Saturday 9 November 2013

Inverting Journalistic Ethics – Near FM’s Justification for Anti-Israel Bias

Article updated (December 2013)

Near FM's logo

Near FM, an Irish radio station based in Dublin, broadcast a show on March the 26th 2013, featuring the trenchant views of a group called ‘Gaza Action Ireland’. No less than four anti-Israel activists offered their views, which the presenter, one Peter Kearney, sympathised with. The radio presenter, and the programme makers, did not provide any alternative perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Sadly, an unquestioningly anti-Israel perspective is all too common an occurrence in the Irish media. In this instance, however, it concerned a radio show displaying prejudice rather more unashamedly than usual. The show represented an overt platform for propaganda, and the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Boaz Modai, made a formal complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The complaint was upheld, of nine complaints that the BAI had considered in its most recent group of broadcasting compliance decisions, it was the only one deemed to constitute an instance of malpractice.

Coverage of the story in the Irish Daily Mail

Such decisions should be treated as an opportunity to review journalistic practice, particularly given Near FM’s role as a broadcaster with a community-orientated remit. However, such reflection may be unlikely in view of their response since they mounted a rather absurd defence against the complaint.

Near FM dismissed the assertion that the radio programme’s presenter, Peter Kearney, was promoting an anti-Israel position himself. Near FM claim he was simply restating the views of ‘Gaza Action Ireland’ without qualification, a view the BAI would reject.
The broadcaster states that the allegations that the presenter promoted a personal anti-Israeli stance are untrue as the statements attributed to him are merely restatements of the opinions of his interviewees.
Therefore, for Near FM, it would seem that the role of journalism isn’t so much to be an endeavour of enquiry and objectivity, but rather that of parroting the selective and subjective stances of interviewees.
Near FM told the BAI that the presenter was covering an event held by Gaza Action Ireland and the pieces were representative of this event.
– in other words Near FM feels the radio programme represented acceptable content, for it was merely covering an event held by ‘Gaza Action Ireland’! Therefore, from this ethical standpoint, it would seem to be completely acceptable to present uncritical coverage of events by other highly-politicised groups, such as the far-right Irish National Party.

Abdul Haseeb, known for possessing Islamist values, presented and produced a regular Near FM radio show for a number of years. Haseeb featured coverage of almost identical events in the past, e.g. an IPSC support-Gaza event.

Near FM tried to get out of the complaint by citing a technicality, whereby broadcasters are entitled to present one perspective on a subject in a given programme, if they cover other perspectives in other programmes. However, the BAI also rejected this point as the other programmes cited, which contained some Israeli perspectives, were not linked as a radio series, and were separated by large time periods. These programmes were characterised as "balanced" by Near FM, i.e. neither contained exclusively pro-Israel views as a perspectival counter-weight to the prejudicial programme of the 26th March.

Near FM rejected the assertions of Mr. Modai, by forwarding a series of excuses that displayed an almost inverted sense of journalistic ethics, offering little prospect of improvement. Near FM receives a degree of funding from the BAI, a governmental body that distributes broadcasting licence fee moneys, for individual projects, under the Sound and Vision Fund.

On November 7th, Near FM broadcast a statement by the BAI at the start of a radio programme called ‘International Politics’. The BAI statement, which Near FM is obliged to broadcast under the terms of their broadcasting licence, was removed from their online podcast of the show within hours. Yet at the time of publication, the offending 26th March radio show remains available on their website. Below is a transcript of the BAI’s statement.

The Compliance Committee of the BAI has considered a complaint about an edition of ‘International Politics’ broadcast on NearFM on the 26th of March 2013. The programme dealt with political issues relating to Israel and Palestine. The complainant, His Excellency Mr. Boaz Modai, the Ambassador of the State of Israel to Ireland, argued that the treatment of this issue lacked fairness, objectivity and impartiality. In particular, he stated that the programme lacked any contributions reflecting the views of the State of Israel, and that the presenter of the programme endorsed what the complainant described as the biased comments of those interviewed on the programme.
Following its review of the broadcast and submissions from the broadcaster and the complainant, the Compliance Committee has upheld the complaint.
The Committee found that the programme included comments that were highly critical of the impact of the State of Israel on Palestinian citizens. While noting that criticisms of the foreign and domestic policies of nation-states can be appropriate, it was the view of the Committee that this programme provided no alternative voices to counter-balance the criticisms of the State of Israel expressed by guests on the programme. The Committee also found that a number of the presenters’ comments, when coupled with the failure to challenge the contributions of his interviewees, would have reasonably left listeners with the impression that he endorsed the perspectives of the interviewees.
Taken together, the programme was considered contrary to the requirement of the Broadcasting Act 2009 for current affairs programmes to be fair, objective and impartial.

Update (December 2013)

Peter Kearney, the presenter of a 26th March Near FM radio show, which was deemed to be prejudicial by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), went to the lengths of publicly ridiculing the broadcasting authority’s ruling on a later Near FM radio segment.

Kearney, argued that if he did express approval of the opinions of his anti-Israel interviewees, he would have been correct in doing so. However, he seemed to contradict this stance, in saying that all he did was allow their opinions to be expressed. This perspective misrepresents the substance of the complaint to the BAI. The complaint related substantively to the presenter’s approval, and endorsement, of the views of highly politicised activists, rather than mere expression of their views. Moreover, there was no attempt to offer any other perspective. Strong anti-Israel sentiment is commonly expressed in the Irish mainstream media, without it often being addressed in complaints to the BAI. Nonetheless, Kearney, on his Facebook page, would go on to claim that the Israeli Embassy was attempting to silence criticism of the Jewish State in the Irish media.

Kearney also seemed to suggest, during his public ridicule of the BAI ruling, that the organisation was somehow representing Israel’s interests, rather than Ireland’s, when he stated that the ‘I’ in ‘BAI’ stood for Ireland, rather than Israel. Whether or not he suggested some sort of conspiracy affecting the outcome of the ruling, it should nonetheless be in the interest of all responsible broadcasters to provide balanced programming, which allows listeners to make up their own minds in an informed fashion. Such an approach necessarily requires a reasonable level of journalistic balance, something which Kearney not only failed to provide to a very minimalistic extent, he actually partook in endorsing the prejudicial radio content.

The Sunday Times published an article about Peter Kearney’s subsequent program, which prompted Near FM to apologise for Kearney’s actions. The programme led to his suspension by Near FM, for it presumably constituted an embarrassing reinforcement of the claim that his presentation of the topic was deeply prejudicial, a point which the radio station had denied strongly in their prior response to the BAI.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Sadaka and the sowing of prejudice in the Irish education system

Roger Waters (former member of Pink Floyd) with Sadaka Board Members
 launching the Sadaka Education Resource on Palestine-Israel. (Source: Sadaka)

Former Pink-Floyd member, Roger Waters, endorsed and promoted an “education resource” for Irish second-level transition students on the 17th of September, before presenting a much-discussed Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience award to Malala Yousafzai, later that same day.

Some objected to Waters presenting the honour due to the use of anti-Semitic motifs at his concerts in recent years. However, Amnesty has long been a politically partisan organisation. Amnesty’s bias was aptly illustrated on the night in question: Malala Yousafzai’s much-deserved award was shared with Harry Belafonte! While Belafonte contributed to the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, in more recent years he stirred controversy with demented and very often hateful commentaries.

Surprise may be tempered by foreknowledge of the characters involved, and if Waters’ forceful record on politics is an indicator, his endorsement was likely to be sought by a prejudicial party. Indeed, the modular course deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict, one of Mr. Waters’ pet subjects. Another piece of the jigsaw fell into place when it was revealed that the programme was developed by a group called Sadaka — The Ireland Palestine Alliance.

It is reputedly the first curriculum approved teaching module on the topic, and will be used in both the Republic and North of Ireland. The chairwoman of Sadaka pointed out that Waters’ endorsement of the pack would be “immeasurable in its importance and will be hugely influential with young people around the country”. Its launch was held at the Royal Irish Academy, a rather prestigious venue for furthering academic endeavour.

The educational programme bears all the hallmarks of propaganda, featuring an extremely slanted account of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Base propaganda

Sadaka is an organisation that closely monitors the activities of the Irish Parliamentary houses, to influence outlooks and policy decisions, for example, with the hosting of anti-Israel delegations that at times indicate the organisation works quite closely with the parliamentary members comprising Oireachtas Friends of Palestine.

Sadaka supports the boycott of all Israel, an absolute ban on all Jewish produce originating in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), Israel’s cessation as a Jewish majority state by advocating for a right of return for the descendents of all Arab refugees, and the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from all contested areas. Some of those hostile to the Jewish State erroneously claim that Israel discriminates at an institutional level against Arab non-citizens in the contested territory of Judea and Samaria (or West Bank), when in fact alternative legislature for the Arab-Palestinian populace was enshrined in the Oslo Accords, where the Palestinian Authority obtained jurisdiction over almost all Arab-Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet Sadaka goes even further by claiming that Israel is an apartheid state in its entirety, discriminating against its Palestinian citizens at an institutional level.

Sadaka is an Islamic term for a type of religiously motivated voluntary charity, albeit one with a layered and sometimes less benign meaning. Sadaka comes across as a well-moneyed group, although their patronage webpage has remained empty for a number of years.

Despite the fact that the Irish media is comprehensively pro-Palestinian, it remains a key aim of Sadaka to shout down what it calls ‘Israeli propaganda’:
To challenge and defeat Israeli propaganda through the development of a high profile media presence.

Extract of “How to argue the case”, by Danny Morrison

To illustrate Sadaka’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it should be noted that the group coaches anti-Israel neophytes with extremely inaccurate information. It unashamedly coaches the naive in sophistic techniques to defeat the arguments of those possessing other political views. For example, a lengthy article by founding Sadaka member David Morrison, entitled “How to argue the case”, states:
All that is necessary is to state basic facts, calmly and precisely, over and over and over again… tirades against Israel and/or its supporters are counterproductive for changing doubters into supporters. Tirades will be dismissed as coming from partisan opponents of Israel. There is a much better chance of convincing sceptics if you state basic facts about Israel’s behaviour, calmly and precisely.
Israeli sources are especially good, because it is difficult to challenge their validity. Failing that, quote highly regarded public figures (eg Jimmy Carter or Mary Robinson or Richard Goldstone) or institutions…
When responding to a protagonist, select the point or points that can be easily refuted and ignore the rest… Stick to making the case against Israel and for Palestinians: don’t be distracted on to any other issue.
Morrison’s “Israeli sources” that are “difficult to challenge” is obviously a reference to Haaretz, a mainstream news outlet that has built up a considerable notoriety in Israel for defaming the Jewish nation. Haaretz has generated a remarkable number of falsehoods over the last decade.

Morrison cites a 2009 interview with Khaled Mashaal, claiming that Hamas would accept Israel’s right to exist. Such fanciful claims have been peddled about for years.

Sadaka does not content itself with bashing Israel. They also advance pro-Iranian stances, claiming Iran acts transparently vis-à-vis its attempt to obtain nuclear weapons, whilst ignoring its genocidal threats:
Unlike Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are open to international inspection, Israel’s are cloaked in secrecy…
Hardly a day passes by without Israel threatening to use force against some state or group in the Middle East. These days, Iran is the main target for its threats but Lebanon and Syria are also mentioned from time to time.
David Morrison has defended Iran in other venues. He admires its record on the treatment of its Jewish citizens, claiming they freely choose to remain in Iran, despite the overt reality that Iranian Jews have little freedom.

Sadaka is associated with many anti-Israel groups, including the EAPPI and indeed Sadaka seems to focus on bolstering Christian support for Arab-Palestinian perspectives.

If Sadaka supports one side, then it spits on the other. For example, two years ago, the group lobbied politicians in Britain and Ireland, with the presentation of a film depicting Christian Zionism as a fanatical and dangerous ideology, with the intent of defaming Christian supporters of Israel as well as reducing the natural solidarity many feel toward the Jewish State. Anti-Semitic replacement theologian Stephen Sizer was involved with the project.

Sadaka has voiced support for Israel Apartheid week, which contributes a divisive message to students the world over. Such a damaging group should not be involved with the education of the young.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Friday 23 August 2013

The Failure of Western Diplomacy in Egypt

An anti-Morsi protest at the White House, Washington,
August 22, 2013. [Source: ThinkProgress]

An idealistic policy undisciplined by political realism is bound to be unstable and ineffective; 
political realism unguided by moral purpose will be self-defeating and futile.
– “Ideals and Self-Interest in America’s Foreign Relations”, Robert E. Osgood (1953).

The ousting of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammad Morsi, has been quite a test for Western diplomacy, particularly in the European Union and the United States, both of which have invested significantly in the nation’s continued development.

Morsi’s regime had a problematic record on human rights. Thus, spectators might have been forgiven for thinking that an Egyptian regime more secularised, and so less intolerant of religious diversity, would have pleased the West. They could not have been more wrong.

Western responses to the way in which the Egyptian Authorities have dealt with both the Muslim Brotherhood protests, and associated terrorist links, demonstrate a self-defeating ideological blindness, which fails to address the realpolitik environment of the region, and patronises as much as it moralises.

This lack of diplomatic realism has merely reinforced an already pronounced diplomatic weakness.

Double standards at the European Union

The European Union issued a predictably strong response in the aftermath of the suppression of the pro-Morsi Cairo Sit-in protest. Three of the most senior EU officials publically threatened to cut off aid to a nation highly dependent on foreign assistance, whilst indicating a change to a more confrontational diplomacy, both at an EU and national member-state level:
Together with its member states, the EU will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing” the goals of promoting an “end to violence, resumption of political dialogue and return to a democratic process.
The European Union stated that its 6.7 billion dollar aid package to Egypt was under review, just a few days after Morsi’s ouster. This rapid change in policy occurred after approximately 42 Egyptians died in clashes on July 8th. While the EU foreign policy mantra has been one of respecting human rights, democracy, etc., the sincerity of their commitment to such values can nonetheless be questioned.

The interim Egyptian government had publicly set out a timetable of reform for their Islamist constitution and the holding of democratic elections, one day before the EU expressed a change in its diplomatic policy toward Egypt.

The diplomatic fall-out worsened a week after the violent clashes of the 14th. EU foreign ministers decided to reduce military ties with Egypt in a special meeting on the crisis, and suspend export licensing for military equipment to Egypt. Provisions for security assistance would be up for review, with EU officials threatening further action if the situation in Egypt does not improve.

The ministers lambasted the crackdown on protesters but also criticized the violent acts by pro-Morsi elements, perhaps in an effort to appear balanced. However, blame was principally ascribed to the authorities. They demanded the freeing of prisoners and an end to the state of emergency. Such a stance indicates they did not seriously consider the challenges that the interim Egyptian government faces.

The EU agreed to pump 6.7 billion dollars into Egypt, in order to prop up its stagnant economy four months after Morsi’s election, at a time when problems had begun to emerge with his rule. A week later the intensive protests leading to his ousting began.

Furthermore, the EU’s annual 1.4 billion dollar aid package had become something of a moral hazard. A report noted that EU bureaucrats had systematically failed for years to ensure how the funds were managed.

Therefore, the timing of the EU’s diplomatic shift, and the very contrasting sanguinity it adopted over the intolerance of the Morsi regime, suggest EU policy tinged by pro-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment.

Notably Catherine Ashton was the first foreign official permitted to see Morsi after his ousting and detention.

A poster of ex-president Mohammed Morsi,Cairo,  July 5, 2013.

Divergent voices within the United States

The United States Administration avoided branding Morsi’s removal from office as a coup d’etat, a controversial move that has been subject to much criticism.

Senate Foreign Relation Committee leader, Senator Bob Corker (Republican Party), sounded a cautious note
Egypt is a very strategic country in the Middle East and what we need to be is an instrument of calmness.
The Administration sought out a bi-partisan cross-party consensus, due in part to its problematic record on Middle Eastern issues, including the Benghazi controversy, which has refused to go away. Two senior Republican Party Senators, John McCain and Lindsay Graham, travelled to Egypt a month into the crisis, at Obama’s request. However, the portents for the impending visit did not augur well. Before the trip Graham told reporters:
We want to deliver a unified message that killing the opposition is becoming more and more like a coup.
Rather than strengthening diplomatic links, and perhaps developing an action-plan to resolve the crisis, McCain and Graham pre-emptively decided upon a strategy prior to their meetings with the interim Egyptian regime. The visit angered the Egyptian Administration, a development that such experienced politicians should have envisaged. McCain later added that the US had no credibility left in the Middle East, thereby bringing bi-partisanship to a possible close.

Latterly, the US sharply condemned Egypt’s provisional government for its relatively uncompromising policy on protests. President Obama stated after the break-up of the Cairo camp:
The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right. And today the United States extends its condolences to the families or those who were killed and those who were wounded.
President Obama also ordered the cancellation of joint US-Egyptian bi-annual military exercises, a symbolic act considering the context of relations between the two nations, which were strained to an atypical extent.

Incoherence, and an evolving foreign policy

Whilst Obama’s response was thematically in keeping with that of the EU, it still marked a significant deterioration in Egypt’s links with the West due to the close relationship the Arab State has with the US. By sharply criticising the protest crackdown, Obama may sound like he has adopted a position of moral rectitude to his Western audience. Yet an important question could be asked: what is he trying to achieve with these criticisms? Is he trying to please an electorate influenced by the pro-Morsi coverage in the mainstream media? Alternatively, is Obama attempting to get Egypt to tow-the-line politically?

To an extent, the Egyptians had already fallen out with representatives of the United States some days earlier. The Egyptian government’s increasingly strident response to foreign calls for restraint had already become apparent. Thus it seems probable that the strength of Obama’s criticism would only serve to alienate, and thereby make less likely the hearing of any appeals for greater moderation.

It has been suggested that there is significant pressure on the US Administration from “The Beltway” (an assortment of political voices, lobby groups and media influences) to cut off aid, supposedly to gain greater leverage in Egypt. Yet it may be that elements hostile to any moderating American influence in the Middle East are pushing this message.

However, there are some senior moderating voices in the US administration. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is against pulling aid, asserts that the U.S. has “important and complicated interests” in Egypt. At the beginning of August, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the Egyptian military was “restoring democracy”, although he quickly backtracked.

Boxing oneself into a corner

Over time however, the US diplomatic position appears to be hardening. There are reports that the US has unofficially put a delay on its funding to the Egyptian government for economic programs. The US Administration also condemned the detention of Mohammed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Supreme Guide”, on terrorist charges. A White House spokesman stated:
It’s certainly not the standard that the Egyptian people expect of their government in terms of upholding basic human rights.
Unfortunately, Western governments appear to ignore the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in inciting violence through the guise of legitimate protest, such as calling for a “Day of Rage” immediately after the high death toll of August 14th.

Neither have they alluded to the consequences of the Muslim Brotherhood’s use of sectarianism to further their cause. The staggering levels of violence against Christians ought to cause greater concern, should the organisation hold the reigns of power again. Yet western diplomats have said little of substance other than to continue demanding reconcilation talks, without seriously addressing the challenges involved.

This issue may of course be influenced by coverage of the crisis. The mainstream media has given tacit support to Morsi, his supporters, and the notion an outright coup d’etat occurred. Sections of the media have also ignored the Muslim Brotherhood’s associations with terrorism.

The behaviour of the provisional Egyptian government indicates that those ruling the nation are very sensitive to the issue of their legitimacy, and whilst it seems the Obama administration would be a bit more comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood out of the ring, as indicated by Kerry’s inopportune utterance, the United States has merely succeeded in alienating both sides. Worse, it has alienated the present leadership of the nation, who in ideological terms would be their natural allies, far more so than the Muslim Brotherhood, who clearly would not.

Foreign policy: balancing idealism with pragmatism

The US sends 1.5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt each year, along with additional grants. Whilst not an inconsiderable sum, it is largely spent on advanced US military wares, thereby funnelled back into the American economy. After the Sadat-Begin peace accords, Egypt became a focal point of stability in the Middle East, a stability that served America’s interests as well as those of Israel and Arabian states.

Some commentators describe US aid to Egypt as a “bribe” to keep peace with Israel. However, the challenges oil-dependent Western nations faced with the pan-Arab and USSR-Arab axis some decades ago caused ripples of greater import to the West. This was an Arab world that Egypt led. Therefore, it would be self-defeating for the US administration to effectively abdicate upon relations with this nation, especially after endowing it with a particularly strong army over some three decades.

With the United Arab Emerites and Saudi Arabia so keen to assist Egypt economically, any attempt at incentivised diplomacy based on the threat of withdrawing aid only serves to antagonise the Egyptian authorities. The cost Saudi Arabia is willing to pay to keep the much-feared Muslim Brotherhood out of governance, must surely signify the great importance of Egypt’s position.

Withdrawing aid may also be harmful to the prospects of the Egyptian people in the long term. Egypt is currently a dependent on foreign aid. 40% of Egyptians are believed to live on less than two dollars a day, with around half of those living on less than one dollar every day. Critical wheat stocks are also reported to be running out. Egypt’s employment rate is no more than 32.5%, a rather shocking statistic for a nation so central to the region.

There is no question that Egypt is important to the US/EU. However, their diplomatic strategies are rapidly contributing to the loss of any sway they once had on the State. Regardless of the legitimacy of the crackdown, the West’s ability to soften Egyptian reaction to these protests has been a total failure.

Yet the US/EU pushes on blindly. It would appear that the West has inadvertently begun a process of turning a vital prospective ally into a potential foe of considerable significance. Even without a strong hand to play, diplomacy would go much further for both the West and the people of Egypt, if it was used to engage the Egyptian authorities sensitively and judiciously. However, leading Western bodies have contented themselves with playing the role of self-righteous ideologue, heckling at the sidelines.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Thursday 15 August 2013

The United Nations and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,
 a meeting on the 30/7/13 - photo JC McIlwaine

Recently a United Nations entity, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), awarded official UN accreditation to an NGO called the Perdana Global Peace Foundation. The NGO is led by its founder, Mahathir Mohamad, a former Malaysian prime-minister known for his overtly anti-Semitic views. CEIRPP Chairman Abdu Salam Diallo wished to “thank him and congratulate him for everything he has done in his political career and for the Palestinian people”.

In 2003 Mahathir Mohamad became rather infamous for his anti-Semitic views, after he attacked Israel and the Jewish People in an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) speech, which was criticised internationally. He stated:
…today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them… They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy, so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others.
His OIC speech is one of numerous examples through the years. At an al Quds pro-Palestinian rally in 2010 Mohamad effectively justified the Holocaust:
Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had been confined in ghettos and periodically massacred… Even after their massacre by the Nazis in Germany, they survived to be a source of even greater problems to the world.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, wearing a keffiyeh scarf in support of the Palestinian cause.

Media slippage

Unfortunately the media rarely challenge the CEIRPP’s activities. Slanted coverage of the Mohamad story by the Times of Israel gives credence to the CEIRPP’s claim that they seek a lasting two-state solution:
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, whose objective is “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders,”…
The assertion is presented as fact, which is only countered by the quoted opinions of others, without the citation of opposing factual claims. However, it is quite evident that the CEIRPP seeks the nullification of Israel’s Jewish status by proposed demographic methods. To quote an annex of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 35/169:
69. The second phase deals with the return to their homes of the Palestinians displaced between 1948 and 1967. The Committee recommends that:
(a) While the first phase is being implemented, the United Nations in co-operation with the States directly involved, and the Palestine Liberation Organization as the interim representative of the Palestinian entity, should proceed to make the necessary arrangements to enable Palestinians displaced between 1948 and 1967 to exercise their right to return to their homes and property…
Thus, if there is any truth to the CEIRPP’s assertions, the only two-state solution they advocate would be two Palestine’s, where one is Israel in name only, its populace subsumed by Muslim-Arab migration. Such a stance has long been advocated by Arab-Palestinian leaders, and many groups hostile to Israel.

The CEIRPP has for many years organised conferences devoted to Israeli occupation “from 1948 onward” — 1948 being the very point of Israel’s creation. Clearly they do not recognise Israel’s right to exist in any meaningful sense.

An instrument of the UN’s belligerence against Israel

The United Nation’s decades-long animosity toward Israel has become the stuff of legend. Indeed, Kofi Annan admitted in 2006:
On one side, supporters of Israel feel that it is harshly judged by standards that are not applied to its enemies, and too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.
Unfortunately such admissions have done nothing to alter the UN’s prejudicial policy toward Israel, a cruel irony given the fact that the UN’s creation was given some impetus as a consequence of the Holocaust.

There are numerous examples of direct and indirect UN agency involvement in Israel’s demonisation, e.g. in 2012 Palestinian Media Watch discovered that a UN funded Arab-Palestinian community centre was putting on a puppet show in Jerusalem that suggested children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. Instead they should clutch machine guns to kill Jews.

The UN’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) is a principle source of anti-Israel NGO funding, although for the most part the organisation has not issued details of its funding network publicly.

An ADL report in 2009 noted that substantial annual funds allocated to the CEIRPP by the UN have enabled it to become “a primary vehicle for Israeli demonization” and represents “the only committee in the UN devoted to a specific people.”

The CEIRPP is a central element of the UN’s policy toward Israel. Its unique status, dedicated to a specific people is redolent of the UNHRC’s permanent anti-Israel agenda at its meetings, treatment that is not afforded to other states. UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency dedicated to a specific people, the Palestinians. In contrast to UNHCR, the general UN refugee agency, UNRWA has been shown to systematically radicalise those in its care, perpetuating their refugee status instead of resolving it through integration and resettlement.

There are eleven primary committees that serve the United Nations General Assembly. The CEIRPP is one of these eleven, oddly placed among other committees performing very generalised roles within the UN or dealing with generalised subject areas, such as outer space and atomic energy. There is a separate category of seven explicitly specific “ad-hoc” committees, of which the UNRWA is one. Again it is the only entity of this group dedicated to a specific people. Finally there are four “special” and three “advisory” committees, where again only one is dedicated to a specific people, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (SCIIHRP)!

Of the other working groups assisting the UN General Assembly, only one is specific to a distinct group of people, the Working Group on the Finance of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Another UN entity, the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), has a quasi-symbiotic role in assisting the CEIRPP with its many international conferences and reports. In 2005 Anne Patterson, Deputy US Representative to the UN, stated:
The U.S. seeks the abolition of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian and of the Division of Palestinian Rights because both are inimical to the aim of ensuring that UN monies are directed to our highest priorities and in achieving a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… The United States strongly opposes the use of scarce UN resources to support the biased and one-sided political activities carried out by the Committee.

Defamation under the dovish guise of peace

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People has been a core international component of Israel’s demonisation since 1975. Fittingly, it was created when the United Nations Arab and Islamic blocs managed passage of General Assembly Resolution 3379, an infamous text that declared Zionism to be “a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

UN Resolution 3379 was repealed in 1991 but the CEIRPP succeeded in reintroducing the same meme that self-determination of the Jewish People equals racism, at the equally infamous United Nations 2001 Durban “anti-racism” Conference. Durban I is seen by many as a crucial catalytic event that has greatly advanced Israel’s demonisation.

The CEIRPP would continue to spread this message with a succession of major conferences through the first decade of the New Millennium. One of their conferences in Paris became the international platform for launching the BDS Movement which aims to destroy Israel.

The CEIRPP’s concerns about racism can be viewed with genuine scepticism, not only because the organisation is a driving force at anti-Semitic events. Its commitment to prejudice against Arabs, of which the Palestinians are comprised, can also be questioned because Mahathir Mohamad’s statements about Arab stupidity were of little concern to them.

The Committee’s successes are notable. In 2007, the CEIRPP hosted a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was called “International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” The title is yet another example of Orwellian propaganda since speakers uniformly demonised the Jewish State.

A number of European Parliamentary members aptly described the CEIRPP’s corrosive influence:
Despite the neutrally sounding title of its conference, CEIRPP has a proven record of anti-Israel bias, spreading propaganda that presents only the Palestinian narrative, including the delegitimization of Israel — a UN member state. The CEIRPP casts a shadow on the UN role in the Middle East conflict and is first and foremost harmful to the UN.
Similarly, in 2011 the CEIRPP was an important tool in galvanising support for a unilateral bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN, a move which went against the spirit of a negotiated peace as enshrined in the Oslo Accords.

In 2012 the Simon Wiesenthal Centre sought to bring the CEIRPP’s activities to the attention of Ban Ki-moon, the United Nation’s Secretary General, in the aftermath of a CEIRPP sponsored UNESCO meeting in Paris. The Centre requested an investigation into the Committee’s activities, deeming them to be in violation of the principles of the UN Charter, and a threat to world peace.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Justifying Islamic terrorism and the murder of Lee Rigby: Asghar Bukhari and MPAC UK

Asghar Bukhari, MPAC UK

Asghar Bukhari, leader and a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC UK) featured quite widely in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the shocking attack on Lee Rigby, a twenty-five year old soldier, in Woolwich (London, England) on May the 22nd 2013.

Despite awareness that both Bakhari and MPAC UK possess extremist views, they nonetheless tend to be presented by the media as moderate mainstream representatives of British Islamic society.

Bukhari/MPAC hit out at British Muslim organisations

Asghar Bukhari was interviewed by the BBC on the day of the Woolwich attack. He was first asked for his response to the news of the brutal murder:
Well it’s a depressing cycle of violence, and its not going to end anytime soon. I can see some Muslim organisations have condemned the killing, and rightly so but the problem with this is that Muslim organisations have been condemning it for years, and what have they actually done…
Initially Bukhari sounds like a critic of Muslim organisations for failing to teach young people about the harmful impact of violence, perhaps, one would assume, with reference to teaching a deeper respect for the wider society in which they live. Sadly that turned out not to be the case:
Muslim organisations have failed to teach young people that there is another route for the grievance, the anger, the frustration that they feel about this government’s policies in the Muslim world… They will never teach their young people that there is a democratic way to bring a change to the foreign policy they are so aggrieved about, justifiably so.
Therefore, first and foremost Bukhari was taking issue with the way in which mainstream Muslim organisations were not attempting to focus the Muslim youth on trying to change government policy! His focus was not on addressing the disharmony between Muslims and others within British society but rather to seek a better way for Muslims to obtain their goals, a way that will hurt their interests less.

Indeed, other members of MPAC UK actually made statements criticising those Muslim organisations that condemned the slaying of Lee Rigby! For example, one Facebook statement by senior MPAC member Maryam Yaqub:
By apologising in such a stupid way these pathetic Muslims are reinforcing the enemy’s narrative, which is telling the world that these murderers did what they did because their religion makes them inherently violent and evil… Muslims are the most oppressed people on earth, we have been denied our freedom, we have been denied our equality, we have been denied any justice…
Another MPAC member posted a FB message, justifying the killing of Lee Rigby as well as explaining that the condemnations by mainstream Muslim organisations, which he characterised as apologies, were to assist Islamic preaching and conversions:
All day yesterday I hear Muslims apologising and condemning this act as if it was the most abhorrent act ever committed on British soil, and “we are sorry because yes it is our fault that a man reacted to tyrannical oppression”… They are only cowards worried about their own reputation and image. “Oh no brother this is really bad for ‘the dawah’, we must publicly condemn these acts, Islam means peace.”

Singing from the same hymn-sheet

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Asghar Bukhari’s BBC interview was the way in which he echoed the demands of Lee Rigby’s killers and other extremists:
The government can condemn it [the murder] all they want, and they can say Britain’s got to stand strong, and all the rhetoric in the world but until the government admit there is a direct link between this radicalisation happening and their foreign policy, how are we ever going to end this? There’s two culprits here.
Laying substantive blame at Britain’s door echoes almost exactly the views of Anjem Choudary, the notorious 9/11-praising Islamic cleric, who is likely to have played a part in radicalising the killers. He said:
We must concentrate on why this incident took place. That is the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they’ve committed…
Like Bukhari, Choudary expressed some lesser disapproval of the violence of Lee Rigby’s killing:
What he did was unusual and it’s not the kind of view that I propagate and I do not condone the use of violence…
Michael Adebolajo and other Islamists clashing with police
at the Old Bailey, 2006 (Daily Telegraph)

Bukhari’s views also resemble the remarks made by Michael Adebolajo, one of the terrorists who spoke to a video camera moments after he severed the unarmed soldier’s head. Adebolajo asserted that there would be more violence until there was a change in British foreign policy, a view Bukhari had also pushed:
You think politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy, like you, and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so you can all live in peace.
Adebolajo also stated at another point at the scene:
I apologise that women and children had to witness this today but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments, they don’t care about you.
Thus even the killer himself expressed some form of regret at the violence of the act minutes afterward.

Parsing a justification of terrorism

During the BBC News interview, did Asghar Bukhari provide an “explanation” for the killing or a justification? Explanations and justifications are easy to confuse because they can sound very similar.

The context of Bukhari’s points demonstrate he tried to pass off the justification of the terrorist atrocity as merely an explanation, by placing equal or greater blame on the conduct of the British government for the murder. This was unmistakable when he stated “There’s two culprits here.”

Notably, rather than condemning the slaying outright, he chose to place the barbaric attack within a context of “a depressing cycle of violence”, which he would of course deem the British to have begun.

Maryam Yaqub, another senior MPAC member, justified the killing of Lee Rigby more overtly despite including the adjective “horrific”, which would of course be self-evidently true of any beheading:
This incident today was horrific, but it was not because Islam teaches barbarism, it happened because it was an extreme reaction to an extreme situation. These people did what they did because they wanted to get a message across, a message that tells the world that they are sick of being oppressed, colonised, demonised, killed and murdered, simply for being Muslim.
Moreover, Bukhari’s mild criticism of the killing should be understood in a context of his past statements. He has praised terrorism, against Israel in particular:
The concept of Jihad is a beautiful thing, and logical to those with a sincere heart. It tells the human being to stand up and fight against those who bring evil and oppression on this earth, and by standing up — roll back that oppression until the people are free from it.

MPAC UK's Twitter icon, invoking Islamic rebellion and Arab terrorism

Selective condemnation

Are the claims by Bukhari, the killers and other extremists true to any meaningful extent? Are British troops in Afghanistan slaughtering civilian men, women and children en masse? No they are not.

The Taliban and other Islamist insurgent groups are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, as they were in the Iraqi war. For example, in 2011 the United Nations issued a report affirming that 75 percent of civilian deaths were due to insurgents. NATO and Afghan government forces were responsible for 16 percent of civilian deaths. Much of that 16 percent would be due to unintentional death as a result of bombing and drone raids, whilst the Taliban and other insurgents intentionally targeted civilian locales.

Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired former Commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, stated of his time fighting these Islamic insurgents:
The Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection… The use of women to shield gunmen as they engage NATO forces is now so normal it is deemed barely worthy of comment. Schools and houses are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children.
It is quite simply a falsehood to blame the death of civilians, particularly women and children as noted by the killers of Lee Rigby, on NATO troops in Afghanistan. It should be noted that Bukhari, and his ideological partners, rarely if ever criticise the Taliban or other Islamic insurgents, despite the intentional butchery of a vastly larger number of their fellow Muslims. Those attempting to explain Islamic terrorism, reserve their ire for Western non-Muslims who kill far fewer, and typically in error.

If there is truth to the claim that foreign policy issues are the reason behind Muslim violence, then one has to wonder what are the motivations for the six days of rioting by the immigrant Muslim population in Sweden. Sweden only has 500 men in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force, attempting to train the Afghani security forces.

"Political Jihad"

Whilst MPAC UK presents itself as Muslim civil rights group, it has gained notoriety for its extremist views. It openly advocates a “political Jihad” against enemies of Islam and the West which apparently harms the Muslim world. In fact they claim any Muslim who’s not politically motivated in this way is a traitor to Islam!

Thus, MPAC UK’s criticism of other Muslim organisations, for not politicising the Muslim youth sufficiently, should be understood as an advocacy for what they term “political jihad”. Likewise, their attempts to minimise and subtly justify the slaughter of Lee Rigby is indeed a form of “political jihad”.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.

Saturday 25 May 2013

The Media’s Islamophilia: RTE’s Coverage of the Woolwich Atrocity

In the aftermath of the frenzied bloodthirsty terror attack on a twenty-five year old soldier in Woolwich (London) on May the 22nd 2013, political leaders made concerted efforts to paint a harmonious gloss on Islamic relations. Whilst the media acknowledged an Islamist element, they attempted to deflect focus from religious aspects of the attack by offering a politicised narrative, and reinforcing a view that the killers do not represent Islam.

RTE, Ireland’s state-funded national broadcaster, misrepresented the threat posed by Islamists in Britain. It was stated at least twice on RTE’s prime 6.1 (six PM) news slot (23rd May) that the savage murder was the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since the 7/7 Underground Bombings in 2005! News presenter Eileen Dunne stated:
The attack in Woolwich was the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since the Underground Bombings in July 2005. It’s led to a new debate about the threat posed to Britain by militarised radical Islamists.
Similarly, journalist Paul O’Flynn, in a pre-recorded report on the story, stated almost identically:
The moment terror returned to the streets of London. The cruel callous killing is the first terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005. Back then four young Islamists set off suicide bombs on public transport. 52 people died and hundreds were wounded.
Screen-grab of the RTE Player:
 "First terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005"

Numerous other Islamist attacks on the British mainland, which went very much beyond a planning phase, have garnered substantial publicity. These include a co-ordinated attack just two weeks after 7/7, the 2007 London and Glasgow Airport attacks, and the 2008 Exeter Bombing. RTE features a very substantive amount of news content from the United Kingdom so this error represents a surprisingly large journalistic blunder.

Eileen Dunne’s claim was revised on the nine o’clock RTE News bulletin. The attack was now claimed to be the first “killing” since 2005. Paul O’Flynn’s report was also modified, and the claim was entirely removed. It is probable that complaints had been made about the factual content of RTE’s coverage.

The relevant RTE Player 6.1 video file (“First terrorist attack in mainland Britain since 2005”) remains on the website at the time of publication.
It is thought they were lone wolves similar to the suspects in the Boston Bombing.
So said Paul O’Flynn on 6.1 News, days after another suspect linked to the Boston Tsarnaev brothers, was shot dead by the FBI. The international media continues to label them as “lone wolf” terrorists, despite the gradual increase in arrests over the Boston Bombing, and the link with the Chechen region of Dagistan where Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to the attention of the Russian authorities after he met a known militant Islamist.

The English Defence League

RTE’s coverage of the terrorist attack, the day after the story emerged (23rd May), consistently labelled the English Defence League (EDL) as a “far-right” group (see RTE Player video clip entitled “UK Horror over Woolwich Murder”, which contains the relevant TV broadcast material), when reporting that there were some disturbances the previous night at a relatively modest protest in Woolwich, of approximately one hundred persons.

The label “far-right” carries essentially the same meaning as “fascist”. It also evokes neo-nazism. However, the media tends to apply the label to groups against immigration or the Islamic faith. The label is pejorative by its very nature, and as if to back up its implicit criticism, immediately afterward RTE featured an extended statement from a Muslim leader, one Asghar Bukhari of the ‘Muslim Affairs Committee UK’, a truncation of the name ‘Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK’. Bukhari stated, with reference to the Woolwich EDL protest:
And the EDL, classic kind of right-wing fascist group, have jumped on the bandwagon, and straight away they are out in the town centre…
Bukhari also brought up some highly emotive racial images to reinforce his criticism of the EDL:
What do they want from us? What do they want from the average Muslim, to hang us from the trees like what happened in the olden days to black people?
Screen-grab of the RTE Player featuring Asghar Bukhari of MPAC UK

In March of this year, a critical report by Chatham House asserted that the EDL do not conform to the classic signifying features of a far-right group. Members were often found to be of a relatively high employment status, and were not alienated from the democratic process. Their preoccupation was seen to be cultural, and perhaps xenophobic, rather than characteristically racial. Overt Sikh support for the EDL is a signifier of the phenomenon.

Whether or not the EDL constitute a fascist/far-right group, it is a breach of basic journalistic standards for any broadcaster to fail to provide some reply to such sustained criticism of the group’s character.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK

RTE did not express any overt opinion of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC UK) but, within the context of the report, Bukhari was presented as a mainstream Islamic leader, and, by implication, the representative of a mainstream Islamic organisation. Immediately before Bukhari’s contribution on the EDL, RTE journalist Martina Fitzgerald stated:
Today local and national Muslim leaders intervened, and appealed for calm, condemning the murder in the strongest terms.
However, Bukhari was shown in the footage condemning the EDL rather than the terrorist atrocity.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK has gained notoriety for extremist views, and it is also somewhat ironic that the head figure of MPAC UK called the EDL racists and fascists, when a British All-Party Parliamentary Committee found that MPAC UK is happy to borrow traditional fascist and neo-Nazi concepts (see page 29), to reinforce their own views on Jews and Israel.

Giving broadcast time to groups and individuals known to possess extremist outlooks, which could in turn further their known political agendas, is irresponsible without advising viewers of the contentious nature of the groups and individuals.

Notably, there has been substantive criticism of television coverage in Britain, where the BBC and Channel 4 gave undue airspace to Anjem Choudary, the extremist preacher thought to be behind the radicalisation of the two killers.


RTE, particularly within its remit as a public service broadcaster, has a responsibility to report the news accurately. However, their news coverage suggests they have not moved beyond the ideological dogma that led them to accuse a priest in 2011 of being a predatory paedophile on a primetime TV programme, without substantive proof. This imbalance is further compounded by giving free voice to groups and individuals, possessing divisive extremist perspectives. Commentator Eoghan Harris believes that:
Bias in RTE, as in the BBC, begins at the bottom. And to make it worse, bias invisible to the broadcasters, seems as natural as the air they breathe.

Also published at Crethi Plethi. 

Tuesday 14 May 2013

No prospect for peace: Two-thirds of Arab-Palestinians support “armed struggle”

[Updated article].

The latest Middle Eastern PEW study focuses to a large extent on the perception of Barak Obama and his prospective role in the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

The PEW study also revealed some notable findings about the opposing sides involved in the conflict. One of the more expected but still sobering findings was the confirmation that, unlike Israeli’s, a large majority of Arab-Palestinians do not favour peaceful methods to achieve independent statehood. From the report:
Israelis, on balance, believe a way can be found for an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with their country. Palestinians, on the other hand, overwhelmingly do not think this is possible, and a plurality believes armed struggle rather than negotiations or nonviolent resistance is the best way to achieve statehood.

A question of “armed struggle” or terrorism

Armed struggle” in this instance can be understood as a politically inoffensive terminology that in effect translates as terrorism, when confronted with the reality of the conflict to-date.

Arab-Palestinian violence, particularly the actions of disciplined paramilitary groups, traditionally assault the Jewish civilian populace rather than the Israeli military. Aiming at easy “soft targets”, particularly those that are civilian (in an effort to intimidate) is the principle defining characteristic of terrorism. Thus terrorism contrasts starkly with other forms of paramilitary activity and resistance.

For example, during the Second Intifada, which constitutes the last great united Palestinian “armed struggle”, 80% of those killed on the Israeli side by Arab-Palestinians were in fact civilian. Afghanistani/Iraqi insurgents killed civilians in similar proportions.
Palestinians are more likely to say armed struggle is the best way for their people to achieve statehood (45%) than they are to say negotiations or nonviolent resistance offer the best prospect for the creation of a Palestinian state (15% each). Another 22% volunteer that a combination of these three approaches would be most effective.

Source: Pew Research

In effect 67% of all Palestinians support armed struggle because 45% support it completely, whilst another 22% support it combined with political actions.

Indeed PEW received similar percentage results in 2011 concerning supportive views of suicide attacks in defence of Islam:
Palestinian Muslims, however, remain an outlier on this question: 68% say suicide attacks in defense of Islam can often or sometimes be justified, a level of support essentially unchanged from 2007.
Earlier in May, poll results indicated that 40% of Arab-Palestinians believe suicidal attacks in defence of Islam are justified. In this instance the question of justification explicitly referred to the assault of civilian targets.

Whilst those of a pro-Palestinian persuasion may take the opinion that the survey indicates a lack of faith in the present Palestinian leaders, the survey results of the same PEW poll makes it clear that this is not the case (see section entitled “The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace”).

The reality is that there is strong sentiment against even a resumption of peace talks, as indicated by the widespread riots in June-July 2012. It does not bode well for Palestinian Street giving any sort of peace process a chance.

Seeking pan-Arab military assistance?

The PEW study also found that a broadly similar percentage (three quarters) of Arab-Palestinians believe that the Arab world is not doing enough to assist them in achieving independent statehood:
When asked whether Arab countries are doing too much, too little or enough to help the Palestinian people achieve statehood, three-quarters in the Palestinian territories say they are doing too little; 16% say other Arab nations are doing enough and 5% believe they are doing too much to help Palestinians achieve statehood.
Assistance to achieve statehood can of course be given in various non-violent ways. However, when viewed with regard to a sizeable majority of Arab-Palestinians supporting violence to achieve the same goal of nationhood, it can clearly be inferred that that a majority of Arab-Palestinians likely support some form of pan-Arab military aid. Iran and Syria’s assistance to Hizbullah and Hamas, which are both combative belligerents against Israel, has a principally military dimension.

The finding has a degree of ambiguity but it may even reflect some desire for outright pan-Arab inter-state war with Israel. This was a common populist expectation in the Middle East some decades ago. For example, Israel’s response to Fatah’s attacks, prior to the Six Day War, triggered violent mass protests throughout the Arab world.

Indeed Abbas advised Arab leaders that the PLO is ready to make war on Israel if the rest of the Arab world does the same:
If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it.

The popularity of Palestinian factions amongst the populace

Perhaps surprisingly, Arab-Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, have a largely positive view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This popularity may have been bolstered by his successful move for “Palestine” to controversially gain observer status at the United Nations General Assembly last year, a unilateral move which breached the spirit of the Oslo Accords/Resolution 242.
Palestinians express mostly positive opinions of Abbas; 61% have a favorable view and 34% have an unfavorable view of the Palestinian president. Abbas is viewed favorably by majorities in both the West Bank (57%) and Gaza (68%). His party also receives positive ratings among Palestinians; 69% have a favorable view of Fatah, while 27% express unfavorable opinions.
PEW also found that leading terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas are less popular than Abbas’ Fatah/PLO faction. However, this finding may not be seen as a positive. 11% fewer Arab-Palestinians now hold negative opinions of Hamas since the last poll was taken by PEW. It is a sizeable change:
…a majority of Palestinians (56%) holds favorable opinions of Islamic Jihad, while about a third (35%) gives the militant organization negative ratings.

Opinions of Hamas are more mixed, with 48% of Palestinians viewing the extremist group favorably and 45% saying they have an unfavorable view of Hamas. In 2011, when Pew Research last asked Palestinians about Hamas, more held negative views (56%) than expressed positive opinions (42%)…
Despite changing views, such a show of support for Fatah may nonetheless encourage Abbas to hold long-delayed elections later this year.

Perceptions of Israeli’s and Arab-Palestinians in the West

The PEW survey also focused on the contrasting international support for Arab-Palestinians and Israel.

As has long been the case, the vast majority of Arab nations are extremely hostile to Israel, whilst the United States of America still holds a firm support for the State, despite the intensive efforts of Arab-Palestinian supporters to chip away at what is an essential block of support for Israel’s existence.

Elsewhere in the Western World, opinion of the two sides of the conflict varies quite considerably:
Views are more mixed in France, Germany and Russia. For example, 40% of French respondents sympathize more with Israel, while 44% say their sympathies lie with the Palestinians. Similarly, in Germany and Russia, about as many side with Israel as side with the Palestinians, but substantial numbers in these countries do not sympathize with either side in this conflict (31% and 42%, respectively).
The image PEW presents is one that may give a small ray of hope to those that support Israel because broad public stances on the conflict have not dramatically changed since 2007, despite the high-intensity campaigning by Western pro-Palestinian supporters:
For the most part, there has been little change in perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.
In mainland Europe, the image is varied. Germany has seen a notable increase in support for the Palestinian cause, whilst in France support for Israel has surprisingly increased in recent years. Russia has a sizeable pro-Israel support base despite decades of hostility from officialdom within the USSR.

The report finds that almost twice as many British people support the Palestinians over that of Israel. The finding reinforces the view that the British stand out as perhaps the most anti-Israel collective in the Western world, where many British academics, journalists and politicians have taken a leading and longstanding role in Israel’s delegitimisation.

This article was also published at Crethi Plethi.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Some theories on the Boston Marathon Bombing

As the blasts occurred (Courtesy of Dan Lampariello-Reuters)

With news that the April 15th terrorist assault on the Boston Marathon killed three, including an eight year old boy, and caused over one hundred and eighty to be injured (some critically), those touched by the tragedy and horror of this bloodthirsty indiscriminate attack on innocent civilians will of course be speculating a great deal on the source of the terrorism.

Definitive assertions would of course be unjustified at this stage but it is reasonably certain that the terrorist attack came from one of arguably three politically distinctive categories of terrorism.

Domestic terrorism

Numerous journalists have speculated that American right-wing extremists are responsible because the assault occurred on Tax Day, tax being an issue politicised in American politics perhaps to a greater extent than that of most other nations, partly due to being a traditionally low-tax economy that focused on a philosophy of small governance. A more European scale of governance, funded by the taxpayer is seen as impacting on liberty on a number of levels.

The attack also coincides with Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, which commemorates the anniversary of the earliest battles for the American War of Independence, giving further credence to the right-wing extremists claim. However, prima facie, it seems that such a historic date would be more likely the cause of celebration for patriot groups, rather than a time to generate such widespread infamy in America.

On the other hand, some individuals or groups may of course see the date as a symbolic starting-point for further conflict with what they deem to be a State that has turned tyrannical, and in breach of the values espoused in the US Constitution. However, such groups tend to favour very symbolic targets, such as government institutions as well as certain organisations (e.g. abortion clinics) and related events that have a distinctive political character that they deem to be objectionable. 

The prospect of an Islamist attack

There is some reason to tentatively suspect that the attack originated from an Islamic source, be it a group, or an American citizen/convert:
A Middle East counter-terrorism official based in Jordan said the blasts “carry the hallmark of an organised terrorist group, like al-Qaeda”. He did not give actual evidence linking al-Qaeda to the bombing. “From the little information available, one can say it was a well-coordinated, well-targeted and near-simultaneous attack,” he said.
The counter-terrorism official highlighted the fact that the massacre featured the dual-assault hallmarks of an Islamist attack. This strategy of maximising casualties has become near ubiquitous for such groups. However, it should be noted that this same technique has also been used by other terrorist groups in the past, including the IRA.

It has been reported that the authorities investigating the case may suspect al Qaeda or an affiliated group although evidence is lacking at this early stage, and the search for a specific motivation remains open. Richard DesLauriers, the FBI agent in command of the investigation, stated that fragments recovered from the bombsite suggest the bombs were a specific pressure cooker based design that was recommended in al Qaeda’s magazine Inspire because they are easy to construct, can make use of widely available materials, and avoid detection from sniffer dogs. Such bombs have been used in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It has also been noted that Abdallah Dhu-al-Bajadin, a senior al Qaeda weapons specialist, made threats against the US last month. This coincided with a rash of threats from other al Qaeda affiliated sources.

The Inspire connection also rears its head with an article attributed to Abu Musab al-Suri, a well known Syrian terrorist, which described sports events as being one of “the most important enemy targets” in the US.

Islamists have shown a tendency to target the city of New York since the 1993 World Trade Centre attack. It took on a symbolic dimension, being the most successful Islamic attack on non-ambassadorial US soil until 9/11. This fact would make Boston a less likely target for Islamists, although it could perhaps become more attractive from a terrorist perspective since the city clearly possessed a lower rank of security, and numerous plots to attack New York since 9/11 were prevented.

The prospect of state-sanctioned terrorism

It tends to be the case that terrorist groups rapidly claim responsibility after an attack takes place. The objective for any terrorist group is to maximise gain in terms of political capital, and to bolster a fearsome reputation. Making the claim soon after a horrified public response, to what is typically a most callous act of murder, will inevitably burn the identity of the terrorist group into the collective consciousness of a society. The fact that no group or individual has claimed responsibility is puzzling, and leaves open the possibility that the attack might involve a foreign nation.

Iran has not been mentioned to a significant extent in the media as a possible source for the assault, even though their attacks on foreign soil, involving their elite Quds Force (part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard), and closely allied Hizbullah, have greatly increased in the last number of years. Indeed an attack in 2011 on the Saudi Ambassador to the United States is likely to have had Iranian/Quds origins.

It is thought the United States has been involved in extensive efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weaponry. In parallel, it has introduced increasing rounds of sanctions against the Islamic State, which have been taking an ever-increasing toll on its economy since 2012.

One would speculate that such an attack would have a degree of sophistication but the terrorists having used relatively crude technology, suggesting that an inexperienced individual or individuals constructed the bombs, works against the theory. However, the pressure cooker bomb is a common device found in Islamist insurgency, and some security experts have speculated in the media that the use of less experienced bomb makers could be intentional, with the aim of enhancing the possibility of escaping detection by US authorities.


Regardless of the source of this attack, the Boston Massacre is a tragic reminder of what terrorism truly constitutes.

Terrorism is the act of assaulting what are so often purely civilian events. In this instance it was a marathon in Boston, where competitors and bystanders were the sole target. It cannot even be said by apologists that this is simply an attack on Americans, over some sort of domestic or foreign policy, for the event attracts many international visitors. It is terrorism designed to maximise the carnage of innocents, be they men, women, children or infants.

The harm visited on the city will no doubt scar the victims, their families, and the greater community of Boston for years to come, giving rise to fear where there was once implicit trust. Yet it’s a community that has long possessed a strong individual identity, one that will surely survive the malign purpose of the instigators, whosoever they may be.

Update (19/4)

A dramatic sequence of events in the search for the Boston Marathon bombers has claimed the life of one police officer, and led to areas of Boston being placed in lockdown. The older of the suspects has been killed in a shootout with police. The younger second suspect continues to evade police despite a vast manhunt, which some speculate is due in part to the impact of social media.

The suspects were identified as brothers Tamerlan (26) and Dzhokhar (19) Tsarnaev, from Dagestan, a federal republic within the Russian Federation, which neighbours Chechnya. The brothers lived in the US for nearly a decade.

Dagestan is a principally Muslim region that has had substantive issues with Islamic insurgency and terrorism in recent decades, spilling over from chechnya, where there has been protracted conflict in an effort to gain independence. Whilst the conflict there has not threatened the US, regional Chechen fighters constitute part of the membership of certain groups fighting against the US presence in Afghanistan, with some believing Chechen rebels have links with al Qaeda.

The belief in an Islamist motive behind the attack has been strengthened, with an aunt of the brothers stating that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became a devout Muslim two years ago, while US government officials state that he travelled to Russia last year and returned to the US six months later. Similarly strong expressions of faith were made by the bothers on the Internet, with the suspects also expressing pride in their ethnic Chechen origins, and a desire to see independence from Russia.

A similar article is featured at Crethi Plethi.