Commentary Magazine


Topic: Britain

Will Britain Do the Right Thing on Boycotts?

There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

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There is something fundamentally Stalinist about the notion of a cultural boycott of Israel. The idea that even the free exchange of ideas and expression should be censored by the strictures of ideology is a total affront to all the usual virtues associated with the arts. And unlike the economic boycott of Israel, which can at least claim to have practical objectives—albeit completely indefensible ones—the cultural boycott appears to be aimed at doing nothing more than alienating and ostracizing Israelis by any means possible. So it’s deeply troubling that a group of British artists are now leading just such a new boycott initiative. And yet, there are also encouraging indications that mainstream British society will not stand for this.

Around a hundred allegedly prominent cultural figures have released a letter pledging not to travel to Israel on an official invitation, nor to accept funding from Israel or organizations that are associated with the Israeli government. In addition, this campaign claims to have the supporting signatures of a further 700 artists (almost all entirely unknowns). And naturally along with a few celebrities who are now notorious for their obsession with bashing Israel—such as Roger Waters—there are also several notable Jewish individuals who have been pushed to the forefront of the campaign.

Two Jewish directors who have evidently played a particularly leading role in promoting this boycott are Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky. Their involvement gives a pretty clear indication of precisely what kind of movement this is. When asked about Gaza, Leigh once dismissively retorted “I don’t want to know about rockets. What I am concerned with is humanity.” Humanity? Then in what category does Leigh place the people the rockets are aimed at? And then there’s Kosminsky, a remarkable figure to be boycotting Israel when much of his own acclaimed television drama The Promise was shot in Haifa. That by the way was a British TV mini-series that was not only viciously anti-Zionist but in which Jewish characters were without exception either overtly unlikable or ultimately untrustworthy. The non-Jewish characters, through whose eyes Israel’s story was told, were repeatedly let down, manipulated, or betrayed by every single Jew they came across.

These are the luminaries leading the cultural boycott against Israel.

The website of the campaign is also particularly revealing. Most bizarre is the section in which the campaigners insist that they will not be censored. What is boycotting Israeli arts if not censorship? Indeed, the activists pledge their solidarity with London’s Tricycle Theatre, which last year announced that as part of an Israel boycott it would no longer host the Jewish Film Festival. So the last thing that these people can claim is principled opposition to censorship.

Then there is the part of the website that advises artists on how they should implement their boycott in practice. Tellingly, artists are assured that they should not let the boycott prohibit them from collaborating with Palestinian artists and organizations. When it comes to Israelis, however, it seems that exceptions might only be considered for those who support the Palestinian cause. So once again we see the boycott working along ethnic lines. No investigation into the politics of Palestinian artists, but when it comes to Jewish Israelis, they must pledge allegiance to the cause before being redeemed of the crime of being born an Israeli Jew.

The one glimmer of hope in all of this is that there does seem to be an increasing recognition of just what a dangerous turn BDS represents. On the whole senior British politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron, have stressed their opposition to boycotts. But it was particularly noteworthy that the Times of London ran an editorial on the Copenhagen attacks and rising anti-Semitism that stated plainly, “The egregious campaigns for a cultural boycott of Israel are stoking ugly, atavistic movements in Europe. These need to be confronted by civilised opinion.” More remarkable still was that even the Guardian (a paper usually transfixed by the business of attacking Israel) printed a whole series of letters condemning the boycotts under the heading “Peace Not Promoted by an Israel Boycott.”

One senses that Britain’s liberal establishment is suddenly catching itself and pulling back at the last moment from the precipice. They have seen Paris, they have seen Copenhagen, they have seen anti-Semitism go off the chart from Brussels to Malmo. They have seen where all of this is leading and are now reconsidering their own responsibilities.

Of course the British establishment can only be expected to correctly identify boycotts as a form of racial discrimination if the Jewish community is unequivocal on the subject. And it must indeed be the Jewish community, and not the boycotters, who determine what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic. As it happens, a survey on anti-Semitism released in January found that 84 percent of British Jews consider boycotts to be a form of intimidation. Laura Marks of the Board of Deputies (Anglo-Jewry’s primary representative body) has also stressed that such a cultural boycott of Israel is racist.

The anti-Israel artists-turned-activists insist they won’t be silenced. Very well. But then the rest of us cannot afford to stay silent either about the racism inherent in what these people are doing.

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UKIP’s Selective Democracy and the Jews

A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

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A major reason for the skepticism regarding the future of European Jewry is that there appears no political solution on the horizon to the worsening climate of anti-Semitism. The belief among many is that while it’s beyond dispute that the European left has failed the Jews, the European far right would fail them too if given the chance. And now UKIP, Britain’s ascendant right-wing populists, are proving the point.

UKIP (the UK Independence Party) is actually far more moderate than its reputation would suggest. And unlike in France, it’s conceivable that an anti-EU party in Britain could pull the UK away from the union. That’s because Britain isn’t in the union with both feet. And it’s also because mainstream parties like the Conservatives have a strong and eloquent faction of Euroskeptics among them.

UKIP, in other words, gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, they’re starting to live up to it.

What’s concerning about the rise of the French far right is that a militant anti-Muslim posture, aside from being animated by discriminatory ideas, will do no good for non-Muslims either. You can’t have religious freedom for only some of your citizens and still be free.

UKIP is demonstrating this with its new anti-halal campaign.

The latest controversy started with the revelations that hidden cameras in a halal slaughterhouse had captured “horrifying” abuse of the animals before and during the slaughter. Muslims have been fighting against the government’s preference that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, and this appears to have turned public opinion back against them.

UKIP responded by calling for a ban on any slaughter in which the animal isn’t stunned first, in essence simply removing the religious exemption. As other similar bans have shown, this would outlaw the kosher shechita process as well. UKIP’s attempt at reassurance to Britain’s Jewish Chronicle sounded as though a Tory plant had dressed as a UKIP minister and set about sabotaging the group’s standing:

A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes.

MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said: “We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.

“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”

But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.

“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.

“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”

Yes, we know what you mean. And that statement is a bumbling masterpiece.

First, the UKIP spokesman said that he was forced to go along with the outlawing of basic tenets of Judaism and Islam because they “are a democratic party.” I don’t know if he appreciated the irony of defending the proposal that the government stomp on individual rights in the name of democracy, but it’s not comforting.

His second part of the “defense” of the UKIP vote was more honest. The Jews are simply “collateral damage.” It’s possible he meant this in a positive way too, something like: You folks are usually the target of populist authoritarianism, so in a way you’ve graduated.

He might be comparing Britain to France here. Maybe UKIP thinks that because they’re not threatening violence, outlawing Jewish practice in this way is not the really bad kind of authoritarian nationalism. But in fact it’s not really fully accurate to say they’re not threatening violence, is it? After all, such laws are backed up by the force of the state, so we’re not talking about simply peer pressure here.

We’ve seen similar efforts in the U.S. get struck down by the courts, if they even get that far. For a while “anti-Sharia” laws were all the rage, but they often amounted to unconscionable infringements on religious liberty. (In one case an anti-Sharia law raised fears it would, as written, outlaw Jewish divorce.)

In Britain’s case, UKIP’s selective democracy works against the Jews twice over. Not only must Jews’ religious liberty be eroded because UKIP votes on its asinine schemes, but Jews are also not present in high enough numbers to make UKIP pay at the ballot box–or, at least, not in high enough numbers to stop a ritual slaughter ban from being a net-gain for UKIP:

Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.

He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.

“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.

“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.”

This is a perfect example of what a glorious document our Constitution, with its attendant amendments, is. Britain has a tradition of freedom and republicanism from which we get our own. But that tradition here was, wisely, codified and made explicit. UKIP’s members like to think of themselves as a party geared toward liberty. But it’s clear they don’t know the meaning of the word.

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Anti-Israel Feeling in Britain Reaching Dangerous Levels

Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

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Beyond Europe, the only country the British now dislike more than Israel is North Korea. That is the finding of a new survey by the foreign policy institute Chatham House. Even Iran is viewed more favorably than Israel. These findings come amidst a fraught debate over whether or not Britain is becoming more anti-Semitic. But because much of the British establishment and even significant sections of Britain’s Jewish community refuse to view anti-Israel feeling as synonymous with anti-Semitism, people are not taking this phenomenon nearly as seriously as they might one day wish they had.

In all, 35 percent said they viewed Israel unfavorably, as opposed to 33 percent who felt negatively toward Iran (down from 45 percent in the previous survey), 21 percent for Saudi Arabia, 9 percent for Egypt, and 2 percent for Indonesia. These other figures are an indication of just how warped attitudes toward the Jewish state have become.

What relation, if any, this has with rising anti-Semitism is now a fiercely debated subject. Indeed, there are plenty who dispute the premise that anti-Semitism even is rising in Britain. Something of the confusion was recently expressed by Michael Portillo—formerly a senior Conservative party figure—who told the BBC that while he thought anti-Semitism had diminished in Britain, Jews were still being identified with the policies of Israel. And Israel, Portillo noted, is becoming increasingly unpopular, something which he also stressed he didn’t believe to be justified. But there we have the contradiction. People hating Jews because of an unjustified loathing of Israel is the new anti-Semitism.

Besides, mounting evidence shows direct anti-Semitism is indeed on the rise. By the middle of 2014, British Jews had witnessed a 400 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents compared to the previous year. And then there are the opinion surveys. One carried out at the beginning of this year by the European Jewish Congress found that 15 percent of young Brits approved of the idea that Jews should be forced to carry special identification and that Jewish businesses should be marked. A similar number said they needed more evidence to be convinced the Holocaust had happened. Another survey, this one commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, found that half of British people agreed with at least one of several anti-Semitic statements put before them.

There has been some recognition of this problem by the government—which has stepped up policing in Jewish areas—as well as by the media, even while no shortage of Jewish voices loudly insist that what is plainly happening in fact isn’t. But there are also other voices who would blame the Jewish state for causing this growing hostility toward British Jews. On Holocaust Memorial Day (no less) Britain’s chief rabbi was asked three times by Sky News reporter Adam Boulton whether Israeli policy was contributing to anti-Semitism in the UK. It is lost on people like Boulton that in a previous era they would have been asking the rabbi if it was not Jewish dishonesty in business, or their disloyalty to the host nation, that was in fact contributing to anti-Semitism.

Today Britain seems to be full of people who in one breath insist they oppose anti-Semitism wholeheartedly, only to then demonize Israel mercilessly in the next. One wonders if in 1930s Germany it was possible to find people who maintained they didn’t wish to see Jews mistreated, but endorsed the Nuremburg Race Laws nonetheless. During this week’s House of Lords debate on Palestinian statehood the now infamous Baroness Jenny Tonge complained that “critics” of Israel such as herself are often labelled anti-Semitic. However, the baroness swiftly proceeded to make a number of anti-Semitic assertions in the very same speech. Not only did she claim that injustices against Palestinians “sowed the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism” so putting all of us at risk, but she also urged Jewish leaders to condemn Israel so as to spare their community from suffering the same hatred Israel now receives. And what if they don’t? What if they continue to support Israel? Is the implication then that they deserve everything they get?

The more of this discourse one listens to the more apparent it becomes that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have not only become inseparably tangled, but worse still the two are perpetuating one another. As a result, 45 percent of British Jews say they fear Jews don’t have a future in Britain. Among those who say they are considering leaving is the actress Maureen Lipmann, yet some in her own community have labelled her an alarmist. Indeed, Jewish talk show host Esther Rantzen and the Guardian writer David Conn have even suggested that British Jews are being ungrateful with all their talk of anti-Semitism and thoughts of leaving.

To be sure, Britain is not France. Not yet, at least. But to avoid that, those who care must start saying unequivocally that demonization of Israel is the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism in the world today. Furthermore, it is time to recognize that Israel advocacy in Britain and Europe has failed. The only thing left to be done is to stop apologizing for Israel defending herself and to instead put those doing the attacking under the spotlight. If exposed to the full horror of Israel’s Islamist enemies, there are still many fair-minded people in Britain who could be persuaded to see things differently.

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Will 2015 be the Year of the Second Falklands War?

In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

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In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

Fast forward more than three decades. British military strength is now at a nadir, lower than it has been in decades if not centuries relative to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Argentina is once again in a morass of its own making. The Argentine economy is again in the dumps; it defaulted on its loans last year for the second time in just 13 years, and the rich are fleeing the country.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has responded Hugo Chavez-style, by voicing outlandish plots that go from the ridiculous to the sublime. While Kirchner is term limited, there are ways around such legal obstacles when presidents put ego above the law. At the very least, Kirchner has been maneuvering to place her son in the presidency, continuing the family dynasty that started with Néstor Carlos Kirchner, her late husband, in 2003.

Through it all, the Argentine government has begun making noises again with regard to its claim that the Falkland Islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, should return to it by any means necessary. In 2013, rhetoric in Argentina again reached a fever pitch. During the 1982 crisis, the Reagan administration briefly considered neutrality before siding with its British allies. In 2015, Argentina would be right to question whether there is any such resolve in the White House. President Obama has used (or tried to use) the Argentine name for the islands. Kirchner has interpreted Obama’s about-face on Cuba as evidence that such a reversal could be in store for the Falklands. “If the Yankees took 53 years to say that Fidel Castro is right, how would they not sit down to discuss something that everyone is calling for,” she asked. Add to this the New York Times, which uses its space to sponsor debates about whether to accede or compromise with Argentina’s demands. Regardless, even if Obama were to give his firmest red line against Argentine military adventurism, it is doubtful anyone in Argentina or back in America would believe him.

Then, of course, there is also oil and gas. There has long been suspicion that the Falklands sat above and in the midst of tremendous oil and gas reserves. No longer is this simply suspicion. The decline in the price of oil makes Falkland energy less economical to exploit, but what goes down does rise up and a desperate Argentina might do anything.

Is it likely that Argentina will again play the aggressor? No, but then again most everyone agreed it unlikely that Argentina would invade the first time in 1982 or that Iraq would invade Kuwait in 1990, or that Russia would invade Ukraine in 2014. The point is that the British navy has never been weaker, the United States doesn’t have its ally’s back, and weakness invites aggression whereas populism often invites it. What once seemed impossible is now in the realm of the possibility.

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Don’t Like Anti-Semitism? Then Don’t Encourage It.

In Britain, prominent Jewish figures are expressing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in that country. Most recently the director of the BBC Danny Cohen has stated that he has never felt so uncomfortable being Jewish in Britain. He even went so far as to cast doubt on the long-term future of Anglo-Jewry. Similarly, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband—also Jewish—has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. The great irony here, however, is that both men are Jews heading organizations which, through their portrayal and policy on Israel, are laying the groundwork for yet more Jew-hatred.

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In Britain, prominent Jewish figures are expressing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in that country. Most recently the director of the BBC Danny Cohen has stated that he has never felt so uncomfortable being Jewish in Britain. He even went so far as to cast doubt on the long-term future of Anglo-Jewry. Similarly, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband—also Jewish—has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. The great irony here, however, is that both men are Jews heading organizations which, through their portrayal and policy on Israel, are laying the groundwork for yet more Jew-hatred.

The correlation between the demonization of Israel and attacks on Jews worldwide is hardly in doubt. The dramatic spike in anti-Semitic attacks throughout the diaspora that coincided with this summer’s Gaza war speaks for itself. That is not to suggest that Israeli policy is the underlying cause of anti-Semitism, but rather just as Church doctrine or Social Darwinism were ideologies used as a conduit for anti-Semitism, today anti-Zionism, with its depiction of events in Israel, takes the position as the primary outlet for anti-Semitism. And while both Danny Cohen and Ed Miliband are quite right to be concerned by the rising tide of Jew-hatred in Britain today, there is no escaping the fact that both the BBC and the Labor Party have played a role in stoking the kind of contempt for the Jewish state that leads directly to the increasingly common verbal and physical attacks on British Jews.

Danny Cohen only took over as head of BBC television in May 2013, and so can hardly be held responsible for the BBC’s long legacy of slanted reporting on Israel. And in fairness, Cohen has pledged to give prominence to programming about the Holocaust to mark the upcoming memorial day. Still, during the recent Gaza conflict there were several troubling moments at the BBC. One particularly memorable incident was news anchor Emily Maitlis’s grilling of Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. Maitlis—who is herself Jewish—hounded Regev on the point of a UN shelter that had been hit, possibly by Israel, possibly by Hamas. The implicit suggestion in Maitlis’s questioning was that Israel had the exact coordinates of the shelter, that Israel knew that it was full of women and children, that Israel had refused to permit an evacuation of those in the shelter, and that Israel had intentionally gone ahead and hit it anyway. Her accusatory questions became fiercest when she asserted: “But you said you were going to hit it, you hit it, you killed them! You knew there were children in that building!”

Meanwhile, under Ed Miliband Labor has veered toward being far more overtly hostile to the Jewish state. While it is true that this process has been taking place on the left of that party for some time, under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labor policy remained resolutely supportive of the Jewish state. Yet under Miliband, the son of Holocaust refugees, this has begun to change. Not only did Miliband condemn Israel’s war against Hamas this summer, but he publicly attacked Prime Minister Cameron’s refusal to join in with the chorus of condemnation, calling Cameron’s stance “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” Miliband further outraged Israel supporters when he recently attended the gala dinner for Labor Friends of Palestine—a group which reportedly backs anti-Israel boycotts.

More than anything else, what stood out was Miliband’s decision to whip the vote on Palestinian statehood, obliging all Labor parliamentarians to support unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood regardless of the security implications for Israel. During the debate for that vote, some of the most aggressively anti-Israel speeches came from the Labor benches. The Jewish Labor MP Gerald Kaufman, who has previously compared Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, denounced Israel for provoking the anti-Semitism that he claimed he wished to see an end of. Indeed, Kaufman quite preposterously claimed that Israel is damaging the image of Judaism. It seems not to occur to Mr. Kaufman that it might be his own very public misrepresentation of the Jewish state that could be contributing to anti-Semitism.

So many of the accusations thrown at Israel today echo far older incarnations of Jew-hatred. Once it was accusations of Jews murdering and kidnapping Christian children, and now the accusation is of Israelis imprisoning minors and bombing Palestinian children. Once it was said that the Jews poisoned wells and caused the crops to fail, now that waste water from settlements pollutes Palestinian fields and drinking water. Similarly, the prominent depiction of blood and Palestinian children in contemporary political cartoons about Israel mirrors so precisely the imagery found in medieval anti-Semitism. What was particularly remarkable about medieval anti-Semitism was that whether it was the show trials of the Talmud, the Spanish Inquisition, or the numerous blood libel cases, time and again the names of Jewish converts who had risen high in the Church establishment are found littering the history books on account of the unique role they played in putting anti-Jewish ideas into non-Jewish heads. Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun.

To be clear: when Miliband and Cohen decry the rise of anti-Semitism it is not in doubt that they are being sincere. But they are also being woefully naive if they fail to see the role the organizations they head have in stoking that same anti-Semitism.

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Jihadists Using Liberalism Against Itself

While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

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While the West’s enemies become ever more unrestrained in the barbaric nature of their attacks, Islamist militants are increasingly pursuing tactics aimed at limiting what the West can do in its own defense. As a recent case in Britain has demonstrated, jihadists and their supporters are more than happy to fabricate the most outlandish allegations in an often successful attempt to hinder the fight against them. This is the kind of thing that Israel has been having to deal with for decades, and at some point other Western states need to comprehend that they are all up against the same enemy, one which is willing to employ the same underhanded tactics against all of us.

In May 2004, British troops became embroiled in a three-hour gun battle with insurgents of the Mahdi Army at Al Amara, Iraq. Following the battle it was alleged that British soldiers tortured, executed, and then mutilated the bodies of twenty Iraqi detainees. These accusations have dragged on for a decade now and in response the UK government commissioned the al-Sweady Inquiry, an investigation which has cost the British taxpayer almost $49 million, with the accusers having been able to claim financial assistance from the British state to fund their case against it.

And what did the tribunal discover? The al-Sweady Inquiry has stated unequivocally that the allegations made against the British soldiers are “without foundation,” and that those making these accusations had given evidence that was “unprincipled in the extreme” and “wholly without regard for the truth.”

So after years of investigation, and tens of millions in public money spent (much of it having been used to assist those bringing claims against the British army), the soldiers have at long last had their names cleared while the jihadi militants have been exposed as liars. Hardly surprising; it’s simply delusional to imagine that those who are so unprincipled as to use terrorism to achieve their aims would suddenly become upstanding and honest witnesses once stood before a war-crimes investigation. What these people are, however, is mendacious and calculating, and regardless of what al-Sweady may have concluded, by using public money to advance these outrageous allegations the jihadists have won by hijacking the West’s liberalism and respect for the rule of law for their own advantage.

Quite apart from the tremendous financial cost that this investigation and many more like it have carried, the decade that these allegations circulated for have been an outstanding public-relations victory for the insurgents. The media–large parts of which were eager to see Western forces fail in Iraq and Afghanistan–were all too ready to believe the stories spun by the militants and to think the worst of our soldiers. By parroting these lies ad nauseam, the Western media assisted the militants in undermining public morale at home, eroding belief in the rightness of the cause we were fighting for and convincing many that intervention overseas is rarely a defensible or admirable undertaking. In Europe particularly, these tales provide the recruiting fodder that radicalizes young Muslims into believing that their host societies are evil and that they too must join the war against the West. If nothing else, the constant fear of these damaging war crimes allegations persuade Western governments and militaries to be still more restrained in the tactics that they feel able to use in the increasingly muted attempt to counter our enemies.

This of course is the war that Israel has been fighting for years, ever since its creation in fact. Most recently there have been feverish blood libels about the IDF harvesting Palestinian organs, of summary executions during the 2010 flotilla incident, and of a supposed massacre and mass graves in Jenin during the Second Intifada. With all of these accusations Israel is obliged to investigate the conduct of its military, and so it does. That was what was so outrageous about the UN’s Goldstone investigation and indeed the subsequent attempt to have a Goldstone II following the war in Gaza this summer. Such international inquiries are only supposed to be mandated where a state has failed to adequately investigate itself first–but in Israel’s case the international community simply steps in and puts on its own investigation regardless, usually with the conclusion having been written at the outset.

Israel, like Britain and America, does undertake costly and time-consuming investigations where there are allegations of war crimes. But as we have seen so many times before, within hours the international media will have beamed the most tarnishing accusations against Israel around the world several times over. Months later when investigators have established the allegations as baseless, no one is listening anymore and the damage is done.

The debacle of the al-Sweady Inquiry has naturally caused some outrage in Britain, and so one hopes that some lessons will have been learned. But if observers have been reminded that jihadists are readily prepared to use war crimes accusations as a second front in the war against the West, they should also recognize the same tactic when they see it being deployed against Israel. The problem is that while many of them may now realize that the Islamists their armies encounter are unreasonable fanatics, they are equally convinced that the Islamists Israel faces have a legitimate grievance and a just cause.

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Britain Faces ISIS on the Home Front

The British were reminded of just what a serious and determined aggressor Islamist terror in their country has once again become when reports surfaced earlier this month of a terror plot targeting the nation’s Remembrance Day ceremony. That plot also came with the possible intent to assassinate royal family members during the commemorations. Back in August the terror threat level had been raised from “substantial” to “severe” and now Britain’s Home Secretary has said that the terror threat there may be higher than it has ever been. As such a range of new anti-terror proposals are being put forward to help the situation. Yet ultimately, with much of the current threat stemming from the prospect of  jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria, this is a lesson in how ignoring conflicts overseas can have dangerous consequences for Western states at home.

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The British were reminded of just what a serious and determined aggressor Islamist terror in their country has once again become when reports surfaced earlier this month of a terror plot targeting the nation’s Remembrance Day ceremony. That plot also came with the possible intent to assassinate royal family members during the commemorations. Back in August the terror threat level had been raised from “substantial” to “severe” and now Britain’s Home Secretary has said that the terror threat there may be higher than it has ever been. As such a range of new anti-terror proposals are being put forward to help the situation. Yet ultimately, with much of the current threat stemming from the prospect of  jihadists returning from Iraq and Syria, this is a lesson in how ignoring conflicts overseas can have dangerous consequences for Western states at home.

The ongoing terror threat in Britain is certainly not something to be easily brushed aside. Since the 7/7 bombings on London’s subway system in 2005, Britain’s security and intelligence services have foiled some forty major terror plots. With the threat continuing to rise in light of the proliferation of ISIS and the significant number of Islamic extremists in Britain who identify with the cause of the Islamic State, it is understandable that the British are now seeking tougher legislation to combat the domestic terror threat.

Among the newly proposed measures are such provisions as an obligation on schools and universities to prevent radicalization by turning away extremist speakers. There would be new powers to confiscate the passports of those suspected of attempting to leave the country to join jihadist groups as well as the means to temporarily prevent the return of British citizens who have been fighting with terror groups. Furthermore, this legislation would make it illegal for insurance companies to cover the ransoms of those kidnapped by terrorists. There are also plans to increase online surveillance so as to better assist with the tracking of those accessing extremist material on the Internet.

Of course, some of these proposals will meet with considerable opposition from civil liberties groups and some in the Islamic community who have expressed concern that these measures are in some way singling out Muslims specifically. Liberal voices are already arguing for the adoption of a Danish model for deradicalization efforts. Such initiatives may eventually prove to have some long-term benefit, but clearly Britain today faces an immediate threat that has to be addressed.

Battening down the hatches like this should go some way in defending against Islamist attacks. But such measures and the kind of enhanced monitoring proposed can only go so far. As mentioned, the British authorities were able to act in time to arrest those planning attacks like the possible Remembrance Day plot, yet this strategy is by no means certain to succeed every time. Intelligence gathering was not enough in May of last year when two radicals known to the authorities beheaded a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street.

When the authorities raised the terror threat level in August it was with the threat from ISIS in mind–there are estimated to be between 500 and 2,000 British Islamists fighting with ISIS, many likely to attempt to return eventually, some having already done so. Similarly, when Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced this new anti-terror legislation she justified these laws as necessary by claiming that ISIS is now one of the greatest threats to the security of the United Kingdom. That may well be true, but if so why isn’t Britain doing more to combat ISIS in its entirety?

After all, even if Western countries like Britain can find a way to prevent ISIS-trained fighters from returning, it is clear that Islamic extremists who remain in the West are still being encouraged and inspired by the growth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The stronger ISIS becomes, the more territory it captures, the longer its war goes on for, and the more intense the fighting becomes, the more of a draw this group will have over those being radicalized in the West.

Defeating ISIS definitively is then logically a very necessary part of ensuring security at home. Yet Britain’s parliament decisively struck down proposals for military intervention in Syria, and while the UK continues to give some support to the limited U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, reservations about mission creep are likely to prevent any serious action. And so in doing little to seriously combat the proliferation of ISIS in the Middle East, Britain and other Western countries will continue to experience blowback at home and will be forced to implement increased firefighting legislation on the counter terror front.

Large parts of the British public were staunchly opposed to intervention in Iraq and that war is regularly referenced to advocate for a policy of disengagement and isolationism. But given how ISIS has grown out of the horrors of the Syrian civil war, something that the West couldn’t bring itself to intervene in even at the early stages when there was still the chance of a better outcome, it turns out that non-intervention has consequences too. The reality is that when it comes to security, tinkering with domestic terror legislation will only get you so far.

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The Fallout from Europe’s Failing Economy

The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

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The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

To see just how stark the problems are, one only has to look at the predicament of the eurozone’s two largest economies: France and Germany. Having grown by 0.7 percent in the first months of 2014, the German economy then shrank by 0.2 percent between April and June. German industrial output is down by 4 percent, exports are down 5.8 percent. And France too is in trouble. Since 2008 France’s economy has grown by just 0.3 percent and no great increase is predicted for the coming year. This is a poor performance from both economies when one looks across the channel to Britain where—free from the Euro and the constraints set by Brussels—economic growth is expected to stand at 3.2 percent by the end of the year. And while the eurozone struggles to shake off its stubborn unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, unemployment in the UK is currently at 6 percent.

The situation in France and Germany may be bad, but the eurozone harbors other horror stories. Most infamous of course is Greece. There the economy is burdened by a debt equivalent to 175 percent of GDP. Then there are countries such as Spain and Italy where youth unemployment languishes at 40 percent. In Portugal the situation is only a little better, although there at least the imposition of greater fiscal responsibility has seen a slight reduction in unemployment and some forecasts for better growth next year. There has been no such fiscal responsibility in France, however. In that country, where the state already accounts for 56 percent of GDP, high government spending is going to see France yet again flout EU regulations on the budget deficit.

The violent riots that rocked Athens in 2011 were only the most immediately visible consequence of the ongoing economic hardships afflicting many European societies. While Europe’s political class appears to have pursued a business-as-usual attitude, beneath the surface there have been the stirrings of extremist forces that will not tolerate the status quo for a great deal longer.

Concrete evidence of the kind of radical movements that are afoot came with the elections to Europe’s parliament last May. Parties vocally hostile to the entire European project topped the polls in several countries, but more alarming was the fact that a number of these parties espouse the kind of extreme views that once would have banished them from the realms of acceptability for most voters. In France Marine le Penn’s Front Nationale came in first place; this is a party that many believe is still be mired in its racist and neo-fascist past. Similarly, Austria’s right-wing Freedom party saw a doubling in the number of seats it won, whereas Spain and Portugal saw gains for the far left. And in Greece there was a rush to both ends of the political extremes, with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) winning first place and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn coming third, taking 10 percent of the vote and 3 of the 21 seats allotted to Greece in the European parliament.

The kind of sinister resentments with which these parties are associated were most overtly evidenced by the anti-Jewish riots witnessed in Paris over the summer. Not that the resurgence of European anti-Semitism can be explained away as a primarily economic phenomenon–the culture of hostility toward Israel has been brewing for some decades now. Yet it also seems quite conceivable that the conspiratorial messages pushed by those such as the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne will have an added resonance with a population that is experiencing the kind of deep frustrations that are now common among many young people in France.

Finally, if Europe’s economic situation does continue to worsen, and does so over a sustained period, this will inevitably begin to impact Europe’s influence on the world stage. Long unwilling to employ military intervention, European diplomats seem to believe that economic sanctions are their secret weapon. Sanctions were what Europe instinctively reached for during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And there have of course been increasing murmurings of Brussels setting Israel red lines which if crossed would incur sanctions. Yet European business has already been kicking back against the sanctions disrupting their trade with Iran as it is.

Should the eurozone economies continue to founder, then the constant recourse to sanctions may become an increasingly unpalatable option for Europe’s politicians. Besides, with stirrings of unrest and extremism at home, European statesmen may soon find they have their own more pressing concerns. Still, the temptation to find distractions and scapegoats will likely only increase if the European economies continue to stagnate.

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The Settlements Dodge

Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

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Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

As Horovitz points out, settlement building was referenced some 40 times during the Westminster debate. That is certainly testament to the extent to which this issue has been turned into the weapon of choice for those looking to pour scorn on Israel. Horovitz also gives examples of the kind of talk about settlements that he’s referring to. One Conservative MP, who began by professing his deep friendship for Israel, went on to say that the recent “annexation” by Israel of 950 acres of West Bank land had outraged him more than anything else in his entire political life. He explained that, given all his support for Israel in the past, this move had made him appear the fool. But the truth is, many people had been fooled by the way that this event was willfully misrepresented, first by the Israeli left, and then by the international media. For as Eugene Kontorovich pointed out here at the time, there had in reality been no annexation whatsoever. Israel had simply come to a factual administrative finding about the status of the land in question (much of it purchased by Jews before Israel’s founding), but the world was encouraged to imagine privately owned Palestinian property being appropriated for colonization.

This sense of alien colonization of Palestinian land sits at the core of what many feel about the settlements. That was certainly the notion promoted in the other statement referenced by Horovitz, this time from Labor’s Andy Slaughter. “Who can defend settlement building — the colonization of another country? We are talking about 600,000 Israeli settlers planted on Palestinian soil,” declared Slaughter. But this is pretty astounding stuff. Would Slaughter describe an Arab living in Israel as “planted on Jewish soil”? Indeed, he’d cause a minor crisis within British politics if he started describing Pakistani immigrants to Britain as colonizers “planted on English soil.” Presumably, Slaughter’s belief that the very soil of the West Bank is somehow intrinsically and exclusively Palestinian stems from his equally misguided view that the West Bank is a foreign country.

There is of course an argument for turning the West Bank into a Palestinian state one day, but like the misbelief that the green line holds some sacrosanct status under international law, it is hard to understand why the territory seized and occupied by Jordan for just 19 years represents the precise boundaries for any future Palestinian state. Besides, long before anyone starts trying to determine exactly which areas should constitute a Palestinian state, someone has to come up with a model for making the land-for-peace transaction workable. So far this exchange has proved catastrophic. Gaza is the most obvious example, although there are several others. But in Gaza the Israeli experience has been one of removing settlements and getting a security nightmare in return.

If British parliamentarians are going to make an issue of settlements, then they at least owe it to Israelis to explain what they think would happen to Israel’s security if it reversed its settlement policy and evacuated the West Bank just as it did Gaza. But then the prevailing narrative on this subject, as conveyed by the international media, is supplied by Israelis themselves. For years large parts of the Israeli establishment have dismissed the realities of Palestinian intransigence and convinced themselves that ending the conflict is within Israel’s grasp, if only it can rein in Netanyahu and the settlements. By ignoring the need for–and indeed lack of–genuine Palestinian moderation, these Israelis inhabit a far more comforting paradigm, in which Israel can solve everything just as soon as it chooses. So tenaciously do some cling to this view that we recently saw how the far-left Peace Now group was even willing to manufacture a mini diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Israel relations just as Netanyahu was about to meet with Obama, inducing the media and state department into condemnation of a new settlement announcement … that wasn’t a new settlement, and had actually already been announced months previously.

Writing about the Westminster vote, Jonathan Tobin questioned what kind of Palestinian state British lawmakers imagine they are supporting. This is where the popular narrative about settlements really becomes twisted. Any Palestinian state worthy of being brought into existence, and that could be trusted to live peacefully alongside Israel, would be capable of tolerating a Jewish minority, just as Israel safeguards its Arab minority. If that was the Palestinian state the world was aiming for then settlements would hardly present an obstacle. But if that’s not the state being aimed for, well then peacemakers face a far greater headache than settlements.

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UKIP and the Return of Popular Conservatism in Britain

Over the weekend Britain’s political class has been reverberating from the latest upsurge in support for the anti-European Union UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). In the early hours of Friday morning it became apparent that UKIP had just won its first member of parliament, while on Sunday the papers released a new poll claiming that UKIP now has the backing of 25 percent of voters. This apparent surge also comes in the wake of UKIP winning Britain’s European elections back in May. Nowhere is the shock being more acutely felt than in the Conservative party; for it has been Conservative MPs, Conservative party donors, and, most significantly, Conservative voters who have been defecting to UKIP. Yet now growing numbers of working-class Labor voters are also being converted. Not since Thatcher has this section of British society been galvanized by a right of center platform.

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Over the weekend Britain’s political class has been reverberating from the latest upsurge in support for the anti-European Union UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). In the early hours of Friday morning it became apparent that UKIP had just won its first member of parliament, while on Sunday the papers released a new poll claiming that UKIP now has the backing of 25 percent of voters. This apparent surge also comes in the wake of UKIP winning Britain’s European elections back in May. Nowhere is the shock being more acutely felt than in the Conservative party; for it has been Conservative MPs, Conservative party donors, and, most significantly, Conservative voters who have been defecting to UKIP. Yet now growing numbers of working-class Labor voters are also being converted. Not since Thatcher has this section of British society been galvanized by a right of center platform.

For some time now the UKIP-base has been characterized as a bunch of Shire Tories in exile. The average UKIP voter was pictured as some ruddy faced ex-colonel still ranting about the empire. Yet since the 2010 election, when UKIP received just 3 percent of the vote, the party has expanded significantly. Today UKIP’s strongest support comes from the Thames estuary region: once working-class areas of Kent and Essex that switched to the Conservatives for Mrs. Thatcher. It is here, in Rochester, that a Conservative MP recently abandoned his party and will seek reelection on a UKIP ticket in November. A little to the north in Essex is the by-no-means affluent coastal town of Clacton. There the Conservative MP Douglas Carswell also switched to UKIP and last week gave the party its first parliamentary seat.

In Clacton the transition from Tory to UKIP was dramatic. Carswell won 60 percent of the vote for his newly adopted party, whereas he had won 53 percent of the vote for the Conservatives back in 2010. But last week there was a second by-election taking place in England, and this one was in many ways far more significant than the result in Essex. In the Labor stronghold Heywood and Middleton–a northern district in Manchester–UKIP surged to second position with 38 percent of the vote, despite having received only 2.6 percent at the last election. Indeed, Labor managed to beat UKIP by just six hundred votes.

Plenty of excuses have been found for this result. Some have suggested that the Rotherham sex abuse scandal may have helped UKIP’s popularity in the North. Undoubtedly, many Labor supporters have been alienated by Ed Miliband’s woefully unpopular leadership and see Labor as still dominated by the liberal metropolitan elite that took over with Tony Blair. Similarly, many Conservative voters are turned off by their party elite and suspect David Cameron of not being truly committed to the party’s traditional core principles. But the ongoing attempt to frame UKIP as a mere party of protest isn’t convincing, for in reality UKIP is succeeding by speaking to a popular, and essentially conservative, public sentiment.

Yes, UKIP is first and foremost a party that opposes mass immigration and the undemocratic/big government EU that makes that mass immigration inescapable, but UKIP also taps into something far deeper. The party’s leader Nigel Farage, ever eager to be photographed in village pubs, pint in hand, is the self-styled politician of the common man. At the same time, his taste for dressing as if off for a hunting weekend on a country estate seems intentionally evocative of an older England. The phrase that Farage uses to sum up his party’s worldview is “patriotic capitalism” and he has been quite unabashed about claiming the mantle of being the heir to Thatcher for his party. With an emphasis on tax cuts for low earners and clamping down on welfare cheats, his party has immediate appeal for the aspirational working class and the small trader.

Much of UKIP is anathema to Britain’s political consensus. The party provoked a frenzy of gleeful outrage by being the only one to voice ambivalence about the introduction of same-sex marriage. Furthermore, Farage and others in UKIP have suggested that Britain’s nationalized health service would function better if run by businessmen, and several senior figures in the party openly refer to themselves as libertarian. Indeed, while UKIP backs expanding the country’s armed forces it is also decidedly isolationist and has opposed much of the Middle East intervention of recent years.

With UKIP’s support growing, figures on the right of the Conservative party such as Daniel Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg have been advocating the Tories make an electoral pact with UKIP. So far Cameron’s primary response has been to somewhat up the rhetoric on Europe and immigration and to warn conservative voters that if they vote UKIP then they risk splitting the center-right and helping Labor to power. The problem is, as seen in Heywood and Middleton where the Tories polled just over 3,000 votes, while Labor and UKIP both received over 11,000, UKIP now appears the party best able to challenge Labor in the North. Similarly, with the collapse in support for the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, who have their stronghold in the rural West Country, UKIP could become the primary challenger there too.

If the latest opinion poll putting UKIP on 25 percent is accurate, and depending on how that vote distributes itself, some are predicting UKIP could take over one hundred seats at the next election. UKIP appears to be good news for popular conservatism, but if Cameron won’t get serious about immigration, Europe, and intrusive government, then it could be bad news for the Conservative party.

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The UK Holds Together, but at What Cost?

Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

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Britain has averted further Balkanization. After a fraught referendum on Scottish independence, the preservation of the United Kingdom is undoubtedly a welcomed outcome, yet it is far from a happy one. Even with Scotland voting to remain in the union, the longer-term impact of this vote remains uncertain. There is no escaping the bad feelings and old ghosts that this referendum has roused. Nor has the way been cleared for a strengthening of the union. In what appeared to many like a fit of panic and desperation, Britain’s prime minister promised Scots that even in the event of a “no” vote he would still transfer yet more powers from Westminster to Hollyrood. The campaign against independence championed the slogan “better together,” but in reality Scots and everyone else in the United Kingdom look set to get still further apart.

The vote was always anticipated to be close. As it was 55 percent voted to stay and 45 percent chose secession. Whatever the outcome, there was either going to be a newly independent Scotland that was deeply divided against itself or, as is now the case, the preservation of a nation that many people in Scotland have made clear they don’t wish to be part of. That can’t go unnoticed, not least among the English. They perhaps can be forgiven for feeling somewhat disgruntled that considerable numbers of their compatriots wanted out; many with a passion. Accordingly, there were even signs of a contrarian splinter movement emerging—mostly among conservative pundits—who claimed to welcome a Scotland-free UK. They insisted that parting with so many Labor voters and economically depressed areas would only be cause for celebration.

The referendum also reminded the vast majority of citizens that they get a raw deal out of devolution, and that it’s only going to get rawer. Not only do Scots get their own separate government and parliament, but the representatives they send to Westminster are permitted to vote on laws even when they only pertain to England. And in addition to this double representation, Brits living elsewhere in the union must envy that their taxes go toward subsidizing free university education for all Scots, higher pensions, and higher levels of healthcare spending that they themselves don’t get to enjoy south of the border.

While a small clique of conservatives wanted to see the Scots go, far more will be furious that Cameron has promised to devolve yet more powers to Scotland in what looked like a rather unbecoming act of bribery. One can’t help but wonder if this whole problem might be eased by having a little less devolution, not more. After all, had devolution never been instituted at the end of the 1990s, it is hard to imagine that the appetite for independence ever would have grown nearly as strong as it is today.

There is no getting around the fact that having devolution to some parts of the United Kingdom but not others creates a rather topsy-turvy, and indeed unjust, constitutional reality. And although the British may claim to be proud of their uncodified and ever-evolving constitution, the current arrangement can hardly be regarded as satisfactory. In all probability devolution won’t be undone. Not only would many in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland resent handing back powers, but devolution necessitated the formation of several new political classes serving in the additional parliaments and civil services. And third rate as these regional elites no doubt are, they are in no rush to abdicate those well salaried positions. Indeed, during the recent push for independence, you could see them eying the prospect of ambassadorships the world over.

Perhaps eventually the English will demand a parliament of their own too and the UK will formerly embrace federalism. Some have speculated that Englishness has experienced a boost from the rampant petty nationalisms flourishing in Scotland and Wales. On the other hand, the British may just learn to live with this constitutional dissonance. They already have plenty; a farcically overcrowded House of Commons, a still unelected but now essentially powerless House of Lords, and a Monarch who presides over—and yet has no say over—a national church that most citizens don’t belong to or believe in. One wonders if even James Madison could untangle this little lot. But if Scotland is going to stay, then some solutions will need to be found, because right now there’s plenty of bad feeling, and few obvious ways in which to manage any of it.

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How the Left Pushed Scotland Toward Independence

At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

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At first the Scottish referendum was regarded as a bit of a joke. It was being called, if anything, to put the matter to bed. Yet in recent days the first polls have emerged suggesting that the number of Scots preparing to vote for secession may have just surpassed those wishing to remain in the union. This has caused a sudden sense of panic in Westminster. Some have already called on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign, or at least call an election, should Scotland vote to exit the United Kingdom. Even Henry Kissinger has weighed in and voiced his opposition to Britain “getting any smaller.” But the truth is that, very suddenly, the UK looks dangerously close to splitting in two.

David Cameron insists that he is a staunch defender of the union. Yet, as many have pointed out, losing Scotland wouldn’t be all bad for someone of Cameron’s outlook. For one thing, no Scotland could well mean no more Labor governments for the foreseeable future. All of the close elections won by Labor would have gone to the Conservatives had the Scottish vote been discounted. Then there’s the fact that, when it comes to public services, Scotland takes out far more from the national budget than it contributes. Lastly, while Scotland is more pro-European than England, should Scotland leave, it is hard to imagine the remnants of the United Kingdom having the appetite for going it alone and leaving the EU as well, something which Cameron also opposes.

In many ways Scottish independence looks almost insane. Geographically, culturally, and politically Scotland is a big part of Britain. But in reality there are less than five and a half million people living there—the UK has far more Londoners than Scots. An independent Scotland would have to renegotiate countless international treaties, including membership of the European Union. Brussels has made clear that this would require Scotland to adopt the euro. Naturally, the Scots want no such thing. But the problem is Westminster is insisting that the continuation of fiscal union wouldn’t be an option. Economists and big business alike have warned Scotland that independence would be economically disastrous. Many corporations are threatening to move south of border. But even assuming the economy didn’t take a hit, Scotland faces a massive deficit regarding what it spends on public services and what it could realistically raise in tax revenues. Scottish nationalists claim they will plug the gap with profits from North Sea oil and gas, but it’s a fantasy to think that Scotland is going to survive as some kind of Gulf state on the North Atlantic.

Really, Scots have never had it so good. Since the end of the 1990s Scotland has been self-governing with its own parliament and government. This means that not only is England subsidizing Scottish public services, but Scots get twice as much political representation. Indeed, ever since devolution to Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster still vote on all British matters, but they have also been able to vote on laws only effecting England and Wales. Nor should they forget that Britain’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish.

Yet devolution actually appears to have exacerbated, and not calmed, the Scottish thirst for increasing autonomy. And to understand that thirst you have to go back to Tony Blair’s first government, when New Labor was in ascendancy. Because devolution, for both Scotland and Wales, was very much a policy of New Labor at its most radical. For many involved in that revolution, breaking the UK down into its component parts, paralleled with rapid integration into the EU, was supposed to achieve nothing less than the eradication of Britain as we’ve always known it. Of course, the kind of flag waving, Balkansesque micro-nationalism being encouraged in Scotland and Wales hardly looks in keeping with the progressive post-nationalism of the EU. Yet, in a sense, Scottish and Welsh nationalism was just another aspect of the identity politics championed as part of New Labor’s heady multiculturalism.

By the late 1990s, what you really didn’t want to be was British. Britain was Empire, militarism, backwardness, and bigotry. The first years of New Labor saw a wave of outlawing of traditional British customs. Fox hunting, children’s Punch and Judy puppet shows, and–in certain cities–even Christian imagery in Christmas decorations all went. On the other hand, there was nothing more coveted than having an “alternative” identity. Just as immigrant communities were encouraged to explore their heritage, so in Scotland and Wales, alongside the glistening new Parliament buildings, a cottage industry developed of books and television programs celebrating Scottish and Welsh history. Equally, there was a renewed emphasis on reviving Gaelic languages, particularly in schools.

No doubt there is a human need for identity and belonging. A sense of being part of something ancient enough to be beyond the merely mortal. The left in Britain has systematically eroded British identity and so it is hardly surprising that people have sought alternatives. British Muslims have become more Islamic, just as Scots have become more Scottish. Reacting with alarm, conservative writers and politicians have declared the antidote is for Britons to regain belief in the greatness of their country. The problem is they advocate this as if it is simply something that other people should believe, and more to the point, a generation has been raised to regard such attitudes as parochial and primitive.

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Will Hostage Bring Cameron into the War?

Refusing to pay ransoms to terrorists has the virtue of being both morally laudable and strategically expedient. However, governments that refuse to negotiate with terrorists are generally obliged to take some alternative course of action instead–such as to combat and defeat them. British Prime Minister David Cameron has employed some staunch rhetoric against ISIS’s advance, much of it far more rousing than that of President Obama, who generally sounds as if he is discussing a matter with all the urgency of mass transit whenever he is forced to speak on the subject. Still, Cameron is yet to join the United States in its airstrikes against the Islamists. And with a British hostage now apparently next in line on ISIS’s macabre list of beheadings, there is a renewed pressure for Cameron to match his strong words with some equally strong actions.

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Refusing to pay ransoms to terrorists has the virtue of being both morally laudable and strategically expedient. However, governments that refuse to negotiate with terrorists are generally obliged to take some alternative course of action instead–such as to combat and defeat them. British Prime Minister David Cameron has employed some staunch rhetoric against ISIS’s advance, much of it far more rousing than that of President Obama, who generally sounds as if he is discussing a matter with all the urgency of mass transit whenever he is forced to speak on the subject. Still, Cameron is yet to join the United States in its airstrikes against the Islamists. And with a British hostage now apparently next in line on ISIS’s macabre list of beheadings, there is a renewed pressure for Cameron to match his strong words with some equally strong actions.

There are of course those in Britain who would want to see Cameron pursue the same course of action as has been adopted by the countries of mainland Europe. French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Danish hostages were all held by militants in Iraq and Syria and are all now free after their ransoms were paid. But in surrendering to the terrorists’ demands Western governments are in a sense both funding terrorism and putting more of their citizens around the world at risk by incentivizing their kidnapping.

The French attitude to hostage taking makes the point pretty clearly. Despite the fact that the payment of ransoms for French hostages is generally undertaken through state owned companies rather than by the government directly–so as to permit French politicians to make the unconvincing claim that they are absolved from the whole sordid affair–the effect is still entirely the same. Indeed, it has been estimated that France has now paid over $57 million to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in return for the release of hostages. For their trouble France has succeeded in making its citizens the most desirable people in the world to kidnap and last year it is thought that more French nationals were taken hostage than those from any other country in the world.

Of course as well as funds, terrorists also often demand the release of prisoners. But by letting hardened terrorists go free, Western governments are essentially just returning combatants to the field and replenishing the ranks of terrorist groups. Furthermore, in countries where the most severe punishment on the books is imprisonment, the release of these prisoners renders terrorism a crime without penalty. During the 1970s the PLO and associated groups became particularly adept at using hostage taking for this very purpose. They knew that European countries were the weak link here and of the 204 terrorists convicted outside of the Middle East between 1968 and 1975, only three were still in prison by the end of that period.

So David Cameron’s refusal to follow his European counterparts down the ransom paying rabbit hole is indeed both sensible and admirable. Yet, if he is not going to free British hostages by negotiating with their captors then he must explain what he intends to do instead. Nor can he maintain the rhetoric of moral opprobrium against ISIS with any kind of credibility if he still refuses to take real action. If British government officials want to label ISIS as “evil” then that is fine–just so long as they know that doing so will quickly render their current policy morally indefensible.

Up until now, Britain has met the ISIS threat with what appears to have been a defense strategy devised by Quakers. A team is being put together to document ISIS war crimes so that these people might one day be put on trial, while the British air force recently took to the skies over mount Sinjar to drop bottles water to the sheltering Yazidis down below. Yet in the end it was only ever going to be the kind of airstrikes employed by the United States that would save the Yazidis from the ISIS militants seeking to perpetrate genocide against them. As it is, Obama’s strategy may well prove to be too little, too late. But as things stand, for all his tough talk, Cameron has only managed less than that.

With regard to freeing the British hostage, Cameron’s government now insists that all options are being considered. Yet under present circumstances a rescue operation looks unlikely. Cameron’s former secretary of defense, Liam Fox, has however very publicly called on Britain to join the U.S. in its airstrikes. There are the first tentative signs that the British government may be coming round to this idea. But for the moment, Cameron is stalling, talking about building a broad coalition, one which he insists must include non-Western nations as well–though with news about the existence of a British hostage now being made public, there are the first stirrings of popular pressure for “something to be done.”

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Stopping BDS’s Unlawful Intimidation

As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

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As the tactics of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel have steadily become ever more aggressive and unlawful, so those seeking to counter it must realize that legal action must be pursued. If the opponents of BDS thought that the struggle with the boycotters was going to be simply about winning the moral argument, they are increasingly being proven wrong. As recent events in the UK demonstrate, the boycott campaign is gradually abandoning the effort to dissuade the public from buying Israeli goods. Rather than form a mass movement, something that BDS has been failing to do, a small shock force of activists are increasingly employing the tactics of intimidation and obstruction to terrorize those businesses selling Israeli goods.

The shift in tactics on the part of BDS is partially a sign of desperation. Not only has this campaign failed to win any real public backing, but even in those countries where the effort has been underway for some time now—such as Britain—business with Israel has continued to increase. Not only did the first part of 2014 see a 6.5 percent increase in trade between the two countries, but the import of Israeli goods into Britain has grown even more dramatically.

Nevertheless, as the boycott campaign continues to fail in its efforts to impact Israel’s overseas trade, its tactics have become gradually more aggressive. Attempts at persuasion are giving way to a strategy of sustained intimidation. Regardless of what one thinks of their cause, or whether boycotts are really an effective method for encouraging positive political change, anyone is free to try and persuade consumers not to purchase products made by specific companies if they so wish. That kind of action may at least be more defensible than the boycotts of academics and the arts that have been a more common target of the BDS war on all things Israeli.

Yet BDSers are not limiting themselves to simply advocating the boycott of Israeli products. Rather, just as they repeatedly disrupted performances by the Habima theater group and the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, they are applying the same mob behavior to their efforts to shut down stores selling Israeli goods. And disturbingly this tactic has been proving far more effective.

One of the first casualties of this brutish strategy was the Ahava cosmetics store in London’s trendy Covent Garden neighborhood. That store was subjected to relentless picketing and regular efforts by the protesters to storm the premises. A policeman was posted on the door, but this hardly did much to draw in customers. Despite this the Ahava store closed its doors not on account of having been forced out business, but rather complaints from other local boutiques regarding the constant noisy protests persuaded the owner of the building not to renew Ahava’s tenancy. The boycott had failed, but mob rule had won in the end.

It was these same tactics that, after two years of aggressive demonstrations, caused the Brighton based store Ecostream (which sold SodaStream products) to move out this year. Similarly, the prominent British department store John Lewis pulled SodaStream products from its shelves after being subjected to multiple stormings by protesters.

Now this war of attrition is being turned against Britain’s major supermarket chains, and shockingly a member of Parliament even boasted of her role in BDS’s unlawful tactics. Speaking at a recent rowdy anti-Israel rally, Shabana Mahmood delighted her audience by regaling them with an account of how she and some other BDS bullies had taken over the Sainsbury’s supermarket in central Birmingham, managing “to close down that store for five hours at peak time on a Saturday.” Apparently fearing a dose of the same BDS activism, the Sainsbury in London’s Holborn stripped its shelves of all kosher goods. Yes you read that correctly, not all Israeli goods, but rather it was the kosher section that was cleared. And on further inspection it turned out the store’s management may not have done this as a precaution against the protestors, but rather as an act of solidarity with them. For when a customer inquired about the fate of the kosher items he was informed by a staff member, “we support Free Gaza.”

Amidst all of this there has been one ray of hope. Kedem, An Israeli cosmetics store in Manchester has been targeted by daily protests. Worse still, staff members have received death threats, while one demonstrator was filmed outside the store voicing his love for Hitler. But now the police have finally stepped in and ruled that the BDSers have “exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act” and as such will be obliged to hold their demonstrations at a greater distance from the store front.

Actions such as this may now be the only way to confront a campaign group that has all but abandoned the legitimate channels of persuasion and is instead resorting to unlawful intimidation. Indeed, when MP Shabana Mahmood was assisting with the storming of a supermarket, did she not stop to question the legitimacy of a cause compelled to adopt such brute tactics for achieving its goals?

Supporters of Israel must realize that they can no longer beat BDS by the power of argument alone. The boycotters have stopped playing by the rules and the full force of the law must be brought down against them.

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Cultural BDS and the Tricycle Theater

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

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The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) has several branches. There’s the traditional commercial boycott, in which activists refuse to buy Israeli products (usually food) that they don’t need or really want, instead of, say, lifesaving medical equipment. There is the academic boycott, which enables anti-Israel fanatics to wall themselves off from intellectual diversity even more, ensuring their towering ignorance of world affairs survives unadulterated by stray molecules of logic and reason.

There is “Zionist BDS,” which holds that BDS is OK as long as you draw an arbitrary line to geographically separate the good Jews from the bad. And there is the cultural boycott, which is similar to the academic boycott but also commits the BDSer to a life of oafish groupthink in his enjoyment of entertainment and the arts. All have their own odious, hateful qualities. But there’s something about cultural BDS that really brings out the worst in the critics of the Jewish people. And the latest piece of evidence for that was brought to light last week when London’s Tricycle Theater said it wouldn’t host this year’s UK Jewish Film Festival.

Reaction has been fairly heated, and the Guardian has a response from the Jewish Film Festival’s chairman:

The Tricycle Theatres decision to give the UKJFF an ultimatum over a £1,400 grant it receives from the Israeli embassy has stirred debate around the UK and among film-makers after the theatre’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, asked organisers to forgo the money and use of the embassy logo on publicity material for the festival – due to take place in part at the Tricycle in November, as it has for seven years – so they could not be perceived as taking sides in an “emotional, passionate situation”. She later accused the film festival of politicising the dispute.

“It’s a matter of principle that we should not be told who we should take funding from. Every state gives cultural grants,” said [Stephen] Margolis, who dismissed Rubasingham’s offer to find alternative funding as a “publicity stunt”. “It was never about the money, it’s about the whole attitude towards the festival from the start,” he said. The dispute arose amid international protests over the Gaza conflict. There have been reports from Jewish organisations of rising levels of incidents of antisemitism. Demonstrators outside the Tricycle on Thursday evening, and on a Facebook protest page, have accused the Tricycle of feeding that rise.

Margolis makes the classic mistake of injecting logic into the debate:

“This has all taken on a life of its own,” said Margolis. “People have been offended and outraged by the Tricycle’s approach. Why do they feel they have the moral high ground? Everybody deplores what is going on in Gaza. They are a cinema for hire and we are often more criticised for showing leftwing films which are anti-Israeli government policy than the opposite. We’re known for a wide range of content, reflecting all sides. It was pointed out that one of our opening films was going to be a Palestinian story, and we had a Palestinian actor coming to attend the screening. The Israeli embassy itself has never made any comment about festival content and I’m sure there are some films they don’t like.”

If Rubasingham were making a rational decision, this might have real force. But the theater’s artistic director isn’t making a political argument about Israeli policy, and therefore the fact that the film festival would have a diverse array of views, including criticism of Israeli policy, has nothing to do with it.

The theater is merely stigmatizing and penalizing Britain’s Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. Unlike the Orwellian and deeply creepy “Zionist BDS,” the Tricycle Theater is not interested in dividing Jews between good and bad. If a Jew somewhere does something of which Rubasingham disapproves, Rubasingham holds all accountable or forces them to denounce and cut ties with their brethren. Communal guilt with a splash of Stalinist paranoia is, unfortunately, par for the course for BDSers.

There’s a larger point here, however. Art and popular culture happen to be particularly poisonous avenues to politicize precisely because they are so good at bridging gaps. The fact that political opponents watch the same films and read the same books, more or less, injects a dose of compassion and empathy into even the most contentious of issues.

But art is also easily politicized, and it can be far more dispiriting when art fails to bridge gaps than when politicians fail. (Sayed Kashua’s announcement that he’s leaving Israel permanently comes to mind.) Art failing is one thing, however. Art being forced to fail by theater directors looking for an excuse to ostracize the Jews of Britain is quite another. Margolis, the Jewish festival chairman, is stunned to find that the film festival’s diversity of opinion doesn’t save it from Rubasingham’s discrimination. But actually, that diversity is probably a major source of her disapproval.

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In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow …

An extraordinary sight is building in the drained moat that surrounds the Tower of London, a sea of ceramic poppies as a memorial to those who fought and died for Britain in World War I. The war began a hundred years ago this week and lasted for four long, agonizing years, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. By that time, no fewer than 888,246 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines had given their lives for king and country. A whole generation of young men had been wiped out. By Armistice Day this year, there will be a poppy for each and every one of them, filling the sixteen acres of the moat.

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An extraordinary sight is building in the drained moat that surrounds the Tower of London, a sea of ceramic poppies as a memorial to those who fought and died for Britain in World War I. The war began a hundred years ago this week and lasted for four long, agonizing years, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. By that time, no fewer than 888,246 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines had given their lives for king and country. A whole generation of young men had been wiped out. By Armistice Day this year, there will be a poppy for each and every one of them, filling the sixteen acres of the moat.

The poppy became the symbol of the war dead thanks to Colonel John McCrae’s magnificent poem, “In Flanders Fields,” perhaps the most famous work of literature ever written by a Canadian. McCrae, a doctor, was worn out by overwork in the hospitals that treated the wounded. In January, 1918, he contracted pneumonia and died. He, too, lies today in Flanders fields.

Although the war started a century ago, we still live deep in its shadow, for it was, in George Kennan’s phrase, “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century.” For the 75th anniversary of this country’s entrance into that war, I wrote an article for American Heritage magazine about the consequences of that war for Western civilization. Although written 22 years ago, I think it holds up well and I commend it to your attention.

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Europe Confronts its Anti-Israel Extremists

For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

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For the second weekend running European cities witnessed a surge of hateful, and in places violent, anti-Israel protests. With the temper of these gatherings becoming so alarmingly extreme, European governments may now be waking up to a problem that has been festering in parts of their societies for quite some time. Yet as they attempt to make sense of this growing source of public disorder, one wonders whether Europe’s political elites will reflect upon their own role in manufacturing this fiercely anti-Israel atmosphere.

Some of the most shocking scenes happened in Paris, where two synagogues came under attack, resulting in street fighting between anti-Israel activists and Jewish youths. In an effort to prevent a repeat of this mayhem the authorities took the unprecedented decision of prohibiting any pro-Palestinian demonstrations planned for the following weekend. While such a move is certainly a measure of just how serious the French government is about combating this malady, it is equally a sign of how insurmountable a problem has become when a government is reduced to simply reaching for the “outlaw” option. It is indeed a concerning state of affairs for any democracy to be forced into taking such drastic action as the last resort for ensuring public safety.

Of course, in reality such moves are by their nature bound to backfire. They inevitably add to the existing sense of outrage and convince others that there is a conspiracy seeking to silence dissenters. As a result the events in Paris this weekend were still more violent than those seen the week before. Rioters set fire to cars, looted Jewish-owned stores, and hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue, while violent clashes left a dozen police injured. Many of those involved in these disturbances came from France’s sizable Muslim minority, and so some might consider it understandable that these demonstrators should feel a deep sense of solidarity with Muslims suffering in Gaza. Yet their fellow Sunni Muslim brothers have been cut down in vastly greater numbers, and in far more brutal ways, by Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and by rival Shia insurgents in Iraq, both of course backed by Iran. It simply cannot be ignored that these events did not draw anything like the same reaction.

That observation holds true for those marching the streets of London. On Sunday, during a rally held in support of Israel, it was reported that a man had to receive treatment from paramedics after being assaulted by pro-Palestinian activists. Indeed, in recent weeks anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are said to have doubled. This is the inevitable fallout from the kind of incitement prevalent at the rallies being held for Gaza. At Saturday’s the crowed was thick with placards that bore the Star of David alongside the swastika, that referred to the “Holocaust” in Gaza, and that carried such messages as: “well done Israel, Hitler would be proud.” The crowd enthusiastically chanted what has now become the movement’s favorite rallying cry: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the total extinction of the State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

With an estimated 15,000 attendees, the numbers were significantly reduced from the turnouts seen in London during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead. As several commentators have now observed, the demographic at these marches has shifted to being predominantly Muslim, many conservatively dressed, with a sprinkling of the far-left and the high minded thrown in. And the atmosphere seemed uglier than ever before. There were scuffles with the police, the Israeli embassy had to be barricaded, and organizers and guest speakers whipped the crowed into a frenzy by bellowing down the microphone about Israel being an illegal/racist/apartheid/terror state. Still, none of this was quite as distasteful as the stunt pulled at another rally held in London earlier in the week, when protesters brought along children smeared with red paint–a modern-day blood libel if ever there was one.

All of this was just a few notches down from events in Paris and could quickly escalate to comparable levels of anarchy. But the truth is that both the British and French governments have fostered the attitudes that breed such extreme outbursts. The French government has been at the forefront of European efforts to single out Israel’s settlement policy as a uniquely unspeakable crime, and likewise the British government has upheld the narrative that it is Israel’s settlement policy that has sabotaged peace efforts. And when the Commons came to debate the situation in Gaza earlier this week, most parliamentarians began by condemning Hamas rockets before swiftly justifying them as a kind of forgivable response to wicked Israel’s settlement building, a curious position given that the rockets are coming out of Gaza, from which all of Israel’s settlements were removed in 2005. But then this is the prevailing wisdom and indeed the line pushed by the BBC and Agence France-Presse, both state owned, of course.

European governments rightly pour scorn on the rising flames of anti-Semitism that are erupting out of the continent’s anti-Israel fringe, but at what point do these same politicians face up to their own role in fanning these flames and legitimizing the extreme views that give rise to them?

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Tory Rivalry Obscures Islamism Debate

In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

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In Britain, the storm surrounding the attempted Islamist takeover of several public schools continues to play out, but much of the debate is becoming willfully side-tracked. I wrote about the case itself on Monday; since the story initially broke, a number of other spin-off debates have emerged. Not least among them has been a particularly fraught war of accusations at the top of Britain’s governing Conservative party. This, as it turns out, has had as much to do with internal rivalries for the party leadership as it has with a fundamental disagreement over the handling of the matter itself. Then there have been attempts by the left to stoke a debate about Islamophobia and another about Britain’s state-funded parochial schools—a real red herring given that the problem here had nothing to do with faith schools and exclusively concerned events at secular public schools. The preference of many in the media for focusing on these secondary debates is perhaps itself an indication of just how poisonous confronting radical Islam can be in Britain.

That said, the embarrassing and all-too-public fight that has broken out among government ministers has brought to the surface significant factional rivalries as well as some key disputes regarding Britain’s strategy for dealing with Islamic extremism. The fight involves two particularly charismatic and powerful figures within David Cameron’s cabinet: Home Secretary Teresa May and Education Minister Michael Gove. It is widely speculated that May is positioning herself as a potential successor to Cameron, while Gove is understood to be more closely allied with the chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, who has been suggested as another potential candidate for the leadership, although in truth neither May nor Osborne is particularly liked by the British public. Still, they haven’t acquired quite the reputation that Michael Gove has. His proactive and radically conservative education reforms have seen him wildly demonized by teachers unions and a large part of the British press. Gove’s efforts to roll back the follies of “child-centered learning,” to drive up standards through a traditional curriculum, and his latest policy advocating that “British values” be taught in school have won him admiration with a conservative hardcore, while provoking fierce criticism from many other quarters.

The latest dispute has erupted as both May and Gove’s offices sought to very publicly implicate one another for the failings that allowed hardline Muslims to seize control of the running of several schools in Birmingham. The criticism from Gove’s side appears to have been that the Home Office has been too focused on targeting terrorism at the expense of efforts to counter the culture of hardline Islam that breeds the terror threat in the first place. For her part, May accused the ministry of education of having failed to act upon warnings from 2010 that Islamist practices were being implemented in some of Birmingham’s state schools. Over the weekend the prime minister was forced to intervene, Gove was required to apologize, and May was obliged to fire one of her advisers.

It is unfortunate to see these two figures squabbling in this way. While May’s record is somewhat mixed, as home secretary she has shown a serious commitment to confronting both law and order issues and the threat from radical Islamic preachers, who she has gone to great lengths to have extradited where possible. Michael Gove is arguably even stauncher in his opposition to radical Islam. His 2006 book Celsius 7/7: How the West’s Policy of Appeasement Has Provoked Yet More Fundamentalist Terror and What Has to Be Done Now is one of the few serious intellectual defenses of the war on terror to have come out of Britain.

It is hard to imagine that this fight is nearly as significant as the Conservative party’s more fundamental split over Europe, or between Cameron’s “modernizing” faction and the social conservatives in the party. Yet in addition to the pages and pages given over to that story, much of the media has kicked the real issues into the long grass, concentrating instead on arguments about parochial schools and Islamophobia. While the BBC has continued to express skepticism about the authenticity of the so called “Trojan Horse” letter that first sparked this episode, the findings of the government investigation have at least done something to demonstrate that the initial concerns were warranted. Now, however, those who were always hostile to the notion of state-funded parochial schools are seeking to use this scandal as another opportunity to advocate for their abolition. And of course Jewish faith schools have been a common point of reference, despite how relatively few of Britain’s faith schools are affiliated with the Jewish community. Yet whether one favors parochial schools or not, that debate is irrelevant here. The issue at hand concerns secular public schools, and presumably this whole affair could have happened in a Britain in which faith schools never existed.

The preoccupation with internal Conservative party wrangling, with arguments about Islamophobia, and the campaign pieces for and against faith schools all demonstrate just how spooked many British journalists are by the prospect of having to grapple with the actual facts of this case. Only a very few have actively done so. It would be a very great mistake to shy away from having a hard-headed discussion about the influence of Islamism in British public life and civil society by instead becoming side-tracked with these secondary debates.

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Radical Islam Infiltrating UK Public Schools

While concerns about the growth of radical Islam have been with British society for some years now, few imagined that Islamists might ever attempt anything so bold as a takeover of parts of the public education system. Yet a government investigation overseen by a former counter-terror chief has revealed that this is precisely what has been happening at certain British schools. The report would seem to confirm allegations of an ambitious effort on the part of a set of hardliners who have been attempting to take over the administration of secular state schools in the city of Birmingham, Britain’s second city and home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

The matter first reached public attention back in March when an anonymous letter came to light stipulating how Britain’s state schools could be hijacked for the purpose of pushing Islamic values and teachings. As a result twenty-one schools in Birmingham were placed under investigation.

The reports that have emerged regarding the practices at several of the schools are truly shocking. Of most concern were the allegations that senior staff members had been openly promoting jihadists such as al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and that lectures by pro-al-Qaeda speakers were being advertised in the school bulletin. Additional allegations concerned reports of classes on “holy war” and of students receiving anti-American diatribes from the principle at one of the schools. While some attempted to brush aside these claims, the report by the government investigators has indeed now confirmed that several of the schools have been failing to protect their students from extremism and that in one instance an “extremist speaker sympathetic to al-Qaeda” did address the school.

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While concerns about the growth of radical Islam have been with British society for some years now, few imagined that Islamists might ever attempt anything so bold as a takeover of parts of the public education system. Yet a government investigation overseen by a former counter-terror chief has revealed that this is precisely what has been happening at certain British schools. The report would seem to confirm allegations of an ambitious effort on the part of a set of hardliners who have been attempting to take over the administration of secular state schools in the city of Birmingham, Britain’s second city and home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

The matter first reached public attention back in March when an anonymous letter came to light stipulating how Britain’s state schools could be hijacked for the purpose of pushing Islamic values and teachings. As a result twenty-one schools in Birmingham were placed under investigation.

The reports that have emerged regarding the practices at several of the schools are truly shocking. Of most concern were the allegations that senior staff members had been openly promoting jihadists such as al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and that lectures by pro-al-Qaeda speakers were being advertised in the school bulletin. Additional allegations concerned reports of classes on “holy war” and of students receiving anti-American diatribes from the principle at one of the schools. While some attempted to brush aside these claims, the report by the government investigators has indeed now confirmed that several of the schools have been failing to protect their students from extremism and that in one instance an “extremist speaker sympathetic to al-Qaeda” did address the school.

What was made most apparent by the findings of the investigation has less to do with jihad and more to do with the implementation of Sharia law and the promotion of radical Islam within these schools. In some instances this took the form of compulsory gender-segregated seating in the classroom; in others the study of the humanities and particularly art, music, and religions other than Islam were essentially erased from the curriculum. When it came to the matter of religious studies specifically, it was found that non-Muslim students were simply being left to teach themselves while the teachers were directing their time toward the majority of the students who were being taught about Islam. With regard to biology what was being presented in the classroom had been altered to fit a hardline Islamic teaching, regardless of the requirements of the exam syllabus. More disturbing still are the accounts from some staff members who reported to the investigators that children as young as six were being taught about such completely inappropriate subjects as “white prostitute” and “hell-fire,” while pupils were also being encouraged to join in with “anti-Christian chants.”

Naturally, this entire saga has put the British government under considerable pressure—not least because it has been claimed that the government had actually been informed about these practices as early as 2010—and this has led to a rather public and damaging row between the education secretary and the home secretary. It is true that in Britain the concern about the radicalization of young Muslims has been an ongoing one. Previously there had been the exposé of how Saudi-funded Islamic schools were also making use of Saudi textbooks and Wahhabi teachings along with the petrol dollars provided by the sheikhs. And in 2009 the then-Labor government came under fire when it emerged that the state was channeling taxpayer money to the education group the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, which was tied to the extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir (which the government simultaneously claimed it was trying to have outlawed). But never before have secular British state schools come under the direct influence of those seeking to promote hardline Islam.

This attempted takeover of public schools by Islamists can be seen as simply being the next logical step from their point of view. And if it is true that the alarm was sounded years ago and nothing was done, then that, too, would hardly be surprising. Even in the face of this latest affair, both the BBC and writers at the Guardian have expressed a strong degree of skepticism about these reports, just as some local community leaders and Muslim political figures have questioned the motives of those driving the investigation. Indeed, from the pages of the Guardian Salma Yaqoob—formerly the leader of George Galloway’s Respect Party and now a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque—even likened the investigation to McCarthyism.

For now it appears that the hardliners have been stopped in their tracks. But it is alarming that they managed to get as far as they did. It had always been pretty much assumed that undesirable things were likely being taught in the Sunday schools of certain backstreet Mosques, but who wanted to risk their political career amidst the backlash provoked by attempting to take on the vast network of Islamic faith schools? Yet the fact that state-run secular schools should have come under the influence of Islamists and their sympathizers is a worrying indication of the degree of confidence that this group feels today. Britain may have so far been relatively successful in countering the terror threat, but how exactly it intends to deal with the much deeper social issues surrounding ultra-conservative Islam and a rapidly growing Muslim population is a much more troubling question.     

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International Law Is Broken

The redundancy, not to mention the hypocrisy, of the international law regime is hardly any great secret. Just how broken the system has now become was evidenced in recent weeks by two particularly striking rulings. On Thursday Russia and China vetoed the fourth attempt at a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria’s referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Given Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own population, and the fact that the death toll in that country now stands at an estimated 162,000, it is unfathomable that a referral to the ICC hasn’t already been accomplished. Yet Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and as such can only be referred to the ICC via the Security Council.  

Britain, however, is signed up to the ICC. And, in a striking juxtaposition to the Syrian case, Britain now finds itself under investigation by the ICC for war crimes that the British army is accused of having committed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. This recent announcement puts the United Kingdom in the company of such rogue states as Libya, Colombia, and Afghanistan. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made the decision after a complaint lodged in January by the Berlin-based NGO the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. If Bensouda is not satisfied that Britain is sufficiently investigating the conduct of its own armed forces, then the ICC will move to carry out an investigation against the UK.

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The redundancy, not to mention the hypocrisy, of the international law regime is hardly any great secret. Just how broken the system has now become was evidenced in recent weeks by two particularly striking rulings. On Thursday Russia and China vetoed the fourth attempt at a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria’s referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Given Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own population, and the fact that the death toll in that country now stands at an estimated 162,000, it is unfathomable that a referral to the ICC hasn’t already been accomplished. Yet Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and as such can only be referred to the ICC via the Security Council.  

Britain, however, is signed up to the ICC. And, in a striking juxtaposition to the Syrian case, Britain now finds itself under investigation by the ICC for war crimes that the British army is accused of having committed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. This recent announcement puts the United Kingdom in the company of such rogue states as Libya, Colombia, and Afghanistan. The ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made the decision after a complaint lodged in January by the Berlin-based NGO the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. If Bensouda is not satisfied that Britain is sufficiently investigating the conduct of its own armed forces, then the ICC will move to carry out an investigation against the UK.

Writing for Gatestone last week, Colonel Richard Kemp noted that in previous years Britain has been silent in the face of the double standards and lawfare being waged against Israel at the UN. Kemp reminds us how, unlike America and five other European countries who voted against the Human Rights Council’s decision to endorse the Goldstone Report against Israel, Britain remained silent and simply abstained from voting at all on this matter. To this Kemp invokes the renowned words of German Pastor Martin Niemoeller: “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak for me.” Britain remained silent when the utterly duplicitous forces of international law came for the Jewish state, and now Britain finds itself next in line.

Some might be tempted to gloat at this turn of events–at the fact that, unlike Israel and America, the British blindly signed themselves over to the Rome Statute, and that the tables have been turned against the British who failed in their fundamental moral obligations to stand up for Israel against the tyrannies that populate the UN. Yet anyone who cares about the West and about the world’s democracies can’t find anything to be pleased about here. The actions of China and Russia at the Security Council are a stark reminder of the folly that sits at the heart of international law. That is the notion that countries—including those who have no respect for the rule of law within their own borders—will police one another fairly, and not exploit the international law system to advance their own national interests and those of their allies.

The gap between the Utopian delusions of those who constructed the international law regime and the sorry reality of international law in practice could not have been better demonstrated than by the events of the last two weeks. A genocidal regime in Syria now finds itself rendered virtually immune from prosecution while Britain, a country that not only upholds human rights but acted in Iraq to overthrow a human-rights abusing regime, is now being hauled before the scrutinizing eyes of the ICC.        

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