Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘anti-Semitism’

Palestine and Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016

Friends of Palestine meeting with HASCEarlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.

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International Human Rights Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2015

Human Rights DayThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 67 years ago today, but the fight for rights is as necessary as ever, not just in totalitarian states and conflict zones round the world but even in so-called mature democracies. Each International Human Rights Day (IHRD), 10 December, is a useful moment to take stock of the situation worldwide and the picture in 2015 is particularly depressing. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise as part of the collateral damage to the war against ISIS/Daesh and other Middle Eastern and North African conflicts; countries including China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran continue to implement the death penalty, in many cases for “crimes” that would not even be considered as such in much of the world.

capital punishmentThe theme of this year’s IHRD is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”, which at many levels is so broad as to be almost meaningless in campaigning terms, but the idea was to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year (sic) of the adoption of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite being equally broad-brush, these covenants are considered important frameworks for putting pressure on governments that are denying their people a decent livelihood or suppressing their freedoms.

amnesty pngOf course, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not every country or society agrees on their definition. Uganda, where I am at present, continues to harass LGBTi activists, for example, with the tacit support of much of the local population. Apostasy is still a capital crime in Saudi Arabia, while freedom or religion (and the freedom to choose) is a core value of democratic societies. Double standards are moreover evident in so many fields and it is not always the Western democracies that are innocent. They were right to express outrage at Russia occupation/annexation of Crimea, for example, yet most (with a few honorable exceptions such as Sweden) have remained relatively mute about Israel’s 48-year occupation of Palestine; Russia is the subject of sanctions, Israel hardly at all.

However, that does not mean we should give up in despair. NGOs in particular have an important role to play in furthering economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political ones — not least in holding governments to account. But governments, such as Britain’s, also should not shirk their duty to stand up for what they say support, and the same goes for the European Union. So even if IHRD may seem vacuous at times it is important to remind us of all that needs to be done to promote human rights, both individually and collectively.

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Lessons from Oslo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th July, 2011

Like many people — and most Norwegians, I suspect — I observed a minute’s silence at 11am, to mark the death of 93 predominantly young people at the hands of murderous right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik. The dignity with which the tragic episode has been handled by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Royal Family is a lesson to us all. But there are other, more bitter, lessons to be learnt from the massacre. Details are emerging of the immensely long, rambling political self-justification that Breivik left behind. In the document are elements of the inspiration for his hatred and inhuman ideology, some of which will be uncomfortable for people elsewhere in Europe, including Britain. The Daily Mail’s ranter Melanie Phillips (no friend to Muslims) is one source quoted, and Breivik clearly had emotional and maybe physical links with groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), who spew out xenophobia, anti-immigrant bile and Islamophobia. These groups and individuals associated with them are poisonous and as we have just seen, potentially deadly. Just as men and women of principle stood up and spoke out against anti-Semitism in the 1930s, so now we should stand up and speak out against Islamophobia, xenophobia and all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.

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1938 Hitler’s Gamble

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th August, 2009

1938The British historian Giles MacDonogh’s last acclaimed book After the Reich was an admirable study of the disruption and misery prevalent in continental Europe that followed the defeat of Nazi Germany. Few nations came out smelling of roses in their treatment of the hordes of refugees then, not to mention the misdmeanours of the victorious armies. So there is a pleasing reverse symmetry in the conception of Giles’ latest offering, 1938 Hitler’s Gamble (Constable, 20 pounds), which charts month by month the prelude to the Second World War while demonstrating just how shitty almost everyone was towards the Jews. Inevitably, the canvass becomes a little cluttered, as the tale has to embrace the Anschluss of Austria, and the betrayal and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia as well as the central theme of increasingly institutionalised anti-semitism. But the author is good at presenting telling details and poignant vignettes in sometimes journalistic prose that is vivid and effective. I winced at the description of Neville Chamberlain as Britain’s Head of State, but such occasional slips aside, this is a gripping and at times disturbing read. At least there are some genuine human souls in evidence, including British and American Quakers who were involved in organising the Kindertransporte evacuating German Jewish children to safety as well as good upper class Germans who realised early on just what a ghastly — and dangerous — little man Adolf Hitler was.

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Austria Confronts Its Past

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st February, 2009

Being part of the European Union is partly about forging a new destiny, in partnership with the other 26 member states. But often this involves re-evaluating the past — whether this is a history of conflict, as between Britain, France and Germany, or a period of Communism, or the dark days of dictatorship. Austria is going through such a period of re-evaluation now, in relation to its own Nazi past. There is an old joke that the Austrians perfected the art of spin, by portraying Beethoven as an Austrian and Hitler as a German. But at long last — decades after Germany went through the process — Austria is confronting the Hitler years.

I wrote about this in a article in the current issue of ‘Diplomat’ magazine, focussing on Linz as this year’s European Capital of Culture (alongside the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius). The castle in Linz has a vast exhibition on Hitler’s plans for it as his capital of culture, which includes some chilling film footage of his triumphal entry into the city at the time of the Anschluss. But here in London, too, the Austrians are examining what happened following 1938, with a whole series of lectures and events at their Cultural Forum in Rutland Gate. The next one is a talk on the legacy of Nazi-expropriation in Austria, given by Clemens Jabloner, former Chairman of the Austrian Historical Commission, on Tuesday 3 March at 7pm. Given the rise of anti-semitism in this country, following the Israeli assault on Gaza, it is salutory to be reminded where anti-semitism can lead.

(for further details email: culture@austria.org.uk)

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There Is No Excuse for Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st February, 2009

200px-nicolas_maduro An armed gang has broken into the oldest synagogue in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, desecreating the building and calling for Jews to be expelled from the country. This follows the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador and his staff by President Hugo Chavez in protest at the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, but the Venezuelan government has been quick to denounce the synagogue attack, in which the walls were daubed with anti-Semitiuc and anti-Israel slogans. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned this ‘criminal act of vandalism’, adding, ‘we call on all the Venezuelan people, the entire Venezuerlan community, to reject these actions, with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinian people.’

There has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the world, including Britain, since the Israeli assault on Gaza. But the one does not justify the other. Attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions now are as vilely inappropriate as assaults on Muslims and Islamic institutions were in the wake of 9/11. Only four days ago in the United Kingdom we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, reminding ourselves of the horrific extremes to which anti-Semitism can go and the obscenity of genocide against any people. I don’t often agree with the rhetoric of Venezuela’s radical socialist government, but in this case Minister Maduro got it right. Just as we should morally condemn killings and abuses against Palestinians, so we should decry assaults on Jews.

(photo of Nicolas Maduro)

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