Ahwaz: Iran’s Internal Struggle

Recent violence in Iran has brought the city of Ahwaz to the front pages. In late September 2018, four gunmen opened fire at a military parade in the city, killing 29 people. Responsibility for the attack has thus far been claimed by the Ahwaz National Resistance in the name of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA). Responsibility has also apparently been claimed by Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS), and Iran has decided not unreasonably to blame them both – though at the end of the day, only one of them did it.

Located in the southwest of Iran in the province of Khuzestan, Ahwaz is one of the most oil-rich regions in the country. However, despite the abundance of natural resources, the central government has deliberately underdeveloped the region. The infrastructure of Ahwaz is lacking far behind the rest of the country, all of which is not helped by the city’s status as having the world’s worst air pollution.

Unknown to most, there are an estimated 5-7 million Arabs in the Khuzestan region. In a majority ethnic Persian Iran, they constitute a small minority with most of them concentrated in the Khuzestan region. In 1925, the British had control over the region, formally known as Arabistan. This area was later annexed and renamed by Iran as Khuzestan. As such, some Arab Ahwazis consider themselves as under Persian “occupation” and have been vying for an independent country of their own.

Ahwazi Arabs argue that they face state entrenched discrimination at the hands of Iranian governments both past and present. A Home Office report points out that Ahwazi Arabs suffer from persecution, arbitrary detention, poverty and a lack of basic rights. They are provided with limited access to services such as housing, water, sanitation, employment, and education. The report also highlights that many Ahwazi Arabs have had their lands confiscated, without any compensation for loss of land.

In addition to this, the Arab people of Ahwaz have been subject to a policy of ‘Persianisation’ through which they have experienced ethnic and linguistic repression. As a result, Ahwazi Arabs are not formally permitted to learn their mother tongue nor express their culture. It is speculated by some and noted by Arab Ahwazis that the government has attempted to alter the demographic makeup of Ahwaz by renaming town names to sound more Persian and also by resettling Persian speaking families into the area. In theory, the Iranian constitution does afford respect and rights to all ethnic minorities and considers all Iranian citizens equal but there is little evidence of this in practice.

Ahwaz is no stranger to civil unrest and has continuously seen anti-government protests. Violence from Ahwazi Arab separatist groups has also taken place over the decades, and if the claims are true, the killing of civilians at the military parade in September being the most recent example. Despite being a low-level conflict, violent activity in Ahwaz has increased since 2005 with September’s attack being one of the deadliest in nearly a decade

The cause of Ahwazi Arabs has been championed by nationalist groups such as the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA). The group has been involved in political activity, but have on a number of previous occasions resorted to violent means such as bombings to achieve their goals.

Acts of violence do very little in highlighting the very legitimate issues that the Ahwazi Arabs and other minority groups face in Iran. Iran has largely attempted to contain discontent from their population by cracking down on protests but it is increasingly difficult for them to do so in a region that is fraught and fragmented by divisions. This is particularly true for Ahwaz.

Ahwaz is key to the national security of Iran and is also the economic lifeline for the country; housing almost 90% of the country’s oil. The presence of the armed wing of the ASMLA and the grievances of the Arab population should be a cause for concern for Tehran, taking into consideration Iran’s relationship with hostile states such as Saudi Arabia and the United States who could themselves exploit this unrest.

“The nation’s security is the red line. Terrorists used bullets in Ahvaz , we answered the them with missiles”. That was the statement made by IRGC general Hajizadeh hours after Iran pounded alleged Daesh targets in Syria with ballistic missiles. Iran’s leader had warned after the recent attack on the military parade in the city of Ahvaz that, “The terrorists will be punished soon”. Iran claimed it was proving it was serious in safeguarding its security by responding in kind when it came under attack.

al-Halbousi: A Good Choice for Iraq?

After months of political deadlock, Iraq has finally taken the key step of electing its Speaker and President, with a Prime Minister-designate also named. On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament elected Barham Salih as President and shortly after he asked Adil Abdul-Mahdi to be Prime Minister. This comes two weeks after electing their speaker as Mohamed al-Halbousi.

Since 2003 the roles of President, Prime Minister and Speaker have been unofficially held by a Kurd, a Shiite and a Sunni respectively. Having struggled with a political stalemate since the elections in May, Iraq can now finally move forward toward naming its cabinet ministers and forming a parliament. This comes as a big step on the road to rebuilding a country devastated by three years of war with the Islamic State. In this, the first is a series, the NCF will focus o n the elected speaker, Mohammed Rikan Hadeed al-Halbousi, exploring the run-up to his election, his background and what his appointment might mean for the future of Iraq.

The Run up to al-Halbousi’s Appointment

In May’s parliamentary election, the Saairun political group, which is popular amongst many of Iraq’s poor and led by the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, came in first with 54 seats. In second, with 48 seats came Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah Alliance. This group is one which has the tacit support of Iran and whose members are largely drawn from the paramilitary groups who were crucial in the victory against ISIL. In third and fourth came Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance (42), a group with tacit US backing, and Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (25). Both of the latter are, by and large, factions that have evolved from the Islamic Dawa Party, which has ruled Iraq for the last three terms.

After the election, the opposing Fatah Alliance and the Saairun each tried to separately form coalitions with the Victory Alliance, The State of Law Coalition, the Kurdish parties and others.

However, amid growing protests about government corruption and a growing water shortage crisis, the influential Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani called for change. He demanded that Iraq needed a new leadership stating he would not support “politicians who have been in authority in the past years”. This greatly diminished the chances of the Dawa based Victory Alliance and the State of Law Coalition. This forced Sairoon and Fatah to come together, and on Sept 15th the Fatah nominee al-Halbousi was elected speaker, with al-Sadr’s candidate Hassam Karim as first deputy.

Who is he?

At 37, al-Halbousi is the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history. He trained as a civil engineer, then went into the construction business. In 2014 he was elected to parliament and headed the parliamentary finance committee from 2016 until 2017 when he became governor of Anbar province.

In the May elections, al-Halbousi headed the ‘Anbar is Our Identity’ alliance. In fact al-Halbousi has a good relationship with Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri and was initially nominated by their Al-Binna’a alliance.

Internationally he has amicable relations with the US and was involved in many US contracts during their period of hegemony in Iraq. However, his connection to Iran is stronger. When elected he immediately cemented these ties by denouncing US sanctions on Iran and inviting Iran’s speaker to Iraq. But not before first exchanging invitations with the Speaker of the Parliament in pro-US Kuwait so as to indicate his neutrality.

What Does His Election Mean for Iraq?

With growing anti-establishment protests over corrupt rule, the Iraqi people are demanding a change. At 37, al-Halbousi seems to represent this change. Whether al-Halbousi is clean of corruption himself is debatable. There were even rumours that he had in part bought his post as Speaker by making questionable deals with other MPs, and though Sunni himself, not all the Sunni MPs support him. However, a fresh face is nonetheless welcomed by the Iraqi people.

He seems to be quite up to the vital task of keeping amicable relations with both the US and Iran. He also represents the much needed coming together of a country politically split and devastated by war. He looks to be a good candidate to take a united Iraq in a more positive direction.

Oil Price Excitement – because of Iran

There is excitement this morning at the four year high in oil price at $81 a barrel. They put it down to Iran reduction because of President Trump’s sanctions + Bakken Shale problems (shale sweet spots are running out triggering feverish competition over concessions in the US) + spare capacity fears (spare capacity of mid east countries is is only 2-4 million b/d meaning that unexpected supply interruptions are more difficult to cope with).

In Iraq this triggered renewed discussion this morning of the fact that Kirkuk’s oil is “stranded” meaning 270,00 to 300,000 barrels a day “wasted capacity due to unavailability of pipelines”.

The only prospect of a reduction in demand also, ironically, is a consequence of President Trump’s actions – as a consequence of the possibility of reduced Chinese demand in the aftermath of the Sino-American trade war. But all the indications are that the price will continue to rise, helped by the OPEC decision not to increase production at their meeting in Algeria yesterday.

Brexit problems for Europe’s Students?

A substantial proportion of Britain’s younger generation feel strongly in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union (or certainly did so prior to recent events). The opportunity Europe presented for study abroad is just one of the many reasons why:

With just months to go until the UK is set to leave the EU, the possibility of a ‘No Deal Brexit’ seems increasingly likely. With the UK’s involvement in many EU institutions set to diminish, what will Brexit mean for the UK’s place in the Erasmus+ programme?

Erasmus+ is an EU initiative which provides grants for participants to study, work, volunteer, teach and train in Europe. In the past four years the programme has awarded 677 million euros to UK participants, with 128,097 British students taking part from 2014-2016. The UK will remain a part of the current scheme until its end in 2020. Although after that what happens is unclear.

Since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus scheme has improved economic outcomes, with unemployment rates 23% lower for participants.

After 2020, Britain may be forced to leave the scheme.

Will it be replaced?

The European Commission has proposed a new form of Erasmus+ from 2021-27 which would see it doubling its budget and opening to “third countries” from outside the EU, such as, presumably, the UK after Brexit.

Even if such a proposal did not go through, in theory Britain could still adopt the Swiss model. Under this model, British universities would set up their own agreements with EU universities and provide their own funding. Savings made from payments to the EU could even be used to fund it.

Would people use a new scheme?

No one should underestimate the ideological sentiment of Brexit. Fewer Europeans may want to study in the UK and vice versa. Already there’s been a 19% increase in departures of European staff from UK universities in 2017 compared to before the Brexit vote. Though many left due to fears surrounding research grant eligibility and visa concerns, many also also left for ideological reasons.

Some schools have reported that Brexit has led to a decrease in students wanting to learn languages, further reinforced by their parents’ attitudes.

Regardless of whether we want to see less immigration or “take back control”, we still need confident, open-minded and adaptable young people who can survive and prosper in an increasingly globalised world. With Brexit, they will not.

A New Pakistan?

It has been a month since former cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan, was sworn into office to become Pakistan’s  22nd prime minister. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) emerged as the single-largest party in parliament for the first time in their history.

During his victory speech, Imran Khan outlined his dream for a ‘Naya Pakistan’ – a new Pakistan that would be formed as a humanitarian state; a state that takes responsibility for the weaker classes, focusing on the downtrodden of society. Khan also promised to root out corruption in all its forms and tackle the economic and security challenges facing the country’s.

But now that the dust has settled on Khan’s victory and fervour has subsided, many are eagerly waiting to see how Khan will fulfill his lofty promises. But the question arises as to how realistic does Imran Khan’s dream of a Naya Pakistan seem?

Despite his popularity and his position as prime minister, the real power in the country lies with the country’s powerful military. Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half of its 71 years of existence, with the army holding considerable power and influence in the country’s politics. In order for Khan’s dream of a Naya Pakistan to become a reality, he needs to break away from the security establishment. This is no easy task.

The military is widely seen by many as having helped Khan win the election, which would make Imran Khan’s job as prime minister that much more difficult. Maintaining a warm relationship with influential generals is key to Khan’s tenure as prime minister.

The military has long been accused of removing those people from power who were not compliant with their ‘requests’, with none of the 17 prime ministers of Pakistan managing to serve a full term. It has been suggested that even the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from office on corruption charges, was at the same time selectively targeted by the military due to his attempt to reduce the army’s role in the political sphere. The military’s apparent support for Khan and his party could have been more about keeping Sharif and his party out of power and capitalising on Khan’ s popularity; rather than any particular support for Khan and his policies.

The implication of Khan’s victory, if the military did indeed help him assume office, is that a deal was struck. Khan would have to toe the line, if he were to continue in the role of prime minister. Of course, this would also mean that Khan would have to compromise on many of the populist stances he holds. For many in Pakistan, Imran Khan is seen as a breath of fresh air, with ideals that gave the people hope. However, it may be that the dream of Naya Pakistan will remain but a dream.

Closure of PLO mission prompts call for protest

The White House’s announcement of plans to close down the PLO’s office in Washington intends to block cases that Palestinians have raised against Tel Aviv in the International criminal court. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has decried the move as continuation of “collective punishment” by the Trump administration.

On Monday 10th September, the US announced the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington. This comes as the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration against the Palestinians, which include:

  • The relocation of the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem in May. Thereby formally recognising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, despite longstanding Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as their capital.
  • A funding freeze in August of $300 million to UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing healthcare, education, and food to Palestinian refugees.
  • Further funding freezes in August and September of $200 million in aid to Gaza and the West Bank and $25 million to hospitals mainly caring for Palestinians.

According to the US, this latest action is in response to the PLO’s efforts to prolong the peace process. The Trump administration claims they have done this citing two examples. Firstly, their refusal to ‘engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts’ since the relocation of the US embassy. Secondly through ‘Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court (ICC).’

However, given the relocation of the US embassy in May and following cuts to Palestinian aid, it seems the US themselves are not interested in “direct and meaningful negotiations”. This move is one of many, to weaken Palestine’s position at the negotiating table when the US announces its peace plan later in the year.

What can Palestine do?

Undoubtedly, Palestine must increase its leverage by responding to these US actions effectively. Taking the issue to international organisations may be a part of this, but non-violent action needs to take place within the region as well.

The effectiveness of the use of the ICC to help resolve this issue is questionable, this because of the US and Israel both being non-signatories; because of US threats to sanction the ICC; and because the organisation is not particularly well respected worldwide. Other organisations such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is generally held in higher regard, may be more effective arenas at which to make a stand. However, this is still questionable given the US’ current isolationist foreign policy. This policy sees a trend in the US departing from international institutions, including its withdrawal from the UNHRC. Despite that, other countries who still respect such international frameworks could put pressure on the US and Israel.

However, action must also come from within the region for Palestinians to really increase their leverage. This should come in the form of non-violent protest. The effect of this would: help unite Palestinians; raise the importance of the issue on the world agenda; and raise the importance of the issue for the people of Israel who could themselves put greater pressure on Netanyahu.

Although this would have to be non-violent. Violence on the part of Palestinians would only escalate causing huge unnecessary destruction and undermine Palestine’s position. As Palestine does not have the economic and military might of Israel it must retain the moral high ground.

The Trump administration’s most recent action does not contribute towards establishing a fair peace for the Israel-Palestine situation. Palestine must continue to fight for its cause in non-violent ways.

The NCF Secretary General talks about the issue of the White House action against Palestine on Press TV.

Refugee Legal Support Needed

Ex NCF intern, Eva Doerr, is known to many of you. She needs your help. She is involved in a refugee project in Athens, Greece – Refugee Legal Support (https://www.refugeelegalsupport.org). Alongside approximately ten other UK asylum lawyers (almost all women), she was part of setting up a pro bono legal clinic in Athens. At the clinic, Iliana (a Greek lawyer), Efi (their coordinator), their three interpreters – Ali, Vafa and Lawrence (all refugees in Greece) – and UK lawyers who travel to Athens on a rota basis (Eva was there in June) provide free legal support to refugees. Eva writes:

Even though the media seems to have stopped reporting on it, thousands of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa continue to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and arrive on the Greek islands eg Lesvos and Chios every month. The crippling infrastructure in Greece means that many of those are not recognised refugees yet – they do not have a ‘legal status’ in Greece. Many others remain separated from family members elsewhere in Europe without any hope of being reunited with them any time soon (family reunification is supposedly a human right…). Without a legal status a person is trapped in a limbo. You are unable to take part in public life and access services that we take for granted, like healthcare, the ability to rent a home or take up employment.
I could go on about this forever but I am sure you will be well aware of the situation. I feel very strongly that Western Europe needs to take more responsibility for this situation. I believe that the clinic is a small contribution to the solidarity that is needed to tackle what I believe is the ‘issue of our times’. Sadly, we are running out of money and we now need every donation and support we can get. We have launched a crowd justice campaign, a way to fundraise for legal campaigns.
If NCF friends could donate a bit of money and, more importantly, share the campaign amongst your friends and network via email or social media, Eva would be hugely grateful.
 

The Anti-Semitism Row

Tim Pendry responds to our intern’s blog on the Labour Anti-Semitism row, which he views as a little naive politically. He writes as an independent observer sympathetic to Corbyn’s position on this particular matter. We would view his perspective as being similar to that of a mainstream Labour activist, though not a viewpoint universally held:

We can start with two propositions which are uncomfortable for some activists.

The first is that free speech, as an Enlightenment Project, should be as close to absolute as possible in any political movement that purports to represent the Left and yet it is clear that there has been increasing pressure, mostly from authoritarian elements in society, to restrict that freedom so that defence of free speech has largely and unfortunately fallen into the hands of conservatives and then populists.

The second is that a British political party should be primarily concerned with the welfare of the British people (of all faiths) and should not become the plaything of struggles in foreign lands or allow itself to be directly or indirectly influenced by the interests of a foreign power. The Labour Party got itself into this mess originally by permitting far too much influence to activists more concerned with Middle Eastern politics than social change because it was greedy for votes from new immigrant communities.

This opened the door to Jewish activists whose primary interest (in this debate) was undoubtedly the protection of political support for the state of Israel which was pretty well taken for granted in the higher ranks of the Party until Corbyn was elected Leader. This is all a matter of indifference to most working people who are actually not in the least antisemitic but commit the crime of utter indifference to both sides in this tiresome and eternal squabble.

In this atmosphere of political warfare, it is naive to think that the IHRA guidelines came out of some objective analysis of antisemitism above and beyond these politics. They did not. They are the culmination of a process of linking the narrative of antisemitism and the holocaust to the existence of Israel and then making the definition of antisemitism implicitly include criticism of Israel. So let us take the four guidelines and give another interpretation (since the author’s interpretation is actually fair if one wishes to interpret them that way but there are other interpretations).

  1. “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Unfortunately, this is actually a fair criticism from many Jewish activists who do place loyalty to Israel and to the Jewish community ahead of the interests of their own nation. The ‘soft’ version is an unspoken and unthinking assumption that the interests of the UK and Israel are identical. They are not necessarily so. We must be free to call out any community within the country, including Muslims of course, who place their original homeland or their community’s interests or even (in extremis) their faith ahead of the interests of the UK as a whole and certainly of the British working population.
  2. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” This is fair since it is clear that Judaism is not racist. However, Zionism is. by definition, ethnicist. There is a slippery slope here given the inability of many modern liberals not to be able to draw the distinction between ethnicity and racism. The existence of the State of Israel is very much an ethnicist endeavour and we must be free to say so.
  3. “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This is a fair concern but, again, we have to consider context. Israel claims to be a Western democratic outpost and it is surrounded by non-democratic illiberal countries. There is no comparison. However, Israel’s conduct can and should be compared (even if there may be sound security reasons for the differences) with the way, say, Sweden or Ireland may conduct matters. The clause is clear – it is not ‘of any other nation’ but ‘of any other democratic nation’. While recognising that Israel is largely democratic (though only so because most Palestinians have left), we must be free to compare it if we so wish to the other democratic nations of which it claims kinship.
  4. “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This is a difficult one but free speech is not about sensitivity, it is about freedom. There is no fair way of claiming the State of Israel behaves like the Nazi State but this should be dealt with in terms of the facts and not sensitivity when, seventy years after the event and with more knowledge of the general scale of man’s inhumanity to man, under conditions where a nation owns the nuclear bomb and has a preparedness to use it, we all know in our hearts that the holocaust narrative has two aspects – as tragic history and as propaganda. What we must be free to say is that there are similarities perhaps between some aspects of national socialism and some aspects of all forms of ethnicist nationalism and perhaps, if evidence can be provided, even in military techniques against settlement or in ‘lebensraum’. An intelligent person would only make the lightest of historical comparisons if they believed them to be true because there is no evidence of the racial politics or chaotics of the German dictatorship but he or she must be allowed to make these comparisons in good faith as a matter of free speech.

The ‘Zionist’ or Jewish activist pressure on the Labour Leadership is purely political, a continuation by other means of a project to recover an influence over the British Left taken for granted over many decades. It is the wrong struggle. The right struggle would have been to ask why the worst sort of faith-based obscurantism has been imported into the Party’s inner city wards without sufficient challenge. Any antisemitism arising from poorly educated Islamists is a mere symptom of something infinitely more concerning – the steady unravelling of Enlightenment values for contingent political advantage across a wide front.

As to ‘feelings’ this represents the decadence of our politics. Politics should be about principle and not pandering to ‘feelings’. The crisis certainly cannot be averted by pandering to a demand that a few inappropriate clauses of the IHRA guidelines are accepted just to defuse the crisis – it simply creates a new crisis, one of the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. The crisis can be averted by staying strong on the principle of free speech but taking a tough line on antisemitism (as opposed to criticism of Israel) where it appears alongside all other forms of racial or ethnicist politics including perhaps aspects of Corbyn’s treasured Irish republicanism and the clan politics of the migrant inner cities.

Labour must find better ways to criticise Israel’s Government

Labour has strong reason to criticise the Israel’s government and to speak up for the rights of Palestinians. Although they are going about it in completely the wrong way. On Tuesday, Labour finally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism with its full eleven working examples. Adding the four of which they had previously left out of their code of conduct. Labour also added a caveat expressing the need for freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians. However, the lateness of this seems to be out of as much out of a need to alleviate the mounting pressure in the media as it is an action to fight anti-Semitism.

The adoption of the internationally recognised IHRA definitions represent for many in the Jewish community a key symbolic step in the fight against anti-Semitism. By viewing these guidelines as contentious, Labour has put themselves in a tricky position. This position conflates their rightly founded criticism of policies of Israel’s government and advocacy of Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.

By not initially accepting the full IHRA definitions, they have shown a lack of understanding of the views of many in the Jewish community. Many in Labour say agreeing to the guidelines puts them in a position where they cannot criticise the acts of the Israeli government. However, the IHRA does still allow for this criticism. The four previously omitted examples of anti-Semitism include:

  • “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” This example does not mean that the Israel’s government cannot be criticised
  • “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. This does not mean that Palestine doesn’t have the right to self-determination and does not define any specific land boundaries.
  • “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This does not mean we should stop criticising Israel’s government but perhaps does signal the need to further criticise the current and past behaviour of many democratic nations.
  • “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This does not mean Israel’s policy is exempt from strong criticism but calls for criticism of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in a way which still respects sensitivity to the issue of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Although Labour did agree to add these four examples on Tuesday, it also added a caveat that states: “this does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians”. It is not necessarily the content of the caveat which is the problem, but its symbolic placement. This undermines the IHRA definitions by suggesting that they do not allow for strong criticism of the Israeli state’s policies and the expression of Palestinian rights.

The effect of Labour’s poor management

Labour’s handling of this situation has had two key negative effects. Firstly, it has shown disregard for the feelings of many Jewish people inside and outside of the party. Secondly, it has significantly reduced Labour’s ability to pragmatically criticise the government of Israel and improve the rights of Palestinians. It has done this by distracting from the actual actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians; and by weakening the credibility of Labour as and when it chooses to criticise them.

Some have argued that those wishing to oust Corbyn have put him in a difficult position by deliberately conflating criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Whether this is true or not, Labour cannot move forward unless they separate the two issues.

What can Labour do now?

To make any advances in effectively criticising Israel and upholding the rights of the Palestinians, Labour must separate the two conflated points. They can deliver a strong message against anti-Semitism by fully supporting the IHRA definitions as well as by combatting anti-Semitism in the party. Whilst doing this, they can separately give strong criticism of the Israeli state and advocate for the rights of the Palestinians. But confusing the two issues will get them nowhere.

Of Boris and of Banning the Burkas

The following represents the personal view of the NCF Secretary General and does not necessarily represent an NCF position:

There are two issues here. One is that the full face covering is a Mediaeval practice and one that is abusive in so much as it enshrines the doctrine of male dominance over the female. In a sense it degrades women.

It may be right to speak out against this practice.

However, even the birds of the air have need of nests. And whatever the rights and wrongs of that great cultural leveler, migration, one thing is certain, we are responsible for welcoming the migrant that arrives at these shores in a way which does not foster prejudice and hatred. Britain’s former Foreign Secretary’s remarks were calculated. They were written by Boris Johnson in a newspaper editorial. They are abusive of women in themselves, comparing those who practice full face veiling to pillar boxes with slits. Furthermore his manner provokes those already inflamed with Islamophobia (often exacerbated by but not because of the recent terror attacks) into further hatred. The former Foreign Secretary behaved as a racist. The sentiment behind his words, a concern about what the full face veil represents, may echo genuine concern for those women who choose, sometimes of their own volition, to do this to themselves. But he had no right to say that in that way. Not a man who may become our next Prime Minister.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Boris Johnson was therefore quite wrong. He should apologise. And if it was not his intention to foster religious hatred, he should apologise at least for the unwitting effect his remarks had.

Christ told us not to judge “Lest we be judged”. But there is an expectation that politicians in a position of leadership make considered judgements on our behalf. Boris’ remarks were unwise. Boris’ remarks can hardly have helped in these difficult times.

We should do better. But should we ban the burka and the headscarf like they do in France and Finland? Well maybe there is an argument for banning the hoody in young men and the burka in women because they are socially divisive and threatening. But not the headscarf. The French have gone overboard there. Women in the West have worn headscarves for generations as a fashion statement. And old fashioned European Catholics have always worn headscarves. The Muslim headscarf may be more concealing but is still just a cultural extension of the same thing and we should all find it in our hearts to accept it.

Is Labour’s new code of conduct a gateway to antisemitism?

The ongoing row over the Labour Party’s new guidelines on antisemitism has understandably drawn a lot of attention in the last few weeks. It turned particularly heated when Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge directly called out Jeremy Corbyn as an “antisemite and a racist” in the House of Commons on 17th July, subsequently facing praise and criticism in equal measure. She since has been threatened with an investigation into “abusive conduct” and potentially disciplinary action by the Labour party, should she demonstrate similar behaviour in the future. It has also emerged that Peter Willsman, a member of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) had been recorded at a meeting the same day, passing off reports of antisemitism as little more than “duff information without any evidence at all”, peddled by Jewish “Trump fanatics”. This all comes after Labour’s national executive committee ratified a decision to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in its own code of conduct, but to omit 4 of its 11 accepted examples of contemporary antisemitism. 

The IHRA definition has been accepted by 31 countries, and 130 councils across the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary; having been accepted as a working definition by the European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia in 2005, and by the UK government in 2016. Labour’s NEC however, deems it unnecessary to include the full text of the code in its own party rules; despite opposition by over 60 Rabbis and a vote on Monday 23rd July by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), to accept the IHRA definition, with all its working examples, in full. But what do these omissions actually mean? And what does Labour’s own code of conduct mean for a party already controversially embroiled in a trail of antisemitic scandals?

What’s missing in Labour’s code of conduct?

The Labour Party has accepted, unaltered, the full IHRA definition of antisemitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”

However, in its examples of conduct “likely to be regarded as antisemitic”, the NEC has included only 7 of the original 11, intentionally leaving out the following 4:

1. “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

This first example does seem to clearly construct a perception of Jewish citizens collectively, of acting purely in the interests of their own group to the detriment of others, and so not only denies Jewish people a sense of agency and independence from the worldwide Jewish community, which is itself derogatory, but accuses them of working against other groups because of their own innate loyalty. This of course is dangerous because it might cause individuals to be treated with suspicion, or even cause them to be targeted as a member of a ‘duplicitous’ group of people. Labour instead chooses to describe this as “wrong” in Article 14, rather than explicitly antisemitic.

It is clear that the working examples included in the IHRA code are intended to prevent a slide towards treating Jews, as a collective, as second-class citizens in their own countries. This would suggest that any act which makes generalising claims about Jewish people as a whole, is damaging. And that is exactly why this first is important, especially when such a claim might foster distrust of a collective group.

2. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour).”

This second example is to deny Jewish people autonomy and a right to their own security. By claiming the State of Israel to be inherently racist in its existence, an individual questions the legitimacy of the state – this in theory might deny the right of the Jewish community to a state at all. If an individual wished to criticise the particular acts of particular people who helped established the state of Israel, they may freely do so. If one wishes to criticise the acts of the current, or a former, Israeli government, they may also do so. But to label an Israeli state as an inherently racist endeavour is to view its very existence as wrong, based on an illegitimacy at its core. This would then be to deny the right of Jewish people to their Israeli state.

It does seem somewhat moot in the sense that, regardless of the circumstances of Israel’s creation, it now is unquestionably a state and has been for 70 years. Thus, one cannot exactly question the legitimacy of the state itself today anyway. Nevertheless, denying its original legitimacy is akin to claiming that Jewish people do not have a right to self-determination, which was a key principle underlying the state’s creation in 1948.

In fact, rather than including the example in the list, the NEC code of conduct does actually make very clear in its Article 12, in reference to Article 1(2) of the UN Charter that “the Jewish people have the same right to self-determination as any other people”. It does not make reference to the “racist endeavour” example, however demonstrates clearly that to deny this right to Jewish people does constitute antisemitism. It does acknowledge also that “discussion of the circumstances of the foundation of Israeli state […] forms part of modern political discourse”. This therefore allows members to discuss freely those circumstances as they happened without challenging the current right of Jewish people to self-determination or the legitimacy of the current state of Israel.

3. “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

The inclusion of the third example also makes sense, as to hold Israel to higher standards than any other democratic nation would be to single out Israel in particular. It would certainly not be wrong to expect the state of Israel to behave at the same high standards of international cooperation and/or human rights as other democratic states, or even to place pressure on them to do so, but to demand more from the state without justification would be itself discriminatory. Rather than include the example in its list of examples, Labour’s code labels such conduct as “wrong” in Article 14, as it would be to hold “Muslims or Muslim organisations to a higher standard than others”.

4. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

A comparison of contemporary Israeli policy with that of the Nazis seems particularly troubling. If a critic wishes to condemn the hypothetical acts of an Israel whose policies might involve targeting or subjugating minorities, or totalitarianism, the critic may make that claim without using Nazism as a comparison – there are other comparisons to be drawn from history which are not so loaded with a particular historic and emotional weight for the Jewish people. The full code does not prevent criticism. It only excludes that comparison. And that seems reasonable given the weight of that chapter of Jewish, and world, history and the possibility of this being used with antisemitic intent.

This has been particularly relevant since Jeremy Corbyn made a statement earlier this week, apologising for having appeared at a Holocaust Memorial Day event in 2010, at which the keynote speaker, Hajo Meyer, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, drew a comparison between Israel’s actions in Gaza, and Nazi Germany. Mr Corbyn acknowledged that he had shared a platform with people “whose views I completely reject”; and apologised for any “concerns and anxiety” that it might have caused. 

It might be argued, however, that to prevent a critic from using a selected example of policy or action deployed under Nazi totality as a comparison, may insulate contemporary Israel from the full extent of scrutiny that any other state should be subject to. It is not impossible to imagine a hypothetical scenario where a selected policy under the Israeli government might leave some feeling systematically subjugated, targeted or discriminated against. We don’t refrain from drawing similar comparisons with Germany in the 1930s and 40s when other states implement dangerous or prejudicial policy – in this sense, Israel alone might be seen as being immune from that comparison. On the other hand, such acts could very easily still be condemned with the very same force by a member of the Labour Party, without drawing a direct comparison between the two cases. This merely acknowledges the specific sensitivity of the historic metaphor and instead places the onus on critics of Israel to be more creative with their criticism.

What’s been added to Labour’s code?

Labour’s code of conduct does in fact elaborate on one of the other examples in IHRA guidelines, pertaining to the use of symbols or images associated with classic antisemitism, to include the use of derogatory terms and stereotypical and/or negative physical depictions of Jewish people. This is undoubtedly positive in providing specific and unmistakeable examples of antisemitic language and has sadly been overlooked in many criticisms of Labour’s new code.

Labour Party guidelines also include the phrase, “likely to be regarded as antisemitic”, in the preamble to the examples. This is intended to imbue the examples with a greater degree of force in judging cases of antisemitism, than treating cases as “potential” acts of antisemitism. However, it does seem odd that the Labour Party would be willing to use that phrase, and then not include the 4 remaining examples. If the NEC had concerns about the ability of party members to exercise free speech in those cases whose context did not constitute antisemitism per se, the use of the word “likely”, rather than “certainly” may still accommodate for such specific cases to be judged in their own context. The original IHRA code of conduct provides for such cases when it describes antisemitic examples which “could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to [x]”. This suggests that there may be more examples of antisemitism not included in their own code, and that each should be judged in the context of their particular use, before the label of antisemitism is given. It would seem that the benefit of increased force that comes from using “likely” rather than “could”, is not great enough to outweigh the negative signal that the omissions send to many, including Jewish people, who feel the code has missed the mark.

What the code of conduct means for Labour

I don’t believe that a failure to accept the full definition automatically renders Labour or its leader antisemitic. However, an unwillingness to do so does signal to Jewish people that some of those acts deemed unacceptable as antisemitic by the widely accepted IHRA definition, might not be subject to the same scrutiny, or the same label, by the Labour party. This obviously must be a cause for great concern among those experiencing, or at risk from, such acts; and particularly those who have felt targeted by members of the Labour Party in the past and who are unable to gain recompense under the new rules. This is a critical juncture for the Party, at a time when over 200 cases of alleged antisemitic conduct are under investigation, involving roughly 75 members. This is a time when the Labour Party should be making very public moves to address these past offences and to take a firm line against abuse and systemic prejudice in party ranks. It is clearly a time when the party should be making gestures to ensure all its members feel welcome and to make clear its opposition to antisemitism of all kinds, taking into the consideration the views of the target group itself.

The importance of the examples is undeniable. They offer a clear standard by which one may be held to account. And when these cases are spelled out explicitly, as they are in the IHRA code, it creates a space within which any critic of the current State of Israel and its policies might freely exercise their right to free speech, condemning the policies of a modern state, as per that individual’s right to freely criticise any other state. At the very least, an acceptance of the full code removes many grey areas, and merely requires critics to temper their language to a lexicon acceptable and inoffensive to a certain group. This still allows the content of their criticism – provided it is not discriminatory or anti-Semitic inherently – to be conveyed clearly and forcefully.

It is perhaps true that Labour’s code goes further than the IHRA code in providing examples of unacceptable language and stereotypes targeted towards Jewish people. It may also be the case that the use of the word “likely” rather than “could” carries a greater degree of force. The concerns of Israel’s critics may also be valid, if they fear a state being able to avoid the full extent of scrutiny otherwise levied without question against other states. However, the Labour Party would not be denying contextual discretion in judging each case of supposed antisemitism, by including the other 4 working examples. These are all included in one way or other in its code already. Instead, it would lay out clearer guidelines by which certain acts may be judged; and signal a willingness to treat acts of that nature with the same level of scrutiny as other cases in the other examples. It would also be a very small concession to make, to ensure Jewish members of the party, or those subject to abuse and/or discrimination by members of the Party in the past, are made to feel safe and welcome. Most importantly for Labour, it would communicate a willingness to listen to the concerns of a minority, to acknowledge their right to stand up publicly against any abuse they feel they have been subjected to; and to entrench this at the core of their party code.

NCF update: Libya’s lurch from one crisis to another

Since the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has remained in a persistent state of crisis. Western politicians and media have largely failed to understand developments during this period and the nature of the divisions in the country are now such that external observers have repeatedly lost track of who is in charge of what, and this confusion shows no sign of abating. The Next Century Foundation wishes to provide some much needed clarity regarding the current situation in Libya.

POLITICAL FORCES

The entrenched divisions in Libya are reflected by its myriad political factions, who each claim to have authority over the region. The international community has done little to diffuse these tensions by supporting whichever faction best suits their vested interests rather than prioritising the interests of the Libyan people. Currently, there are four main political factions in Libya:

  1. The Government of National Accord (GNA) – The GNA was established in 2015 in UN-backed negotiations to try and impose a stable authority in the region. It is the only internationally recognised government in Libya and is headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Unfortunately, however, the GNA has failed to exercise any kind of authority extending beyond its very limited domain in western Libya, where it operates from Tripoli. Many argue that the GNA is a corrupt institution, accusing its leaders of earning exceptionally high salaries while doing little to resolve the country’s problems.
  2. The High Council of State – The High Council of State was formerly the General National Congress in Tripoli, formed in Libya’s first democratic elections in 2012. After its members refused to dissolve the congress in 2015 (and lose their salaries) a deal was struck during the UN negotiations to re-establish the congress as the ‘High Council of State’, an advisory body to the GNA. The reality, however, is that they have long since diminished as an influential political force. It is headed by Khaled al-Mishri, who replaced Abdarrahman Swehli in April 2018. He is a leading figure in the Justice and Construction Party (the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya).
  3. The Tobruk Parliament – also known as the House of Representatives, it was established after controversial national elections with a turnout of around 18% in 2014. It is based in Tobruk, a port city in the east of Libya. Its chairman is Aguila Saleh Issa who regards his Tobruk-based government (headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thenni) to be the only legitimate government in Libya. It is also important to note that the Tobruk parliament has endorsed the leadership of General Khalifa Haftar.
  4. General Haftar – General Khalifa Haftar controls almost the entire east of Libya. With a personal militia force at his disposal (which he calls the ‘Libyan National Army’ (LNA)) and backing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and France, Haftar has taken command of key strategic centres like Tobruk, Benghazi and most recently Derna. The capture of Derna on 28th June was an important step in consolidating Haftar’s position, as it remained the last sizeable bastion of opposition to him in the east. Prior to Haftar’s takeover, since October 2014 Derna had been led by the Shura council of Mujahadeen, a coalition of Islamist militias. On May 7th, General Haftar announced the “Zero Hour” for the “liberation of Derna” and his forces began ramping up their military offensive.

Other, arguably more influential, centres of power in Libya are its financial institutions. Saddiq Kabir, for example, is head of the Central Bank and responsible for paying the salaries of many Libyans. Mustafa Sanalla is head of the National Oil Corporation and Abdullmaged Breish is head of the Libyan Investment Authority.

It should also be noted that General Haftar recently attempted to oust Saddiq Kabir from his position as governor of the Central Bank but was unsuccessful. He accuses Libya’s Central Bank of funneling money to extremist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood.

INTERNATIONAL INVOLVEMENT

The external interference in Libya from countries near and far has done little to encourage a quicker resolution to the conflict. This is particularly evident in the way General Haftar’s support comes more from abroad than at home. Egypt, for example, has been supplying his forces with training and various weapons, even carrying out direct air raids in Derna against Haftar’s opponents. At the same time, the UAE are operating their largest foreign military base in Al Khadim, 100 kilometres east of Benghazi. In much the way Iran have entrenched a military presence in Syria aimed at lasting into the future, the UAE have identified the chaos in Libya as too good an opportunity to miss for extending their regional influence.

France, on the other hand, has been hosting conferences in Paris aimed at fostering dialogue between General Haftar and al-Sarraj, all the while providing General Haftar with extensive military support during his endeavours in Derna and beyond. It would not be overly cynical to suggest that France’s main concern regarding Haftar’s quest for leadership is the financial benefits it could accrue through Libya’s oil. With such a multitude of foreign actors behind one man, Libyans have good reason to fear that they will be the ones benefitting least in any eventual political settlement.

The complexity in the east is mirrored by the chaos along the southern border. Since 2011, the constant state of flux in Libya has made it very easy for neighbouring countries like Chad and Sudan to infiltrate the 1500-kilometre-long border as and when they like. There is no longer any effective government presence in the south, only ongoing struggles for authority and control amongst local militia forces. Since 2014, the presence of Chadian rebel group FACT in the southern Fezzan region has only increased: they have been reported to have taken temporary control of key areas in the city of Sabha for example. Counterbalancing this is the similarly sizable Sudanese presence in the south. Fighters from JEM, a Sudanese opposition group, have been fighting alongside Haftar’s forces. The various forces pulling against each other in the south highlight the difficulty that any central Libyan government will have in regaining full control of the area in the future.

POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS

On May 29th, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit in Paris with representatives from Libya’s four political factions: al-Sarraj, Haftar, Saleh and al-Mishri. Each representative endorsed a motion to hold elections in Libya on 10th December, when the mandates of the High Council of State and the Tobruk Parliament will run out. It was also agreed that by 16th September a constitutional basis and electoral laws would be established.

Whether these elections (if held at all) will be fruitful, however, is another matter. In May of this year twelve people were killed in “an ISIS attack” on the headquarters of the Electoral Commission. Nor is it likely that there will be agreement on a draft constitution any time soon. A constitution is vital for providing a consensus around the rules and legal framework that would govern the elections. Particularly in Libya, elections in the absence of a constitution would be more likely to exacerbate conflict rather than resolve it. However, despite the relative consensus over the necessity for a constitution, there is still division over its content. Some Libyans want a referendum on the current draft constitution while others want a completely new text. There are also reports that the constitutional committee was abandoned after it became apparent that its leader had dual Libyan-American nationality. Whatever happens, once an agreement has been arrived at it is essential for the international community to support the decision of the Libyan people, 1 million of whom are registered to vote in December’s elections should they take place.

On 14th June a coalition of armed forces seized the largest oil terminals in Libya’s eastern oil crescent, resulting in many civilian causalities and damage to infrastructure. General Haftar has since accused the Central Bank of channeling money to the militia leader responsible for blockading the oil terminals. Although General Haftar’s LNA was successful in recapturing the facilities on the 25th June, he announced that management of the facilities would be transferred not to the internationally recognised National Oil Corporation, but to a different NOC in the east. In retaliation, the official NOC imposed a force majeure on the oil terminals; 850,000 barrels a day were blocked from exportation and Libya lost over an estimated 900 million dollars. On the 11th July Haftar was made to hand back control of Libya’s oil ports to Sanalla’s NOC following a letter from US President Donald Trump that threatened legal action over Haftar’s crippling of Libya’s oil production. Although this relieved the immediate crisis, it brought to the fore underlying frustrations in Libya over the distribution of wealth and the plundering of resources. These concerns need to be addressed in order for political reconciliation to progress. The situation also highlighted the need to protect the country’s wealth so that – despite the political turmoil – public services will continue to function.

WAY FORWARD?

Although the upcoming elections are heralded as a positive step forward by many, it is difficult to see how they will bring about any fruitful change while the country is so fragmented. If there is no constitution then corruption and political violence will only flourish. Divisions in Libya will also remain entrenched while international powers continue to exploit the region and prevent self-determination of the Libyan people. There is little point in diplomats congratulating themselves on rhetorical commitments to elections and ongoing dialogue, for there will be very little to congratulate until Libya reemerges as a functioning state.

Indeed, the situation in Libya remains desperate. The al-Sarraj government has had three years to create some stability with a view to peace, and has yielded no results. Lawlessness in Tripoli is rife and the government turns a blind eye to foreign aircraft landing on Libyan territory at will. There has been a scarcity of bread, fuel, and electricity in the capital for years now, the Central Bank is regularly late in paying the salaries of much of the Libyan population, and the drafting of the new constitution has suffered numerous setbacks.

Compounding the humanitarian crisis are the large numbers of refugees being trafficked through Western Libya from Chad, Niger, and Sudan. The position of the GNA in western Libya is also weakened by the growing threats of militias who control other nearby cities such as Misrata and Zintan. Exasperated by the lack of constructive change under al-Sarraj’s government, they plan to march on Tripoli to incite change in the capital.

All of these failures are pointing in the direction of a change, a fresh approach in the governing of Libya. Whether the international community has enough credit to install a new government in place of al-Sarraj is doubtful considering their underwhelming track record. Nor can we be certain that the international community has the will to implement such wide-sweeping reform in what is now an even more divided Libya. The best hope for a Libyan government to reassert its sovereignty over the whole country is to find ways of making compromises which generate goodwill amongst the key domestic actors. General Haftar agreeing to allow four oil export ports to reopen is an example of this. At the same time, the kind of decentralised style of government which was so prominent in Libya following its independence must be the foundation from which oil rents can be fairly redistributed to help address dire living standards. Gradually, local authorities could coordinate with each other on the security front and move towards a unified national force. By no means is it an easy task, but it may represent an encouraging starting point on the way to rebuilding what is a terribly torn country.

#Libya #UN

By Ardi Janjeva and Isobel Thompson