added. However, Ming will have disappointed the federalists in the audience (of whom there were undoubtedly some, as the event was organised by Liberal International British Group) by stating flatly that Jean-Claude Juncker (the European People’s Party candidate for President of the European Commission) would be completely the wrong choice at the moment, as he is a man from another time, when ever closer political union was a driving force within the EU. Stephen Sacker, the presenter of BBC World’s Hard Talk, who was moderating the event, asked some probing questions of the speaker, but I for one was disappointed that Ming did not go into greater detail about what sort of reforms the Liberal Democrats would like to see happening in the EU. I am happy to be in the Party of IN, but one of the reasons we did so poorly in the recent European elections was because we did not explain that we are the Party of  IN because we are “in it to reform it” — and how.

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Peter Tatchell and LGBT Rights in Russia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st May, 2013

LGBT RussiaPeter TatchellBy a spooky coincidence, while the House of Commons was debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Liberal International British Group (LIBG), in collaboration with Liberal Youth, was holding a long-planned meeting on LGBT Rights in Russia, at the National Liberal Club. Through a skype link we had a long exchange with a brave young lesbian in Moscow, who for her own protection I shall simply call “A”, and who declared that essentially LGBT individuals have no fundamental rights in Russia. She is fortunate in having parents who accept her, as well as her boss at work, but the prevailing atmosphere is homophobic, from the government, the Orthodox Church and a large swath of public opinion. Neo-nazi groups are particularly hostile — a point Peter Tatchell also made, when he came to address the meeting, taking time out from following the House of Commons debate. Peter was of course badly beaten in Moscow some years ago when he was attending a Gay Pride event. Such events are now generally banned and Peter argued that probably there are other ways that LGBT groups can campaign for improvements in their situation. Earlier I had asked A whether LGBT individuals feel any common cause with political dissidents, journalists and others who are also suffering harassment, including death in the worst cases, so I was interested when Peter emphasized the point that human rights restrictions in Russia should be seen as a whole. He also made the point that many Russians reject Western values (a phenomenon I have noticed in parts of Asia and Africa), so what we may think of as universal rights or norms can appear to them alien and unacceptable. It is no coincidence that it is among the ultra-nationalists that one finds the highest levels of intolerance.

Link: http://www.petertatchell.net

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A Cool Look at Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012

Burma - photo Nic Dunlop

Burma – photo Nic Dunlop

Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said inNic Dunlop his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link: www.nicdunlop.com

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LIBG’s Look at the US Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th October, 2012

The US election is exactly one week away, but the two main candidates have not been out campaigning today because of the Frankenstorm Sandy. However, in the bowels of the National Liberal Club members of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) gathered this evening to hear a brilliant presentation by Karin Robinson, Vice-Chair of Democrats Abroad UK, on where she thinks the contest is at. Obviously she is rooting for Barack Obama’s re-election, but she acknowledges that there isn’t quite the same buzz as four years ago, when many new voters were encouraged to register and volunteers poured in to Democrat offices (especially after Sara Palin was chosen as the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate). Nonetheless, early voting — which varies in type in different states — has been going well for the Democrats this year. For the British public, US politics is a bit of a mystery; why, as someone asked tonight, should Mitt Romney be against universal health care, especially when he introduced in Massachusetts a state-wide version of Obamacare? Karin agreed with the contention that the US public in general is rather insular and the country isolationist, but the main thrust of her remarks was how much the economy matters in this election, even more than usual. Social issues have rarely figured. She welcomed advances in US public opinion on LGBT rights, for example, but is alarmed by the retrogressive slant of many Republicans’ views on women’s rights. A recent opinion poll in Britain suggested that two thirds of Britons would vote for Obama, which makes it difficult to comprehend how someone like Romney can have traction in the US. But as Karin emphasized, the US electorate is essentially split 50:50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the actual outcome next Tuesday will probably depend on a small number of voters in swing states. In the meantime, the two main candidates and their supporters have reportedly spent more than $2 billion between them. Democracy in America does not come cheap, and it is very different to what we’re used to over here.

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Britain, the EU and the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2012

The Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and Liberal International British Group (LIBG) joined forces last night at a fringe meeting at the LibDems’ autumn conference on the place of Britain in the European Union and Europe’s place in the world. I was the first speaker, stressing how important it is that the Party continues to publicise its commitment to internationalism and to the UK’s European future (as Nick Clegg had indeed done just minutes before in a speech to diplomats at the International Reception). I was dismayed that there was virtually no mention of international or European issues in the main agenda of the Brighton conference, though there have been several related fringe meetings. The Coalition government as such is hampered in its championing of the importance of Britain’s EU membership by David Cameron’s perceived need to appease his eurosceptic backbenchers. I fear that in the 2014 European elections the Tories will be tempted to try to out-UKIP UKIP, too, in an attempt to staunch the haemorrhaging of votes. And Labour is too split on the issue of Europe to be a reliable advocate. The City of London and business in general seems too nervous to stick its head above the parapet, although most businesses recognise the vital importance of EU membership. So it is going to be up to the Liberal Democrats to make the case. A few, very simple messages need to be honed, to be used on the doorstep, of which perhaps the most important is the fact that in an increasingly regionalised, globalised world, in which big new players such as China, India and Brazil are making their presence felt, Europe needs to be more united in order to be a powerful force. Britain on its own in the 21st Century never could be, despite what the Little Englanders think.

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Scrutinising Belarus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012

Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.

http://libg.co.uk and www.belarusdigest.com

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Christians, Syria and the Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th December, 2011

I’m often asked: why hasn’t Syria gone the way of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Yemen, to which my short answer has been: because of the country’s religious diversity. There are many things one can legitimately criticise the al-Assad regime for over the past 40 years, not least the brutal crackdown on dissent since this April. But one thing the government in Damascus has done has been to protect the interests of minorities such as Christians and Druze, as well as the Alawites who form a significant part of the government and army apparatus. The greatest danger that the country faces as it teeters on the brink of civil war — which one could objectively argue has started already — is that srife could occur along sectarian lines. As Revd Nadim Nassar, a Syrian Anglican priest now based in London, confirmed at a meeting of the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) at the National Liberal Club last evening, this means that some Christians are petrified that any overthrow of the current regime could lead to an Islamic government which would not give them the rights they enjoy today. Over 70 per cent of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslim, though only a small proportion of those would identify with the Muslim Brotherhood (for decades the Assad’s main bugbear) let alone more extreme salafis or Islamic fundamentalists. Revd Nassar said that when he was a schoolboy, people really weren’t aware or particularly bothered who was Muslim or who was Christian in his class; as in his case, often one couldn’t even tell from somebody’s name. And at some Christian shrines in Syria you can also find Muslims praying. But Revd Nassar despairs that in the West — including Britain — most people make the simplistic equation Middle East = Muslim (and extremist, to boot), without recognising the significance of the Christian communities in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, notably. That is why he and colleagues set up the Awareness Foundation, to help Church congregations amongst others learn and understand about the realities in both the Middle East and Europe and make sense of their faith in today’s world. The organisation has eschewed the more theoretical or academic approach of bodies such as the Alliance of Civilizations (spearheaded by Turkey and Spain), calling instead for practical programmes which change minds and attitudes among ordinary people. This was all certainly a new take for many members of LIBG and of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, which co-hosted the NLC meeting. In a nutshell, the issues are far more complicated that simply democracy versus dictatorship.

Link: www.awareness-foundation.com

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When China Rules the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd May, 2011

Chinese Liberal Democrats and the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) scored a first this evening when they enticed former editor of ‘Marxism Today’, Martin Jacques, to address a packed meeting in the Board Room at the Liberal Democrats’ HQ in Cowley Street, Westminster, on the theme ‘When China Rules the World’. Martin’s book of the same name has been enjoying success in some unlikely places; a Latvian edition has been arranged, for example. But his theme is of truly global interest. His thesis is that China is growing economically even faster than had been thought previously. It has already leap-frogged Japan to become the second largest economy, behind the United States. And it will move into first place before too long. More contentious was Martin’s argument that the Chinese currency, the renminbi, will overtake the US dollar as the preferred currency of trade within a generation, initially in East/South East Asia. One has to remember that the RMB isn’t even convertible yet and few people believe that will happen before 2020. But what does seem certain is that by that symbolic date, China will effectively be the world’s Number One, as the USA continues its relative decline. I raised the issue of sustained unity: on several occasions in China’s long history, the Middle Kingdom has broken up. If that were to happen again, it would throw a spanner in the works. Nonetheless, all the indicators point to the 21st Century belonging to China — but with some of the other BRICs, notably Brazil and India, snapping at its heels and even Indonesia rising fast.

http://libg.co.uk http://chineselibdems.org.uk

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LibDems The Only True British Internationalists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th March, 2010

The Liberal Democrats are the only truly internationalist party in Britain — as well as being the only committed Europeans — according to the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ed Davey MP, who gave a brief address at the annual reception for London’s diplomatic corps hosted by the British Group of Liberal International (LIBG) at the National Liberal Club this evening. The warm-up act was (Lord) David Steel, former Liberal Party leader and an earstwhile President of the worldwide Liberal International. Malcolm Bruce MP, LIBG President and Chairman of the House of Commons’ select committee on International Development, ended the formal part of the proceedings by on the one hand welcoming the fact that the Labour government has been moving towards the UN goal of devoting 0.7% of GDP to overseas development aid while on the other, chiding them for not progressing on this more quickly.

It was interesting to see just how many Ambassadors and High Commissioners turned up, which reflects how seriously the Liberal Democrats are being taken by the diplomatic corps in the run-up to what promises to be an exciting election. It was good to spot among those present the High Comissioner of South Africa and the Ambassador of Panama, both of whose countries will be hosting Liberal International meetings in the months to come.

Link: www.libg.org.uk/

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