Saturday 27 October 2012

Vincent Browne and the Israeli “cancer” that poisons Western foreign policy

Controversy erupted when firebrand left-wing Irish broadcaster Vincent Browne referred to Israel as a “cancer” on the 23rd October, during his popular TV programme Tonight with Vincent Browne (TV3).

When discussing the final US presidential debate between Obama and Romney, Browne was critical of what he saw as a failure to discuss American support for Israel. In an outspoken fashion, he stated:
Israel is the cancer in foreign affairs. It polarises the Islamic community of the world against the rest of the world…. It’s a massive injustice. They [the Jews] stole the land from the Arabs. 

Browne later defended his remarks which he justified by using an extremely dubious historical argument:
The reality is the Israeli State was founded by confiscation of land previously occupied by Arabs. That injustice is at the centre of the conflict.
Actually the conflict is founded on the fact that Israel is located in what Muslims refer to as “Dar al-Islam” — hence its very existence (pre or post 1967 borders) is an offence. Furthermore, his assertion is a gross oversimplification as most Jewish habitation was placed on Miri or public land and waste land as defined in Article Six of the British Mandate, and legally purchased land. Brown went on to state that the word “cancer” was ill chosen:
I didn’t mean it [Israel] should be eliminated. It was an infelicitous use of the word.
Browne’s insistence that he does not wish to see Israel “eliminated” can be doubted with good reason. The problem with his explanation is that he appeals to the historic founding of Israel in his subsequent explanation, and seemingly in his initial criticism as well. Thus, his stance stands in stark contrast to common criticism of Israel for it being located on its June 1967 borders, a consequence of the Six-Day War, in which they took possession, during a defensive conflict, of the Sinai, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Therefore, it would seem Browne takes issue with Israel’s presence even in its pre-1967 form.

Notwithstanding the point above, was use of the word “cancer” ill-chosen or in keeping with Browne’s previously expressed views? Arguably it is the latter for his prejudice against Israel is very well known.

For example, Browne can quite often be heard on his show expressing the belief that Israel is simply filled with European Jews colonising the land. That point is illustrative of Browne’s ignorance of Israel’s history because much of the Jewish populace within Israel today is descended from Jews that were persecuted and expelled from Arab lands. Moreover, the principles upon which the Jewish State was founded, the need for a haven for the Jewish People, is both a moral right in itself and a necessity following persecution for in excess of a millennia in both the Islamic and Christian worlds. The Jewish People qualify as a displaced indigenous group but Browne’s casual and contemptuous assertions also by inference amount to a denial of their historic roots, and their moral right to return to their homeland.

Browne’s issue with Israel and the West, and a corresponding support for Islamism, is a long standing one. In the aftermath of the 2010 Gaza Flotilla he described the terrorism emanating from Gaza as little more than stone throwing. To quote an article by David Quinn some years ago:
In The Irish Times the other day we had Vincent Browne calling for the West to give into virtually all of the demands of al-Qa’ida, Hamas, Hizbollah, the Iranians, and I suppose the Taliban as well. He imagines that if America pulled the plug on the Saudi royal family… and if the West generally stops interfering in the affairs of Muslims countries, then all will be well… If all these things happen, Muslim rage would continue to burn because Browne, like the left in general, misdiagnoses the real cause of that rage.
Thus, it would seem Browne’s use of the word “cancer” conforms closely with his views on the Middle East. His views are extreme to say the least, and the fact that he is happy to express them in a show that ought to be impartial on complex issues suggests he is ill suited for a popular slot on the Irish airwaves.

Little wonder Enda Kenny, the highest ranking Irish politician at present, has consistently refused to accept Browne’s invitations for interview. Sadly however, his firebrand style of leftist posturing has become popular in a nation struggling at an individual and collective level with severe banking debt.

Many did not view his reply to the criticism favourably. Regarding the fashion in which he addressed the comments in a subsequent show:
He didn’t apologise… He also behaved like a typical bully and said he was being blackmailed.
So to sum up, horrid pro-Israeli’s and Israeli-Jews (presumably) have blackmailed poor Mr. Browne by criticising him for word use that is more appropriately found in the vocabulary of a hate-filled Iranian ayatollah than an experienced political journalist with decades of experience in the industry.

Postscript (3rd March 2013)

It was announced this week that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) upheld some complaints by viewers concerning Vincent Browne’s anti-Israeli comments. The BAI said that the item in the show carrying Browne’s remarks "failed to meet the requirement for fair, objective and impartial treatment of news and current affairs". They disagreed that the remarks constituted anti-Semitism but added that the comments about Israel were made without apparent relevance to the discussion at hand.

TV3 will be forced to issue an apology on Television for Browne’s remarks, leading Brendan O'Connor to quip during his monologue on the popular Saturday Night Live (RTE) TV show: "TV3 is to apologise to Israel for Vincent Browne. That’s all very well but when are they going to apologise to the rest of us?"

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Monday 1 October 2012

Exporting Extremism: Irish Parliamentary Committee Recommends Boycotting Jewish Settlements

Carlos Latuff is known for displaying an overt hatred of Jews but it would seem he also deals
in risible stereotyping when it comes to his ideological friends too!

On the 19th of September an Irish parliamentary committee recommended a complete ban on imports from supposedly “illegal” West Bank Jewish settlements.

The committee will make the proposal to Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (second to the Prime Minister) and Foreign Affairs Minister. It would seem this process is merely a formality because Eamon Gilmore is very much behind the idea of boycotting Jewish settlements, even to the point of banning the entry of settlers into Europe!

Interestingly, a pro-Palestinian Christian group was the focal point of the committee meeting:
All members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade were supportive of a submission today from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel(EAPPI), a human rights observer organisation, calling for such a ban.
In reality this “human rights observer organisation” is in fact an extreme anti-Israeli group that has the singular propagandistic purpose of bringing Christians to the West Bank, to turn them into agents with the intent of demonising the Jewish State back home.

Both houses of the Irish parliament have been strongly pro-Palestinian for several decades. However, that bias should not have precluded professional politicians from at least providing a modest semblance of balance by engaging a group to represent Israel’s interests before recommending such drastic action.

Tell a fib often enough…

During the committee meeting EAPPI asserted the pro-Palestinian claim that Jewish settlements are the chief issue preventing peace:
Joe O’Brien, advocacy co-ordinator with EAPPI said the illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank had “long been recognised by the UN, the US and the EU as the biggest barrier to peace” in the region.
Despite the frequent claims of illegality, Jewish settlements in the West Bank do not break international law, due in part to Article Six of the Mandate to Palestine permitting close Jewish settlement in the region. Neither did Israel displace a legitimate sovereign.

The idea Jewish settlements somehow impede peace does not stand up to scrutiny either. Arafat walked out of the Camp David peace talks, chiefly over the proposal of shared sovereignty of the Temple Mount (Haram), Abbas dropped peace talks with Olmert in 2008 despite being offered almost 100% of territorial claims. Since then, Abbas has been running scared by putting the cart (settlements) before the horse (peace talks). He refused to meet Netanyahu until the very end of an ten month settlement freeze only to demand another before continuing.

Earlier this year, a senior representative of Netanyahu’s was regularly talking with PA representatives in Jordan in an attempt to restart talks. Unsurprisingly the talks-about-talks approach failed. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s Representative to the United Nations, said:
Direct negotiations are the only tool, the only way and the only path to create two-states for two peoples. Last January, Israel offered a clear proposal in Amman for restarting direct negotiations. We presented the Palestinian delegation with negotiating positions on every major issue separating the parties.
That proposal – filled with Israel’s vision for peace – continues to gather dust, as Palestinian leaders continue to pile up new pre-conditions for sitting with Israel. They are everywhere except the negotiating table.
In the summer Abbas indefinitely postponed a most unpopular meeting with a senior Israeli politician, the first such meeting in two years that had intended to be a starting point for resuming talks.

Why is Abbas unwilling to even meet? It could be said that the obsessive condemnation of Israel by the international community discourages the Palestinians from making the slightest compromise for peace. Settlements take up just 2% of the West Bank. Are certain committees and their ilk as blameworthy?

Broader motives behind the committee meeting

Whilst an Irish boycott of Jewish settlements is serious, the implications of the committee meeting can also be understood at a broader level since Ireland will be taking the rotating EU presidency in January.
Eric Byrne, TD, (Labour), said the Government should take a lead in Europe by instituting such a ban and should champion an EU-wide ban during Ireland’s presidency next year.
This perspective is in line with policy in the European Union, which has long adopted an antagonistic political stance on Israel.

The EU has trade agreements with Israel but refuses to offer the same benefit to goods from settlement areas. Yet the status quo may be tenuous. For example, the first step of a prospective pharmacological trade agreement, which would benefit EU citizens significantly, only scraped through due to two abstentions.

The prospect of an EU wide boycott may have motivated the EAPPI submission. Joe O’Brien asserted:
Ireland could take a powerfully symbolic and moral stance by banning produce from illegal Israeli settlements from the Irish market. […]
Though the value of products from the illegal settlements is small here - about €7 to €8 million a year, he said the move would be internationally very important.
Indeed, Omar Barghouti, a likely racist who is a founding member of the pro-boycott organisation PACBI, and the face of the BDS Movement today, stated:
This new Irish parliamentary move should become a model to be emulated by all European lawmakers who claim to care about human rights and international law

A deck stacked toward extremism and hypocrisy?

As has been stated by commentators previously, such a boycott is not so much an attack on settlements as an attack on Israel itself, and indeed committee member Senator Jim Walsh (Fianna Fáil party) suggested:
In the background we shouldn’t rule out banning all Israeli products.
Walsh is one of the numerous politicians (mainly IRA linked Sein Fein party members) that signed a statement demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza. He also put his name to a petition demanding the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners on hunger-strike, despite a number of them being associated with terrorism.

However, many of those reasonably familiar with the broad attitude of the Irish Parliament toward Israel would consider Walsh’s views to be relatively normal for that venue, and his anti-Israel actions to be unremarkable. This is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the issue, the fact that hardly anyone batted an eyelid. It was merely a foreseeable conclusion to decades of demonising anti-Israeli rhetoric.

It seems the committee was little more than a charade to lend their recommendations some credibility. Pat Breen was the Committee Chairman, an MP who held the honour of being Chairman of the Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group. Also present was Gerald Nash, present chairman of the same group, who has promoted the EAPPI. Other members, such as David Norris were also present. Norris is known for coming remarkably close to defending Hamas:
My colleague, Deputy Eric Byrne, raised the question of the murder of Hamas officials. I do not have much time for Hamas but it was democratically elected. We cannot subvert democracy by murdering them.
Thus, it would be undemocratic to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas military commander assassinated in Dubai, even while in an effective state of war with the group now ruling a defacto state!

Non-members of Oireachtas Friends of Palestine also present have similarly extreme opinions, e.g. MP Pádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sein Fein), who sounds more like a representative of the Iranian Embassy:
In 2005 Iran brought forward a proposition to allow co-operation with external public or private interests, moving beyond a responsibility to allow monitoring. This issue can be resolved, as neither Iran nor any neighbouring state wants to imagine a conflict based on the use of nuclear weapons. However, Iran has its back against the wall in defending itself. The international community must engage with in on the proposition made in 2005.
Mac Lochlainn frequently calls for sanctions against Israel to force it to give up its nuclear arsenal. Thus, he wants to punish a State that has never threatened another with annihilation, whilst defending a major terrorist sponsor! Little wonder he also whitewashes and supports Palestinian violence:
Does the Tánaiste understand why young people on the West Bank consider it necessary to lift stones, their only weapon of resistance…
Ironically, at a time when representatives of Irish State have been increasingly speaking of boycotting Israel, they have been making strenuous efforts to improve business ties with China, including lucrative tax arrangements and investment schemes. Could it be that the Irish State thinks economic superpowers are not subject to any moral imperative, while a small state struggling for survival ought to be isolated and delegitimised whenever possible? Probably, for as the Mayor of Athlone stated in February:
Ireland has not been preaching to the Chinese about human rights.

Originally published at the New English Review.