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Fisk on Assad’s real worry (and it isn’t poor little Obama)

Posted: 19 Aug 2011


Obama roars. World trembles. If only.

Obama says Assad must “step aside”. Do we really think Damascus trembles? Or is going to? Indeed, the titan of the White House only dared to go this far after condemnation of Bashar al-Assad by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the EU and Uncle Tom Cobley and all (except, of course, Israel – another story). The terrible triplets – Cameron, Sarkozy and Merkel – did their mimicking act a few minutes later.

But truly, are new sanctions against Assad “and his cronies” – I enjoyed the “cronies” bit, a good old 1665 word as I’m sure Madame Clinton realised, although she was principally referring to Bashar’s businessman cousin Rami Makhlouf – anything more than the usual Obama hogwash? If “strong economic sanctions” mean a mere freeze on petroleum products of Syrian origin, the fact remains that Syria can scarcely produce enough oil for itself, let alone for export. A Swedish government agency recently concluded that Syria was largely unaffected by the world economic crisis – because it didn’t really have an economy.

Of course, in the fantasy of Damascus – where Bashar appears to live in the same “sea of quietness” in which the Egyptian writer Mohamed Heikel believes all dictators breathe – the world goes on as usual. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – another earth-trembler if ever there was one – no sooner demands an “immediate” end to “all military operations and mass arrests”, than dear old Bashar tells him that “military and police action” has stopped.

Well, blow me down, as the Syrian population must now be saying. So what were all those reports coming in yesterday from Syria, of widespread gunfire in Latakia, of troops looting private property in the city, of a man arrested in his hospital bed in Zabadani, of snipers still on the rooftops of government buildings in Deir el-Zour? Crimes against humanity? Needless to say, the Syrian government knows nothing about this.

The real fear for Bashar is not oil sanctions but banks – especially the £12bn in foreign reserves that existed in Syria’s Central Bank in February, a sum which is now being depleted by around £50m a week. In May, Syria’s foreign minister – the mighty (physically) Walid Moallem – asked Baghdad for cheap Iraqi oil. Nearly 10 per cent of Syria’s banking deposits disappeared in the first four months of 2011; £1.8bn was withdrawn, some of it ending up in Lebanese banks.

Murdoch press success; discuss Palestine and BDS and ignore occupation

Posted: 19 Aug 2011

Yet another skillful effort today in Murdoch’s Australian. It ain’t easy being so clueless on the Middle East but the paper strives for a moral blindspot and achieves an own goal:

What concerns many people about the Max Brenner campaign, apart from the shadow of history, is that it is directed against something that, although foreign owned, is a legitimate legal business in this country. That it is a chocolate shop only underlines the tenuous nature of claims that it bears some responsibility for Israel’s military and human rights policies in the occupied territories.

“In a democratic society anybody should be allowed to protest, but I find it really distasteful that a Jewish business is being targeted in this way,” Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes says. “If people are upset about the handling of the Middle East process then fine, but why don’t they protest outside the Israeli embassy and direct their protest to the Israeli state rather than a Jewish business? If people do not like the policies of the Australian government, I wouldn’t expect there to be a protest outside the RM Williams store.”

But Samah Sabawi, spokeswoman for the advocacy group Australians for Palestine, defends the targeting of Max Brenner because it makes a greater impact than traditional protests.

“Standing outside an embassy is not always the most effective form of protest,” she says. “We live in a democratic society and we have a choice of different types of campaigns.”

The Max Brenner campaign in Australia is part of the global campaign known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which seeks in part to boycott Israeli businesses as a means of pressuring Israel to improve its human rights record. The campaign in Australia involves a loose alliance of the radical Left, including greens, unions, socialists and Marxists, in addition to at least 14 separate pro-Palestinian groups.

Says Ted Lapkin, a conservative commentator and former employee of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council: “What is wrong with providing care packages to Israeli soldiers who are defending their country against terrorists?”

The BDS movement likens itself to the boycott movement against the apartheid South African regime in the 1970s and 80s.

Veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner and former Palestinian envoy in Australia Ali Kazak says that during the anti-apartheid struggle, boycotts on South African businesses were considered to be legitimate weapon of protest. “South African Airways and other businesses were targeted, so if it was OK for the apartheid regime, why not for Israel?” It’s a connection deeply offensive to many in Australia’s Jewish community.

“The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a struggle between two nations, not a struggle for equality within one nation,” the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s executive director Peter Wertheim says.

“Within Israel all citizens, including Jews, Arabs and Druze, have the same voting and legal rights . . . Jews and Arabs use the same public transport, eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same malls and play in the same sports teams.

“The BDS [Max Brenner] campaign in Australia is not really about economic pressure, it’s about demonising and vilifying Israel.”

Union leader Howes says: “If they [anti-Israeli protesters] are trying to equate the campaign against apartheid in South Africa with a campaign against a Jewish chocolate shop, they’ve got rocks in their head.”

Wertheim says the common link between the anti-Jewish Nazi boycotts in the 30s and the present Max Brenner campaign in Australia is that “both are based on the calculated orchestration of hate”.

It is the historical echoes of the Nazi era and the refusal of the protest groups to recognise this, that makes the Max Brenner campaign so abhorrent not only to the Jewish community but also to many in the wider community.

A news article in The Weekend Australian last week, which outlined the positions of each side of the debate, was attacked by one BDS supporter, anti-Israeli Jewish blogger Antony Loewenstein, as being typical of “a paper that loves the smell of bombed Muslims in the morning”.

The organisers of the Max Brenner campaign maintain that it is political, not racist.

“We stress that the BDS movement is an anti-racist movement that rejects all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia . . . they do not target any particular religious or ethnic group,” says the coalition of pro-Palestinian groups.

It takes effort to discuss Israel/Palestine and ignore the reason BDS is taking off around the world. Political hacks can whinge in Australia as much as they want – mostly people who have enjoyed the largesse of Zionist lobby hospitality in Israel itself – but nobody wants to talk about what Israel is doing in Palestine; suppressing dissent and crushing Palestinian self-determination.That’s why civil disobedience is vital and soaring globally.

But not to worry; a few media whores can enjoy a hot chocolate at a shop that backs Israeli soldiers complicit in war crimes in the occupied territories.

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