Tag Archives: Britain

Is Israel exempt from international law?

This week has seen a startling series of events redefine the way the UK acts on international law, and the way British governments understand the power of the courts. Under the principal of Universal Jurisdiction, an arrest warrant was issued by Westminster magistrates court for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, accused of war crimes during the most recent invasion of Gaza. As soon as this information reached the Israel, its government reacted furiously (which was to be expected). Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, said in a statement:

“The current situation is absurd and unacceptable in equal measure. Israelis cannot continually be held hostage by fringe groups of anti-Israel extremists, preventing politicians, businessmen and officers from visiting the UK.”

While Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu described the situation as an “absurdity”.

What happened next was that the British government leaped into action, apologising to Israel and promising to better control the way international law is applied to Israeli officials in Britain. Gordon Brown and David Miliband both rushed to condemn the warrant, assuring Israel that it’ll never happen again.

So why is it that a senior Israeli politician can’t be arrested in the UK for alleged war crimes? The answer, as usual, is that British government ministers have acted entirely out of personal self interest. The precedent that would be set by arresting Livni would make it far more likely that British officials could be arrested for their own war crimes. And that just wouldn’t do.

The way international law is applied currently suggests that the only people who can ever face it are either (a) a few of the operators in the Yugoslavian war of the 90s and (b) Africans. Israeli and British and other ‘western’ government officers are effectively exempt not because of any weakness in the law, but because every single time an arrest warrant is issued, or an arrest is attempted, the move will be swiftly quashed by politicians. Who aren’t supposed to have that much sway when it comes to the courts.

One of Livni’s statements was particularly telling:

“I have no problem with the world wanting to judge Israel. A problem arises the moment [Israeli Defence Forces] soldiers are compared to terrorists.”

By ‘terrorists’, she’s obviously referring to Hamas (the political organisation of which, the UK does not designate to be a terrorist group). Well I don’t have such a problem with that comparison, Ms. Livni. But it seems that as ever, uniformed soldiers are seen by Britain as being naturally better than rag-tag freedom fighters. Unless they’re our rag-tag freedom fighters, of course.

Vodafone and the Queen

Every year, on April 21st, I receive a text message from Vodafone España (my mobile operator) that reads as follows:

VF Publi: Hoy, dia nacional de Reino Unido, date de Alta GRATIS en Mi Pais marcando *189# y llama por 18 cent/min ese dia (20,88 IVA inc).+info:www.vodafone.es

Now, I’ll leave out any criticism of a deal that costs me 18 cents a minute to call the UK (“€20,88 included”).

What first amused me about this piece of text-spam was the bit about the UK having a ‘national day’. At first, I thought they must have sent the message a couple of days early and were wrongly assuming that they could get away with calling St. George’s day ‘the UK’s national day’. But no… the truth is that they made an even bigger mistake: Vodafone thinks that the Queen’s birthday (she was born on April 21st 1926) is some sort of national fiesta that we all celebrate and that I’d probably want to call my mum to wish her “Happy Queen’s birthday, Mum!”.

Yes, silly Vodafone.

Or rather, silly Tom. Because after some deep investigation (well, putting ‘Queen’s Birthday’ into Wikipedia), I divined that the Queen’s “official birthday” actually is Britain’s national day. It’s just that no-one told us about it. The official birthday happens one Saturday in June (no one knows when), and so is never made a public holiday.

So, silly United Kingdom for having a Queen who has two birthdays. And silly me for not knowing we had a national day to sullenly ignore. And silly Vodafone for sending me their spam on the wrong birthday. Idiots.

Please don’t tell me where or when I may protest

The Olympic torch made a pretty pathetic tour through London today, beset at first by snow and wind, and later by numerous pro-Tibet campaigners intent on bringing their independentist protest to the fore again.

I was hoping that the torch would be fucked with at some point, because the relay is just another side of Britain’s craven pursuit of China’s acceptance. Because of 2012 the torch had to visit London, but at no point has the UK government spoken out about the violent crackdown taking place in what should be a free Tibet.

The most striking quote of the day for me came from the Chinese Olympic Committee representative, who said something along the lines of “It’s sad that people have to hijack the Olympics as a legitimate space for protest”. He went on to explain that while protest should be allowed (yeah, right!), the Olympics are a sporting event, not a political one.

Sorry but that just doesn’t wash. If there is any ‘non-political’ event as political as the Olympic Games, I’d like to know. I’m sick of committee organisers, politicians and police ‘advising’ on the best way to protest. Their suggestions inevitably involve meeting in some park, well away from TV cameras. Yeah, perhaps we could just do it in a labour camp. Actually, the torch relay is about the most suitable target for protest that I can think about at the moment.

Despite all the talk about Islamist terrorism, I’m still convinced that the number one threat that worries governments everywhere is organisation of labour and mass protest. We should continue our protests, illegal if need be, so that governments can’t sit pretty and pretend there is no opposition.

BNP ‘in meltdown’ as numerous officials are purged

Those of us on the left who’ve ever had any interest in party organisation will be all too aware how often splits can occur. The recent wrecking behaviour of Galloway supporters in Respect is a classic example. So it is great to see that a potentially much more serious split is taking place in Britain’s main fascist party, the BNP.

Two key activists in the party,  Kenny Smith and  Sadie Graham were purged from the party after they attempted to maneuver against Mark Collett, the party’s publicity officer. Collett seems quite unpopular and general opinion among many activists appears to be that he is being protected by leader Nick Griffin. I remember Collett’s appearance in a couple of TV documentaries which showed him to be a particularly unpleasant neo-Nazi.

Now, many organisers and party officials seem to be resigning in protest at Griffin’s betrayal of the party for personal reasons. This is great news, of course, because a party in disarray is an unsuccessful party. Griffin’s authority is now being directly challenged and it looks like he’ll either have to get rid of his chum Collett or face more resignations. It all stems from various dark accusations of nefarious acts connected with Collett, as well as a claim that the BNP’s ‘intelligence team’ have hacked into blog sites and deleted posts.

Read the Lancaster Unite Against Fascism post for a more coherent explanation of what has gone down, and how grave the BNP’s problems appear to be. I’m going to have a celebratory cigarette.

‘Catastrophic’ incident at Revenue & Customs

The UK Chancellor has this afternoon announced that HM Revenue and Customs ‘lost’ personal information on 25 million individuals.

Apparently, every single child in Britain had their data lost on two password-protected (but not encrypted) CD-ROMs which were sent to the National Accounting Office but never turned up. After the Northern Rock incident, Alistair Darling should now resign. He probably won’t yet, but I bet he’ll be gone soon.

The Tories have suggested that this is proof enough that the National ID Card project is a risk to far, and dead in the water. They’re probably right about that too.

Scratching a bad rash

I’m getting a bit sick of the design and layout arond here. Thinking about a change. Also, the content: more righteous indignation, less paranoid speculation. Or was it the other way around?

Actually, I’ve been reading Nick Cohen’s interesting criticism of the left in today’s Observer. He makes a number of salient points in his dissection of everything that is wrong today with liberal-left politics and its general failure to adapt to the 21st century. I don’t agree with him on everything. But he does remind me why I decided some time ago never to align myself with any political group or party because there are simply none who seem to have the right approach to things. Spain is a classic example: I’m not a Catalan nationalist but I’m sympathetic with those who would like more autonomy for Catalonia. At the same time, I couldn’t support any of the parties who push for greater autonomy here because their memberships and leaders seem to be conniving, divisive pricks to a man. Besides, if greater autonomy means more laws banning me from drinking calimotxo or Xibeca and smoking weed at the beach with my mates, then perhaps it’s not such a hot tip?

The Iraq debacle is another good example (and this is what Nick Cohen is focused on): I’m naturally a Labour man but how can I vote for that party when Tony Blair still insists that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t. Saddam was an awful, murderous bastard but the hell which has been unleashed on ordinary Iraqis does not justify his removal. Nick Cohen’s main argument seems to be that the left has lost its way because in its opposition to illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, curtailed human rights at home, rendition and Guantanamo, it has failed to condemn the evil which so called ‘neo-conservatives’ are determined to defeat. There’s a lot of ammunition for this argument and those employing it get a very real thrill from expounding the claim that the left wing is stuck in a bygone age when it could rely on being morally superior and nothing more. And it is true that numerous anti-American and anti-Semite worms have crawled out of the woodwork just in time to make us all look bad.

But the problem with Cohen’s position is that all he’s doing is claiming the moral high ground for the neocons. Basically, he seems happy to tell the left that they don’t recognise that the world has changed and things aren’t as clear cut as they once were, while at the same time he’s stating quite firmly that this is a simple case of moral imperative: we had to remove Saddam at any cost. Clearly, he wants to have his cake and eat it.

He continues by drawing attention to the millions of left wingers who demonstrated against ‘the overthrow of a fascist government’. To emphasise his point, he makes trite references to Rome, Madrid and Berlin – as if the residents of cities which had once lived under the shadow of a dictator should somehow ‘know better’. The problem is that opposing the war was never the same as appeasing Saddam. Who cares if he was happy about the protests? The point of the demos was to let our governments know that we weren’t going to be hoodwinked into an illegal war which would end up killing tens of thousands of civilians. And we were absolutley right.

The problem for those who were (and, carazily, still are) in favour of the war is that they really did think they were going to get things over and done with pretty quickly. They didn’t realise that they were going to visit on Iraq a state of murderous destruction not seen since the dark days of Saddam’s purges. Or if they did, they didn’t care.

The point of all this is, I suppose, to say that in the case of Iraq, there is no moral high ground. We on the left had nothing to suggest in the way of alternatives to getting rid of Saddam. We need the oil, the Iraqis need democracy and the world is a better place without that awful man. At the same time, supporters of the war must accept that they have made a colossal mistake in Iraq, causing the deaths of many tens of thousands of civilians, enraging an already volatile muslim community, establishing the dangerous precedent of pre-emptive attack and handing vast strategic power to a much more dangerous country: Iran.

In the end, Nick Cohen’s article is more or less spot on, insofar as it discusses the facts of the dispersal of the left-wing in Britain… (I only wish he’d write another about modern conservatism). While there are aspects of his argument which I find I can’t agree with, he’s correct about two important things: the left wing has lost its way horribly and we have failed to display any reasonable degree of solidarity with the Iraqis: the true victims of all this mess. Think on.