Voices of dissent deep inside Myanmar
Posted: 21 May 2010

The underground political group Generation Wave (GW) are documenting the brutality inside Burma:

GW itself was formed after the “Saffron Revolution” in September 2007 when rising fuel prices provoked thousands of monks to take to the streets in protest. Civilians joined the movement, but the military junta cracked down, leaving hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned.
Following the crackdown, a group of protesters, who had been friends since high school, started GW as a way to inspire new activists inside Myanmar. Having analyzed revolutions worldwide and the opposition movement in their country they decided to focus on non-violent resistance.
In two and half years, the group has carried out what they call “action campaigns” almost every week. Their main activities include anti-government graffiti in busy places, handing out pamphlets and writing and distributing political music.
“The youth of Burma have seen so many activists thrown behind bars, they have seen monks killed in the streets, so many are turning their back to the struggle for human rights,” said Min Yan Naing, founder of GW. “Our job and aim is to bring them back and make them feel the responsibility to change our country and better the lives for all Burmese people.”

I salute them.

Starting to look at the torture regime led by London
Posted: 21 May 2010 06:52 AM PDT

What Britain is now doing. Let’s not be under any illusions about a Tory Minister allegedly looking into torture by a previous government – after all, major parties in most democracies usually protect the other from serious investigations into foreign policy issues – but such events aren’t happening in the US or Australia:

The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain’s role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country’s recent history.
It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.
William Hague’s decision follows a series of reports in the Guardian and other media over the last five years about the manner in which British intelligence officers were told they could interrogate terrorism suspects they knew were being tortured, and the way in which that secret policy was used in effect to subcontract torture to overseas intelligence agencies.
There has also been a steady drip of disclosures about the way in which British territory, airspace and facilities have been used during America’s programme of extraordinary rendition and about orders that led to British special forces in Iraq handing over detainees to US forces, despite fears they were to be tortured.
Finally, the British army has been forced to admit that at least eight people died in its custody in Iraq, including a number who were being interrogated using illegal techniques including hooding.
Those who have been most bitterly resisting an inquiry – including a number of senior figures in the last government – may have been dismayed to see the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed, as this maximised the chances of a judicial inquiry being established.
Last autumn the Lib Dems passed a conference resolution calling for an inquiry, while a number of Tory backbenchers have been putting pressure on the leadership to establish an inquiry.
When a more detailed announcement is made, the human rights groups, MPs and lawyers who have been demanding an inquiry will want to ensure that it satisfies their calls for an effective and, as far as possible, transparent investigation.
Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said: “The new government is to be congratulated on this hugely significant announcement, which represents a real break from the past. This investigation must leave no stone unturned.”
Sara MacNeice, terrorism and security campaign manager of Amnesty International UK, said: “We would welcome an inquiry into UK complicity in torture overseas. Any inquiry must be thorough, independent and impartial. The findings should be made public and those responsible for abuses must be held to account.” Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, said the inquiry should have happened long ago. “To restore trust in government, both here and abroad, and to get to the truth the inquiry needs to be deep and broad and as open as possible,” he said.
“It should address in particular who authorised what and when and why, what the relevant legal advice said, and how it related to any change in US practice in 2002 and 2003.”
The inquiry will also need to consider how it can offer immunity from prosecution to witnesses who testify before it.
Although there is little provision in international law for immunity being offered to those who have been complicit in torture, the inquiry may need to reassure some witnesses that they will not incriminate themselves. It may even be that the MI5 officer known as Witness B, currently at the centre of a Scotland Yard investigation, could benefit from an immunity deal. To establish the full truth, the inquiry will need to discover:
• Who authorised the bilateral agreements with the US, signed three weeks after the 9/11 attacks under article V of the North Atlantic treaty, that led to the UK offering logistic support for the CIA’s rendition programme of kidnap and torture.
• Whether any other such bilateral agreements were signed that led to human rights abuses during the so-called war on terror.
• Who drew up, and who authorised, the secret interrogation policy, transmitted in January 2002 to all MI5 and MI6 agents in Afghanistan, telling them they could interrogate people who were being tortured, as long as they did not participate and were not “seen to condone it”.
• How was that policy further developed in mid-2004, why and by whom.
• Which ministers authorised these policies.
• What Downing Street knew about the torture of the British resident Binyam Mohamed, and about the torture in Pakistan and elsewhere of several British citizens suspected of planning terrorist attacks since 2001.
• What the last foreign and home secretaries, David Miliband and Alan Johnson, knew about the UK’s involvement in torture and rendition, what they did – and critically, what they may not have done – in an attempt to bring it to an end.
The inquiry will also be under pressure to publish the interrogation policy as it has stood since mid-2004 – even though Miliband said last year that this could never be done as it would “give succour” to the country’s enemies.
It will also want to examine any drafts of that policy, which could also have been used to govern the conduct of British intelligence officers interrogating detainees held overseas. Also relevant to the inquiry will be the transcripts of a number of court hearings held in camera, including part of the civil proceedings brought on behalf of Mohamed, and the criminal prosecutions of two terrorists. After learning what had been concealed by the use of courtroom secrecy at the trial of a man who lost a number of fingernails after being detained and questioned in Pakistan at the suggestion of British authorities, David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, told the Commons: “I cannot imagine a more obvious case of the outsourcing of torture.”

Liberal Zionism debates what Judaism should be in the 21st century
Posted: 20 May 2010

I’m coming late to this essay but there’s a long piece in the New York Review of Books by Peter Beinart talking about the failure of American Jewish elites and the wider Zionist community to understand the real effects of blind backing for Israel. Arabs are openly loathed and yet liberal, American Jewry is walking away:

In the American Jewish establishment today, the language of liberal Zionism—with its idioms of human rights, equal citizenship, and territorial compromise—has been drained of meaning. It remains the lingua franca in part for generational reasons, because many older American Zionists still see themselves as liberals of a sort. They vote Democratic; they are unmoved by biblical claims to the West Bank; they see average Palestinians as decent people betrayed by bad leaders; and they are secular. They don’t want Jewish organizations to criticize Israel from the left, but neither do they want them to be agents of the Israeli right.
These American Zionists are largely the product of a particular era. Many were shaped by the terrifying days leading up to the Six-Day War, when it appeared that Israel might be overrun, and by the bitter aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when much of the world seemed to turn against the Jewish state. In that crucible, Israel became their Jewish identity, often in conjunction with the Holocaust, which the 1967 and 1973 wars helped make central to American Jewish life. These Jews embraced Zionism before the settler movement became a major force in Israeli politics, before the 1982 Lebanon war, before the first intifada. They fell in love with an Israel that was more secular, less divided, and less shaped by the culture, politics, and theology of occupation. And by downplaying the significance of Avigdor Lieberman, the settlers, and Shas, American Jewish groups allow these older Zionists to continue to identify with that more internally cohesive, more innocent Israel of their youth, an Israel that now only exists in their memories.
But these secular Zionists aren’t reproducing themselves. Their children have no memory of Arab armies massed on Israel’s border and of Israel surviving in part thanks to urgent military assistance from the United States. Instead, they have grown up viewing Israel as a regional hegemon and an occupying power. As a result, they are more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril. Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism. Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake.
To sustain their uncritical brand of Zionism, therefore, America’s Jewish organizations will need to look elsewhere to replenish their ranks. They will need to find young American Jews who have come of age during the West Bank occupation but are not troubled by it. And those young American Jews will come disproportionately from the Orthodox world.
This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.

For a major American publication, relatively strong stuff, if a little late to the party. Sure, Beinart’s essential message is to save liberal Zionism, a belief that Israel is essentially good but has been corrupted by the post-1967 occupation, though it’s a start (and was going to appear initially in the New York Times magazine, apparently).
It’s curious that Beinart relatively accurately details the myopia of the American Zionist establishment (echoed in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, all seemingly incapable and unwilling to address the profound costs of the Nakba and ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza) without really delving deeply into true democracy for the country. Here’s Beinart with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become–and I’m quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here–an “apartheid state.”

What a revealing few sentences. The care for Palestinians is really very secondary to securing his liberal, Zionist pedigree. Beinart is clearly troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but remains torn between allowing all citizens of Israel and Palestine equal rights – something he enjoys in the US – and abiding by his Zionist beliefs.
This internal struggle is something I’m hearing from Jewish students here in New Zealand. Yesterday during a talk at Victoria University in Wellington, a number of young Jews, around 25, were clearly pained about some aspects of Israel’s behaviour but kept on asking how it was possible to be so critical of Israel as a Jew. They talked about the two-state solution and Palestinian rights like they were automatically going to happen soon enough as opposed to the reality of a nation moving in the opposite direction. Such Jews have spent many years hearing pro-Israel propaganda from family and friends but something doesn’t now feel right. They hear and see news about Gaza and occupation and they almost can’t believe Israel is doing such awful things, in their name.
Beinart’s essay is an attempt to almost explain how torn Jews such as himself have become. That’s encouraging and welcome but it simply isn’t enough. Palestinians are under occupation and his major worry seems to be “saving” Zionism from being known solely (as opposed to now?) as a brutal and intolerant ideology.

The non-existent threat posed by a man in his 80s
Posted: 20 May 2010

A strong editorial in Haaretz this week (I’m a few day’s behind on the news, dear readers, due to tramping and speaking around New Zealand) on Israel’s rejection of Noam Chomsky. We’re still waiting for the outcry from the Zionist Diaspora after this blatantly anti-democratic and stupid Israeli move. Deafening silence? That’s a real change from normal proceedings:

By stopping the illustrious American scholar Prof. Noam Chomsky at the Allenby Bridge and barring his entry into Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the government’s outrageous treatment of those with the audacity to criticize its policies has reached new heights. Israel looks like a bully who has been insulted by a superior intellect and is now trying to fight it, arrest it and expel it.
Israel, however, has lost its last remnants of tolerance for anyone who does not join its shrinking chorus of supporters. On the right, but not only there, Chomsky is seen as a deserter, a traitor and an enemy of the people. The details of the incident, as reported by Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass, sound as if they were taken from the theater of the absurd or from some political satire on places and times that have gone down in infamy. The questions that were posed to Chomsky by a border inspector, on orders from his superiors, have to be read and reread to be believed.
One does not have to be an ardent supporter of Chomsky in order to agree with his view that Israel is behaving like South Africa in the 1960s, when it understood that it was an outcast, but thought it could solve the problem with the help of a better public relations campaign.

Some Western Australian Jews shame themselves…again
Posted: 20 May 2010

This site has covered the extensive and global efforts by some Zionist organisations to block the performance of the play Seven Jewish Children. The latest example was in Perth, Western Australia
One of the organisers behind the show sent me the following flyer, handed out by Jewish protestors before the program, in an attempt to demonise Palestinians as potential terrorists. Best kill them off, then:

This is what my contact sent me:

The evening was a resounding success, a full house, an appreciative audience, and a modest contingent of rather sedate protestors. I have attached the propaganda piece they produced to hand out to people in line. What I still find astounding is that they can take offence at [writer Carol] Churchill chastising Zionists for their indifference to Palestinian suffering, yet  I interpret this nonsense as hate speech. Are they not suggesting that it is wrong to kill Jewish children because they are innocent but the children of Gaza are fair targets as mere terrorists in waiting? I am hard pressed to think of another way to judge the juxtaposition of the images of children. It would be an amusing bit of crude propaganda if they were not so damn earnest. Sigh.

Why is Chomsky now warm to Ramallah’s embrace?
Posted: 20 May 2010

Could somebody please explain why Noam Chomsky now appears to be supporting the dictatorial and corrupt Palestinian Authority when only a short while ago he rightly called the body fundamentally corrupt and complicit in selling out the rights of Palestinians?

Why would a leading artist want to perform 10km from occupied territory?
Posted: 20 May 2010

Following this week’s announcement that A-list musician Elvis Costello was cancelling his tour of Israel due to that country’s occupation of Palestine, looks like things are soon to get even more interesting:

In reaction [to the Costello decision], a music industry insider confirmed that the winds could be shifting. The music executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity in light of his ongoing business ties with artists, said that in recent months he had approached more than 15 performing artists with proposals to give concerts in Israel. None had agreed. The contracts offered high levels of compensation. He called them “extreme, big numbers that could match any other gig.”

Dying for the art of reporting in Putin’s lands
Posted: 20 May 2010

Russia in the 21st century has become a largely lawless land, where journalists are especially attacked, harassed and killed for simply do their jobs.
We stand in solidarity with them:

Mikhail Beketov had been warned, but would not stop writing. About dubious land deals. Crooked loans. Under-the-table hush money. All evidence, he argued in his newspaper, of rampant corruption in this Moscow suburb.
“Last spring, I called for the resignation of the city’s leadership,” Mr. Beketov said in one of his final editorials. “A few days later, my automobile was blown up. What is next for me?”
Not long after, he was savagely beaten outside his home and left to bleed in the snow. His fingers were bashed, and three later had to be amputated, as if his assailants had sought to make sure that he would never write another word. He lost a leg. Now 52, he is in a wheelchair, his brain so damaged that he cannot utter a simple sentence.
The police promised a thorough investigation, but barely looked up from their desks. Surveillance videos were ignored. Neighbors were not interviewed. Information about politicians’ displeasure with Mr. Beketov was deemed “unconfirmed,” according to interviews with officials and residents.
Prosecutors, who had repeatedly rejected Mr. Beketov’s pleas for protection, took over the case, but did not seem to accomplish much more. Mr. Beketov’s close colleagues said they were eager to offer insights about who in the government had been stung by his exposés. But no one asked.
Eighteen months later, there have been no arrests.
In retrospect, the violence was an omen, beginning a wave of unsolved attacks and official harassment against journalists, human rights activists and opposition politicians around the region, which includes the Moscow suburbs, but not the city itself. Rarely, if ever, is anyone held responsible.
One editor was beaten in front of his home, and the assailants seized only copies of his articles and other material for the next day’s issue, not his wallet or cellphone. Local officials insisted that he sustained his injuries while drunk.
Another journalist was pummeled by plainclothes police officers after a demonstration. It was all captured on video. Even so, the police released a statement saying that he had hurt himself when he was accidentally pushed by the crowd.
These types of attacks or other means of intimidation, including aggressive efforts by prosecutors to shut down news media outlets or nonprofit groups, serve as an unnerving deterrent. And in a few cases in recent years, the violence in the country has escalated into contract killings. Corruption is widespread in Russia, and government often functions poorly. But most journalists and nonprofit groups shy away from delving deeply into these problems.
The culture of impunity in Russia represents the most glaring example of the country’s inability to establish real laws in the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And this failure radiates throughout society, touching upon ordinary men and women who are trying to carve out lives in the new Russia, but are wary of questioning authority.

The days when the Jewish state saw a reliable ally and friend with white supremacists in South Africa
Posted: 20 May 2010 08:37 PM PDT

An extract (via Mondoweiss) of an amazing new book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
What’s that about Israel “sharing values” with the democratic West?

The Israeli–South African relationship was not only about profit and battlefield bravado, however. After Menachem Begin’s Likud Party came to power in 1977, these economic interests converged with ideological affinities to make the alliance even stronger. Many members of the Likud Party shared with South Africa’s leaders an ideology of minority survivalism that presented the two countries as threatened outposts of European civilization defending their existence against barbarians at the gates.
Indeed, much of Israel’s top brass and Likud Party leadership felt an affinity with South Africa’s white government, and unlike Peres and Rabin they did not feel a need to publicly denounce apartheid while secretly supporting Pretoria. Powerful military figures, such as Ariel Sharon and Rafael (Raful) Eitan, drew inspiration from the political tradition of Revisionist Zionism—a school of thought that favored the use of military force to defend Jewish sovereignty and encouraged settlement of the biblical lands of Greater Israel, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sharon, Eitan, and many of their contemporaries were convinced that both nations faced a fundamentally similar predicament as embattled minorities under siege, fighting for their survival against what they saw as a common terrorist enemy epitomized by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
 The ANC may have never employed indiscriminate violence to the extent that the PLO did, but in the eyes of the generals in Tel Aviv and Pretoria, Mandela and Arafat were one and the same: terrorist leaders who wished to push them into the sea. And for the top brass in both countries, the only possible solution was tight control and overwhelming force.
Foreign Ministry officials in Israel did not always approve of close ties with South Africa, but it was the defense establishments— not the diplomatic corps— that managed the alliance. The military’s dominance was so complete that the Israeli embassy in Pretoria was divided by a wall through which no member of the diplomatic corps was allowed to pass. Only when opponents of apartheid within the Israeli government sought to bring down that wall in the late 1980s did the alliance begin to crumble.

There are rules about what New Zealanders can see over the Middle East
Posted: 20 May 2010 07:32 PM PDT

Malcolm Evans is one of New Zealand’s leading cartoonists (I spent time with him in Auckland earlier in the week.)
He used to be employed by the New Zealand Herald but after drawing a handful of cartoons critical of Israel, such the one below (and note the then editor’s comments alongside), he no longer worked for the paper. Indeed, I’ve been told that not one Israel/Palestine-related cartoon has appeared in the newspaper since 2003:

Welcome to the reality of the Zionist lobby and gutlessness of some in the mainstream media.

See: www.antonyloewenstein.com

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