Taking the Heat Off Israel: Why The NYT Obsesses Over Campus Debates

Once again, The New York Times is taking up the issue of divestment debates on college campuses, subjecting readers to yet another discussion of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and how the boycott movement affects student feelings.

For the third time in as many months, the Times has published a prominently displayed article on the subject. The latest is titled “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities;” it appears on page 1 of the print edition and notes that many minority organizations are now supporting Palestinian rights and this “drives a wedge between many Jewish and minority students.”

It is difficult to understand why the Times gives such play to this story, which rehashes material from earlier ones centered on debates at UCLA and Stanford, but all the articles take aim at the divestment effort. The previous ones attempted to connect the boycott movement (known as BDS for boycott, divestment and sanctions) with anti-Semitism; this one tells us that the movement is divisive.

Each of the stories is notable for avoiding the substance of the campus debates. In the latest article, for instance, we learn only that students are objecting to “what they see as Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians” and that “they have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group.”

Readers would never know that students are motivated by the facts on the ground: the brutality of the occupation, the horrific attacks on Gaza, and a racist system that a South African jurist recently called “infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”

The Times obscures these facts in its daily reports from Israel and in its discussions of BDS, focusing instead on abstractions and political maneuverings. It attempts to change the subject from the very real Israeli oppression of Palestinians to talk of campus strife over the issue.

Meanwhile, it ignores another, more pernicious, BDS debate unfolding in the legislative bodies from Congress to state assemblies and senates. In these halls, Israel supporters are promoting attempts to outlaw and rein in BDS.

The U.S. House and Senate recently passed amendments authorizing negotiators for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership bill to push for efforts that would normalize trade with Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (even though these have been declared illegal under international law), effectively erase the boundaries between the West Bank and Israel and punish companies that resist collaboration with the occupation.

The House amendment openly identifies BDS as a target, saying that negotiators should discourage “politically motivated efforts to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.” One observer has noted that some of the language in the amendments is identical to that in an Israeli bill adopted in 2011.

State legislatures, such as those in Tennessee and Indiana, are taking aim at BDS, with bills declaring that the movement is anti-Semitic and requiring state pension funds to withdraw money from companies that boycott Israel. The Tennessee bill (and the Congressional amendment) includes passages taken directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2014 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There is something askew here: The Times finds the BDS debate newsworthy when it takes place on college campuses but not worth mentioning when it shows up in legislative bodies, even at the federal level. It may be that such coverage would bring inconvenient facts to light—Israeli breaches of international law, for instance, and European restrictions on trade with settlements.

We can trace a link from Israel to lobbyists in the United States and from the lobbyists to the halls of Congress and state legislatures. It appears to connect also with The New York Times, where we find some of the familiar techniques for protecting Israel in play: avoidance and diversion.

Thus Times readers, uninformed about the full extent of Israeli atrocities in the occupied Palestinian territories (and within Israel proper), are directed away from the facts on the ground. They are sidetracked into discussions of anti-Semitism or divisiveness, all part of an effort to take the heat off Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Filed under: Campus BDS Tagged: Campus BDS, Israel, Israel Lobby, New York Times, Palestine, TTIP

Conservatives: How bad is it for Muslims?

Islamicate - 11 May, 2015 - 00:42

As with the rest of Europe, it seems the UK is also veering to the right. The re-appointment of the Conservatives isn’t exactly a shock nor are we in the dark about what they intend to do for the next five years, although it leaves a rather uncomfortable realisation that there are so many people who feel no regard for those visiting food banks or unable to meet the demands of the most basic living standards.

Yet dissonance with wider society means that the concerns of vocal Muslim commentators will return to those things that have no significant impact on the lives of ordinary British Muslims. The damaging obsession British Muslims have with foreign policy means that the reason and solution to everything is always predicated on it – even where the narrative of extremists such as ISIS has moved on and has nothing to do with British policies – it is this warped obsession that feeds into nearly everything we do or speak about in the political realm. In fact, it only makes sense if we assume that the only understanding of the role of the faithful is to completely disregard their own needs and what God might want from them and act as commissions for Muslims in other lands. Yet there is nothing in revelation or the prophetic life that would even remotely imply this, in fact everything is actually to the contrary. And after having set such a tone, to then appropriate the language of inclusion, commonality or citizenship with wider British society becomes farcical.

There are increasingly large numbers of Muslims who are quite jaded with the current state of affairs, whether it is our take on religion, politics or societal interaction. Our neglect of revelation and a deep commitment to unravel its layered and nuanced guidance rather than merely scream about its primacy has meant that we neglect divine providence: “And do not be like those who were given the book, a period of time passed so their hearts became hardened.” (Quran 57:16) Invariably, to neglect divine guidance will mean that our progress shall be hampered, our efforts fruitless, and our aspirations unfulfilled.

There are those who speak of the UK being an incredibly difficult place to practice one’s faith; such sentiment is ridiculous. For one who simply wishes to offer prayer, give charity, fast, recite the book of God, frequent the places of prayer, exhort righteousness and call to Abrahamic monotheism, earn a living and raise their children in peace then the UK is a gift from God. For those who pseudo religiously appropriate the language of power, who desire authority and dominance as some inherent right – living in a democracy as a minority means that if wider society doesn’t relate to your aspirations, then at some point you’ll despondently realise you won’t get very far.

From the diverse sorts of believers I meet these days there seems to be a sense of dejection amongst those politically active (or once active) in the religious community. It is understandable that many remain apathetic to political processes and politicians, often put down to the futility of engagement, which usually follows with a number of examples, from the case of Babar Ahmed, Schedule 7, the Prevent program to the relatively recent CTS (counter terrorism and security) bill. But this narrow focus portrays faith-based political engagement as extremely shallow and centred merely on matters of security. Politically, the needs of the Muslim community will be most likely be met where those needs somewhat mirror issues of concern with the majority of the country; so getting somewhere on a matter such as civil liberties would require a section of wider society also sharing that concern – and to think that it currently reflects the concerns, expectations and aspirations of even 1% of the wider population is wishful thinking. Whilst rhetoric mixed with religious terms might arouse the passions of some Muslims, the political naivety is worrying.

So engendered has this narrative become that many fail to even recognise when things have gone wrong often deeming those who highlight it as sellouts and menaces. This is the narrative that is driving current political activity, and even where our articulations are logically problematic we remain completely oblivious to the glaring problems they cause, from the way they position Muslims in society to the damaging way in which they betray the richness and profundity of the shari’ah.

Amongst the problems is the incessant scaremongering Muslims are internally privy to which would have you believe the only matters of importance are those pertaining to civil liberties. There are many reasons for this, amongst them is that people who are scared make good supporters. So with the new parliament, it is inevitable that the scaremongering shall resume, either by concentrating on the Prevent strategy or a resurfacing Snoopers Charter. And even where vocal rhetoricians restrict issues of relevance to these two, their efforts are palpably pointless since Muslims effectively hold no political clout whatsoever, and when they attempt to do something it tends to make the situation worse. The most recent example is one that was so badly conceptualised that it made them look like extremist sympathisers; incongruously, in place of bringing the security services to account CAGE managed to provide the argument for harsher measures and rally the public to mandate them. For the wider Muslim community, there were ramifications with a greater impact: CAGE, speaking as a Muslim-cum-quasi-human rights organisation inadvertently made it look like Muslims were more concerned with the rights of extremists who’d eventually join ISIS than the security of the country and its citizens. In speaking as Muslims with a veneer of some form of representativeness, they discussed Emzawi not as the malign extremist he is according to orthodoxy theology and western sensibilities – both of which are important variables in the context – but with an empathetic undertone that inferred some sense of affinity. Awkwardly, the cultural dissonance went further awry by describing Emzawi as once ‘beautiful’ – really not the type of adjective one might, or should, use in the context. It was an unfortunate case of the type of insularity we’d rather not have seep into the public realm, an urban concoction of misapplied linguistic cultural capital and misplaced religiosity – “he was a beautiful akhi, you know.”

But beyond this example, there is an increasing trend for rights campaigners to represent Muslims in the public realm by veering into religion and becoming political spokespersons for a religious community. One of the main problems of such an affair is that by their nature rights activists tend to be adversarial, view things in a bleak way, and fail to consider wider political and social issues beyond infringements on human rights. Whilst there must be a group of Muslims who continue to challenge increasingly draconian laws, when that challenge takes on an ideological slant or where it is presented, even by implication, as being Muslim political sentiment we paint ourselves as being one-trick ponies. We have seen this time and again, most recently with advocacy groups such as MEND who infer that most of our political woes will be resolved by focusing on Islamophobia.

The reality is that Muslims are rather more in need of a robust NHS, decent state schooling, and an effective social welfare system. Given that the majority of Muslims come from working-class backgrounds with many exhibiting some sort of welfare dependency, how can we expect confident and vibrant expressions of faith and religious practice when the majority are facing public services being cut, the bedroom tax, possible cuts to child support and tax credits, and unaffordable housing?

If we’re to look at the next parliament objectively, there doesn’t seem to be a major threat to Islam – but there certainly is to the interests of the people. The vast majority of Britons are not bankers and city traders, Russian oligarchs and media tycoons, all of whom have been benefitting handsomely from the previous government, but normal people trying to earn a living and live out some sort of meaningful existence. Getting over the exaggerated depictions of the Tories as some sort of anti-Christ out to get Muslims, Labour’s Yvette Cooper would have treated the Muslim community no differently to Theresa May, in fact there are some indications she would have been rather more contemptuous. To the probable delight of many Muslims and advocacy groups, the Conservatives have said that Islamophobia will be made a reportable offence that is monitored by the police, and Cameron had pledged that zabiha slaughtering will be protected – something that will certainly please the many Muslims who absurdly reduce Islam to what they eat.

Despite the trepidation felt by some, a Conservative government does not warrant dejection or fear. For those of faith it should be exciting to think that there’s a lot of work to do, from organising ourselves more efficiently to asking pertinent questions about who leads us and represents the faithful. Who do we look to for our faith and the meaningful expressions we require to live in an increasingly sophisticated world? Just as Labour are now going back to the drawing board, we need to start at the beginning for a fresh and stimulating narrative that offers a politics of hope and not despair, one driven by faith that adds value rather than simply deprecates the status quo.

We must ask the glaring questions: are we simply a make up of various ethnic groups or Britons who care about our country and its future? The west versus Islam narrative flies in the face of Quranic theology: when Musaylamah the false prophet sought to make such a distinction of territory the Messenger of God nobly replied with the Quran, reflecting the sentiments of Moses: “The Earth belongs to God and He shall inherit it to whom he wills.” The Prophet’s application of the verse intimates that for the believer to turn away from a sense of commitment or obligation from the green lands of the British Islands to the sand dunes of Arabia is to assume that parts of the Earth actually belongs to specific people or that it is melanin that partially dictates belonging. The light of God is neither of East or West (see Quran 24:35), in fact “wherever you turn you shall find the face of God.” (Quran 2:115)

Not only must Muslims interrogate their sense of belonging and commitment to the people they live amongst, but more importantly, rather than assume things are bad for the faithful – of course there’s always room for improvement – God tells us: “Be thankful to God: whoever gives thanks benefits his own soul, and as for those who are thankless – God is self-sufficient, worthy of all praise.” (Quran 31:12) They must manifest rububiyyah (God as ultimate Lord) in its most simplest form by glorifying the Most High with hamd (praise) and shukr (thanks) for the liberty to live as believers, manifest their faith, offer prayer and invite others to godliness, piety, and a worshipful existence.

“If you are thankful, I shall give you more…” (Quran 14:7)

We are indeed in need of more. All praise is due to God, Lord of hosts.

Germany: Four Arrested Over Plot To Attack Muslims And Asylum Seekers

Loon Watch - 10 May, 2015 - 15:07



Prosecutors said that three men and one woman were accused of founding a far-right group and procuring explosives.

They added that a previously unknown group, the “Old Schools Society”, had been planning to attack mosques and hostels for asylum seekers.

The suspects were arrested in raids across five German states involving some 250 investigators.

“In the search, pyrotechnics with large explosive power and further pieces of evidence were confiscated,” said the prosecutor’s office in a statement.

Read the entire article…

Picking up the pieces from Thursday’s disaster

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 May, 2015 - 14:35

As anyone who reads the news will know, last Thursday there was a general election here and on Friday morning we learned that the Tories had gained an absolute majority of the seats, which means we have a Tory-only government without a Lib Dem coalition. The Lib Dems lost all but 8 of their seats (there is a full list of MPs who lost their seats at Wikipedia here); they are left with only one seat in London (Carshalton and Wallington) and none in their former south-western heartland. The Scottish National Party won all but three seats in Scotland, the Lib Dems, Labour and Tories being left with one seat each. The Tories now intend another £12m of public service cuts and have already earmarked the Access to Work scheme, which assists disabled people in finding work (so, it’s not an out-of-work benefit), for cuts; they also intend to press ahead with boundary changes which, according to the Telegraph, could “lock Labour out of power for a decades (sic)”, and to extending state surveillance powers, both of which they were unable to do while in coalition. They are also committed to a referendum on leaving the EU by 2017 and to abolishing the Human Rights Act. (More: Looking for Blue Sky, Lenin’s Tomb, Islamicate.)

There’s no doubting that this was a right-wing result: people keep repeating that the Tories ‘only’ won 36.9% of the vote, but forget that UKIP won 12.6% despite that translating only into one seat because of their wide distribution of votes. That’s a total of 49.5% of the vote, and that’s UK-wide — in England and Wales the figure would have been well over half (UKIP got around 10%, sometimes more, in several west Welsh seats although they won none). So, at least in England, there is now a clear democratic mandate for at least a referendum. David Cameron says he is in favour of remaining in a “reformed EU”, but we all know that the reforms are not going to happen. He is likely to pitch up with a series of “transitional demands” (meaning ludicrous ones) which he knows the other major EU states will reject, then go home and say “he tried but failed” to reform the EU. There are firm economic and social reasons for staying in, but supporters of the EU have a huge fight on their hands, especially given the numerical strength of UKIP, which could (depending on the credibility of its next leader, which could well be Douglas Carswell) attract more Tory defectors. Those demanding withdrawal must know that they will not have the consent of the people of Scotland or even Wales, however decisive the result in England.

The Tories won this with the help of major failings by both the Labour party and Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems’ failures I have already mentioned on here, as our local MP in Kingston and Surbiton was a Lib Dem until the last Parliament. Now, we have a Tory who was elected with 39.2% of the vote; Ed Davey’s result fell 15.3% to 34.5%. Not a total collapse, and the Tory (James Berry) gained by only 2.7%, but he won and the Lib Dems lost anyway. Labour’s vote went up 5.1% to 14.5% and the Greens also increased to nearly 4% from less than 1% last time. UKIP’s vote went up by 4.8% to 7.3%. This shows that the Lib Dems’ tactic of threatening voters “Labour cannot win here” does not work if their sitting MP has lost the trust of his voters. In some areas, like Cambridge and Norwich South, Labour took Lib Dem seats in middle-class provincial areas, which shows that they indeed can win if they make the effort. (In other areas, particularly in the south-west, there was a decisive rightward shift to both the Tories and UKIP, not a split progressive vote, which is perhaps a legacy of Cameron’s “we’re a rich country” response to the 2014 floods.)

As with before the election, the Lib Dems and their friends in the media claim they have no regrets and do not admit that they did anything wrong. For example, their former leader Menzies Campbell, who lost the seat of North East Fife to a Scottish Nationalist, said in a TV interview this morning that he did not regret going into the coalition “in the national interest” and mouthed the usual nonsense about clearing up the mess Labour made. Simon Hughes, who lost the seat in south-east London he had held since the 1980s, blamed the voters, saying “people were voting Labour because they wanted to get of a Tory government. They got rid of the MP, and ended up with a Tory government.” (In his case, however, they elected a Labour MP, as did two constituencies in north London.) Simon Hughes held an inner-city seat that should have been Labour for 30 years, and his is another case of years of hard work building up the trust of local people being thrown away for five years enjoying the privileges of office. They seem to think they made personal sacrifices, when what they sacrificed was public services and the needs of poor and disabled people.

As for Labour, it seems the timidity that has been their hallmark since the days of Kinnock has proven their undoing. Both in power and in opposition, Labour has always been cowardly when dealing with powerful actors, whether it’s the Tory media or an angry American president on the warpath. They only display a bit of muscle when there is a powerless, unpopular enemy on the floor to kick, often a recalcitrant left-winger in a local party somewhere. When the Daily Mail manufactured a scandal in 2006 about the low numbers of ‘foreign criminals’ being deported after completing their sentences, the Home Office put out a dragnet that caught many people who had lived in the UK a long time (often long enough to apply for citizenship) and who had already served their sentences, which were often for minor crimes. Labour had 13 years in office to reform the electoral system and ownership and control of the media. They did neither, because they were one of the two entrenched interests that benefited (sometimes) from First Past the Post, and because the Sun then supported them. This is why they ended up competing against an almost entirely hostile press and broadcast media in 2015.

I saw an article warning about the “delusions of the defeated”, one of which is to conclude that the party “isn’t left-wing enough”, harking back to the early 1980s Labour party which took away precisely this lesson from the defeat of 1979, and were defeated even more soundly (with a bit of help from the Social Democratic Party defectors) in 1983. The problem is that defending the last Labour government’s economic record or the public services they didn’t destroy is not left-wing; New Labour ran a mostly centre-right government. It’s not a question that they weren’t left-wing or right-wing enough; they were not courageous or forthright enough. They did not challenge the prevailing myth that Labour left the economy in a shambles; they allowed themselves to be strong-armed into accepting an economic strait-jacket; they dithered on the matter of a coalition with the SNP, which they could have resolved by insisting that there would be no referendum on independence in the next Parliament. (The SNP when in power in Scotland is not that left-wing, something they could also have stressed.) Exposing the lies peddled by the BNP, some of them given credence by the popular press, was key to sinking that party; the same must be done with UKIP’s tabloid-friendly lies. The next leader does not have to be a left-winger; he or she has to have a backbone.

An issue which has been given some attention since the election is that there may be another vote on whether fox hunting with hounds should be legalised. While I do not support re-legalising, it does not come close to the importance of preventing further welfare, disability or legal aid cuts, the privatising of the NHS, the abolition of the Human Rights Act, to name but a few threats we are now faced with. The Tories are not guaranteed to get this through Parliament as there were always Tory opponents of fox-hunting (e.g. Alan Clark) and there is a generation of young adults who do not remember when it was legal, and may be more concerned about the disruption hunts caused, as well as the danger to animals other than foxes (the turning point last time was when the hunt killed someone’s cat in an Essex village). So by all means write letters to your MP if he or she is a Tory (the others will most likely vote against), but don’t let it distract you from the big issues. Human beings, after all, aren’t vermin.

The Human Rights Act is something we have a fight on our hands to preserve. Again, this will not be a walk-over for the Tories as they have some MPs left who are not securocrats or Little Englanders, such as Dominic Grieve (former attorney general, member for Beaconsfield) and David Davis (for Haltemprice and Howden in east Yorkshire); they are likely to be the older, long-serving ones who associate the European project with keeping the peace in Europe. If we win this time, we can expect this to come back in the next, or next-but-one, Tory-dominated parliament as the old guard retire and the Tory party and press blame the HRA for everything they cannot do. (See earlier entry for why the HRA is important and why the arguments against it are unsound and heavily based on appeals to racism and white privilege, and this one on why the Magna Carta is no substitute. Abolishing it in Scotland would be a more complicated matter than in England.)

Why did the Tories win? Did years of campaigning against the Bedroom Tax, of highlighting the suffering caused to people, especially chronically ill and disabled people, by the coalition’s social security cuts, to say nothing of the young people who cannot find stable or meaningful work and cannot get housing, have no effect on people? The truth is it probably didn’t, partly because the public has been subjected to a drip-feed of propaganda about the billions lost through ‘fraud and error’, the need to ‘make savings’ to ‘fix Labour’s mess’, news reports and entire TV series about people living high on the hog on benefits (large families being housed in expensive London town-houses at public expense and so on, which would not be happening if the council houses had not been sold off), and this has been in the papers and on TV and the supposedly impartial BBC (fearing a licence fee cut) goes along with it rather than challenging it.

However, it seems the majority in Middle England really do not know (or think they don’t know) anyone affected by the cuts; their children aren’t the ones paying huge rents in tenancies that could end any time, or living in mouldy/damp/rat-infested properties and threatened with eviction if they complain (particularly outside London; there was more of a shift to Labour in the cities). And when you tell people that there is real suffering, they shrug: life isn’t fair; you only know one side of the story; it’s just the way of the world. The platitudes we all heard from adults when we were children when we said their decisions weren’t fair. The number of people who are doing OK, whether thanks to the coalition’s policies or not, clearly outweighs those who are suffering. However much we explain that living and working with disability costs money, most people will not ‘get it’ unless it affects them or their families directly, and in some cases (but not others) people’s generosity makes up for the lack of state support. And the threat of a “SNP chokehold” on a minority Labour government without the option of a Lib Dem coalition, however baseless that fear, may have driven many swing voters into the Tory camp.

The Tories themselves, it has to be stressed, really don’t give a toss. In Saturday’s Daily Mail, Max Hastings brushed away the evidence of impoverishment. “Privately, especially after watching those awful TV debates — obsessed with food banks, welfare claimants and the NHS — I feared the worst.” (Later on, he does call for the party to “present themselves as standard-bearers for a fair and decent capitalism, not the smash-and-grab kind”, but that’s always tomorrow for the Tories, never today.) David Cameron especially does not care about disabled people who are survivors; he appears to resent them, and answers any plea about the impoverishment of disabled people and their families by reminding them of Ivan. Iain Duncan Smith answers such pleas with a snigger. Some are too wealthy to care, and for some it’s all a game.

The Tories have played the ‘England card’, with the help of a partly partisan and partly sycophantic or cowed media, and won. This means that, for the next five years at least, there will be no let-up on welfare or disability support cuts, no proportional representation and no reform of the housing market. Preventing the repeal of the HRA, exit from the EU and the re-legalisation of fox hunting remain possible; we must also be vigilant for voter suppression, a common tactic of the American right who know that making it difficult to vote benefits them, and support whatever makes voting easier in future, such as making election day a public holiday. The Tories are committed to maintaining the United Kingdom and some of them are committed to dragging us out of the EU; however, they must realise that they cannot do both, as Scotland will not consent to an exit from the EU and, likely, neither will Wales. Even the Mail on Sunday today conceded that most people in the UK do not in fact want to exit, although around 18% are undecided. However, an English vote to leave the EU followed by an illegal secession by Scotland could have dire and bloody consequences, something I believe that many Tories (and some others) would not go out of their way to avoid. Anyone thinking of moving to Scotland to get away from Tory rule should bear that in mind.

Image sources: Wikimedia. 2010 map public domain. 2015 map uploaded to Wikipedia by Italay90 and re-coloured by Cryptographic.2014, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike International 4.0 Licence.

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