BBC, Brand, and bias

I’m happy to ignore Russell Brand. Whatever I have heard him say, read of his writings, or seen of his appearances, has done nothing to suggest he is anything of substance, and often the opposite. Now this may be grossly unfair. The man may be a great and deep thinker, a philosopher for our times, or something of the sort. But he may also be an average personality with a reasonable stage presence, a sense of timing, solid media connections, and otherwise empty. And it’s in the latter form that he comes across to me. Further, while I have not made an extensive search, there do not appear to be any people of note promoting Brand as somebody of substance. There have however been plenty giving him the gift of publicity and media exposure. And that’s where this post is heading. Continue reading

Song and dance routine

You may have heard about the storm over the New York Metropolitan Opera’s decision to stage “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a work based on the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking by the PLO and their murder of Leon Klinghoffer.

The Times of Israel has a review of the performance and protests (see here) from which this entertaining extract comes:

But to protesters truly worried that this is dangerous anti-Semitic propaganda ready to sow seeds of hate, I can tell you as someone who watched it, it is not. And even if it were, I can’t think of a less effective way to spread propaganda than with a difficult, boring and (mostly) tuneless opera.

I’m against censorship, so I am OK with the fact the show went on.

(I wish it were a commercial flop – and given the review, you might think it should be a disaster – but the suspicion is that the whole shooting match is being sponsored by a trouble making faction. So all the publicity is its own reward.)

I’m not saying the motives of the promoters were as pure as the driven artistic ideal they pretend, but that’s impossible to know for sure. I understand the protests, and have every sympathy for the poor Klinghoffer family. As some of the protesters said, it will be a long time – if ever – before we see an opera about the ISIS murders. Funny that.

Academic fails to think

From the Guardian, a little insight into part of Australian society:

Professor Barry Spurr suspended by Sydney University over offensive emails

Spurr, a consultant to the federal government’s national English curriculum review, has been suspended over ‘serious allegations’, university says

The University of Sydney has suspended Prof Barry Spurr over emails in which he called the prime minister, Tony Abbott, an “Abo lover”, Indigenous Australians “human rubbish tips” and Nelson Mandela as a “darky”.

In a statement, the university said Spurr was facing “serious allegations in relation to offensive emails sent from a university account”.

Spurr, a poetry expert, was a specialist consultant to the federal government’s national curriculum review looking at English from foundation to year 12.

The emails, first obtained by website New Matilda, have seriously damaged the review’s findings, with Labor calling them “tainted” and the Australian Education Union saying the review had been exposed as “an ideological waste of time from the start”.

In a series of emails over two years sent to senior academics and officials within the university, Spurr wrote that Abbott would have to be surgically separated from his “Siamese twin”, Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes, who is Aboriginal.

He said the university’s chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, was an “appalling minx”,’ while other women were described as “whores”. He used terms such as “mussies” and “chinky-poos”.

Oh dear.

Here’s a prime example (if it is true) of how a smart guy, a noted academic, failed to think:

Spurr had not responded on Friday, but has said previously the emails were part of a “whimsical” game with another person to outdo each other in extreme statements and were not meant to be taken seriously.

Not a great idea to play such a daft game.

There’s a whimsical interest of mine to know whether his professional abilities as a poet were a major factor in his attraction to a game of racist name calling. Is that performance art, perhaps?

Given the Guardian’s promotion of its own manifesto in its Middle East reporting, is there any of the same phenomenon going on here? For example, whatever the quality of Aboriginal literary culture may or may not be, does the Guardian believe it should be positively promoted? Regardless? If any independent thinkers out there (who are knowledgeable on the subject) would care to enlighten me, I would be grateful.

See the complete train wreck, here.

When an empty mind speaks

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has been speaking his mind, according to this Jerusalem Post report:

But Ban also had some choice words directed at Israel: “I fully understand the security threat from rockets above and tunnels below,” he said. “At the same time, the scale of the destruction in Gaza has left deep questions about proportionality.”

Unfortunately for Ban Ki Moon, proportionality is irrelevant. (It is worrying when someone holding such an elevated post is so out of touch with reality, and more comfortable with a biased narrative that is so thoroughly wrong – in many aspects. I wonder how much of his comments were driven by the Gaza protests against the man himself. No, they were not widely covered. But they did happen.) I suppose it’s further proof, if any more were needed, that the UN is a liability. It was a good idea, but it’s gone bad. And its Secretary General is an empty mind. Or, to put it another way, unfortunately for Ban Ki Moon, he is irrelevant.

Hate speech no longer in hiding

As a follow up to my post about the UK’s recognition of Palestine as a state – a terrible state if you ask me, but that’s for another time – check out this post from CiF Watch:

Guardian fails to report antisemitic comment by Tory MP

Last night in London, British lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution recommending that the “Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

While the most morally obtuse comment during the debate belongs to Sir Richard Ottaway, who said that Israel’s “annexation” [sic] of 950 acres of the West Bank outraged him “more than anything else” in his political life – suggesting that terror attacks by Islamists on Western civilians, mass slaughter and systemic repression of human rights in the Mid-East come are less outrageous than the ‘horror’ of potential Israeli homes on a small stretch of land near the green line – another MP’s comments represented an altogether different level of political pathos.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said the following, a comment unreported by the Guardian despite their otherwise extensive coverage of the UK Parliament’s debate over Palestine:

“Does my hon. Friend agree that, given that the political system of the world’s superpower and our great ally the United States is very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America, it falls to this country and to this House to be the good but critical friend that Israel needs, and this motion tonight just might lift that logjam on this very troubled area?”

Translation: Since US government policy in the Mid-East – even under a liberal Democratic President – is effectively controlled by Jewish money and undue Jewish influence, it is up to the UK, free of the yoke of such powerful Jewish lobbyists, to speak truth to power.

Bridgen is of course not the first British politician to advance such tropes, and it is indeed horribly dispiriting that, a mere seventy years after the Holocaust, with Jews representing less than 2% of the US population, the charge that organized Jewry is too powerful and is manipulating US foreign policy for its own nefarious ends is fashionable within certain circles.

The Tory MP from North West Leicestershire can now be counted among the herd of ‘independent thinkers’ in the UK who – behind the veneer of respectable, sophisticated British politics – proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the toxic history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington.

It should be clear – whether such smears against historically oppressed Jewish communities are uttered by Liberal Democrats, Labourites, or Tories – that the only honourable response by genuine anti-racists is a an unqualified and firm moral condemnation – which of course means we can expect the Guardian (despite their brief flirtation with moral sobriety in a recent editorial) to maintain radio silence on the crude anti-Jewish bigotry on display last night at Westminster.

I fear from what I read, see, and hear, that the bigotry on display is no longer unusual in everyday British society. It is acceptable. It is no longer toxic to spout this. It is common discourse. There will be excuses, protests of misunderstanding, and more. But the flow of antisemitism is well and truly in plain sight. Indeed, from the Guardian’s stance, it seems no longer to be even worthy of comment.

Recognition of what?

The UK’s vote to recognize Palestine as a state is another empty gesture. You can judge the significance at least in part by the low key reception it got on the Guardian site, the biggest pro Palestinian (allegedly) drum thumper there is. However, there will be consequences.

First, although it is meaningless, expect several pro Palestinian activists to agitate and make ridiculous propaganda statements about the vote, to try and use it as leverage to keep the issue in the public eye and Israel at the center of unwanted attention.

Second, if anyone in the Israeli government is paying attention, they will surely take on board some of the criticism from former supporters of Israel. The Guardian highlights Richard Ottaway’s contribution. Whether it is as they describe, his comments are notable:

In possibly the single most important contribution in an emotional debate, Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said the recent annexation of West Bank land by the Israeli government had angered him like nothing else in politics.

The Conservative MP said he had been a supporter of the state of Israel before he became a Tory and had close family connections with the generation that formed the Israeli state. He explained: “The Holocaust had a deep impact on me growing up in the wake of the second world war,” adding that he had been a strong supporter of Israel in the six day war and subsequent conflicts.

He told MPs: “Looking back over the past 20 years, I realise now Israel has slowly been drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life. It has made me look a fool and that is something I deeply resent.”

He said he was not yet convinced that Palestine was fit to be a state due to its refusal to recognise Israel, adding that “in normal circumstances” he would have opposed the motion. But, he said, “such is my anger with the behaviour of Israel in recent months that I will not be opposing this motion. I have to say to the government of Israel: if it is losing people like me, it is going to be losing a lot of people.”

I think Mr Ottaway is wrong, and is even more of a fool for falling for the sheep like line of least resistance. But, and this is where one has to be fair to Mr Ottaway, it would appear to highlight the key issue that Israeli diplomacy has failed at. It doesn’t matter if the settlement on Judeah and Samaria is less than 2%, or that it’s all open for negotiation, if people like Ottaway do not know that, see that, understand that, and say that.

Now, I have this fear that the hierarchy of the Israeli government and diplomacy crew do not care enough. But they should. This episode, if nothing else, is gold plated feedback.

Finally, check out this report about Sweden’s recognition. What a bunch of hypocrites!

A pig of an argument

From the Times of Israel:

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem distributed posters this week caricaturing Haredi Jews serving in the IDF as pigs and accused them of attempting to corrupt the religious community.

The flyers were part of a campaign against the participation of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF whose slogan brands religious soldiers as insects and attempts to dissuade others from the community from joining them.

Here’s the poster:


“They sent me to confuse the boys in the seminaries, and dry out their souls,” the caricature pig-soldier brags in the text of the posters, which were pasted on walls in some of the capital’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods earlier this week. “I fool them with slogans from the Gemara, but in effect I’m something else entirely.”

Alongside him are three ultra-Orthodox children who scoff at the soldier, who wears a black skullcap, is carrying a Talmud and has a gun over his shoulder. “Look at what ears he has,” one says, “just like a hyena.”

“I actually think it’s a fox, look at its smile,” the second says.

“I’m telling you that it’s ‘something else [i.e. a pig]‘ entirely, look at its nose and look at what it has in its pocket,” the third says. The pig-soldier has a copy of Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth sticking out of his IDF uniform pants.

A young man in a black suit, presumably old enough to be drafted into the army, runs away.

Last year, a series of caricature posters widely distributed in ultra-Orthodox areas across Israel showed the IDF rounding up Haredi children in order to force them into the military; or tranquil Haredi streets being forcefully cleansed of IDF-serving traitors. “Keep this area clean!” one poster bellowed in red ink.

Why the new campaign?

According to government statistics published in September, ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF is up 39 percent this year, but still below quotas enshrined in the 2013 “equal-burden” law, which mandated ultra-Orthodox participation in the army or national service.

The 2013-2014 conscription cycle saw 1,972 ultra-Orthodox youth enlist in the IDF, up from 1,416 in 2012-2013 and from 1,327 in 2011-2012, according to the committee tasked with monitoring the implementation of the law.

The law, which also mandates legal ramifications for individuals and yeshivas that do not comply with enlistment, has been protested heavily by the ultra-Orthodox community. Members of the ultra-Orthodox community have demonstrated against the law, and radicals have gone so far as to attack Haredi soldiers in uniform.

I venture to suggest that such a clearly defamatory (and nonsensical) campaign, as well as being about an explicit case of lashan hara as you can find, means that the Haredi hierarchy are losing the argument, know it, and are desperate.

Expect more protests. Expect more extremism. But still expect the numbers of Haredim enlisting to rise. They must not be allowed to prevent the equalization – or at least movement towards equalization – happening.

When the Shas hits the fan

Ynet has an interview with the Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri. Out of power, and away from the center of influence, Shas is struggling a bit. From what I hear, it is retaining its support among the hardcore, traditional Shas voters. But floating voters are – at least now – more inclined to vote for other parties. This condemns Shas to more time in the political wilderness. How will the party solve that?

Continued attacks on the government as being anti-Haredi? Unlikely. This interview may give a hint at the strategy. It’s fairly open warfare against Netanyahu. It’s negative politics and campaigning of the worst kind. It would be sad to see that succeed because, on the basis of what their leader says, Shas have nothing positive to offer the country. They belong in the political wilderness. Forty years, anyone?

Some brief points.

Deri is asked if the government is anti-Haredi. This is his reply:

Yes, unequivocally so. From the moment this government was formed, it’s been united by a single purpose – to harm the ultra-Orthodox public as much as possible, the Torah-studying public and the weaker sectors of the population.”

This is delusional nonsense.

In answer to another question about Shas’ natural partners, he included this:

Lapid, Bennett, Lieberman and (Tzipi) Livni taught us a lesson… They taught us how everyone looks out for themselves, without even a glance to the left or the right.”

If ever there were a party that looked out for itself and its constituents, that party was and is Shas. He is surely projecting, big time.

Both these points of detail suggest that Shas does not belong in the government, at least with Deri at the helm.

The end of the Abbas era?

The Times of Israel has an interesting, wide ranging, and rather fresh – and honest – perspective on the current position of Israel, Bibi, and the Palestinians by Haviv Rettig Gur. It is all worth reading. However, I want to highlight this part:

As a young recruit in the elite IDF commando unit Sayeret Matkal, Benjamin Netanyahu, known then and now by the nickname “Bibi,” was taught a powerful lesson by his brother Yoni, who outranked him in the unit and would go on to be one of its most famous commanders.

The older Yoni took the future prime minister to a hilltop on the training grounds of an IDF base and asked him how he would conquer the hill in battle. Bibi offered a plan of attack, probably laying out the usual IDF battle doctrine taught to every 18-year-old infantryman for the past six decades: deploy a flanking force covered by suppressing fire and initiate a staggered advance to close the distance to the entrenched enemy.

While his opponents too often plan for a static opponent, Netanyahu prides himself on his ability to maneuver

But Yoni was unimpressed. The problem with Bibi’s plan, the veteran commander explained, was that the enemy also moves. It was a fatal flaw for a military commander to construct his strategy on the assumption that the enemy would not react, surprise and seek to disrupt the plan of attack. By the time his troops arrived at the enemy position, the enemy could have flanked Bibi’s own moving column.

It was a lesson Netanyahu took to heart. While his opponents too often plan for a static opponent, Netanyahu prides himself on his ability to maneuver.

As I have said before, one of the reasons Bibi is disliked by some is because he has done a terrific job, all things considered, of keeping the people of Israel safe. Sure, he has made mistakes. But those who characterize him as shallow and power seeking (which may at least in part be true) overlook (a) what a consummate politician he is; and (b) that he is, following his late brother’s advice, always on the move. We should be grateful that is the situation.

Read it all here – there is lots of excellent analysis worthy of your attention  – and at the end, you may well come away with a wistful smile. So who will follow Abbas? And will it matter?