Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A real threat to Israel

I recently returned from my first visit to Israel in about two years. I could not help but be impressed by the scale and the extent of the public and private building work that is going on. My visit was limited to the centre of the country, from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, but I am told that what I saw was typical of other areas.

In the last ten years there has been a huge expansion in the country's transport infrastructure, with new suburban railway lines around Tel-Aviv, many hundreds of kilometres of new roads, with vast highway interchanges, and a major new passenger terminal at the principal national airport. New buildings have sprung up in the industrial zones around Tel-Aviv and its dormitory towns, and many of them bear the names and logos of international corporations, including household names in computing and high-tech. In city centres, high quality housing and luxury tower blocks are also prominent, alongside modern office buildings. There can be no doubt that this country is enjoying a wave of economic prosperity, and that it is part of the 21st century's global knowledge economy. As well as a few inevitable millionaires, many ordinary families are benefitting from the generally good salaries and benefits that knowledge workers command. This prosperity fuels more widespread economic growth, as consumer spending rises across the board. It all looks and sounds pretty good.

Take a step back from this rosy picture and a slightly different situation emerges. Critics of Israel frequently highlight the fact that the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are often badly treated by discriminatory practices. For example, this recent article in the Independent (2nd January 2008) looks at a particular road near Jerusalem which Israelis can travel on but from which Palestinians are banned.

But it is not just the Palestinians who are excluded from Israel's burgeoning prosperity. Non-Jewish Israeli citizens, who make up about 20% of the country's population, can be found working on building sites but miraculously disappear from view when the building work is finished. They do not shop in the malls, work in the offices or live in the apartments and houses they build. Arab Israelis do not enjoy the same potential for social mobility that is available to working class Jews in Israel, or to working class people in other countries.

Excluding the Arab minority from the benefits of development and prosperity means that existing social and ethnic divisions become more and more entrenched, and this is a real threat to Israel's stability, and its security. As Israel approaches the 60th anniversary of its independence, it needs to behave in a more mature way towards its minority population in order to overcome this threat. Israeli Arabs must be treated as equal citizens in all respects, and no longer excluded from the mainstream of political and economic life "for security reasons". Recognising the equality of Israeli Arabs will make it easier to recognise the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinians as well, and will make it easier to achieve a lasting and peaceful settlement.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's still not been abolished

Seven months later, I receive another email, this time not in English, with the same mistaken message about Holocaust education in the UK.

It's still not true. Snopes agrees with me.

PS If anyone is wondering why I haven't posted in the last few months. theres nothing to worry about. I've been a bit busy, that's all

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Holocaust education has NOT been abolished in the UK

An email I received earlier this week, said:

"Recently this week, all of the United Kingdom - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it "offended" the Moslem population which claims it never occurred."

This email was sent with the title "In Memoriam" and was sent to coincide with the annual Holocaust Memorial Day observed in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world. It was sent with a plea to "forward this to all your friends". Clearly someone thought that the abolition of holocaust education was a topic so important that it justified viral email propogation.

The claim that the UK has abolished holocaust education is utter rubbish. The UK has done no such thing.

This week (16/04/2007) The Historical Association published a report on the challenges and opportunities of "Teaching Emotive and Controversial History". The report acknowledged that some teachers found teaching certain topics difficult in certain situations, and that in some schools some topics were being avoided. But far from suggesting that the teaching of the Holocaust, or the history of Slavery, or the history of the Crusades, should be removed from the curriculum, the report recommended a proactive course of action to make it easier for teachers to teach these subjects: "The Government and key agencies, including QCA and Ofsted, [should] reinforce the importance of the teaching of emotive and controversial history".

Several other claims in the email are equally unjustified. To say that "the Moslem population" denies the holocaust is a gross generalisation, and it is dangerous because it reinforces anti-Islamic prejudice. People who claim to revere the memories of the victims of the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War should be the last ones to make grossly offensive and overtly racist remarks like this directed against any population group.

And of course, to say that Ireland is part of the United Kingdom is not true either, which should have given some readers a clue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Megan's Law" could set a precedent

The UK government has announced a trial of a version of "Megan's Law" in certain areas, and a children's charity has expressed fears that the experiment may put children at increased risk rather than protect them.

Sexual abuse of children by predatory adults is a particularly horrible crime, and "Megan's Law" is supposed to help families protect their children by letting them know if convicted sex offenders who have targeted children in the past are living in their neighbourhoods.

There's a lot wrong with this law on many levels. Someone who committed a terrible crime, was convicted, served a sentence - and hopefully received treatment and counselling for the psychological illness that caused them to offend - and has now been released. The police and probation services know who these people are and where they are living, and there are supposed to be checks in place to monitor their behaviour. And it's certainly within the realms of possibility that the offender has now recognised their own problem and doesn't want to offend again. He or she is endeavouring to rehabilitate themself. "Megan's law" doesn't allow them to do this, as it completely negates the idea of the possibility of rehabilitation. The attitude seems to be once an offender, always an offender. The next logical step would be to say that these people should never be released from jail, and I am sure some tabloid newspaper columnists would say just that.

The next problem is what the public is supposed to do with the information that a sex offender is living in their neighbourhood. Are they going to move house? Unlikely. Are they going to watch look after their children more carefully? Possibly. Are they going to start vigilante action against people they suspect? Quite probably, judging by past experience. And then everyone with "pead-" or something similar in their job title needs to be on their guard.

But the biggest problem is that "Megan's Law" sets a great precedent for future laws. There is no logical reason to apply the idea of "the public has a right to know" just to sex offenders. What about people convicted of drug peddling, or of dangerous driving? Many more children are in danger from these sorts of criminals than from sex offenders. And why stop there? The public surely wants to know if any convicted burglars live in their area, so they can protect their property with better locks and alarms. Or find someone convenient to beat up when their homes get robbed.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I hate to say I told you so

When I read about the arrest of Lord Levy earlier this week, I was reminded of a blog I'd read not long ago, which said that there was no problem with a link between honours and party fund-raising, but there was a serious problem with the link between honours and an unelected seat in the national legislature.

Actually, I didn't read that blog post. I wrote it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Honours and titles

Last week it was announced that the head of the National Health Service, Sir Nigel Crisp, was retiring early. Some people claimed he was being made the fall guy for recent NHS failures. His reward? A seat in the House of Lords.

Today, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson commented in his blog on the evidence that shows that every donor who has given the Labour Party a million pounds has received a knighthood or a peerage.

I have got no problem with distinguished people from the public service, the arts, sport, or industry, being granted honours in recognition of their various efforts. I don't even have a problem with the ruling party doling out honours to major donors.

What does bother me however, is that the most popular honour being given out isn't just a fancy medal or a posh prefix to your name, it's a piece of unelected and unaccountable political power, in the form of a seat in the House of Lords. This government removed most hereditary peers (most of whom were there because one of their ancestors had done some service to the crown in previous generations) from the Lords but has stopped short of any real reform. They seem to regard rewards for historical favours are a bad thing but consider that rewards for contemporary favours are fine and dandy. As a result, we still have a second chamber that is appointed and not elected, and therefore unaccountable, except to the person who made the appointment.

By all means give distinguished people, or even wealthy party supporters, a gong or a title, and send them off to the Palace to shake hands with the Queen. But for goodness' sake, isn't it time we stopped giving them a seat in Parliament?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The boundaries of free speech?

I have been pondering the question of whether there should be limits or boundaries to free speech. The thing that bothers me about an absolute right to free speech is the possibility of using free speech to abuse the rights and freedoms of a minority. Free speech can only exist in a free and open society, and I believe a free and open society has to be a society that believes in pluralism.

A pluralistic society agrees that everyone has the right to be different, and to express different opinions, and to do so without fear of reprisal against their person, their life or their liberty. Speech which tends to foment prejudice or incite violence against others is not free speech, but hate speech.

In a pluralistic society, people can insult and offend me as much as they like, and I can insult and offend them in return, or I can ignore them. But individuals and groups that tend to a non-pluralistic outlook on the world believe that they and they alone know the absolute truth, and that they and they alone have the right to speak, and to control everyone else. Wherever they come from on the political or religious spectrum, it's totalitarianism, and that is (or should be) alien to what is known as the "western democratic" model. Some of these groups claim that "free speech" gives them the right to promulgate their "hate speech". I would disagree.