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Monday, 6 June 2011

Scotland's council of despair

Geoffrey Alderman, with whom I once appeared on Iranian state television, has referred more than once in his writings to the fact that he was circumcised by the doctor who later performed the same operation on Prince Charles. As Herbert Farjeon so nearly put it, this means that I have been on Iranian state television with a man, who was circumcised by a man, who circumcised the Prince of Wales...Anyway, Professor Alderman's latest column is about West Dunbartonshire Council's absurd ban on books produced in Israel. It is, of course, only Israeli books that are being banned. China's occupation of Tibet has not prompted a similar ban on Chinese books. The flow of books from Burma need not, apparently, be interrupted in response to anything that happens over there. Nor, for that matter, are the finest minds in Scottish local government moved to ban books produced in the territory ruled by Hamas, which continues to oppress the Palestinian people of Gaza

Clearly, the council's boycott of Israel is motivated by its concern for human suffering, including in Gaza. And what suffering this is. We are talking, after all, about a place with a relatively low life expectancy, "with high levels of deprivation, low levels of economic activity and a small business base." The population is declining and ageing, with many people being required to subsist on a variety of benefits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, income from tourism is declining, while rates of coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer are all higher than the average. Many children live in a household in which no-one works. It is heart-rending to read of such suffering. Never mind Gaza, I'm talking about life in West Dunbartonshire, from whose corporate plan I have taken all of these grim facts. Perhaps we should send a flotilla? 

Clearly, messing around in foreign policy is the best way for councillors to solve the considerable problems faced by the people of West Dunbartonshire. Perish the thought that residents might prefer the council to sort out a few local problems before it brings peace to the Middle East. I wonder how much it cost to hold the meeting at which councillors spent time passing this absurd boycott motion?


  1. ha ha hilarious blog! Send a flotilla to West Dunbartonshire. Let's start collecting supplies.

  2. Thanks, Richard.

    There are many tragic ironies to this situation.

    One is that West Dunbartonshire Council's actions will do nothing - repeat nothing - to bring security and prosperity to Israelis or Palestinians (especially as their motion doesn't even mention the threats faced by Israelis, but only the problems faced by Palestinians - how one-sided is that?).

    Another is that, at a time of deep economic suffering for the people of West Dunbartonshire, this story has gone all over the world. People who might be thinking of investing there, and creating much-needed jobs, will say "West Dunbartonshire? Oh yeah, that's the place that passed that stupid motion" - which will surely, sadly, make it less likely that anyone will want to invest there. They've done irreparable damage to the international image of their local area.

  3. The "problems" faced by the Palestinians are of illegal occupation by Israel. Until there is justice for the Palestinians, there will be no peace or security for Israel.

    Unless I'm much mistaken, I don't think the population of West Dunbartonshire is facing restrictions on movement, women and children daily indignities at checkpoints and daily raids by the army.

    The reprehensible acts of violence against Israelis by a few nutters shouldn't be allowed to detract from the wider violence perpetrated by a state against an entire people.

  4. Thank you, James. The reprehensible acts of violence to which you refer are not just the actions of "a few nutters"; they are the actions of many groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, the latter of which is the government in Gaza (

    There must be peace, justice and security for Israel AND the Palestinians, not just for one or the other (

    Regarding the West Bank, no less an authority than the CIA reports:

    "The West Bank - the larger of the two areas comprising the Palestinian territories - experienced a high single-digit economic growth rate in 2010 as a result of inflows of donor aid, the Palestinian Authority's (PA) implementation of economic and security reforms, and the easing of some movement and access restrictions by the Israeli Government.

    "Nevertheless, overall standard-of-living measures remain near levels seen prior to the start of the second intifada in 2000. The almost decade-long downturn largely has been a result of Israeli closure policies - a steady increase in movement and access restrictions across the West Bank in response to Israeli security concerns which have disrupted labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, both external and internal.

    "Since 2008, the PA under President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayaad has implemented a largely successful campaign of institutional reforms that has contributed to increased security and economic performance, supported by more than $3 billion in direct foreign donor assistance to the PA's budget since 2007.

    "An easing of some Israeli restrictions on West Bank movement and access since 2008 also has contributed to an uptick in retail activity in larger cities. The biggest impediments to economic improvements in the West Bank remain Palestinians' lack of access to land and resources in Israeli-controlled areas, import and export restrictions, and a high-cost capital structure.

    "Absent robust private sector growth, the PA will continue to rely heavily on donor aid for its budgetary needs."

  5. My point more broadly being - even before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, it did not have peace or security. It's more complicated than it might appear.