After the alleged Iranian government plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, the White House issued a finding to the intelligence community authorizing stepped-up covert action against Iran. A “finding” is top-level approval for secret operations considered to be particularly politically sensitive.
An earlier finding of the Bush administration already permitted the use of intelligence assets to disrupt Iranian Revolutionary Guard activity in border zones—the areas adjacent to Pakistan inhabited by ethnic Baluchis, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and the ethnically Arab province of Khuzistan, which borders southeastern Iraq. Activity in the Kurdish region was limited and was partially run by Israelis due to sensitivities in dealing with the Turks. That effort was abandoned altogether in 2009, when the Obama administration decided to increase intelligence and military cooperation with Ankara against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Attacks in Baluchistan and the Arab region over the past seven years, which have killed a large number of Revolutionary Guards and even more civilians, were part of the program authorized under the earlier finding.
The new finding extends those existing initiatives and adds involvement with the Azeris, who inhabit northwestern Iran and share a common border, language, and culture with their fellow tribesmen in Azerbaijan. Twenty million ethnic Azeris in Iran comprise nearly 25 percent of the population. When combined with the 2 percent who are Baluchis, 7 percent Kurds, and 3 percent Arabs, Iran has a significant ethnic problem along its borders. This is precisely what the covert action will seek to exploit by encouraging ethnic fragmentation and supplying dissidents with communications equipment, training, and weapons.
Not at all coincidentally, the foreign minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, visited Brussels in October to discuss issues of common concern with NATO. He met with U.S. officials and received private intelligence briefings on the “Iranian threat.” Azeris inside Iran are generally well assimilated—Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is himself half-Azeri—but there is a small movement to join the Azeri region of Iran with the existing state of Azerbaijan. The central government in Tehran is unpopular among Azeris. In February 2007, tens of thousands of Azeris marched against Iranian state-sponsored suppression of their language and culture. But there is little evidence that many Azeris would take up arms against Tehran to advance their cause.
The Obama administration’s new finding is partially in response to reports that Israel might attack Iran itself if American sanctions and covert operations are not increased. The U.S. is already cooperating with Israel on the development of a new version of the Stuxnet computer virus, which crippled the Iranian nuclear program’s computers in 2010.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
Controversy has broken out in the UK over alleged anti-Semitic comments made by Labour MP Paul Flynn about the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv.
According to The Jewish Chronicle (a publication whose record demonstrates that its accuracy can never been taken for granted) Flynn questioned whether Gould could be properly loyal to the UK because he is Jewish and has declared himself a Zionist:
A Labour MP has caused outrage by suggesting that Britain’s first Jewish ambassador to Israel has divided loyalties because he has “proclaimed himself to be a Zionist.”
Challenged by the JC to clarify his comments about Matthew Gould, who took up the post last year, Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, said ambassadors to Israel had not previously been Jewish “to avoid the accusation that they have gone native.”
Britain needed, he said, “someone with roots in the UK [who] can’t be accused of having Jewish loyalty.”
In a post at The New Statesman, Owen Jones wrote that if Flynn’s comments were accurately reported, “then Paul Flynn has discredited himself.” Jones argues that raising Gould’s self-declared Zionism is legitimate because, “Zionism is a political movement, after all, and an MP is well within his rights to query whether there is a conflict of interest.” But, he continues “there is no justification whatsoever for his subsequent comments” questioning Gould’s loyalty because he is Jewish. Jones adds:
Of even greater concern is Flynn’s clear suggestion that a Jewish person has no “roots in the UK”. This echoes classic anti-semitism, which is based on the slur that Jews outside Israel are aliens in whichever country they live (a myth that, unfortunately, is these days also promoted by the Israeli government.) Perhaps Flynn’s words simply were ill-chosen but he certainly should clarify what he meant by this.
Jones sums up his concern that Flynn’s comments could discredit support for the Palestinian cause, which he correctly notes has also come from many prominent Jewish people:
But Flynn’s comments will now be used by ultra-Zionists as evidence that their critics are motivated by bigotry.
Zionism is anti-Semitism
I agree fully with Jones’ reading of Flynn’s reported comments. If accurate it is indeed outrageous to suggest that a British person cannot be loyal to the UK just because he or she is also Jewish. And it’s even more outrageous to suggest that a Jewish person has no “roots” in the UK, just as it would be to suggest the same of a British Muslim or any other person.
But what Jones – and perhaps other critics of Flynn’s comments – have missed, is that the claims Flynn reportedly made have always been at the very heart of Zionism.
The basic idea is simple enough: Zionists, just like anti-Semites, believed that Jews were inherently alien and rootless in Europe and needed to be expelled physically. The “father” of Zionism, Theodor Herzl in his seminal tract, Der Judenstaat, wrote this nauseatingly anti-Semitic passage:
The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized—for instance, France—until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.
Of course the “political solution” of which Herzl spoke was – Zionism – the removal of Jews from Europe and America so that they could not carry with them the “seeds” of their own persecution.
Greatest British Zionist hero a vile anti-Semite
It is no coincidence then that the greatest British hero of Zionists to this day is Lord Arthur Balfour whose eponymous Balfour Declaration promised the Zionist movement that to which it had no right: the land of Palestine.
As Kattan points out in his book From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1891-1949, Balfour’s anti-Semitism was well documented and expressed in his writings. From Kattan:
Zionism actually provided Balfour and those who thought like him with the perfect pretext to reduce Jewish immigration into Britain whilst portraying themselves, falsely, as ‘humanitarians’ concerned about their welfare. This is what Balfour wrote in the conclusion to his introduction to Nahum Sokolow’s epic book, the History of Zionism, 1600–1918 (1919):
If [Zionism] succeeds, it will do a great spiritual and material work for the Jews, but not for them alone. For as I read its meaning it is, among other things, a serious endeavour to mitigate the age-long miseries created for western civilisation by the presence in its midst of **a Body which it too long regarded as alien and even hostile, but which it was equally unable to expel or absorb. Surely, for this if for no other reason, it should receive our support.
That Balfour had the gall to write this in a book on Zionism was foreboding. One can only imagine what he wrote about the Jews in private or in correspondence that was destroyed or lost.
Indeed. And, as Kattan documents, such sentiments were shared by German anti-Semites who in the same period became enthusiastic supporters of Zionism.
Can anyone see the difference between the views allegedly expressed by Flynn and those of his British Zionist forerunners such as Balfour? Flynn, it should be pointed out, has asserted: “I have been a lifelong friend of Israel and Jewish causes.”
Given the lengthy tradition of anti-Semitic support for Zionism and Israel in the UK, there’s no reason to doubt that.
Zionism’s hatred of diaspora Jews alive and well
Zionism’s hatred of diaspora Jews and its desire to see them removed from Europe and other places they live persists to this day.
In 2004, for example, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told France’s 700,000 Jews they don’t belong there and should leave.
Israel funds organizations, such as Nefesh b’Nefesh dedicated to reducing the number of Jews living around the world, and encouraging them – including with cash payments – to leave their homes and go into exile on stolen Palestinian land. The goal of various “Birthright Israel” programs is the same – to instil nationalist loyalty to Israel in young Jews from around the world – in the hope that they will leave their native lands and move to Israel. Zionists – allegedly like Flynn – believe that the true “roots” of Jews are not in the countries of their birth, but in Israel.
It’s a positive sign that most Jews in the world remain resistant to these efforts, and despite the exhortations of Zionists, Jewish communities in the UK, France and Germany among other countries, are thriving while Israel struggles to entice all but a handful each year to abandon their homes.
For as long as I can remember I have checked every grocery item I ever bought to see where it came from. If the label said “Israel” or if the first three numbers of the barcode were “729” it was almost like I had picked up something I shouldn’t have touched, and I would hurry to put it back on the shelves. Boycotting Israeli products is a given to me. If my local supermarket in Norway or Denmark did not offer alternatives to Israeli products, I would let them know that they should. And if, at Christmas for example, the oranges where not labelled with a country I would ask the store employees, and if the oranges turned out to be Israeli, I would ask them to make sure there was a visible label. People have a right to know and a right to make a choice. Not everyone, however, thinks of this every time they go to the store. It is not everyone who cares either. When confronted with my boycott habits, many people react by saying “but does it actually make a difference?” My answer is always the same: It doesn’t make a difference if only I boycott Israeli products, but if we all did, it could change at least this tiny corner of the world.
Luckily I am far from the only one who boycotts Israel. Last Saturday, November 26, activists in 10 European countries had a day of action under the banner “Take Apartheid off the Menu”. Using flash mobs, demonstrations and lobby actions the human rights campaigners, trade unionists and NGOs created 60 events throughout Europe. In events staged outside supermarkets the activists called on consumers to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, urging the supermarkets to stop carrying such products.
The Israeli products found on the shelves in European supermarkets are often produced on occupied Palestinian soil, in the Jordan Valley for example. That means that buying these products helps finance illegal Israeli settlements and facilitates the violation of Palestinian rights and international law. The agriculture industry is one of the most important sources of income for the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin and Agrexco deprive Palestinians from access to land and water and directly profit from this theft of resources.
Since 1948 the Israeli agriculture industry has been one of the most important tools in the occupation of Palestine. It has led to the loss of land and income for many Palestinians who have been forced to live a life marked by poverty and oppression. The Jordan Valley is the most agriculturally utilized area of the West Bank. Here Israel controls 96% of the area through closed military zones where large farms are owned and controlled by Israeli settlers. Civil business as a method of occupation is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international organisations have documented severe violations of human rights in this area.
If anyone asks why I boycott Israeli products, this is what I tell them. The fact that some people profit from oppressing others, forcing them into poverty is not something that I want to support.
The actions in Europe this Saturday show that there are tools for anyone who wants to pressure Israel into stopping the occupation of Palestine. The boycott actions are growing and more and more consumers are making a conscious choice not to buy products that support the occupation. This could force the supermarket chains and importers to take action as well. The bankruptcy of Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter shows that boycotting does actually make a difference.
There is really no reason why people everywhere shouldn’t take apartheid off the menu. First of all, it is a personal, ethical choice: Who would want to support the oppression of Palestinians, deprive them of land, water and rights every time they buy an orange? Secondly, it is not a matter of accessibility. The European supermarkets are bulging with products and it is always possible to find an alternative to an Israeli product. And third: Yes, it does make a difference. It is all about the numbers. If enough people make a conscious choice not to buy Israeli products, it can be a powerful tool against illegal settlements and Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com.
The popular internet magazine Slate recently published an excerpt from The Unmaking of Israel, a new book by the historian Gershom Gorenberg. The title of the excerpt asked “Did Israel actually plan to expel most of its Arabs in 1948? Or not?” (“The Mystery of 1948,” 7 November 2011).
As most critical scholars of Palestinian history and the Zionist-Palestinian conflict would likely agree, this is an odd question to ask. Since Israel’s “new historians” began publishing revised histories that undermined the long-held official Zionist ideological narrative of the creation of Israel (in which the Arabs left Palestine voluntarily, or in response to urgings from the Arab states) it has become increasingly clear that Ilan Pappe was correct in suggesting a paradigm shift in historical analysis of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). Instead of viewing the violent, bloody events of 1948 through the lens of “war,” Pappe proposed a framework of “ethnic cleansing” — which, as he demonstrated, is well supported by the available evidence. But despite such growing clarity and consensus, Gorenberg implicitly rejects Pappe’s framework.
Since the early Zionist leadership formed a planning body (the Situation Committee) to determine how the Palestinian minority who remained within the borders of the future Jewish state would be managed, Gorenberg concludes that David Ben-Gurion and his affiliates had no firm plans to cleanse the territory on the eve of the 1948 conflict. Of course, these leaders had contemplated “transfer,” but this was an understandable manifestation of demographic unease and only one possible option among others. Though Ben-Gurion and the liberal Zionists likely had the best of intentions toward the Arabs, the right-wing spoiled the hopes of the more progressive and committed violent atrocities.
Gorenberg thus presents an image of a powerless Zionist left, which was presented with a fait accompli by the radical right and the unpredictability of the “chaos of war,” then attacked head-on by the confused natives and forced to defend itself.
By relentlessly placing the blame on a few “crazed” right-wing groups and the whims of fate, Gorenberg exculpates Zionism as such from responsibility for its brutal colonial history and leaves room for some “good Zionists,” who can doubtless count him among their number. In Gorenberg’s version of events one can detect the revenge of the “old historians,” mediated through several decades of the revisionists: the discredited fictions proffered by the Israeli state and allied ideologues are revitalized while simultaneously acknowledging the now-undeniable crimes of Zionism’s past. Though some misguided right-wing Zionists committed or caused horrendous injustices against the Palestinians, fuelling the conflict, there is a “pure” left-wing Zionism that stands apart from these acts and which was dragged against its will into a situation from which there was no easy escape. It was all an accident.
The myth of “accidental” ethnic cleansing
Gorenberg’s central conclusion requires a considerable jump in logic: as the historical record shows, though the Zionist leadership meticulously planned and executed the expulsion of the indigenous Arab population, even the most radical never imagined they would be able to completely eliminate the Palestinians. The plan was to conquer as much land and reduce the native population as much as possible. Indeed, the problem of how to establish a state with at least a large Jewish majority on territory inhabited overwhelmingly by Arabs had haunted Zionist leaders from the very beginning.
Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, wrote in his diary in 1895 that “we shall endeavor to expel the poor population across the border unnoticed.” These sentiments were also reflected in the enthusiastic embrace by Ben-Gurion and other prominent Zionist leaders of the British government’s 1937 Peel Commission report calling for the forced expulsion of the Arab population, which was referred to by Ben-Gurion as an “unparalleled achievement.” The plans of the “Situation Committee” Gorenberg points to, insisting that their existence is proof that there was no plan for the systematic cleansing of the locals, was no more than Ben-Gurion and the rest of the pre-state leadership determining what the Jews would do with the Arabs that remained after the expulsion.
That 1948 constituted a consciously planned ethnic cleansing on the part of the Zionist leadership is hardly in doubt. Though not mentioned by Gorenberg, Plan Dalet, devised by Ben-Gurion and the security and political leaders who joined him in a body known as the Consultancy, called for the Palestinians’ “systematic and total expulsion from their homeland” (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 2008).
Ilan Pappe has demonstrated how, after several revisions, the final plan included a detailed description of the methods to be used in driving the population out of their lands that included “large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties, and goods; expulsion; demolition; and, finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning.” In short, Dalet was “an initiative to ethnically cleanse the country as a whole.” With the order to begin the operation, “each brigade commander received a list of the villages or neighborhoods that had to be occupied, destroyed, and their inhabitants expelled,” Pappe wrote. Accidental, indeed.
Though Gorenberg presents a picture of “two [presumably equal] national groups claiming the same territory,” the 1947 UN Partition Plan actually handed a mostly European colonial population owning just 12 percent of the land in Palestine fully 60 percent of the territory, including some of its most valuable regions. The demand that the indigenous Palestinian population accept partition was unprecedented: no colonized population had ever assented to the division of its national lands with a foreign colonizer. Even within the territory allotted the Jewish state, Palestinian Arabs made up 40 percent of the population, a troublesome fact for the Zionist leadership.
As Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders had made clear in the period prior to the founding of the state, not only did they consider the UN Partition Plan as simply the launching pad from which they would dramatically expand the borders of the Jewish state (as they did), but they also had no intention of tolerating such a large Arab minority in their midst afterwards. “Recently declassified Zionist documents,” historian Benny Morris has written, “demonstrate that a virtual consensus emerged among Zionist leadership … in favor of the transfer of at least several hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs — if not all of them — out of the areas of the Jewish state-to-be.” (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001, 2001). All one needed to do was to wait for an opportune moment to carry out such an operation, such as a war.
Arguments don’t hold water
As those familiar with Gorenberg’s work will recognize, this thesis has become his regular modus operandi. His 2006 book The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977 argues that the Israeli occupation and colonization of the remaining Palestinian territories after 1967 was an “accident,” echoing the “quagmire” argument thoughtlessly repeated in relation to supposedly failed US imperial adventures.
Though Israel went into the enterprise with the noblest of intentions, it was quickly dragged into a complex situation from which it could not extricate itself. Apart from the sophisticated arrangements needed to ensure Israeli security, the argument goes, a fringe settler lobby hijacked and corrupted Israeli policy. The vast colonial settlement enterprise that sprung up across the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 was thus the “accidental” product of a directionless but well-intentioned Zionism manipulated by a radical minority.
But like Gorenberg’s take on the Nakba, these arguments simply don’t hold water.
In the precise inverse of the relationship between the state and Jewish religious fanaticism portrayed by Gorenberg, the post-1967 settlement enterprise was characterized not by the haphazard eruption of housing construction maniacally driven by a small gang of religious fanatics. Rather, the Israeli state consciously executed a carefully planned settlement program directed to meet specific objectives. “What is now plain with hindsight,” Donald Neff, a journalist specializing in the Middle East, has written, “is that Israel operated on a premeditated and pragmatic plan of settlement” in the period after the 1967 war (Donald Neff, “Settlements in US Policy,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1994).
This “premeditated and pragmatic plan” was unveiled in 1968 by staunch Labor politician Yigal Allon, the goal of which was “to have as much land as possible with as small a number of Arabs as possible” (Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, 2006). The Allon Plan proposed “annexation of 35 to 40 percent of the territories to Israel, and either Jordanian rule, or some form of self-rule for the rest of the land on which the Palestinians actually lived,” as Israeli scholar Tanya Reinhart put it (Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, 2005). “For all practical purposes,” Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, wrote, the Allon Plan became “the accepted map of Israel’s security, and of her settlement priorities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].”
Yitzak Rabin, mythic leader of the pathetic Zionist left, harnessed the messianic religious fervor of Jewish fundamentalists in order to finally realize the Allon Plan, and to lay the infrastructure for the apartheid system that was formalized in the occupied territories following the signing of the Oslo accords.
While intensifying restrictions on Palestinian movement and sealing off the West Bank and Gaza in a brutal closure regime (implementing checkpoints and a pass system similar to that used in South Africa), Rabin initiated a distinction between “good” and “bad” settlements. That is, he favored settling in areas deemed important to the overall colonial plan (such as those built atop vital water resources, or in a region considered to be of strategic importance), while criticizing those “ideological” settlements that did not fit the contours of the broader plan for territorial annexation. As former Jerusalem mayor Meron Benvenisti wrote of Rabin’s settlement scheme, “the geographic boundaries on Rabin’s map [left] Israel in control of … the same areas included in the infamous Allon Plan of 1968-70, except that Rabin [had] added large areas of [the northern West Bank]” (Meron Benvenisti, Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a Shared Land, 1995).
With the first intifada, which began in 1987, leading Jordan to renounce all claims to the West Bank the following year for fear the uprising would spread to the kingdom, and Israel desperately desiring an end to the uprising, it was the Palestinian variant of the Allon Plan that was realized with the signing of Oslo and Rabin’s settlement initiative. Though wanting to retain Israeli control over the entirety of historic Palestine, Rabin realized that the survival of the Jewish state depended on minimizing its Palestinian population, lest Israel be forced to abandon even the semblance of formal democracy and equal rights. Accordingly, the “ideological” settlements he condemned lay in densely populated Arab areas, which were to be disowned but encircled by Israeli-annexed and Jewish-settled areas.
Meanwhile, Israel would be absolved of responsibility for the welfare of the suffering Arab population. After the inauguration of the post-Oslo era, such expenses were pushed onto international donors and the occupied themselves, circumventing the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulating that these sizable costs fall upon the occupying power. Clearly, none of this was an accident.
Good guys and bad guys
I raised some of these issues with Gorenberg after a talk of his I attended in Jerusalem in June 2008. “You’re not doing history right,” he informed me, “it is never the case that one side is always in the wrong, always the bad guy.” In fact, it is Gorenberg that misses the meaning of history. Good and bad aside, there are colonizers, and there are colonized; oppressors and oppressed. Unfortunately for Gorenberg, as the evidence shows, Israeli leaders from the left to the right have been unanimously in agreement over the continuance of a colonial policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza (fighting tooth and nail to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state), as well as on the nearly constant waves of violence unleashed on Israel’s Arab neighbors.
Indeed, as Norman Finkelstein has pointed out, “the record of Labor has been much worse on human rights violations than the record of Likud,” noting how “Mr. Rabin used to boast that he had demolished many more homes than any Likud government” (“Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami debates outspoken professor Norman Finkelstein on Israel, the Palestinians and the peace process,” Democracy Now!, 14 February 2006).
And indeed, though disowning the strategically problematic “ideological” settlements, Rabin’s record on settlement construction was worse than the record of his obstinate right-wing predecessor Yitzak Shamir.
It was Ehud Olmert, then prime minister and leader of the supposedly center-left Kadima, who was responsible for the destruction of much of southern Lebanon in 2006, including littering the countryside with cluster bombs that have rendered vast tracts of agricultural land inaccessible. His successor Tzipi Livni oversaw the slaughter of over 1,000 impoverished, defenseless Palestinians in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, including the deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools, medical personnel and aid workers, UN facilities, and the few remaining organs of economic production. Were these “accidents” too?
An essential part of the “peace process” for the Zionists — in particular the left — has always been washing away responsibility for the colonialism inherent in the notion of Zionism. From the humiliating White House ceremony in which Yasser Arafat presented himself to the world as its repentant assailant, to today, when Zionism demands the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” on which the indigenous Palestinian community was merely a temporary historical aberration, it is clear that Zionism seeks to erase and rewrite history. It does so in order to avoid accepting its ugly colonial legacy.
But if the Palestinians are merely trespassing in the “Jewish state,” the occupation, the wall, the settlements, are all legitimate: the Jews are simply “defending” what is theirs. Part of the struggle, then, takes place in the realm of the past.
Stephen Maher is the Editorial Assistant of the Journal of Palestine Studies in Washington, DC. He has his MA in Middle East studies and US foreign policy from the American University, and he has spent time living and working in Palestine. His blog is rationalmanifesto.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Maher_Steve.
London — Standing on a picket line in front of her work place at a world renowned heart-lung hospital in London wasn’t Jeanette Anderson’s first choice for how to spend her day.
However, Anderson said protesting was her “only choice.”
Protesting as part of a nationwide general strike in the UK, Anderson said, was necessary to combat austerity measures from Britain’s conservative led government that now targets the pensions of public sector workers like Anderson and her picket line colleagues at the Royal Brompton Hospital in this city’s up-scale Chelsea section.
“We do not get the fat-cat pensions like the rich,” Anderson said, noting that participating in the one-day strike action wasn’t something she took lightly.
“Public sector workers are already into a two-year pay freeze and now the government plans to extend that pay freeze for another two years.”
Anderson, her Brompton Hospital picket line colleagues and an estimated two million other public sector workers staged a one-day general strike across Britain Wednesday (11/30).
Public workers prepare to march through Central London in Wednesday’s UK General Strike (photo by Linn Washington)
That strike – the largest labor action in Britain in 30 years – closed 62 percent of the public schools in England, Scotland and Wales in addition to shuttering many government offices (local and national) including courts plus disrupting government services, such as forcing the postponements of some
Three miles from Anderson’s Brompton Hospital picket line over 25,000 public workers staged a rally and march that was one of over 1,000 protest actions by workers across Britain on November 30th.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron mocked the effectiveness of the general strike, citing its failure to disrupt operations at the nation’s major airports.
The Cameron government brought strikebreakers for the airports from as far away as the Caribbean to off-set the strike’s impact. Further, major airlines initiated programs to reschedule flights to avoid problems from the strike, particularly anticipated delays in processing passports of arriving passengers.
Countering Cameron, Brendan Barber, head of Britain’s Trade Union Congress, termed the strike a success, saying, “There has been magnificent support” for the strike. Barber promised similar labor actions in the near future if the Cameron government continues to assault the living standards of workers.
The flash point of the strike is the British government’s demands that public sector workers make higher contributions to their pensions and work longer before retirement.
Yet, the wider context of the strike is the set of austerity measures Britain’s conservative leaders say are required to reduce massive national budget deficits.
Deficit reduction actions, many contend, are unfairly targeting the middle and lower classes by forcing them to pay for the economic woes created by the upper class that is largely escaping the slash-and-burn pain of tax increases and service cuts.
“They want us to increase our contributions into the pension pot to ten percent of our pay and then they want to cut our pensions by twenty percent. Where is the fairness in that?” asked Steve Caddick, a National Health Service worker on the picket line with NHS colleague Anderson.
The National Health Service is the government funded healthcare system in the UK that provides much of its comprehensive medical services free of charge unlike the steep fee based system in the United States.
Sam Wheeler, another Brompton Hospital NHS picketer, echoed criticism of the fundamental unfairness in the government’s initiatives.
“Our pension fund makes profits each year but the government takes those profits for other purposes, unlike private pension funds that reinvest the profits to increase the fund,” Wheeler said. “All of this is the government taking from public sector workers to pay for the deficits caused by the bankers. The government still is not putting regulations on the banks and that’s what upsets me.”
Those participating in the general strike challenge claims pushed by conservative government officials and media coverage that public sector workers enjoy plush pensions particularly when compared to private sector workers.
The average pension for a worker in the National Health Service – Britain’s largest public sector employer – is $12,500 annually in U.S. dollars… hardly sufficient for a lavish life style, especially with the costs of food, energy and seemingly everything else soaring.
According to Britain’s Trade Union Congress, a key organizer of the general strike, public sector pensions average between $7,859-to-$14,147 annually in U.S. dollars.
Many workers argue that government official’s the pitting of public sector pensions against pensions for lower-waged workers in the private sector is both deceptive effort devised to maliciously divide workers.
“Some people in the private sector do have lower pensions than those in the public sector but most forget that many of those lower paid private sector workers used to hold public sector jobs that were privatized, with pay and benefits subsequently reduced,” veteran labor activist Glenroy Watson said.
Watson said there should be “parity” between public and private sector pensions but divide-and-rule tactics are a part of “the general attack” by the conservative government to “claw back” gains that workers have achieved in the past few decades.
“The fact of the matter is that this government’s austerity program is the same program of [the late Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s when she stole a lot from ordinary people. Here are the same kinds of people back again taking for themselves,” Watson said.
“All the issues in conflict under Thatcher like stealing benefits from ordinary people are nothing new. Too many people refuse to analyze this properly. There is no difference between Thatcher and the current government of [David] Cameron.”
The day before the November 30th general strike, Prime Minister Cameron’s finance head, George Osborne, announced new austerity-driven fiscal measures including pay freezes for public workers and hundreds of thousands of additional job cuts in the public sector.
Osborne’s announcements did include plans for billions in infrastructure improvements to stimulate the economy, government loans for small businesses to expand, targeted programs to reduce massive youth unemployment and increases in welfare benefits.
But data from Osborne’s own independent Office of Budget Responsibility stated that his cuts directed toward reducing deficits only had a 60-percent chance of meeting the stated goal of eliminating deficits by 2015-16.
Bracketing Osborne’s announcements were reports from think-tanks painting grim pictures of a possible new recession in Britain, steep reductions living standards for the average family and the poorest 30-percent of households losing more than three times as much as the richest 30-percent of the population.
The day after the general strike news reported that researchers for the British Parliament’s House of Commons library calculated that women in the UK will bear 73-percent of changes in tax credits and caps on public sector pay pushed by Osborne compared to 27-percent impacting men.
Others outside of public sector employment also oppose the austerity initiatives, criticizing the failure of the Cameron coalition government to end accelerating income inequities and crack down on the corporate classes that created the economic collapse with manipulative enrichment-schemes.
“That notion of shared sacrifice pushed by the government is nonsense. It is predicated on the assumption that during the boom economic times everyone benefited and they did not,” activist Osagyefo Tongogara said, while leafleting near the route of the protest march through Central London.
Tongogara, who supported the general strike, said the measurements the government uses to set public pension rates were changed earlier this year to an accounting methodology that short-changes workers by undercounting the impact of inflation.
Austerity actions, Tongogara said, are increasing rates of poverty, especially among children and the elderly – an assertion backed by economists and other experts. “The rich continue to off-shore billions of pounds to avoid paying taxes. Tax evasion is illegal for working people but tax avoidance is not illegal for the rich…that is wrong,” he said.
Activist Selma James, 81, criticizes Cameron’s coalition government for failing to seriously address accelerating income inequities that aggravate existing poverty particularly impoverishment impacting children and the elderly.
“The 1% is pushing us around determining our lives, stealing our money, our resources and our possibilities,” James, the founder of London’s Crossroads Womens’ Centre, stated in an email interview.
James, the widow of the late Caribbean author/activist C.L.R. James, said actions like the general strike and the Occupy Movement are vital.
Those activities, said James, are a “strength for all to stop suffering in silence and spell out our real conditions of life and the brutality we try to defeat every hour we’re alive.”
JENIN – Israeli troops detained 22 people in dawn raids across the West Bank on Thursday, including nine leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said 22 people were taken for questioning, including 10 in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
PFLP officials said a large force of 20 army jeeps raided Jenin and detained nine PFLP leaders. Among them are student union chief Nasser Abu Aziz, 57, local councilor Alam Sami Masad, 45, popular committee member Fada Zgheebe, 46, and his 61-year-old brother Salah Abdullah Zgheebe, a lawyer, as well as Mohammad Abu al-Haija, 35.
Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli soldiers ransacked homes without regard for women’s privacy, the presence of children or the health of those detained. Abu Aziz is sick and Abu Abu al-Haija is disabled, they added.
The raid was the second operation targeting the leftist faction in the last month. In November, 13 PFLP leaders were detained in Ramallah and Jenin.
Russia has warned Western countries over exacerbating tensions with Iran, stressing that such a move would be “fraught with severe consequences.”
“We speak out categorically against cranking up a spiral of tension and confrontation on issues linked with Iran. We believe that this … is fraught with severe consequences,” Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich as saying on Thursday.
“The increasing tensions in relations with Tehran is essentially blocking the renewal of talks” between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US — plus Germany over Tehran’s nuclear program, he told a news briefing.
The comments came after foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) imposed fresh sanctions against 180 Iranian individuals and companies on Thursday, but failed to impose an embargo on the country’s oil sector.
The EU ministers further claimed that they would keep working on developing additional measures which would directly affect Iran’s oil industry.
On November 21, the United States, Britain and Canada imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a bogus report on Tehran’s nuclear program on November 8, which claimed Iran’s nuclear program had a military aspect.
“We are talking about the counterproductive, ill-timed and weakly based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report,” Lukashevich said.
“We are also talking about the imposition by some states of extra-territorial, unilateral sanctions … and the completely unacceptable threats of the use of force against Iran,” he added.
The IAEA report on Iran was dismissed by Tehran as “unbalanced, unprofessional and prepared with political motivation and under political pressure by mostly the United States.”
The United States, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to push for the imposition of sanctions as well as to call for an attack on the country.
Iran, however, refutes such allegations as “baseless” and maintains that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA, it has every right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards weapons production.