On 23 December the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted to adopt a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as illegal, and demanding that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem”.
For once, the USA decided to join the rest of humanity and didn’t veto the resolution. The message is obvious: if Zionism was a promise to make the Jews people like other people, its failure is colossal. The Jewish State and its lobbies are people like no other. 14 out of 15 members of the UNSC voted against Israel, the US abstained. In the most clear terms, the UNSC denounced the Jewish state’s treatment of the Palestinian people. If Israel would be an ordinary state, as Zionism initially promised, it would take some time to reflect on the resolution and consider the necessary measures to amend its public image. But as one would expect, the Jewish State did the complete opposite. It took the path of the bully and decided to punish the world.
In his first reaction to the resolution Israeli PM Netanyahu told his followers that the Security Council’s behaviour was “shameful.” He also harshly denounced President Obama’s choice to abstain. A list of American elected spineless characters were quick to cry havoc and promised to correct the damage. Netanyahu has instructed Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal to “return to Israel for consultations.” A scheduled visit of the Ukrainian PM in Jerusalem next week was cancelled. Netanyahu also ordered to block the shekel pipeline to some UN institutions.
But things may be slightly more complicated than they look at first glance. If the One (Bi-National) State is an existential threat to Israel being the Jewish state, then the recent UN resolution is obviously a last attempt to revive the Two-State Solution. It, de facto, legitimises the existence of the Jewish State within the pre-1967 borders. The resolution provides Israel with a practical and pragmatic opportunity to dissolve the West Bank settlements. Banks and businesses may start to refrain from operating in the occupied territories. Israeli military personnel serving in the occupied territories are about to become subject to the scrutiny of international law. Netanyahu, so it seems, made a fuss about the resolution, but the resolution plays into his hands. It provides him with an opportunity to break the stalemate with the Palestinians. Netanyahu knows it. President Obama knows it, the president-elect will be advised about as soon as he takes some time off Twitter.
But if the resolution serves Israeli national and security interests, why did Netanyahu react like a bully? The answer is simple. Bibi is a populist. Like president-elect Trump he knows what his people are like. He knows what the Jews and the Israelis seek in their leader. They want their king to celebrate Jewish exceptionalism. They want their master to perform contempt towards the Goyim. PM Netanyahu knows very well that David Ben Gurion (the legendary first Israeli PM) dismissed the UN, famously saying “it doesn’t matter what the Goyim say, the only thing that matters is what Jews do.”
It is far from clear whether Ben Gurion was really dismissive of Goyim. However, he was loved by his people for conveying the image as if he did. Bibi follows the same rule. In the public eye, he is dismissive of the UN, he is full with contempt to the nations and Goyim in general. But in practice he knows that the resolution is essential for the existence of the Jewish state. It is probably the last opportunity to scale down the pretentious Zionist dream and make it fit with the reality on the ground. Let me reassure you, I don’t hold my breath. In reality it is actually the Israelis who don’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The United Nations General Assembly today approved a historic resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. The vote follows a decision on 27 October by the General Assembly’s First Committee – which deals with disarmament and international security matters – to begin work on the new treaty despite fervent opposition from some nuclear-armed nations.
The resolution was adopted by a large majority, with 113 UN member states voting in favour, 35 voting against and 13 abstaining. Support was strongest among the nations of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. A cross-regional group comprising Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa initiated the resolution and are likely to lead next year’s negotiations.
At a UN budget committee meeting earlier this week, the United States attracted the ire of other nations when it objected to a funding request for the planned four weeks of negotiations on the treaty, to be held at UN headquarters in New York. But under intense pressure from supporters of nuclear disarmament, it eventually withdrew its objection, and the committee authorized the request.
In a leaked document distributed to all NATO members in October ahead of the First Committee decision, the United States – which possesses some 7,000 nuclear weapons – urged its allies to oppose the resolution and to boycott the negotiations, fearing that the treaty would erode the perception that nuclear weapons are legitimate for certain nations and make it more difficult for NATO to engage in nuclear war planning.
A number of close US allies that voted against the resolution or abstained have indicated their intention to participate in the negotiations anyway, in order to help shape the treaty. For example, the Netherlands, which hosts US nuclear weapons on its territory and abstained from voting, has confirmed that it will take part, and Japan’s foreign minister, despite opposing the resolution, wants his country to attend.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is urging all nations to take part. “Every nation has an interest in ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used again, which can only be guaranteed through their complete elimination. We are calling on all governments to join next year’s negotiations and work to achieve a strong and effective treaty,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.
ICAN stressed that the negotiations should proceed whether or not nuclear-armed nations agree to participate. “As a matter of principle, weapons that are indiscriminate in nature and are intended to cause catastrophic humanitarian harm should be prohibited under international law. This new treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction,” said Fihn.
“We believe that, through its normative force, the nuclear weapon ban treaty will affect the behaviour of nuclear-armed nations even if they refuse to join it. It will also affect the behaviour of many of their allies that currently claim protection from nuclear weapons, including those in Europe that host nuclear weapons on their territory. It will contribute significantly towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.”
The negotiations will be divided into two sessions, from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July. ICAN plans to send a large delegation of campaigners to both sessions. The campaign is urging governments to make every effort to conclude the treaty by the end of the four weeks of negotiations, noting that much preparatory work has already been done, including by a UN working group that met in Geneva this year.
The treaty is likely to include provisions similar to those found in existing treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. These include prohibitions on use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.
Multilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament have been deadlocked for two decades, as all nine nuclear-armed nations have invested heavily in upgrades to their nuclear forces. Alternative proposals for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world have failed to gain traction or produce results. A majority of UN member states view the ban treaty approach as the most viable and promising pathway forward.
Israel will not abide by the UN Security Council’s demands for Tel Aviv to halt its settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian lands, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” the statement from the PM’s office said, according to Reuters.
The Obama administration “failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN,” and what is even worse, “colluded with it behind the scenes,” the statement added.
In order to “negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution,” Israel is looking forward to working with President-elect Trump and with “all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike.”
Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal – countries who along with Malaysia and Venezuela tabled the draft resolution – were immediately ordered to return to Tel Aviv for consultations.
Earlier, the Israeli ambassador to the council, Danny Danon slammed the vote as a “victory for terror, a victory for hatred and violence.”
“Who gave you the right to issue such a decree, denying our eternal rights in Jerusalem?” he added.
The UN Security Council resolution, demanding an end to the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories, was adopted with 14 of 15 UNSC members voting in favor. The US was the only nation to abstain from voting.
The US defended its abstention from Israeli criticism by stating that one “cannot champion settlements and the two state solution” at the same time. The US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the US did not veto the resolution as it “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with US policy.”
The main US pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC, said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Obama administration’s reluctance to use its veto in what it described as a “destructive, one-sided, anti-Israel resolution.”
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding an end to the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories after the US abstained from voting.
The resolution was introduced to the UNSC by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal on Friday, a day after Egypt withdrew reportedly under pressure from Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump.
Earlier, Trump and Israeli authorities also called on the US to veto the resolution. The document was eventually adopted with 14 of 15 UNSC members voting in favor. The US was the only nation to abstain from voting.
It is the first resolution passed by the UNSC on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in almost eight years.
The Israeli envoy to the UN Danny Danon criticized the US’ decision to abstain. However, he expressed his confidence that the new US president would “no doubt” usher in a new era in UN-Israeli ties, as well as the new UN Secretary General.
The US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power responded to the Israeli envoy’s criticism by stressing that one “cannot champion settlements and the two state solution” at the same time. She went on to say that the US did not veto the resolution as it “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with US policy.”
Power also stressed that continued settlement building “undermines” Israel’s own security.
Meanwhile, US House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced US abstention by calling it “absolutely shameful” and describing it as a “blow to peace.” The US Republican senator, John McCain, went further and said that the abstention in the UNSC vote made the US “complicit in this outrageous attack” against Israel, reported Reuters.
Danon earlier said that the resolution served as “the condemnation of the sole democracy in the Middle East [Israel].”
The UNSC was initially scheduled to vote on the resolution on Thursday but Egypt pulled its text at the last minute, postponing the vote until after the wrapup of the Arab League ministerial meeting in Cairo. According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exerted heavy pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Sissi urging him to delay the vote.
Netanyahu also urged the US to veto the vote on the “anti-Israel resolution” on Wednesday night in a short tweet.
The current Obama administration previously expressed its disapproval of Israeli settlement policies, which Tel Aviv has pursued since 1967. However, in 2011, Washington vetoed a draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Israel occupied Palestinian territories in 1967. Now, more than 500,000 Israelis live in settlements built on occupied territories. Meanwhile, Palestinians have been seeking full independence for the occupied territories for decades and demand full recognition as a sovereign state from both the UN and the international community.
Bashar Al-Jaafari: Protecting civilians in Aleppo and other cities is the Syrian government’s constitutional duty
NEW YORK – Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari stressed that the Syrian government is innocent of the U.S. and western accusations that it has committed crimes in Aleppo.
Addressing an emergency session of the UN Security Council on the situation in Aleppo on Tuesday, called for by France and Britain, al-Jaafari said some of the Security Council member states are used, since the beginning of the terrorist war against Syria, to call for urgent sessions based on misleading information and false reports and testimonies whenever the Syrian army and its allies achieve advance against the terrorist organizations.
al-Jaafari categorically dismissed all the “fabricated reports” used by the representatives of the US, France and Britain that the Syrian government has targeted citizens in Aleppo city, affirming that what the Syrian government, along with its allies, is doing in Aleppo city and other Syrian cities is “practicing the constitutional and legal duty of every government; that is to protect its citizens against terrorism.”
He made it clear that the Syrian government’s first and foremost aim of opening safe corridors (including for the militants), providing makeshift centers, issuing amnesty decisions and delivering food and medical aid in Aleppo is protecting civilians and keeping them safe.
Al-Jaafari criticized the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for being in a hurry to issue statements based on reports he could not verify just to the effect of “defaming the Syrian government and its allies that are fighting terrorism.”
He dismissed that some sides, in their attempts to help the terrorists, deny the Syrian government its duty to examine and verify the identity of some of those who are leaving neighborhoods in Aleppo along with the civilians, especially that many reports issued by the Security Council speak of tens of thousands of foreign terrorists from more than a 100 countries operating in Syria, noting that this examination aims at preventing those terrorists from infiltrating other areas, and probably the territories of other countries, and resuming their acts there.
He cited tens of photos which show terrorists, who had committed acts of “beheading innocent people and eating livers”, trying to escape from East Aleppo infiltrating among civilians in women’s clothes, but they were captured by the Syrian Army.
Al-Jaafari said it is utmost hypocrisy that the envoys of some countries insist on accusing the Syrian government of besieging its people and blocking access to food and medicine while they continue to deny the fact that tens of depots which were controlled by the terrorist organizations in Aleppo have been full of all kinds of medical and food supplies from which the civilians were deprived.
He stressed that it is not possible that tens of thousands of terrorists fighting the Syrian Army in Aleppo would have been able to survive and remain there for more than four years, was it not for some states at this Council continually providing them with all kinds of weapons and protection.
He categorically denied “as groundless” all “fabrications, allegations and hallucinations” issued by some member states’ representatives about the government allegedly committing acts of “reprisal, intimidation and field executions against civilians,” reaffirming that hunting and targeting terrorists is at the heart of the Syrian government’s constitutional powers “just like what u did in Nice, Paris, London, Boston, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Cairo, Sinai, Bombay, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.”
For his part, Russia’s Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin stressed that the Syrian Arab Army has reestablished control over the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, reiterating that the allegations that the Syrian Army has committed violations in Aleppo are baseless.
Meanwhile, China’s Representative to the UN Liu Jieyi said fighting terrorism is an integral part of finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, stressing that the international community should give top priority to fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
The head of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry has proposed a new economic model of humanitarian assistance and reparation payments to victims of war zones, recommending that initiators of conflict pay for the destruction and suffering caused by their policies.
“The Russian Federation proposes to build a new economic model of international humanitarian aid,” Vladimir Puchkov told the UN General Assembly in New York. The model is quite simple, according to Puchkov, who said that nations which initiate, incite and sponsor conflicts in other states should be “obliged to bear primary responsibility, including financial” for providing aid to refugees and persons internally displaced as a result.
The need to create a new mechanism arises from the lack of funding for international humanitarian relief budgets. Currently only around 5 percent of the funds required to remedy the widespread destruction and suffering are available, the Russian minister said.
To reduce the financial burden on the international humanitarian aid system, associated with the rise of terrorism and waves of refugees, Puchkov also stressed the need to focus on conflict prevention.
“We believe that settlement and conflict prevention is the best approach to reducing the burden on the international humanitarian system,” the minister said in a report at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.
In order to improve the quality of international aid the minister also offered to take additional measures and help develop local crises response capabilities in conflict-torn countries.
“Instead of trying to provide for the millions of refugees in Europe, it is necessary to create opportunities for them to stay at home, or at least in the same region,” Puchkov noted.
Among other things, Puchkov urged that the international community intensify efforts to improve the international legal and contractual framework which would allow aid to quickly reach affected areas. Meanwhile developing countries, the minister said, should also recognize their responsibility and not remain “passive recipients.”
Speaking about the Russian contribution to global humanitarian aid missions, Puchkov highlighted that this year Russia participated in over 40 missions across the globe, offering aid to over 10 countries. Besides Syria and Ukraine, some of the recent recipients of Russian aid include countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan, in addition to western states such as Italy and Portugal. Overall, Russia engaged in over 450 missions across the globe over the last quarter of a century.
In addition, over the last three years, Moscow has sent more than $250 million to battle humanitarian crisis in a number of countries, by sending emergency food and medical assistance to populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which coordinates international humanitarian relief efforts said that last year more than 76 million people from 31 countries needed assistance. The UN office also noted in 2015 some 51 million people were displaced worldwide, which is the highest number since WWII.
Another symbolic international day for Palestinian rights has degenerated into the usual stale observations and recommendations that do little other than try to impart a semblance of balance between the coloniser and the colonised. Perhaps the UN has preferred to remain loyal to the monstrous history it spawned by approving the Partition Plan on 29 November 1947, rather than address its complicity in the dispossession, ethnic cleansing and displacement of the Palestinians.
Departing from a jeopardising premise, Fiji’s Peter Thomson presided over the 71st session of the UN General Assembly and declared that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is “fundamental to our efforts to realise the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and to ensure that they are able to enjoy lives of dignity, opportunity, prosperity and equality.” The Palestinian people have endured a history of premeditated killing for decades because the UN upholds obscurity as a priority over the anti-colonial struggle. Peace, therefore, can be eliminated from the convenient rhetoric as it is nothing but a euphemism for oblivion in the context of Israeli colonial violence and international acceptance and complicity.
Not to be outdone, the Head of the EU Delegation to the UN, João Vale de Almeida, presented a summarised version of the perpetual concerns and condemnations, but added a slight variation to the usual rhetoric. The EU, he claimed, is “alarmed by the advancement in the Knesset of the ‘Settlement Regularisation Bill’ which would allow for the ex post ‘legalisation’ of Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank and de facto confiscation of private Palestinian land.” It is mystifying, to say the least, how an international institution that is normally so well-informed can express “alarm” over violations that have occurred blatantly and in a clear, calculated sequence following the original Zionist plan for Greater Israel. There was more likely to be advance knowledge and acquiescence, not alarm, over the proposed legislation.
Almeida made another obfuscating comment regarding Gaza: “Militant activity and the dire situation in Gaza feed general instability and constitute a recipe for renewed conflict.” He provided no context for the Palestinian resistance in Gaza; no mention of how Israel’s Operation Protective Edge destroyed the enclave and displaced Palestinians in a space that is completely besieged. Hamas “and other militant groups” are also urged to stop “the illicit arms build-up.” Presumably the EU, like Israel, wishes there to be a defenceless population that is completely stripped of the right to defend itself against Israel’s state of the art military technology. Almeida’s statement encourages the abuse of Palestinian civilians by Israel whenever it chooses to field test its latest weapons on live targets before marketing them internationally and thus exposing international hypocrisy with regards to alleged support for Palestinian rights.
Perhaps the symbolic commemoration of “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” should be scrapped, since the UN, the EU and other international institutions are incapable of articulating the trajectory between the initial and the current colonial violence against Palestinians. All of the futile statements which simply rehash decades of other repetitive rhetoric do not help the Palestinians in any way. Sporting a keffiyeh for the macabre day, which is a backdoor commemoration of the UN Partition Plan as well as purported international solidarity, is humiliating, not a show of support. In the absence of a commitment to support Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle, one can conclude that the international agenda for this “day of support” is to devaluate Palestine and downgrade it even further from a symbolic presence to a passive memory.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France and the United Nations have not yet offered humanitarian relief to 90,000 Aleppo citizens, liberated from militants two days ago, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman said Wednesday.
“Two days after over 90,000 Aleppo residents were freed from terrorists, no offer of humanitarian assistance came from the office of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the British and French Foreign Ministries or the US State Department,” the ministry’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov reminded about the previous US, UK, UN and French demands to provide humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo when it was held by the militants.
“Apparently, the [humanitarian] assistance was destined for certain other people living in the eastern parts of Aleppo,” Konashenkov said highlighting the absence of the above-mentioned sides’ interest in providing civilians with humanitarian aid after all the necessary conditions for the aid delivery had been created.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the Syrian government forces had cleared almost half of eastern Aleppo from militant strongholds, liberating tens of thousands local residents.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons refuses to send its experts to Aleppo to check substances used by rebels in attacks. The move was “seemingly done under pressure from our Western colleagues,” Russia’s foreign minister said.
“Russian specialists found that militants in east Aleppo used ammunition with poisonous substances, with the ammo targeting west Aleppo. The collected samples leave no doubt that it’s a toxic agent,” Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference with his Belarusian counterpart in Minsk, as cited by Interfax.
However, when the Russian Ministry of Defense addressed the leadership of the UN watchdog OPCW “with the demand to urgently send its experts to Aleppo to participate in the sample analysis,” the organization “refused to carry out this simple task, citing security issues.”
The underlying reason behind this, Lavrov said, seemed to be “tremendous pressure from our Western colleagues,” because “our and Syrian sides guaranteed security [for the experts].”
Russia is now working on the possibility of delivering the samples for analysis to The Hague, Lavrov added.
“It will make it hard [for them] to back out,” the minister said, as quoted by TASS.
Lavrov’s statement comes a day after the Ministry of Defense spoke about the evidence of chemical attacks by rebels, and stressed that the OPCW was refusing to cooperate.
Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov said that Russian experts collected bioassays from four Syrians injured in the attacks, and made the shocking discovery earlier this month.
In fact, Russian top brass has been warning since September that the militants might use chemical weapons against civilians in Aleppo, and in October, Syrian state media reported toxic gas having been used against a government-held area in the city.
Fifteen people were injured back then, and a local doctor told RT that the symptoms could be those observed after the use of chlorine gas.
Over the past few years, the Syrian government has often come under fire over claims of its alleged use of chemical weapons to attack the rebel-held areas – from activists and the UN, as well as the US State Department.
Spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi
Iran has remained committed to its obligations, including those concerning its heavy water stockpiles, under last year’s landmark nuclear agreement signed between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group of countries, a senior Iranian nuclear official says.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has fulfilled its obligations on heavy water stockpiles based on the JCPOA (the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and remains committed to it,” the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRIB on Friday.
Kamalvandi made the comments in reaction to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week that claimed that Iran’s stocks of heavy water had slightly exceeded the 130-tonne level set out in the JCPOA.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on Thursday chided Iran for exceeding the agreed limit on its stockpiles and said, “It is important that such situations should be avoided in future in order to maintain international confidence in the implementation.”
Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China – plus Germany signed the JCPOA in July 2015 and started implementing it in January 2016.
Under the JCPOA, Iran undertook to put limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against Tehran.
The deal requires Iran’s storage of uranium enriched to up to 3.67 percent purity to stay below 300 kilograms. Tehran has also agreed to keep its heavy water stockpile below 130 metric tonnes.
“According to the JCPOA, we were required to offer on the international market any excess over 130 tonnes of heavy water and we have so far sold 70 tonnes,” Kamalvandi said.
He added, “Negotiations are under way with interested countries, the Europeans in particular,” to sell the rest.
The nuclear official emphasized that Iran would remain committed to its undertakings under the JCPOA on heavy water restrictions “so long as the JCPOA is in place.”
Last week, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner played down concerns about Iran exceeding the heavy water stockpile limit.
He said it was “important to note that Iran made no effort to hide this” and that he was “not sure whether that constitutes a formal violation.”
The AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi said in October that the Islamic Republic had sold 32 tonnes of heavy water to the United States and delivered 38 tonnes of the nuclear substance to Russia.
“European firms, including German and French ones, seek to purchase Iran’s heavy water and we have expressed our readiness in this regard,” Salehi added.
Foreword to Donna Laframboise’s new report Peer Review: Why Skepticism is Essential
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly and falsely claimed that it depends entirely on peer-reviewed papers. Donna Laframboise used volunteers to check this claim and found that a significant part of the references in the fourth assessment report of the IPCC were to ‘grey literature’ – that is, press releases, ‘reports’ from pressure groups and the like, which are not remotely the normal peer reviewed scientific literature.
Yet even if all the citations used by the IPCC were peer-reviewed, this would not mean they were infallible. Peer review is not, never was, and never can be a general protection against prejudice, error, or misconception about scientific matters. That it seems otherwise to some people is a misapprehension on their part, reflecting widespread myths about the reality of human investigations into the natural world.
It is startling for non-scientists who actually visit the sausage factory of science for the first time. There, peer review proves to be an often biased, prejudicial, and perfunctory process contrary in every respect to popular expectations about science. But scientists know that no increased regulation or standards can ever improve things, because there are no higher authorities to appeal to in a domain of human endeavour where no one knows or ever knew the answers – hence the name ‘peer review’ and not ‘expert correction’.
Donna Laframboise observes that, ‘There is a reason publishing insiders are among peer review’s most derisive critics. They know it’s mostly just a game. Everyone is pretending that all is well despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.’ Most scientists grudgingly tolerate peer review because they cannot think of anything better. Experienced ones do not expect much from it, even if they must play along to succeed given modern customs (until about the mid-20th century it hardly existed).
Most scientists cringe when they hear other scientists claim that because their work is peer-reviewed, they do not have to respond to criticisms, even those from qualified colleagues, whether peer-reviewed or not. Some surely do make such claims: ‘…many academics insist that the research they present to the world has been fully vetted. Indeed, they often behave as though it meets a standard unrivalled elsewhere’, observes Laframboise.
Furthermore, those same scientists retreat to the truth about the state of human knowledge of Nature when facts go against their claims. She points out that: ‘On the other hand, they take no responsibility when information they’ve produced turns out to be mistaken. In such cases everyone is then reminded that scholarly publishing is vii really just an exchange of ideas.’ Few competent scientists regard current scientific thinking as anything more than provisional. It is always fully open to challenge.
Peer-review is also abused as a form of gatekeeping to defend orthodox ideas from challenge, as Laframboise says: ‘Alternative schools of thought are more likely to encounter scorn than a fair hearing, and the secretive nature of peer review provides ample cover for intolerance and tribalism. . .It places unconventional thinkers at the mercy of their more conventional colleagues. Indeed, this approach seems designed to extinguish – rather than nurture – the bold, original thinking that leads to scientific breakthroughs.’ Many unorthodox ideas prove to be wrong, but they are the lifeblood of scientific advance. They challenge our orthodoxies, either sharpening them or overthrowing them. Thus the notion of challenging the orthodox is accepted in science by necessity, even if grudgingly.
Gatekeeping against the unorthodox is not remotely a new problem. Oracular mediocrities down the centuries have doggedly resisted human advances in knowledge from Galileo to Semmelweis to Einstein, and thousands of other cases that only the most learned science historians will ever know. Spectacular scandals come and go, but science is in the end a long game of the generations, not something played out in news cycles. So why then has the public debate about the perfunctory, crony, gate-keeping aspects of peer review grown in volume in the media now? Partly it is because science has become a ‘bigger’ and more centralized endeavor, with massive budgets invested in conventional wisdom, and more politicians involved in pushing certain conclusions. How else can one comprehend the term ‘orchestrated’ used by one founder of the IPCC to describe how scientific opinion was designed to be treated for the use of policymakers?
It is clear that people who have never studied the history of science, or have never been on the unfashionable side of a scientific debate are in for a shock upon encountering this messy and sordid reality for the first time. Not least in for a shock is the media, which has been busy identifying heartbreaking science scandals in medicine, social science, neuroscience, and economics. But curiously they offer none from the subject of climate, despite it being one of the most policy driven and lavishly funded branches of science today.
Is this because there are few examples of bad practice, irreproducibility, retraction, pal review and gatekeeping in climatology? Far from it. The Climategate emails of 2009 revealed gatekeeping at its most blatant. Who can forget Phil Jones writing to Michael Mann on 8 July 2004 ‘can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!’ Or Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick struggling to publish (leading to a US Congressional hearing, no less) their comprehensive demolition of the statistical errors and data-selection issues in the infamous ‘hockey stick’ paper? Or Richard Tol’s exposure of the practices employed in the Cook et al ‘97% viii consensus’ paper? Again and again, peer-reviewed climate papers have fallen apart under post-publication scrutiny from the likes of McIntyre, Willis Eschenbach, Donna Laframboise, Judith Curry and Nic Lewis. And these do not even touch on the challenge of independently reproducing climate model output without the machinery and resources necessary to do so, as Laframboise rightly observes in the following paper.
Indeed, the field of climate science could supply a rich harvest of examples of this crisis of scientific credibility all on its own. Yet it is the scandal that dare not speak its name. The discussions of the crisis in peer review in Nature, Science, the Economist and elsewhere studiously ignore any examples from climate science. Why is this? It is an article of faith among certain scientists and science journalists that because climate scepticism is also a position supported by those on the right of politics, so nobody in science must give fodder to the sceptics.
This is nothing less than the modern manifestation of gatekeeping continuing its ancient legacy, driven by sheer ignorance and self-delusion, to keep the forces that actually advance science away from the door. Scientific research stretches human faculties to their limits, and it is at such limits where human frailties become most prominent.
Humans are fallible. That is one of the greatest lessons from the history of science. The message to be taken from these heartbreaking scientific scandals and absurdities is not one of chagrin and a temptation to adopt cynicism. The true authors of such scandals are the laymen, academics, journalists, and policymakers who do not give a fair hearing to the many highly trained scientists motivated by alternative views who would put such dubious claims to the test. A pervasive uneducated appeal to science as a monolithic incomprehensible authority, assessed only in terms of moral purity rather than factual accuracy, has made such a fair hearing nearly impossible, and done great harm to science and us all.
Israel has just emerged from its three-week high holidays, a period that in recent years has been marked by extremist religious Jews making provocative visits to Al Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Many go to pray, in violation of Israel’s international obligations. Most of them belong to groups that seek to replace the mosque with a Jewish temple. They now enjoy increasing parliamentary support, some of it from within prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.
A rash of such visits last autumn outraged Palestinians and triggered a wave of so-called lone-wolf attacks on Israelis. The attacks have recently abated.
Taking advantage of the renewed quiet, Israel allowed a record number of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque, figures released last week showed. Parties of Israeli soldiers are also entering the site.
The police, whose recently appointed commander is himself from the extremist settler community, have recommended that restrictions be ended on visits by Jewish legislators who demand Israel’s sovereignty over the mosque.
For Palestinians, Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation. Conversely, a sense of impunity has left Israel greedy for even more control over the Palestinians.
The gaping power imbalance was movingly detailed last month at a special hearing of the UN security council. Hagai El-Ad, head of B’tselem, which monitors the occupation, termed Israel’s abuses as “invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence” against Palestinians exercised from “cradle to grave”.
He appealed to the international community to end its five decades of inaction. “We need your help. … The occupation must end. The UN Security Council must act. And the time is now,” he said.
Israeli politicians were incensed. Mr El-Ad had broken one of Israel’s cardinal rules: you do not wash the country’s dirty linen abroad. Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.
Mr Netanyahu accused B’tselem’s director of conspiring with outsiders to subject Israel to “international coercion”.
With the US limply defending Mr El-Ad’s freedom of speech, Mr Netanyahu found a proxy to relaunch the attack. David Bitan, chair of his party, demanded that Mr El-Ad be stripped of his citizenship and proposed legislation to ban calls in global forums for sanctions against Israel. Unsurprisingly, Mr El-Ad has faced a flood of death threats.
Meanwhile, another UN forum has been considering Israel’s occupation. Its educational, scientific and cultural body, Unesco, passed a resolution last month condemning Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian holy sites, especially Al Aqsa.
Again, Israelis were enraged at this brief disturbance of their well-oiled machinery of oppression. The abuses documented by Unesco were overshadowed by Israeli protests that its own narrative was not the focus.
While Israel exercises ever more physical power over Palestinians, its moral credit is running out with foreign audiences, who have come to understand that the occupation is neither benign nor temporary. The rise of social media has accelerated that awakening, which in turn has bolstered grassroots reactions such as the boycott (BDS) movement.
Aware of the dangers, Israel has been aggressively targeting all forms of popular activism. Facebook and YouTube are under relentless pressure to censor sites critical of Israel.
Western governments – which joined the chorus of “Je suis Charlie” after ISIL’s lethal attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last year – have cracked down on the boycott movement. Paradoxically, France has led the way by banning such activism, echoing Israeli claims that it constitutes “incitement”.
And left-wing social movements emerging in Europe face loud accusations that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to an attack on all Jews. Notably, a British parliamentary committee last month characterised as anti-semitic parts of the opposition Labour party under its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a champion of Palestinian rights.
In these ways, European governments have been trying to hold in check popular anger at a belligerent and unrepentant Israel.
Illustrating that caution, Uneso was forced last week to vote a second time on its resolution, this time removing the word “occupation” and, against normal practice, giving equal status to the occupier’s names for the sites under threat from its occupation.
Even with the resolution neutered, Unesco’s usual consensus could not be reached. The resolution passed by a wafer-thin majority, with European and other governments abstaining.
Israel and its enablers have successfully engineered a hollowing out of official discourse about Israel to blunt even the mildest criticism. Gradually, western powers are adopting Mr Netanyahu’s doubly illogical premises: that criticising the occupation is anti-Israel, and criticising Israel is anti-semitic.
Incrementally, western leaders are conceding that any criticism of Mr Netanyahu’s policies – even as he tries to ensure that the occupation becomes permanent – is off-limits. Mr El-Ad called for courage from the western powers that dominate the security council. But the signs are his words have fallen on deaf ears.