25 June 2011

Alf Filer – A Jewish anti-Zionist and Fighter for Justice

The Tragic Death of a Much Loved Comrade

The older one gets, the more one becomes acquainted with the death of former friends and comrades. But nothing prepared me for the shock of learning that Alf Filer had died when his car broke down on the A27 and another car, whose driver I understand has been arrested, went into him.

I first met Alf at the inaugural meeting of the Labour Committee on Palestine in the summer of 1982. It was just after Israel’s blitzkrieg on Lebanon, when over 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese died as a result of a cruel invasion aimed at securing Israeli and Phalangist hegemony in the country.

Alf had already been involved in battles with Zionists in the consituency of Brent East, when Ken Livingstone was selected in place of the nondescript local MP, the Zionist Reg Freeson. Alf himself stood for Brent Council but was defeated after the local Labour Zionists urged a vote for the SDP. We discussed this as we were driving to Southampton on 13th June, when Alf freely volunteered that being defeated was the best thing that could have happened to him. Alf and being a councillor just wouldn't have gone together!

It was last Monday week, 13th June, that I drove a group of UNISON members in the unemployed centre minibus from Brighton to Southampton, to support a demonstration of council staff who have been under attack from the Tory Council, who are trying to cut their pay. On the way we took a diversion to pick Alf up opposite Worthing Pier which made us late!

Alf and I saw relatively little of each other after the LCP split in November 1982 after Ted Knight, then councillor and leader of Lambeth Council, but also a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party, decided to arrange for the WRP to take over the LCP in order to show how influential they were with their Libyan/Iraqi paymasters. At that point the division between the LCP and what became the Labour Movement Campaign on Palestine forced people on the left to take sides. I can remember heated debates before National Labour Briefing took sides despite threats to walk out by arch hack Valerie Coultas. Unfortunately but understandably, since he was in the same constituency as Ken, Alf followed Socialist Action in staying with Ken Livingstone (who was then allied with Ted Knight), Charlie Pottins of the Jewish Socialists Group and WRP and a few others who had been taken in.

On the bus back from Southampton Alf and I reminisced over what happened, as he had long since recognised the error of his ways and he freely admitted that the WRP had taken over the LCP in order to close it down. Likewise Ken Livingstone at a LMCP fringe meeting at Labour Party conference circa 1985 also admitted he’d got it wrong. Not so Socialist Action, whose only principle was sticking to Livingstone, their future cash cow.

Alf was an utterly principled fighter. He was one of the main organisers of the Harrow countermobilisation against the EDL, whose target was a local mosque. The EDL, those good fascist friends of the Zionists at the Ahava and Israeli embassy pickets, were sent packing when over two thousand people joined the counter mobilisation against some 30 fash.

A few months ago Alf moved from London to Worthing having retired early as a college lecturer. In a small space of time he had become involved in anti-cuts and anti-racist work and was about to get involved in Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Brighton. He was a borne and tireless activist despite having caring responsibilities, having brought up two sons on his own.

Alf was living proof that you can be Jewish without being Zionist. He was someone who had total confidence in himself, extrovert whilst self-deprecating and loud. All, some would say, Jewish traits! He never treaded gingerly around an issue, the proverbial bull in the china shop. That's probably why we got on so well! And he was always just good fun to be with. It was impossible to be angry with him for long, however much he might put his foot in it at times. He was the embodiment of the idea that you can take your Jewish heritage from an anti-racist, class struggle and socialist perspective, not from the narrow nationalism and chauvinism that Zionism represents with its twisted face of hate.

Alf later joined Socialist Resistance, a small Trotskyist group that came out of the IMG and a split in the Alliance for Workers Liberty. But Alf was never an unthinking hack always accepting the party line without pause for thought. Experience had taught him the perils of that. When I wrote an article on this blog criticising a comrade of his in the ISG for having taken a right-wing stance in Unison in support of ‘personalisation’ of disability services, Alf wrote to the leadership to ask what was happening and why this was so. And true to form, he received no reply. Unlike so many in Trotskyist groups, who came later to adopt a Stalinist methodology and outlook, Alf remembered that being a revolutionary also means questioning one’s own leaders too.

To Alf all I can say is Lotta Continua. The best tribute we can pay to you is to keep the flame alight and the struggle for justice undimmed. Below is a letter Alf had in the Guardian on 3rd January 2009 as Gaza was being mercilessly bombed by Israeli war planes. It sums up his politics. We who are Jewish anti-Zionists fight on the side of the Palestinians because we above all know what racism and fascism means.

I have just put another video below. It is of a demonstration against the Gaza War when, with the chutzpa that Alf was so wonderful at, he effectively conned his way into speaking at the rally and by claiming membership of about 3 different groups! whilst Hugh Lanning of PSC looked on whilst Alf denounced the Histradut, Israel's racist 'union', just after PSC had rejected boycotting them.

But he made the vital and telling point that Jews above all, having had experience of racism, should be the first to speak out against it.

I also link to another tribute to Alf from Martin Francis, who knew him in Brent.

I salute you comrade and your memory will live on.

Tony Greenstein
Six days of illegal bombing, preceded by months of blockades. The excuses from the Israelis for the bloodbath of innocent civilians are an insult. These bombings are simply crimes against humanity. The EU, UK and US have all contributed to this situation through their agreements on trade and export licences, and funding of Israel.

The Palestinians who struggle for survival, in spite of the unnecessary divisions, deserve our full recognition. Israel must be reminded that a "nation that oppresses another nation cannot itself be free". As a Jew, I condemn this massacre. It is not being done in my name, nor will it make me feel any safer as a result. There will not be any peace in the Middle East until the issue of Palestinian self-determination is fully resolved.

24 June 2011

UNISON Rejects Executive Report and Maintains Suspension of Links with Israel’s Apartheid Union Histadrut

Blow to those who wanted to relieve pressure on Israel and its Histadrut Supporters

Histadrut, Isral's apartheid union, has never, not once, opposed the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Not surprising since its building company (since privatised) Solel Boneh built the early settlements!

Like many people I believed that the sabotage by Shaher Saeed, the unelected General Secretary of the Palestinian trade union PGFTU, when he told a Unison delegation that he didn’t support a boycott of the apartheid Histadrut ‘trade union’ meant that the suspension of such links last year was likely to be overturned. Fortunately I was wrong. Saeed, a corrupt Fateh official, has previous form.

However Saeed was forced to issue a statement backtracking on what he had said. And there was a joint trade-union statement reemphasising the need to boycott the Histadrut. The UNISON Report was quite clear.

‘The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.’

Of course none of this was difficult to understand, after all Palestinian trade unions have no choice but to work with Histadrut. Just as German Jews were forced to say they were opposed to a boycott of German goods in 1933 (except for the Zionists who struck up a trade agreement with Jewish Palestine!) it obvious that they are not free agents.

Fortunately, despite the cowardice of the Unison Executive, the majority of Unison’s Conference saw through what was happening and the stupidity of the delegation and voted to maintain the suspension of links with Histadrut, which had openly welcomed and supported the attack on Gaza and the blockade and siege of Gaza. Last year what tipped the balance was the declaration by Histadrut supporting the murder of human rights activists on board the Mavi Marmara.

Next year activists need to get organised in Unison to turn the suspension into a breaking of links with this ‘union’.

Tony Greenstein

17 June 2011

A Funny Thing Happened Today as Unity FM Bows to Atzmon’s Blackmail

Atzmon Wants to Question Everything (especially the Holocaust) But Seeks Protection Through Censorship

Unity FM is a Muslim radio station in Birmingham and Sami Ibrahim is a presenter who has interviewed me on a number of occasions in the past, so it was no surprise when I got the following text message at just gone 1 pm:

Tel – 01217728892/07926843388 Or visit

I therefore rang Sami up and let him know that I considered Atzmon an anti-Semite not an anti-Zionist. Sami was understanding and said he’d welcome my putting Atzmon on the spot. Indeed he even offered to give me first shot and to call me at approximately 5.05 p.m. And Sami was as good as his word ringing me a couple of minutes later resulting in me having to ring him back.

Sure enough I was connected and listened to Atzmon begin his garbage. Sami then invited me to intervene, which I did. I asked what was quite a simple question, which was how Atzmon’s holocaust denial helped in any way support for the Palestinians. When Atzmon tried to duck and dive I quoted from his article Truth, History, and Integrity’ accessed 13.3.10. where he wrote that
‘If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich…, or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war?’
Atzmon goes on to explain that ‘I have been concerned with this simple question for more than a while’. This absurd interpretation of the death marches leads him to ask the following:
‘If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war?’

It couldn’t be much clearer. There was no death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the contrary when the concentration camps were abandoned by the Nazis, their Jewish inmates were eager to join them. Clearly there could have been no exterminations there.

Atzmon then tried to respond to what he termed his ‘internet now radio stalker’ (apparently criticising the great man counts as stalking!) and when I began laying into him for his lies and duplicity, and I repeatedly asked him how holocaust denial had anything to do with support of the Palestinians, he tried to interrupt. Eventually Sami told me that it was time for the adverts and I would be brought back in after the interval. And the radio connection to my phone continued as I listened to Atzmon trying to defend the indefensible. But I wasn’t called. In fact no one was called. A phone-in programme had turned into a monologue. Atzmon doesn’t like criticism and is particularly bad at responding to it. When I phone in on another line I was told firstly there was a technical fault and then that Sami Ibrahim had decided just to interview him.

It became clear from this conversation with the staff member that Atzmon had insisted, if he was to continue allowing himself to be interviewed, that I not be allowed to call him to account and Sami Ibrahim had bowed to his dictat in order to allow the programme to continue. The result? No phone in programme!

Atzmon struck me though as a man who has ready very little about Zionism and what he has read he takes as gospel. One of the few books he has read is Shlomo Sand’s book ‘The Founding of the Jewish People’ an excellent book, though not unproblematic, which I have reviewed in a number of publilcations. The problem is that Atzmon doesn’t understand it and he thinks that because Palestinians are more genetically akin to the ancient Jewish farmers, that gives them the right to their land. But this is nonsense . The rights of the Palestinians derive from their position as an indigenous population being displaced by largely European settlers, regardless of their genes.

Likewise Atzmon believes that until 1927 Ben-Gurion believed in assimilating the Palestinians rather than expelling them and attributes the latter to a post-1927 Ben-Gurion. In fact expulsion was on the agenda from the moment the Zionist movement was born. Ahad Ha’am castigated his fellow Zionists as early as the 1890’s in This is not the Way and other essays. Jewish Labour and Land policies took shape from the early 1900’s as a reading of something like Ben-Gurion’s Rebirth & Destiny would confirm. Brit Shalom, the Zionist peace group was founded in 1925, by people like Arthur Ruppin. But despite being wholly ignorant Atzmon gives the air of someone who knows what he is talking about.

Which is why he fought shy of having to confront my criticism of his anti-Semitism and ignorance. Despite believing the holocaust is a ‘narrative’ rather than a fact, Atzmon was strangely reluctant to discuss this, preferring a monologue.

The Stupidity of York Against the War

But in stupidity stakes ‘Bob’ of York Against the War takes first prize. In recent weeks I have been contacted by a number of activists in and around York Palestine Solidarity Campaign. York Against the War held a meeting on Monday June 6th featuring no less than the racist jazzman himself. Quite what support for racism has to do with opposition to war is one of those conundrums that I will leave to others.

Suffice to say I preferred to deal with the matter privately and thus did not blog on it at the time. Instead I wrote a letter to Bob, the organiser of York Against the War, protesting at the invitation of this racist: Entitled ‘Why is a Holocaust Denier, Gilad Atzmon Giving a Talk to York Against the War on 6th June?’ I copied the letter to the National Stop the War Committee, who have not replied.

I wrote:
Cc: office@stopwar.org.uk

Dear Bob,

I have just been sent a flyer for a meeting that you are holding in York on 6th June with Gilad Atzmon.

I am a Jewish member of Palestine solidarity as well as being active in the BDS Campaign. I find your decision, despite being fully informed as to who Atzmon is, outrageous.

In your flyer, which I'm copying for the benefit of those who I'm copying in, you state that Atzmon 'has written extensively about Middle East issues from an anti-Zionist viewpoint'.

Wrong. Atzmon is not an anti-Zionist. Atzmon is an anti-Semite, i.e. an anti-Jewish racist. Anti-Zionism is a form of anti-racism. Atzmon subsribes to the world Jewish conspiracy theorist so beloved of fascists.

‘Since America currently enjoys the status of the world's only super power and since all the Jews listed above declare themselves as devoted Zionists, [there is a list of Jews in the Bush White House - TG] we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously.’ [essay 'on anti-Semitism']….

'If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich (Judenrein - free of Jews), or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war?’ ... ‘If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war? ‘We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative.' [Truth History & Integrity] http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2011/03/guide-to-sayings-of-gilad-atzmon-anti.html

I trust that you can understand the word ‘If’ as in ‘If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau’. Atzmon seems to find this a matter of debate rather than fact. Try something like ‘If the USA rang Guantanamo’ to see how stupid and offensive it is.

Anti-Zionism and holocaust denial are not compatible, quite the contrary. Zionism historically has been supported by anti-semites just as today the EDL and most far-right groups support the Israeli state.

…. Your invitation to Atzmon is a disgrace, since I know you have been kept fully informed as to who you are inviting. Nick Griffin of the BNP was also opposed to the war but I assume that even you wouldn't have got down in the gutter to greet him.

I am copying this to Stop the War Coalition nationally in order that they are kept in the picture.

Tony Greenstein

I received no reply from Bob, so you can imagine my surprise when the letter appeared on Atzmon’s site

York PSC were approached to promote the Atzmon meeting. The branch decided (unanimously) not to do so. No Notice about the meeting was ever sent out by the branch. However someone who has not attendecd PSC meetings for years, was sent a copy of the publicity for the Atzmon. She circulated it to her list and posted it on a PSC list which consists of both members and supporters. The branch chair, Terry Gallogly, immediately disassociated the branch from the posting.'

I have subsequently been contacted by Andrew Collingwood who is a member of York PSC. He has made it clear that, "I have subsequently decided to have nothing to do with York Against The War" and there is an article posted to this effect on this blog.

Tony Greenstein

13 June 2011

The ‘Only Democracy in the Middle East’ Protects ‘Death to the Arabs’ march but violently attacks young Jewish demonstrator

This video speaks for itself. A young Jewish man dares to shout about human rights at the Jerusalem Day celebrations (for Zionism that is) and he is violently attacked by the Police, who take care to ensure that his mouth is covered by his keffiyah, thus preventing him from shouting or speaking.

Note at the same time, the usual ‘death to the Arabs’ march takes place through the Old City. Of course in this case the ‘only democracy’ is fully in favour of ‘free speech’ so there are no arrests (of the racists that is).

But none of this stopped the Israeli Police charging Lucas with attacking them!

Tony Greenstein

Video shows police violently arresting Jewish man in Jerusalem

19-year old 'Lucas' from Philadelphia was detained on Jerusalem Day earlier this month for 'attacking and biting a police officer'.

By Nir Hasson 13.6.11.

For one American Jewish teenager, this year's Jerusalem Day earlier this month turned out to be an event not to remember, as he was detained for two days on suspicion of attacking and biting a police officer.

"Lucas," a 19 year-old from Philadelphia, cut a rather different figure in the Jerusalem Day flag parade in the capital. Like many participants in the event, he wore a skullcap on his head; unlike the others, however, a Palestinian flag and a keffiyeh were also part of his outfit.

The youth, who arrived in Israel as part of a trip arranged by a Jewish-Christian group, claims he was attacked by a policeman during the celebrations.

The parade turned ugly this year when a small group of participants walked through East Jerusalem, and the Old City's Muslim Quarter, chanting "death to Arabs." Lucas, with a few comrades, stood opposite these demonstrators, and shouted out slogans in support of ending Israel's occupation of the territories. He says that dozens of Palestinians gathered behind him, and formed a spontaneous protest.

In a videotape, Lucas can be seen refusing to give policemen his passport, after he was apparently identified as the leader of the protest. After a few minutes, in the clip, a police officer is seen dragging Lucas forcibly into a police car.

"Israel is occupying the Palestinian people in my name, in the name of world Jewry," Lucas, clutching his American passport, tells the camera. "And I myself, an American Jew, is here to say that is completely unjustified and ethically reprehensible.

"And we, world Jewry and all people of the world, will not stop until this occupation ends and until the Palestinian people have their right - the right of return, the right to live without occupation, and equal rights within Israel. That is why we are here."

Israel Police claims the young man attacked and bit an officer - however, the video does not show Lucas provoking any officers. It shows a group of policemen forcing him to the ground and handcuffing him; as a result, he required medical treatment afterward.

For his part, Lucas adamantly denies that he attacked a police officer.

"I didn't bite anyone," he says. "The police officer showed me his cuts [later], but they were caused by a sharp instrument, and there weren't any bite marks."

Lucas was held in detention for two days. The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court denied a police request to extend his remand; at the advice of his lawyer and family, the youth left the country after being released.

12 June 2011

Will Kaufman Plays Woody Guthrie at the 30th Anniversary of Brighton Unemployed Centre

Blaming the Poor for Poverty is as Old as Capitalism

Thirty years ago, at the height of Thatcher’s monetarist induced recession, Brighton Unemployed Centre was formed by unemployed activists, the Trades Council and Workers Educational Association, as a voice and weapon of the unemployed. It was based in a small building in Coalbrook Road, long since demolished to make way for a bingo hall. In 1985 it moved nearer the centre of Brighton into larger premises, Prior House, after we had successfully brought pressure to bear on the then Tory Council.

Faced with the accusation from the rich and the gutter press that the poor are either 'deserving' or 'undeserving' of help, that it is individual fecklnessness and sin rather than capitalism which causes unemployment, we have been at the forefront of fighting those who seek to demonise the unemployed and reduce the social wage whilst dividing us on the lines of race and ethnicity.

The Centre had always been a radical place, a centre of organising against the fascists in the early 1980’s and a base for the oppressed and campaigning groups. The Centre always gave support to organised labour and the unions supporting for example the strike of the Ambulance workers in the late 1980’s, when Ken Clarke was Health Secretary, and the 1984-5 Miners Strike. Brighton Unemployed Centre provided facilities and support for all those taking industrial action and likewise supported the Poll Tax campaign, which helped bring down Thatcher, when millions of people refused to pay the hated poll tax.

It was not surprising therefore that when the Labour Party under Kinnock abandoned socialist politics and started on the road to New Labour, that the Centre came under fire. In 1992 a Council Grant, which enabled us to employ 3 workers was frozen and then cut. The newly ennobled Steve Bassam, someone I’d squatted with when I first came to Brighton in 1974, and who had been a vocal supporter of the Labour Left [see my pamphlet ‘The Noble Sayings of Lord Bassam’ led the attack on the Centre.

In 1996-7 civil war broke out at the Centre with between those who wanted the Centre to be just a charity and those of us who saw unemployment not as a matter of charity but an inevitable consequence of how capitalism operates. With the use of the dark arts, freezing its grant and threatening bankruptchy, the Council carved out a shaky majority.

In 1997 after a prolonged civil war, the Centre split and the political wing departed. However we took with us over £20,000 from the political wing, which the charity had been unable to get their hands on, despite the Charity Commission at one stage freezing it, to set up a new Centre.

In 1999 we set up a new Centre in Hollingdean. New Labour’s 3 sitting councillors greeted us with a petition complaining that we would bring in our wake, druggies, drunks and all-night parties. The Chair of the Planning Committee, Jean Lepper, wife of the local Labour MP, was one of these councillors and she and the Planning Committee (including its Green member, Pete West) blocked the grant of planning permission, despite the recommendation of planning officers in our favour. We ignored the committee and met Lepper’s petition of 125 people with one of over 200. About 8 months later, under the chairmanship of an old left-winger Chris Morley, the Planning Committee reversed itself unanimously and granted us both change of use and permission for our shutters! The new Centre itself was opened on May 1st 1999 by the late Ernie Trory, an old communist and one of the original hunger strikers of the 1930’s. And the icing on the cake of our 30th Birthday? Two of the three New Labour councillors – Pat Hawkes and Christine Simpson – lost their seats to the Greens in Hollingdean at the local elections this year!

It is therefore entirely appropriate that we put on a gig at the Latest Music Bar in central Brighton to celebrate our first 30 years. Will Kaufman, an academic at the University of Central Lancashire, who is bringing out a book Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin' this week , was our star and only performer!

Guthrie, was the musical genius who portrayed the American dustbowl of the 1930’s, who stood alongside those fighting fascism, the Okies who migrated to escape unemployment, workers fighting the bosses hired goon squads sent in to destroy trade unions. Dylan paid homage to him as he was dying of Huntington’s Chorea, before going on to betray everything he stood for. Guthrie’s literary equivalent John Steinbeck, in his Grapes of Wrath also captured the flavour of the times.

Kaufman is both a performer in his own right as well as an excellent interpreter of Guthrie’s music, which he has studied in depth. He performed a number of songs – Pretty Boy Floyd, This Land is Your Land, Do Re Mi - from Guthrie’s repertoire (some of which are captured below) including two of over 3,000 unpublished lyrics, which have been set to music by Billy Bragg. Kaufman interspersed his renditions of Guthrie’s songs with commentary on the context – the mass migration of the ‘Okies’ from Oklahoma to California. Attracted by false promises of good wages, only a tiny minority were employed in the fruit picking industry but the availability of thousands more hands ready to work ensured that the price of labour would be kept low.

The Los Angeles Police Department, a byword for corruption, brutality and racism, set up illegal roadblocks on the highways into California to stop the influx of Okies. Although LA is situated by the Pacific Oceon, LAPD sent its men to the borders of California to mount these roadblocks against fellow Americans. Patriotism has never extended, of course, to the poor! Signs in bars would often say ‘No niggers, no dogs, no Okies’. Racism against Black people and hatred of the poor would inevitably combine in the eyes of the American state.

Below are a few videos of the evening.

Tony Greenstein

At The Green Note this week, Will Kaufman will be launching his book ‘Hard Times & Hard Travellin’.
Camden, London,

Dr Will Kaufman presented 'Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin' event on 8 March 2007.

The hour-long musical programme was delivered by Dr Will Kaufman as part of the American Studies Resources Centre 20th Anniversary Guest Lecture programme at Liverpool John Moores University.

During the event Dr Kaufman set the songs of Woody Guthrie in the context of the American 1930s: the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the New Deal and the state of popular music itself.
He performed such hard-hitting Guthrie songs as 'Vigilante Man', 'Pretty Boy Floyd' and 'I Ain't Got No Home' and was in conversation with other songs of the Depression Era, such as Joe Hill's 'The Preacher and the Slave' and 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'. These renditions, buttressed by detailed historical commentary, exemplified the blending of music and radical politics that marks Guthrie's most powerful and evocative work.

Originally from New Jersey, Dr Kaufman is Reader in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. He has published widely on many aspects of American culture and has been a semi-professional folksinger and musician for over 30 years. He comes from a musical family (his brother, Steve Kaufman, is one of America's most celebrated bluegrass guitarists) and he is equally at home on the guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and piano.

11 June 2011

Bahrain – The Hidden Horrors the West is Covering Up

British Royal Family’s good friend, the King of Bahrain, launches wave of terror, torture and massacre against Protestors

We have all heard about the terrible things done by the Syrian regime under Assad, and the torture and mutilation of a 13 year old boy, Hamza al-Khatib.

But about Bahrain, there is virtual silence. Not only from the BBC, which is to be expected, but from Al Jazeera, whose owner, the Emir of Quatar, is good friends of the Bahraini regime. Aided by military forces from Saudi Arabia, which never sends its forces outside its borders except with the agreement of the United State, i.e. Obumah, the Bahraini Royal Family has launched a veritable wave of terror against its own population.

Now the Bahraini regime has gone one step further, beyond even the barbarities that are normally associated with the Queen and Charles’s friends in that region. It has even arrested and tortured the doctors and nurses who treated the injured, after security forces injure and killed them. But whereas the Syrian regime is rightly being criticised for its murder and torture, barely a word is said about Bahrain’s regime. Because they are ‘our’ i.e. Western capitalism’s friends. Their King is invited to the Royal Wedding. Their security forces are invited to test out the latest weaponry in arms fairs. The Syrian regime, allied to Iran, is of course different and so ‘human rights’ are all in vogue there.

Below is an article from today’s Independent and blow that an interview with Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize Winner and America’s prime investigative reporter, with a link to a further story in the Loss Angeles Times.

Tony Greenstein

Bahrain medical staff 'tortured for confessions'


By Patrick Cockburn, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Doctors and nurses put on trial in Bahrain yesterday told relatives they were beaten with hoses and wooden boards embedded with nails and made to eat faeces. They also had to stand without moving for hours, or even days, and were deprived of sleep in order to force them to sign false confessions.

The Bahraini authorities have put on trial 47 doctors and nurses before a security tribunal, accusing them of trying to overthrow the government, though they say all they did was treat injured pro-democracy protesters. Relatives of the health workers, who were allowed to speak to them for 10 minutes after the hearing, said the accused alleged that they had been psychologically and physically abused during their confinement.

One eyewitness said the health workers said the worst "forms of torture were during the interrogation in the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) in Adiya. But at the jail it was mainly humiliation and constant verbal abuse with the occasional beatings, however not as severe and extreme as at the CID."

The trial is a sign that the end of martial law on 1 June has had no effect on the government's repression of the majority Shia community. The court trying the health workers, most of whom worked at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, has military prosecutors and military and civilian judges, suggesting the end to martial law may have been a ploy ahead of Formula One's decision to stage the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Before the hearing yesterday, families of the doctors and nurses had only been able to communicate by phone. Lawyers had not seen their clients at all. Eyewitnesses said the appearance of the doctors confirmed fears of abuse. A witness told The Independent: "They were blindfolded and handcuffed and these were only removed when the [court] session began." The witness asked for their name to be withheld.

The health workers were arraigned in two groups, some 20 being charged with felonies and the remainder with misdemeanours. The first group "all had their heads shaven. Most of them had lost a lot of weight. Most were either in casual attire or pyjamas."

Some of the doctors are consultants with 20 years service with the Bahraini Health Ministry. The trial was adjourned until 13 June.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now Interviews Seymour Hersh

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, yes.

SEYMOUR HERSH: And so, you had something amazing—yes, you had something amazing going on. And what you have now—and that of course spread. That spread throughout the Gulf regions. And what you have now is a very, very—it’s sort of unremarked upon by the press here in America—you have a counterrevolution going on, fueled largely by the Saudis and their panic. You see the implication of that in Bahrain, where the unbelievable things are happening to the Shiites, the minority Shiites there. They may be a majority in terms of population, but certainly a minority in terms of power. And you have that regime brutalizing its people in a way that’s beyond, I would argue, anything going on elsewhere, including in Syria. As bad as it is in Syria, it’s much worse in Bahrain. And the United States, of course, for a lot of reasons, is ignoring that.

You have the Gulf states in a state of sort of controlled panic now. They’re all sort of locally owned oil combines, owned by various one-time Bedouin—you know, Bedouin desert livers, now suddenly owners of huge complexes of oil billionaires, all of them, and they want to stay in power in the Gulf—Oman, even Qatar. You can see a lot of problems with Al Jazeera’s coverage, particularly of Bahrain. Al Jazeera, for example, is always calling me, didn’t call me for this story because everybody wants to point fingers at Iran. The United States has essentially equated Iran’s upset and encouragement of some of the—encouragement of the stuff going on with Bahrain as—for the United States, this is as much of a sin as the Al Khalifa family beating the hell out of everybody and doing worse than that—particularly doctors and nurses—in Bahrain. So there’s a huge—

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s the home of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH:—counterrevolution going on.

Yes, absolutely, it is the home. And, of course, the Fifth Fleet often, wisely, will move a lot of their vehicles offshore when trouble gets going. Yes, it’s the home of our—Bahrain is an important base. It’s an important facility. But we could go other places, too, I’m sure. It’s just we have a lot of things there.

So you have the American response to—you have this GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Community or Committee. It’s probably the only defense organization in the world that’s designed for all the countries getting together to ward against internal dissent, not external threat, but internal threats. And so, we have this amazing institution. Morocco just joined the GCC. So, this is going on before our eyes, and we’re not paying enough attention to it.

And what we do is we focus on Iran as the bad guy: Iran is responsible, they’re shifting gear to the Syrians to help the Syrian Mukhabarat control its society, as if the Baathist Party in Syria needs outside help in doing that. They’re pretty good at it. We’ve made Iran into a bogeyman. And my own guess is, the reason we’re so intent on the sanctions and keeping them going, when there’s no evidence of any weaponization, there’s no real threat at all—even the Israelis—I was in Israel last in June—rather, in April, two months ago now. And I can’t—they have crazy, strange rules, ground rules, on what you can report. But I can tell you right now, the Israelis understand, the more sophisticated ones and serious people in the intelligence community there, they understand that that Iran doesn’t have a bomb now. If it decides to get one and they get a bomb, they’re not going to throw it against Tel Aviv, because they know that’s annihilation. They understand that, despite the fact they say different things and they raise the threat. So we’re making the Iranians sort of the people responsible for what’s going on, in terms of the revolutions, and we’re really on the wrong side of history on that, the United States.

It’s really the Saudis we should be looking at quite a bit. And when you get to that question, you then say, here are the Saudis, who obviously—we know from reports and from everything I’ve been told—are very angry at us. They feel that our support for Mubarak undercut them. You know, they like to keep rigid control over a population that includes, certainly in Saudi Arabia, many Shiites who work the oil fields. And so, you have the Saudis in full panic, refusing—in anger at us, refusing to increase the oil output, so the price of oil stays—gasoline is $4 or more a gallon. And then, here we have a president whose reelection is going to depend not on killing Osama bin Laden—hooray, he did it—but more on what the price of gasoline is going to be next year. And we have the Saudis stiffing us.

And here you have Iran, which is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the world, also has a lot of oil—its fields are diminishing, but it’s got a lot of stuff. The sanctions aren’t working. The Iranians are selling stuff to India, to China, Pakistan. They’re doing a lot of business. You think—I mean, dumb and dumber. You think maybe we would start doing what a lot of people in the article I published—Tom Pickering, the former secretary—under secretary of state, a longtime ambassador, very serious guy, is among those who’s been doing—involved in secret contacts with the Iranians and has been telling us for years, he and his group, “Get off this nuclear business. There’s a lot of other issues you could deal with the Iranians. They want to be respected. You could really get some progress,” and maybe even getting to the point where we can—we don’t have to—we’re not interested in changing the regime there. That’s impossible. We do know that. Unlike Bush and Cheney, Obama doesn’t want to. Maybe we can get to the point where you can start getting some of the energy that they have to produce. Instead, we’re trying to keep them from the market. It just doesn’t make sense. And sanctions, you know, go ask Castro how well they work. We’ve been sanctioning Cuba, what, since 1960, ’61, ’62, and, you know—and as far as I know, Cuba is still there, and so is Castro.

AMY GOODMAN:—the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh. Sy, we haven’t talked to you in a while. Your assessment of President Obama’s war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

SEYMOUR HERSH: A disaster. Stupid. I do think that the White House really wanted the bin Laden raid, about which I’ve been doing a lot of work. There’s always—things are always more interesting than they seem. I’m not suggesting he wasn’t killed or anything like that, but just more interesting. And I think the getting of bin Laden will give Obama the freedom to make a serious cut in this war in Afghanistan that everybody on the inside—everybody on the inside, believe me—I don’t know about Petraeus, General Petraeus, who for some reason is going to the CIA, just as for some reason Panetta, who doesn’t really know much about the Pentagon is going to the Pentagon. I don’t quite understand what they’re doing.

But this is a war that has nothing to do with American national security. And the obvious way out is to actually find a way to start talking to Mullah Omar. Instead, we keep on isolating him. And we’re driving Pakistan crazy with this war. We’re increasing the jihadism there. We’re increasing the terrorism there. We’re sticking it to the Paks in very direct ways. It’s a totally counterproductive system. We have our guys going out doing night raids. We always call them NATO, and the press goes along with calling them NATO. But our Joint Special Operations Command is still going out. I don’t fault the guys doing it. Let me make it clear, they’re very, very competent guys. They’re under orders, and they do what they do. They just do it very well. But there’s no way you’re going to make strikes at night and not kill an awful lot of noncombatants—”collateral damage,” they call it. And it’s just—we’re hated. We’re outsiders. We don’t have to be doing the bombs to be hated by the Pashtun. That’s been the society all along. The Pakistanis are in terrible fear of what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. They always see Afghanistan as bulwark against India. They’re afraid of our relationship with India.

And I’ll tell you the biggest problem he has, as awful as those things are, as counterproductive, and as much as he’s following, oh, yes, Bush and Cheney in those policies—and I think the President—I’ll be writing about this—I think he was really sandbagged by the Pentagon after he got into office, when he was new and innocent. And I still think—I think right now—I would almost use the word “cult” to describe what’s going on in the White House. Everything is political. He’s isolated. Very good people say they’ve never seen a president this isolated, in terms of being unable to get to him with different opinions, etc. So here’s really captive of a few people there. I know this may sound strange, but I know what I’m talking about. You can’t get to the guy—and even, for example, Pickering, as competent as he is. And Pickering has done some wonderful stuff for the United States intelligence community undercover, and so he’s known as a trusted guy. Those guys who have been involved in talking to Iran off the record, Track II policy talks, for years can’t get to the President. He may not even know they’re looking for him. I just don’t know.

And so, here we have this very bright guy continuing insane policies that are counterproductive, do nothing for the United States, and meanwhile the real crisis is going to be about Iraq, because, whatever you’re hearing, Iraq is going bad. Sunnis are killing Shia. It’s sectarian war. And the big question is going to be whether we pull out or not. And there’s going to be a lot of pressure to keep them—we’ve got 40,000 or 50,000 Americans there—to keep them there. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’ll tell you right now, there are Sunni Baathist groups in Damascus, in various places, in the United Kingdom—Leeds is one place—ready, as soon as we get out, to declare an alternative government, a provisional government, and announce that they’re going to retake Iran from the Shiites and from—Iraq from the Shiites, who they believe are totally tied in to the Iranians, which probably isn’t true, but that’s always been the fiction we have, or the fear we have: Iran controls Iraq. There’s a mutuality of interests, but Maliki is a very tough customer. You know, Maliki worked for 21 years in Syria as a cop for the Mukhabarat, for the secret police. He was working as a sergeant there for 21 years in Syria, before he went back as an exile after we kicked out Saddam. He is nobody’s patsy. But there’s going to be a holy hell there. It’s going to be probably the biggest problem the President has next year, along with gas, along with the crazy Republicans that are running against him. He’s going to—and along with Afghan and along with Iran, it’s going to be Iraq. We’re going to be back looking at Iraq, as that country goes berserk.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sy Hersh, I want to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: That’s very cheerful. I’m really Mr. Happy News, huh?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to get back to the Arab Spring for a moment and ask you, do you think that in Egypt—for example, the uprisings that led to the overthrow of Mubarak and now to the trial, apparently, the trial of Mubarak, it is understandable why the Egyptian people would want to put this ruthless leader on trial. But do you think that the trying of Mubarak has had repercussions throughout the rest of the region, with all these other dictators who say, “Well, I better fight to the end, because if not, I will end up like Mubarak, will be immediately put on trial by my people”?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you know, I can’t say that about the trial, because I haven’t actually talked to anybody about whether the trial makes a difference. But before that, I would say what you’re saying is absolutely right. The moment the United States—the waffling that the President did—if you remember, he was with the kids, he was against the kids, and we had the Secretary of State saying the same thing, with, against. There’s no question that the fear—there’s an enormous fear in the Arab world, in the Gulf, in the Gulf region. And right now they’re very angry at us. They’re terrified of Iran. And they’re very worried about internal security.

They’re worried about—what’s going on in Bahrain is, I’m telling you, it’s a sensationally underreported story. The brutality there is beyond—it’s shocking. And again, the Saudis are directly involved, sort of with our OK. Again, if you don’t think Saudi Arabia has enormous control over Saleh in Yemen, you’re not paying attention. He’s got enormous control over him. The Saudis—if the Saudis wanted to, they could play a very positive role there. They’re not. He’s their guy. And so, you have this counterrevolution fed by the Saudi billions. And the Saudis went recently in the—Prince Bandar, my favorite dark prince, was recently in Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are supplying some thuggery, some arms, some muscle, in Bahrain. And I think the Pakistanis are also helping out in internal security inside Saudi Arabia itself. And so, everybody is muscling up now to beat up the kids who want to do something.

And meanwhile, if you look at it, the single biggest blow against al-Qaeda, I would argue—bin Laden, of course, was great, wonderful, I’m glad he’s gone and all that stuff—but the other big blow was the Arab Spring, because once you lose the sense of humiliation among the Arab population and the sense of fear—you’re seeing that in Syria right now, although that’s also complicated, because the Saudis are deeply involved in trying to get rid of—or certainly make it more difficult for Bandar—for Bashar Assad to exist. That’s a more complicated position. But once the fear is gone, al-Qaeda is gone.

So, the one thing we had going for ourselves, in terms of getting rid of these terrorists who prey on the frustrations of the Arab young, wow, instead, we’re going the wrong way. And it’s a horrible mistake. It’s happening right in front of us. It’s not being seen, but it’s right there to be seen. And it’s just this country, this president—traditionally, we’ve been unable to pull the trigger on the Saudis. Even now, when confronted with heinous activity, we still can’t pull the trigger on the Saudis, because of the need for oil. And again, this is a country, Saudi Arabia, that is not lifting—not agreeing to lift two or three more billion barrels a day. They’re at eight-and-a-half billion. We’d love them to go to 11, 10-and-a-half and 11. That would take pressure off the price. And it’s politically useful for the President not to—for the President to have it happen. It’s not going to happen.

So, Arab Spring is being undercut enormously. There’s still some hope in Egypt, because the kids are so strong, the movement there is so strong. But I can tell you, Suleiman, the leader of the intelligence service, is still there. I think an awful lot—I would look at Libya as part coming out of Arab Spring. An awful lot of it comes out of Libyan intervention. There’s been a longstanding American CIA role and opposition to Gaddafi. And one of the things Gaddafi drove everybody crazy with, just to show you how silly the world is, every oil deal he wanted 20 percent on the top of. And so, there was a lot of corporate anger at him, too. He was getting 20 percent kickback. Even Saddam, in the heyday, only wanted 10 percent. It all comes down sometimes to money. And I don’t know what’s going to happen there.

Source: Democracy Now!

See also BAHRAIN: Fourth person dies in police custody as human rights groups allege torture

Los Angeles Times, 13.4.11

7 June 2011

The Arabs and the Holocaust - Review

An important book. Gilbert Achcar’s ‘The Arabs & the Holocaust’ looks at the relationship of the Arabs and Palestinians to the Nazis . It demolishes a number of myths the Zionists have built up around the holocaust, such as the ‘fact’ that the Arabs and Palestinians were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Nazis. Have reviewed it for the most recent edition, Volume 10 of the Journal of Holy Land Studies.

I am forbidden by the terms of my agreement with the publishers to republish it on this site but those of you with 18 dollars or so...

Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (London: Saqi Books, 2010). 237 pp. Hardback. ISBN: 9780863566394

2 June 2011

Israel Takes the Same Path as Hungarian Fascism Did Prior in pre-Holocaust Hungary

German guards oversee the assembly of Jews in Kamenets-Podolsk
prior to their transportation to a site outside of the city for execution
No to Israeli 'Numerus Clausus' Laws

In September 1922 the Numerus Clausus Act was enacted in Hungary. It restricted Jewish participation in the universities to the same percentage that the Jews had amongst the population as a whole. Numerus clausus had been a feature of anti-Semitism in Czaris Russia and this was a flagrant breach of the League of Nations Minority Treaties. The leadership of the Churches made the mildest comments and the leadership of the Jewish community in Hungary raised little objection. The Zionists had no objection whatsoever

But this first anti-Semitic act paved the way for three successive anti-Jewish laws in May 1938, May 1939 and August 1941. The first law imposed a ceiling (20%) on Jewish participation in the professions, the second law defined Jews racially and forbade their employment by the State and limited participation in other professions to 6%. The 3rd anti-Jewish law forbade sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. These laws laid the basis for the Hungarian holocaust and the growth of the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross/Nyilas under Ferecz Sazalasi. Although there was an interlude between the Bardossy government in 1942 (which had initiated the first massacres in Novi Sad in January 1942 and the first deportations to Kameniec-Podolsk in April 1941 when thousands of stateless Jews were murdered by the Nazis). [see Randolph Braham’s The Politics of Genocide – the Holocaust in Hungary].

It is therefore fitting that a new ‘numerus clausus’ directed at Arabs, and to a lesser extent the Haredi (Orthodox Jews in Israel who don’t serve in the army but who are represented in government by the ultra-racist Shas party) is now being enacted. Proposed by MKs Hamad Amar, David Rotem and Alex Miller of Yisrael Beteinu. But was is notable is that according to the Ha'aretz article below ‘it was an opposition MK, Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who was most ardently in favor:”.

In fact what is being proposed has been done unofficially for years. Two years ago I covered the attempt of Israel Rail to make it a condition of working on the railways that one has served in the army! No you don’t need to be able to fire a gun to be a guard on a train but since only Jews serve in Israel’s army (bar the small Druze community and some Bedouin and Circassians) it was an easy way to bar Arabs from the best jobs. That time the racist were rumbled and backed off. But now the government is proposing to make this official. If you are an Arab you don’t belong in the civil service. This is an exact emulation of the 2nd Hungarian anti-Jewish law of May 1939.

Below there is an excellent article by Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz making exactly these comparisons.

The spirit of the proposed bill is more important than the language, and everyone is clear on its purpose: to get rid of the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.
01.06.11 By Aluf Benn Haaretz June 1, 2011.

On July 22, the parliament in Budapest met to vote on Law Number 25 which established the entry requirements to universities in Hungary. The bill stated that for higher learning only those of "unblemished ethical standard, who have demonstrated loyalty to the Hungarian nation," would be let in, and that the university student body must reflect the nations and ethnic groups in the country in accordance to their relative numbers in the overall population.

On the face of it, the bill was meant to ensure fair and equitable representation but everyone realized its real purpose: to dwindle the number of Jews among the student body. Only six percent of the Hungarian population was Jewish at the time, but they made up as much as 30 percent of the student body. When the bill was brought to a vote, most of the parliamentarians from the centrist parties were absent from the plenum. The bill passed with the votes of the extreme right wing and entered history as the Numerus Clausus Law, the first institutional expression of anti-Semitism in Europe during the interwar years.

Among the thousands of Jewish students who abandoned Hungary were John von Neumann and Edward Teller, who went on to develop game theory and the hydrogen bomb. Their skills and those of their colleagues did not interest Hungarian nationalists. They wanted to throw the Jews out, even at the cost of a brain drain. Politicians in Budapest were only concerned about international pressure, which indeed eased the restrictions a few years later. But the damage had already been done: The Jewish geniuses were gone, and Hungary continued its downfall into fascism.

The proposed Affirmative Action bill, which passed last week through the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and is on its way to a preliminary reading, is marching along the same path. The bill proposed by MKs Hamad Amar, David Rotem and Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu seeks to give preference for civil service jobs to those who served in the IDF. On the face of it, justice is being done in favor of "those who lay in ambush and risked their lives," to quote Amar, preferring them over those who evaded the draft and were able to go to university at age 18.

But like in Hungary of 1920, so too in Israel of 2011, the spirit of the law is more important than the language, and everyone is clear on its purpose: to get rid of the Haredim and the Arabs. The state is the one that exempted them from mandatory military service and now wants to punish them for alleged "evasion."

MK Rotem, who chairs the Knesset Law Committee, explained his position during discussions: "I hear constantly talk about the right to equality. I think that the military cemeteries should be closed, there is no equality there. They do not bury Arabs there."

To the Shas representative MK Nissim Zeev, who opposed the bill, Rotem said: "I do not care about your world."

Rotem responded rudely to the representatives of ministries who expressed reservations at the bill, saying it was redundant and possibly also illegal. "At noon today you will see how legal it is" Rotem told attorney Tziona Koenig-Yair, Commissioner for Equal Opportunities at the Workplace. "What is your [lawyer's] license number?" "19893," she said.

Rotem then went on to deal with the Justice Ministry's representative, attorney Dan Oren: "And what is your license number?"

What is the relevance, wondered Oren, and insisted: "It is our function and we have expertise in these matters."

Koenig-Yair gave in: "I apologize to the chairman if there was something offensive in my statements."

The government of Benjamin Netanyau, which has sought to oppress the Arab community since it was established, was, of course, in favor of the "Affirmative Action Bill." Not all committee MKs fell in line: Benny Begin voted against the bill in the preliminary reading, Isaac Herzog petitioned against it, but Rotem said that "he can no longer file a petition." During the vote in the Law Committee, it was an opposition MK, Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who was most ardently in favor: "From a moral point of view, I consider this a most important law," he said. Schneller joined the two representatives of Yisrael Beiteinu, and against the two Haredi MKs, passed the bill to the next stage.

The nationalists in Israel, like their predecessors in Hungary during the past century, do not care about the loss of talent or exacerbation of domestic tensions. They are interested in harming minorities and pushing them out. And like their predecessors in the parliament in Budapest, the representatives of the center in our Knesset have opted to sit in the cafeteria instead of fighting racist bills.