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Middle East

Oct 23, 2015

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The news started circulating through Twitter late Wednesday afternoon: “Netanyahu blames Grand Mufti of Jerusalem for Holocaust, says Hitler only wanted to deport Jews.” One blinked and looked at it twice, waited to see if it was a hoax or beat-up of what were likely to be some pretty nasty statements in any case. No, there it was. Israel’s Prime Minister claimed that the Mufti, the ruler — more or less — of Arabs in Palestine from the 1920s into the 1940s, had objected to a plan Hitler had to “deport” all the Jews, saying they would come to Palestine and overwhelm his people. What should Hitler do instead? “Burn them.” Thus the Nazis are partly off the hook: at its root, the Holocaust is a Palestinian creation.

Netanyahu’s remarks have been widely described as “bizarre”, and of course they are. He joins the “at least Hitler …” club, whose most recent member is Tony Abbott, and whose founding member was David Irving, the historian who once remarked that Hitler was “probably the biggest friend the Jews had in the Third Reich, certainly when the war broke out”. But Netanyahu is the head of a state founded on the idea of a Jewish national home, its actual existence arising from the Holocaust. What’s going on?

One thing he’s doing, at least, is the “dead cat on the table” move — say something as outrageous as possible, and have two effects: 1) stop us talking about something else, i.e. the renewed violence on the ground, and the heightening of repression and murder by the Israeli state, and 2) make people clarify the falsehood of the statement, and thus give it some concreteness. That second one is working a treat at the moment as news organisations all over the world scramble to give a potted biog of the Grand Mufti and clarify that, though he was unquestionably viciously anti-Judaic, he does not get credit for the Holocaust — which can’t help but suggest that the idea was in some sense plausible. It wasn’t, and isn’t, but the history of it is fascinating enough to play the “dead cat” game — and also tells us something about the shifting politics and identity of Israel and Zionism.

When the Holocaust emerged as a concrete historical thing in the years after World War II — for some time it had simply been tangled up as part of the greater slaughter — it was generally constructed as an act of deep intent by the Nazis, with a wealth of evidence to back that up, starting with the exterminatory rhetoric in Mein Kampf. However, from the time of Adolf Eichmann’s capture and trial onward, a counter-narrative took over, one that emphasised process, and the amoralism of a war and terror machine clanking on, its functionaries desperate to please a dictator. This revised conception picked up the various schemes mooted to make Europe Judenfrei, non-lethally: forced resettlement in Uganda, Guyana, Madagascar, etc. The argument that arose from this was that the Holocaust arose as a “final solution”, because all other “solutions” had failed — the war had made it impossible for Germany to expel the Jews en masse. Some historians made pains to emphasise that this process account did not lessen the radical evil of the Holocaust; some, coming from the German right, were less fussed.

Whatever truths this uncovered about the complexity of Nazi-Jewish relations in the 1930s, it has been largely debunked in the last 10-15 years. Various schemes for mass deportation were proposed to Hitler and the higher command, but they showed little interest in them. The argument seeks to downplay the sheer degree of genocidal imagining there was concerning the Jews in early 20th-century Europe, a mix of anti-Judaism, social Darwinism, eugenics, social “hygiene” movements and the like, fused together with the rawer eastern European hatred of the pogroms. It also plays down, as Timothy Snyder’s recent work reminds us, the sheer obsessive focus of Hitler’s exterminatory anti-Judaism, to which we have become so accustomed, that we are perhaps inured, too, thus allowing the “springtime for Hitler” argument about his alleged preference for deportation (“der Fuehrer was sooo gentle …”) to be revived.

Netanyahu’s claim fails the most basic tests: the exterminatory state structures had been in place since the ’30s, used on criminals and the mentally ill; the Wannsee “final solution’ conference had already occurred; and the Holocaust had begun, in the pre-gassing phase, with more than a million Jews and other groups murdered, largely by mass shootings. Netanyahu’s use of the Mufti’s alleged comment that the Jews should be “burnt” is obviously intended to bring to mind gassing, batch killings and burning in ovens. But more people were murdered in the Holocaust by shooting and burial than gas. The focus on gassing is a feature of our obsession with the “grotesquerie” of the Holocaust, which is often presented as a reflection on its evil.

The obvious intent of the remark beyond creating furore — to suggest the Palestinians are to blame for the Holocaust and thus getting what they deserve — is so obviously absurd that many might wonder how it could even work as a piece of chutzpah. The answer is that there is a desire buried deep in the bosom of right-wing politics to remove the Holocaust from the heart of 20th-century history for an obvious reason: the single most radically evil act of racial genocide in modernity was committed by Europeans on Europeans. The civilisation that defined itself as the standard against barbarity, and thus morally licensed imperialism, had committed an act that not even the most brutal non-European movement or people could countenance.

Zionism as a movement was founded on the intimation that this sort of brutality was in the offing. Sparked by the Dreyfus affair it was a final decision that assimilation, etc, would never create a genuinely Judeo-Christian civilisation in Europe, that the age-old attempt by Christianity to tear out its Jewish roots would take a darker turn, and that a non-European Semitic land must be created. The role for the “other” Semites, the Arabs, was to be one of paternalistic domination and education, but early Zionists saw themselves as entering a future where they would be bound up with them — certainly more closely than with Europeans, and that Zionists would de-Europeanise as the land developed.

That conception was ended with revisionist Zionism of the ’20s and the idea that an “iron wall” should be erected between Jews and Arabs, or that the latter should be a permanent minority in an Israel on both sides of the Jordan. But it was only when Israel came to be laced into a US and Western alliance thoroughly that any notion of a Semitic affinity was abandoned for a re-Europeanised conception of Israeli Judaism. That re-Europeanisation — hell, a re-rendering of Israeli Jews as white — has been deepened year on year by the arrival of US fundamentalist settlers; of east European Jews with a non-Semitic racial/cultural heritage; of the collapse of a secular Palestinian resistance back into Islamist ones, as Israel becomes a global high-tech state, rather than the socialist agricultural one originally envisaged; and by the shifting axis of the world, whereby states like China and India, not likely to look generously on European-derived imperialist projects, take the world lead.

God knows what Netanyahu really thinks, but it’s this re-Europeanised background that would make the notion that the Palestinians started the Holocaust as psychologically plausible, at some level, in any number of listeners. A more extended treatment would look at the way in which it has some very nasty antecedents indeed, in the increasing attraction that revisionist Zionism (the roots of Likud) had for fascism and Nazism, and the deeply disturbing regard that some ultra-Zionists, such as former PM Yitzhak Shamir, in his terrorist days, had for the “will” and “resolve” of racist totalitarianism. A ghost of that appears to be arising.

No reason why it wouldn’t, as, in the current heightened tension and violence, Israel becomes a more explicitly apartheid state, with lockdowns on all Palestinians, shoot-to-kill on a mass scale — and a brutal and atomised Palestinian campaign of stabbing as acts of political terror. As that proceeds, all trace of de-Europeanising Zionism leaches away; what becomes uppermost is its European colonial character (one reason why Africans, including African Jews, are copping increased public racism). What makes it really alarming, of course, is what it might be acting as preparation for. If you start talking about the man who tried to murder your whole people as someone who “only” wanted to deport you, what are you trying to say about the morality of mass deportation? Especially if the people who might be on the receiving end of that are those you now, absurdly, cynically, derangedly, blame for deportation “becoming” genocide?

Journalism

Jul 18, 2013

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It’s taken a twice-jailed Holocaust revisionist to achieve the seemingly impossible: unite the Greens and The Australian against a common foe.

As The Australian reports today, controversial historian Fredrick Toben is suing Greens leader Christine Milne and The Oz for defamation over a June article that contained quotes from Milne. Both Milne and the paper — which has editorialised that the Greens should be “destroyed at the ballot box” — will vigorously fight their case, and are expected to rely on the defences of truth or substantial truth.

The article, written by The Oz‘s resident Greens gumshoe Christian Kerr, claimed splits had emerged in the Greens after NSW MP David Shoebridge invited Toben on a cruise raising funds for pro-Palestinian activists. Shoebridge said the offer was a mistake and was withdrawn as soon as he became aware of Toben’s views.

According to Toben’s statement of claim, obtained by Crikey, Kerr’s article and Milne’s quotes contained seven defamatory imputations, including:

  • That he fabricated history;
  • That his conduct in denying the holocaust is abhorrent and should be condemned unreservedly;
  • That he is a Holocaust denier;
  • That he is an anti-semite; and
  • That he has a racist anti-Jewish agenda.

Toben’s lawyers claim Toben has been “greatly injured in his character, credit, business, personal and professional reputation” by the article “and has been brought into public hatred, ridicule and contempt”.

The Australian is also being sued for defamation by businessman Clive Palmer and by Barbara Ramjan, who made the infamous allegations about the Tony Abbott punch incident.

Toben, whom Crikey was unable to contact this morning, was sentenced to three months in jail in 1999 for contempt for repeatedly publishing material that breached the Racial Discrimination Act. He was also sentenced to nine months prison in 1999 by a German court under a law that prohibits “defaming the dead”.

The statement of claim lists Toben’s lawyer as Carters Law Firm, a small practice in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn. But when Crikey rang Carters we were told Clive Evatt QC will be acting as Toben’s barrister in the case. The 82-year-old Evatt is one of Sydney’s most colourful and best-known defamation lawyers. The legendary art buff has represented bookie Robbie Waterhouse, underworld identity Abe Saffron and Gypsy Fire, a dancer wrongly portrayed by the Truth newspaper as Bob Dylan’s s-x slave.

Evatt, who describes Toben as an “ordinary school teacher”, said: “I wouldn’t be fighting it [the case] if I didn’t think we have a good chance of winning.”

It is unclear how Toben is funding the defamation action. He was declared bankrupt last September, after being ordered to pay $175,000 in court costs to Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

Evatt tells Crikey he is not acting pro-bono, but declined to comment on how Toben is funding the case. When asked how a bankrupt could afford expensive legal action, he said: “He may not be funding it. He may have supporters.”

Evatt says Toben will pay back the legal costs for The Australian and Milne if he loses the case. “He’s a very moral gentleman, ethical,” he said. ” And I’m sure, out of his pension, he will pay something every week to the costs if he loses.”

When asked whether he shares Toben’s provocative views on the Holocaust, he said: “I am neutral … We have a cab rank rule at the bar — we have to take all clients.”

Toben and his associates at the revisionist Adelaide Institute, which he founded but no longer runs, have consistently rejected claims they are Holocaust deniers.

Environment

Nov 16, 2009

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Climate sceptics resent being called deniers because of the odium associated with Holocaust revisionism.

Even critics of the sceptics are careful to distance themselves from the implication that they are comparing climate denialism with Holocaust denialism for fear of being seen to trivialise the Holocaust by suggesting some sort of moral equivalence.

Judgments about moral equivalence depend on the ethical standpoint one adopts.

For consequentialists the morality of an action is judged by its outcomes. For those who adopt this ethical standpoint, any assessment of the consequences of the two forms of truth-rejection would conclude that climate deniers deserve greater moral censure than Holocaust deniers because their activities are more dangerous.

If the David Irvings of the world were to succeed, and the public rejected the mountain of evidence for the Holocaust, then the consequences would be a rewriting of history and a probable increase in anti-Semitism.

If the climate deniers were to succeed, and stopped the world responding to the mountain of evidence for human-induced global warming, then hundreds of millions of mostly impoverished people around the world would die from the effects of climate change.

They will die from famine, flood and disease caused by our unwillingness to act. The Stern report provides some sobering estimates: an additional 30-200 million people at risk of hunger with warming of only 2-3°C; an additional 250-500 million at risk if temperatures rise above 3°C; some 70-80 million more Africans exposed to malaria; and an additional 1.5 billion exposed to dengue fever.

Instead of dishonouring the deaths of six million in the past, climate deniers risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future. Holocaust deniers are not responsible for the Holocaust, but climate deniers, if they were to succeed, would share responsibility for the enormous suffering caused by global warming.

It is a ghastly calculus, yet it is worth making because the hundreds of millions of dead are not abstractions, mere chimera until they happen. We know with a high degree of certainty that if we do nothing they will die.

But not everyone adopts a consequentialist ethic. An alternative ethical stance is to judge climate deniers not by the effects of what they do but by the rightness of their activities (a so-called duty ethic) or by their character and motives (a virtue ethic).

From a duty ethic position, the moral obligation climate deniers are violating is to the truth. Here there is a moral difference between denying the commission of a great crime, for which there are whole libraries of documentation, and rejecting the overwhelming evidence from science in which uncertainties nevertheless persist. This suggests that climate deniers are less culpable.

From a virtue ethic standpoint, moral culpability depends on motives. Attempting in good faith to uncover the facts is a good thing, which is why we regard genuine scepticism as healthy. Denialism is not scepticism but a refusal to accept the facts, the rejection of all of the evidence.

We think of Holocaust deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated by anti-Semitism or a desire for political advancement through stirring up racial hatred.

We think of climate deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated, not by truth-seeking, but by political goals, a desire for funds from fossil-fuel companies or personal aggrandisement.

Those who adopt a duty or virtue ethic would probably feel more personal antipathy towards a David Irving than towards an Ian Plimer or Andrew Bolt. There is something especially repugnant, even evil, about Holocaust denial. Denying or covering up a monstrous crime makes Holocaust deniers somehow complicit in it.

Better to have your daughter marry a climate sceptic, who is perhaps motivated by contrarianism, foolishness or self-importance rather than wickedness.

If, like me, you adopt a virtue or duty ethic, but one tempered by consideration of the consequences of an act, climate deniers are less immoral than Holocaust deniers, although they are undoubtedly more dangerous.

However, as the casualties from a warming world mount over the next decades, the denialism of those who continue to reject the scientific evidence will come to be seen as more and more iniquitous. So the answer to the question of whether climate denialism is morally worse than Holocaust denialism is no, at least, not yet.

Clive Hamilton is the Greens candidate in the Higgins by-election.

News

May 18, 2009

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Echoing the discredited and contemptible Holocaust-denier David Irving, Australian Fredrick Toben, who happily accepted an invitation to the 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, was back in the news last week after being found in contempt by a Federal Court for refusing to remove material from his website that vilified Jews. The Australian featured a photo of Toben’s nephew giving a Nazi salute outside the court.

As a human being first and a Jew second, Holocaust denial disgusts me — as it should any decent person. It must be condemned in the strongest possible terms as both an indignity to the millions of victims and survivors, as well as a perversion of the historical record. The Jewish Holocaust, along with other similar catastrophes against Cambodians, Rwandans, Palestinians and Tamils, should be respected and understood.

But there are two critical questions about the whole Toben saga. Firstly, does it do anything to address the serious issue of Holocaust revisionism, a growing problem as survivors of the death camps fade away? Secondly, can the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the lobby group that has pursued the Toben case for years, credibly argue that Toben has been chastised by their pursuit let alone that community education on the Holocaust been enhanced? Just last week saw yet another Australian man, who had posted anti-Semitic rants on YouTube, charged with inciting racial hatred.

The Toben and Irving cases strike at the heart of liberal democracies. Which views are permissible? Are there limits? Who decides the rules?

More ominously, however, the Toben saga masks a very selective concern for racial vilification by the ECAJ. Holocaust denial warrants condemnation, but too often any criticism against Jews or Zionism is automatically slammed — witness a recent article by the former head of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) professing to oppose all racial hatred, especially anything directed at Jews. Yet, equally egregious examples of bigotry are ignored, even endorsed. Anti-Muslim sentiment has often been proudly displayed since September 11 by the Zionist establishment. In their world view, only what they find offensive should be censored.

Take the case of leading Israeli historian Benny Morris who visited Australia in 2008 and was warmly welcomed by the current head of the JBD head Vic Alhadeff. Morris has exposed the massacres and forced expulsions of Palestinians in 1948 but he is also a proud extremist who thinks the Arabs are “barbarians” who should be placed in a “cage“. He believes that the mistake of David Ben-Gurion and the leadership of 1948 was that they did not fully carry out the expulsion of the Palestinians. He has called for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran. He argues in his new book that Jews value life more than Muslims.

These positions are abhorrent. However, I would not want to censor Morris’s views. If Toben’s ideas are beyond the pale, why not equally call for the censure of Morris or even push for criminal charges? The answer is obvious: the Jewish establishment largely agrees with Morris, he’s Jewish and a Zionist and therefore not “offensive.” A community is either consistent about racial vilification or it’s not.

There have been countless examples of senior Jewish leaders publicly supporting viciously anti-Islam and anti-Arab sentiments and regularly welcoming overseas visitors, such as Daniel Pipes, who routinely defame Muslims in the name of their Zionist jihad. Pipes continually claimed during last year’s US Presidential debate that Barack Obama was Muslim, a transparent attempt to insinuate terrorist-sympathy. I don’t remember the shock-jocks calling for the Jewish establishment to stand up and take a stand against such bigotry (such is demanded of Muslims.)

Where, for example, is the Jewish outrage over the third biggest party in the Israeli Knesset, Yisrael Beiteinu — its leader is hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — last week proposing a law that would forbid Arabs in Israel from commemorating their annual “Nakba” [catastrophe] day? For many Palestinians, this is nothing less than an assault on denying what they regard as their Holocaust.

My point here isn’t to support rampant racial hatred; I actively campaign against it (and when Toben himself approached me in 2006 at the Adelaide launch of my book, My Israel Question, I wanted to have nothing to do with him). There is no denying that Holocaust revisionism is a growing problem and it must be tackled in every way possible.

But the agendas of those pushing loudest for criminal punishment against racial vilification are counter-productive, highly selective and certainly demonstrate double standards. The Jewish victim complex must end and criticism of Israel, as distinct to that of Jews, treated as both legitimate and appropriate in a democracy. Witness last week’s predictable smearing in Melbourne of a robust “anti-Semitic” play about Israel.

Free speech is a delicate beast that must be constantly nurtured and defended. Our society can handle robust engagement on a host of issues. Some will offend Jews. Some will offend Muslims. Some won’t offend anybody.

Hurt feelings shouldn’t be a crime.

Politics

Oct 15, 2008

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Holocaust denier Gerald Fredrick Toben remains in prison in the UK and will return to court this Friday. He will not be tried before 2009 at the earliest and, given the apparently fanatical zeal of German prosecutors, is likely to remain in prison until then.

Media coverage of his case remains virtually zero. This partly reflects the fact that the natural constituency to speak up on his behalf, the Left and human rights advocates, are the ones most likely to find his views especially repugnant. Julian Burnside called last week for the Government to give him all assistance to which he was entitled as an Australian citizen. Otherwise, there’s been near-total silence. Right-wing commentators, who are normally happy to defend free speech when it’s being used against the Left and minorities, have also been peculiarly silent.

According to DFAT, Australian consular staff visited Toben last week and he will continue to be provided with consular assistance. The Government, however, has said nothing about him or on his behalf.

One of the worst aspects of this, as a UK commentator noted last week, is that this risks making Toben a martyr and giving him credibility. The man is a fool, at best, and holds disgusting views that even David Irving has expressed reservations about. That puts him way beyond any civilized discourse. It does not, however, put him beyond the fundamental protection that should be afforded free speech that does not amount to vilification or incitement to violence.

But if we disentangle the details of what has happened to Toben, maybe a few more people might begin to question what has happened.

Toben was en route from the US to Dubai. His plane had a scheduled stopover in London, and police boarded the plane and arrested him on a European Arrest Warrant from the German Government for publishing “anti-Semitic and/or revisionist” material prior to 2004. This is not an offence in the United Kingdom (or here). As another UK commentator pointed out, Toben’s arrest is therefore contrary to UK Government promises that people would never be extradited under the European Arrest Warrant — introduced to expedite counter-terrorism activities — for activities that were not crimes in the UK.

There is also a separate legal issue about whether Toben’s activities fall within the “European framework list” of offences that permit extradition and if so, whether it occurred in the UK as well as Germany and therefore Toben should be tried there rather than in Germany.

That’s because Toben didn’t commit his breaches of German law in Germany. He committed them in Australia, when he uploaded material onto his website. Anyone who downloaded them in Germany might have been breaching German law, but Toben didn’t, because he wasn’t there.

Of course, the Germans’ argument will be that in publishing his material on the internet, that means he was publishing in Germany, along with everywhere else. This isn’t a view confined to Germans trying to make up for their country’s Nazi past. Joe Gutnick inflicted significant damage on free speech in Australia in 2002 when he convinced the High Court that a comment in a Dow Jones online publication published in the US could be the subject of libel proceedings under Australia’s absurdly restrictive defamation laws, rather than in the US.

If we accept this approach, then, depending on extradition treaties, bloggers and online publishers could find themselves suffering the same fate as Toben — hauled off to a country where expressing a particular opinion constitutes an offence, regardless of whether it is an offence in their own country — or one they happen to be in at the time.

Sounds melodramatic, right?

Andrew Sinclair of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, while not commenting specifically on the Toben case, raised a scenario. What happens to an internet activist if a plane is forced to land, like the Qantas flight last week, due to a mechanical emergency, and touches down in a country with an extradition treaty with a jurisdiction with harsh restrictions on free speech? Toben’s plane was on a scheduled stopover at Heathrow when he was seized and taken from it. To this extent, he is arguably responsible for his current predicament, and should have avoided any EU country. But what if he had been on a plane that was forced to land in an EU country due to mechanical fault?

The combination of the UK’s willingness to extradite people when they have committed no offence under UK law, and goverrnments’ willingness to claim jurisdiction over the internet, has trapped Fredrick Toben. We should be speaking up for him now, rather than waiting for a more appealing victim of this attack on free speech. And so should our Government.

News

Oct 31, 2007

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The Age today describes John Howard and Peter Costello as “under pressure to distance themselves from an evangelical church leader who has spoken at a meeting of the far right-wing League of Rights.”

That would be Mr Danny Nalliah.

Pastor Nalliah, you will recall, distinguished himself in 2004 by distributing a leaflet for the Senate election describing brothels, gambling places, bottle shops, mosques and temples as “Satan’s strongholds”.

According to his online biography, Nalliah also believes he can resurrect the dead – a nifty trick that may yet prove handy for John Howard.

To The Age, Nalliah explained his dalliance with the League of Rights as simply an attempt to convert the heathen. “I thought maybe it is a good opportunity to go and speak and I can change some of their thinking,” he said of his October 2005 speech. […]

Mr Nalliah said he was warned before he went that the League of Rights was anti-Jewish. “One guy in the crowd put his hand up and said ‘Do you believe in the Holocaust?’,” he recalled. “I said ‘To deny the Holocaust would be like saying there will be no daybreak tomorrow morning’.”

Unfortunately for the Pastor, the demonic power of the internet allows us to summons up a quite different account of his speech.

The image of Nalliah in mid-fulmination comes from the Holocaust-denying Adelaide Institute, one of the nastiest organisations in Australia. That webpage also indicates the Albury event attracted a veritable who’s who of racist nutcases, including the Canadian neo-Nazi Paul Fromm and the Adelaide Institute’s own Fredrick Töben. Mr Toben generated a certain notoriety some years back when he enjoyed a brief spell as a guest of the German authorities, after a court found him guilty of Holocaust denial. More recently, he popped over to Iran to participate in the little anti-Semitic jamboree held in that country.

According to the Adelaide Institute, when Pastor Nalliah finished his remarks, the talk turned – as one imagines it often does at such events – to the Holocaust. Mr Toben thought Danny Nalliah was pussy-footing around the main issue. Here’s his account of what happened next.

Fredrick Töben asked Pastor Nalliah one question: ‘Pastor, do you believe in the ‘Holocaust’?

He replied indirectly that Jews had suffered greatly in the past. Töben asked again: ‘Do you believe in the ‘Holocaust’? The good pastor said something about not knowing anything about the topic.

You will note the difference between this coy response and Nalliah’s new claim to have asserted that the Holocaust was as undeniable as daybreak.

Of course, Toben is even more of a babbling Bedlamite than Nalliah, and so it’s hard to know which of them is telling the truth.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the Albury conference – with Toben and Fromm and sundry other Holocaust deniers in attendance – was less prayer meeting than Nuremberg rally. And what does Nalliah say of it now?

“Let me be honest and truthful — if I am invited again, I will go again.”

Imagine if Kevin Rudd consorted with a high-profile Muslim leader, who was on record describing the holy places of other religions as ‘Satan’s strongholds’ and was then linked with Holocaust deniers. Imagine the editorials in the Australian, the opinion pieces, the vein-popping outrage of the conservative commentariat.

Yet this Nalliah – a man who says he will “go again” to meetings of Holocaust deniers – is, according to the Herald-Sun, meeting with Peter Costello to “prophetically prepare” Costello for the prime ministership. Why isn’t this a major, major scandal?

Politics

Oct 5, 2007

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Having been with Crikey since day one, it’s distressing to discover the freaks, fanatics and fringe dwellers that are reading us nowadays – the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fan club.

Ahmadinejad has never called for Israel to be wiped off the map, we’re told. Strictly speaking, that’s true. According to the Iranian state news agency’s report: “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must [vanish from] the page of time”. Still, it’s hard to think Ahmadinejad meant hugs would accomplish this.

We got a very good idea of how you make a regime vanish from the page of time last year, when Ahmadinejad’s clients in Hezbollah fired 3,970 rockets into Northern Israel in one month, killing 43 civilians.

Israel is the only functioning liberal democracy in the Middle East. The best demonstration of this is Black September, September 1970, when Palestinian militants decided Israel was a better option than death at the hands of the Jordanian army. Not that the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fan club care much about democracy. Or human rights.

The title of the most recent Amnesty International report on Ahmadinejad’s country speaks volumes: Iran: The last executioner of children. Ahmadinejad hates America. That’s what matters to them. Everything else is forgiven. And of course, the Ahmadinejad fan club dare not tackle the issue of his holocaust denial. Instead, their silence actively aids and abets it.

Never, ever press them too closely on Israel. Their reasoning goes something like this. They’re not anti-Semitic. They’re just opposed to the Zionist entity. It’s, er, full of Jews.

Politics

Sep 19, 2007

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The long-running controversy over Iran’s nuclear program flared up again this week after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned that Europe had to “prepare for the worst”, namely war with Iran. Kouchner now says he was misinterpreted, and that “Everything should be done to avoid war”, but the damage was done.

Superficially, it looks as if there’s no reason for conflict on the issue. Europe and the United States both confine their objections to the threat of nuclear weapons, while Iran insists, as it has all along, that it only wants nuclear enrichment for power generation. If they’re both telling the truth, resort to war should never appear on the agenda.

The problem is that each side has good reasons for distrusting the other. In the case of Iran’s intentions, that’s fairly obvious; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his Holocaust denial and his talk of wiping Israel from the map, is not a figure to inspire confidence. But it’s also not unreasonable for Iran to suspect that the West is targeting the entire program, aiming to deny it the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Consider John Bolton, the Bush administration’s former ambassador to the UN, who told Lateline last night that “a nuclear-capable Iran” and its “control over the nuclear fuel cycle” – terms that are ambiguous enough to suggest an agenda beyond just weapons production. Not surprisingly, he strongly endorsed Kouchner’s reference to military action, and indeed seemed keen for it to begin as soon as possible.

Of course Bolton is entitled to his opinion, although one might wonder at the ABC so uncritically giving him a platform. But the problem is that these things have a tendency to get out of hand, as the world discovered with the Iraq war.

War talk is newsworthy; peace talk is not. While threats may have a role to play in diplomacy, they can become self-fulfilling, and governments find that the momentum they have created forces them to make good on their threats or lose credibility – something that a more restrained approach in the first place might have avoided.

Bolton and his allies seem to have learned nothing from the Iraq experience. The repeated assertion that Iran has a nuclear weapons program parallels the equally widespread assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The latter turned out to be false; at the very least we should require some hard evidence before accepting that the former is true.

News

Jul 13, 2007

5 comments

Those viewing the post-Swindle discussion with Tony Jones would have noticed that things got a little bit fruity when it came time to throw to the audience.

One audience member went the climate change believers for relying on methodology “disproved 400 years ago” while three others accused them of running a secret Eugenics agenda. “This is Hitler’s Nazi race science!” yelled one.

Somehow, the audience seemed to be chock-a-block with members of the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC).

The CEC was originally an electoral front for the Australian League of Rights (increasingly elderly “patriots” largely concerned with Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracies), until it was stacked by local followers of Lyndon Larouche and disagreements over the status of the Queen (ALOR loved her, the Larouchites reckon she runs an international drug empire) forced a split.

Since then, the CEC has spent most of their time losing elections (badly) and raising money (and lots of it).

The CEC is especially dark on the idea of man-made climate change. It is, they say, a fraud perpetrated by agents of the British Crown who wish to kill off billions of people. Why? Because they’re the British, you fool! They’re evil — it’s what they do!

The Larouchites much prefer the theories put forward by Swindle, because it shifts the danger from the consequences of man-made global warming, which are difficult to fight, to the dangers of genocidal global warming proponents, who can be defeated with the stroke of a pen.

So why did it seem like the audience was loaded with Larouchites?

The ABC told Crikey that viewers who contacted the station to congratulate or complain in the lead-up to the airing of the documentary were invited to apply to participate in the studio audience. A balanced mix of believers and sceptics were then selected. The ABC estimates there were around five members of the CEC in the audience of 80.

According to the Larouchites, there were 18 — three of whom were kicked out prior to the show for being “potentially disruptive”. Four of the remaining members asked questions.

As an anti-hate campaigner, I should probably be critical of the ABC for giving a platform to a group which is considered by many to be a fascistic, anti-Semitic cult. As a viewer, I was grateful for anything which spiced up the proceedings.

Click here for Part One of audience question time.

Click here for Part Two of audience question time.