Saturday, February 28, 2009

Islamic Terminology, Islamic notions, International law and Human Rights

Raphael Israeli, a Professor of Islam at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, writes in the Iconoclast:.

Between states there are treaties, alliances, agreements for peace, cease fire or truce which put an end to conflict, but terrorist groups have been imposing their own terminology and vocabulary, and the rest of the world capitulates and adopts them, much as they are foreign to the accepted international terms. Hamas and Hizbullah have invoked the hudna, a well-defined Islamic term which has antecedents and set rules in Islamic shari’a law. Israel and the rest of the world, have accepted it and forgotten the international rules of discourse, like cease-fire, truce and armistice, which apply to the entire world, save the Muslim terrorist groups. Lately, since even the hudna has seemed too institutionalized to the Hamas, for fear that it might imply, Allah Forbid, an indirect recognition of Israel, they invented a new concept, the tahdi’a, some sort of amorphous, non-binding and temporary truce, and coerced Israel to consider that terminology as a basis for negotiation. And lest anyone miscomprehend the message, they insist that it cannot last more than a year, or one year and a half at the most. And what next? A return to square one? A short respite until they had had the chance to regroup their forces, to absorb new weaponry and then resume their bombardment of border towns of Israel? In other words, while for Israel a cease-fire would serve as a stepping stone for peace and quiet, for the Palestinians it would become a price to pay pending a better preparation of the launching pad for the next assault.

It is clear why the Hamas is using this terminology, which is not a semantic game, but is pregnant with long-term repercussions. It is less clear why should Israel, and others, feel obliged by it and educate the Israeli public to believe that the international affairs of the world are being conducted on that basis. Israel and the world should totally reject this Islamic vocabulary and insist on the use of the accept terms which conform to international law and usage, and have meaning, validity and exit stations. When anyone urges Israel to accept a hudna or a tahdi’a, it should ask for an internationally accepted interpretation of those terms. When the US alliance fights in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, it insists on defeating the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, exactly like in WWII the Allies refused to negotiate any cease-fire with the Axis, short or a total capitulation. Now Israel is asked not only to renounce the total surrender of Hamas, but to accept its alien terminology for negotiation. This is an exaggeration that even the terrorists did not imagine they could achieve in their wildest dreams.

Norm Geras, some time ago, explained what was "wrong" with International law, here:

"(i) Centred on accusations against Israel of war crimes, the reaction of outrage with which this post has been concerned might be thought to have been motivated by a respect for international humanitarian law. The arguments set out above show that that isn't so. The outrage is based rather on a cynicism towards international law which I have posted about before and which consists of treating international law as a mere convenience, something to use rhetorically and polemically when it suits you to do so - but only then. If there are war crimes on both sides of a single conflict and you condemn one side alone as in breach of the law, this is not respect for law; it is an unprincipled politicization of it. The development of international law is an important task for present and future generations but it does not benefit from being abused as a partisan political weapon."

For the umpteenth time on this blog, I will quote in this connection, Michael Ignatieff:

“Global human rights consciousness, moreover, does not necessarily imply that the groups defending human rights actually believe the same things. Many ... espouse the universalist language of human rights but actually use it to defend highly particularist causes: the rights of particular national groups or minorities or classes or persons… The problem is that particularism conflicts with universalism at the point at which one’s commitment to a group leads one to countenance human rights violations towards another group.”

(Ignatieff, Michael, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, 2001 p. 9)

And then, there is this, from Thierry Chervel , publisher of Perlentaucher and

Is this a reassessment of all our values, or a distortion beyond all recognition? In the confrontation with Islamism, the Left has abandoned its principles. In the past it stood for cutting the ties to convention and tradition, but in the case of Islam it reinstates them in the name of multiculturalism. It is proud to have fought for women's rights, but in Islam it tolerates head scarves, arranged marriages, and wife-beating. It once stood for equal rights, now it preaches a right to difference – and thus different rights. It proclaims freedom of speech, but when it comes to Islam it coughs in embarrassment. It once supported gay rights, but now keeps silent about Islam's taboo on homosexuality. The West's long-due process of self-relativisation at the end of the colonial era, which was promoted by postmodernist and structuralist ideas, has led to cultural relativism and the loss of criteria.

Tout se tient, Everything hangs together...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Campus of Shame

Here is the story:

Jewish students at York University in Toronto were forced to take refuge in the Hillel office last Wednesday night as anti-Israel protesters banged on the glass doors, chanting, "Die, bitch, go back to Israel," and "Die, Jew, get the hell off campus." [--]

In the hallway of the student center, students attempting to exit the meeting room were greeted with cries of "Zionism equals racism!" and "Racists off campus!"

A YouTube video called "York University 2009" documents the hallway encounter. Jesse Zimmerman, a student at the university, can be heard declaring, "Zionism does not speak for Jews. Zionism is an embarrassment. Shame on the Zionists."

During the clash in the hallway, Jewish students were singled out and pursued by a mob of more than 100 students. Tepper and the 15-20 other Jewish students escaped upstairs to Hillel's offices, where the situation worsened.

While students sat in the shelter of the Hillel office, listening to the "pounding" from the York Federation of Students office below, demonstrators reached the Hillel office, banging on the glass doors and made it impossible for students to leave. [--]

The students in the Hillel office were evacuated soon after by police escort, amid cries of "Get off our campus" and "Shame on Hillel."

"I have never in my life felt threatened and hated like I did that night," Tepper said.

Ferman, the Hillel president, who was called a "f*****g Jew" and a "dirty Jew" by the protesters, said, "We were basically being held hostage in our own space."

The British blog Harry's Place published a letter from Shalom Lappin to dr. Mamdouh Shoukri, President and Vice Chancellor, York University:

"The fact that the University has not taken up this assault with the students
who launched it, nor acted to reassure the students who they targeted indicates a severe failure on the part of the administration to fulfill its
reponsibility to sustain a campus free of physical violence and harrassment. Several of the Jewish students at York claim that the assault was not an aberration, but part of a general atmosphere of extreme hostility that they have been forced to contend with over an extended period of time. I am in no position to evaluate this assertion. But it seems to me that the administration is obliged to address the grievances of students who feel that they are being victimized, particularly in light of a significant incident which lends some credence to their charge."

In March 2008, I published a post about another incident involving antisemitic vitriol in York Campus.
That story ended by the editorial being withdrawn and apology offered. But the work of such editorials, defamatory and inflaming in intention as well as in their sneering regard to truth and
verifiable information, has already been done. And the results of this assault, this violent contempt for academic civility, freedom to speak without intimidation, freedom to associate without threat to one's well-being, are beginning to yield their evil fruits.

Let's see how these appalling events will be resolved by the University's own administration.


Here is a flashback to a somewhat similar "incident" at Concordia University 2002

Here is a documentary about the event (45 minutes):

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

High minded Antisemitism

Paul Berman on the continually mutating and re-birthing of Jew-hatred across ideologies and centuries:

The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man's happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity, or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity; the Westphalian state system, or else the post-modern system of international institutions; racial theory, or else the anti-racist doctrine in a certain interpretation). And the universal system for man's happiness would right now have achieved perfection - were it not for the Jews. The Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one's opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.

The political left has always been of two minds on these matters. An opposition to anti-Semitism (and to all kinds of bigotry) did use to be one of the pillars of the modern left. But the left has always rested on more than one pillar, and some of those pillars are a little wobbly. And there is the left-wing conceit that, today at last, the system for universal justice and happiness has been discovered, and should be embraced by all advanced thinkers. The cosmopolitan abolition of states, let us say. And here are the Jews resisting it. In short, nothing leads more quickly to a disdain for the Jews than a feeling of smug loftiness.

Read it all on Z-word blog

Comment trail:

What Don't The Jews Do? (The Spine)

"Muammar Qaddafi, the long-time nutsy president of Libya and this year's president of the African Union (just to tell you how serious the A.U. is), says he has definitive proof that Israel is behind the war in Sudan and not the government in Khartoum. The International Criminal Court is considering pressing genocide charges against Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. But Qaddafi knows these are not true.

And, finally, the third accusation against the Jews for the day comes from Egyptian Muslim cleric Ahmad Abd Al-Salam on state television: The Jews "infect food with cancer and ship it to Muslim countries." This dispatch comes to us from always reliable and indispensable MEMRI. In the same dispatch, we hear the cleric accuse Jews of always stripping Muslim girls of their clothes. Moreover, sexual temptations were invented by the Jews. My, what a creative and intense people the Jews are. I am so proud. "

Iran's Jews Have a Wonderful Life; Ignore the Hysteria About its Nukes (THe Spine)

American Delegation Silent as Durban II Embarks On Another Anti-Democratic, Anti-Liberal, Anti-Semitic, Anti-Israel, Holocaust-Denying Witches' Sabbath (The Spine)

Olmert to Netanyahu: Form Government ASAP (Poligazette)

Americans are Cowards (Poligazette)

On Circumcision, the Saint, and other animals

I remember this article by Hitchens, in which he writes sneeringly about the Jewish custom of circumcision with all the confidence of someone who knows and understands all (like the Spanish Inquisition, there is no doubt in his mind about his own righteousness and the stupid perfidious aim at which it is directed):

In more recent times, some pseudosecular arguments have been adduced for male circumcision. It has been argued that the process is more hygienic for the male and thus more healthy for females in helping them avoid, for example, cervical cancer. Medicine has exploded these claims or else revealed them as problems which can just as easily be solved by a “loosening” of the foreskin. Full excision, originally ordered by god as the blood price for the promised future massacre of the Canaanites, is now exposed for what it is — a mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life.

For my sins, I took his information about the savage gratuitousness of the custom at face value. I was misled by his robust tone to think that he was really knowledgeable about how medical research had debunked the myth of hygiene and better health associated with circumcision.

And now I read this:

Sir Roger Moore, the British-born star of seven James Bond films, will donate the fee he earns from appearing at the fourth International Eilat Chamber Music Festival to a UNICEF program where Israeli expertise is used in training doctors to perform male circumcision as a way of reducing AIDS transmission in Africa.
Sir Roger Moore, who will...
Since 1991, Moore has been a UNICEF "goodwill ambassador" promoting women's and children's health. He was inspired to work for UNICEF by the late actress Audrey Hepburn, herself a "goodwill ambassador," after being deeply moved by India's poverty while filming a movie there.
In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Moore said he had a growing interest in the importance of health and disease prevention, and said his visit was meant to promote HIV awareness and education.
"Prevention is the best cure of disease," he added.
He disclosed that he himself had been circumcised at the initiative of his parents when he was eight.
"It was the unkindest cut of all," he joked. "But really, it was for hygienic reasons. My two sons [now 42 and 35] have been circumcised as well. They have never complained."
In the spring of 2007, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF recognized "compelling evidence" that adult male circumcision was an "additional important intervention" that could reduce the risk of HIV transmission. [-]
Together with experts from UN organizations, they say that male circumcision should always be considered part of a comprehensive HIV prevention package that includes HIV testing and counselling services, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, the promotion of safer sex practices, and the provision of condoms and diaphragms, with instruction as to their correct and consistent use.

I've always had a soft spot for Roger Moore. He didn't make such a memorable James Bond, but he was a great Saint.

Tangentially relevant:

In this video, Max Blumenthal is seen, trying to shame hapless New York Jews who rally for Israel, into admitting that Jewish circumcision is no different than female genitalia mutilation in Arab-Muslim societies.

In this video
stand-up comedian and journalist Aaron Freeman, an Chicago African-American who converted to Judaism, is regaling his audience with horror stories from his conversion process, including circumcision, at Betzavata theatre in Tel Aviv.


Update: Mark Lyndon, in the comments, promotes a different position. He has a webpage, here,
Physicians for Genital Integrity, devoted to activism against circumcision. And it seems they are mainly focused on male circumcision:
"We believe that male children are entitled to the same, equal protection as females receive under international law, U.S. national law, and the laws of other nations."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The fallen idol:

According to this source, an
Israeli journalist, Guy Bechor, who writes on the Israeli website gplanet reported that:

... the Arab world is going crazy over reports that Leonardo DiCaprio is converting to Judaism in order to marry Sports Illustrated cover girl, Bar Rafieli, an Israeli.

The report appeared on Al-Arabiya website and, according to Bechor, is told in quite vicious terms. Apparently, Leo is a hero in the Arab world (everyone loved Titanic) but that the combination of his relationship with the Jewish beauty and his conversion, should it happen instantly transforms him to dirt in Arab eyes.

I thought the Arab world had changed? Don't we hear that their objection is only to the occupation not to Israel itself, let alone the Jews.

But now Leo is being attacked the same way Elizabeth Taylor was when she became a Jew 45 years ago and was boycotted by the Arab world. I think she still is.

Anyway, if you know Arabic, read the 144 nasty contacts about Leo (and Bar) in Al Arabiya. Sometimes it appears that they hate us, they really do.

The Iconoclast links to an article in italian about the subject, here is an attempted translation provided by a commenter:

"A scandal: but isn't he the DiCaprio who votes for Barack Hussein Obama, who rebuked the "anti-Arab" sentiment of Hollywood, who acts with the Iranian actresses? True or false, it is more than sufficient. The blog of the network is full of insults, incitement and vitriol. 114 messages..."The Qur'an says: he who changes his religion is going to Hell. He who passes to the Zionist, is also worse" (signed, the indignant). "We are not losing much for ourselves, habibi, it's what you want: congratulations for your religion and your Jewish whore" (an ex-admirer). "Did he miss us? Who's next?" (an angry person)."

What strikes me most in this litany of invective is this line:

"but isn't he the DiCaprio who votes for Barack Hussein Obama,"

Coming from an Arab admirer
of Leonardo Dicaprio, disappointed that someone who voted for Obama might convert to Judaism and even marry a Jewess.

Hebrew source: Here (if I feel in the mood later I'll try to translate the comments. Some of them are pretty funny and not all of them are so dumb and hateful. For example, Nassim says: I wish I were Jewish. I would marry her on the spot. And Pirate responds: Me, too. That girl is worth any price!. Abu el Abd says: Of course he will convert. He is weak and needy and wants a future in the film world which is 100% dominated by Jews. Honestly, there are American girls a million times more beautiful than her, but this is a world of interests...

(Update) More translated comments:

Mahdi: This kind of information does not at all serve the Arab nation and I don't understand what's the purpose in publishing it.

Arab Egyptian woman: For sure Raffaeli's father wants to improve the Jewish race.

Another Arab reader responds to the above: What improvement? She is much more beautiful than you...

Muhammad Alkhaldi says: The Jews have been employing this method for generations, to attract men from other religions to Judaism. The Jews need the sex trade in the Occupied territories, too, to attract the Arab youth....It's their policy to use sex...

"Xenophobic Egyptian woman" writes: We Muslims miss nothing if this Capris moves to another religion, Jewish, or even Buddhist. May you prosper in your new religion and your beautiful Jewess. You are all thieves and robbers anyway, sweetheart, and it doesn't matter if you are an American, Catholic or Protestant, American or American Jew. You steal the dreams from poor people... America is the illegitimate father of the Zionist Entity. Maybe we'll get rid of you both, Amen.

Arab Historian: Give half your income to Israel, so it can buy itself a phosphorous bomb, or you'll get to divorce and then you'll have to pay half anyway... haven't they done the same with Clinton and anyone who holds a senior position in the US? They (Jews) are strange being with strange needs which are not acceptable to normal human beings...

This is more than enough to figure out what the general mood is. I think.


I don't suppose you remember the vicious Guardian article condemning Paul McCartney for giving a concert to Israelis in Tel Aviv?

Here is a reminder:

The only worse kind of atrocity by McCartney would be: "What next - an appearance in bin Laden's next cave video."?

... what could possibly cause such moral blindness in the British icon? .. a Jewess!

"Now he has a Jewish girlfriend, the glamorous Nancy Shevell, he's suddenly playing concerts in Israel and 'finding out for myself what the situation is'."


The Colour of Appeasement

Following hard upon the heels of this news, we now hear that "U.S. plans to pledge $900 million for Gaza".

On the Spine, Marty Peretz fulminates, appalled by his adored Obama's bad judgment and naivete:

"The real issue is: where will the cash go? The administration is assuring us that it will not go to Hamas, as if anyone can assure that materiel and money can be siphoned off just to the desired parties. This, frankly, is a joke...and Mrs. Clinton knows it. So should President Obama."

Instead of opining myself I'd like to quote from the comments:

"This is a colossal waste of money. Money is fungible and this subvention will help Hamas first and foremost."

"... this insane sum tells us that Obama actually considers I/P conflict central to all regional problems, and is determined to "solve it" once and for all. If one firmly believes that we can buy a comprehensive ME peace for mere 1 billion $US, that's a bargain.

Hence, we'll shower Palestinians (Hamas or others) with goodwill and money, they'll unclench their fist, and everything nice and good will follow. Even the Israelis will eventually thank Obama for he knows what's best for them & everybody else."

"At least when Israel gets military aid from the USA, a large chunk (probably a majority) must be spent in the USA. I wonder if the same requirement is being imposed on Hamas / the PA / UNWRA or what have you.

What will the money go for? For starters, deeper more reinforced tunnels. Not only those crossing the border with Egypt, but also the veritable maze of tunnels that connect(ed) many many many of the buildings throughout the Gaza strip.

Piping will also be needed - ostensibly for rehabilitating the plumbing, storm sewerage & waste treatment infrastructure, but in reality to serve as Qassam rocket casings. And we musn't forget fertilizer and the like needed to kick-start agriculture... and to make rocket fuel and / or explosives (see Oklahoma City). Ah yes, but of course they will need explosives to help clear away buildings only damaged by Israel -- and to make better Qassam warheads than you can with the "roll your own" made-from-fertilizer variety. etc. etc. etc."

There is a method in this madness, or rather, an emerging pattern of thought and sensibility, quite new and divergent from what we have known thus far. Obama seems to prefer actions over words. He had not openly declared that he supported Israel in the latest Gaza war. He promised he would have lots to say once he became president, though. And indeed he is saying it now, by keeping silent about the demonization campaign against Israel by Durban II organizers, and by offering this gargantuan help to a people who have shown they cannot be trusted to channel their aid money into nation-building projects.

So what is he saying in fact?

When it was reported in 2008 that he had remarked in 2007 that ‘‘no one has suffered more than the Palestinians’, Obama later argued that this remark was taken out of context, and that he was merely lamenting the poor quality of political leadership under which he believed the general Palestinian population had suffered.

It seems that the poor quality of the leadership could not be more pronounced than in the last conflagration, with Hamas choosing to place its own people in harm's way in order to score PR points for the Palestinian "cause" (whatever it is) and Abbas declaring support and joining the general condemnations of Israel "genociding" the Palestinians. For these acts of leadership they are now rewarded and their "cause" helped by the silence of Obama's new "engagement" policies..

I wonder if all that money will have some provisos attached to it, such as that Palestinians would behave like responsible people, not launching random missiles into civilian centres in Israel, not hiding among their own women and children when they do so, stop digging tunnels to smuggle weapons in.

But with the choice of the UN as the body is charge of distributing the money, it's hard to anticipate any adherence to any demand for Palestinian responsibility.

In a way it comes as a sort of relief, to know where Obama's real sympathy lies and to what extent.

Some call Obama's new foreign policy principles "appeasement".

We are told that

"Appeasement is "the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody, and possibly dangerous."[1] The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1939.

Appeasement has been the subject of debate for eighty years among academics and politicians. The historian's assessment of Chamberlain has ranged from condemnation to the judgment that he had no alternative and acted in Britain's best interests. The word "appeasement" has been used as a synonym for cowardice since the 1930s and it is still used in that sense today as a justification for firm, often armed, action in international relations."

As I said, we'll wait and see. Though I have a bad feeling about this.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Impressions of Oscars and Kate

Kate Winslet in an unguarded moment reveals a Hollywood secret: how to plan to win an Oscar.

I like Kate Winslet. She is a thoughtful actress and is not afraid to show that she has real breasts, I mean, they sag as most breasts do, when they are not pumped with silicone.

But yesterday there was something too artificial about her. Her face reminded me of Julie Andrews in her more rigid moments. She was too perfectly coiffed, tense and her smile seemed forced.

I only watched parts of the evening. I noticed that the women seems to favour Grecian style dresses and simple hairdos. I guess it has something to so with the recession. But what exactly I can't tell. The dresses and those "simple" hairdos would still cost small fortunes. It takes a lot of money to create an appearance of modesty, doesn't it?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The sound of appeasement

President Obama succeeded in being elected not for by the virtue of keeping his silence. He knew very well when to reserve his silence, and when to speak.

So I'm hoping that the meaning of this silence is not what I fear it to be: the silence of appeasement:

The main reason I do this is that I gave the benefit of the doubt to the administration's motives in sending a delegation to the preparatory sessions in Geneva where some interventions proved just how weak we are and where also on other matters on which we should have intervened we skulked into the woodwork. And was I wrong!

If this is what engagement with our adversaries means, our friends should be very wary. The president has not yet been heard from on these happenings. Nor for that matter has Ambassador Rice. I believe that many people are waiting.

We'll wait and see, then.

How the "Left" legitimizes antisemitism

It is hard to believe but this piece of poison discourse is written by someone who considers himself a voice for the "Left". Note please what it is in response to.

An academic who specialises in anti-Semitism explains the three ways in which the "Left" and antisemitism are bed fellows these days:

The first takes the form of explaining anti-Semitism in a way that effectively justifies it. This occurs when, for example, suicide bombing (that is, the deliberate killing of Jewish civilians) is explained in a pseudo-materialist mode as simply a product of desperation. That many people have found themselves desperate without resorting to such actions and such hatred is ignored, as is the obvious fact that they are planned by people who are certainly anti-Semitic but not by any stretch of the imagination hopeless or without considerable material resources.

The second form is collusion – the effective toleration of anti-Semitic language, chants and slogans on demonstrations against Israel. I say ‘effective’ because this is a repeated and growing phenomenon, known in advance. It does not require an occasional well-meaning reproof but the recognition that joint participation in, and organisation of, such demonstrations provides a forum for anti-Semites to express their hatred of Jews without fear or anxiety. (It is in this respect a direct reversal of the old socialist programme of ‘no platform for fascists’.)

The third way in which the left helps to legitimise anti-Semitism, and this often accompanies the first two, has to do with the downplaying of evidence of anti-Semitism itself: the claim that anti-Semitic incidents are over-reported or misinterpreted and that, in any case, they are far less significant than other forms of hatred.

Read the entire article here. That is, if you still need to become aware or persuaded about the direction in which the gathering winds blow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rhinoceros and Civilization

From the keynote address by Irwin Cotler at the founding conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism:

"The first manifestation of this ideological antisemitism was its institutional and juridical anchorage in the 'Zionism is Racism' resolution at the UN. Notwithstanding the fact that the there was a formal repeal of this resolution, 'Zionism as Racism' remains alive and well in the global arena, particularly in the campus cultures of North America and Europe, as confirmed by the recent British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism."

And here is how Judea Pearl describes what is happening
in the campus cultures of North America and Europe:

Remember Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”? Written in the late 1950s, the play describes the transformation of a quiet, peaceful town into anarchy when one after another of its residents is transformed into a lumbering, thick-skinned brute. Only Berenger, a stand-in for the playwright, tries to hold out against the collective rush into rhinocerism.

Before long, an ethical debate develops over the rhino way of life vs. the human way of life. ‘’Why not just leave them alone,’’ a friend advises Berenger. ‘’You get used to it.’’ The debate is quickly muted into blind acceptance of the rhino ethic, the entire town is joining the marching herd, and Berenger finds himself alone, partly resisting, partly enjoying the uncontrolled sounds coming out his own throat: “Honk, Honk, Honk”.


To refresh readers’ memory, this symposium, organized by UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies (CNES), was billed as a discussion of human rights in Gaza. Instead, the director of the center, Susan Slyomovics, invited four longtime demonizers of Israel for a panel that Seid describes as a reenactment of a “1920 Munich beer hall.” Not only did the panelists portray Hamas as a guiltless, peace-seeking, unjustly provoked organization, they also bashed Israel, her motives, her character, her birth and conception and led the excited audience into chanting “Zionism is Nazism,” “F—-, f—- Israel,” in the best tradition of rhino liturgy.

But the primary impact of the event became evident the morning after, when unsuspecting, partially informed students woke up to read an article in the campus newspaper titled, “Scholars Say Attack on Gaza an Abuse of Human Rights,” to which the good name of the University of California was attached, and from which the word “terror” and the genocidal agenda of Hamas were conspicuously absent. This mock verdict, presented as an outcome of supposedly dispassionate scholarship, is where Hamas culture scored its main triumph — another inch of academic respectability, another inroad into Western minds.


These are dilemmas that had not surfaced before the days of rockets and missiles, and we, the Jewish faculty, ought to have pioneered their study. Instead, we allowed Hamas’ sympathizers to frame the academic agenda. How can we face our students from the safety of our offices when they deal with anti-Israel abuse on a daily basis — in the cafeteria, the library and the classroom — and as alarming reports of mob violence are arriving from other campuses (San Jose State University, Spartan Daily, Feb. 9, and York University, Globe and Mail, Feb. 13)?

Burdened with guilt, I called some colleagues, but quickly realized that a few have already made the shift to a strange-sounding language, not unlike “Honk, Honk.” Some have entered the debate phase, arguing over the rhino way of life vs. the human way of life, and the majority, while still speaking in a familiar English vocabulary, are frightened beyond anything I have seen at UCLA in the 40 years that I have served on its faculty.

I have to wonder if this declaration, redacted by

"Representatives of ... Parliaments from across the world, convening in London for
the founding Conference and Summit of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating

is sufficient, strong enough, or in time to:

" draw the democratic world’s attention to the resurgence of antisemitism as a potent
force in politics, international affairs and society."

It could be that little Hans' finger is just too small and too thin to manage to stem the battering flow of hatred against the wall of sanity and decency.

Better Cigarettes and Time-delayed Rockets

Two of Gaza's thriving industries: tunneling and missile-making



"Third man: "Man, you are suffocating us with your 'Cleopatra' cigarette smoke."

Smoker: "Man, it is a different brand."

Third man: "Okay, go ahead and smoke. As soon as we open the tunnel, we will bring in 'Super' cigarettes from Egypt."


Wael 'Assam: "Sheik Abu Dujana is wanted by Israel. Why wouldn't he be? After all, he is a veteran missile-maker in Gaza.

"How many missiles have you made in recent years?"

Sheik Abu Dujana: "300-500 missiles. The range of this missile is 16-20 km."

Wael 'Assam: "Which areas of Israel have you targeted with these missiles?"

Sheik Abu Dujana: "Ashkelon, and the Nahal Oz area.

History Lesson: The Boats of Cherbourg

People are familiar with "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Not many know or can recall the story of the missile boats of Cherbourg. In its mixture of intrigue, political decisions, armament agreements and Israeli resourceful initiative, the story represents the great complexity of being Israel and defending Israel, in a world which fawns upon Arabs and is in thrall to Arab oil.

Here is the end tail of the story of how Israel managed to "steal" its own boats from under French noses:

By late afternoon, about 20 Israeli sailors were aboard each of the five boats. But a storm had arisen and a strong wind was blowing. These were bad conditions for any ship, but even more so for the missile boats, which were not designed for such conditions. But there was no choice. They had to sail that night.

As the engines started up around 9 p.m., seats reserved for 70 Israelis at the local restaurant we mentioned above remained unfilled, and the meals uneaten.

French Intelligence had noticed the many unwarranted coincidences in the previous few weeks, but either they or their superiors decided not to take action against the Israelis. At some point on the night of December 24/25, 1969, the five missile boats engined their way out of the harbor into the English Channel.

Two men came to watch the last boats leave Cherbourg. One was Mordecai Limon. The other was Felix Amiot, the French supervisor of the construction of the ships at Cherbourg. He had concealed it, but he had known about the Israeli operation from the beginning.

Amiot was not the only one who participated in this “conspiracy of silence.” In a “dockside cafe, the barman remarked to customers huddled over their glasses of red wine: ‘I see the Norwegians have left for Alaska.’ His audience roared with laughter.”

On December 26 local and then international news picked up wind of the story. The French government soon knew what had happened and were furious again. But with the boats on the high seas already, they recognized there was little they could do. Nevertheless, the French Foreign Minister, Maurice Schumann, did summon two Israeli diplomats to his office in the Quai D’Orsay. He had just returned from a tour of Algeria “where he had promised friendly relations and large supplies of armaments in return for Arab oil.” And then the Israelis took the Cherbourg boats. Schumann was sure that the Arabs would see it as French collusion in the matter, and he felt humiliated. He warned the Israeli diplomats that if the boats did show up in Israel, “the consequences will be very grave indeed…”

The Israeli government did not accept direct responsibility at first. The boats did receive attention on the high seas however, as the sailors aboard viewed a myriad of French Mirages flying overhead. Later they encountered American and even Soviet ships. But the boats motored on to Israel unimpeded. As the ships approached the shores of Israel, an escort of Israeli fighter planes accompanied them.

They were safe then, and they were received with public jubilation when they arrived in Israel.

There were repercussions in France. Mordecai Limon, who had lived in France for seven years, was asked to leave. Two French generals were dismissed from their posts for their part in approving the sale of the missile boats to the fictitious Norwegian/Panamanian firm. Felix Amiot was blamed for his part in the affair, but he vigorously defended himself. “Security is not my problem. My job was to build ships. I got along very well with the Israelis, but as far as I know that is not a crime.”

The citizens of Cherbourg continued to keep quiet about the whole affair. And their silence - which the French government was well aware of - was a boon to Israel, for without it she may never have gotten the boats of Cherbourg.

The entire tale is here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama in Canada

He was breathlessly expected.
Now he came and went:

This is Just. So. Embarrassing. If there is anything less attractive than the anti-American streak in our national character — a trait made worse, one suspects, for our neighbours’ sunny indifference to our seething — it is our tendency to prostrate ourselves before American celebrities. And they don’t get any more celebritous than Barack Obama. Okay, I get that he’s a likeable fellow. He avoids excessive partisanship, he comes across as thoughtful and decent, he connects with people — yes to all that.

But people, really: camping out at 4:30 in the morning on Parliament Hill for five seconds of waving from behind plexiglas two hundred yards away (and five seconds longer, at that, than scheduled)? Hours and hours of television coverage given over to a few brief clips of the President a) landing, b) walking with the Governor General, c) sitting with the Governor General, d) flashing by in his motorcade, and e) walking, sitting and standing with the Prime Minister?

Have we all taken leave of our senses? The CBC interviewed some lunatic woman who gravely informed us that, with the election of Barack Obama, she now knew that “everything was going to be okay.” A sign in the crowd read “First God, then Obama,” which was positively restrained compared to some of the comments one overheard. And I don’t just mean from the reporters.

Today in a class about the secular age, we discussed John Ralston Saul's loathing of what he calls the elites. So certain he was that his readers would know what he is talking about that he didn't even bother to define what exactly he meant by "elites". So I asked: What does he mean by "elites"? The mangerial class, I was told, the rich, the Wall Street bankers.

So why, I asked, when Obama was running for president, did people accuse him of being an elitist? Isn't the term "elite" usually reserved for academics and other intellectuals?

In the States, someone said, they set the bar on intellectuals very low. You only need a college degree to qualify as an intellectual elitist.

It was not a useful answer, meant as is obvious, to denigrate American intellectual levels but it does serve as a good example of what Coyne describes as the "less attractive ... anti-American streak in our national character".

I often wonder what causes this perpetual state of simmering agitation, always at the ready to overflow with contempt towards Americans.

Netanyahu to form government

This was fully expected.

It is very unfortunate that Tzipi Livni "Livni, who had hoped to become prime minister herself, has shown little interest in joining Mr. Netanyahu's government. Officials say the two rivals may meet on Sunday to discuss the situation."

As usual, personal ambition trumps national interest. The important thing was to form a government of national unity. The difference between Livni and Netanyahu is rather minuscule (she articulates in voice what is still only whispered in his mind) . But without her, he will have to form a government much more "rightist"and stiff-necked with Lieberman's party, about which I don't much know except what most people are saying (suspicion at best, loathing and fear at worst). It means too much leaning towards the Right and away from the Center, which is what Likkud and Kadima (and even Labour) voters indicated with their choice. I find it hard to believe that she can be so irresponsible at this juncture. To me it means that the general wish of the Israeli public for unity, centrism and accommodation will be ignored*. Without Kadima's pull to the Center/Left, Netanyahu will have much tougher time dealing with YB's demands.

So what else is new?

From Shark Blog, a more resignated view:

There are Israelis, and lots of others, who blame Israel for the continued impasse. However, one can view the rightward tilt in this year's elections to indicate that many Israelis feel they have offered enough by way of reasonable accommodations.

The day after the election results that disappointed many, politicians and commentators proclaimed that the problem was the nature of the government. ...

Given its problems, the country is more or less successful. It has maintained its security, along with its self-critical and competitive democracy, despite intense enemies. Its social services do not fall below the levels of other countries who have similar levels of economic resources. It cannot afford everything that activists demand, partly because of the wide agreement to spend so much of its resources on defense.

On account of the structural problems of the Middle East, and its own fragmented society, Israel is likely to putter along more or less like it has. It is not neat, or satisfying, but it is.


The party of peace and compromise which currently governs Gaza and is eagerly seeking to advance the cause of Palestinian peace in the region, has pronounced that "
Mr. Netanyahu's nomination does not point to security and stability in the region in the days ahead."

Is it possible to make peace with a negotiating party that has no idea what irony means?


* Maybe not, after all?

More on preserving Obama's infallibility

As I said in this post, when dear Obama makes a decision or effects a policy which stands in contradiction to what his adulators expected of him, there is a tendency among Obamists to shift the blame to someone else. "It's not him. It's them" is the mantra.

So I've appointed myself a collector of such arguments. And here is another one:

Apparently, against the explicit wishes of the Jewish community, Israel, and Canada's presedence, Obama decided that the US will participate in Durban II. So Marty Peretz, of the New Republic, who is as infatuated with Obama as the next man, is now struggling to figure out how this could be. And, predictably, comes up with the answer: "It's not him. It's them".

"them" is Susan Rice and Samantha Power:

"Maybe Ambassador Rice should have been sent. Apparently, that the U.S. should attend this pre-extravaganza extravaganza was her cause. But there is no indication that she wanted to be directly saddled with the costs of going herself. She certainly grasped what the likely results would be. My guess, moreover, is that, contrary to the right-wing blogoshpere, Samantha Power was not especially hot on this experiment in public diplomacy. The two ladies are old antagonists, sharing only the affections of the president. Can you imagine Ms. Rice before some college audience when some smart-assed undergraduate like I was, holding Ms. Power's A Problem from Hell, (co-published by New Republic Books), begins to read: Rice said, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing what will be the effect on the November elections?" Rice later confessed that her remark was "inappropriate" and "irrelevant." But that was only if we planned to do nothing, which is exactly what we planned."

Here is what one commenter wryly suggests:

"Sanda said:

Sorry Mr. Peretz! You can't have it both ways. I have read in amazement what you (and the rest of the TNR, all in one corner, campaigning away - not one dissenting opinion) had to say (nay, practically promise) for the past year. That included (with zero evidence and some hints to the contrary) your assurances about Obama, Rice, and Powell and how good they were going to be for Israel. We are now collecting on this, but you can't act as if this is a surprise, explain it away, or promise again that it will all work out. We have change."

Hitchens, beaten up by Nazis in Beirut; the "Left" celebrates.

But I am a liberal has the goods:

Some really classy folks over at the Huffingtonpost. Who would have thought that a "lefty" site would attract so many people celebrating fascist goons beating up a journalist?

By their words they shall be known.

Update: There is this small message board I lurk in, for no other reason that it provides some high-quality examples of the moral dementia that characterizes much of the 'Left' today, in America and Canada. I say "left" because most participants on that message board pride themselves on being on the "Left" side of politics. So it was no surprise whatsoever that the discussion of Hitchens' recent exploits in Beirut took a somewhat surrealistic turn on that message board when one participant graciously volunteered to explain the ancient meaning of the swastika, why it was impolite of Hitchens to deface the sign in a country in which he was a guest, etc etc, here it is:

Another article I read claimed the swastika was among the most important symbols of the Hopi Native Americans, as well as other tribes.

Nothing I read about the Syrian Socialist Party would indicate any allegiance or connection to Hitler's Nazi Party. But the information was rather confusing, and the party itself seemingly much divided. I couldn't make any authoritative statement as to whether the flag in question was in fact intended to be a swastika, which seems overall historically to have been a symbol of hope, or the spinning cyclone they claimed it to be. Since spinning has a significant place in Muslim religions, such as Sufism, I suppose it could be as they say. Perhaps someone else can figure that one out as my time is a bit limited today.

As to whether Hitchins had the right to tear down a sign in another sovereign country, especially without questioning first why it was there or whether the legitimate government of Lebanon knew and had permitted it to be there, I'd suggest that, no, he didn't. It's not a whole lot different than Islamist extremists making violent protests against western cartoons depicting their leaders in an odious manner, or against Europeans using their mosque symbols in secular structures. All these protests should be made through the proper channels of the host government, not by a foreign guest ripping them down or throwing rocks at them, or murdering their leaders in revenge. IMHO.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Legitimate Criticism of Israel

I. Howard Jacobson has a very powerful piece in "The Independent", a daily rag mostly known for its "independent" anti-Israel view (and that's putting it mildly). In it he tries to analyze the way anti-Israeli opinion has morphed into anti-Zionism, which in its turn is hardly distinguishable anymore from classic antisemitism:

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.

But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing othodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don’t say that self-pityingly. As always with dictatorships of the mind, the worst harmed are not the ones not listened to, but the ones not listening. So leave them to it, has essentially been my philosophy. A life spent singing anti-Zionist carols in the company of Ken Livingstone and George Galloway is its own punishment.

Read the whole thing. It's well worth the time.

Quite a few bloggers have commented on the article, since it has touched upon much of what Jews and Israelis feel most acutely these days.

II. On this blog , I found a pretty depressing prognostication about the future, here.

III. As I commented on it:

An antisemite's nightmare is the sight of Jews having a good life, fun, sun, beautiful women, days in the beach. The antidote for such a nightmare is the wishful imagining of dead Jews. I get the impression that many critics of Israel would be much happier if only there were more, many more, dead Jews in Sderot. Their main beef is that so few Jews were actually killed while their enemy methodically perseveres in the attempt to wipe them out. Such an inapt kind of genocide, wouldn't you say. Hamas and Hizzbulla may sound like Hitler but unfortunately, Hitler they are not. They do not have the industrial infrastructure to sustain their programme. The argument, then, taken in its literal translation, should read like this: Israel, of course, should calibrate its response to the Hamas level of sophistication. In other words, Israel should wait until they get enough weaponry and skill to carry out a more successful campaign of liquidation, and ONLY THEN attempt to stop them. Give them a chance at least to carry out a little genocide, for God's sake; it's the fair and decent thing to do.

And while Israel is waiting for them to acquire better weapons and get better at mass destruction, it is only a humanitarian basic that Israel should feed and care for the Hamas's people, ease the suffering of Palestinians so that Hamas does not have to worry about these inconsequential demands. Hamas must be allowed complete freedom from the petty concerns and selfish demands of their own population, and from the business of governing and providing for their people in order to be able to pursue their higher purpose of genocide and destruction, undisturbed and uninhibited.

Among these “Leftists” I count some of "the best" as snoopythegoon diplomatically put it in his blog. These "best"'s support for Israel was so half-hearted that, with the absence of enough Jewish "killees", it could not maintain a principled support for Israel’s right of self-defence.

The power of the pictures is irresistible. Perhaps it was a mistake for Israeli media to suppress the images of the aftermath of suicide bombings, mutilated lynched bodies, and such like. No one ever plastered them on the front pages of papers or showed them on TV news.

There is a pornographic aspect to human pity which cannot be waved aside when things get to this stage. When an image of a little girl's severed head impacts the minds of reasonable intellects, and not just what is called "The Arab street", then maybe it is time to reconsider the uses of such pornographic titillation of the pity muscle.

IV: Of peculiar interest I found the comments made by one poet-in-residence, who resides in Austria and seems to have some very decided views about a conflict he seems to know only a little about and mostly based on rumours that he reads God only knows where. Here are three excerpts from his rather short comment:

"Obama promised if Iran nukes Israel he will nuke Iran. Iran will therefore not nuke Israel. Not in the next 8 years anyway."

"In 2008 the Austrian film "die Fälscher" won an oscar. So it's not doom and gloom in the Kinowelt either."

"But I think Netanyahu will have to change his tune. He won't be able to short change Obama like he did Bush. If tries any of his old tricks you can best he'll lose his US aid package just quick as you like. T new Yanks in the White House are in no mood for Israeli funny business."

I didn't immediately cotton on to PIR's ruminations as articulated above. But something tugged at my level of comfort, beyond the slur upon Netanyahu which is pretty much a beloved meme in certain parts of the blogosphere and media nowadays. So I took another look and here is what I noticed:

The German film "die Fälscher" is known in English as "The Counterfeiters". Here is the trailer. The tagline is this:

"It takes a clever man to make money, it takes a genius to stay alive. A genius con artist put to work by the Nazis. A survivor's tale you've never seen before."

And what do you know, it's a film about a Jewish conman, who puts his talent at the service of the Nazis in return for his life. He manufactures for them counterfeit money.

Money. Funny money. Cheating money.

To shortchange, the dictionary tells us, means:

1. To give (someone) less change than is due in a transaction.
2. Informal To treat unfairly or deceitfully; cheat.

Money, again, allied to cheating.

"If tries any of his old tricks you can best he'll lose his US aid package just quick"

Again, money!

Funny how Netanyahu's "shortchanging" Obama follows hard on the heels of "die falscher" and the next relished thought is how money will be withheld from the conniving Netanyahu's grasping greasy hands: "he'll lose his US aid package just quick".

So a film about the Holocaust won an Oscar and this, PIR tells us, is a reason for hope that antisemitism is not so bad. And some cold comfort it is, coming from a presumably thoughtful poet, whose his own discourse, in the span of just a short and offhanded comment on the Internet, is so heavily laced with antisemitic undertones.

V: Any thoughts, anyone?

As Howard Jacobson says in the above linked article: "But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple."

Or what
Oscar Bronner - publisher and editor of Der Standard, a major Austrian daily newspaper, said with unerring precision back in August, 2002:

"If you talk to people who use anti-Semitic clichés without knowing what they are doing, they are shocked that somebody would think they were anti-Semitic. But it's everywhere. It's in print. It's dinner party conversations. When a dozen Israeli kids are killed because somebody throws a bomb in order to kill Israeli kids, then it's regrettable. If Israel kills a dozen kids as collateral damage when they try to kill a murderer who hides among children, then this is a war crime."

VI: I'd like to conclude by repeating what another Prime Minister of the Likkud party, Menachen Begin, said, in his speech to the Knesset on June 25, 1982:

“The children of Israel will happily go to school and joyfully return home, just like the children in Washington, in Moscow, and in Peking, in Paris and in Rome, in Oslo, in Stockholm and in Copenhagen. The fate of... Jewish children has been different from all the children of the world throughout the generations. No more. We will defend our children. If the hand of any two-footed animal is raised against them, that hand will be cut off, and our children will grow up in joy in the homes of their parents.”

I wonder if PiR would find something reprehensible about this.


Update: Solomonia reports of a very interesting response to Jacobson's article, here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is Obama More Infallible than the Pope?

Obama is due to visit Canada.

The following is the expected itinerary for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 19.

10:30 a.m.: U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at Ottawa International Airport, where Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean greets him at the steps of Air Force One, the presidential jet. A short, private meeting with Jean follows.

11:40 a.m.: Obama's motorcade arrives on Parliament Hill, followed by a short welcoming ceremony at the Centre Block rotunda with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The pair go to Harper's Centre Block office for a 10-minute private meeting without their staff members.

12:05 p.m.: Photo-op with Obama and Harper in the prime minister's Centre Block office.

12:10 p.m.: Obama, Harper and some of their officials meet for about 30 minutes.

12:55 p.m.: Working lunch in Senate speaker's dining room for Obama, Harper and larger group of officials.

2:40 p.m.: Obama and Harper walk down Parliament's Hall of Honour to the Reading Room, with a photo-op scheduled.

2:45 p.m.: Joint Obama-Harper news conference, with two questions from Canadian reporters (English and French), and two questions from American reporters. After the news conference, the two leaders walk down the Hall of Honour to view the Library of Parliament.

3:40 p.m.: Obama's motorcade departs the Centre Block for Ottawa International Airport.

4:00 p.m.: Obama arrives at the airport for a 20-minute (approximate) meeting with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

4:30 p.m.: Approximate departure time for Obama aboard Air Force One.

(Source: Prime Minister's Office)

Some Canadians expressed frustration with the shortness and business-like nature of Obama's visit. They wonder why he can't address the parliament. It can't be dear Obama's decision. Obama is too fine a person to make such a decision. Someone must have decided that Obama will not address Palrliament, as was implied on one message board I encountered today:

"I can't believe he doesn't WANT to address our Parliament but I can't figure out who decided this."

Now who is so ungracious and stands to gain the most by keeping Obama under wraps in Canada, I ask you.

I wouldn't be commenting on this silly observation if it didn't join a list of other, similar opinions which I noticed being held about Obama. When president Bush made a policy decision that was unpopular, it was he that drew on the most invective from media and blogs alike. When Obama makes a decision perceived as undesirable by some, so far people scramble to exonerate him of any agency in that. It must be someone else, someone close to him, someone duped our dearest Obama. Obama, left to himself, would never make such decisions. It's not him. It's them.

For example:

Arhundati Roy, as cited by Norm:

"She predicts the coming months will see Obama turn into a white man and warns against expecting a miracle: "He'll have to prove that he is whiter than the white man. "

Another example:

...As for Wright, he saw a cascade of perceived slights coming from a bright young follower whose political ambitions were tugging him away from Trinity United Church of Christ.... And he made no secret of whom he blamed: Obama's political adviser, David Axelrod, a white Chicago political operative.*

I will continue to pay attention to this angle and report on it. I think some of my readers get an idea where this is leading.

[Hint: something along these lines:

"The Emanuel employeed in the White House should remind himself that intrinsically he is no better or no worse than any other American citizen when it comes to receiving health care. Therefore the healthcare benefits he receives as a government employee should be extended to all other citizens in turn." (from a blog commenter)]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to define an extremist

British government cudgels its brains on how to define extremism in order the better to fight terrorism. Here are a few possible indications:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan

Those considered extreme would not be targeted by the criminal law, but would be sidelined and denied public funds.

According to these criteria, the Guardian claims that: "Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme"

Now there's a comforting thought.


Update: Norm addresses the last of the guidelines, here:

On the basis of that one, they're going to find a lot of extremists among the readers of the major liberal newspapers in this country: people who don't condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, but set themselves to 'understanding' it, and/or mumbling, and/or uttering, with darkened brow, the names of Tony Blair and George W. Bush. But in fact, judged by reference to what is standard, socially 'normal', dinner-party conventional, such people
can't be extremists; they're right over here, in the middle of things, where 'our' sort of people are. In any case, what is wrong with their failure-to-condemn alignment would not follow from its being extreme. Extreme can sometimes be good - when the truth is, as it were, out on a limb and the reigning consensus morally cowardly or misguided. No, what's wrong with the alignment is that it's politically blind, complaisant towards forces fighting for the triumph of political tyranny and social reaction.

Lincoln, not Churchill

It is certainly a new broom in Washington, determined to sweep away whatever is irrelevant, or unimportant, to his own fancy, inclination and substratum politics . The latest item to be cleared away by the new occupant in the Oval office was Winston Churchill.

According to The Telegraph:

A bust of the former prime minister once voted the greatest Briton in history, which was loaned to George W Bush from the Government's art collection after the September 11 attacks, has now been formally handed back.

The bronze by Sir Jacob Epstein... enjoyed pride of place in the Oval Office during President Bush's tenure.

But when British officials offered to let Mr Obama to hang onto the bust for a further four years, the White House said: "Thanks, but no thanks."


American politicians have made quoting Churchill, whose mother was American, something of an art form, but not Mr Obama, who prefers to cite the words and works of his hero Abraham Lincoln. Indeed a bust of Mr Lincoln now sits in the Oval Office where Epstein's Churchill once ruled the roost.

Churchill has less happy connotations for Mr Obama than those American politicians who celebrate his wartime leadership. It was during Churchill's second premiership that Britain suppressed Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion. Among Kenyans allegedly tortured by the colonial regime included one Hussein Onyango Obama, the President's grandfather.

The rejection of the bust has left some British officials nervously reading the runes to see how much influence the UK can wield with the new regime in Washington.