dinsdag 30 juni 2015

Steunbetuiging van Podemos aan Syriza


Wij staan zij aan zij met het Griekse volk.” Dat zegt de Spaanse politieke partij Podemos in een Engelstalige mededeling, die wij hieronder integraal overnemen.





In view of the situation in Greece, and following the breakdown in the negotiations by the Eurogroup, Podemos wishes to communicate the following:

1.- Last Monday, the Greek government presented a proposal to the Eurogroup which included important concessions and was unanimously welcomed by the lenders as being reasonable and viable. In the following days, however, the international creditors led by the IMF did not accept the Greek government’s proposal to tax the wealthiest sectors of society, restructure the debt and launch an investment plan to revive the economy. Instead, they demanded to raise VAT on basic services and food and required further cuts on pensions and wages. In their effort to demonstrate that there is no alternative to austerity, the creditors only seem to accept the money of the poor, and insist on imposing the same logic and measures that led the country into a humanitarian disaster. The Greek economy is asphyxiated. To keep strangling it is the precise opposite of what must be done.

2.- Facing such blackmail and extortion, the Greek government has reacted to the ultimatum in an exemplary manner: by calling on the people to decide their own future in a democratic and sovereign way. Unlike the Spanish governments of 2011 and 2012, the Greek government has refused to violate the popular mandate derived from the January election. All the attempts at coercing, intimidating and influencing this vote by unelected powers, especially by the European Central Bank -which is willing to suffocate the Greek financial system to influence the outcome of the referendum-, constitute a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the democratic principle. We say that Europe without democracy is not Europe: all democrats should join their voices in denouncing these intolerable interferences and pressures. Democracy is incompatible with letting unelected powers govern and decide for us. It is democracy what is at stake.

3- With their intransigence, the creditors have demonstrated that they have no interest at all in solving the Greek debt crisis; their aim is rather to subject and overthrow a democratically elected government so as to prove that there is no alternative to the politics of austerity. Their blindness is such that they are willing to put at risk the integrity and the stability of the financial system and the European project itself, exposing them to speculative attacks whose price will ultimately be paid also by the citizens of other countries. We will say it once and again: they will be the ones to blame, they will be responsible for the consequences of this disaster.

4- Syriza did not create the tremendous economic crisis that affects Greece. It was the governments of New Democracy and PASOK, the friends of our PP and PSOE, who falsified data and accounts, surrendered the sovereignty of the country to the Troika, and handed Syriza an economic and social catastrophe that is necessary and urgent to reverse.

5.- Many international actors have already distanced themselves from the dogmatism of the creditors. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have expressed their solidarity with the Greek people in their defense of the democratic principle. We demand that the Spanish Government and the European institutions respect the sovereignty and dignity of the Greek people, and that they consequently guarantee that the referendum takes place in conditions of freedom and complete normality. The democratic will and the fundamental rights of the Greek people, which have been systematically attacked during the long years of austerity, must be respected.

There are two contradictory fields in Europe: austerity and democracy, the government of the people or the government of the market and its unelected powers. We stand firm on the side of democracy. We stand firm with the Greek people.

vrijdag 12 juni 2015

US officials consider nuclear strikes against Russia


U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, talks at a press conference July 31, 2014, Gaziantep, Turkey.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski/Released)

By Niles Williamson

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is meeting today at the headquarters of the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany with two dozen US military commanders and European diplomats to discuss how to escalate their economic and military campaign against Russia. They will assess the impact of current economic sanctions, as well as NATO’s strategy of exploiting the crisis in eastern Ukraine to deploy ever-greater numbers of troops and military equipment to Eastern Europe, threatening Russia with war.

A US defense official told Reuters that the main purpose of the meeting was to “assess and strategize on how the United States and key allies should think about heightened tensions with Russia over the past year.” The official also said Carter was open to providing the Ukrainian regime with lethal weapons, a proposal which had been put forward earlier in the year.

Most provocatively, a report published by the Associated Press yesterday reports that the Pentagon has been actively considering the use of nuclear missiles against military targets inside Russia, in response to what it alleges are violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Russia denies US claims that it has violated the INF by flight-testing ground-launched cruise missiles with a prohibited range.

Three options being considered by the Pentagon are the placement of anti-missile defenses in Europe aimed at shooting Russian missiles out of the sky; a “counterforce” option that would involve pre-emptive non-nuclear strikes on Russia military sites; and finally, “countervailing strike capabilities,” involving the pre-emptive deployment of nuclear missiles against targets inside Russia.

The AP states: “The options go so far as one implied—but not stated explicitly—that would improve the ability of US nuclear weapons to destroy military targets on Russian territory.” In other words, the US is actively preparing nuclear war against Russia.

Robert Scher, one of Carter’s nuclear policy aides, told Congress in April that the deployment of “counterforce” measures would mean “we could go about and actually attack that missile where it is in Russia.”

According to other Pentagon officials, this option would entail the deployment of ground-launched cruise missiles throughout Europe.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Skewers told AP, “All the options under consideration are designed to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from their violation.”

The criminality and recklessness of the foreign policy of Washington and its NATO allies is staggering. A pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russian forces, many of them near populated areas, could claim millions of lives in seconds and lead to a nuclear war that would obliterate humanity. Even assuming that the US officials threatening Russia do not actually want such an outcome, however, and that they are only trying to intimidate Moscow, there is a sinister objective logic to such threats.

Nuclear warmongering by US officials immensely heightens the danger of all-out war erupting accidentally, amid escalating military tensions and strategic uncertainty. NATO forces are deploying for military exercises all around Russia, from the Arctic and Baltic Seas to Eastern Europe and the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Regional militaries are all on hair-trigger alerts.

US officials threatening Russia cannot know how the Kremlin will react to such threats. With Moscow concerned about the danger of a sudden NATO strike, Russia is ever more likely to respond to perceived signs of NATO military action by launching its missiles, fearing that otherwise the missiles will be destroyed on the ground. The danger of miscalculations and miscommunications leading to all-out war is immensely heightened.

The statements of Scher and Carter confirm warnings made last year by the WSWS, that NATO’s decision to back a fascist-led putsch in Kiev in February, and to blame Russia without any evidence for shooting down flight MH17, posed the risk of war. “Are you ready for war—including possibly nuclear war—between the United States, Europe, and Russia? That is the question that everyone should be asking him- or herself in light of the developments since the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17,” the WSWS wrote .

In March, Putin stated that he had placed Russian forces, including its nuclear forces, on alert in the aftermath of the Kiev putsch, fearing a NATO attack on Russia. Now the threat of war arising from US policy has been confirmed directly by statements of the US military.

These threats have developed largely behind the backs of the world working class. Workers in the United States, Europe and worldwide have time and again shown their hostility to US wars in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Yet nearly 15 years after these wars began, the world stands on the brink of an even bloodier and more devastating conflict, and the media and ruling elites the world over are hiding the risk of nuclear war.

US President Barack Obama is expected to escalate pressure on Russia at the G7 summit this weekend, pressing European leaders to maintain economic sanctions put in place in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year. The latest outbreak in violence in Ukraine this week, which the US blames on Russia, is to serve as a pretext for continuing the sanctions.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned of a “colossal threat of the resumption of large-scale hostilities by Russian and terrorist forces.” He claimed without proof that 9,000 Russian soldiers are deployed in rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military should be ready for a new offensive by the enemy, as well as a full-scale invasion along the entire border with the Russian Federation,” Poroshenko said. “We must be really prepared for this.” He said the Ukrainian army had at least 50,000 soldiers stationed in the east, prepared to defend the country.

Poroshenko’s remarks came a day after renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kiev forces and Russian-backed separatists resulted in dozens of casualties. This week’s fighting marked the largest breach to date of the cease-fire signed in February.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that Russia believed the previous day’s hostilities had been provoked by Kiev to influence upcoming discussions at the G7 summit this weekend and the EU summit in Brussels at the end of the month. “These provocative actions are organized by Ukraine’s military forces, and we are concerned with that,” he stated.

Each side blamed the other for initiating fighting in Marinka, approximately nine miles west of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. Yuriy Biryukov, an adviser to Poroshenko, reported on Thursday that five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the fighting, and another 39 wounded. Eduard Basurin, deputy defense minister and spokesman for the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), told Interfax that 16 rebel fighters and five civilians had been killed.

Ukrainian forces also fired artillery at the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday. Shells landed in the southwest districts of Kirovsky and Petrovsky, killing 6 people and wounding at least 90 others. The city’s Sokol market was severely damaged, with several rows of shops burned to the ground.

Responding to Wednesday’s developments, members of the fascistic Right Sector militia have been called to mobilize for battle. Andrey Stempitsky, commander of the militia’s paramilitary battalion, posted a message on Facebook calling on those who went home during the cease-fire to “return to their combat units.” He warned that the Right Sector would “wage war, ignoring the truce devotees.”

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 5 June 2015, and was republished with permission.

maandag 18 mei 2015

Aalsmeer: vastgeroest in een monistische politieke cultuur?



 Bloemenveiling FloraHolland. Foto: Mediabank I amsterdam

Vandaag trad waarnemend burgemeester Jeroen Nobel (PvdA) aan in de ruim 30.000 inwoners tellende Nederlandse gemeente Aalsmeer. De gemeente verwierf wereldbekendheid door de bloementeelt en vooral de bloemenveiling, de grootste ter wereld. Recent was burgemeester Jobke Vonk-Veder (CDA), die de gemeente als onbestuurbaar had bestempeld, voortijdig afgetreden. Waarnemend burgemeester Nobel kreeg van Commissaris van de Koning Johan Remkes (VVD) een opdracht mee die kort samengevat luidt: onderzoek hoe de huidige [verziekte] Aalsmeerse bestuurscultuur kon ontstaan, en initieer een traject gericht op verbetering.

Wie het woord 'bestuurscultuur' googelt krijgt snel in de gaten dat er in meer Nederlandse gemeenten wat schort. Om er maar enkele te noemen: Amsterdam, Maasdriel, Zoetermeer, Den Bosch, Den Haag, Zutphen, Roermond, Leiden, Oldenzaal, Utrecht, … Nu de landelijke overheid de afgelopen jaren steeds meer overheidstaken heeft gedecentraliseerd moeten burgers meer dan ooit kunnen rekenen op een volwassen lokaal bestuur dat zijn opdracht op een kwalitatief goed niveau kan vervullen, met sterke bestuurders en een zelfbewuste gemeenteraad die op hoofdlijnen aanstuurt en scherp controleert.

Leidt de wet Dualisering van 2002 tot instabiliteit?


Waarom rommelt het binnen veel Nederlandse gemeenten? Heeft dualisering wat te maken met de politieke instabiliteit in gemeenteland? De wet Dualisering Gemeentebestuur van 2002 veranderde de verhouding tussen gemeenteraad en college. De raad moest kaders stellen voor het beleid, het college kreeg als taak dat beleid uit te voeren en het was aan de raad om daar toezicht op te houden. Wethouders waren niet langer lid van de gemeenteraad. Raadsleden zouden minder moeten vergaderen, meer tijd krijgen voor volksvertegenwoordigende taken, en konden beschikken over instrumenten als enquêterecht, fractieondersteuning en ambtelijke ondersteuning.

Het proces van dualisering verloopt in veel gemeenten blijkbaar erg moeizaam, en de wet heeft tot veel kritiek geleid. Maar uit een uitgebreid evaluatieonderzoek van bestuurskundige Merel de Groot van de Universiteit Twente blijkt dat die kritiek onterecht is. Om de dualisering te evalueren is het van belang te kijken naar het feitelijk verloop van gemeentelijke besluitvormingsprocessen en het feitelijk gedrag van raadsleden en wethouders. Tijdens een symposium op 11 april 2012 dat ter gelegenheid van de 10e verjaardag van de wet werd georganiseerd door het Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties werden daar een aantal behartenswaardige uitspraken over gedaan.

Minder dominante wethouders, maar veel colleges blijven de baas spelen


Volgens prof. mr. J.W.M. Engels van de Universiteit Leiden heeft de dualisering geleid tot minder dominantie van wethouders op het politieke gebeuren. Vooral hun greep op de eigen fractie is verminderd. Voor de dualisering hadden wethouders volop ruimte voor gecontroleerde coalitiepolitiek door besluiten voor te koken en de burgemeester politiek buitenspel te zetten. Sommige colleges opereren nog te defensief richting raad en focussen te sterk op de competentieverdeling. De raad wordt bijvoorbeeld overvoerd met leesvoer en zoetgehouden met nutteloze informatiebijeenkomsten, foute cursussen en ceremoniële werkbezoeken, terwijl de wezenlijke informatie vaak te lang of zelfs volledig wordt achtergehouden. Blijkbaar is de ambitie van veel colleges nog gericht op het behouden van de politieke leiding, aldus Engels.

In het kader van de dualisering moet de raad het meeregeren loslaten, sturen op hoofdlijnen (en het begrip 'kaderstellen' vermijden), zich in de controle maximaal laten bijstaan door rekenkamer, accountant en extern onderzoek, en als volksvertegenwoordiging meer in samenspraak met de burgers de politieke agenda bepalen. Voor Engels is het nog onderontwikkelde gevoel voor de nieuwe werkelijkheid op het gebied van integriteit een zorgpunt. Het omgaan met (de schijn van) belangenverstrengeling, vooringenomenheid, geheimhouding en vertrouwelijkheid blijkt nog teveel te steunen op klassieke, of - erger nog - eigen opvattingen over de normativiteiten die daarin van belang zijn, aldus de professor.

Afspiegelingscollege in Leiden, breed college in Maasdriel


Het Leidse D66-raadslid Jeffrey van Haaster liet in de discussie weten dat Leiden in 2010 resoluut afstapte van de monistische wethouderscultuur en een afspiegelingscollege vormde met een uit slechts 16 punten op twee A4-tjes bestaand coalitieakkoord. Buiten de 16 punten zijn de coalitiepartijen vrij, zodat het debat niet in eigen fractie wordt gevoerd maar in de raad, met meer ruimte voor inbreng van de burger. Nu niets tevoren is dichtgetimmerd kunnen coalitie- en oppositieraadsleden schitteren in hun controlerende en volksvertegenwoordigende rol, aldus Van Haaster. Waarnemend burgemeester Dick de Cloe van Maasdriel herkende de punten van Van Haaster en liet weten dat Maasdriel vandaag een breed college kent dat steeds naar meerderheden zoekt.

In Aalsmeer, waar de coalitie steunt op 12 zetels tegen 11, is er - net als in een aantal andere Nederlandse probleemgemeenten - van dualisering nog weinig terecht gekomen. De website van de gemeente Aalsmeer zegt wel dat “de gemeenteraad het beleid bepaalt en controle uitoefent op de uitvoering” en het college het beleid uitvoert, de realiteit is dat B&W van Aalsmeer zowel coalitie als oppositie in hun greep hebben. De CDA-bestuurdersvereniging zegt ijskoud dat de aanwezigheid van de wethouder in de fractievergaderingen belangrijke voordelen heeft, maar als de fractie meeregeert “de Trias Politica gewond” is en “machtsmisbruik op de loer” ligt.

Lokale CDA-voorzitter bepleit suprematie van “de integere elite”

Voor CDA-Aalsmeer voorzitter Hermen de Graaf die Elsevier citeert, is “het duale stelsel” mislukt. Versterking van “de authentiteit van het leiderschap,” terug naar “acceptatie van leiderschap,” weg van “de vetocratie die ons nu terroriseert” en “luisteren naar de integere elite die het beste met de mensheid voor heeft”, dat zijn de griezelige zaken die De Graaf bepleit.

In Aalsmeer wordt het beleid nog altijd bepaald door het college. De wethouders formuleren samen met de coalitiefracties het collegeprogramma. Aalsmeer heeft geen boodschap aan de wet Dualisering. De raad mag vragen stellen, zelfs moties indienen, maar het coalitieakkoord wordt uitgevoerd. De raad mag meepraten over de programmabegroting en de voorjaarsnota, maar het beleid ligt vast en wordt te vuur en te zwaard verdedigd door de coalitiefracties.

Ziedaar de Aalsmeerse bestuurscultuur. Vastgeroest in een achterhaald monistische politiek model.

*)  In Nederland wordt de burgemeester aanbevolen door de gemeenteraad, voorgedragen door de minister van binnenlandse zaken en benoemd door de regering
**) Elsevier is een uiterst rechts ogeoriënteerd opinieblad, en zowat de spreekbuis van de PVV van Geert Wilders

woensdag 13 mei 2015

The bin Laden assassination and the lies of the “war on terror”


President Barack Obama talks with members of the national security team at the conclusion of one in a series of meetings discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden,
in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is seen on the screen.
Photo: Pete Souza, The White House

by Patrick Martin

The 10,000-word essay by Seymour Hersh on the US killing of Osama bin Laden, published Sunday by the London Review of Books, is a devastating blow to the entire narrative of the US “war on terror,” as it has been elaborated by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

The central thrust of Hersh’s exposure—that the Obama administration systematically lied about the raid by US Navy Seals that killed bin Laden on May 1, 2011—has been rapidly confirmed by other media outlets, including several that are hostile to Hersh and supportive of the White House.

NBC News reported, citing three unnamed sources, two of them in US intelligence, that a “walk in” from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where Osama bin Laden was hiding a year before the US raid, and that the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, a headquarters town for the Pakistani military.

Several Pakistani news outlets reported the name of the former intelligence official who tipped off the CIA about bin Laden, identifying him as former brigadier Usman Khalid of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the Pakistani military intelligence service, who has been moved to the United States and is working with the CIA. They also confirmed that Pakistani officials at the highest level were aware of bin Laden’s presence and identified one intelligence official, Ijaz Shah, as the man who arranged to house bin Laden in Abbottabad, at the direction of then-president Pervez Musharraf.

It has also been revealed that many of the key allegations made by Hersh—the Pakistanis holding bin Laden, the Saudis paying the expenses, the “walk in” providing bin Laden’s location to the CIA, the Pakistani cooperation with the raid by the Navy Seals, the US plan to claim bin Laden had been killed by a drone-fired missile—were previously made by R. J. Hillhouse, a US college professor and blogger on national security issues, in several postings during August 2011. Hillhouse now says that Hersh’s story “has been spot on,” but that she had different sources within the military-intelligence apparatus.

There are continued attempts in the US media to rebut Hersh’s account by focusing on various alleged inconsistencies, and US officials and the White House have denounced the Hersh exposure while refusing to deal with any of its substantive charges. In other words, the military-intelligence apparatus and its media apologists proceed as they always do in response to exposure of US government crimes, with a mixture of stonewalling and character assassination.

Seymour Hersh is a courageous journalist with a record of exposing official crimes, going back to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. He has relatively few resources—above all his reputation for being willing to defy the official media consensus in order to report truthfully. He stands in sharp contrast to a media establishment where every significant report on the national security apparatus is cleared in advance with the government, and where most “exposures” are leaks planned and directed by the military-intelligence apparatus.

After the killing of bin Laden, the American media swallowed the official story without question. No official notice of instruction was required. The newspaper editors and the network executives knew immediately what it was they were not to investigate, and they proceeded accordingly.

The principal response of the media to Hersh’s revelations has been to bury them. After limited coverage on Monday, there was very little further commentary on Tuesday. CNN subordinated any references to the story to a manufactured terror scare over alleged threats posed by the Islamic State to the US “homeland.”

The reaction is itself a reflection of the explosive and far-reaching implications of Hersh’s exposures. The assassination of bin Laden, after all, was proclaimed by the Obama administration as its greatest foreign policy achievement, used to drum up support for the US military and intelligence apparatus and its illegal activities. The entire apparatus of the media, including Hollywood in the form of the CIA propaganda movie Zero Dark Thirty, was mobilized for this purpose. The entire narrative was a monumental fiction.

At issue, moreover, is not just the murder of bin Laden. Indeed, there is little doubt that the US government decided to kill the Al Qaeda leader to forestall a trial at which bin Laden could testify about his longstanding relationship with sections of the Saudi state and US intelligence agencies.

Ever since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, American foreign and domestic policy has been founded on the lie of the “war on terror.” Under that scenario, vicious terrorists attacked America out of the blue, killing nearly 3,000 people, and forcing the US government to go to war against them in response.

This lie required covering up the real origins of the 9/11 attacks, in the CIA recruitment and training of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists—including Osama bin Laden—for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet military occupation. It required covering up the ongoing connections between the US intelligence agencies and Al Qaeda, which have resurfaced again in Libya and Syria, where Al Qaeda forces have been a key element in US-backed operations for “regime change.”

The 9/11 attacks provided the pretext not only for US wars abroad, but for the enormous build-up of police-state powers within the United States: the creation of the Department of Homeland Security; the Pentagon’s Northern Command; the vast expansion of spying on telecommunications and the Internet; and dress rehearsals for military-police dictatorship like the crackdown that followed the Boston Marathon bombing.

All these actions are driven by the deepening social, economic and political crisis of American and world capitalism. It is impossible to maintain democratic forms of rule in a society where a tiny fraction of the population monopolizes virtually all the wealth. But the steady drive towards a dictatorship of the financial oligarchy, directed against the democratic rights of the American people, is passed off as an effort to defend ordinary Americans from the threat of terrorism.

Certain conclusions can be drawn. Lying on a staggering scale is an essential feature of American foreign and domestic policy. There are profound class reasons for this. The fundamental role of the US government is to defend the interests of a rapacious financial aristocracy, a few tens of thousands of the super-rich, while pretending to represent the American people as a whole. Lying is therefore intrinsic to its operation.

The corporate-controlled media plays a central role in this process of mass deception. The government is able to lie on a colossal scale and get away with it, in large measure because of the uncritical parroting of these lies by the television networks and leading “mainstream” newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post .

If the American government and its media accomplices have lied so brazenly about the assassination of bin Laden, absolutely nothing they say about anything can be believed.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 13 May 2015, and was republished with permission.

donderdag 7 mei 2015

Persvrijheid, vandaag de dag een mythe?


Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation, USA; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009
captured at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 30, 2009. Photo: Monika Flueckiger, Flickr

In 1993 riep de Algemene Vergadering van de VN 3 mei uit tot de jaarlijkse Internationale Dag van de Persvrijheid. Dat gebeurde om het belang van persvrijheid te onderstrepen en lidstaten te herinneren aan hun verplichtingen die voortvloeien uit de Universele Verklaring van de Rechten van de Mens (UVRM).

Die UVRM-verplichtingen komen erop neer dat overheden moeten zorgen voor een "orde" die de mensenrechten beschermt. De meest essentiële daarvan zijn: men moet burgers op gelijke wijze behandelen en het recht op vrijheid van mening en meningsuiting vrijwaren.

Frankrijk blokkeert websites die 'terrorisme' uitlokken

Met de aanslag op Charlie Hebdo in Parijs en de schietpartij bij het cultuurcentrum Krudttøndens in Kopenhagen maakte het jaar 2015 voor wat persvrijheid betreft een valse start. Maar het totale beeld is zorgelijk: in ruim een derde van de Europese staten staat de veiligheid van journalisten onder druk. Journalisten in Oekraïne werden vermoord, in Griekenland door de politie aangevallen en in Macedonië met de dood bedreigd. En dichter bij huis: Franse wetgeving voorziet in het blokkeren van websites die [het rekbare begrip] 'terrorisme' uitlokken.

Veelal roepen overheden de nationale veiligheid in. Maar het blijft onduidelijk in welke mate dit overheidsoptreden nodig, proportioneel en onderhevig was aan rechterlijk toezicht.

Misbruik van macht en incompetentie blijven bedekt

In meerderheid blijft laster in Europa strafbaar. Dat belemmert de vrijheid van meningsuiting en leidt tot zelfcensuur. Publieke omroepen moeten afrekenen met bemoeizucht van de politiek. Zelfs landen die van oudsher bekend staan om sterke, onafhankelijke verslaggeving, kennen vandaag een uitzonderlijke mediaconcentratie en een schimmige relatie tussen politieke en media-elites. Journalisten moeten steeds meer strijd leveren om machthebbers rekenschap te laten afleggen.

Het gevaar is duidelijk. Zonder vrije en betrouwbare verslaggeving blijven misbruik van macht en incompetentie bedekt, en een gezonde competitie van ideeën achterwege. Dat gaat ten koste van vooruitgang en pluraliteit, en leidt tot stagnatie en onmacht. Zaken die we in Europa, dat nog altijd moet afrekenen met economische en sociale problemen, kunnen missen als kiespijn.

Een wereldwijd probleem

Maar het probleem doet zich overal ter wereld voor. Het Vlaamse Mondiaal Nieuws (MO*) meldt dat medewerksters Nicaragua, Israel en Gambia werden uitgezet of na bedreiging moesten ontvluchten. Het concludeert: “Als het soort berichtgeving dat MO* brengt - kritische, maar vooral eerlijke verhalen over de impact van lokale en mondiale tendensen op het leven van gewone mensen - al zo bedreigend is dat overheden overgaan tot dit soort drastische maatregelen, dan is er duidelijk iets mis met de democratie, de vrijheid en de mensenrechten in die landen.”

Digitale media moeten adverteerders in de ogen kijken

Blijft de druk op vrije meningsuiting en daarmee op de democratie beperkt tot het nationale niveau? In Nederland is op lokaal en regionaal niveau sprake van teloorgang van de pers, en elders in Europa zal het wel niet veel anders zijn. Onderzoeksjournalistiek is zowat uitgestorven. Nederland kende in 1985 nog 19 uitgevers van regionale kranten, nu nog vier.

Tegelijk zien we de komst van nieuwe digitale media. Die moeten woekeren met de middelen die ze hebben. Nieuws komt meestal rechtstreeks uit de koker van de grote persagentschappen. Zij die niet onderdeel zijn van de traditionele uitgevers leiden een leven dat enkel gevoed wordt door advertentie-inkomsten. Wie wil overleven zal zijn adverteerders - en daarmee vaak “de macht” - in de ogen moeten kijken.

Zorgelijke ontwikkeling

Op lokaal niveau lijdt de vrijheid van meningsuiting misschien nog meer dan op nationaal niveau aan erosie, en zijn de media voor zover nog aanwezig genoopt tot zelfcensuur. Lokale overheden worden net als nationale overheden dus steeds minder in bedwang gehouden door wat in Amerika zo mooi checks and balances heet. En daarmee staan de mensenrechten, waaronder het recht op gelijke behandeling, onder druk. Nu nationale overheden steeds meer zaken overdragen aan het lokaal bestuur is dat een zorgelijke ontwikkeling.

donderdag 30 april 2015

US and Japan tighten military ties in stepped up war drive against China


Japan's Abe Sells Trade Deal to Congress With War Apology - Bloomberg Business

By Nick Beams

US preparations for war against China have been considerably increased with the signing of a military agreement with Japan in Washington on Monday.

The agreement was formalised ahead of tomorrow’s address by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a joint session of the US Congress—the first ever such address by the head of a Japanese government. The significance of the visit and the agreement for US objectives was highlighted by the fact that Obama spent most of Tuesday closeted in talks with Abe ahead of the congressional address.

The agreement allows for greater co-operation between US and Japanese armed forces and increases the likelihood of direct American military intervention should Japan and China come into armed conflict over disputed territory in the East China Sea.

It is in line with last year’s “reinterpretation” of the Japanese constitution by the Abe government which extends the conception of “self-defence” to include joint military action with its allies, particularly the US, should it come under attack.

The “reinterpretation” was the outcome of a concerted push by the United States for Japan to scrap any constitutional restrictions on its military activity. Washington is accelerating its drive to integrate its allies in the Asia-Pacific region into its operations directed against China as part of the “pivot to Asia” of which Japan and Australia form two key foundations.

It also dovetailed with the aims of the right-wing nationalist Abe government to remove the shackles on Japanese military action under the so-called “pacifist clause” of the post-war constitution. Immediately following last year’s “reinterpretation,” Abe delivered an address to the Australian parliament in which he laid out the perspective an increased global role for Japan.

No direct mention of China was made in the statements accompanying the signing of the Washington agreement but there is no doubt it was the target.

A senior US defence official was reported as saying it was a “big deal” and a “very important” moment in the US-Japan alliance before going on to cite an “increasing” threat from China’s ally North Korea. For the US, the North Korean “threat” is a convenient cover for its military measures directed against China.

Establishing a potential trigger for war, the agreement specifically confirmed an earlier US commitment to side with Japan, if necessary by military means, in its conflict with China over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islets in the East China Sea. The dispute over the uninhabited rocky outcrops, which has been on-going for several decades, escalated in 2012 when the Japanese government nationalised them in a clear provocation against China.

Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the US regards them as under Japanese control. Calling the new defence ties an “historic transition,” Kerry said: “Washington’s commitment to Japan’s security remains ironclad and covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands.”

In line with the rising drum beat denouncing its increased “assertiveness” in the region, Kerry issued a threat directed against Chinese activities throughout the region.

We reject any suggestion that freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea and airspace are privileges granted by big states to small ones, subject at the whim and fancy of the big state,” he said.

Echoing his remarks, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida emphasised what he called the “rule of law,” adding that “we cannot let unilateral action to change the status quo be condoned.” In the US interpretation, the “rule of law” means the assertion of its unfettered right to engage in military activity in any part of the world.

China has not imposed any restrictions on the freedom of navigation in the region, nor has it any need to do so given that it contains the sea lanes vital for its economy.

But it is seeking to push back against US military pressure and the continuing daily naval and air operations that underpin the Pentagon’s so-called Air/Sea Battle Plan for all-out war, potentially involving the use of nuclear weapons, directed against the Chinese mainland. One can only imagine the outcry from Washington and the threats of military retaliation that would accompany any equivalent Chinese military action off the coast of San Diego.

In another thinly-veiled reference to China and its growing economic power, Japanese Defence Minister Gen. Nakatani said that since 1997, when defence arrangements were last revised, “the security environment in the United States and Japan has changed dramatically.”

Speaking to the New York Times, Michael J. Green, a senior member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank with close ties to the US military, made clear the far-reaching implications of the agreement.

With China’s growing assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Japan, like a lot of allies, wants to be there for us so we’ll be there for them. It allows the US military to plan Japan in, so that when we turn to them and say, ‘Can you deal with our left flank?’ the Japanese, in principle, now can do that.”

The tighter US-Japanese military arrangements directed again China under the Obama administration’s “pivot” are being accompanied by economic measures, at the forefront of which is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Obama is seeking to secure congressional fast-track authority for the signing of the agreement with Japan and 10 other countries in the region.

The TPP, which will cover countries producing around 40 percent of the world’s economic output, is an integral component of the US drive to re-establish its global economic dominance, which has been undermined over the past three decades.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Obama set out its strategic significance.

If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules in that region. We will be shut out—American businesses and American agriculture,” he said.

The TPP is being promoted as a free trade agreement. It is nothing of the sort. Together with a similar agreement under negotiation with Europe, it is aimed at asserting US global economic primacy.

This was made clear by Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman in an article published in the leading American journal Foreign Affairs last November, the very title of which, “The Strategic Logic of Trade,” made clear that for the US, its economic and military policies are two sides of the same coin.

The aim of Obama’s trade policy, he wrote, was to position the US at “the centre of a web of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

US economic policy has always been directed to expanding its position in global markets and securing access to profitable sources of raw materials and investment outlets. But it was one thing when these objectives were pursued under conditions of economic expansion. Under worsening global economic stagnation since the eruption of the financial crisis in 2008, this struggle now takes place in transformed conditions.

This means that the global battle for markets, profits and resources will increasingly assume military forms, just as it did in the decade of the 1930s, leading to World War II. Now the drive towards a new world war is well underway, with the US-Japan military agreement another major step in that direction.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 29 April 2015, and was republished with permission.

donderdag 16 april 2015

So much for free speech: Southampton University and the pro-Israel lobby


Whose voices are we hearing? Flickr/Farrukh. Some rights reserved.
by Hilary Aked

If our universities can’t stand up to the Israel lobby and uphold free speech, how will the international community ever stand up to the state of Israel and uphold international law?

An academic conference, International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, was due to start this Friday but the University of Southampton - citing spurious ‘health and safety’ concerns - cancelled it, following intense pressure from the pro-Israel lobby. Despite many academics writing to the university expressing their dismay and a petition which garnered wide public support, an application at the High Court yesterday denied organisers a judicial review and the conference has now been postponed indefinitely. While an outrageous affront to freedom of speech, Southampton’s capitulation to external pressure is not hugely surprising. The Israel lobby has a long history of censorship, including in universities, which are no longer bastions of free speech.

In early March a UC Berkeley conference called Censoring Palestine at the University: Free Speech and Academic Freedom at a Crossroads was convened to discuss the apparent escalation in this repressive trend, in the US and beyond. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred in response to heightened criticism of Israel which in turn is a result of the moral outrage generated by three successive Gaza ‘wars’ in six years – wars, Richard Falk observed at Berkeley, better characterised as massacres, so one-sided was the slaughter.

This article seeks to answer two key questions: why is it that universities can be bullied into silence by pro-Israel groups? And why is it that Israel can’t stand to be criticised? In the process it offers a critique not only of Israel and Zionism but also of the neoliberal university.

Palestine/Israel on campus: why universities matter

Universities have long been a key site of concern for the pro-Israel lobby. The idea that the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ receive their education in environments hostile to Israel is compounded by the fear that attitudes acquired in this formative period often persist throughout life. On top of this, trends in the academy are seen as prescient of the future direction of society as a whole. And, just as throughout history progressive movements have emanated from campuses, universities are witnessing a surge Palestine solidarity activism.

Losing the argument at the grassroots, one relatively sophisticated response to this from Israel-advocates has been to facilitate the expansion of ‘Israel studies’. As a means to influence the ideological environment it is a long term strategy and it would be wrong to suggest every academic or student in the field is a mere shill. However, both Israeli think tank the Re’ut Institute and prominent Zionist Lord Weidenfeld have openly stated that supporting the expansion of Israel studies courses is, in their minds at least, one prong of a broader strategy to counter anti-Israel attitudes. Weidenfeld was one of the backers of Israel studies at Sussex University while the subject has been introduced at the universities of Manchester, Oxford and SOAS with the financial support of Trevor Pears, a major donor to the Tory party and Conservative Friends of Israel. In fact a whole institute – the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London - a collaborative project between several universities including KCL and Israel’s Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya was originally conceived as a project explicitly intended to challenge the academic boycott by funder Henry Sweetbaum, who had first offered the money to the LSE.

However, much cruder ways of promoting Zionist perspectives – and silencing pro-Palestinian ones – are also vigorously being pursued. In The Idea of Israel, Ilan Pappe has described this phenomenon in Israel itself, where groups like Im Tirzu, standard-bearer for the hard-right ‘neo-Zionism’ that increasingly dominates centres of power in the country, hound dissenting academics like him out of universities. Scholars who have defended Palestinian rights have faced persecution in many other countries too. South African anti-apartheid and gender justice activist Farid Esask was recently banned from speaking at several French universities about Palestinian rights, on the basis of false charges of anti-Semitism. For daring to back boycott as a legitimate tool to put pressure on Israel, Australian academic Jake Lynch faced a law suit waged by proxy by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law firm known to have enjoyed a close relationship with Israeli intelligence.

In the United States Rabab Abdulhadi was the latest professor to be singled out for demonization by the AMCHA Initiative but long lists of scholars have found themselves on the blacklists of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum (MEF). Student Rights, a similar campus monitoring body in the UK, has both undermined student activism and drawn up a dossier criticising LSE academics who defend Palestinians’ rights. (Notably, Student Rights is a front for the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative think tank which has received funding from the Abstraction Fund. It is thus tied in to the same funding networks as Campus Watch, since MEF also gets most of its money from Abstraction, and both are good examples of what Dr. Deborah Gordon has called ‘the dove-tailing of professional Islamophobia and efforts to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’). Given these McCarthyist witch-hunts, it is no surprise that Prof. Lisa Rofel, speaking at Berkeley, suggested that Palestine/Israel is today what critiquing capitalism was during the Cold War.

These are just a few recent examples. I’ve not mentioned high profile cases like those of Norman Finkelstein or Steven Salaita, or less well known but highly punitive cases in which student activists have been targeted, such as the Irvine 11. Lower level administrative harassment, from creating extra layers of bureaucracy to monitoring and over-policing, is a common experience of student activists, especially Muslim students advocating for Palestine (Imperial for instance, told FOSIS at the last minute that its recent Palestine conference could not be a public event, forcing them to change venue.) Increasingly, attacks are made online anonymously, via websites like HamasOnCampus.org which seeks to demonises Students for Justice in Palestine in the U.S.

Mindful, however, that smears can sometimes backfire, some pro-Israel groups, such as The David Project, an organisation dedicated to promoting Israel on U.S. campuses, has begun stressing softer, normalising, techniques: its Latte Initiative, for example, emphasised building relationships with key ‘influencers’ on campus, as Ali Abunimah has noted. When these strategies fail, though, pro-Israel groups are very willing to turn to so-called ‘lawfare’ initiatives. In the U.S. there has been at least one lawsuit and four complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964, an attempt to criminalise activism for Palestinian human rights. In the U.K., Ronnie Fraser notoriously took the lecturers union, UCU, to an employment tribunal, alleging ‘harassment’. Even when unsuccessful, as all these cases have been, they may still engender future self-censorship by exercising a chilling effect.

The power structure shaping the boundaries of acceptable debate

Any discussion of ‘free speech’ and ‘censorship’ without reference to questions of power is meaningless. The critical feature of the Southampton case was the extraordinary pressure the university came on from above. This included interventions by four Conservative politicians: a letter from ex-treasury minister Mark Hoban MP to university vice chancellor Don Nutbeam, critical comments from Lord Leigh and Caroline Nokes MP and – most alarmingly – a statement from Communities Minister Eric Pickles. Besides the worrying precedent set for academic freedom by government interference in the affairs of an independent higher education institution, this illustrates the power structure shaping what can and cannot be said about Palestine/Israel. At the recent ‘We Believe in Israel’ conference both Michael Gove and Michael Dugher spoke, proudly declaring themselves Zionists. Numerous other frontbenchers from both main parties count themselves active supporters of Israel while a wider pool of elites can be relied upon to line up as allies of the pro-Israel lobby in times of crisis.

So when KCL students voted to back a boycott of Israel, the country’s supporters, notably members of StandWithUs - a transnational body which has received funding from the Israeli government - were able to elicit a statement from London mayor Boris Johnson which they used to undermine the democratic will of the student body. In the US, political theorist Corey Robin noted the same phenomenon when a host of university presidents lined up to condemn the American Studies Association vote to boycott Israel, dubbing it ‘a very elite backlash’. In the UK, before becoming head of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross wrote regularly for the Jerusalem Post, which could have influenced the body’s willingness to advise student unions (which are registered charities) against taking ‘partisan’ positions on this global justice issue.

This is not to say that the Palestinians do not have high profile supporters, for there are indeed some; Baroness Jenny Tongue is one prominent example. However, the majority of the political class are reflexively Zionist while the Palestinians draw most of their support in parliament from backbenchers. It’s also clear that ordinary people overwhelming reject Israel’s belligerence, for – as the chair of pro-Israel lobby group BICOM noted with dismay – last summer around ten times as many letters to MPs were sent supporting the Palestinians than supporting Israel. Their voices, of course, count for less - which is why Spinwatch’s report on BICOM argued that the PR body has concentrated on shoring up elite consensus.

Precisely because concepts like freedom of speech cannot be separated from questions of power, it is crucial to understand the pro-Israel lobby in context. Pro-Israel groups like BICOM, the Board of Deputies (BOD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) enjoy access to elites that advocates of Palestinian rights cannot compete with. The same goes for resources: BICOM, for instance, is funded by billionaire Poju Zabludowicz. This all translates into considerable political influence at the top. (Questions about whether the less than democratic JLC can be said to represent the Jewish community and whether it or the BOD should using its power to lobby for Israel when many Jews do not support Israel’s policies remain unanswered).

One of the most astonishing facts about the Southampton case was a statement by the conference organisers which revealed that the university vice chancellor had not agreed to meet with them, while it was widely reported he had at least one meeting with external pro-Israel groups, including the BOD and JLC, who were calling for the conference to be shut down. (Ben White has noted the hypocrisy of this since the same groups cite ‘academic freedom’ to argue against boycotts, a neat illustration of the way concepts like free speech are deployed strategically rather than applied consistently). Perhaps we should not be surprised, given that Israeli government ministers have directly asked British government ministers to put pressure on universities over support for Palestinians on campus – a fact which might also explain the presence, at a separate meeting about the Southampton conference that included the BOD and four vice-chancellors from Universities UK, of Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould.

Neoliberalisation and the counter-extremism agenda

As well as the huge clout of pro-Israel lobby groups, the reason conference organisers were correct to recognise that the topic they proposed to discuss had been marginalised has much to do with the government and its agenda for universities – the twin pillars of neoliberalism and counter-extremism.

As state-funding is being withdrawn the increased power of external donors allows the likes of Weidenfeld and Pears to shape the syllabus by offering universities pots of money to fund Israel Studies. The threats by ‘at least two major patrons’ of Southampton University, reported to be ‘considering withdrawing their financial support’ because of the conference may well have made up the vice chancellor’s mind. After all, the same formula worked, outside of the university context, at the Tricycle theatre. Meanwhile, the huge emphasis on employability means the university was no doubt alarmed by lawyer Mark Lewis’s threat to look ‘unfavourably’ at CVs sent by Southampton graduates. More generally, the prospect of graduating with 50 grand debt after steady increases in fees likely also acts as a disincentive for students to be politically active - though many still are.

But if neoliberal environments, as universities are fast becoming, are already conducive to depoliticisation, this is especially so where they meet ‘anti-extremism’ discourses of the war on terror. The government’s Prevent policy includes universities in a range of civil society arenas in which it says ‘extremism’ need to be combatted. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which academics warned was a threat to free speech before it was passed in February 2015, made preventing the spread of extremism a statutory duty on universities. This came about in part because a clutch of right wing think tanks such as the Henry Jackson Society (HJS0, aided by the right wing press, have inculcated the idea – despite a distinct lack of compelling evidence – that universities are ‘hotbeds of extremism’. Douglas Murray of the HJS put that very phrase to work in the Daily Express writing about the Southampton conference – also, ludicrously, linking it to the case of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John’ who merely by virtue of having been to Westminster university, has been seized up on evidence that universities are ‘breeding grounds for terrorists’. A Prevent officer was present at a meeting with Birkbeck university officials just before it pulled out of hosting a conference on Islamophobia in December last year, citing – like Southampton University – concerns about potential protests.

Given this enormous pressure on universities to restrict ‘extremist’ speech it is unsurprising that pro-Israel actors have increasingly tried to push pro-Palestinian speech into this category. They’re helped in this endeavour by the fact that the definition of extremism is extremely broad and vague. The chief constable of Greater Manchester Police has explicitly cited pro-Palestinian demonstrations as an example of police uncertainty about how to operationalise the term, which requires them to decide on the spot what is and what is not ‘extremist’. Indeed the word has travelled so far from any connection to violence that Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor used it to refer to a peaceful protest against a speech by deputy Israeli ambassador Tayla Lador-Fresher at the University of Manchester in 2010. ‘Extremism is not just running through these places of education – it is galloping’, Prosor declared. This is not mere rhetoric but has consequences for how police apply the law. Greater Manchester Police - the same force whose head later admitted the concept of extremism was unclear - paid a visit to one of the young people involved in that demonstration, soon after the protest, and involuntarily placed him on the Channel programme, as Arun Kundnani documents in his book The Muslims are Coming!

Red lines, Zionist hegemony and ‘delegitimisation’

Supporters of Israel would rather not be seen as censorious. The fact that, at Southampton and elsewhere, they increasingly have to resort to these tactics, suggests a rupture. Despite the massive power imbalance and the structural factors mitigating against it, voices in defence of Palestinian rights are growing increasingly bold. If, as Douglas Murray suggested in the Express, these voices were only those of ‘fringe weirdos’, they could easily be ignored. However, what we are actually witnessing is a mood-shift in the mainstream: thus censorship, as Ben White has observed, is a sign of weakness and insecurity, a desperate attempt to stop a sea change in opinion, not just among serious scholars but also the wider public. The enormous groundswell of popular condemnation of Israel is finally creating fractures in elite support - even in our attenuated British democracy, in which foreign policy in particular is rarely up for debate.

Though Israel’s military might remains supreme – as we saw last summer when it killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza and destroyed or damaged around 96,000 homes - the ideological aspect of its hegemony is in unprecedented crisis. We are witnessing a slow but profound normative transformation. Because of the effects it has had on the Palestinians, Zionism as a political project has failed to win over hearts and minds. Israel has failed to even maintain the façade of a peace process, making the two state solution patently impossible and inevitably increasing calls for a one state solution, which would entail an end to the Zionist project. However, Colin Leys’ observation, applied to Thatcherism by Tom Mills, equally holds here: ‘for an ideology to be hegemonic, it is not necessary that it be loved. It is merely necessary that it have no serious rival.’ In other words, neutralising the opposition by silencing dissent may yet be enough to ensure Zionist hegemony or at least delay its demise. This insight helps us understand the impulse to censor and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right: ‘more of this will happen as public opinion shifts towards the Palestinians and their long struggle’.

It is also true, as Richard Falk has pointed out, that censorship is a symptom of the increasing difficulty of defending Israel substantively. If the question were ‘what about LGBT rights?’ or ‘why hasn’t Israel made any medical breakthroughs or technical innovations lately?’, the Israel lobby would have all the answers. But questions about why Israel controls the lives and movements of millions of Palestinians without giving them a vote and has done for nearly fifty years; why Israel has over twenty laws which discriminate against non-Jews; or why Israel continues to build settlements and roads for Jews only in occupied territory; these are harder to answer and pro-Israel forces seem to know that any answers they offer are unconvincing; their best bet is to try to stop the questions being asked. But this strategy is not sustainlable.

Anxiety – panic - about Israel’s international standing intensifies censorship even within pro-Israel circles. A senior member of the Board of Deputies recently stepped down from his post due to what Haaretz called a "ban" on criticising Israel. A few weeks ago the Zionist Federation held an event called "Crossing the line: is public criticism of Israel acceptable?" (No prizes for guessing their answer.) Jewish activists were physically removed from the ‘We Believe in Israel’ conference, testament to a truth Anthony Lerman learnt long ago, that Jewish critics of Israel are often treated most harshly. In 2010 Israeli think tank the Reut Institute, in an influential report, came up with a more sophisticated strategy than outright censorship, namely to ‘drive a wedge’ between ‘critics’ and what they called ‘catalysts of delegitimisation’.

The invented concept of ‘delegitimisation’ was at once intended to distinguish mild criticism of certain Israeli policies, which Reut said should be allowed, on the understanding that it has PR benefits, from types or levels of criticism it wanted to ring-fence outside of ‘acceptable’ debate. The exact location of these red lines is elusive and particularly the more fanatical wing of the pro-Israel lobby will often simply used the term in an attempt  to discredit any criticism of Israel, shrilly accusing everyone from Amnesty to the United Nations of ‘delegitimisation’. But where the University of Southampton conference over-stepped the line into ‘delegitimisation’ was by asking questions about the relationship between Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state to legal, moral, egalitarian and democratic principles. In other words, it dared to interrogate Zionism. The ‘Fair Play Campaign Group’ (whose work is concerned with ‘opposing anti-Zionist activity’) was quick to condemn it.

Luke Akehurst, manager of We Believe in Israel, has claimed he is ‘not in the business of telling people what to say’. Strange then, that elsewhere he has declared that when criticism ‘crosses red lines and becomes inappropriate’ it must be stopped. We can all agree that anti-Semitic speech is unacceptable, which is why it is illegal. But why should questioning Zionism be taboo? This implication was the thrust of much of the lobbying against the Southampton conference: a letter sent at the end of last year said the event appeared to ‘surpass the acceptable’; Richard Falk’s contribution was deemed likely to be ‘beyond the limits of reasonable discussion’. Less freedom of expression then, more compulsory Zionism.

Legitimacy, international law and intellectual integrity

While important, the discursive struggle overlooks the reality on the ground. Israel’s advocates focus on ‘winning the communication battle’ and ‘winning the battle of narrative’ and rarely stray beyond the level of discourse. But Israel’s ongoing colonisation and human rights abuses are all too real. One side of the ‘battle’ is seeking to uphold the very concrete rights of human beings in international law. The other is concerned with insisting upon the abstract ‘rights’ of a nation state: Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ and ‘right to exist’. Not even the most ardent defenders of the union, in the last days leading up to the Scottish independence referendum, made the claim that the United Kingdom had a ‘right to exist’, regardless of the wishes of the people in it!

Supporters of Israel are trying to win it legitimacy using illegitimate means, of which censorship is only one strand. Instead, it should be acknowledged that states derive their legitimacy from the extent to which they uphold people’s rights - and lose it when they cease to do so. A Southampton-style conference ‘would not be permissible about another country’, claimed Mark Lewis, while Simon Johnson of the JLC asked ‘What other state…is subjected to such critique?’ The claims echo the ‘what-aboutery’ of many defences of Israel but can be answered by history and international law.

Is Israel unique in facing criticism or practicing censorship? No. Opponents of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor faced similar pressures in countries that were allied to Indonesia: ‘In May 1994, then Philippine President Fidel Ramos, bowing to pressure from Jakarta, tried to ban an international conference on East Timor in Manila and blacklisted Ramos-Horta [the Nobel peace Laureate who would later become president of East Timor]. Later that year, Ramos-Horta was made persona non grata in Thailand and banned from entering Bangkok in 1995 to teach at a diplomacy training program at prestigious Thammasat University’ (I am grateful to Professor Stephen Zunes for pointing to this example). Israel is not special. Power always wants to censor its critics.

The special significance of the Southampton conference was its attempt to restore the primacy of international law, and to judge Israel – and measure its legitimacy - by these universal standards, like any other state. But just as the pro-Israel lobby’s free-speech exceptionalism is eroding freedom of speech, Israel’s exceptionalism in its flouting of international law - (it’s impunity has gone on so long that the phrase ‘illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this’ has become a BBC institution) - is undermining the very laws themselves. The Southampton conference blurb observed that sometimes international law can be ‘the very instrument of rationalisation of violence and suffering.’ As if to prove this, Israeli law firm Shurat HaDin will soon hold a conference apparently geared towards re-writing the Geneva Convention, a novel way to bring Israel’s actions in line with international legal principles.

Though the phrase ‘speaking truth to power’ has been overused, the Southampton University case and the wider litmus test of Palestine/Israel, illustrates the real importance of freedom of speech. But if our centres of so-called intellectualism can’t stand up to the Israel lobby and uphold free speech, how will the international community ever stand up to the state of Israel and uphold international law?

Southampton university’s vice chancellor would do well to heed Edward Said’s words, on intellectual integrity and the question of Palestine: ‘Nothing in my mind is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position that you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political, you want to keep a reputation of being balanced, moderate, objective. Your hope is to remain within the responsible mainstream. For an intellectual, these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence.’

Said noted that these behavioural traits are often encountered in connection with ‘one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it’ but concluded that ‘despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken.’

Hilary Aked is a freelance writer and researcher, qualified journalist and doctoral candidate at the University of Bath. She had worked in the Occupied Territories and is researching the pro-Israel lobby in the UK.

This article first appeared on Open Democracy on 15 April 2015