Withholding Taxes, finally
It was both heartening and disheartening to note that the EU finally agreed to withhold some funding to the Palestinian Authority on Jan. 17 because, officials said, the Authority had not met “benchmarks” for budgetary transparency. The EU has consistently been the primary financial supporter of the PA over the years, and has consistently refused to even consider withholding that money. This is despite overwhelming evidence that the PA was wasting large portions through corruption and mismanagement, and the money was also facilitating support for terrorism.
Suddenly, the EU was now prepared to withhold 35 million euros (A$57 million), which is a substantial sum, and not merely a symbolic gesture. This is a heartening move because it does prove that the EU is moving away from its policy of putting all its eggs in the PA basket. If they ditch their current foolish policy of “unconditional love,” they may finally be able to use their leverage over the Palestinians to push genuine progress toward finally implementing Palestinian roadmap obligations concerning both terrorism and reform.
On the other hand, the move bodes very badly for the future of the Palestinian Authority. Even the EU had perceived through their rose-coloured glasses that the PA was not a good investment for their money after all this time.
Of course, with Hamas now in effective control of the PA, there will be a re-assessment. Unfortunately, the signs are that the EU will revert to past form of excusing and funding any and all Palestinian behaviour. Not only are EU spokespersons promising to talk to Hamas, which is a banned terror organisation in the EU (see p. 18-19) but EU Secretary General Javier Solana’s reaction to their election was merely to salute the fact that Palestinians have “voted democratically and peacefully.”
Fun with Jane
I was interested to read some comments made by ABC journalist Jane Hutcheon in the latest edition of the magazine Travel and Leisure (Jan/Feb 2006 edition). Hutcheon, you may recall, was one of the national broadcaster’s Middle East correspondents in 2003-2004, and was well known for her often one-sided and pointedly partisan reports. To give but one example of many, after Arafat’s death in Nov. 2004, she lauded the late Palestinian leader as “a survivor, a fighter and a patriot who made mistakes, but never abandoned his people” and insisted that the Palestinian people were collectively telling their government they “shouldn’t be giving away any of the hard-fought principles that Yasser Arafat stood for.” (One gets the impression that this was actually her own sentiment, placed in the mouth of the Palestinian masses.)
Anyway, in a Travel and Leisure article about Women’s Travel, Hutcheon was asked her “Favourite place to travel solo.” She answered “Damascus. I travelled in from Jordan by car and left the same way. I wandered the city on my own and found it hard to believe that [Syria] was a place described by George W. Bush as part of the axis of evil.” This struck me as revealing – not only because Hutcheon is wrong, Syria was not named among Bush’s “Axis of Evil”, nor simply because Hutcheon typically turns an innocent question about travel into a chance for a cheap political shot. No, what is most revealing about it is the sheer naiveté of the concept underlying her claim, something also on display in a lot of her problematic reporting, which often featured much more passion than knowledge or understanding. Does Hutcheon really think that Bush’s critique of the brutal Syrian regime for sponsoring terrorists is somehow countered by pointing out that Syrians are largely warm and hospitable people, and Damascus is a fascinating city, with streets that are safe to walk?
Antony’s New Gig
Antony Loewenstein is a left-wing and strongly anti-Zionist activist and “journalist” who runs a weblog without, shall we say, a spectacular number of visitors. He was previously a cadet journalist at the website of the Sydney Morning Herald, and writes the odd published article mainly for various far-left international publications, such as Z magazine, Counterpunch and in Australia, The New Matilda. He wrote an undergraduate and factually challenged chapter on the Ashrawi affair for Margo Kingston’s anti-Howard book, Not Happy John!, and is supposedly publishing a book on Israeli-Palestinian affairs later this year. In the book chapter, Loewenstein, who was born Jewish but previously has not identified with the Jewish community, explained that he now seeks to realise his Judaism by devoting his life to fighting Zionism.
Now, he’s got a new gig too. He been appointed a member of the board of The Centre for Middle East and North African Studies at Macquarie University.
This seems initially puzzling. Mr Loewenstein seems to have no formal academic qualifications or other relevant expertise to bring to the board. While he writes about the region on his website and in various far-left political magazines, what he writes are essentially polemics, and display no great knowledge about the Middle East. For instance, he recently misindentified the new Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as a man, betraying an ignorance of both Israeli politics and Israeli first names. Almost all other members of the board fall into three categories — academics, leading businessmen, and former or current public servants or politicians, but Antony is none of these. So what is it that Loewenstein can bring that a serious academic Middle East study centre needs?
Antony himself has told us the answer. On his blog, he says the appointment was made because “board members… and staff” wanted to express “support for my work.” That’s right, he’s been appointed because people at the centre want to support his anti-Zionist activism and views. Unfortunately, this is less than surprising to anyone who knows anything about the situation of academic Middle East studies in this country. The field here is dominated by highly politicised post-modernist approaches to the region, which tend overwhelmingly to blame all regional problems on Western imperialism and racism, real or imagined. It is even less surprising if one know anything about the centre at Macquarie, which is led and dominated by Dr Andrew Vincent, whose own views on Israel are similar to Loewenstein’s.
On the subject of Loewenstein’s views, he displayed them to good effect after debating the Jewish comedian Austin Tayshus on SBS-TV’s “Speaking in Tongues” (Jan. 16). While complaining on his blog about Tayshus’s supposed bullying, Loewenstein wrote, “Jews are often their own worst enemies. It also might help if Tayshus didn’t look so much like those awful caricatures we know from the 1930s!”