An audience with an ‘Ad-mayor-able’ man

Fran Waddams recently attended a talk given in Birmingham by ex-mayor of Sderot, David Bouskali, organised by the Jewish National Fund, the newly formed West Midlands Friends of Israel (contact details below) and West Midlands based Kingdom Ambassadors.

An audience with an ‘Ad-mayor-able’ man

“I lay awake at night worrying about the children of Gaza.” Are these the words of a leader from Hamas, the ruling party of Gaza? From Mahmoud Abbas? A prominent member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, perhaps? No. They were uttered by Sderot’s ex-Mayor David Bouskila, who is currently in the UK as the guest of the Jewish National Fund UK, whose members have funded some high profile projects in the beleaguered Southern Israel town. Mr Bouskali was addressing a well attended meeting of Jews and Christians from the West Midlands and beyond.

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Narratives of the Middle East: A Discordant Counterpoint

Steve Nimmons

Steve Nimmons - A Discordant Counterpoint

The narratives of the Arab Israeli conflict are rife with bias and questionable characterisation. Haitian blood libels, suppressed reports and airbrushed pictures taint the discourse. De-legitimisation attempts to represent Israel as an affront, an apartheid state. A state imposing subjugation and humiliation on a people displaced for its very creation. Crass caricatures are adopted with glee by sections of the British press, complicit in championing a false victim and cheer leading the intemperance of digital and print intifada.

Words are the building blocks of ideas; ideas contesting on the cognitive battlefield, habitually and egregiously abused in their representation. Apologetics, stereotypes and tropes are fashioned from the same building blocks as truth and honourable critique. The calumny of immutable victimhood, the false correlation of provocation and reaction deny moral accountability of the perpetrator while demanding moral account from the victim. The dogma of false victimhood fuels a nefarious underlying contention that ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’.

Ahistorical and faux-factual accounts twist and deplete the moral discrepancy between authoritarian, reactionary Islamist movements and ideals of liberal Western democracies. Israel’s position as a liberal democracy and strategic ally in the Middle East is negated. Worse, the evils visited upon the victim are trivialised and blamed on the victim.

These are not mere idiosyncrasies marinated in the juices of post-Imperial guilt. For three decades in the sodden fields of South Armagh and grey industrial streets of Belfast it provided succour to Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. There were those ready to portray criminals as revolutionaries, romantic idealists and poets. Monsters that went about their business of murder and the grotesque oppression of their own communities learned to obfuscate their parasitic reality with media management and terrorist-chic. They at least had a tempered programme of expansionism. Secure the North and secure a future separate, ourselves alone.

The Good Friday and St. Andrew’s agreements gave way to profligate public enquiries. Suspected principal actors in historical outrages avoided scrutiny and moral retribution; the British state was ascribed effective unilateral blame and capitulated to demands for public apology and reparations. It was an archetypal display of ‘cause and effect fallacy’ laying the blame for conflict at the feet of the British and absolving republican perpetrators of their crimes. The press demanded transparency and full-disclosure, a principle not universally applied within their operations.

The ‘cause and effect’ fallacy is well-worn in the Arab Israeli conflict. The barrier to lasting peace is the Zionist agenda, the State of Israel, Israeli influence on American foreign policy and other falsehoods. The battle for hegemony raging across Syria and Iraq attests to a different reality, and yet ‘War on Terror’ narratives falsely claim ‘Zionist influence’ is driving American and British foreign policy. Theories wilder than the next gain legitimacy, grounded by the gravitational pull of mainstream acceptance of ‘Israel, the aggressor’.

There is too little challenge from left-leaning commentators to the expansionist policies clearly at play within the Islamist world. A return to type is the vilification of Israel, the conflation of the Arab Israeli conflict with every woe from South London to South Sudan. The solution is simplified to the establishment and peaceful co-existence of a Palestinian state, the opportunity for which has been hitherto squandered despite bold moves by Peres, Rabin and Barak.

The Middle East is complex; stories on the region attract intense scrutiny. The BBC face accusations of anti-Israel bias and in 2004 then BBC Director of News Richard Sambrook commissioned the Balen Report to investigate. Some 9 years later, the report remains unpublished despite Freedom of Information request and judicial review. The internalisation of the enquiry is a discordant counterpoint to the calls for openness over Bloody Sunday or the murders of Rosemary Nelson, Billy Wright or Pat Finucane.

Certainty and clarity are scarce in the Middle East, yet certainty and clarity are essential in reporting the Middle East. The Balen report must be published. An honest debate on its findings are years overdue. If the BBC acted or act with partiality this must be acknowledged and appropriate controls applied to prevent repetition.

[article originally published by the Chartered Institute of Journalists magazine]

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A Night to Honour Israel

A Night to Honour Israel

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There must be no Culture of Silence


AFI Community Relations Director, Steve Nimmons

In an article yesterday at the Times of Israel I commented on the latest report on anti-Semitism in Britain from the Community Safety Trust.

The statistics record a 30% fall in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents, 311 in the first half of 2012, down to 219 in the first half of 2013. This reduction is of course welcome, but echoing the words of Communities Minister Eric Pickles every one must be considered “an affront to decency.”

Viewed through a ‘statistical lens’ this story has positive overtones. We must remember however that every crime of this nature is a hate crime. Every crime of this nature has an impact on the lives of its victims. Every crime of this nature leads to personal and communal hurt and fear. Every crime of this nature must be robustly and vocally condemned. Every crime of this nature highlights the importance and urgency of the work we must progress together to tackle anti-Semitism at local, national and international levels.

The report is published in a week that a group of Hasidic Jewish children were subjected to a shocking attack on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Their tour bus was stoned in broad daylight in the High Street in Sheerness. The perpetrators were reported to have been a group of around seven teenage boys and girls.

Kent Online reported that Heather Thomas-Pugh, chairman of Sheppey Tourism Alliance, said: “We are extremely disappointed that this sort of behaviour has happened on our island.

“When people take the time and trouble to come and visit us, they should expect Islanders to provide a warm welcome.

“It is incidents like this, from a minority, that prevent the Isle of Sheppey being seen in the correct light.”

I agree with Heather Thomas-Pugh that this is a wanton act by a small minority. I am however immensely disappointed by the lack of public condemnation of this incident from local politicians, community leaders and other groups.

My cri de coeur is that local leaders, schools, police and faith groups put in place education programmes and anti-Semitism initiatives and immediately and publicly condemn this incident in the strongest terms. The toxicity of these incidents will only be increased by a ‘culture of silence’.

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EU Blacklists Hezbollah

Monday 22nd July 2013, the European Union takes the unanimous decision to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah. Britain and the Netherlands had been pressing EU partners to act against Hezbollah following the terror attacks against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in July 2012.

Israel, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Britain had previously added Hezbollah to their lists of designated terrorist groups.

The EU’s decision is symbolic and largely superficial but opens debate on Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, Syria and across the Middle East.

AFI Community Relations Director Steve Nimmons said:

The European Union has finally acted to  proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah. Although this is a welcome development, the practical impact will be marginal.

The political wing, assuming one accepts the description of Hezbollah as being so sub-divided, does not fall within the bounds of this sanction and will continue to receive funds and political legitimacy from within some European states.

Many will view the timing of this decision to be rather cynical. The European Union did not act following the terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The EU’s disinclination appears to have been diminished by Hezbollah’s significant military support for Bashar al-Asad.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the news and praised EU leaders for the decision. He pointed out that Hezbollah “has imposed terrorist rule on wide sections of Lebanon, has converted them into an Iranian protectorate and is stockpiling tens of thousands of rockets”, a continuing threat to Israeli security.

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