Archive for category Opinion
While trawling Facebook recently, I clicked through to a link leading me Gawker‘s Caity Weaver delivering a vicious and biting Fisking to an op-ed by high school student Suzy Lee Weiss in the Wall Street Journal in which Weiss complains about not getting into university. Here is a little extract of Weaver critiquing a little extract of Weiss:
The gist of Suzy’s opus: while some try-hards spent their high school career trying—hard—to build an impressive résumé so that they could get into their dream colleges, Suzy opted to take a more virtuous path; the path of just being herself and hoping for the best. It didn’t work. And that is unfair.
Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It’s simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.
Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!
Suzy’s mistake, it seems, was interpreting the advice “Just be yourself” literally. Like perhaps someone told her, “Applying to colleges? Ah, just be yourself,” and she accepted this as an instruction to pursue no activities other than being herself.
Being yourself is not a talent. If you worked two full-time jobs all the way through high school and one of them was “being yourself” and the other was “trying your best,” you actually worked zero full-time jobs. It’s important to make time for yourself, of course, but you should be making other things in addition to that. Like goals and plans and effort.
By the way, why are “killer SAT scores”—a very reasonable requirement for college admission—sandwiched between “three varsity sports” and “two moms” on that sarcastic list of things college students “ought,” but could not reasonably be expected to have? Is demanding good test scores really as ridiculous as demanding participation in nine extracurriculars?
Right, a high school student complaining that having bad grades is a bar to university admission? It almost seems too ridiculous to be true.
Well, actually it does seem too ridiculous to be true. And that’s because it is. Here is the last paragraph of Weiss’ piece – also the one paragraph that Weaver figured she wouldn’t address:
To those claiming that I am bitter – you bet I am! An underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures? That too! To those of you disgusted by this, shocked that I take for granted the wonderful gifts I have been afforded, I say shhh – “The Real Housewives” is on.
Now it would seem to me from that paragraph that Ms Weiss did, in fact, know how she came across in her article. She is very openly playing the character of an “underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures”.
So what Weaver has essentially succeeded in doing is spend 1,000-odd words explaining Weiss’ joke to anyone who didn’t get it in the first place, except without acknowledging that it was a joke (I guess maybe Weaver herself was too indignant to get it).
What Weiss has managed to do is actually quite impressive: as a high school student, she wrote an entertaining article and had it published in one of the world’s top newspapers. Yes (as Weaver points out) her family connections may have had something to do with it, but it is nevertheless an impressive achievement.
On the other hand, Weaver is using her podium on a fairly widely-read blog (not nearly in the WSJ’s league, but sure as hell bigger than Major Karnage) to bully an innocent high school girl. For shame.
Do the names ‘Sofia Wilen’ and ‘Anna Ardin’ mean anything to you? No? Well then, keep reading.
Ever had that feeling where you’re watching someone on TV and every second brings you closer to throwing something at the screen? I came quite close to breaking my beautiful 47″ LCD last night watching the Julian Assange love-in on ABC 24’s The Drum TV.
The whole thing was abysmal, but I was particularly bothered by Assange biographer Andrew Fowler at 5:00,
Julian Assange is a journalist seeking political asylum from Australia, saying that Australia won’t protect him.
And at 5:20,
I think, you know, the issue of the third party, which is the issue of national security, would appear to be what we’re talking about. We’re not really talking about an extradition for sexual molestation.
He’s right, we are not talking about an extradition for sexual molestation. What we are in fact talking about is an extradition for sexual assault, which is a more serious crime than “molestation”.
But that’s not really what our friend Andrew meant, and we all know that. Yes he was trying to make “rape” sound more palatable by using softer language like “sexual molestation”, but what he was really saying was that there is a US conspiracy to extradite Assange once he reaches Sweden and the rape charges are all a fabrication.
Now where does that line of thought come from exactly? Well, you see, Fowler thinks that Assange is a pretty good guy. Assange seems to be a hero for a lot of people around the world who think that pissing off the US government is more important than the lives of US collaborators in Afghanistan or maintaining good diplomatic relations around the world. I personally don’t agree — I think dumping all of those cables was completely irresponsible and a real hero would have gone through them first and only published ones that were actually important — but Fowler is entitled to his opinion.
Here’s the thing though, there’s this old trope that nice, upstanding guys couldn’t possibly be rapists. When women who were clearly throwing themselves at Assange later accuse him of rape, that must be false — they were obviously asking for it.
It is telling that I get 340 words into this post before I mention the two women who are at the centre of this whole affair. Want to know something ridiculous? I had to look up the names Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin — who, by the way, are the victims. All of this media coverage over the last two years and I did not even know their names off-hand. I do feel a little guilty about this (pun not intended), but then you probably had no idea who they were either.
See, this notoriously egotistical Assange character has managed to convince the world that it is all about him.
This is some huge conspiracy to persecute poor little Julian. It’s really the US, UK, Australian and Swedish governments all secretly coordinating to get him into an electric chair in CIA HQ. He‘s the victim.
It’s not like we’re talking about an extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo Bay here, he’s being extradited from the UK to Sweden. Both are European countries with very strong legal institutions and the rule of law. In fact, there is no logical argument that I can see for Sweden being easier to extradite him from, or why the US wouldn’t be trying to extradite him from the UK right now if that was the intention.
It especially bothers me that so many people seem to be attacking the Swedish legal system for being too easy on rape victims. Seriously. Now that’s the argument that the pro-Assange left is using — end Sweden’s draconian anti-rape policies!
Put simply, Julian Assange is doing everything that is humanly possible to avoid standing trial for rape in a liberal, democratic country. Of course he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but his victims are also entitled to justice. If the Swedish prosecutors believe that they can prove the charges, Assange must have his day in court and if he continues to avoid doing that, it only makes him seem more guilty.
In a way, it feels similar to the people who are willing to overlook the horrific culture of abusing women amongst Palestinians because it doesn’t fit their anti-Israel narrative. Because it’s Assange and they like Assange, he is being treated as an oppressed hero and not an accused rapist.
Here’s the reality: nothing you may like about Assange or Wikileaks means that he is not capable of committing sexual assault. Nothing about the behaviour of those women towards Assange means that they were Asking For It.
If you have any credibility, stop making excuses for Assange, it’s not about him. If Julian Assange had sex with Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin and they did not consent, he is a criminal and should go to jail. The only way to resolve the situation is for him to stand trial in Sweden, which he must do by law. That is all there is to it.
There has been a lot of attention on Turnbull’s recent Michael Kirby Lecture but I only just got around to reading it. Overall, it’s very hard to fault him – he systematically goes through the different arguments against legalising gay marriage and quite convincingly debunks them. Whatever your views on gay marriage, it is worth reading as food for thought.
HOWEVER, he did not quite follow his reasoning to the logical conclusion – a conclusion that I reached a while ago. And no, I am not saying “so near and yet so far” because he said that he wanted civil unions rather than pushing a bill on gay marriage at this time. Here’s what I’m talking about:
So there is a clear distinction already between what constitutes a valid marriage in the eyes of the state and in the eyes of the Church.
Of course this distinction is more clear cut in countries where a marriage is recorded by a civil official at a registry office or town hall and then, subsequently, by a religious ceremony where one is conducted. I don’t doubt that explains why the legalisation of gay marriage has been less controversial there.
In Australia however ministers of religion are authorised to perform both the civil function, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the religious one on behalf of their denomination.
My point here is that the question as to whether same sex couples’ unions should be termed a marriage by the state is not one which calls for a religious answer. No denomination can be compelled to recognise any particular form of marriage – it is entirely up to them.
So here’s the question: if that is true (which it is), WHY IS THE STATE STILL TRYING TO DO JUST THAT? And why is Turnbull supporting it? So long as the state figures it should be defining the word “marriage”, there will be problems that will be unnecessarily divisive and create a lot of avoidable public outrage. Why not let people who get married define what “marriage” should mean for them?
He only briefly supports state-regulated marriage substantially once, like this:
Study after study has demonstrated that people are better off financially, healthier, happier if they are married and indeed, I repeat, if they are formally married as opposed to simply living together. 
And his footnote said this (my bold):
 There is widespread evidence that marriage leads to better mental health, greater wealth accumulation, more stable households and better well being of children raised in a household. A 1998 study by the RAND Corporation, for instance, found that the median household worth of married households was almost four times higher those who were never married, with a median wealth of U.S.$132,000 compared to $35,000. Lupton, J., & Smith J., (1999), “Marriage, Assets and Savings”, available online here. The study measured 7600 households containing a member born between 1934 and 1941 (so between 51-60 years old). A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found varying levels of serious psychological distress according to different the different categories of marital status. Among adults aged 18–44 years, 6 per cent of those who were divorced or separated experienced serious psychological distress compared with, 3.6% of those living with a partner, 2.5% of never married adults, and 1.9% of married adults. Schoenborn, C., (2004), “Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999–2002”, available online here. The study also found married couples enjoyed much greater physical wellbeing…
Did you see what was wrong? Turnbull is a highly-educated and very intelligent person, so I am a little disappointed that he would be making such a basic mistake.
Those results are not causative – they do not necessarily show that getting married has any benefits at all. What they could just as easily indicate is that people who are generally more wealthy, and who have better mental and physical health are more likely to get married and, if married, are less likely to be divorced.
I would put my money on the latter being the case, rather than the former – I see no logical reason why the piece of paper proclaiming you to be “lawfully wedded” would make one iota of difference to your income or wellbeing, however I can definitely understand why a couple in good health and with steady incomes would be more likely to spend their lives together happily than a couple living paycheck to paycheck while battling psychological illness.
STATE MARRIAGE is a harmful institution. Legal interests should be attached to demonstrated co-dependency and not on a ceremony conducted by an official with a license. Marriage should be conducted by the clergy, or by some kind of communal leader, or whoever the hell else wants to do it – that is not something that the Federal Government needs to have anything to say about.
Turnbull is definitely on the right track, he just needs to take that extra leap.
There have been two undeniable tragedies over the past few days as two boats carrying asylum-seekers have capsized en route from Indonesia to Australia (fortunately, the latest one seems to have been rescued fairly effectively and the loss of life was far less, although there was still one dead and three still missing). As most readers would know, this has re-sparked the gigantic debate about Australia’s asylum-seeker policy – which has reached a fervour not seen since… the last time this happened.
There seems to be consensus that the government has to “do something” to “stop the boats”. Just what that means exactly is under fierce debate. There are three main options being pushed, so I figured that I would summarise these for all you lovely people and then give some quick thoughts on the right way to go.
1. The “Pacific Solution”
This is the Liberal Party’s pet policy – they want to replicate what was done under then Prime Minister John Howard and then Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock. This solution is designed to provide strong disincentives for people to attempt to reach Australia by boat.
It’s kind of a two-pronged assault. Firstly, anyone who arrives in Australia unlawfully and then claims asylum will be given a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) – meaning that they are permitted to remain in Australia until it is no longer dangerous for them to be in their country of origin, at which time they will be deported “home”. This is supplemented by opening an Australian-administered asylum-seeker detention centre on a tiny Pacific atoll called Nauru, so that no one who tries to reach Australia unlawfully by boat will actually reach Australia and there are no guarantees of ever getting there.
2. The “open arms” solution
I call it that with my tongue in my cheek. This is the line being pushed by the Greens and various “refugee advocates”. At its core, the argument is that any form of offshore processing of refugees is cruel and so we should process them all in Australia and let them into the community as soon as possible.
Typically, for the people who are advocating it at least, this is a very nice and well-meaning policy but is a little detached from reality and would create huge problems if put into practise. The biggest problem is that, contrary to this narrative, not all “boat people” are just really nice, desperate people who are fleeing horrible persecution to make a contribution to our great, multicultural nation. Some of them are that, but some aren’t. In fact, the easier it seems that it is to get into Australia, the more likely it is that people who are not genuine refugees will come over.
Once someone destroys their travel documents (as these “boat people” are want to do), it is very difficult to figure out exactly who they are. This results in a small but significant number of these asylum seekers fleeing not persecution for their race, religion or politics, but for their involvement in organised crime – or even terrorism. Ignoring that element of them is dangerous, it would take just one bomb on a major piece of infrastructure and the public reaction would mean that our borders are sealed permanently (not to mention the horrible loss of life that it would inevitably entail).
3. The “Malaysia
This was the brainchild of the Gillard Labor government and requires a little background. The most important thing to know is that the Pacific Solution worked – boats had essentially stopped coming in 2007 when Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister. The new ALP government then set-about dismantling the Howard/Ruddock policies, which they had been calling “inhumane” for years, and boats promptly began coming again and have been increasing ever since.
When running for the 2010 election, Julia Gillard – aware of the political difficulty that these boatloads of asylum seekers presented for her government – announced an “East Timor Solution”. This claimed to provide the same effect as the Pacific Solution, but was supposed to be somehow different because East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention (a weak argument as the Nauru centre was Australian-administered, so it was not really material whether or not Nauru had signed the Convention). Regardless, it transpired that Gillard had not seen fit to run this little idea past, you know, the East Timorese. Suffice to say it didn’t go very far.
After East Timor collapsed, the government was desperate for a solution and began floundering. They then had the genius idea of announcing that they would negotiate a solution with Malaysia after they approached Malaysia, but before they had actually negotiated a solution. Malaysia was calling all the shots and they knew it, so they eventually agreed on a kind of asylum-seeker trade: they send 4,000 Burmese Christians in exchange for 800 (presumably) Iranian and Afghani Muslims from Australia. They hate Christians, we hate Muslims, everybody wins.
After the huge outcry in Australia regarding the way refugees are treated in Malaysia (let’s just say that it involved caning of bare buttocks), the government did get Malaysia – not a signatory to the Refugee Convention – to agree to respect the refugees’ rights. In an explicitly non-binding agreement.
Problem for the government was that the Convention is annexed to the Migration Act and explicitly referred to in the provisions allowing asylum-seekers to be processed offshore, so the High Court ruled that the decision to implement the Malaysia Solution was not made according to the power conferred on Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister, which requires that the rights and protections of refugees under the Convention are respected. The government then tried to remove these protections, but this was (thankfully) blocked by pretty much everyone else in Parliament.
Offshore in general
So here comes the real analysis (woohoo!). The most common argument against offshore processing (chiefly the Pacific Solution) is that it made no real difference and the number of unlawful arrivals in Australia is just a reflection of global trends (see, eg, this). This claim has absolutely no basis in any fact or evidence. The numbers speak for themselves really. Consider this table first from the Australian Parliament:
Now, look at this table from the UNHCR:
Share of main receiving countries of asylumseekers in total number of applications
That is very clear evidence that Australia’s number of asylum seekers has not been keeping up with global trends. To the contrary, the number of asylum claims in Australia relative to the rest of the world has tripled since 2007. I don’t need to bother with more sophisticated statistics (although many have), anyone who looks at that data without blind bias can see that something made Australia far more attractive to asylum seekers in 2007 than it had been before.
On the other hand
I now have to write what is possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever written on this site.
Greens leader Christine Milne has a point.
Australia takes a negligible number of asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60p/a) – the two sources of these boats. Both of these countries are not good places for refugees and in Malaysia they are actually persecuted, meaning that they still have refugee status and (as mentioned before) it is illegal to deport any refugee back there.
Disincentivising the journey is all very well, however it will not work so long as the incentive to come is still stronger. The refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia know that they have almost no hope of ever being resettled, they cannot go home and they cannot stay where they are. Getting on a boat is their only hope and while that remains true, they will continue to come.
The solution requires that incentive to be changed as well. Australia needs to substantially increase the number of refugees that we take from Malasia and Indonesia, it’s as simple as that. Once we are taking several thousand a year, they will know that they would probably make it here eventually if need be and the UNHCR camps would look more appealing than our detention centres.
Given all of the above, here is the ideal solution in my opinion:
Combine the Pacific Solution and the surprisingly lucid Milne solution. Have a processing centre on Nauru (which, by the way, does great things for the impoverished island nation as well) but also commit to taking a few thousand asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia each year. It will make the boat journeys seem unappealing while providing another option for the truly desperate people in Indonesia and Malaysia.
And no deportation to Malaysia. I was almost throwing my iPad against the wall this morning while Gillard was on it trying to sell that solution as though it is really the humanitarian thing to do. She was advocating for the removal of all the refugee rights under the Convention as ratified in Australian legislation, simple as that. It is disgraceful and inhumane – no amount of spin will change that. The principle of non-refoulement lies at the very core of the refugee framework, which means that you cannot deport someone fleeing persecution to a place where they will still be persecuted. According to Gillard and Bowen, refoulement is the humane choice. Go figure…
There has been a huge shitfight at the University of Sydney over “LifeChoice Sydney”, an anti-abortion club that just affiliated with the student Union (USU). Pro-lawful abortion activists decided to campaign hard against the club being allowed on campus, and the ensuing brawl has been all over the press. It even caught the attention of (long-ago) friend of the blog Dina Rickman, all the way over at HuffPo UK.
In my opinion, this was a huge tactical error on the part of the people trying to shut LifeChoice down.
The University of Sydney student union will subsidise an anti-abortion group after students failed to overturn the endorsement of the pro-life society.
LifeChoice Sydney was endorsed by the student union on Friday, meaning the anti-abortion group is now entitled to up to $4000 of annual funding.
Attempts were made to overturn the endorsement on Wednesday at a board meeting of the University of Sydney Union (USU), where members moved a motion calling for the student body to “consider LifeChoice as discriminatory against women”.
However the motion was voted down 36-34.
Note: the “$4,000” figure is misleading. That is the maximum amount they could qualify for if they use every single subsidy available to them over the course of the year – which is highly unlikely, these things are targeted to specific categories of activities. In reality they will probably only get a few hundred.
In the interest of full disclosure, I probably have to weigh-in on the debate a little before I start talking about tactics. I’ll include a few observations below, but for a number of reasons that are beyond the purview of this post, I am against the idea of banning abortion.
HOWEVER, trying to ban LifeChoice was a bad idea. Even if it had been successful, LifeChoice has had a huge amount of publicity from the whole incident. People around the world now know who LifeChoice are and what they stand for, people on campus who would never have given them a second thought before have now read their material because they wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I know that these calls are tough – and I say that as someone who worked hard in my day to have some clubs disaffiliated – but you really have to pick your battles.
The first question to ask is “what do we achieve by doing this?”
The best case scenario here is “not much”. For one thing, the vast majority of student clubs disappear after a few months, so it is doubtful whether LifeChoice will really do anything. Secondly, even an active LifeChoice is not changing any minds any time soon – this is quite a polarising issue and I doubt that many students would be particularly amenable to whatever propaganda these students are putting out (plus student campaigning methods tend to be little more than cheaply printed and badly designed flyers). Thirdly, there are already numerous societies at Usyd with an anti-abortion stance – such as various religious groups (Catholics, Evangelical Christians etc), or the “Conservative club”. In fact, I would venture a guess that these are exactly the people forming this club – which means that banning it will not prevent them from campaigning on the issue anyway and it is very unlikely that this club will make them any more or less successful than they already are.
Now, the worst case scenario? That pretty-much just played out. By trying to ban the group, the debate becomes about more than just abortion – now it is about democratic rights and the free exchange of ideas amongst students. A bitter fight in the student body trying to stop a group of people from expressing their beliefs makes the anti-abortion club look like martyrs and the pro-lawful abortion activists look like bullies.
LifeChoice just got themselves a lot of airtime that they would never have had before. People around the world who would never even know that they existed will now be paying attention. They will get discussed on talkback radio, they will be endorsed in columns and they’ll even get mentions on massively influential blogs like this one (at least three people are reading this post who hadn’t heard of them before. AT LEAST).
In short, the pro-lawful abortion activists have ignited a debate around abortion which they begin by looking like the bad guys. Any progress from here will just be recovering face.
If you are right about something, the free exchange of ideas will mean that you win-out eventually. That has happened and is happening in Australia. The debate is not over, but we’re winning. Abortion is legal.
Sometimes, letting your opponents provoke you is just playing into their hands (which applies equally to debates that I spend most of my time on). It may be counter-intuitive, but fighting their message like this only helps them get it out there. The best thing to do in these cases is to just ignore them and keep on doing what you were doing before. Be pro-active and don’t allow them to dictate the terms of debate.
Observations on the abortion debate: I have a problem with the way both sides conduct themselves (surprise surprise). There seems to be a complete refusal to engage with anyone who holds opposite views, which means that the issue will simply never be resolved. This is why I refuse to use either of the spin terms “pro-life” or “pro-choice” – they both try to pretend that the other side of the debate doesn’t really exist, which helps no one.
I may flesh this out in later posts, but briefly: “pro-life” people argue that an unborn foetus is a human being – or at least will be – and this person has a right to live, therefore it is not anyone else’s place to deny that child life. “Pro-choice” people argue that women should have a right to control their own body, which includes choosing whether or not to be pregnant. Both arguments are right, but neither acknowledges the others’ existence.
The reality is that there are two valid, conflicting rights. Whichever way you decide to go, you are harming some for the benefit of others. Taking either line without admitting that is completely immoral as you are causing suffering without even acknowledging it.
UPDATE: a reader pointed out on Facebook that “pro-choice” people are not necessarily “pro-abortion”, they are just in favour of permitting the choice of lawfully aborting pregnancies. I have changed the terminology to “pro-lawful abortion” as a result.
It is hard to put into words what I feel about the events in the South Tel Aviv suburb yesterday with the bitterly ironic name of Hatikvah. That said, putting things into words is what I do. So here goes.
I’ll begin with someone else’s words: Ha’aretz journalist Ilan Lior, who was actually there and watched the whole thing play out. Here is how he described it:
I have been a journalist for ten years. I’ve covered terror attacks, funerals, car accidents, and protests. I’ve seen fury, frustration, despair, and sadness in a variety of places and forms. But I’ve never seen such hatred as it was displayed on Wednesday night in the Hatikva neighborhood. If it weren’t for the police presence, it would have ended in lynching. I have no doubt. Perhaps a migrant worker would have been murdered, perhaps an asylum seeker, or maybe just a passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Israel’s asylum seeker problem
I have written in the past on how Israel provides its African asylum seekers with a safe haven that is unmatched by any other country that side of Europe, but also that they still face difficulties. The situation that they find themselves in is depicted very well in this piece by Daniella Cheslow and I recommend clicking through and reading it, but in essence: Israel has no policy.
Tens of thousands of people have been fleeing for Israel over the past decade, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea. The horrors that they face at home and during the journey do not bear thinking about. Amongst other things, they are hunted for their ethnicity, quite literally shot on sight by Egyptian forces, and often abducted by Sinai Bedoins, held to ransom and then tortured to death when they can’t pay (African refugees do not tend to have a lot of money).
After weeks of travelling through harsh deserts, often on foot, they cross the border into Israel – where they are greeted by the Israeli border guards, given food and medical attention, taken to a detention centre in South Israel so that Israel can figure out who they are, and then given a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv.
That is the end of Israel’s plan for them. They arrive in Tel Aviv with absolutely nothing – no working visa, no knowledge of Hebrew, no friends, no family, no support network. There are now 60,000 of them – almost 1% of Israel’s entire population – and the Israeli government has had no policy at all to deal with the issue. For reasons outlined here by Shallya Scher-Ehrlich, this is in breach of international law.
What happens next is quite obvious: they serve the same functions as large groups of illegal migrants anywhere else. They work in below-minimum-wage jobs for people unscrupulous enough to employ them in these conditions, they live in crowded accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods and, out of desperation and because criminal gangs are one group that do not exclude them for the colour of their skin, they often become involved in crime (although reports of them massively increasing crime rates are highly exaggerated).
The areas that they moved into were previously (and in some cases still are) the ones predominantly inhabited by Israel’s other marginalised groups – Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and from Ethiopia, or ‘Mizrachim‘. How the old residents have reacted was captured quite well in a profile by Ben Hartman on Sophie Menashe, a Mizrachi Jew who found herself to be the last Jew in a building now inhabited by African migrants:
Despite the descriptions of a gilded past, these neighborhoods were never upscale and had a persistent reputation for being crime-infested. However, the influx of Africans has added racial conflict to the already troubled social dynamic and has left many veteran residents feeling foreign and outnumbered. …
The apartment was once a source of pride for Menashe. …
Over the years, her neighbors grew older and died or moved out, and more and more foreigners moved in; first foreign workers, mainly from West Africa and East Asia, and over the past five or six years, East African migrants and asylum- seekers.
The sentiments that Menashe expressed toward the African migrants left little room for nuance: They carry AIDS and other diseases, are violent drunks and might be part of a plot hatched by the Jewish state’s enemies to flood Israel with African Muslims, creating a demographic threat to bring down the country from within.
Although such views would offend a wide swath of polite Israeli society, they come from a place of fear and frustration, and from long days spent cooped up in her apartment, afraid to step out into a world that has shifted beneath her feet – where Menashe now feels like a stranger.
These tensions have recently started coming to a head, and the government is finally reacting as a result – building a fence along the border to Egypt and building a massive detention centre to house the asylum seekers. In many ways, it seems as though they are taking a leaf out of Australia’s book.
Whatever your views on mandatory detention, one particular leaf that Israel has now taken is unambiguously disgusting, hateful and unjustifiable. That “leaf” is the 2005 Cronulla riots, which in many ways were mirrored by yesterday’s events in Tel Aviv.
I began the post with Ilan Lior’s eyewitness report of the incident and another, by Hagai Matar, can be read here. The worst part is undoubtedly the fact that the crowd was fuelled mostly by Members of the Knesset.
Hatikvah was a riot
Let’s be clear though, while some of these were government MKs, the protest was against the government’s policy. The protesters and the speakers were complaining that the government has not been harsh enough on the refugees. What the parliamentarians said, however, was disgraceful. Lior quotes Michael Ben-Ari, a Kahannist, saying, “there are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over.”
Wore still was the quote from Likkud MK Miri Regev, which I feel the need to emphasise in bold:
“The Sudanese are a cancer in our body. All the left-wingers that filed petitions in the Supreme court should be embarrassed – they stopped the expulsion.”
As a few have pointed out, this is precisely the kind of abhorrent, racist rhetoric that Iranian leaders use to refer to Israel and Jews, rightly drawing condemnation from most of the world.
Even worse, it is the kind of language that Sudanese President Omar Bashir uses when he’s busy inciting genocide against the black Africans in his Arab-ruled country. This is precisely what these people fled in the first instance, hoping for a haven in Israel, yet they are met with the same revulsion. It’s sickening.
Even this was not quite the evening’s the low point.
Ben-Ari, Regev and Major Karnage favourite Danny Danon managed to rile the crowd enough that they transformed into a mob and began attacking the journalists mentioned above for being “traitors” and allegedly “throwing rocks at checkpoints” (which, needless to say, both of them deny ever doing).
The mob started chanting “Sudanese to Sudan!” and making their way towards the largely African neighbourhoods. What ensued was beyond harrowing. The mob went around South Tel Aviv, smashing the windows of African-owned businesses, looting African-run shops and attacking passers-by who happened to be black.
I cannot think of any epithets that even approach how repulsive this is. Jews Sans Frontiers, a group with whom I do not often agree, compared it — not unjustifiably — to Kristallnacht. Watching some of the footage, this is exactly what comes to mind:
Danon’s response? Well, he figured that he’d pen an op-ed. This was published in the Jerusalem Post the morning after the riot:
We are at a critical crossroads with a strategic demographic threat developing within our borders that may upend our country’s very character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is nonsensical that such large numbers of illegal infiltrators from Africa are settling permanently in our country and so little is being done to rectify this problem. This is especially highlighted when taking into account that the crime rate among the infiltrators is almost double the rate of that in the general population. The desperately necessary solution is a three-pronged program to end this dangerous phenomenon: stop, arrest and deport.
A threat to Israel’s “character as a Jewish and democratic state”.
The rhetoric that Danon was supporting and that pogrom he incited is exactly the sort of persecution that Israel was created to prevent. The Zionist dream was formed when Jews had to regularly endure this kind of treatment and longed for a place where they would be away from it, where they would be able to live without fear — not a place to import the violent prejudice that plagued the countries from which they fled.
The concept of a “Jewish state” may be difficult to define, but it was definitely not meant in the same way that the Nazis spoke of a “German state”. Whatever some anti-Zionists may choose to believe, Israel was never intended to be a land “cleansed” of non-Jews. It is supposed to be a homeland for the Jewish people, that to some extent embodies Jewish values.
This riot was about as far from Jewish values as anyone can possibly stray. Where is the “light unto the nations” now? Who is “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you?”
It is not the African migrants that are eroding Israel’s Jewish character, it is Danon, Regev and Ben-Ari. They are the cancer that is eating away at Israeli society, propagating this vile racism — not to mention trying to unravel the Constitutional basis for Israel’s democracy.
If there is some hope left to find in Hatikvah, it is in the fact that these MKs did manage to unite the Jewish people — against them. Jewish organisations around the world condemned what happened. Similar for everyone in Israel beyond a handful of extremists.
Even someone like Neil Lazarus — who has literally made his career out of defending everything Israel does — has come out strongly against Israeli racism as a result.
Moreover, the critical voices include members of the Government who are much more important than Danon:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on Wednesday’s violent protests in southern Tel Aviv and made it clear that “there is no room for the actions and expressions witnessed (in Tel Aviv). I’m saying these things to the general population and the residents of southern Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand.”
[Knesset Speaker Reuben Rivlin said that t]he people “may demonstrate and protest and demand the government formulate a solution, but there should be no incitement – and it is forbidden to use the same tactics anti-Semites used against us [in the Exile].”
“We suffered greatly from incitement and harassment,” Rivlin said. “We must be committed to sensitivity and finding just solutions. The main problem is not the infiltrators and refugees, but the lack of a clear policy from the government of Israel.”
It is important to maintain perspective. As Michael Koplow pointed out, there were only about 1,000 people who attended the rally, and fewer still who actually rioted.
Also, while I did use the word “pogrom”, this is not like the state-sanctioned pogroms that the Jews of Eastern Europe were subjected to. Happily, no one was killed or seriously injured on the night – thanks in no small part to the heroic actions of the Israeli police. Israeli society has overwhelmingly condemned what went on and it has been made clear by the Prime Minister and the President that this kind of thing has no place in Israel.
In that spirit, I strongly believe that the Members of Knesset who were involved in the affair should be forced to resign. What they said and did is absolutely unacceptable and their parties should not countenance that behaviour.
Also, I will be donating money to the African Refugee Development Centre in Tel Aviv, I suggest that you do the same.
I will leave you with some words from Adam Ibrahim, a leader of Israel’s African migrant community:
If you don’t want us here, don’t turn your rage at us, because we have no choice. I have nowhere to go. I just want to live in safety. I agree to be deported to any African country, other than Sudan. I just want to live with dignity, without people talking about the color of my skin, and I want to stop feeling hostility on the streets.
It is important for me to say that we are not a burden on society. We work for less than minimum wage in jobs that Israelis wouldn’t want to do themselves anyway. We pay rent, and make do with organizations that we established ourselves. It is hard for me to hear Eli Yishai’s statements in the media. Their impact on Israelis is tremendous, since in Israel everyone listens to the news.
The state is spreading negative propaganda against us – they say it is unsafe here because of us. I feel that the Jews are doing to us the exact same thing the Germans did to them. Don’t talk nonsense – we are in the 21st century. Don’t talk about skin color, don’t talk about slaves and don’t say that I stink. We want to see a real democracy – not only words.
I know that I will never have equal rights here. I just want to receive the few rights that I do deserve as a refugee.
Number one: being the son of Holocaust survivors makes you left wing.
Manne grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, having lost his grandparents to the Nazi horror. This linked him instinctively to the politics of the left. After the war, however, when other young left activists were blindly defending Stalin and Mao, Manne looked to the evidence and saw evil – thus commencing his pilgrimage to the anti-communist right. Fifteen years ago he broke from this neoconservative cadre on another matter of historical record, the tragedy of the stolen generations.
Number two: you can write a 2,000 word essay about “listening to science” without quoting a single scientist or giving a single piece of scientific information.
Confident in their professional training and achievements, middle-class citizens are prepared to challenge the academic elites. Successful people in the suburbs see themselves as in-tune with the real world, while scientists are absorbed by theoretical abstractions. In the Information Age, it seems, everyone is a master of every subject they hear something about.
This phenomenon reminds me of the Isaac Asimov novels I read as a teenager: a sci-fi vision whereby society is so well educated, with so much exposure to information, that science has lost its place in the pecking order of respect.
The irony, it’s killing me…
Jim Green seems to think it is, but I am not 100% sure about that. I remember from when I was studying property law that appropriating Aboriginal land for agriculture was justified using arguments along the lines of “why leave the land to feed hundreds when it could feed thousands?”.
A similar argument could apply here. We are not talking about demolishing houses and expelling the residents of villages, the dispute is over vast tracks of sparsely populated land on which Aboriginal people live nomadic lifestyles. In many ways, it seems the most ideal place in the world to be dumping nuclear waste, particularly with regards to the amount of uranium buried underneath it anyway.
Is it so unreasonable that the government can fence a part of this off against the wishes of the tribespeople who wonder it?
More to the point, can egalitarian policy like this be called “racist” because it infringes on the concept of Aboriginal land rights — one that has always been extremely difficult to incorporate into Australian law?
The nomination of the Muckaty site in the Northern Territory was originally made with the promise of $12 million compensation for a small group identified as the exclusive Traditional Owners. While a small group of Traditional Owners support the dump in return for financial compensation, a larger group have been ignored and they have initiated legal action in the Federal Court challenging the nomination of the Muckaty site.
Even though the court case is unresolved, the Government has passed legislation targeting Muckaty as the only site under active consideration for a radioactive waste dump. The National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 is draconian, overriding the Aboriginal Heritage Act and bypassing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It allows for the imposition of a dump on Aboriginal land with no consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners. Nuclear racism in Australia is bipartisan – both the Labor Government and the Liberal/National Opposition voted in support of the legislation.
Muckaty Traditional Owner Penny Phillips said:
“The Government should wait for the court case before passing this law. Traditional Owners say no to the waste dump. We have been fighting against this for years and we will keep fighting. We don’t want it in Muckaty or anywhere in the Northern Territory.”
The Central Land Council expressed “profound disappointment” at the passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Act. David Ross, Director of the Land Council, said:
“This legislation is shameful, it subverts processes under the [Aboriginal] Land Rights Act and is clearly designed to reach the outcome of a dump being located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, whether that’s the best place for it or not. This legislation preserves the Muckaty nomination without acknowledging the dissent and conflict amongst the broader traditional owner group about the process and the so-called agreement. The passage of this legislation will further inflame the tensions and divisions amongst families in Tennant Creek, and cause great stress to many people in that region.”
Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has refused countless requests to meet with Traditional Owners opposed to the dump. Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes says:
“All along we have said we don’t want this dump on our land but we have been ignored. Martin Ferguson has avoided us and ignored our letters but he knows very well how we feel. He has been arrogant and secretive and he thinks he has gotten away with his plan but in fact he has a big fight on his hands.”
Dianne Stokes is not alone. Many Traditional Owners are determined to stop the dump and they are supported by the Northern Territory Government, key trade unions including the Australia Council of Trade Unions, church groups, medical and health organisations, and environmental groups. If push comes to shove, there will be a blockade at the site to prevent construction of the dump.
Everyone seems to be creaming themselves over the new poster campaign from AUJS:
As university campuses around t he nation featured Israeli Apartheid Week, members of The Australasian Union of Jewish Students countered by displaying specially designed posters.
A spokesman for AUJS told J-Wire: “We’ve distributed them to be put up locally in: Victoria, NSW, WA, Queensland, ACT, SA andNew Zealand. They were first put up in Victoria on Sunday night.”
Some of the posters are actually not bad:
But others are pretty awful:
As I have said before, addressing the Apartheid claim is not good advocacy. Meanwhile, demonising Abbas like that is not helping anyone’s image, least of all AUJS’. This is not to say that Abbas’ racist statements and incitement to violence are not a problem, but “smear campaigns” are not the way to go about combating the loony anti-Israel fringe. In fact, by using the “apartheid” epithet falsely, we are not only lowering ourselves to their level but also undermining the struggle of people who genuinely suffered under apartheid — exactly what we (rightly) accuse the “Israeli apartheid” proponents of doing.
Martin Luther King quotes, on the other hand, is a great way to undermine the “celebrities” like Desmond Tutu that they try to use to legitimise themselves.
However, all this is beside the point. The reality is that while poster campaigns may be the most visible form of advocacy, they are also the least effective. For example, Commonwealth Bank spend what probably amounts to millions of dollars promoting itself to students, using not just posters but huge stunts and attractive young men and women handing-out free stuff. That is infinitely more than anyone on campus who is either pro or anti Israel could do and you know what? I have been on campus for six years now and I still bank with Westpac.
The irony is that through its involvement in student politics over the last six or seven years, AUJS has dramatically altered the discourse on campus regarding Israel. When I first went on campus in 2006, to say the atmosphere was hostile would be an understatement. There was a genuinely antisemitic trend within a number of student councils (and I don’t use that word lightly), many of which spent thousands of dollars each year campaigning against Israel. This kind of activity has not gone completely, but it has dwindled substantially.
The community never seemed to care about this, however, probably because you can’t see paradigm shifts while walking to lectures from your car. Posters, on the other hand, stand out to Jews and Israel-haters alike — but to the rest of the student population, it’s just more noise to block out.
It amazes me that in 2012, people can still think that posters like these are going to change anyone’s mind. We are bombarded with so many images each day that any kind of visual advertising like this really has very little effect; our minds are conditioned to just blank it out. If this is what it takes to impress the community so that AUJS’ political activities are funded then so be it, but there are much better things to spend time and money doing.
Last night I promised a post giving background information on Joseph Kony after I explained my doubts regarding the “Stop Kony” campaign. I have to say that I feel entirely vindicated. I am always amazed by people who seem to spend their whole lives not caring about suffering in the world at all suddenly go up in arms because of a 27 minute piece of propaganda, donate a lot of money to a very dubious cause and then go back to sleep. As I suspected, there is much more to the situation than the video let on.
1. The video was bullshit
The best critique of the video itself came from Michael Wilkerson, guest posting on Joshua Keating’s Foreign Policy blog:
Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren’t important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands. The video, narrated by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, says its purpose is to intensify pressure on the U.S. government to make sure Kony is brought to justice this year, and as the message broadcast throughout says, what is important is simple: Stop Kony.
Among other emotive shots, the video features Russell’s attempt to explain the LRA to his toddler son, enthusiastic (and mostly white) volunteers putting up posters and wearing Kony 2012 bracelets, and some heart-wrenching footage of children who walked for miles to sleep in a safe place at the height of the LRA’s power in Northern Uganda. The latter comprised much of Invisible Children’s namesake first film and brought the organization to prominence.
But in the new film, Invisible Children has made virtually no effort to inform. Only once, at 15:01 in the movie, over an image of a red blob on a map leaving Northern Uganda and heading West, is the fact that the LRA is no longer in Uganda mentioned, and only in passing.
2. Kony is a useful scapegoat for Ugandan crimes
The video mentioned failed peace talks and blamed Kony for his duplicity in using the talks as cover while he rearmed. This may be true, but there is more to the talks than that. Max Fisher had this to say:
Since the late 1980s, the Ugandan government has tried several times to defeat the LRA or at least compel it to disarm. It even created a senior position dedicated to this cause; the Minister of State for Pacification of Northern Uganda. The first person to hold this office, Betty Bigombe, negotiated directly with Kony, deep-jungle meetings that many of her staffers refused to attend for fear that they would be maimed or killed. But President Museveni squashed Bigombe’s hopeful 1994 peace talks, and others since then. Museveni has good reason to want fighting to continue. He is still unpopular in the north, and the LRA gives him good reason to fill that once rebellious region with his troops. They’ve also given him an opportunity forcibly relocate a number of “vulnerable” northern Ugandans into displacement camps, where he said they might be more easily protected. The LRA’s bloody attacks also provide a rallying point for once-fractured Uganda, a common enemy that keeps everyone in line. Whatever Museveni’s brutalities, the LRA will always be worse.
3. Kony has already been stopped
Has he been captured and brought to justice? No. What the video forgot to mention, however, is that the 30-year long war in Northern Uganda is over and Kony lost. As Wilkerson was getting at, the “moved into other countries” that the video mentioned in passing would be more accurately described as “fled into other countries, with a coalition of African armies hot on his tail”. Kate Collins last October:
The U.S. troop deployment can make a decisive difference. Kony’s forces have been weakened in the past few years, in good part because of the $4.4 million in aid Kampala has received from the Obama administration. Kony now commands fewer than 300 fighters. Putting U.S. boots on the ground will likely lead to the complete collapse of the last remnants of his army.
4. What are you trying to achieve exactly?
Mark Kersten points out that, while military solutions have failed, raising awareness of Kony in the West would not achieve much and the people in his region are already well aware of who he is.
Kony 2012 is about making Joseph Kony, the leader of the notorious LRA, famous because, the line of reasoning goes, if everyone knew him, no one would be able to stand idly by as he waged his brutal campaign of terror against the people of East Africa.
I am actually stupefied that any analysis of the ‘LRA question’ results in the identification of the problem being that “Kony isn’t popular enough”. The reality is that few don’t know who Joseph Kony is in East Africa and the Great Lakes Region, making it all-too-apparent that this isn’t about them, their views or their experiences. But even more puzzling is that Joseph Kony is one of the best known alleged war criminals in the world – including in the United States. This is the case in large part because of the advocacy of Western NGOs, including Invisible Children and the Enough Project as well as the ICC arrest warrants issued against Kony and his senior command.
… In this context, it is worthwhile remembering that massive regional military solutions (Operations Iron Fist and Lightning Thunder most recently), with support from the US, have thus far failed to dismantle or “stop” the LRA. These failures have created serious and legitimate doubts that the ‘LRA question’ is one that can be resolved by military means.
Why have the military solutions failed? Well, according to Max Fisher, finding Kony is not actually all that easy:
Kony may be barking mad — he performs bizarre rituals and claims to fight for “the Ten Commandments” — but he has survived for two decades, outnumbered and outmatched by every metric, on little more than his ideology and his wits. “Kony is a brilliant tactician & knows the terrain better than anybody. He surrounds himself with scouts who have what amounts to an early warning system, which is how he’s eluded capture for so long,” Morehouse College assistant professor and Central Africa expert Laura Seay warned on twitter. “Kony also operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. Many of these places have no roads, infrastructure. All of this adds up for a potential mess for US troops, who don’t know the terrain & can’t count on host government troops to be helpful or even to fight. This will not be easy for only 100 US forces to carry out, especially given language barriers.” Seay also points out that Kony uses children as human shield — and as much of his fighting force — making any direct action ethically and morally difficult.
5. Who is really threatening Ugandan children?
So Kony’s days were numbered before you even heard of him and any campaign to assuage your “white man’s burden” guilt by making a lot of noise about him would not change much. That said, there are far worse things happening to Ugandan children every day than living under the (largely abated) threat of the LRA. The people in northern Uganda are largely Acholi, who fought against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan civil war and who, therefore, Museveni has a strong interest in controlling.
It took some digging to find, but here is what their own government was doing to the Acholi under the auspice of “protecting” them from Koni. Note: this article was from 2006.
The truth is that reports of indisputable atrocities of the LRA are being employed to mask more serious crimes by the government itself. To keep the eyes of the world averted, the government has carefully scripted a narrative in which the catastrophe in northern Uganda begins with the LRA and will only end with its demise. But, under the cover of the war against these outlaws, an entire society, the Acholi people, has been moved to concentration camps and is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, and economically. “Everything Acholi is dying,” declared Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic missionary priest in the region. After his own visit, Ugandan journalist Elias Biryabarema wrote, “Not a single explanation on [E]arth can justify the sickening human catastrophe [of] the degradation, desolation, and the horrors killing off generation after generation.”
… The situation in northern Uganda rivals Darfur in terms of its duration, magnitude, and consequences. For more than a decade, government forces have kept a population of almost 2 million (from the Acholi, Lango, and Teso regions) in some 200 concentration camps, where they face squalor, disease, starvation, and death. Imagine 4,000 people sharing a latrine, women waiting in line for 12 hours to fill a jerrycan at a well, and up to 10 people packing themselves sardine-like into tiny huts.
Ninety-five percent of the Acholi population now resides in these camps. In January 2006, World Vision Uganda reported that 1,000 children are dying each week in the region, one of the worst mortality rates in the world. More recent estimates indicate that number may have climbed to 1,500 deaths a week. In March, a survey by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the death rates in the concentration camps are three times those of Darfur.
Angelo Izama had some thoughts on this as well:
To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
The crux of it
For those of you that are still with me after about 17,000 words: Joseph Kony’s army, the LRA, is the product of ethnic tensions that still remain following the Ugandan civil war in the early 1980s. It was bolstered by support from the genocidal regime in Sudan, whose president is also wanted for war crimes.
The conflict has been perpetuated partly because Kony is a wiley and effective commander and partly because it suits the Ugandan president to keep the war going in the north as it gives him an excuse to crack down on the Acholi people, who pose a potential threat to his otherwise unchallenged rule.
That said, the height of Koney’s power was between 1994 and 2004. Since then, his army has been crushed and he has been forced to flee Uganda. As of today, he has only a few hundred soldiers left to his name and he is being chased around the Congo rainforest by a force of 4,000 troops from a coalition of African countries, which is supported by US intelligence and special forces instructors.
In short: Kony is no longer a problem. BUT Uganda has huge problems with poverty, AIDS, a government that wants to punish homosexuality by death and a president who has been in power for 28 years with no sign of giving this up any time soon. If you want to help Ugandans, forget Koney and do something about that!