I am not an American citizen and never will be, so I will never have the chance to vote in a US presidential election. But that does not stop me — like so much of the British political class — following US presidential contests with fascination. Or fascinated horror, might be more truthful. The horror is partly because of the obscene amount of money spent in these quadrennial campaigns; I see nothing to celebrate in the fact that 2016 will probably see the first US$2 billion dollar contest. Even worse is the quality of the rival candidates and their political discourse. Not surprisingly, I lean towards the Democrats rather than towards the Republicans (though northern liberal Democrats, rather than die-hard southern ones, I should stress). Nothing in the world would persuade me to back that chump Trump, or indeed any of his rivals for the Republican nomination. But the Democrats’ choice this year fails to inspire me. I was quite taken with Bernie Sanders and have loved the way that he has blown apart age-related prejudice. He’s radical on many issues and quite international in many ways. But he is so American, and so very, very wrong (in my view) when it comes to gun control, which he reportedly largely opposes. Poor President Obama has done his best to awaken the US public to the inherent dangers of adhering to the constitutional right to bear arms, but with as little success as a drugs counselor trying to get a heroin addict off his fixes. Sanders isn’t even trying. Which I suppose makes Hillary Clinton a preferable choice, though her pledge to be an even greater friend to the State of Israel, despite its egregious violation of human rights and international law in Occupied Palestine, makes her pretty hard to stomach, too. So, in short I probably couldn’t vote for either of them. And I’m just glad that as a European, I don’t need to. Some say that because of globalisation, everyone around the world is becoming the same. But I feel that on the contrary, the Atlantic divide between the United States and Europe is getting ever wider, and it’s probably best that it stays that way.
Posts Tagged ‘Israel’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st January, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th January, 2016
Today is the first of what is expected to be an annual event: the Global Day of Support for Palestinian Rights. In London, this was marked by a seminar this afternoon at the P21 Gallery in Camden, “Targeting Dissent: Israel’s Crackdown on Palestinian Citizens”, organised by Middle East Monitor. The plight of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is increasingly well-known in Europe, including Britain, but less familiar is the situation of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel. They make up about 20 per cent of the population but only own about 3 per cent of the land, and although they can vote and enjoy many other civil rights they are not completely equal citizens of the Jewish state, particularly when it comes to property and treatment in the Courts. At this afternoon’s event we heard from an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Yousef Jabareen, who said that Ministers of Israel’s ruling coalition are rarely in the chamber when Arab members speak and attempts over the years to get the concept of equality enshrined in the basic law of human rights have been rebuffed. The law professor, Durgham Saif, highlighted the situation of Bedouin in the Negev desert, and pointed out that while Palestinians have no right of return to their historic homeland Israel has let in hundreds of thousands of Russians, many of whom are not even Jews. The journalist Ben White cited a litany of ways that Israel has suppressed Palestinian rights over he decades, while the NUS’s Black Students Office Malia Bouattia spoke of the way that pro-Palestinian activists in this country sometimes get caught up in police and security services’ operations against radicalisation. The event was chaired by LibDem peer, Baroness (Meral) Hussein-Ece.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th January, 2016
The chilling pictures published by ISIS/Daesh of a small child thought to be British, proudly brandishing a gun, are symptomatic of a worrying trend by political extremists to try to “normalise” the phenomenon of children bearing arms, supposedly in the defence of a particular cause. I’ve seen examples on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and child soldiers have been a sickening feature of a number of recent civil wars, such as in Uganda, Liberia and Sri Lanka — in some cases with children being forced to kill or else be killed or tortured themselves. You will even find photos of American kids posing with weapons with the encouragement of their gun-loving parents, despite the fact that each year numerous victims, both young and old, get accidentally shot by young children in America. For supporters of the US constitutional right to bear arms, the issue at stake is “freedom”, but I would argue that even in countries where it is legal for adults to own firearms it should be a serious criminal offence to encourage or allow children to handle them. For me, that amounts to child abuse, and a particularly pernicious form of child abuse, for kids often do not have a developed sense of right and wrong, or of the nature of killing and death. I believe that if parents proudly pose with their infants who are brandishing weapons they should be prosecuted for child abuse and sentenced accordingly.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd December, 2015
The 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.
Ambassador 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st December, 2015
Last night I was at the National Liberal Club for a meeting organised by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) on Israel and Palestine, addressed by the former British Consul General in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean. Since retiring from the diplomatic service, Sir Vincent has been an eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause, in particular calling for recognition of the State of Palestine as a necessary step on the way to a viable Two State Solution. In summating after Sir Vincent’s talk and a range of often vigorous questions from the audience and proposing a vote of thanks, I said:
A few years ago, I made a documentary in the West Bank which focussed on two young families: a Jewish couple and their small daughter, who had immigrated from Australia because they believed it was God’s will that they should be part of Jewish “re-settlement” of Judea and Samaria, and a Palestinian businessman (and his teacher wife), whose business was basically going down the pan because of the continued Israeli occupation. These two families were physically separated by only a couple of kilometres, yet they were worlds apart and seemingly irreconcilable. The temptation for many of us therefore is to give up on trying to find a peace settlement in the Middle East and just accept the status quo. But as Sir Vincent has said, the status quo in this case is not static; it is dynamic and the movement is going dangerously in the wrong direction, which will ultimately probably lead to catastrophe unless something is done to change it.
One attendee tonight said he could not understand how Liberal Democrats today speak so differently about Israel than Liberals used to when he first joined the Party; at the time, every single Liberal MP was a member of the Liberal Friends of Israel. The answer to that query is contained in one word: occupation. Nearly 50 years of often brutal occupation, coupled with ever increasing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, has shifted liberal opinions radically. I know that because it is a journey I have made myslf. As a teenager I was a keen supporter of Israel, thought the kibbutzim movement was fantastic and when Arab states attacked Israel I was out in the street protesting. But what has happened since 1967, with the persistent violations by Israel of the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law, has made me a passionate champion of justice for the Palestinians. That must include recognition of the Palestinian state (as 130 countries have already done). There can be no true negotiations between parties as unequal as Israel (the occupying power) and the Arab people of the occupied territories.
Britain has a moral duty to further this cause, both for historic reasons (as the mandatory power of Palestine from the end of the First World War until 1948) and because of its position on the UN Security Council. The Obama administration appears to have given up hope in trying to promote a settlement, so as Sir Vincent has argued, Britain and other EU countries should take a lead. The two state solution is dying, indeed it is almost dead. But we must make a last, determined effort to resuscitate it before it is too late, in the interest of both the Palestinians, who suffer so much injustice and humiliation on a daily basis, and of Israelis, who understandably desire to live in security.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th November, 2015
Earlier this week I was honoured to be elected the new Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, which aims to increase awareness and understanding among Liberal Democrats about issues relating to Palestine and to champion the recognition of Palestinian statehood. I follow in the distinguished footsteps of my former Oxford Oriental Institute fellow student John McHugo, who was recently appointed one of Party leader Tim Farron’s two advisors on the Middle East. Like John, I have spent a great deal of time in the region, in my case mainly as a writer and broadcaster, including commentating on Middle Eastern issues on TV channels from the area.
British public attitudes towards Palestine and Israel have shifted quite dramatically over the past few decades. When I was a schoolboy, Israel was seen as a heroic little infant state battling for its own survival, experimenting with new forms of collective society and spearheading new technology in an otherwise under-developed part of the world. But almost half of century of illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967, coupled with the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza and disproportionate military action against the Gaza Strip have soured the perception of Israel. I deplore Gazan rocket attacks on Israel and the recent spate of knife and other attacks on Israeli citizens but these should not obscure the fact that Israel is in breach of international law in its occupation, the related settlement activity (which continues unabated) and the daily instances of human rights abuses and humiliations committed against Palestinians. There has also been an unpleasant recent rise in attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied territories which the Israeli authorities have failed to address adequately.
On the international stage, Palestine has been gaining increased recognition, with the notable exception of Israel’s great ally the United States and most of the EU member states, including Britain. It is high time that Britain also extended recognition to Palestine and brought greater pressure on the state of Israel to abide by international law. Israeli settlement activity is in danger of making any two-state solution, to which in principle the West is committed, impossible. Israel in principle has so much to offer the Middle East, as does a viable Palestinian state. But there is going to have to be a fundamental shift in attitudes and policies on the ground to make any sort of bright future happen. Otherwise the violence and the hatred will continue and everyone will be the loser.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015
Yesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.
However, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Francois Hollande, Iraq, ISIS, Israel, Kurds, Middle East, Palestine, refugees, Saudi Arabia, Sykes-Picot Agreement, Syria, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015
The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.
Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014
As hundreds of millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, spare more than a thought for the Christians of the Middle East, for many of whom 2014 has been a dire year. Two of the most vibrant Christian communities, in Iraq and Syria, have been traumatised by violent conflict, dispossession and displacement. And in Israel/Palestine, the fount of the faith, Christians are feeling under ever greater pressure to leave. The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza may be over, but its effects are still there, and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims alike continue to suffer from the excesses of the occupying forces and the more extreme fringe of Israeli “settlers”. The symbolic confrontation between Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus and IDF soldiers has become almost ritualistic, but there is nothing joyful in the real gulf that still separates the people in the Holy Land. The rise of ISIS has undoubtedly made things worse across the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, but no one actor in the region’s turmoil is to blame alone. If Christians are to have a future in the Middle East, as they should, along with the other two Abrahamic faiths, then there needs to be a massive change of heart among political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people, and an acknowledgement that what unites us all should be much stronger than that which divides.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th November, 2014
Oman is probably the most low-key of the Gulf states, certainly when compared with the UAE’s Dubai or Qatar. But it is the one with the greatest sense if history; for centuries, Omani merchants were key players across the Indian Ocean and down the East coast of Africa and its navy was a force to be reckoned with. For the first two decades of my life, it was largely a closed country, as the old Sultan was mistrustful of modernity and the West — understandably if one reads how the Omanis were mistreated by the Portuguese and then outmanoeuvred by the British. All that changed in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos took power, and he started to use the country’s oil-wealth to build up its infrastructure, as well as to raise the living standards of his people. Moreover, while some of the other Gulf States have trumpeted with great fanfares their activities in international diplomacy, Oman has done so quietly. It was one of the first Arab states to accept that someone who had been to Israel should not therefore be a prohibited visitor. And today there are efforts underway to further the Western dialogue with giant neighbour Iran, with the US and the EU represented at the highest diplomatic level at talks in Oman’s capital, Muscat (which I left this morning to fly to Salalah). Sultan Qaboos himself is unfortunately detained by medical treatment in Germany, so unable to greet the participants, as I am sure he would have wished. He will also miss National Day celebrations here on 18 November. But when he went on the radio on Wednesday to say he is doing OK, cars full of flag-waving young men took to the streets of Muscat in celebration. Oman may not pass the Westminster-model democracy test, but on so many levels it is an undoubted success, including in its quiet diplomacy. And many Omanis say they like things the way they are — so long as Sultan Qaboos is in charge.