Sunday, 27 November 2011
Friday, 25 November 2011
You may say that all countries get to have a go on these committees and that it doesn't matter. In that case, I would say that we might as well stop pretending that such bodies stand for anything and are worth bothering with, and it is you, not me, who is being cynical - I have a wholly uncynical desire for UN bodies to stand for their self-proclaimed values and to not-elect brutal dictatorships to their human rights committees. Otherwise what is the point of such bodies?
UNESCO's own director-general has herself questioned the efficacy of now appointing Syria to these committees. But then that is the same director-general who recently summoned the Israeli Ambassador to complain about a cartoon in an Israeli newspaper (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/unesco-files-complaint-against-israeli-delegation-over-haaretz-cartoon-1.394889) - the equivalent of summoning the British Ambassador to complain about a cartoon in the Guardian. The one country in the Middle East that actually has a free press and not repressive state media, and she summons its ambassador because of a cartoon in an independent newspaper. Small wonder that, when the ambassador reported back on this, the Israeli Foreign Ministry cabled back: "It seems your work environment is getting more and more reminiscent of 'Animal Farm.'"
Animal Farm indeed, as there is something distinctly Orwellian about progressives' long blindness to the faults of such deeply repressive Middle Eastern regimes as Syria. A blindness that never extended to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, which was elevated from being one important issue (which it is) to being the issue that supposedly trumps all others, with "the Middle East" no longer referring to a region of many countries, but to the situation facing Israel and the Palestinians.
This focus on the Palestinians to the exclusion of all other Middle East issues (including issues that are of equal, if not greater importance) is delusional and helps no-one (including the Palestinians, whose just cause has been exploited by dictators keen to distract their populations from the problems of their own countries in the region). As a delusion, it stands comparison to the blindness of much past progressive opinion to the reality of Stalin's regime in the USSR.
It's a cliche to talk of a world turned upside down. If UNESCO's members can think that it is OK to put Syria on its human rights committee, then it is not the world that is upside down, but the world's way of looking at itself.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
But that isn't "the Finkler Question". The Finkler Question, in the superb novel of that name by Howard Jacobson, is simply intended to be "the Jewish Question". Neither the novel nor any of its protagonists actually asks a question with a question mark at its end, least of all "How loyal should a diaspora Jew be to the state of Israel?".
Being pro-Israeli and pro-American has nothing to do with being 'loyal' to Israel or to the United States; it has to do with being supportive of those countries' stance on various geo-political issues, while also sometimes disagreeing with some policies of each country's government of the day.
Friday, 18 November 2011
The supposedly cash-strapped TfL has somehow managed to find £75 million to enable passengers to swipe their debit and credit cards instead of using an Oyster or paying cash; the London Assembly's Transport Committee (chaired by Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon) has raised a number of concerns about this (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-15777441).
This follows TfL's recent proposal to eventually phase out Oyster cards entirely, in favour of swiping debit and credit cards (or paying cash, which means paying a higher fare). Why? Who wants this to happen? What was the point in spending millions on creating Oyster cards if we are now doing this five minutes later?
One in five people has no debit or credit card. Also, it is one thing for me to be over-charged on my Oyster card and get £6.50 re-funded to it some days later. It would be another thing for someone on a fixed income to be over-charged on their debit card, meaning that the £30 that they were about to withdraw from their current account before a night out is now £20.
Or, quite seriously, if someone had ensured that they'd left £700 in their current account so that the rent can be paid by standing order on Wednesday, before they get paid their salary on Thursday, and then an over-payment to TfL left them a quid or two short of £700 on the day in question, then the rent wouldn't be paid after all and that's disastrous for the person concerned.
No, no, no. Nobody wants this to happen. It's a stupid idea and a waste of money. Maybe people should be allowed to swipe debit or credit cards instead of Oyster if they want to (although is it really worth spending £75 million to enable them to do so?), but only if the existence of the Oyster is absolutely guaranteed for the foreseeable future.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Friday, 11 November 2011
The UK's ambassador to Israel has criticised some of the legislation going through the Knesset as discriminatory and warned that it is corroding the country's image.
Addressing the New Israel Fund's annual human rights award dinner, Matthew Gould said: "I find the widening gaps in Israel, between Jew and Arab, the centre and periphery, rich and poor, upsetting."
Gould, who declared himself a "life-long supporter" of the NIF, added: "Israel's image is corroded when legislation goes through the Knesset that appears to be discriminatory. This contradicts the vision of Israel's founders, who believed in Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, but where all citizens are equal."
He added: "This worries me. It affects the peace process. When the talks started, at Madrid 20 years ago, Israel's Arabs were seen as a bridge between the Jewish state and its neighbours. Now, however, they are alienated and feel second class."
Gould announced that the Foreign Office was providing 40,000 pounds in funding to two NIF-supported organisations, Shatil and the Israel-Arab Task Force in Akko and Lod.
The awards dinner raised 140,000 pounds, an almost 30 percent increase on last year's ceremony.
Also addressing the event was outspoken Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua. He urged diaspora Jews to take part in helping Israelis work towards peace and social justice.
The danger Israel faced today, he said, was "not military. It's existential and what kind of Israel it will be; whether it's a liberal democracy or a binational state that will slide towards apartheid or religious extremism. We and you are brothers and sisters and you must help us".
The recipient of the human rights award was Barbara Epstein, the director of Community Advocacy, for her outstanding work in the area of social and economic justice.
New York-born Epstein said: "It is a great honour for me to receive this award after 18 years in the field of Social and Economic rights."
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, in a video address, praised Epstein. "Barbara's work...has made an impact throughout the entire city. Usually quiet and behind the scenes, Barbara's influence can be felt wherever there are those in need.
"Barbara chose to help those in need fulfil their rights, that sometimes they are not even aware of, and help people resolve problems they cannot manage on their own."
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Martin Bright writes: "It may come as a surprise...that...Nick Clegg has taken such a strong stance on...the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis). The decision by ministers to cancel a civil service recruitment fair organised by Fosis because the organisation had "failed to challenge sufficiently terrorist and extremist ideologies" was a bold one. Mr Clegg's comments to the Community Security Trust in Manchester last week were intended to illustrate his "muscular liberalism"...(It) is important that he has sent a signal that the government will not endorse or fund Fosis events...Mr Clegg has always argued for a policy of engagement with radical Islam but he and others within the party have been keen to dismiss the idea that the Liberal Democrats are anti-Israel. Exactly a year ago, he gave a speech to Lib Dem Friends of Israel which emphasised his party's support for a change in the law of universal jurisdiction."
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
To those who would say "Yes, but Cuba has a marvellous health service", I would say "Yes, but mad monetarists used to say that Pinochet's Chile had a marvellous economy - you can't use either a brilliant health service or a brilliant economy to justify making it illegal to say 'I'd like someone else to be my country's president'". If you spent your student days campaigning for left-wing anti-democrats in Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela, then that is your problem and not mine - even in my youth, I was never that stupid, and my conscience is clear on that score.
Which brings me to the wonderful story of Yoani Sanchez (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15649113). President Castro's daughter went on Twitter to spout drivel for the regime, and Ms Sanchez, a prominent Cuban blogger, went straight back at her with an argument for free speech. To which the junta's First Daughter responded with: "Your focus on tolerance reproduces the old structures of power." That's Cuban socialism for you - tough on tolerance and tough on the causes of tolerance.
As the BBC explains: "The public exchange of views between President Raul Castro's daughter and one of his most outspoken critics is very unusual in communist Cuba, where political opposition is banned and the media is controlled by the state." The BBC also says: "(Internet access) is restricted and available only with government permission - although since 2009 Cubans have been able to use internet cafes, mostly in hotels, and there is a strong black market for internet connections."
A ban on political opposition, state control of the media and restrictions on internet access - and yet, until there is a row involving a Twitter feed and the President's daughter, nobody appears to care. To which my very simple question is: why not?
Monday, 7 November 2011
|June is unavailable for comment|
Saturday, 5 November 2011
JC quotes him as saying in the speech:
"...when individuals and groups express attitudes that are hostile to Jews - Muslim and non-Muslim alike, that cannot be tolerated.
"And we need to be tough and smart in our approach. I've always believed (in) the general principle that you don't win the fight by leaving the ring, you don't walk away from the battlefield and let bigots spread hate unchallenged. You engage, confident in the power of argument, confident in the power of liberal values to defeat prejudice. Liberalism is muscular, it's not passive.
"I will always defend the right of ministers to take the fight to those who wish to divide our society.
"But of course there are limits. Some organisations we have no choice but to shut down. If we (are) concerned enough about their activities we will, as a last resort, consider proscribing them. We won't provide funding for groups who advocate intolerance, and engaging to change is not the same as endorsing.
"To give you an example, we recently cancelled a recruitment fair aimed at increasing applications by Muslims to the civil service. The proposed partner organisation was the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), an umbrella organisation which has failed to challenge sufficiently terrorist and extremist ideologies.
"If ministers want to meet that organisation, setting out strongly the standards we expect, I'm all for it, but am I willing for Her Majesty's Government to treat them as a credible partner? Absolutely not. Engage to change, yes, endorse and fund, no."
The background to this story about Fosis is at: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/57198/theresa-may-blocks-islam-group-jobs-event. Obviously, one supports measures to encourage black and minority ethnic people (Muslims very much included) to apply to join the civil service - that's not the issue. The issue, as Mr Clegg says, is that government will not spend our taxes funding and endorsing "an umbrella organisation which has failed to challenge sufficiently terrorist and extremist ideologies," be that organisation Jewish, Muslim, Christian or anything else.
Friday, 4 November 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
"The deputy prime minister will tell the CST's Manchester dinner that it's "profoundly disturbing" that some wish to harm the community with vandalism and physical attacks. "Not everyone outside the community understands that it is normal for small children to be perfectly comfortable with men on walkie-talkies guarding their Hebrew classes. Or synagogues having CCTV, or major events involving airport style security," he will tell the gathering hours after visiting a Jewish school in the region.
"If I'm honest, I would like to put the CST out of business. We all crave a time when none of this is needed. But, for now, you provide a hugely important service. Not just for the Jewish community - I know you do a lot of work to help other faith groups tackle hate crime too."
"During his address, the Liberal Democrat leader will also say that he "never fails to be inspired by the Jewish community" from the "depth of your religious traditions" and "rich cultural heritage" to its contribution to life in this country. "Indeed the history of Jews in Britain is, itself, a history of some of the greatest figures in British arts, education, business and politics. And when you look at the Jewish community today it is difficult not to be impressedby your pride in being part of a community that generates so much warmth, kindness and generosity. Your charitable work. Your volunteer networks, people who work tirelessly towards the goal of tikkun olam."
"And referring to the community's "phenomenal capacity to work in coalition: Orthodox, Reform, Liberal, Masorti", he joked: "I'd be grateful for any tips."
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
So what's up with this parking row? I don't know. I haven't read the council papers detailing the proposed new charges. It does seem an awful shame that the West End's varied business leaders are up in arms against the City Council, when Westminster is normally the West End's greatest champion.
If a utility company was imposing these charges while undertaking West End streetworks, the City Council would be livid. Surely there is some way of reaching a compromise? Could people working in the West End not be given parking permits for parts of the City of Westminster? Has the City Council mislaid the carrot that normally goes with its stick? I hope that Westminster soon recovers the negotiating skill that has always been its hallmark.