Clare Short MP – My new personal hero

WARNING: This blog entry will be political. Proceed with Caution

I am a liberal conservative. My dad was always a Labour supporter, my mum was always a Labour supporter. My brother has never shown much political interest but I suspect, if pushed, he would consider himself more Labour than Conservative. But I’m a Conservative.

Clare Short was, for a long time, a core member of the Labour Party. She may now be an independent but she surely retains similar opinions. As such I shouldn’t liker her. In fact I didn’t like her.

Until last Sunday, when I was made aware of a speech made by Clare last week. This speech has filled me with not just respect but almost reverence for the (now) great woman. The speech I am talking about is the introduction of a paper at the UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

I have now learnt that Clare has been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy for some time, in 2007 she called for boycotts against Israel like those against South Africa during apartheid. This had unfortunately evaded my notice, but her phrasing last week most certainly has not.

Clare’s paper must be available somewhere online – I can’t find it at the moment but I’ll let you know..
Meanwhile I have picked out some phrases which I think illustrate it brilliantly:
“this is an apartheid system more cruel that that imposed on South Africa”
“Palestinians are suffering terribly both within historical Palestine and as refugees outside”
“the Palestinians are hemmed and surrounded”
“Gaza is a prison which is the most densely occupied place on earth”

The list of phrases goes on and on. Whilst it seems bizarre to sit by the tranquil see of Galilee and write about oppression it is unfortunately the situation of this country. Clare’s words may be impressive and incredibly bold, but she has no great influence anymore. Whilst the Palestinian lobby here remain confident that Miliband is sympathetic, I am not convinced.

What remains clear is that at this time when international pressure is needed, and international pressures aren’t comfortable to act, Clare Short’s is a voice to listen to.

6 comments

  1. Bet you are glad now to have been supporting a woman committing fraud on the public purse? Yes, that’s right, I, along with the rest of the British taxpayers have been paying for that awful woman to have all her mortgage paid. Just imagine that, on an already inflated salary to have your mortgage paid for courtesy of the taxpayer. wonderful. truly talented lady – to have pulled that one off.

    As far as her warped,radical left views on the israeli/palestine conflict. Well let’s just say I am looking forward to this despotic woman being thrown of her gilded throne..

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  2. Angelika, care to tell us why her view on the Israel/Palestine conflict are “warped, radical left.”

    If it is only the ‘radical left’ that is acknowledging the plight of the Palestinian people then perhaps we should be drawing some useful conclusions about what each side of the political spectrum really stands for.

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  3. Well I’m glad that the Middle East is being tackled by someone who’s not open-minded enough to have ever considered a member of an opposition party worth listening to… Clare Short a voice to listen to? Maybe, but I sincerely hope that after visiting the area you can do better than that (I think that she would too! unless it increased her pay, perhaps…) – to be fair, I am much more interested by your more recent article giving out website info, though I worry some of it will be misleading as Short’s own attention-grabbing phrases. To consider a quite random British MP interested in the cause an important figurehead would be an insult to Palestinian nationalism – whether it’s one that advocates solutions of one-state, two-states or a hundred-states.

    (And also: The rhetoric you’ve quoted is hardly unique to Short. Apartheid was a label old South Africa gave its OWN bigoted system, and I think self-naming white supremacist/racist practitioners of apartheid would be quite irritated to see it being applied to Israel/Palestine; if this is as simple as an oppressor and oppressee then 1.) you might be dissapointed to see that both sides are of a similar skin pigmentation and 2.) that Israel is quite multicultural really – and there are people who sit in Israeli parliament who use the same apartheid argument! Would this voice have been allowed in South Africa? By contrast, for Palestinian nationalism to fall into the trap of those having the power openly espousing racist core values as central to their ideological plan is catastrophic, and hypocritical in the context of an apartheid slogan.)

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  4. I think you’re being excessively pedantic M. Yes, there is no simple skin-colour or culture background divide (although I’ll remind you that Israel’s Jewish population, like multi-cultural South Africa’s Afrikaaner & British population, is built heavily on European immigrants or the descendants thereof). But the basic principle of the Apartheid system in South Africa – a two tiered society which regards one element as inherently superior to another, regardless of demographic balance, and directly or indirectly discriminates heavily against the perceived ‘inferior’ element – is alive and well in Israel.

    The Prime Minister, Netanyahu, was still saying only last month that he will discuss the two-state solution “only if Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state” – a concept which inherently discriminates against those not of Jewish faith/background; the Law of Return allows those of Jewish faith/background to become citizens of Israel, even if they have no connection to it, whilst Palestinian pleas for their own right to return to their homeland are blocked (the charming Benny Morris recently wrote a Guardian comment response to Max Hastings’ lamentations – according to Morris, the UN-endorsed right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes should be denied, because “Flooding Israel, with its 5.7 million Jews and 1.4 million Arabs, with the refugees would instantly turn it into just another Arab-majority state (the world already benefits from 23 such states)” – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/14/israel-palestinians-peace-middle-east). And, as Short notes, Palestinians in both Israel and the disputed territories are subjected to violence, discrimination, and inhumane treatment by the Israeli state and army. Hair-splitting shouldn’t be used to hide real injustice. (And maybe we should be condemning the open espousing of racist core values by Mr Netanyahu? How much difference is there between statements insisting that Israel remain a “Jewish” state, and the objectionable statements of those who claim that the UK should remain a ‘white European’ state?)

    Also, there were people who sat in the South African parliament and condemned Apartheid – although they were required to be white, were sometimes few in number, and were often treated with suspicion by the state and by their colleagues. Helen Suzman, who died at the beginning of this year, was one of the most prominent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Suzman

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  5. Anon: I disagree that it’s a case of pedantry. The apartheid slogan in this context insults the history of suffering and the extent of racism in 20th century South Africa, and you wouldn’t convince me otherwise even if extremely important figures with huge experience/knowledge concerning apartheid have made comments about how terrible the suffering in, for example, Gaza, is. Huge amounts of suffering and injustice do not amount to an immediate linguistic theft from the nearest point of cultural reference. Incidentally, there’s a lot of injustice going on in this world, concerning a whole people/nation, that doesn’t lend itself well to simplistic analogies.

    “But the basic principle of the Apartheid system in South Africa – a two tiered society which regards one element as inherently superior to another, regardless of demographic balance, and directly or indirectly discriminates heavily against the perceived ‘inferior’ element – is alive and well in Israel.”

    I would reject this as the basic principle – what does ‘one element’ mean?
    I also think that this should be seen in the context, perhaps of two competing nationalisms, or maybe just nations – and though one’s people are currently in an inferior situation to another, ideologically I don’t personally see one as defeating the purpose of another: rather, they are caught in a bind through the notion of nationalism itself. Thus, I believe that, in the context of what is believed to be a nationalist right to statehood, BOTH sides (though this is not as simple, in the whole, as two sides) regard themselves as superior to one another: simply because each believes it is more right.

    Your definition of superiority is too weak for apartheid – for many people feel superior in comparison towards other people: the question is whether it is enshrined in the state’s principles and practices. You’ve cited the implications of the right of return law, and I agree these are extremely problematic (they would be even for the law’s staunchest supporter – you can’t FIT all Jews into Israel) – but I believe they should be seen in the context they were made in: protecting one people, not discriminating against all people. Now, in the twenty-first century, this is not so acceptable, but an alternative is required for those citing the problem of countries such as Iran posing a threat to Israel/Jews. It should be noted that for this law, which can have racist effects, to fit into an apartheid analogy, surely it would have to discriminate specifically against one people i.e. not all non-Jews as it does? I then need only point to multiple ethnicities in the Israeli demographic – including almost a fifth of the country being of Arab descent – to make my point. The Hamas constitution gives a perfect example of principles/laws which are specific in who they discriminate against: this is why the organisation is a huge burden for the true rights of Palestinians.

    Racial superiority is essential to apartheid, and your directly/indirectly qualification would have been deemed redundant in SA. (let’s not forget that until this week, the U.K. itself had a theoretically racist law/system concerning the Gurkhas, and that only last year blasphemy law, that only applied to Christianity and thus discriminated against all other religions, was abolished. To have called the U.K. apartheid would have been absurd, and there are many, many countries who still let racism theoretically survive in state laws – far worse cases.) I take your point about Suzman, and don’t mean to degrade the suffering that is occurring and the suffering that Israel is accountable for – though if we play a game where we blame nations, then others are accountable too – but I fundamentally disagree with notions of a discrimination that has its origins in racism. This is not to say that racism doesn’t exist in Israel, in Palestinian territory, all over the world. But I don’t believe it underpins the crisis. Applying the word apartheid – separation based entirely on, in the place where it happened, Racial inferiority – is inappropriate.

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  6. M –

    “The apartheid slogan in this context insults the history of suffering and the extent of racism in 20th century South Africa” – how? The Palestinians, like the Africans of what would become South Africa, have been deprived of most of their country by Incomers who declare that the territory is their ‘homeland’; those Palestinians who remain in Israeli territory are Israeli citizens, but – unless, and potentially even if, they convert to Judaism – are treated as second-class citizens. How many members of the Knesset are Palestinians (Jewish or non-Jewish), or non-Jews of other backgrounds? What sort of rights are extended to the Palestinians who live in the areas of the West Bank being settled by Israel? What sort of rights are given to the people of Gaza? How different is the Israeli attitude to Gaza and the West Bank to that of South Africa to its ‘Bantu homelands’ – whereby the subordinate group are pushed into the bits that the dominant group does not want? The Apartheid slogan, referring to a manner of organising society where the government privileges, either in law or in fact, one ‘element’ or section of that society – in this case the Jewish Israelis (whether they were born there, migrated there, or indeed have never lived there and merely claimed citizenship under the Law of Return) – over another element or section – in this case, the Palestinians and other non-Jews. It may not be as crude as the South African ‘whites only’, but at the end of the day the country is geographically segregated on a massive scale. If that comparison is taken as valid, the remainder of your argument, that “huge amounts of suffering and injustice do not amount to an immediate linguistic theft from the nearest point of cultural reference” is indeed nothing more than pedantry – you might as well protest that the name of the Israeli Labor Party is inappropriate because it is “an immediate linguistic theft from the nearest point of cultural reference” – whereas, I would argue, if another point is indeed ‘the nearest point of cultural reference’, it is entirely appropriate to use the term to highlight the common features (especially if the former cultural phenomenon was condemned for those features).

    “Incidentally, there’s a lot of injustice going on in this world, concerning a whole people/nation, that doesn’t lend itself well to simplistic analogies.” – well, in this case, the analogy – that one group of people have largely dispossessed or subordinated a larger group of people, and are determined to maintain that status quo to avoid becoming electorally and socially irrelevant – is fairly apt. But in any case, given that ‘apartheid’ simply means ‘apartness’ – with a colloquial understanding of this referring to a system of segregation and subordination – why should it *not* be used in the other such injustices in the world (e.g. USA and Native Americans, Sri Lanka)?

    The competing nationalism argument is flawed, because the problem will not go away if a two-state system is instituted. Even if Israel were to withdraw to pre-1967 boundaries today, there would still remain the issues within Israel – the rights of the non-Jewish population (discriminated against by the law and ideology of the state), the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes within Israel (rejected because it would skew population demographics or electoral demographics), the unfair immigration rights given to Jews vs non-Jews. There you have the more intractable problem, like South Africa post British colonial rule, of what happens when the immediate threat is lifted – how do the minority, left in control, deal with long-term threats posed by the majority?

    “Your definition of superiority is too weak for apartheid…the question is whether it is enshrined in the state’s principles and practices” – the Netanyahu principle that Israel is a ‘Jewish’ state, coupled with the Law of Return, are in my view an enshrinement in the principles and practices of the state of its view that people of Jewish faith or heritage are favoured over those not – that is, it is as racist as those in this country who try to limit immigration of those from particular places or racial groupings, and as racist as Verwoed’s argument that the only distinction was between white and non-white. Palestinian right of movement is limited (cf the South African pass system), ownership outside certain areas is limited, in particular thanks to the security cordon that cuts off owners from some of their land (cf South African reserves). Is that not enough?

    “but I believe [the Law of Return] should be seen in the context they were made in: protecting one people, not discriminating against all people.” We’re going off topic discussing the context of the Law of Return, but even at its inception it was still a placing of the rights of one group above those of another – what protection or redress did the dispossessed Palestinians who had fled get from Israel? And it is certainly not acceptable now – at a time when the western world is by and large moving away from basing national identity upon certain themes – be they skin colour, origins, or religion – it is simply racist for Israel to still be maintaining any law which gives preferences immigration of certain people based upon creed or racial background. And the issue of Iran should have no bearing upon such unfair policies, and DOES not have any effect upon the wider diaspora.

    “It should be noted that for this law, which can have racist effects, to fit into an apartheid analogy, surely it would have to discriminate specifically against one people i.e. not all non-Jews as it does?” – why? Apartheid discriminated against non-whites – South Africa also had a substantial Indian population. As such, it fits very well – where SA distinguished between ‘white and superior’ (be they of British or Dutch or other origins) and ‘coloured and inferior’ (be they African or Indian or other), Israel distinguishes between ‘Jewish’ (of heterogenous background) and ‘non-Jewish’ (be they Palestinian Christians or Muslims, or anyone else who is not Jewish). And yes, Hamas itself is no better in its views on Israelis or Jews – but then, they are not in a position to be conducting an apartheid system, so that isn’t relevant to the subject at hand.

    Finally, the Gurkha policy was unfair but not racist – Gurkhas had as much chance as any other non-Briton applying for residency/citizenship, just less than they deserved due to their services. And Britain is still very unfair in its promotion of Anglican Christianity – but does not actively use that as a factor in deciding the rights and livelihoods of citizens or potential citizens.

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