Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Binyamin Netanyahu’

Let’s Calm Gulf Tensions

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th June, 2019

oil tanjerThe UK government’s Cabinet has been meeting today to discuss rising tensions in the Persian Gulf. Yesterday the Sunday Times revealed that 100 British marines have been sent to the country’s base in Bahrain to strengthen protection for shipping following recent attacks on tankers. The Trump administration has pinned the blame for these attacks firmly on Iran, which denies the charge. But the reactions in Europe have been more mixed. Britain’s Conservative government, keen to demonstrate its essential loyalty to Washington, has said that the evidence points to Iranian culpability, though this is not yet proven, and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that a proper investigation was needed before blame is attributed — a line supported by some of the smaller Opposition parties. At the same time there has been a call from across the UK political spectrum to calm tensions before things get out of hand. Donald Trump (egged on by Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as his hawkish officials, Mike Pompeio and John Bolton) has been belligerent in his remarks about Tehran. But the Europeans have absolutely no wish to see a military conflict in the Gulf. They also hope to keep the Iran Nuclear Deal alive, despite the US withdrawal, and growing impatience on the part of Iran. The Iranians are now talking about increasing the amount of enriched uranium they produce which is also inflaming the situation. Meanwhile, oil prices have shot up as fears grow that oil supplies could be hit; it would take very little to close the narrow Straits of Hormuz, through which so much of the world’s hydrocarbons pass. The United Nations has been adding its voice to appeals for calm, but alas the UN is a weakened force on the world stage these days, thanks largely to Washington’s hostility and some of the organisation’s own shortcomings. The European Union needs to exercise its diplomatic clout, though that is itself being undermined by the British government’s pursuit of Brexit.

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Iran, Islam and Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd April, 2019

Iran-Islam-and-Democracy--653x1024Contemporary Iran is much maligned and little understood in the West, especially in Washington, where the Trump administration (like several of its predecessors) views Iran as the devil incarnate. Of course, the Islamic Republic returns the compliment by frequently calling the United States the Great Satan. Each country has good reason to object to some aspects of the society and government found in the other. Yet international relations would be much smoother, and the world safer, if both made a greater effort to work out what makes the other tick. Hence the great value of Ali M. Ansari’s monumental Iran, Islam and Democracy (Gingko, £30/$44.95). Through his close examination of the leadership records of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani in particular, the author presents a penetrating view of the complexities and tensions within Iranian politics, far different from the two-dimensional picture proffered by Donald Trump or Binyamin Netanyahu.

The very name “Islamic Republic” illustrates a contradiction at the heart of the system in Iran. Republics — particularly those influenced by French or indeed American revolutionary thought — are inherently bottom-up societies in the sense that ultimate authority derives from the people. But religious societies in contrast are usually top-down. For much of Iran’s history a patrimonial shah or king was in charge, with a firm hand on the driving wheel, and even after the last shah was overthrown in 1979, a new top-down type of authority was imposed, by the Ayatollah Khomeini and since his death, Ayatollah Khamenei. This new authority has the added status of being in principle God-given and it is significant that the spiritual Leader of Iran takes precedence over the elected President, even when the latter has clearly been the Leader’s intellectual superior (not something one could say about Ahmadinejad).

There is an ongoing dialectic between conservatives and reformists within Iranian society and one of the most stimulating parts of this significant book is an extended examination of the record of and expectations regarding the comparatively “liberal” Mohammad Khatami (previously published as a separate volume, now supplemented with additional and more recent texts). Just as conservatives in the country’s religious hierarchy sometimes exaggerate the “threat” of reformist politicians and intellectuals — periodically leading to the closure of allegedly offensive newspapers and magazines — so the West has often put undue faith in the ability of reformists and in particular the Green Movement to affect rapid change. Things move slowly in Iran, where the ousting of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 still rankles. But even revolutions evolve with time. And it seems clear that if the outside world wants Iran to become more “normal” in its internal and external behaviour, then engagement rather than confonrtation is likely to produce better results.

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Bolsonaro Betrays the Palestinians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th December, 2018

46CF24F3-46D3-4B98-89F9-3FCE0752290FNext week, Jair Bolsonaro will take over as President of Brazil. But already this tough-talking right-winger is setting the cat among the pigeons. At a meeting today with Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the announcement was made that Brazil will follow the US lead by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is despite the fact that there is an international consensus that until there is a final status agreement for Jerusalem — which both the Israelis and Palestinians want to have as their capital — no such move should be made. Until 1967, Jerusalem was divided between predominantly Arab East and Jewish West, but after the Six Day War, Israel occupied the eastern sector and since then has conducted a policy of ethnic cleansing to reduce the Palestinian population and make Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish Stage of Israel. Bolsonaro’s decision on the Embassy will enrage many Brazilians, who traditionally have had good relations with the Palestinians and have supported their quest for full statehood. But this will not bother the man who clearly wants to establish himself as the Donald Trump of South America — loud-mouthed, bigoted and against every progressive group from LGBT activists to environmentalists. In the traditionally left-wing state of Ceará in Brazil’s impoverished north east, where I am writing this, people are bracing themselves for some tough knocks in the year ahead.

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What Hope for Palestine?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th September, 2018

Netanyahu TrumpOn the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Donald Trump met Binyamin Netanyahu for a friendly chat. The relationship between the United States and Israel remains as close as it has ever been. President Trump did say in his trademark casual way that he thought he liked the idea of a two-state solution to the Middle East impasse. But his actions so far have done everything to undermine that goal. First there was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the almost universal convention that until the final status of Jerusalem has been agreed, the Holy City should not be acknowledged as Israel’s capital. The PLO Office in Washington was ordered closed and bilateral relations between the US and Palestine downgraded. Then came the swingeing cuts to US funding for UNWRA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees as well as the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving millions of people — many already on the breadline — destitute. No wonder that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that the Americans are no longer a credible mediator.

Israe; Palestine separation wallThe Netanyahu government, meanwhile, was quick to announce that any future Palestinian state will be a “state-minus”. It won’t be allowed to be in charge of its own defence and security, as Tel Aviv intends to keep control of things militarily right up to the Jordanian border. So in other words, the Occupation would continue in all but name. Moreover, the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in contravention to international law, means that there is no viable Palestinian state left any more. The best that can be hoped for is a few little bantustans within an apartheid system. Anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” in the Israel/Palestine context today needs to study the Nation State law recently passed in the Israeli Knesset. Non-Jews were de facto discriminated against within Israel before the passing of the law, but now that discrimination is officially sanctioned. As the USA under Trump is not going to do anything significant to stop the ongoing deterioration of the situation for Palestinians, it is time for the European Union to step up to the plate and become the Middle East mediator, with economic as well as political pressure on Israel to change its ways. Given Britain’s historical responsibility for mandate-era Palestine, the UK ought to be in the forefront of such action, though that is unlikely so long as Theresa May’s Conservatives are in power. However, one ray of sunshine in the otherwise cloudy landscape is that the Labour Party this week called for the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine following a similar move by the Liberal Democrats last year.

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Entebbe *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th June, 2018

ENT_LD_011216_05434.NEFThe Israeli raid on Entebbe airport in July 1976 is often hailed as a great tactical success in what would later become known as the War on Terror. The vast majority of the hostages who had been on an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris were rescued unharmed (a significant number having already been released by their Palestinian and revolutionary German captors), and only one Israeli commando died — a brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as it happens. What is often not mentioned is that 36 Ugandan soldiers were killed, as collateral damage; no wonder the country’s dictator Idi Amin was annoyed. It would have been very easy to have made a gung-ho Hollywood movie about the events surrounding Operation Thunderbolt, as it was dubbed, as others have indeed done previously, but to his great credit, Brazilian director José Padilha takes a much more nuanced approach, highlighting the ambiguities and contradictions within people’s characters as well as within the Israel-Palestine conflict itself. Imaginative use of dramatic dance sequences by the Batsheva Dance Company and pulsing music by Rodrigo Amarante really help pump up the tension. Though the discussions in the Israeli Cabinet — a real power-play between Yitzak Rabin and Shimon Peres — the verisimilude of much of the action is heightened by characters speaking in their own language (sub-titled) — Arabic, German, Hebrew and French. The underlying message is that in the end everyone lost, as fighting can never be a permanent substitute for negotiated peace. And as a caption screened at the very end of the film, in silence, says, 42 years later, no meaningful negotiations are happening.

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Nuls Points for Israel on Naqba Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th May, 2018

Gaza protestsSome Israelis may still be celebrating their Eurovision Song Contest win at the weekend, but as Palestinians today mark the 70th anniversary of the Naqba or Catastrophe that sent an estimated 700,000 people fleeing from their ancestral homes, the mood should be one of respectful mourning on both sides of the Gaza border fence. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and many hundreds wounded as Israeli forces have fired live ammunition at Palestinian protesters. Arab youths who see little hope for their future living in the blockaded Gaza Strip have been mown down in their prime with a callousness that demonstrates just what little value the Israeli Defense Force and government put on Palestinian lives. One can criticise Hamas for encouraging action along the heavily fortified border — indeed, the British government has done just that — but the real blame for the ongoing massacre rests firmly with the Israeli state. Tensions have been inflamed by President Trump’s disastrous decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, adding insult to injury for those Palestinians living under occupation in the eastern part of the city by sending his daughter Ivanka to do the honours at the temporary embassy compound yesterday, as if she were opening a garden fete. The final status of Jerusalem is something that still has to be settled, but by unilaterally declaring the city to be Israel’s undivided capital, Binyamin Netanyahu has guaranteed the anger, even hatred, of hundreds of millions of Muslims (and many Christians, as well as liberal Jews) around the world. Israel is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation now, but for Palestinians the legacy of their dispossession is a bitter one. Today in London and in many other cities there will be demonstrations and vigils to mark Naqba Day. These should be matched not just by words of condemnation for the disproportionate Israeli actions (as is happening) but also with sanctions of some kind. Israel is literally getting away with murder, and in doing so undermines its own legitimacy as a self-styled Western nation in the heart of the Middle East..

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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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The Wrong Christmas Present

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd December, 2015

Ron DermerThe Israeli Ambassadot to the United States, Ron Dermer, is sending out Christmas presents in his host country. Nothing unusual about that, one might think, given that the US has been Israel’s staunchest ally for decades and is the major impediment to the recognition of the State of Palestine. But these are not ordinary Christmas presents; they are all products deliberately sourced from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967. To add insult to injury Ambassador Dermer refers to the West Bank products as coming from Judeia and Samaria, which is how those supporting a Greater Israel incorporating the Palestinian West Bank designate the area. Mr Dermer says his gesture is in deliberate defiance of the international Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign organised by some in the Palestinian solidarity movement. The EU, to its credit, recently insisted that all products from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories must be labelled as such, so consumers could make their own mind up whether they wish to buy them.

Israeli settlementAmbassador Dermer is no stranger to controversy. A close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he arranged for Netanyahu to speak to the US Congress behind the Obama administration’s back. He doubtless thinks he is being clever with his Christmas present gesture, whereas what in fact he has done has been to underline the arrogance of the Israeli occupation, with its constant use of brutality, intimidation and humiliation against the Palestinians. But the tide is not running in the direction Mr Dermer and similar Greater Israel fanatics want. Yesterday, Greece became the latest country to agree to recognise the State of Palestine, by a unanimous vote in the Greek parliament. Almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations have now done so. By continuing the occupation and building ever more illegal settlements Israel is losing the friends it once had in the international community. And with people like Ron Dermer in key diplomatic positions it will soon have no friends at all.

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Time to Boycott Israel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th August, 2014

BDSFor years I have resisted calls to boycott Israel — not least in the field of academic exchanges — on the grounds that constructive engagement had a better chance of delivering an equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as fitting in better with my Quaker beliefs against violence and confrontation. However, the time has come to  accept that engagement has not worked. The Israeli government has continued to allow the expansion of illegal settlements on land stolen from the Palestinians. Some Fascist Israeli occupies, who prefer to describe themselves by the euphemism “settlers”, continue to torment their Palestinian neighbours, uproot their olive trees and are complicit in the establishment of what can only be described as an apartheid state. And then there is the latest pitiless onslaught on Gaza, in which nearly 2000 Palestinians have been killed, including several hundred children. I deplore and condemn the rockets fired into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups. But what the IDF has been doing over the past month is not just disproportionate as a response, it is criminal. I look forward to the day when Bibi Netanyahu and his colleagues are arraigned before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israel has repeatedly violated both the Geneva and Hague Conventions in international law, but now it deserves to face charges of war crimes. Moreover, remember Israel is a democracy, not a dictatorship, which is why the Israeli public who voted for Netanyahu, Lieberman and worse need to face the music too. Boycott Israel now, on all fronts, as happened successfully with racist apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Do not go on holiday to Israel, sunning on the beaches of Tel Aviv or Eilat, while ignoring the injustices being carried out against Palestinians out of your sight. Do not buy Israeli produce of any kind, not just from the illegal settlements. Make the message loud and clear: you can no longer act with impunity, Israel, and until you make a just settlement with the Palestinians, withdraw from the West Bank and lift the siege on Gaza, you shall be an international outcast, a pariah state, and deservedly so.

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Israel: Get Back to the Table!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014

JF speaking at LI CongressKerry NetanyahuThis afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American  Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.

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