"no connection between having a gun and shooting someone and not having a gun and not shooting someone"

thank you letter to tony benn

I just wanted to drop you an email and thank you for changing my life.

You gave a talk in 1997/8 in Westminster Hall to a group of A-level economics students, alongside Kenneth Clarke (the current Lord Chancellor) and some other less glamorous speakers.

You spoke last. The others all stood up and repeated the standard economic pieties about growth and deregulation etc and, coming from a public school and a conservative (and Conservative) background, at the age of 17 I was a dyed-in-the-wool monetarist - very much on the libertarian right. As was pretty much everyone I knew, who taught me or who up til that point I had met.

Then you spoke and eloquently proceeded to contradict everything the others had said and talked about the history of the labour movement (the fight for the vote, for trade unions) and about a kind of politics that put people first, rather than simply being concerned with the Market and its demands, the price it inflicts on its victims and about class issues. I was barely aware at that point that there was even a debate. The facts appeared to be plain to me and since my milieu was intellectually and socially Thatcherite, I was quite shocked to hear these pieties questioned and in a manner that demanded further thinking, I could follow your reasoning and it was clear that what you were saying made sense - it made me question everything I had up to that point been raised to believe was simply the fact of the matter.

I was so astonished I sought you out as you left the stage - as did a small coterie of perhaps six or seven of us. You sat yourself down on in an alcove and filled your pipe (in those days of course one could still smoke inside!) as we youngsters surrounded you and questioned you. The other members of the group, apart from me, would probably have called themselves left wing and there focus was the fear that there was No Alternative (as Thatcher said 'There Is No Alternative') and that your kind of thinking was in retreat - what hope was there for the left was the theme.

I stood there and listened, fascinated as you pointed out that what seemed to us concrete, was in fact, in flux. The reality of American power and hegemony and the dominance of the market were, you pointed out, simply things that seemed concrete. You deftly explained how the world had looked in your grandfathers time and your fathers time - how the world had looked before the first world war and after, how the USSR had risen and fallen and that at any given point in history certain elements of society seemed to be concrete and unassailable facts and yet the reality was in constant flux. Political change was constant and that as we grew older we would appreciate this and understand that we were part of that reality and could participate in shaping it in a new and better way. The only mistake would be to accept defeat by failing to appreciate that change was the only certainty, the only constant, and that the world we would find ourselves in as old men would be a different world than the world as it was that day and that we had a responsibility to be involved in changing it as we saw fit, to have the courage not to to be disheartened to but to strive to make it better.

I never looked back. The impact that meeting had on me, the implications of there being all kinds of alternatives to be thought about explored and implemented, has never ever left me - "The land, the land, the land on which we stand, why should we be paupers with the ballot in our hand?" you said I recall.

I went on to learn more about economics, to study politics, economics and philosophy - from Smith to Marx and from Aristotle to Nietzsche and to undertake a journey that took me from classic bourgeoisie to to at least a critically thinking bourgeoisie! The bombshell of discovering Chomsky was something I would probably never had appreciated had it not been for that chance encounter. I realised that my drive for liberty put me in fact more on the libertarian left than right, because it was people I cared about and not metaphysical phantasies such as 'money' and the 'market' I have since heard you talk many times and it is always a joy to hear your wisdom, charm and enthusiasm ring out from your speaking or your writing - the constant challenge to "dare to be a Daniel".

So, please accept my gratitude and my best wishes for your continued health and work - long may it continue!

The valuable moments you have already shared with me will never be forgotten and the impact of what you said, as much as anything else the moral force, has shaped me.

jesus "jihad" christ

I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword
Matthew 10:34


phil woolas don't geddit

i got a reply today to a letter i wrote last august - only nine months late. and the reply basically says "since letter is so late, do you still want an answer"! woolas no longer minister so i sent it to him for him to reply to in a personal capacity, i'll post the response when i get it -

In The Guardian edition of 3rd August, I read, regarding comments made
by Immigration Minister Mr. Woolas;

"However, those who fail to integrate into "the British way of life" by
engaging in criminal or antisocial behaviour could face having points
deducted or other penalties. The paper says this includes
"circumstances where an active disregard for UK values is

The Home Office would not rule out the possibility that this would
include protesting at the return of British soldiers from Afghanistan
or Iraq.

Woolas said: "As a point of principle ... if you don't break the law
and you are a citizen, that's fine. But if someone is applying to be a
citizen to our country we do think that you should not only obey the
law but show you are committed to our country. This is what America
does, it is what France does it's what other countries do and we think
we should do the same."

Extract from -

I apologise for the length of the extract but I want you to be clear
about the matter at hand.

Mr. Woolas appears to be suggesting that utilising the lawful right of
protest is somehow unpatriotic and symptomatic of a lack of
"commit[ment] to our country".

Would you be kind enough to ask him if this is the case? And ask him
also to further clarify his remarks as he sees fit, in the light of my
further remarks?

Mr. Woolas does not, of course, have a monopoly on what he describes as
"UK values", anymore than you or I, or anyone else.

In these circumstances, our fellow citizens' right to protest is not,
and should not, be open to censure or punishment by anyone - and
particularly not by the Government; who might be thought responsible
for protecting our rights rather than eroding them by seeking to impose
a prejudicial view of what "commitment" to this country might entail.

If protesting illustrates such "disregard", does he therefore regard
the actions of the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes,
the Levellers and so on as a contradiction of our values?

I might add that I am not at all in sympathy with protests regarding
the return of British soldiers. This makes no difference to my view of
their right to protest and neither should it affect Mr. Woolas's.

I should be as quick to stand up for Mr. Woolas right to protest, were
anyone to attempt to deny it him, regardless of what I thought of the
substance of that protest.

It is a shame that he appears not to feel the same way about opinions
that differ from his own, illustrating to my mind an awkward
understanding of "UK values" - that or an attempt to re-interpret them.

I naturally agree with him as regards the criminal behaviour of
immigrants, it does not seem unreasonable this should count to their
detriment. I suspect it would not be lawful to suspend or remove
someone's asylum status in the event that their return would endanger
their lives however.

Yours sincerely,

finkelstein on gaza ships business

Giving North Korea a Run for its Money

Who is the madder state? Its getting hard to tell. Both seem desperate to bring the roof down on their heads through their own stupidity.

Below are two letters I have just written, one to the UK ambassador and one to my MP, en route to the FCO.

To my MP, for the attention of the Foreign Office/Police -


I attach a letter I have sent to HR Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador, this morning. I will also post the text of the letter below because I know some organisations are reluctant to open attachments because of concerns about viruses.

I will let you have sight of any reply I may receive.

I would ask you to raise with the appropriate government department (presumably the FCO, although it may be a police matter as regards any potential visits of senior Israeli officials to the UK, I will leave this later consideration to your discretion) the following matters.

1. Whether the UK regards Israel's actions yesterday as lawful and if so under which provision of international law.

2. If they are nor lawful, how the UK proposes to respond to Israel in light of an act that is being described elsewhere as 'piracy'.

3. To comment on the apparent incongruity of the UK having fought a war without explicit UN sanction (a war the then UNSG described as "illegal") to uphold UNSCR 660, using force on the grounds of UNSCR 678 whilst simultaneously tolerating Israel's breach of UNSCR 242 ("(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict") without any kind of sanction for more than 32 years.

I would suggest that a reasonable response to point 3 above and Israel's actions yesterday would be to immediately consider trade sanctions, suspending trade or favoured trade status with Israel, pending further discussions and investigations, and/or banning El Al flights from UK airspace, withdrawing our ambassador etc.

4. Are we to expect a continuation of the staggering FCO cowardice, the complete silence, a failure to condemn those atrocities which border on complicity with Israel's crimes,as happened during the Gaza conflict?

I do not use the words 'crimes' likely. I refer you to the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (aka the Goldstone Report) and such quotes as;

"1890. The Mission recognizes that some of those killed were combatants directly engaged
in hostilities against Israel, but many were not. The outcome and the modalities of the
operations indicate, in the Mission’s view, that they were only partially aimed at killing
leaders and members of Hamas, al-Qassam Brigades and other armed groups. They were
also to a large degree aimed at destroying or incapacitating civilian property and the
means of subsistence of the civilian population."


"1895. Whatever violations of international humanitarian and human rights law may have
been committed, the systematic and deliberate nature of the activities described in this
report leave the Mission in no doubt that responsibility lies in the first place with those who
designed, planned, ordered and oversaw the operations."

The reason I raise the Gaza War is because of Goldstone's conclusions viz

"1879. An analysis of the modalities and impact of the December-January military
operations also sets them, in the Mission’s view, in a continuum with a number of other
pre-existing Israeli policies with regard to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The
progressive isolation and separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, a policy that
began much earlier and which was consolidated in particular with the imposition of tight
closures, restrictions on movement and eventually the blockade, are among the most
apparent. Several measures adopted by Israel in the West Bank during and following the
military operations in Gaza also further deepen Israel’s control over the West Bank,
including East Jerusalem, and point to a convergence of objectives with the Gaza military
operations. Such measures include increased land expropriation, house demolitions,
demolition orders and permits to build homes in settlements, greater and more formalized
access and movement restrictions on Palestinians, new and stricter procedures for
residents of the Gaza Strip to change their residency to the West Bank. Systematic efforts
to hinder and control Palestinian self-determined democratic processes, not least through
the detention of elected political representatives and members of Government and the
punishment of the Gaza population for its perceived support for Hamas, culminated in the
attacks on government buildings during the Gaza offensive, most prominently the
Palestinian Legislative Council. The cumulative impact of these policies and actions make
prospects for political and economic integration between Gaza and the West Bank more

So, the Israeli approach, in Judge Goldsone's view and that of the UN, is part of a sustained and deliberate policy and therefore it is reasonable to understand yesterday's violence (an attack by Israeli commando's against civilians, who then killed a number of the civilians in "self defence" - one wonders who on God's earth is brave enough to attack a trained, highly armed commando with an iron bar? I have never encountered anyone so brave so the chances of the Israeli's encountering a boat load of such fearless types is prima facie implausible, I am sure you will agree) as part of this sustained and continuing policy.

I hope that the new team at the FCO will take a different approach to Israel and I look forward to hearing from you on these matters.

I would also like to take the opportunity to emphasise that there are two sides in this, and in any conflict, those sides are not Israelis and Palestinians, they are those who wish to work for war and those who wish to work for peace.

I hope that HMG is in the later camp!

Yours sincerely

To HE Ron Prosor -

Shalom Your Excellency

I have just listened with interest to your appearance on the Today programme on Radio 4.

You sound like a reasonable man and, although you are naturally duty bound to defend your country's actions whether right or wrong (which, in fairness, is what I would do were I in your shoes), you were even handed enough to comment that the operation yesterday did not go entirely as planned.

I would ask you politely to please identify what, if any, provision of international law, renders legal the operation you conducted yesterday? If you can or will not, presumably this means Israel acknowledges that its actions were illegal. Either these actions can be legally justified or they can't, therefore either they are legal or they are not.

Leaving aside the question of proportionality, it seems to me that the argument that invading Israeli commandos were defending themselves cannot hold water if there was no legal basis for their presence on the vessel in question.

I hosted a discussion at a festival last summer at which both Palestinians and Israelis were in attendance (participants in the Olive Tree scholarship program) to discuss their experiences and the possibilities for peace. I will never forgets the words of a former Israeli settler who told me "there are only two sides in this war, not Israeli or Palestinian, but simply those who work for peace and those who work for war." I agree with her entirely and count her as a friend.

It was a delight, and a testament to the success of the Olive Tree program scholarships, to see those Israelis and Palestinians in the program clearly have forged lasting friendships. The group also included Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians as well as North London Jews and the spirit throughout was one of laughter and fraternity - united by a spirit of forgiveness for the sins of our fathers and a collective desire for peace in the future, for ourselves and own children

I am afraid that yesterday's actions worked for war and not for peace and as such are reprehensible as well as regrettable.

As the UK approaches, finally, the release of Lord Savile's inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday', it is fresh in my countrymen's minds the obvious injustice of civilian deaths at the hands of soldiers. If I am honest, the very idea of attacking a highly trained soldier with an iron bar (which I do not deny happening, I simply do not know) seems highly implausible to me - certainly I would not attempt it!

I hope you will find the time to answer my question above regarding the legal basis of yesterday's operations.

I write simply because I am afraid an injustice has taken place and I am morally bound to take a stand against it, however minor. I write many letters to Her Majesty's Government, whose behaviour is frequently abhorrent. In fact, I think Israel probably gets a disproportionate amount of criticism, given the level of atrocities regularly committed by my own government and that of the US.

Of course there are any many, often worse, atrocities committed by really foul regimes, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran but I do not wish to put Israel, the UK and US in the same category as those countries. Therefore, I must accordingly demand a different standard of conduct, both legally and morally from these later states.

Yours sincerely