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Dr. Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. He is a contributing editor to CounterPunch and can be followed at @bkampmark.

Biden’s Bungles over Gaza

The main press stable was keen to see the scrappy benefits of the 31-hour visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden. On National Public Radio (NPR), Scott Neuman expressed the view that the “largely symbolic” visit did yield a few “concrete accomplishments” including an announcement of $100 million in Palestinian aid, convincing Israel to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza and persuade Egypt’s strongman president Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi to open up an access route via land into southern Gaza. If these were seen as achievements, one dare not look at the picture of bright success.

On an individual level, sharing the same stage with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was always going to be an awkward exercise. A figure reviled and loathed for attacking the judicial system in his own country, and one self-touted as “Mr Security”, things looked rather shoddy. Given that Israel’s own security was premised on a de facto encirclement and suffocation of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, and a virtual hibernation of talks about Palestinian sovereignty – the Israeli PM’s competence has been irreparably damaged.

To that, can be added the entire Israeli approach to Hamas, which was dubbed, in a research brief by the RAND Corporation from 2017 as “mowing the grass” – a less than grand strategy which accepted Israel’s “inability to permanently solve the problem and instead repeatedly targeting the leadership of Palestinian militant organizations to keep violence manageable.”

Biden was there to serve as prop and stay for a war that is moving into a phase of unceasing slaughter. Slipping into hopeless locker room argot, he whispered his view that the “other team” (to be clear, not Team Israel) had been responsible for the attack on the al-Ahli Arab Hospital that killed hundreds. This is from the same world leader who has made it a habit to use cue cards when conducting business. (That business is made particularly easier at press conferences, where Biden is seemingly receiving questions in advance from reporters.)

Things were also made that more interesting by a casual observation made at Ramstein Air Base en route back to Washington that, while he did not necessarily thumb Hamas as responsible for the intentional bombing of the hospital, “It’s that old thing: got to learn how to shoot straight.”

There was, however, a note of warning from the President, delivered while in Tel Aviv. Remarking on comparisons of the Hamas attacks on Israel as the country’s own version of 9/11, Biden accepted that, “Justice must be done. But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11 we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” Given that these mistakes involved a two-decade war in Afghanistan and a disastrous, destabilising invasion of Iraq that constituted a crime against peace while releasing the monster of sectarianism, the remark must surely win an award for understatement.

Biden’s Israel gambit also lends itself to the prospect for further mistakes. To take the position that Israel is essentially above reproach, certainly publicly, is to flirt with a power potentially engaged in acts of genocide. The line between rogue state and ennobled avenger becomes blurry.

While international law is exacting about the bar on what constitutes genocide (there can be no other inference, essentially, of an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group), statements made by Israeli officials, the chilling dehumanising rhetoric towards Palestinians, the collective punishment of the siege, and the evacuation orders of over a million Gaza residents do not auger well for the historical record.

That record is already bulking, aided by suggestions that the Gaza Strip we emptied. Calcalist, an Israeli business daily, was first to report on a plan from Israeli Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel to forcibly transfer Gazans into the Sinai Peninsula. Doing so would “yield positive and long-term strategic results”. While the paper cautions readers about the influence Gamliel exerts in the government, the idea of relocating and ensuring a “final settlement of the entire Gaza population,” is something the Misgav institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy finds entirely palatable.

In an emergency briefing paper published this month, expert lawyers of the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights asserted that there was a “plausible and credible case, based on factual evidence, that Israel is attempting to commit, if not actively committing, the crime of genocide in the occupied Palestinian territory, and specifically against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”

The authors also warned that the US “is not only failing to uphold its obligation to prevent the commission of genocide, but there is a plausible and credible case to be made that the United States’ actions to further the Israeli military operation, closure and campaign against the Palestinian population in Gaza, rise to the level of complicity in the crime under international law.”

These policies have all been subsumed under the elastic netting of “self-defence”, a term that solidly binds Israel and the United States to an expansive use of retaliatory force. It has assumed the standing of holy writ in US foreign policy, shielding Israel from its more exuberant uses of violence. On October 18, for instance, the US rejected a Brazil-sponsored resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause” as it, in the words of US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “made no mention of Israel’s right of self-defence.” Every nation of the world had “the inherent right to self-defence, as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter.” If so inherent, why expressly mention it?

On October 25, sharing the podium with his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the Rose Garden, Biden reiterated the position that Israel not only had the right but a “responsibility to respond to the slaughter of their people. And we will ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself against these terrorists. That’s a guarantee.”

Sophistically, he sought to separate Hamas from the Palestinian people, a chaff-from-wheat exercise that Israeli politicians and a number of security personnel have distinctly refused to do. “Hamas is hiding behind Palestinian civilians, and it’s despicable and, not surprisingly, cowardly as well.” The task for Israel, then, was positively Sisyphean: “to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect civilians.”

With such a gulf between rhetoric and reality, the world’s most powerful cue card reader also made sure he would partake in the finest traditions of the IDF public relations effort, disputing the casualty lists released by the Hamas-run health ministry. “I have no notion that Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war.” At a tag of over 7,000 dead and rising, that’s a considerable amount of expended innocence.


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The Day Guterres Became Relevant

The relevance given to a UN Secretary-General is often judged by the degree of controversy caused. In history, the most relevant are usually targeted. Dag Hammarskjöld, refusing to remain a mere bauble of international office, was almost certainly murdered over his intervention in the Congo civil war in 1961. The least relevant (who was that sweet little fella, Ban Ki-Moon?) have barely registered a note of dissent. The big powers like to know they can render such figures impotent, if not insignificant.

It was, for that reason, refreshing to see the current occupant of that post make the less than startling remark that the atrocious attacks of October 7 staged by Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Israeli soil could not be seen as standalone acts of individual, unprovoked outrage. António Guterres was careful to also note that there was “nothing” that could “justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians, or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.”

Guterres also noted that it was “important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.” The Palestinians had “been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished.”

While the attacks by Hamas could not be justified to address such grievances, they also could not be used as a pretext to “justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” Even war, he explained to his colleagues, had rules.

The Secretary-General also reiterated the principle of protecting civilians during armed conflict. This precluded using them as human shields and ordering “more than one million people to evacuate the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine, and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself.”

Such comments did not go down well with the Israeli Foreign Minister. Bullies of international relations are always easily slighted. And so it was that Eli Cohen would gasp and wonder which world the secretary-general was living in. “Definitely, this is not our world.”

The foreign minister made it fairly clear what sort of world that was. “I will not meet the UN Secretary-General. After the October 7th massacre, there is no place for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet.”

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, spoke in the voice of complacency outraged, going so far as to demand the resignation of Guterres. “A Secretary-General who does not understand that the murder of innocents can never be understood by any ‘background’ cannot be Secretary-General.” With a callow splutter, he suggested that the UN chief had “expressed an understanding for terrorism and murder.”

On army radio, Erdan also announced that Israel would be refusing “to issue visas to UN representatives. We have already refused a visa for the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths. The time has come to teach them a lesson.”

As ever, Erdan’s reasoning confused explication with justification, but in that world, the nuanced explanation huffs and puffs in tired resignation, leaving the murderous justification to take the front position.

The comments from Guterres also come in light of the perilous operational state of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The humanitarian agency has been starved of resources and will be forced to cease the provision of hospital care, largely occasioned by Israel’s blockade on fuel. “Current stocks are almost completely exhausted,” the agency states in its October 26 situation report, “forcing life-saving services to come to a halt. This includes the supply of piped water as well as fuel for the health sector, bakeries, and generators.” Staff have also suffered a horrendous: 39 have been killed since October 7.

As for the attacks on his own integrity, Guterres has been combative. “I am shocked by the misrepresentations by some of my statement … as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas. This is false. It was the opposite.”

The brainstorming session in the Netanyahu-IDF meetings must have been straightforward: de-historicise conflict, first and foremost; relegate Hamas to some equivalent monstrous organisation, in this case, ISIS; and then, just to make sure, use Nazism and the Holocaust as recyclable motifs.

Along the way, massive Palestinian casualties, many children (2,360 deaths over three weeks), can be excused by pointing the finger at Hamas, because it is not Israeli jets and weapons doing the killing but the policy of a terrorist organisation. And besides, Israel is, as Cohen insists, doing it for “the civilised world”.

The Israeli strategy here is to excuse the inexcusable: the collective, mass laceration of a people. In this, they simply perpetuate the tragic crimes that have been visited, not only upon the Jews, but upon any ethnicity or group in history. The Whig statesman Edmund Burke spoke about not knowing “the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people.” Unfortunately, in this conflict, that indictment was drawn up some time ago, and is being prosecuted with relentless ruthlessness.


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Cultural Cover-Up: The Sydney Opera House Turns 50

Commemorative occasions are often draped in fatty platitudes. Within such platitudes lie excuses and apologies. People are celebrated after the fact, not for their faults but for their virtues. It’s just the polite thing to do. At the time of their achievement, they were ridiculed, condemned, and flayed. Buildings are also remembered, not for the blemishes they caused or the arguments they ignited, but the fact that they were (the pun is irresistible) foundational. After the fact, they stand as glorious fragments of culture.

Much of this can be seen in the horrendously treacle-covered slurry about the Sydney Opera House, which was opened on October 20, 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. After 50 years, it is arguably the most internationally recognisable symbol of Australia, leaving aside its astonishing collection of natural wonders.

The current tributes never deviate from admiration verging on wince worthy worship. The ABC News Breakfast program diligently cobbled together a montage of events, performances and celebrations, with the edifice as star performer. No mention of controversy; not mention of the efforts to kill it off. For those versed in public relations, the following proved mandatory: The House functions as a multi-venue performing arts centre, hosting 1,500 performances each year receiving audiences of 1.2 million people. The site around the building is visited by almost eight times that many people, with 350,000 taking guided tours around it.

The administrative wonks have also made sure to court and flatter artists to add their ingredients to the commemorative cake. Nuance is not the name of the game here. “I adore the Opera House,” says Australian singer and composer Tim Minchin. Minchin can be relied upon to give us the sacerdotal worship befitting a son of the sunburnt land: “playing in and around this beautiful building”; doing so being “one of the great honours of my creative life” and, naturally, feeling “hugely flattered” when asked to write a celebratory piece for the five decade anniversary. He sees this edifice as a reminder to Australians “that our not-entirely-mythological ‘larrikin’ spirit is the same spirit that allows us to be bold and brave and not care too much what other people think.”

This is sad nonsense. It was brave to initially embark on the construction of a daring design, but there was little bravery in the construction phase of the Opera House, much of it marked by spite and exploitation. And as for the larrikin spirit, Minchin is only right in so far as the decision to commence the project had much to do with a premier who felt that the city needed an Opera House as much as his party needed a change of image. (The Australian Labor Party could be cultured too!) The rest was up to a daring, immutably haughty Dane, and every imaginable obstacle put in his path.

Architecturally, the building is seen as a modernist expressionist masterpiece, one that germinated in the mind of architect Jørn Utzon who worked, not without difficulty, alongside the engineering exploits of Ove Arup. In what can only be seen as a feat of unintended inspiration, the building was the result of Utzon’s winning design in 1957. His controversial, baffling genius led to the creation of a singular roof structure inspired by the peeling of an orange. In terms of construction, the sail, or wing-like structure, is constituted of precast concrete panels which are, in turn, bolstered by precast concrete ribs.

But genius, notably when it comes to architecture, only functions in a narrow range, frail before global assault, rival designers and accountants. It is viewed with abundant suspicion by the political and administrative mind, even more so by the budgetary minded. Utzon proved no exception. New South Wales Premier J.J. Cahill was bold enough to approve the project in 1958, but his death a year later, compounded by acrimony in the project itself, augured ill for the building. The Liberal government of Robert Askin, which came into office after 24 years of Labor rule, proved hostile, and the Minister for Public Works David Hughes had little time for Utzon’s insistence on maintaining complete control over the project.

Costs began mounting. Estimated at 3.5 million pounds in 1959, the budget had blown out to 13.7 million pounds by 1962. The NSW government began meddling in the construction phase, stating its own views on seating in the main hall. Philistine did battle with Renaissance Man. In July 1964, the observation was made in the publication Tharunka that the press, with the support of “political intrigue”, had achieved some success “in destroying the public image of the Opera House.”

Utzon would eventually throw in the towel with a heave of disgust, leaving the project, and country, after falling out with a plywood manufacturer who was retained to produce prototypes of the beams intended to support the ceilings and glass exterior walls. The decision was also helped, in no small measure, by the tart response to Utzon from Hughes when they met at the latter’s office on February 28, 1966. Seeking to be paid for outstanding fees regarding the stage machinery, Hughes cited a contrarian report from Arup. “You are always threatening to quit,” Hughes said dismissively. But quit, Utzon did.

Rage filled protests followed. In March 1966, a 1,000 strong protest, armed with a petition of 3,000 signatures backing Utzon’s reinstatement, took place. A sculptor went on hunger strike. All of it was in vain. The gold laying goose had fled. Hughes, left without the guide for the design (or so he claimed), could only tell the public that it was “the Government’s intention to complete the Opera House, ensuring that the spirit of the original conception is fulfilled.”

The mangling, readjustments and cuts began, a point made by a despairing critic Laurie Thomas in September 1968. Writing in The Australian, Thomas thought the small opera hall was passable, but the concert hall, “a disaster. It has the air of an extraordinarily fussy Town Hall. The ceiling is covered in knobs that can only be described as inverted teats.” Hughes, ever the apologist, put much of this down to Utzon’s own defective approach, a state of affairs challenged with some severity by the 1994 exhibition The Unseen Utzon. Even after almost three decades, the now knighted Davis would dismiss Utzon’s defenders such as architect Harry Seidler, his wife Penelope, along with Elias Duek-Cohen as partaking in an illusion. “I wanted [Utzon] to produce something. I would have loved him to do it.”

For just a taster of the spray that came during the construction, there is no better source than Keith Dunstan’s 1972 gem Knockers. The compiled comments are a delightful, acid corrective to the worshipful, after the fact responses that would follow the opening of the Opera House. Sir John Barbirolli remarked bitchily that it was, “A piece of Danish pastry.” Sydney architect Walter Bunning savaged the design, claiming it would “be a second-rate building when compared with the Lincoln Center Opera House being built in New York.” Tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano admitted to knowing little about Australia, but knew more than a thing or two about opera. “I think they are crazy to think opera can succeed in Sydney.”

When it comes to greatness in vision and pettiness in decision, the latter often wins out. The appreciation, and the appreciative, can only come later. Peter Hall duly stepped into Utzon’s shoes. Costs soared further by some $102 million (or A$1 billion in today’s terms). Only years later would the remarkable, though somewhat more wounded structure, assume the proportions of a fable.


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Rambo’s Pacific Peace Zone

There has always been something impressive, if slightly idiosyncratic, about political ideas emanating from Pacific states. In recent years, on the world’s largest body of water, the various island states seeing themselves as part of the Blue Pacific have tried to identify a set of principles by which to abide, forming an understanding of the environment that threatens to submerge them. Some sixteen states and territories in the Pacific became the second grouping to establish a nuclear free zone in 1985 via the Treaty of Rarotonga, first proposed by New Zealand at the South Pacific Forum meeting in Tonga in July 1975. Since then, climate change has taken centre stage.

Given that this vast aqueous area has again become an area of great power competition, it is time for the leaders, some cheeky, a number reckless, and all open to persuasion, to come to some arrangement to neutralise such competition even as they exploit it. Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji’s coup burnished Prime Minister, has put up his hand in this regard. As he put it in his October 17 address to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, “For us in the Blue Pacific, history may be calling, it might be our manifest destiny to carry banners for peace and speak out for harmony in our time and forever.”

This is daringly opportunistic, as it should be. Doing so means that bulky, cloddish powers such as the United States and China may be discouraged from going to war, one that would be incalculably ruinous across the Indo- and Asia-Pacific. Afterall, once the missiles start flying between Beijing and Washington, notions of a tranquil Blue Pacific can be filed in the cabinet of oblivion.

In the words of Rabuka, “Rivalry between the two most powerful nations, the US and China, looks to be intensifying.” The PM could only wonder, for instance, what would happen in instances where Chinese and Filipino ships confronted each other in the South China Sea. “Will this bring the US into an encounter with China?”

Concerns were also expressed about the deteriorating state of affairs regarding Taiwan. “Tensions over Taiwan are escalating with the potential for an armed face-off, or worse.” With this in mind, “Fiji’s position was clear. We are friendly with China and the US and do not want to be caught in the struggle between the superpowers.” The leaders in the Pacific, he warned, should not be made to choose sides.

With apostolic virtue, Rabuka suggested something of a different, middling formula: an “Ocean of Peace”. Such an idea was first aired in his September address to the United Nations General Assembly, where he urged “nations to come together” in tackling a whole set of crises, from great power competition to climate change.

This contemplated “Zone”, involving the major powers and Pacific Island states, would refrain “from actions that may jeopardise regional order and stability” and maintain “respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Such an arrangement might also have immediate, tangible benefits, such as the deployment of Fijian peacekeepers to Papua New Guinea to quell tribal conflict, or brokering peace talks between West Papua and Indonesia. “There would be a continued emphasis on the Pacific way of dialogue, diplomacy and consensus,” he explained. “Protection and conservation of the environment would be central – a positive element for more harmony and peace.”

Rabuka’s ideas on peace and order are bound to cause a snigger over the canteen meals in foreign affairs departments. This was a man not averse to leading his own disruptive actions in undermining the very things he now redemptively extols. The ABC’s eternally looking adolescent, Stephen Dziedzic, was mature enough to note the obvious fact that Rabuka, “once nicknamed ‘Rambo’ – illegally seized power in a 1987 military coup.” A gentle exoneration follows, as Rambo “has since publicly apologised for his actions, and won a tight election 10 months ago to take Fiji’s top job once again.”

On that score, Fiji’s leader has much to apologise for. His coup (technically two coups staged over a few months) ensured the overthrow of the elected government of Timoci Bavadra in May 1987. He then daringly deposed Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Fiji the following September, despite having been made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1981 for showing “imagination and innovation” in confronting and restraining the activities of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in Lebanon. (He had done so commanding the first battalion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment, which was serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.)

With such a resume, Rabuka tried to be penitent to his audience. He had “repented” and was “reborn. My past cannot be removed, but I can compensate to some extent for what I did.” Along the long road of political stuttering, he “became a convinced democrat … and now this democratic politician will do what he can to be an apostle of peace.”

Rabuka, like some of his Pacific nation colleagues, continues to be an irrepressible tease in dealings with Australia, China and the United States. “We are more comfortable dealing with traditional friends that have similar systems of government, that our democracies are the same brand of democracy, coming out of the Westminster system of parliament, and also based on British law that we inherited.”

Having previously shown a glorious contempt for that system, he is perfectly placed to cash in on his continuing relationship with Canberra and, by extension, Washington, while dancing with the emissaries of Beijing. And what better way to do that than through a solution that seeks preservation rather than suicidal annihilation?


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Fruitless Gestures: Victoria Bans the Nazi Salute

It took place with hardly any debate, though it interested some parliamentary members at the committee stage. The Australian state of Victoria now faces laws that will lock a person up for 12 months or punish individuals with fines of A$23,000 or above if they dare enact a gesture. That gesture is giving, with intent, the Nazi salute.

Victoria had already banned displays of the Nazi Hakenkreuz last December, imposing fines of approximately A$22,000 or a period of 12 months’ imprisonment for breaching the injunction. (That notably, had no effect whatsoever.) But vocal advocates such as Dr Dvir Abramovich of the Anti-Defamation Commission always wanted more. “To see the Hitler salute, it’s as threatening as being confronted with a gun,” he explained to Australia’s SBS network. “It is a weapon in my view. It is an unacceptable reality that in 2023, it is still legal.”

On August 29, the Victorian Premier’s office announced that, “The Nazi salute and other gestures and symbols used by the Nazi party will be banned in Victoria under new reforms to prevent hateful conduct and address the harm that it causes the community.” To aid that reformist claim, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes duly introduced the Summary Offences (Nazi Salute Prohibition) Bill 2023 into Parliament, intending “to send a clear message that Nazi ideology and the hatred it represents is not tolerated in Victoria.”

On August 30, the Minister for Police, Crime Prevention and Racing (such a comic combination is standard in Australian States), predictably tabled a “statement of compatibility” with the state’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). “Under the Charter, rights can be subject to limits that are reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. Rights may be limited in order to protect other rights.”

According to the Minister, Anthony Carbines, public displays or the “performance of Nazi gestures, particularly the Nazi salute, and other Nazi symbols impinges” the right of people to enjoy their human rights without discrimination. The minister specifically notes the threat to “the dignity and self-worth of groups that have been historically persecuted by the Nazi Party and targeted by neo-Nazi groups,” among them the Jewish community, LGBTIQ+ individuals and people with disability.

Across Australian territories and states, including New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia, such measures are being enacted, though with an initial focus on banning Nazi symbols.

Ultimately, laws explicitly punishing such conduct must be judged by their effect. Blanket bans are usually the sign that the account of ideas has been overdrawn, if not closed altogether. We are told that prohibiting such symbols, and the salute, is intended to stifle the “recruitment drive” for far-right groups. “To the often alienated and angry young men attracted to far-right ideologies, photos of groups of men making the Nazi salute offer a sense of a collective and belonging,” writes the anthropologically attuned Josh Roose.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), an agency prone to sketchy assessments at the best of times, is concerned about the lowest common denominator. “Extremist insignia [are] an effective propaganda tool because they are easy to remember and understand. They also can transcend language, cultural and ethnic divides; creating and distributing them is not limited to a select few or one cultural or language group.” The conclusion, it follows, is that a ban is good to keep the thickos in check.

If that is the purpose, that it can hardly be said to have worked in a number of jurisdictions keen to stomp out the twitch felt in the arms of some individuals. In Europe, where the Nazi salute is banned on pain of various grades of penalty (Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, for instance), nationalist movements can hardly be said to have felt awe and trepidation at such regulations.

While Victoria’s parliamentarians have acted out their somnambulistic rituals in passing this reactive legislation, aided, no doubt, by the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas War, a sprinkling of Australian commentary has been wise to failing of such prohibitions.

Lydia Khalil of the Lowy Institute says with crisp confidence that such bans do little to “decrease anti-Semitism, the hateful targeting of LGBTQ communities or counter right-wing and fascist extremists. If anything, it may make matters worse.” Case in point: the rise of right-wing extremism in Germany, with 2021 being a particularly notable year. In December 2022, Khalil reminds readers, German security forces “arrested more than two dozen people for an expansive plot to overthrow the state.” Those same security forces, ironically enough, are facing the threat of infiltration by neo-Nazi groups. So much for the laws against the salute.

Greg Barton, Chair of Global Islamic Politics at Deakin University, though more cautious than Khalil, is also wise to the fact that banning Nazi symbols might well “only serve to amplify the groups’ message and draw attention to their hateful cause.” Small organisations with minimal political clout and influence, such as the puny National Socialist Network, suddenly have something to talk about, if only because they are being spoken about. “Prosecuting them for symbolic action risks giving them the very thing they so desperately want: attention.” (Khalil also remarks on this same point: [I]f there’s anything that these neo-Nazi groups want, it’s a reaction.”)

The explanatory memorandum behind the Nazi Salute Prohibition bill does what so many such instruments do when a crisis is inflated and fattened by unimaginative politicians. Has Victoria seen thousands march and salute to the Horst Wessel Lied, rioting with hearty hatred? Hardly. But something must be seen to be done or, as the memorandum says, “The purpose of this amendment is to address the recent increase in the public display and performance of the Nazi salute in Victoria.” That way, the political representatives can always give the impression that something threatening and noxious is being dealt with, however large that threat is, while drawing attention to the seductive allure of doing so. That way, the problem is not solved but compounded.

In terms of symbolism and the state’s efforts to criminalise displays, the sharper tools in the box of extremist politics can always come up with another gesture, if not another symbol altogether. (Admittedly, many such characters lack imagination and would prefer to stick with the traditional staple of the salute and Hakenkreuz.) An example of such subversive responses is the use of the OK symbol in place of the salute. The normally banal can then be suffused with ideological potency, while baffling law enforcement. There will always be issues of difficulty, then, in discharging the burden of proof.

Evidently, Victoria’s authorities think they can afford to expend resources upon what would essentially be fatuous prosecutions, when existing criminal laws are already in place to achieve much the same purpose. And how fabulous it will be to see prosecutions stumble over what is accepted as satirical depiction and what is not. How the ghost of Charlie Chaplin and the working pen of Larry David must delight when such buffoonery manifests.

As for the parliamentarians themselves, having done and dusted the bill with speed verging on irresponsibility, they could then turn their minds to far worthier concerns: expressing outrage at the banning of Sprite the rescue dog from their place of work.


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A Losing Voice: The Fall of an Indigenous Referendum Measure

Even before October 14, The Voice, or, to describe in full, the Referendum on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, was in dire straits. Referenda proposals are rarely successful in Australia: prior to October 14, 44 referenda had been conducted since the creation of the Commonwealth in 1901. Only eight had passed.

On this occasion, the measure, which had been an article of faith for Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, hinged on whether an advisory body purportedly expert and informed on the interests and affairs of the First Nations Peoples would be constitutionally enshrined. The body was always intended as a modest power: to advise Parliament on policies and legislative instruments directly of concern to them. But details on who would make up such a body, nor how it could actually achieve such Olympian aims as abolishing indigence in remote indigenous communities or reducing the horrendous incarceration rate among its citizenry, were deemed inconsequential. The near cocky assumption of the Yes case was that the measure should pass, leaving Parliament to sort out the rest.

In the early evening, it became clear that the Yes vote was failing in every state, including Victoria, where campaigners felt almost complacently confident. But it was bound to, with Yes campaigners failing to convince undecided voters even as they rejoiced in preaching to their own faithful. The loss occurred largely because of two marshalled forces ideologically opposite yet united in purpose. They exploited a fundamental, and fatal contradiction in the proposal: the measure was advertised as “substantive” in terms of constitutional reform while simultaneously being conservative in giving Parliament a free hand.

From one side, the conservative “Australia as egalitarian” view took the position that creating a forum or chamber based on race would be repugnant to a country blissfully steeped in tolerance and colour-blindness. Much of that is nonsense, ignoring the British Empire’s thick historical links with race, eugenics and policies that, certainly in the Australian context, would have to be judged as genocidal. Even the current Australian Constitution retains what can only be called a race power: section 51(xxvi) which stipulates that Parliament may make laws regarding “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.”

Beneath the epidermis of such a view is also an assumption held by such Indigenous conservatives as Warren Mundine that there have been more than a fair share of “voices” and channels to scream through over several decades, be it through committees or such bodies as the disbanded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission. The plethora of these measures did not address inequality, did not improve health and educational outcomes directly, and merely served to create a managerial class of lobbyists and activists. To merely enshrine an advisory body in the Constitution would only serve to make such an entity harder to abolish in the event it failed to achieve its set purposes.

Campaigners for the Voice will shake their heads and chide those who voted against the measure as backward reprobates who fell for a gross disinformation campaign waged by No campaigners. They were the ones who, like worshippers having filled the church till, could go about morally soothed proclaiming they had done their duty for the indigenous and downtrodden. Given that the No vote was overwhelming (59%), the dis- and mis-information angle is a feeble one.

It is true to say that the No campaign was beset by a range of concerns, some of them ingenuous, some distinctly not. There was the concern that, while the advice from Voice members on government legislation and policy would be non-binding on Parliamentarians, this would still lead to court challenges that would tie up legislation. Or that this was merely the prelude to a broader tarnishing of the Australian brand of exceptionalism: first, comes the Voice, then the Treaty process, then the “truth telling” to be divulged over national reconciliation processes.

The first of these was always unlikely to carry much weight. Even if any parliamentary decision to ignore advice from the Voice would ever go to court, it would never survive the holy supremacy of Parliament in the Westminster model of government. What Parliament says in the Anglo-Australian orbit of constitutional doctrine tends to be near unquestionable writ. No court would ever say otherwise.

The second concern was probably more on point, insofar as the Voice would act as a spur in the constitutional system, one to build upon in the broader journey of reconciliation. But the No casers here, with former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer being fairly typical of this, regard matters such as treaty and truth-telling commissions as divisive and best scotched. “The most destructive feature of failed societies is that they are divided on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion,” he wrote this month (paywalled). For Downer and his ilk, Australia remains a pleasant land – not exactly verdant, but pleasant nonetheless – where Jerusalem was built; don’t let any uppity First Nations advocate tell you otherwise.

The procedurally minded and pragmatic sort – which count themselves amongst the majority of Australian voters, were always concerned about how the advisory body would be constituted. Any new creature born from political initiative will always risk falling into the clutches of political intriguers in the government of the day, vulnerable to the puppeteering of the establishment. In Australian elections, where pragmatism is elevated to the level of a questioning, punishing God, the question of the “how” soon leads to the question of “how much”. The Voice would ultimately have to face the invoice.

Another, equally persuasive criticism of the Voice came from what might be loosely described as the Black Sovereignty movement, led by such representatives as independent Senator Lidia Thorpe. From that perspective, the Voice is only a ceremonial sham, a bauble, tinsel cover that, while finding form in the Constitution, would have meant little. “This referendum, portrayed by the government as the solution to bringing justice to First Peoples in this country,” she opines, “has instead divided and hurt us.”

Precisely because it would not bind elected members, it had no powers to compel the members of parliament to necessarily follow their guidance. “The supremacy of the colonial parliament over ‘our Voice’,” Thorpe goes on to stress, “is a continuation of the oppression of our people, and the writing of our people into the colonial Constitution is another step in their ongoing attempt to assimilate us.” This would make the body a pantomime of policy making, with its membership respectfully listened to even if they could be ultimately ignored. Impotence, and the effective extinguishment of indigenous sovereignty, would be affirmed.

Among some undecided voters lay an agonising prospect, notably for those who felt that this was yet another measure that, while well-meant in spirit, was yet another on the potted road of failures. The indigenous activist Celeste Liddle represents an aspect of such a view, one of dissatisfaction, stung by broken promises. Her view is one of morose, inconsolable scepticism. “I’m at a time in my life,” she writes in Arena, “where I have seen a lot of promises, a lot of lies, a lot of attacks on Indigenous communities, and not a lot of change. I therefore lack faith in the current political system and its ability to ever be that agent of change.” That’s an almost dead certifiable “No”, then.

The sinking of the Yes measure need not kill off the program for improving and ameliorating the condition of First Nations people in Australia. But for those seeking a triumphant Yes vote, the lesson was always threatening: no measure will ever pass the hurdle of the double majority in a majority of states if it does not have near uniform approval from the outset. It never has.


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Violence Against Human Animals: Images from the Israel-Hamas War

With the body count rising in this latest, and particularly bloody Israel-Hamas War, the narrative of Israel the wounded, Israel the desperate, has now been annexed to Israel the just warrior State, fighting darkness and primaeval stone age barbarism.

This has taken two forms. The first is the way the victims of the Hamas attacks inside Israeli territory have been elevated, ennobled, sanctified. The second is the manner with which the Hamas killings have been rendered exceptionally ghoulish, visceral, blood curdling.

Regarding the former, Israeli suffering has been personalised, individualised, and given the spit and polish of reverence. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for instance, stated his shock at the “depravity of Hamas” while feeling a jolt of inspiration from the Israeli “grandfather, who drove over an hour to a kibbutz under siege, armed with only a pistol, and rescued his kids and grandkids; the mother who died shielding her teenage son with her body, giving her life to save his, giving him life for a second time; the volunteer security teams on the kibbutzes [sic], who swiftly rallied to defend their friends and neighbors, despite being heavily outnumbered.”

In contrast, the Palestinians die in sheer anonymity by the thousands, untroubling statistical notations. The names of whole families who perish in the aftermath of machine inflicted slaughter are not known, not published, and not sought. Reduced to mere numbers, the human element is leached out.

That absence of humanity brings us to the second point: reiterating, portraying, and marking the violence of the Hamas militants as singular and spectacular. While international debates rage on the issue of holding back media distribution of graphic content, notably showing massacres and atrocities, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to throw all caution to the wind.

On October 12, his office released photos of slain infants, sharing them on the official Twitter (‘X’) account to roughly 1.2 million followers. A PMO spokesperson explained the rationale for doing so to The Times of Israel: “So that the world will see just a fraction of the horrors that Hamas carried out.” The Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, in another post accompanied by a “graphic content warning,” featured a bloodied victim with a preamble on Hamas’s achievements: “More than 1,300 Israeli civilians slaughtered. Women and girls raped. People burned alive. Young kids kidnapped. Babies tortured and murdered. Parents executed in front of their young children.”

Such distributive efforts depicted Hamas, and it follows, Palestinians, as unalloyed in their savagery, untutored to the finer points of civilised life. Blinken affirmed the point by stating that such “difficult-to-see images of babies murdered and burned by the monsters of Hamas” served to show that these people were “not human. Hamas is ISIS.” As for US President Joe Biden: “I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”

In contrast, an Israeli fighter jet responsible for demolishing a building complex in Gaza resulting in the deaths of whole families is merely a hygienic, industrial consequence of war. In terms of an unstated moral calculus here, industrial-military murder proves less affronting. Throw in the justification of self-defence and such terms as “collateral damage” closes the matter. File it and forget it.

With humans reduced to paper jottings and innocuous markings, it becomes easy for a state, as Israel has done, to simply demand the removal of 1 million individuals from their already precarious dwellings in an imprisoned enclave should they wish to live. In his address to the nation on October 7, Netanyahu warned those living in Gaza to, “Leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.”

Such individuals are moveable stock. It matters not that they may have no choice in moving, nor the means, nor the inclination. Arrogating a power to itself, Israel had annulled the autonomy of an entire population, declaring that those who remain are no better than terrorists who deserve speedy liquidation.

The order to evacuate dovetails with sentiments from politicians who see this as a prelude for a more conclusive expulsion, inspired by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the embryonic Israeli state in 1948 that came to be known as the Nakba. Forget the fact that the roots of the Hamas attacks, as with previous wars between Israelis and Palestinians, have been the bitter harvests of those forced, vicious expulsions.

Ariel Kallner, a Knesset member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, could barely conceal his ecstasy at the retributive violence to follow in a social media post: “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join!” It was “time,” affirmed Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, “to be cruel” begging the question when Israel’s policy towards Gaza and Palestinians more broadly had been anything other than cruel.

The corollary of such power and treatment is the imposition of a wholesale siege that is deemed that much easier because the targets are not seen as humans. In the words of the Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.”

In the mild, though rebuking language of the International Committee of the Red Cross, “The instructions issued by the Israeli authorities for the population of Gaza City to immediately leave their homes, coupled with the complete siege explicitly denying them food, water, and electricity, are not compatible with international humanitarian law.”

To execute what will be an operation of sheer pulverisation, euphemised as a mission to “degrade” and “dismantle” terrorist infrastructure, the Israeli Defence Force has now massed on the border with Gaza and is already making what are stated as “incursions”. Journalists from a whole stable of Western news outlets are reporting such this state of affairs as cathartic. There is even a charging frisson, a sense of masochistic delight at the handiwork that awaits the fourth most powerful military in the world.

To that end, the coverage is almost cartoonish: the savage Indians circling the caravans have struck the innocent settlers, and now must be punished with the full modern might of the “settling” power that really wants peace, but whose hand was forced. But the facts remain that the “people’s army,” as the IDF is often called, was hoodwinked, its intelligence community caught unawares. The murderous rage now following is only informed by vengeance born from impotence. The diplomatic corps has gone into hibernation, but in time, political realities will have to be acknowledged, though this is likely to be done over a mountain range of corpses.


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Breaking Bread at the Terminus of Learning

Let this be a lesson to you students. You are now coming to the end of another semester, arbitrarily designated as having an even number of weeks, crammed with a range of objectives that no doubt most of you have not met. For one thing, you did not read. But my, did one try to encourage you. You will have a chance to punish your teacher with absurd course ratings and meaningless criteria. You will be able to “rate your professor” in the worst sense of the practice.

Modern education, if nothing else, is the elevation of admired, if predictable failure, over heroic, diligent success. The latter are always seen as the tossers of the classroom, because they let the side down. Let’s face it: the mediocrats will always get top billing from the managers, largely because the mediocrats are the managers.

Do not, however, despair. To have you, dear students, in the classroom, is to feel vitality and strength, to find a sense of purpose. Despite every attempt by the educational commissars to hack, diminish and denude the worth of a university education, some of you have realised that a love of the word and the feeling for learning is a love like no other. It is orgiastic in release, and cathartic in cleansing: to be able to wash, bathe and cleanse in a text, and leave it invigorated. To be able to feel glorious cerebration.

Ultimately, you are the only reason the academic functions, why the university breathes in its staggered, desperate way, escaping the shot that will end it. The only reason the teacher or instructor has any calculable worth, can turn up on their hindlegs and brave a sea of faces in the muddled search for knowledge, hoping that a message might mind find its mark in the dark recess of a journey.

That student-teacher relationship is almost more important than a love affair or conjugal union. It is an admission of unadulterated trust, a conveyance of one being’s wonder into another’s quest to shape it. For in that union, the mind plays with thoughts expressed, the assignments and papers submitted depictions of an inner self, a vulnerable being held up for the most intense questioning. The instructor reads the student’s work as a full statement of effort, defect and all, weakness displayed, error prostrate.

It is the task of the instructor to show a way to best understand such defects, to warn of the potholes in the learning life, to issue caveats over those gnarly points where you might be caught out. Make sure you do not trip over a source with origins that may compromise its worth. (The opinion of a law company website can hardly rise to the level of a court opinion, as much as the authors might think it does.) Make sure you state a claim clearly. Avoid the clunky, the waffly, the syntactically vicious. The savagery of conciseness will set you free.

In recent years, you can even say decades, that sacred union between yearning, curious student and profound, eager pedagogue has been assailed, if not destroyed altogether. The bureaucrats have decided to mock and ridicule the academic as ornately irrelevant, a clown in the front of a room who deserves nothing but contempt. Somewhere along the line, a number of risible morons decided that students and teachers were somehow equal in their possession of knowledge, presuming that all opinions have equivalent weight. That bastard beast known as the lectorial was born – or was it the “flipped classroom”? Some academics have turned into bureaucrats, the Vichy-Quisling class who have sold out their own in an effort to rise up that greasiest of poles: middle management. In such desert spaces, ideas, and learning, go to perish in horrible ways, most commonly by means of the spreadsheet.

A relentless pushdown, even pulverising of the beauty that is abstract learning, complex form, Platonic ecstasy, has been taking place across teaching institutions, largely in the hope of securing more students who are best treated as dunderheaded gullible consumers than learning vessels filled with wonder. The advent of the coronavirus pandemic simply added a drug-filled impetus to the measure, a nightmarish fuel to the fire of isolated despair. Get online everyone: you know you want to.

On this day, we are engaged in that most glorious of occasions an instructor, a lecturer, a pedagogue can ever have with their students: break bread and reflect sweetly upon the weeks passed. It is a most solemn yet deeply felt occasion. It is the end of the semester, and when you leave this classroom, a vestigial thought might stir on what you learnt. At an opportune moment, it might comfort you, even save you.

This is unlikely to happen in the future. We are now at a terminus – of sorts. Universities may be liquidated (in some cases, deservedly) by the gibbering hordes and minions of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution. Lectures and seminars will become programmatic spouts and spurts arranged and organised for delivery, leaving academics to suicide in libraries without books. Essays will be derivative, machine products, tested on the quality of the AI function, rather than the quality of the human endeavour. The idea of a crafted essay with all its beautiful, unintended faults: the misplaced colon, the split infinitive, the tormenting tautology, will pass into an anodyne, textual sludge called technological perfection. When that happens, we all best take leave, and depart this earth. But even then, it could be artificially generated.


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Blue Light, Green Blood: Edifice Politics for Israel

It has been a few days of slaughter-filled accounts. Starting on October 7 on the Jewish day of Simchat Torah, the State of Israel has faced assaults from hundreds of Hamas militants. Directed from southwards in the country, the mayhem has rattled the security and intelligence establishment smugly convinced in their reading of Palestinian motivations and capabilities. But outside the conflict, the commemorations for the dead are to be held according to a specific blueprint.

Across a slew of Western capitals and cities – self-described their presses as The World, blue and white lights have splashed buildings, offering a plaster of virtue over the policies of a state. It would be futile, and tiresome, to document each example of such selective privileging. But for those countries aligned or sympathetic to Israel, some particularly reluctant to decry policies that have violated, with breezy disdain, the dictates of international law, you will not see buildings illuminated by the flag colours of Palestine.

The Berlin Wall received such treatment. Ditto the Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission’s building in Brussels. But surely no country, in terms of number, came close to the United States, Israel’s unqualified political and military backer. In New York alone, under direction by Governor Kathy Hochul, such landmarks as the One World Trade Centre, the Moynihan Train Hall and the Empire State Building received the nocturnal blue-white bathing of light. “New York stands with Israel – today and every day,” Hochul reiterated.

Very clear statements have been made in taking such a position: to the dead we owe the truth, but only a certain truth, and only to certain dead. There are some truths to be told slant and circuitous, and others to be avoided altogether.

A noisy, agitated example of this unfolded in response to the decision made by the New South Wales government to illuminate Australia’s most famous architectural construction in the colours of the Israeli flag. Reporters went about sniffing to see whether the protests organised by Palestinian activists outside the Sydney Opera House emitted a certain antisemitic tang. If not antisemitic, anything that could be seen as pro-Hamas or laudatory of attacks on the Israeli state would also be picked up.

Political figures did not wait long before the red mist descended. Had the protesters been pro-Israel, Jewish and celebrating Israel, that would have been a different matter. But here, we saw protests by Palestinians against the decision to bathe the Opera House’s famous sails in such selective illumination. A prudent measure might have been to avoid doing so altogether: once sides are taken, other sides are excluded.

The focus, however, was not on the building’s preferential lighting scheme but the insensitive audacity of the Palestinian protesters who turned up like desecraters at a holy event. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed the view that “people need to really take a step back,” and that the march be abandoned.

Allegra Spender, the independent federal MP for the Sydney seat of Wentworth, made it clear where her side of the vote counted. She called protests outside the Opera Hall “abhorrent. At a time when there should be solidarity with our Jewish community, they have been subject to appalling abuse.” She demanded to know how such an unsympathetic rabble had been permitted to protest in the first place. No mention that the protest was directly challenging the illumination of the edifice in the colours of a flag associated with the military and economic incarceration of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, the brake on recognising Palestine as a sovereign state.



Attacks by Hamas, Spender raged in a separate statement, were not seen as “acts of resistance” but those of a crazed terrorist outfit. “People should not let sympathy for the Palestinian’s legitimate aspirations for statehood blind them to the fact that Hamas remains dedicated to a Palestinian state where Israel does not exist.” Spender could also have noted that the stillborn nature of Palestinian statehood has become the default policy of the Netanyahu government.

Former diplomat Dave Sharma, who had also previously served as a Liberal MP for Wentworth, expressed his “outrage” on ABC News Breakfast because the protesters should have “picked another evening” to march. This should have been Israel’s day, the day for Jews. The Palestinian marchers should have protested appropriately, always the mealymouthed recipe for the ducking brigade who favour power over principle. NSW Premier, Chris Minns, fumed Sharma, should never have given the state police permission for the protests to take place.

For his part, Minns managed to aggravate a goodly number by permitting the illumination of the Opera House to take place, not disallowing the rally in response to that decision while warning the Jewish community to stay away for reasons of safety. Regarding the protests themselves, they were, according to the Premier’s office, “horrible” and did “not represent the people of NSW.” As horrible as they were, not a single arrest took place.

While Australian politicians complained and sniffed, Israel has imposed another blockade of Gaza, with news reporters limply avoiding the point that the enclave of two million inhabitants was already blockaded. Such a political entity was barely breathing to begin with, but the promise now is to cut off water (97% of the water in Gaza is already contaminated), food, fuel and access to electricity (this was already subject to regular outages) is seen as a logical, natural barbarism. Searching for the appropriate word, the Israeli forces had dubbed this latest measure a “siege”.

During a visit to the Israeli Air Force’s underground command centre, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant summed up the attitude to this approach of even deeper deprivation against an already exhausted civilian population. “We are fighting animals and are acting accordingly.”

Hardly the voice of a restraint-filled, law abiding official. But back in Australia, Sharma was full of greasy apologetics: “You have to understand, this is a war.” And whenever it waged war, Israel would only do “in accordance with international law”. Hardly – but at least we can light up a few buildings in blue and white.


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Indecency’s Conspiracy of Silence: Hamas, Israel and the Use of Force

Shock and horror. But to and for whom? At 6.30 am on October 7, the State of Israel was certainly in shock. From the south, its citizens faced attacks by, as news reports put it, air, sea and land executed by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Within a matter of hours, the death toll of Israelis had jumped by hundreds, complemented by hundreds of deaths in Gaza. Along the way, unspecified numbers of Israeli hostages have been taken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a declaration of war.

In the short term, the offensive by Hamas looks like a spectacular bloodying of Israel’s strangulating forces and any number of restrictive labels you might wish to apply to the bully that holds the reins over any prospect of Palestinian sovereignty. It is particularly bruising given the rag-tag status of previous Palestinian military efforts to breach the security barriers of the Israeli state, not to mention showing up its hubristic security and intelligence services, caught entirely napping.

This is not to suggest that Hamas, and its various Islamist iterations, is ideal as a governing or prosecuting body for the Palestinian cause; it is merely to observe that, as a reality, retributive or retaliatory counters to Israeli power, the no-change-in-hope-of-Palestinian-extinction message, was bound to happen. As it will happen, again.

In August 2019, Shlomo Ben-Ami put it with crisp grimness. With the two-state solution essentially condemned to moribund retirement, “there is little to stop Israel from cementing the one-state reality that its right-wing government has long sought, regardless of whether it leads to a permanent civil war.”

The violence is the apotheosis of what happens at the end of a road of exhausted options, a terminus where negotiations no longer matter, when the government in power, itself corrupted and spoiled and facing opposition from its own citizens, finds itself at sea as to how to defeat an enemy it refuses to acknowledge, except in violence. In April, the Times of Israel reported that fighter pilots in the volunteer reserves had threatened to withdraw their labour, agitated by Netanyahu’s legislative efforts to hobble the judiciary. Leaders had warned that the country faced civil war.

From outside the conflict, the ongoing debate rages on who has a monopoly on violence and its decent uses. Depending on who exercises it, it constitutes a terroristic act warranting justified massive retaliation. For others, it’s justified self-defence. “There is never any justification for terrorism,” stated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ignoring the obvious point that many states tend to be born in the convulsing labours of terrorism, not least Israel itself. The EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen “unequivocally” condemned “the attack carried out by Hamas terrorists against Israel.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also regarded such “acts of violence” as “completely unacceptable,” insisting that civilians had to be protected.

Laced with a delicious, smacking irony, were remarks made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a man who claims little by way of restraint in fighting invaders and occupiers (Russians, would you know?) and seems to ignore the states of occupation that stain other parts of the world. “Today’s terrorist attack on Israel was well-planned, and the entire world knows which sponsors of terrorism could have endorsed and enabled its organization.” Dare we even bother to ask?

“Decency,” as George Bernard Shaw tells us in Maxims for Revolutionists, “is indecency’s conspiracy of silence.” Palestinians are to be conspiratorially decent before the killing of the two-state solution and the impoverishment of their lands. (The blockade in Gaza has left 80% of the population dependent on international aid, facing a contaminated water supply and persistent power outages.) They are to be decent and well-mannered before bulldozing policies of collective punishment. They are to be decent before discriminatory administrative detention and segregationist policies that have been said by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli B’Tselem to satisfy the conditions of apartheid.

The reality, as Raz Segal punchily declared, has been etched “into the landscape of the occupied Palestinian territories,” a policy of colonisation manifested “through walls, fences, other barriers, and roads intended only for Jews or only for Palestinians.” Writing in 2002, former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair merely confirmed that, “We established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories.”

When allegations of apartheid are made, along with accusations that Israel’s policy towards Palestinians conforms to a long tradition of colonial oppression and displacement by the dominant power, defenders arc up in defiance, seeing antisemitism everywhere. On February 8, 2022, Deborah Lipstadt, in testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in confirmation hearings for the role as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, did just that. She rejected any claims of apartheid, notably by Amnesty International, as “unhistorical,” a crass act of delegitimising a proud democratic country.

And what of the comments from those engaged in planning the assaults of October 7? Mohammad Deif, leader of Hamas’s military wing, claimed that the operation was launched as a direct response to Israeli provocations towards the sanctity of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, notably by Jewish nationalist settlers. “They [Israeli forces] consistently assault our women, the elderly, children and [the] youth; and prevent our people from praying in the Aqsa Mosque while allowing groups of Jews to desecrate the mosque with daily incursions.”

Support has been forthcoming from various predictable quarters, though this is hardly to suggest that the plight of Palestinians will not, given the right moment, be bargained away. Yahya Rahim Safavi, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, declared that Tehran would “stand by Palestinian fighters until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.” Liberation causes can titillate when embraced hundreds of miles away.

As the battle rages, Israeli politicians can reflect on some common ground with their counterparts in the United States who fund them well. Both have endeavoured to embrace models of existence that caricature peace even as they ennoble the conditions of war. The United States and Israel share that same tendency that had defined their power for decades: the conditions of peace are always underwritten by a permanent, warlike impetus. The expression from historian Charles Beard, expressed in 1947, never seems to date: “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”


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Nuclear-Powered Fixations: The Trump-Pratt Disclosures

In April 2021, the Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt had a meeting with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club. According to an ABC News report, “Pratt told Trump he believed Australia should start buying its submarines from the United States, to which an excited Trump – ‘leaning’ towards Pratt as if to be discreet – then told Pratt two pieces of information about US submarines: the supposed exact number of nuclear warheads they routinely carry, and exactly how close they supposedly can get to a Russian submarine without being detected.”

The report, citing “sources familiar with the matter,” goes on to mention that Pratt “allegedly shared the information with scores of others, including more than a dozen foreign officials, several of his own employees, and a handful of journalists.” The net, in other words, proved rather large, with emails and conversations taking place on the subject with three former Australian prime ministers, 10 Australian officials, 11 of Pratt’s employees and six journalists.

The revelation has emerged as part of an ongoing investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into Trump’s retention of classified documents on leaving the White House. Some of the documents, hoarded at Mar-a-Lago, covered US military matters, nuclear weapons, and spy satellites.

What is buried in the latest spray and foam of the Trump disclosures to Pratt is whether that encounter had any bearing on the broader strategic thinking in Canberra and its links to the US military industrial complex. The AUKUS security agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia contemplates the transfer of at least three US nuclear powered Virginia class boats, along with the construction of a specific co-designed nuclear-powered boat for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Did Pratt’s enthusiasm for US nuclear submarines percolate through to other officials, think-tankers and courtiers working for Washington’s interests?

Former Australian Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Tony Abbott have told the Australian Financial Review that Pratt never raised the issue of purchasing US nuclear submarines with them. Who, then, were the other prime ministers who received Pratt’s gobbets of wisdom? Surely Scott Morrison must figure, given his role in brokering the AUKUS agreement.

The ABC News report does acknowledge that a number of Australian officials who featured in the Pratt disclosures were “involved in then-ongoing negotiations with the Biden administration over a deal for Australia to purchase a number of nuclear-powered attack submarines from the United States.”

A number of Australian commentators have tried to minimise the significance of the Trump-Pratt encounter, thereby revealing visible smoke plumes. “We’ve had submariners serve on US nuclear submarines for years,” stated former Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey. “I find it hard to believe that in a conversation between Anthony Pratt and Donald Trump, anything of great significance was discussed that would have an impact on the national security of either Australia or the United States.”

Former Australian Defence Department official Peter Jennings, who also served as executive director of the US-funded and parochially pro-Washington think-tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, for over a decade, saw little reason to be concerned about the content of the disclosures. Most of the material on US submarines was already in the public domain. His concern, rather, was with Trump’s cavalier approach to national security information. “It’s just the 1000th example of why Trump is unfit to be president,” he tut-tutted. Jennings, along with the other members of the paid-up Washington consensus in combating Beijing, is no doubt losing sleep about Trump redux. Were Trump to return to the White House, all bets about Australia getting its nuclear-powered submarines are off.

The speed with which AUKUS was entered into by the Scott Morrison government in September 2021, an agreement which also brought no demurral or any murmurs of dissent from the then Labour opposition of Anthony Albanese, had a rank smell to it. For one thing, it has seen Australia further trapped in an insidious game of military competition being waged against China at the behest of US interests, militarising the country and mortgaging the budget to the tune of $368 billion over the course of two decades.

AUKUS also brought with it the abrupt termination of Canberra’s contract with the French Naval Group to construct twelve diesel-electric attack submarines for the RAN. This proved to be a disastrous affair for Australian diplomacy, savaging French-Australian relations and also advertising, to the region, the abject repudiation of Australian sovereignty.

While it should be stressed that Pratt faces no charges of illegality or impropriety, nor features in the 40 charges Smith is levelling against Trump, the Mar-a-Lago meeting with a former US president may prove critical in identifying a nexus with Canberra’s irrational interest in US-nuclear powered technology and the point at which that fascination ended the last vestiges of Australian independence.


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Modi’s Cricket Ploy: Hindutva as Twelfth Man

This week, the International Cricket Council’s One Day International tournament will commence in India. The man who will take centre stage during the occasion will be Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose earthly attributes are fast becoming, at least in a political sense, celestial in dimension.

Commentators are already noting that the tournament will usher in a pre-election campaign extravaganza for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one lasting six weeks. Modi has positioned himself as all and everything, supreme self-referencing god head in a political strategy that eclipses rivals and dooms them to irrelevance. Like other authoritarians, he is keen to find solid footing in established popular rites and customs, appropriating the features he likes (Hinduism, good), and abandoning those he dislikes (Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, bad).

India’s national sport has not been spared the Modi touch. Nothing about the man speaks about the dash and panache of the Indian cricket team, but that hardly matters. Modi has previously run the Gujarat Cricket Association with his current Home Affairs minister Amit Shah. While India’s Board of Control for Cricket has a nominal presidential head in the form of the ineffectual Roger Binny, true power over the organisation lies with Shah’s son Jay, the body’s honorary secretary. With Ashish Shela as treasurer, the BJP stranglehold seems total.

The national team has become, in effect, an extension of the prime minister’s ambitions. All have come together, fused and meshed, none better illustrated than through the renaming of an enormous stadium – one of the world’s largest, in fact – after the PM himself. With a seating capacity over 130,000, the Narendra Modi stadium, based in the PM’s home state of Gujarat, will host the key events and matches of the World Cup.

Hard to miss in this dance is also the power of global cricket’s locus. Long straddling the England-Australia nexus, cricket’s hegemonic centre has moved with spectacular effect. The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is unchallenged in its supremacy over purse strings and glitzy promotion, with the Indian Premier League being the game’s crowning, commercial glory. In its 2023 season, the IPL drew in over 500 million viewers, registering a growth rate of 32% from the previous season, while total revenues for the BCCI in 2021-22 came in at $771 million. As the Financial Times noted in July this year, the BCCI “dominates global decision making and takes a larger share of global revenues than England and Australia combined.”

Despite this, the governing body remains blighted. Overseas, it is accused of buying preferential treatment for the IPL over other cricketing schedules, seducing, if not strong-arming smaller nations into accepting its agenda.

The cricket body has repeatedly stifled such anti-corruption efforts as those mounted by the former Delhi commissioner of police, Neeraj Kumar. When Kumar’s A Cop in Cricket was published, it told an all too familiar story on spoliation wrought by wealth, fed by the lucre of the IPL, money laundering and rampant bookmakers. He also found that the enormous outlay of funds otherwise “meant for the promotion of cricket at the grassroots level is diverted and misappropriated by state association officials, who adopt every conceivable modus operandi of malfeasance to do so.” Little wonder that much of Modi’s own relations with the powerful agents of Indian public life reflect a broader, dark model of the Hindutva crony state, where funds are diverted in the name of special interests.

The sheer scope, exposure, and significance of cricket, and its dramatic modernisation by Indian sporting practice, has made it pure political capital. Salil Tripathi, author and board member of PEN International, explains the point. “The men’s cricket World Cup, to be staged in India from October 5, will put India, and Modi’s premiership, back on the global stage.”

Peter Oborne is none too happy with this. Having written extensively about cricket on the subcontinent, a keen student and admirer of its magical play and often tortuous politics, Oborne can only look at the Modi appropriation experiment with alarm. During Modi’s tenure, dissidents, Muslims and Christians have been targeted. In an article co-authored with Imran Mulla, some symptoms of this rule are mentioned. “Since May, Hindu nationalist militants have killed over 100 Christians in northeastern Manipur, destroying churches and displaying 50,000 people in a brutal campaign of terror.”

Oborne and his co-author do not shy away from warning that the Modi-Hindutva state is showing genocidal urges. “This is a moral emergency and thus far nobody seems to have noticed. US President Joe Biden, supposedly the leader of the free world, recently gave Modi a hero’s welcome in Washington.” Modi’s renaming of the stadium sent an ominous “message that the Indian cricket team represents his own political party – the Bharatiya Jana Party (BJP) – and not the nation as a whole.”

The authors pertinently contrast the tepid coverage leading up to the Cricket World Cup with the near surfeit of moral indignation expressed prior to the FIFA Men’s World Cup held in Qatar – albeit one eventually extinguished in the glow of the tournament. “The BBC decided not to broadcast the opening ceremony live, with its star presenter Gary Lineker lecturing TV viewers on Qatar’s human rights record and Labour leader Keir Starmer boycotting the event.”

Expect, on this occasion, no videos and clips of protest by any of the competing teams complaining about human rights violations, religious intolerance, barbaric practices or appalling working conditions. Ditto that of ingratiating British and Australian politicians. Modi’s Hindutva train of religious and ideological purity has gone unnoticed in most of the cricket world. The only question that will be asked of him at the tournament’s opening is simple: Will he be able to land the ball on the square?


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Dianne Feinstein: National Security State Diva

The tributes for the late Democratic Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, heaped up as word got out. Having served as San Francisco mayor and a senator for three decades from what, on paper at least, is meant to be a progressive state, Feinstein proved herself to be an establishment creature of gusto and brass.

The tributes have been laudatory in their endorsed, burnished sexism – womanhood heralded as a bulwark for the National Security State (NSS). They do show, on some level, that she could play and scrap on the imperial board along with her male colleagues in ways equally apologetic, shallow and vulgar. As a member of the George W. Bush administration, former national security advisor and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice ceremonially saluted Feinstein as one who would “always be remembered as an extraordinary human being in American political history.”

Republicans such as Ted Cruz flattered and gushed with totemic, boyish reverence at this “trailblazer for women”. The CIA Director, William Burns, praised her role as “the first woman to chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”

It all made sense: the senator was a paid-up member of the NSS with a ring seat, lounge points and frequent flyer miles in the game of empire. Voting for war came naturally, be it the bombing of Serbia in 1999 or supporting the October 2002 Iraq war resolution, the latter endorsed despite Feinstein’s briefing by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter that no evidence had been found suggesting that Iraq continued to possess weapons of mass destruction.

According to Ritter, he met the senator along with a half-dozen staffers and aides in a conference room in the Capitol building only to face the following: “Your position is causing us some difficulty,” she grumbled. “You are making the US look bad in the eyes of the world.” When confronted by Ritter about whether she had seen “unequivocal proof that Iraq retained WMD,” the senator admitted: “I have seen no such intelligence.” The agenda had been set, the dish pre-cooked for an invasion deserving the condemnation of being a crime against peace.

What must surely strike some of her flower garlanding adulators as curious is that Feinstein’s devotion to the national security state was so profound it led her to formulate a critical, contemporary argument of dangerous import: Publishers, even if based in a foreign jurisdiction and not being US nationals, should still be prosecuted for publishing the national security details of the United States, even material disclosing war crimes, atrocities and the like. The reasoning for this is evident in a Wall Street Journal article in December 2010; her unwavering target: Julian Assange.

From the outset, the senator insisted that the release of the “250,000 secret State Department cables” by WikiLeaks had damaged the US national interest and endangered “innocent lives.” Assange “should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.” Feinstein, with no sound evidence or reason, told her readers that the Australian publisher “continues to violate the Espionage Act of 1917,” a wartime relic that criminalises the possession or transmission by an unauthorised person of “information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe would be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

She goes on to tell her readers that Assange was undoubtedly “aware of this law,” a clumsy, sinister stab at journalists that they best know their place when it comes to showing the undergarments of the US imperium.

Feinstein proves ignorant of the bumbling journalists at the Guardian, who left the key for decrypting the files public and vulnerable prior to the now infamous “dump” of documents. “Guardian investigations editor, David Leigh, recklessly, and without gaining our approval,” WikiLeaks stated at the time, “knowingly disclosed the decryption passwords in a book published by the Guardian.”

Feinstein shows a deep, unquestioning interest in the advice from November 27, 2010, sent by US State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh. To read such advice is to understand the current indictment against Assange, and the legal theory that so enthralled the Trump administration and the Department of Justice.

Tediously, and not acknowledging the fact that the US State Department cables had already been, in their entirety, published by other outlets (Cryptome, anybody?), Koh rambles about ground rather familiar to the current prosecution effort: The documents Assange had disclosed would, “Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals – from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security”.

Other meretricious views follow with boring banality, all intent on showing the US imperium as faultless and noble. The disclosure, Koh argues, risked compromising “ongoing military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms”; and the jeopardising of “on-going cooperation between countries – partners, allies and common stakeholders – to confront the common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.” The NSS is truly troubled when its lid gets blown.

Instead of expectorating at such erroneous gabbling (no evidence of these claims has ever been proven), California’s good senator chewed the cud with bovine diligence, steaming away at the claim that Assange broke “the law and must be stopped from doing more harm.” And as for the First Amendment? “[T]he Supreme Court has held that its protections of free speech and freedom of the press are not a green light to abandon the protection of our national interests.”

The senator, in views that anticipated the current indictment against the publisher, goes on to undercut the constitutional buttressing offered by the First Amendment by denying Assange the tag of “journalist”. “He is an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.”

Not content with stopping there, Feinstein went further in sharply condemning the publisher’s attempts to create a “social movement” (how dare he?) that would involve exposing the secrets of the US imperium. For the senator, the secret is always good, the clandestine, necessary.

Throughout her Congressional tenure, notably as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein would continue to condemn the very leaks that oxygenate the democratic polity and check imperial overreach. In 2012, she condemned a spate of leaks disclosing the US role in the “Stuxnet” cyberattack that crippled Iran’s nuclear program, the executive decision-making process behind extrajudicial killings by US drones in Pakistan and Yemen and the infiltration of an al-Qaeda Yemeni affiliate by an agent. People, she exclaimed with resignation to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “just talk too much. And this didn’t used to be the case, but suddenly, it’s – it’s like a spreadable disease.”

While Feinstein continues to be feted, Assange continues to battle a cobbled, cod nasty legal document of spurious stretching that should make any lawyer blush. But as we are not dealing with the law here so much as vengeful politics against everything from concrete revelations to what Umberto Eco called the “empty secret,” the matter is almost academic. Feinstein, now passed, finds herself on the fast track for canonisation by the NSS. Truly something to make any progressive Californian proud.


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Flagging Support: Zelenskyy Loses Favour in Washington

Things did not go so well this time around. When the worn Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy turned up banging on the doors of Washington’s powerful on September 21, he found fewer open hearts and an increasingly large number of closed wallets. The old ogre of national self-interest seemed to be presiding and was in no mood to look upon the desperate leader with sweet acceptance.

Last December, Zelensky and Ukrainian officials did not have to go far in hearing endorsements and encouragement in their efforts battling Moscow’s armies. The visit of the Ukrainian president, as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated at the time, “will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through provision of economic, humanitarian and military assistance.”

Republican Senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, was bubbly with enthusiasm for the Ukrainian leader. “He’s a national and global hero – I’m delighted to be able to hear from him.” Media pack members such as the Associated Press scrambled for stretched parallels in history’s record, noting another mendicant who had previously appeared in Washington to seek backing. “The moment was Dec. 22, 1941, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill landed near Washington to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Then House Speaker, the California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, also drew on the Churchillian theme with a fetishist’s relish. “Eighty-one years later this week, it is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic leader addresses the Congress in time of war – and with Democracy itself on the line,” she wrote colleagues in a letter.

Zelenskyy, not wishing to state the obvious, suggested a different approach to the question of aiding Ukraine. While not necessarily an attentive student of US history, any briefings given to him should have been mindful of a strand in US politics sympathetic to isolationism and suspicious of foreign leaders demanding largesse and aid in fighting wars.

How, then, to get around this problem? Focus on clumsy, if clear metaphors of free enterprise. “Your money is not charity,” he stated at the time, cleverly using the sort of corporate language that would find an audience among military-minded shareholders. “It’s an investment in global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.” Certainly, Ukrainian aid has been a mighty boon for the US military-industrial complex, whose puppeteering strings continue to work their black magic on the Hill.

Despite such a show, the number of those believing in the wisdom of such an investment is shrinking. “In a US capital that has undergone an ideological shift since he was last here just before Christmas 2022,” remarked Stephen Collinson of CNN, “it now takes more than quoting President Franklin Roosevelt and drawing allusions to 9/11, to woo lawmakers.”

Among the investors, Republicans are shrinking more rapidly than the Democrats. An August CNN poll found a majority in the country – 55% – firmly against further funding for Ukraine. Along party lines, 71% of Republicans are steadfastly opposed, while 62% of Democrats would be satisfied with additional funding.

Kentucky Republican and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell continues to claim that funding Ukraine is a sensibly bloody strategy that preserves American lives while harming Russian interests. “Helping Ukraine retake its territory means weakening – weakening – one of America’s biggest strategic adversaries without firing a shot.”

The same cannot be said about the likes of Kentucky’s Republican Senator Rand Paul. While Zelenskyy was trying to make a good impression on the Hill, the senator was having none of it. “I will oppose any effort to hold the federal government hostage for Ukraine funding. I will not consent to expedited passage of any spending measure that provides any more US aid to Ukraine.”



In The American Conservative, Paul warned that, “With no end in sight, it looks increasingly likely that Ukraine will be yet another endless quagmire funded by the American taxpayer.” President Joe Biden’s administration had “failed to articulate a clear strategy or objective in this war, and Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive has failed to make meaningful gains in the east.”

Such a quagmire was also proving jittering in its dangers. There was the prospect of miscalculation and bungling that could pit US forces directly against the Russian army. There were also no “effective oversight mechanisms” regarding the funding that has found its way into Kyiv’s pockets. “Unfortunately, corruption runs deep in Ukraine, and there’s plenty of evidence that it has run rampant since Russia’s invasion.” The Zelenskyy government, he also noted in a separate post, had “banned the political parties, they’ve invaded churches, they’ve arrested priests, so no, it isn’t a democracy, it’s a corrupt regime.”

Republicans such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley are of the view that the US should be slaying different monsters of a more threatening variety. (Every imperium needs its formidable adversaries.) The administration, he argued, should “take the lead on China” and reassure its “European allies” that Washington would be providing “the nuclear umbrella in Europe.”

On September 30, with yet another government shutdown looming in Washington, the US House approved a bill for funding till mid-November by a 335-91 vote. But the measure did not include additional military or humanitarian aid to Ukraine. In August, the Biden administration had requested a $24 billion package for Ukraine but was met with a significantly skimmed total of $6.1 billion. Of that amount $1.5 billion is earmarked for the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative, a measure that continues to delight US arms manufacturers by enabling the Pentagon to place contracts on their behalf to build weapons for Kyiv.

The limited funding measure proved a source of extreme agitation to the clarion callers who have linked battering the Russian bear, if only through a flawed surrogate, with the cause of US freedom. “I am deeply disappointed that this continuing resolution did not include further aid for our ally, Ukraine,” huffed Maryland Democrat Rep. Steny Hoyer. “In September, the House held seven votes to approve that vital funding to Ukraine. Each time, more than 300 House Members voted in favor. This ought to be a nonpartisan issue and ought to have been addressed in the continuing resolution today.”

As Hoyer and those on his pro-war wing of politics are starting to realise, Ukraine, as an issue, is becoming problematically partisan and ripe. The filling in Zelenskyy’s cap is inexorably thinning and lightening.


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Cruel Prerogatives: Braverman on Refugees at the AEI

Suella Braverman has made beastliness a trait in British politics. The UK Home Secretary, fed on the mush and mash of anti-refugee sentiment, has been frantically trying to find her spot in the darkness of inhumanity.

Audaciously, and with grinding ignorance, she persists in her rather grisly attempts to kill the central assumptions of international refugee protection, flawed as they might be, elevating the role of the sovereign state to that of tormenter and high judge. In doing so Braverman shows herself to believe in the ultimate prerogative of the state to be decisively cruel rather than consistently humane. The result is a tyrant’s feast, bound to make a good impression in every country keen to seal off their borders from those seeking sanctuary.

In her speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Braverman came up with a novel reading on how the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 has been applied of late. In her mind, there had been “an interpretive shift” towards generosity in awarding refugee status when, conspicuously, the opposite is true. She was particularly irked by those irritating judges who had endorsed “something more akin to a definition of ‘discrimination’.” All in all, “uncontrolled and illegal migration” posed “an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West.”

Lip service is paid to the rights of asylum seekers, though not much. She shows a keen fondness for the term “illegal migrants” such as those who made their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa, proceeding to sleep on the streets, pilfer food and clash with police. “Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right we offer sanctuary,” she conceded. “But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, or fearful of discrimination in your own country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

Trust Braverman to turn universal human rights into a matter of gender or sexual politics. She further teases out the battle lines by attacking the “misguided dogma of multiculturalism” that “makes no demands of the incomer to integrate.” Such a failure had happened because “it allowed people to come to our society and live parallel lives in it.”

A quick read of the definition of “refugee” in the Convention stipulates a number of considerations: “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particularly social group or political opinion”; that the person is outside their country of nationality and unwilling to “avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

In 2022, a mere 1.5% of the 74,751 asylum claims lodged in the UK cited sexual orientation in their applications. The countries most prominently featured as points of origin for the applicants were Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. It remains unclear how many were accepted as a direct result of mentioning sexual orientation, but these numbers hardly constitute a radical shift.

The UNHCR was unimpressed by the Home Secretary’s AEI show, though hampered by the language of moderation. “The need is not for reform, or more restrictive interpretation, but for stronger and more consistent application of the convention and its underlying principle of responsibility-sharing.” The body suggested that expediting the backlog of asylum claims in the UK might be one way of approaching it, something Braverman has failed, rather spectacularly, to do.

The Refugee Convention has provided fine sport for abuse and blackening for over two decades, its critics always bleating about the fact that the circumstances of its remit had changed. A list of Australian Prime Ministers (John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abott, just to name a few) would surely have to top the league, always taking issue with a document regarded as creaky and unfit to deal with the arrival of “unlawful non-citizens”. From the implementation of the Pacific Solution to the creation of such odious categories as Temporary Protection Visas, the protective principles of the Convention became effigies to a system that was being forcibly retired.

In Britain, New Labour’s Tony Blair, always emphasising the New over Labour, never tired of haranguing his party, and constituents, about the reforms he was making to a number of policy platforms, with processing refugees being foremost among them. During his election drive in 2001, Blair claimed that, “The UK is taking the lead in arguing for reform, not of the convention’s values, but of how it operates.” At the time, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, Nick Hardwick, gasped. “The Geneva Convention on Refugees has saved millions of lives worldwide.”

Blair’s Home Secretary, Jack Straw, had already set the mould for Braverman in his promise in 2000 to initiate a “complete revision” of the Refugee Convention, one that would see “a two-tier system to cut the flow of asylum seekers” coming into the UK.

At home, Braverman has made a royal mess of things. Keeping up with an obsession nurtured by the Johnson government, she has persisted in trying to outsource and defer the responsibility for processing asylum claims to third countries. The favourite choice remains distant Rwanda, a country unfathomably praised for its outstanding “modernising” credentials.

While the government scored a legal victory in the High Court in December 2022, which saw nothing questionable about undertakings made by Kigali in the Memorandum of Understanding and Notes Verbales (NV) about how asylum claims would be processed, the Court of Appeal thought otherwise. On June 29 this year, a majority of the Court decided to give Rwanda’s human rights record a stern, rough comb over, finding it wanting on the prohibition against torture outlined in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, felt that “there were substantial grounds for thinking that asylum seekers sent to Rwanda under the MEDP [Migration and Economic Development Partnership]” at the date the decisions were made by the secretary in July 2022 “faced real risks of article 3 [European Convention on Human Rights] mistreatment.” Such a conclusion was inevitable after consulting “the historical record described by the UNHCR, the significant concerns of the UNHCR itself, and the factual realities of the current asylum process itself.”

Lord Justice Underhill underlined the lower court’s own admission that the Rwandan government was “intolerant of dissent; that there are restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of speech; and that political opponents have been detained in unofficial detention centres and have been subjected to torture and Article 3 ill-treatment short of torture.”

As a result, Braverman finds herself at sea, struggling to find a port, or centre, to park her own, brittle dogmas. In July, she told the House of Commons that she disagreed “fundamentally” with the view of the court “that Rwanda is not a safe place for refugees.” She went on to say that her government took their “international obligations very seriously and we are satisfied that the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill comply with the refugee convention. The fundamental principle remains, however, that those in need of protection should claim asylum at the earliest opportunity and in the first safe country they reach.”

And that, ultimately, is the rub: domestic politics vaulted by individual ambition. When considering the stuffing in such speeches, the international audience is less important than those listening at home. Braverman is likely to have her eyes on the prime ministerial prize, having failed to secure the Conservative leadership last summer. A troubled Tory MP, speaking to the BBC on condition of anonymity, had some advice for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: best get rid of the Home Secretary as soon as possible lest it “reflects poorly on him”. It’s a bit late for that.


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