Archives for March 2012

Will Americans ever feel free to criticise Israel and not worry they are being anti-American?

This is the week of the annual AIPAC  conference in Washington. (AIPAC, America Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobbying  group in the US) Every member of Congress will be there. They have to be, their campaign funds depend upon it. This is the gathering that demonstrates all too clearly – for those who care to look – the power of the Israeli lobby and the total grip that it has on the US Congress.

This is the week when the President of the most powerful country in the world kowtows to its ungrateful ally in the Middle East, and is made to look feeble and foolish by Benjamin Netanyahu, son of a militant Zionist, Arab hater, right wing bully boy, and the man most likely to plunge the world into chaos and economic catastrophe should he attack Iran, which he appears increasingly likely to do.

What is it with Americans? Why do they allow a foreign country to hold such sway over their legislators? What is it with President Obama that he doesn’t tell Netanyahu where to get off?  Does it really all come down to money? The simple answer is ‘yes’. It would be a very brave president that offended the mighty Israeli lobby in an election year, but that is exactly what Obama needs to do.

Netanyahu and his fellow travellers only understand tough talk, and any tough talking needs to be backed up by the threat of ‘adverse consequences’ for US relations with Israel if it were to undertake uncoordinated military action against Iran. Obama needs to make clear that sanctions have to be given time to work and make clear that he will not be pushed around by Netanyahu and his right wing cohorts.

America needs to wake up to the fact that it is being taken for a ride by the current Israeli administration. It must stand up to the Israeli lobby and take back ownership of its Middle East policy. For a country that has been brainwashed to believe that to be anti-Israel is to be anti- American, this is going to be a tough call, but a call that needs to be made – urgently.

It may be an election year Mr President, but the world is relying on you to say what needs to be said.

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Fuel prices – mass protest it is then George!

On Friday the price of oil closed at $123 a barrel and the price of petrol on forecourts across Britain reached a record high. With petrol prices on their way too £1.50 a litre, we’ll soon be paying nearly £1 in tax and duty on a litre of petrol. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Britain is now the fuel tax capital of Europe.  Nobody else pays as much tax and duty as we do, and if the Chancellor has his way, we’ll be paying even more, an extra 3p a litre in September.

If we had a booming economy, the cost of fuel wouldn’t be quite so critical. As it is, our economy is on its knees.  Britain has a road based economy. The cost of fuel affects practically everything. What on earth is the sense in increasing the cost of this critical commodity at a time when we should be doing everything to reduce costs, encourage demand and generate growth?  High energy prices hammer growth and stuff demand. Politicians keep mouthing the word ‘growth’ hoping that if they say it often enough the genie will be released from the bottle and it will just ‘happen’. It won’t. And it definitely won’t with fuel prices at their current level.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Israel’s premier, the right wing lunatic Netanyahu, is doing all he can to persuade the US to attack Iran and if they won’t he may decide to do it himself. If that happens the Iranians will close the Straits of Hormuz and we’ll be paying £2 a litre.

High fuel prices feed straight into inflation. Britain’s debt-burdened consumers are not going to be able to take high fuel prices for much longer. There are rumblings about fuel protests. They need to become louder. It seems the only way George Osborne is going to be persuaded to act to reduce the tax and duty on fuel, is to bring the country to a grinding halt.

What do we want? The abolition of VAT on petrol and diesel. The outcome? A reduction in prices and a boost in demand. It could be the one positive thing George Osborne ever does to stimulate growth, but we may have to make him do it.

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Is our democracy suffering because of feral lobbying?

David Cameron promised to “shine the light of transparency on lobbying” and later declared that lobbying in this country was “out of control”. Strong words from a former PR man, but so far only words from the Prime Minister, no action.  Lobbying reform appears to be stuck on Cameron’s crowded back burner. Why the delay?  Maybe it’s been labelled ‘too difficult – put off for as long as possible’ or perhaps he’s been overwhelmed by lobbyists trying to convince him that self-regulation is working just fine.

Whether we like it or not, lobbying has become a part of politics. Lobbyists are paid huge sums to influence politicians’ decisions on behalf of their clients. The ‘industry’ has developed under our noses and yet we have little idea about the activities of lobbyists and absolutely no idea about who is lobbying who and for what reason – or how much money is changing hands. Lobbying is to all intents and purposes, secret. That cannot be right. We have a right to know exactly what is going on.

The government is apparently proposing that there should be a register of lobbyists. This turns out to be a proposal that would require minimum disclosure. It would only cover lobbying agencies i.e. those who undertake to lobby on behalf of third parties. It would exclude the thousands of people who work in-house for large corporations, trade bodies, charities and others. This is non-sensical when in-house lobbyists outnumber lobbyists-for-hire by at least 4 to 1. It would mean, for example, a supermarket with a team of 10 in-house, full-time lobbyists wouldn’t have to register, but if it temporarily took on an agency to increase its lobbying firepower, only the agency would have to register its lobbyists.

But ‘registration’ is a red herring.  It will reveal who is lobbying for whom, but without any disclosure of what is being lobbied for, it’s a complete waste of time. Where’s the transparency?

What is being lobbied for has to be made public – and well in advance of the lobbying taking place – or any reform will be utterly meaningless. Those opposed to any proposed lobby should be given the opportunity to put their case too. The amount of money being paid for any lobbying initiative should also have to be disclosed.

If our democracy is to grow and flourish, we have to be completely aware of what is being said and done in our name. Secret lobbying by vested interests undermines our democratic process. It cannot be allowed to continue. Unless we demand complete transparency, we will end up with dysfunctional politics. It’s happened in the US, it must not be allowed to happen here.

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Free speech, is this a concept the LibDems have forgotten?

Baroness Tonge is a brave lady. For years she’s had the courage to speak out against Israel’s treatment of the people of Gaza and the Occupied Territories. She is a great supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Yesterday she said that “Israel would not last forever in its present form.” She’s almost certainly right. She went on to say, “One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.” The American people are indeed beginning to wake up to the bully boy tactics of the Israeli lobby – currently doing everything it can to take America into a new Middle East war over Iran – and unless some sense can be made of the current contrived impasse in the peace process, Israel will most certainly reap what they have sown, as will the Americans.

Enter the mighty Clegg.  He immediately denounced what she had said without either meeting her or discussing the matter. He demanded that she withdraw her remarks. She refused.  The LibDem whip was removed.

Clegg’s reaction is difficult to comprehend. Does it mean that from now on any LibDem who has the whip is forbidden to say anything against Israel? If that’s the case, and there appears to be no other obvious explanation, it’s a very sad day for the Liberal Democrats. But maybe all is not lost. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine group offered Baroness Tonge its “full support”. It said: “The condemnation was made before the leadership had heard her side of the story or even spoken to her. That action in itself worries us. She is entitled to an apology.” There won’t be one, but maybe Mr Clegg will have an even rougher time at his Spring conference than he’s expecting. Here’s hoping.

And then there’s Mr Miliband. Labour didn’t cover itself in glory yesterday either. He bleated “There’s no place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel.” There’s no place in politics for those who deny free speech, Mr Miliband. Let’s hope you don’t follow Mr Clegg’s example.

One thing’s for sure, the Israeli lobby is alive and well in Britain. Our politicians are clearly scared witless to say anything against Israel. Scared not to instantly condemn anyone who dares to utter a critical word for fear of what might be unleashed against them. And then of course there are those ‘donations’, party and personal, that regularly land on the doormat  – providing they toe the line.

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The Tappin Predicament: careless handling of flawed legislation

Christopher Tappin has been stuck in an El Paso gaol since he was extradited to the US a week ago. Tomorrow he’ll learn if he gets bail or not. Whatever the case, he will probably be unaware of his wife’s brave testimony in front of a House of Commons Select Committee this week. He would have been very proud of her.

Christopher Tappin has been let down by the careless handling of flawed legislation. Whether he is guilty or not, he has not been fairly or properly treated.

It all goes back to 2003 when the Blair government, eager to do all it could to assist George Bush’s ‘war on terror’, amended the extradition legislation. Up until 2003, any country requesting the extradition of a British citizen had to produce prima facie evidence to accompany any request for extradition. This requirement was abolished by the new legislation.

The US made no change to its extradition legislation. The US requires that if the UK requests the extradition of an individual, that request has to be accompanied by evidence of “probable cause”, not as high a requirement as prima facie evidence , but significantly higher than we ask of the US. This is clearly wrong. Had the US had to produce prima facie evidence, there is every likelihood that Christopher Tappin would not have been extradited.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General said before the last election, “Our extradition laws are a mess. They’re one-sided.  A Tory government will re-write them.”  So far there’s no sign of that happening.  And speaking to MPs earlier this week, Grieve spoke less bluntly, but nevertheless, pointedly:  “I certainly don’t think they [extradition laws] are in the condition that I would ideally like them to be. If we were to start from somewhere, I don’t think we’d have started from the 2003 [Extradition] Act.” I wonder what advice he gave to the Home Secretary?

It is completely unacceptable for a British citizen to be extradited without prima facie evidence of their alleged wrongdoing.

In the circumstances there is absolutely no question, the Home Secretary, Theresa May should not have signed the extradition warrant.  Christopher Tappin and his family are suffering because of the tardiness of our legislators and the Home Secretary’s stupidity, and that’s just not good enough. Time for Mrs May to consider her position? It should be.

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