the Disillusioned kid: November 2006
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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Other Israel

Whenever Israel is mentioned in the West, it's almost always with reference to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In many respects this isn't surprising. Israel's brutal policy in the occupied territories and its vicious assault on Lebanon earlier this year are major crimes worthy of condemnation. Nevertheless, this focus can obscure the complex dynamics of Israeli society which seems to be becoming increasingly class-riven.

A recent statement by the Bank of Israel on the country's economic development hints at this reality: "The moderate rise in real wages characterizes the past three years, as does the rapid growth in the economy, coming after two years of considerable erosion of real wages." What this means in plain English, Roy Wagner notes is that "[t]he economy is growing fast, but wages are rising very, very slowly." Furthermore, the report reveals that despite a small rise in the minimum wage, salaries are increasing so slowly that the economy is witnessing "a faster rise in output per hour of labor than the rise in costs per hour of labor." The Marxists amongst you may well describe this as the bourgeoisie extracting more surplus value, but the rest of us ought to be content with Wagner's translation: "The gap between what workers produce and the money they make is growing steadily."

But how exactly did this situation come about?:
The Bank of Israel dismisses this development by referring to transition between industries and the recruitment of young, entry-level, low wage earners. I believe this analysis is glossing over a much more troublesome reality.

The recent worker struggle at Ben-Gurion Airport should have been a genuine eye-opener for those who insist, like Bank of Israel analysts, on keeping their heads in the clouds. At Ben-Gurion workers are regularly dismissed so that other workers can be hired in their place. This practice prevents workers from reaching tenure and accumulating various rights under collective bargaining agreements. Since the workers keep getting fired and rehired, they are destined to remain entry-level workers for as long as they are employed.
What Wagner seems to be describing here, is what has come to be known in trendy activist circles as "precarity". This refers to the flexibile, temporary, contingent, casual and intermittent method of working which play an increasingly central role in the post-industrial economy and is by no means a uniquely Israeli problem.

The situation is not hopeless, however. Workers are organising inspite of these difficulties and fighting back. Wagner points out that the struggle waged by workers at the airport did achieve at least some of its goals. "The number of workers slated for dismissal was reduced, and no more workers will be dismissed until the collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2007." Furthermore, yesterday witnessed a general strike across Israel, much to the chagrin of Israeli bosses. The strike was expected to impact government offices, airports and seaports, railways, local authorities and rubbish collection as well as utilities and even emergency services. The strike, called by the Histadrut labour federation, is an attempt to put pressure on 81 local authorities and 13 religious councils who the union allege have failed to pay employees or transfer money to pension funds for several months. They believe that this has impacted more than 40,000 workers and estimate that the relevant bodies owe NIS 1 billion.

At the time of writing, this struggle appears to have received minimal attention in the UK, perhaps because it doesn't sit comfortably within the prevailing paradigm for understanding what is going on in the Middle East. This paradigm, as common on the left as anywhere else, tends to emphasise the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle to the exclusion of any other concerns and internal divsions. While this makes things much simpler, its questionable, whether it forms a reliable foundation on which to base political action.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Give me warp drive anyday

Precrime is science fiction no longer:
Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt.

The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence. Pilot projects to identify the highest-risk future offenders have been operating in five London boroughs for the past two months. (via)
No doubt, just like in the film, the system will be perfect.

Does my gun look big in this?

Remember this?:
US rapper 50 Cent has hit back at criticism that his film Get Rich Or Die Tryin' condones violence and gun crime...

The poster for 50 Cent's film soundtrack sparked 17 complaints

50 Cent, best known for his hits In Da Club and Candy Shop, added that the poster promoting his film was not the first to depict weaponry. ..

"Eighteen films that came out before mine utilised weapons on their artwork. But when mine comes out they start protesting.

"If it glamorises it when I do it, then it's glamorised period. So we should protest every time," said the performer, who added that he is no longer living the tough life of the ghetto.
Now compare this:
50 Cent is accusing Hollywood of double standards after seeing the new James Bond holding a gun in posters for Casino Royale - a year after billboards of him sporting a weapon caused a furore. The rapper - real name Curtis Jackson - is appalled by the fact no one has raised a fuss about Daniel Craig’s gun-toting posters when he was castigated for posing with a weapon in billboards for movie Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.
Anybody wanna speculate what the difference might be?

Hat-tip: Pickled Politics.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How I learned to stop worrying and love the state

"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."

Serve and Protect

This is horrific:
Recent images of an Iranian-American student at UCLA being repeatedly shocked with a Taser by campus police has been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube and led to protests and an independent investigation.

Police said the footage was notable for what it left out: The student refused to comply with rules that he show a college identification card or leave the library. (Contra Costa Times)
Got that? Failure to show your ID card on demand is a justification for being shot with 50,000 volts by some jumped-up authoritarian shit. This is what "nothing to hide, nothing to worry about" really looks like. And don't kid yourself it couldn't happen here. Tasers are set to become an increasingly common accoutrement in the arsenal of your friendly local neighbourhood bobby and the government are hell-bent on introducing a national ID scheme, to say nothing of the increasingly restrictive nature of the university system in this country, which means you can't even access the library without swiping your student card to prove you've paid for the right to use the reading material contained within.

Oh, I was at the Defy-ID national gathering yesterday in case you're interested.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

We've got 'em scared

"The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.

"If you look at the way in which citizens are using technology and the way that is growing up, there are worrying signs that that is the case.

"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

"The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government."
Thus spake Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair's outgoing chief strategy adviser. This and the other comments extracted in the BBC report (via) of his speech is indicative of a government in denial. Things are fine and the only reason anyone thinks otherwise is because of distortion by the media and their blogging accomplices. We are to take it, I assume, that Iraq is on its way to becoming a top holiday destination; the prison system still has armfuls of surplus capacity; the NHS is in commendable health; and we're well on the way to confronting climate change. The government is, contrary to Taylor's implication, getting a good kicking because it deserves one.

The patronising sod also averred:
"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government," Mr Taylor told the audience.

Like "teenagers", people were demanding, but "conflicted" about what they actually wanted, he argued.

They wanted "sustainability", for example, but not higher fuel prices, affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.
Note the way that the "citizenry" have become a homogenous block. It is not that some want "sustainability" and others lower fuel prices. Both positions are held universally. One suspects that years of studying opinion polls looking for potentially popular strategies to adopt, Taylor has lost his ability to think like a real human being. In his, no doubt troubled mind, we are all little more than numbers to be crunched and then sold back to ourselves as the latest media-friendly press release.

If this were 1996, the Blairites would be all over the internet blogging about the assorted evils of the incumbent Tory regime. They were more than happy to attack their predecessors in "shrill" and even "self-righteous" terms. That being the case it's a tad rich for them now to decide that doing just that isn't very nice. Not that Blairite hypocrisy should come as a great surprise, mind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Palestinian Weapon

I could be wrong (it does happen occasionally), but I wonder if the Palestinian struggle may have reached an important point with the development of a new, powerful weapon which has the potential to be hugely damaging to Israel. Truth be told, the weapon isn't all that new, but its implementation does seem to be and its first use appears to have been a huge success. This terrifying new weapon? Non-violence.

When Mohammad Baroud, a member of the Popular Resistance Committee received word from the Israeli military that he had ten minutes to evacuate his home before they destroyed it in an air-strike, the local community rallied round to stop it. According to Rami Almeghari, "Within minutes, crowds of people gathered around, on balconies and rooftop of Baroud's house, as the loudspeakers of the local mosque called on the residents to take to the streets to protect the house from the Israeli air strike." Amazingly they were actually able to force the attack to be called off. Conal Urqhart continues the story: "Two hours later Israel warned Mohammed Nawajeh, a member of Hamas, that his house would be targeted and the same process occurred."

Clearly this tactic is not a comprehensive defence against Israeli attacks. On Sunday an airborne attack on a car in Gaza City wounded nine. Although two were apparently Hamas militants, four were children aged 5, 13, 14 and 16. Nevertheless, the symbolic value of nonviolent protest is considerable. The targeting of civilians isn't just morally abhorrent, it is also damaging from a strategic perspective, alienating potential supporters and consolidating support within Israel for repression of the Palestinians. (I don't want to get drawn into a discussion of the distasteful ideologies of those targeted and many of the participants in the action, which is largely irrelevant, just as it would be if the Palestinians were carrying out air strikes against the households of Israeli cabinet members.)

One might assume, given the tone in which this development has been reported, that nonviolence is something the Palestinians have hitherto not bothered with. In fact, there has been a long running (and all too little known) campaign of nonviolent resistance to the construction of the "security fence" in the West Bank town of Bil'in. The often violent Israeli response demonstrates one of the inherent weaknesses to a nonviolent approach: it assumes a degree of self-control on the part of those you are protesting against.

None of the foregoing should be taken as a suggestion that I am advocating the Palestinians give up armed struggle entirely. It is, in my opinion, their right and I doubt the world would have paid attention to the Palestinian cause if they limited themselves to peaceful protest. Nevertheless, there are clearly limits to what armed struggle alone is capable of achieving, particularly when it is used in an indiscriminate manner, as it has been all too often in the last few years. Nonviolent resistance opens up new possibilities - witness the achievements of the ANC after it moved away from political violence, but there is a real risk that these might be foreclosed by Israeli violence which is where the need for international solidarity comes in. None of this is easy, but then neither is violence.

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