Israel is Losing the Debate – in More Ways Than One

Courtesy of Ben White @ Middle East Monitor:

Last night, I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union on ‘This House Believes Israel is a Rogue State.’ Speaking alongside Ghada Karmi and Norman Finkelstein for the proposition, the motion was carried by 51 percent to 19 percent – with a 7 percent swing from the pre-debate vote.

The debating chamber was packed, and the atmosphere charged. At the end of the debate, cries of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ rang out. But my main takeaway from the proceedings was the sheer weakness of the opposition’s arguments – a microcosm of pro-Israel propaganda that simply no longer works.

In my opening speech, I pointed out that the issue was not about whether Israel is ‘perfect’, or makes ‘mistakes’. To concede that Israel is ‘not perfect’, as I suggested the opposition may do, is in fact no concession at all, and misses the point. The issue is whether Israel violates international law and human rights, and whether it does so systematically.

I also stressed that the debate was not about the record of other countries or actors, in the region or elsewhere. It was not about Iran or Syria, Hamas or ISIS, North Korea or Russia. The Cambridge debating chamber hosts debates about dozens of topics of international interest but last night, the subject was Israeli policy, and the question was plain – is Israel a rogue state?

Yet in the speech directly following mine, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, opened up for the opposition by stating exactly what I had predicted just minutes before: ‘Israel is not perfect.’ Such is the reliance of Israel’s apologists on predictable talking points.

Similarly, Wineman – like the other two opposition speakers – indulged in the familiar tactic of citing abuses by other states (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, etc.). The rest of his talk was a regurgitation of tired talking points about the Israeli army’s morality and so forth.

Joining Wineman in opposing the motion were Hannah Weisfeld, head of liberal Zionist advocacy group Yachad, and Davis Lewin, deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society.

Weisfeld’s approach was to immediately state she had no intention of defending the occupation or settlements. The bulk of her speech was an attempt to demonstrate that Israel could not be a rogue state because it has parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a free press, and that critics of the government are not arrested.

She did not clarify if this wonderful list also applies to the millions of Palestinians living for half a century under a military regime. Continue reading

Tories explore possibility of temporary withdrawal from European convention on human rights

As reported in the Guardian and the Mirror, the UK is considering temporary withdrawal from the European convention of human rights. Why would they need to withdraw and when would it be re-instated?

The issue stems from Abu Qatada and the governments inability to deport him. The inability stems from the fact that the European Court of Human Rights and our own British courts both believe and have found Qatada shouldn’t be deported. Both courts believe that he should not be deported to Jordan because he may be tried with evidence obtained under torture. For anyone who has watched Zero Dark Thirty recently enhanced interrogation techniques = torture, banned under the ECHR and rightfully so.

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Abu Qatada is a minor issue in himself but a political nightmare for Cameron and May. I personally can’t believe what they are suggesting and what it says to the rest of the world about Britain. It is a massive step back in freedom and policy, not forward. How can we claim to be spreading democracy and freedom through the world when we are withdrawing basic human rights for our own citizens? We cannot opt out of human rights when it suits us!

What are the articles of the ECHR and are they relevant? Here’s just section 1 listed and there are 13 Protocols filled with articles:

Article 1: Obligation to respect human rights
Article 2: Right to life
Article 3: Prohibition of torture
Article 4: Prohibition of slavery and forced labour
Article 5: Right to liberty and security
Article 6: Right to a fair trial
Article 7: No punishment without law
Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life
Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Article 10: Freedom of expression
Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association
Article 12: Right to marry
Article 13: Right to an effective remedy
Article 14: Prohibition of discrimination
Article 15: Derogation in time of emergency
Article 16: Restrictions on political activity of aliens
Article 17: Prohibition of abuse of rights
Article 18: Limitation on use of restrictions on rights

I’ve read through all the articles and protocols and they make sense if we live in a democratic free society. To remove them in order to save face and deport 1 man, maybe 2, maybe more, is a petty act of a desperate government. What it says to me is it would be willing to void your rights to make a point and avoid political embarrassment. The government no longer serves the people, it seems to serve a different agenda.

Is all hope lost? Certainly not, speak to your friends and family, social network and write to your MP and MEP. I use Write to them as they are rated on their ability to write back and in a timely manor. Raise awareness and let people know the truth about human rights. They can never be suspended if we do in fact live in a fair and free society. From an international perspective, the claim of spreading freedom and democracy while removing domestic freedoms is a hypocritical and despotic act.