Tuesday talk reminder

22 Sep 2017

A reminder that I’ll be talking on “Who really runs the UK?” in Shoreditch this coming Tuesday evening. Hope you can come along.

I will be speaking on Silicon Valley from Heroes to Zeroes on the second day of the weekend Battle of Ideas festival in London on  28-29 October. Come along to the whole event if you can.

On 7 September Novo magaine published a German translation of my spiked essay on Israel and anti-semitism.

Seit dem Sechstagekrieg gilt Israel vielen Kritikern als Apartheidsstaat. Die Obsession mit israelischer Politik befördert Antisemitismus.

Vor 50 Jahren erlitt die arabische Welt ein schweres Trauma. Im Juni 1967 hatte der winzige Staat Israel in nur sechs Tagen die Armeen Ägyptens, Jordaniens und Syriens vernichtend geschlagen. Regime, die von sich behaupteten, die geballte Macht der arabischen Massen und des Antiimperialismus zu verkörpern.

Um zu verstehen, warum dieser Sieg die arabische Welt derart erschütterte, muss man zunächst einen Blick auf die Landkarte der Region werfen, wie sie damals bestand. Sie zeigt den winzigen Staat Israel, der von seinen erheblich größeren Nachbarn umringt ist. Schlimmer noch: Im Verhältnis zur Gesamtgröße waren Israels Grenzen sehr lang und somit schwer zu verteidigen. Am engsten Punkt betrug die Distanz zwischen Israels Grenze mit dem Westjordanland (damals Teil Jordaniens) und dem Mittelmeer nur 15 Kilometer – eine Autofahrt von wenigen Minuten.

Auch nach anderen Gesichtspunkten war Israel seinen Nachbarstaaten unterlegen. Zum Beispiel lebten 1967 etwa 2,7 Millionen Menschen in Israel. Ägypten hingegen hatte 32,4 Millionen Einwohner, Syrien 5,8 Millionen und Jordanien 1,3 Millionen. Israels Bruttoinlandsprodukt belief sich zu diesem Zeitpunkt auf 1,4 Milliarden US-Dollar. Dagegen standen 5,6 Milliarden US-Dollar in Ägypten, 1,6 Milliarden in Syrien und 631 Millionen in Jordanien. Bezieht man die vielen arabischen Staaten mit ein, die Israels Nachbarn unterstützt haben, wird diese Diskrepanz noch größer.

Manche meinen, solche Vergleiche würden Israels Stärke kleinreden – so war die israelische Armee im Vergleich zu den arabischen Truppen besser ausgerüstet und ausgebildet ­– aber diese Debatten lenken vom eigentlichen Kern des Problems ab. Der wesentliche Punkt ist, dass sich die panarabische Vision der arabischen Regime 1967 zu einer realen Bedrohung für Israel entwickelte. In diesem Jahr konzentrierte Ägypten Truppen auf der Sinai-Halbinsel. Außerdem blockierte Ägypten die Straße von Tiran für die israelische Schifffahrt und schnitt das Land somit vollständig von seinem Zugang zum Roten Meer ab.

Am Ende wurde der Konflikt zur Demütigung für die arabischen Regime. Die israelische Armee flog einen präventiven Luftangriff und zerstörte damit den Großteil der ägyptischen Luftwaffe sprichwörtlich am Boden. Den folgenden Angriff syrischer und jordanischer Bodentruppen konnte Israel schnell abwehren. So errang Israel in weniger als einer Woche einen spektakulären Sieg gegen die vereinten arabischen Kräfte.

Israel übernahm im Westjordanland (einschließlich Ost-Jerusalem) und im Gazastreifen die Kontrolle. Heute gelten die Grenzen vor 1967 als „grüne Linie“ zwischen Israel, wie es zuvor bestanden hatte, und den palästinensischen Gebieten, die im Sechstagekrieg eingenommen wurden. Israel eroberte außerdem die Golanhöhen von Syrien und die Sinai-Halbinsel von Ägypten. Erst mit dem Friedensvertrag von 1979 wurde der Sinai wieder zu ägyptischem Hoheitsgebiet.

50 Jahre „Apartheid“?

Heute werden die Ereignisse von 1967 von vielen als Ausgangspunkt für eine Politik betrachtet, die als „Apartheid“ bezeichnet wird. Mehr als 2,7 Millionen Palästinenser leben im Westjordanland und weitere 1,9 Millionen im Gazastreifen. Dem gegenüber stehen circa 8,7 Millionen israelische Staatsbürger, von denen wiederum etwa 1,8 Millionen Palästinenser sind. In der Region leben also 6,5 Millionen israelische Juden und etwa dieselbe Zahl an Palästinensern.

Auch wenn die Grenzen des Westjordanlands und des Gazastreifens durch Israel kontrolliert werden, behält die palästinensische Bevölkerung einen gewissen Grad politischer Autonomie in diesen Gebieten. 2005 zog Israel eigenmächtig Truppen aus Gaza ab und räumte alle Siedlungen; seit 2006 herrscht die islamistische Hamas-Bewegung über die palästinensische Enklave. Nichtsdestotrotz werden die Land-, See- und Luftraumgrenzen noch immer durch israelische Truppen überwacht (mit der Ausnahme der Grenze zur Sinai-Halbinsel, die durch ägyptische Kräfte gesichert wird).

Noch komplizierter ist die Situation im Westjordanland. Einige Gebiete stehen unter der Kontrolle der palästinensischen Behörden, andere unterliegen israelischer Zuständigkeit und wieder andere einer gemeinsamen Führung. Das Gebiet wird außerdem von ungefähr 600.000 israelischen Siedlern bewohnt, die häufig in Konflikte mit den Palästinensern geraten.

Auf diesem Flickwerk gründet die Behauptung, Israel sei ein „Apartheidsstaat“. Der konkrete Vorwurf lautet, die palästinensische Bevölkerung des Westjordanlandes und des Gazastreifens würde systematisch diskriminiert. Es werde eine Politik der „hafrada“ (hebräisch für „Trennung“) betrieben, also die systematische Segregation von Israelis und Palästinensern, wobei letztere angeblich als Menschen zweiter Klasse behandelt würden. Als wichtigstes Element dieser Teilung gilt die schwer befestigte Grenze zwischen Israel und dem Westjordanland (die nicht exakt Israels Grenzen von 1967 entspricht). Israel begann 1990 mit der Errichtung der Anlage – als Antwort auf eine Welle von Selbstmordattentaten gegen Israelis.

Zweifellos erschwert die Trennung das Pendeln und Reisen für Palästinenser. Trotzdem ist die Art und Weise, wie Israel verurteilt wird, extrem problematisch. Stets bezeichnet man Israel als „Apartheidsstaat“ – ein Etikett, das für kaum ein anderes Land verwendet wird. Diesen Begriff ausschließlich im Zusammenhang mit Israel zu benutzen, unterstellt mehr als gelegentliche Diskriminierung; es stellt Israels Handlungen als beispiellos abscheulich dar.

Internationaler Vergleich

Die Einseitigkeit dieses Vorwurfs sollte jedem auffallen, der auch nur über ein bisschen Verständnis der aktuellen Weltlage verfügt. Man nehme zum Beispiel Israels Grenzanlage: Verglichen mit den Bollwerken, die Migranten von der Europäischen Union fernhalten sollen, wirkt sie beinahe winzig. Der „Grenzschutz“ der EU umfasst beträchtliche Seestreitkräfte sowie weitläufige Sperranlagen entlang der griechisch-türkischen Grenze. Über die Jahre sind viele Tausend Menschen im Meer ertrunken oder bei dem Versuch erstickt, das europäische Festland zu erreichen; dennoch wird die EU nie beschuldigt, eine Politik der Apartheid oder „hafrada“ gegen Nicht-EU-Bürger zu betreiben.

Israel kann sich zumindest darauf berufen, einer existenziellen Bedrohung gegenüber zu stehen. Die Mehrheit der arabischen Staaten weigert sich noch immer, Israel anzuerkennen und islamistische Gruppierungen drohen dem Land regelmäßig mit der totalen Vernichtung. Niemand würde hingegen ernsthaft behaupten, dass die EU bald von Außenstehenden zerstört werden könnte. Trotzdem trifft die härteste Kritik stets Israel.

Sehr erhellend ist auch der Vergleich zwischen der internationalen Verurteilung Israels und unserer Sicht auf den Konflikt in Syrien. Im syrischen Bürgerkrieg sind nach neuesten Schätzungen fast eine halbe Million Menschen ums Leben gekommen. Mehr als zehn Mal so viele wurden vertrieben oder sind ins Ausland geflüchtet. Obwohl Israels Beziehung zu den Palästinensern schwer gestört ist, erscheint das Land im Vergleich zu seinem Nachbar Syrien wie eine Oase der Stabilität. Die Kritik an islamistischen Gruppen wie ISIS ist im Westen besonders verhalten. Dabei ist das Ziel der Islamisten nicht nur die Diskriminierung, sondern der systematische Mord an großen Teilen der von ihnen kontrollierten Bevölkerung ­– einschließlich religiöser Minderheiten und gemäßigter Muslime.

Überall auf der Welt beobachten wir systematische Intoleranz und Blutvergießen. Da wäre zum Beispiel der anhaltende Krieg der Türkei gegen die Kurden; oder die humanitäre Katastrophe im Jemen, bei der saudische Luftangriffe eine Schlüsselrolle spielten; oder der andauernde Konflikt in Afghanistan, das seit Jahrzehnten unter den militärischen Interventionen anderer Staaten leidet; oder das Schicksal der muslimischen Minderheit der Rohingya in Myanmar. Die Liste könnte so noch lange weitergeführt werden – und dennoch ist es einzig Israel, das als „Apartheidsstaat“ gebrandmarkt wird.

Die unterschwellige Botschaft ist nicht nur, dass Israel die Palästinenser unter bestimmten Umständen diskriminiert – vielmehr wird angedeutet, dass Israel besonders bösartig agiert. Freilich würden die meisten, die Israel als „Apartheidsstaat“ kritisieren, den Vorwurf des Antisemitismus empört von sich weisen. Aber wie sonst gelangt man zu einer solchen Schlussfolgerung? Warum sonst sollte man sich derart auf Israels Probleme versteifen, während über andere Krisenherde nur wenig oder gar nicht gesprochen wird? Und warum wird der Apartheidsvorwurf allein und ausschließlich mit dem jüdischen Staat in Verbindung gebracht?

Die arabische Welt

Um verstehen zu können, wie diese Gewohnheit sich entwickelt hat, muss die Diskussion in der arabischen Welt, innerhalb Israels und im Westen kurz etwas näher betrachtet werden. Lange bevor es im Westen zur Gewohnheit wurde, hatten arabische Regime und deren Partner Israel als abgrundtief böse bezeichnet. Zum Teil war dies eine Reaktion auf die katastrophale Demütigung im Sechstageskrieg. Ebenso ist diese Haltung aber auch als Reaktion auf die Entwicklungen innerhalb der arabischen Welt selbst zu verstehen.

Vor Juni 1967 konnten die arabischen Regime sich als unangefochtene Herrscher der arabischen Massen präsentieren und als Bollwerk im Kampf gegen Israel. Nach dem Krieg aber war ihre Legitimität ernsthaft untergraben. Infolgedessen konzentrierte man seine rhetorische und materielle Unterstützung auf die kürzlich entstandene Bewegung des palästinensischen Nationalismus. Die Palästinensische Befreiungsorganisation (PLO) zum Beispiel wurde 1964 gegründet, erhielt aber erst nach dem Krieg 1967 neuen Auftrieb.

Die arabischen Staaten versuchten, die PLO in eine konservativere Richtung zu lenken und fanden sich oft im Konflikt mit den Palästinensern selbst wieder. 1970 kam es zum sogenannten „Schwarzen September“, einer blutigen Auseinandersetzung zwischen dem jordanischen Regime und den palästinensischen Fedajin (Guerillakämpfer). Im Sommer 1971 wurde die Führung der PLO dann von Jordanien in den südlichen Libanon verwiesen.

Obwohl der Libanon an Israel grenzt, hielt es sich aus dem direkten militärischen Konflikt zunächst heraus. Dennoch bedrohte die starke Präsenz bewaffneter Palästinenser (von denen viele schon nach der Gründung Israels in den Libanon geflohen waren) die Stabilität im Land. Darin liegt die Ursache für den Ausbruch eines blutigen Bürgerkriegs im Libanon, der sich vom April 1975 bis in die 1990er Jahre zog. Die Palästinenser allerdings tragen nicht gänzlich oder hauptsächlich die Schuld an der Situation. Es war viel mehr deren reine Präsenz, die das empfindliche Gleichgewicht im Libanon zum Kippen brachte.

Der Konflikt der arabischen Regime mit Israel sowie die Auseinandersetzungen innerhalb der eigenen Grenzen schufen gleichermaßen die Basis für die berüchtigte UN-Resolution „Zionismus ist Rassismus“. Im November 1975 wurde diese Resolution 3379 von der Vollversammlung der Vereinten Nationen angenommen. Obwohl die Resolution mit einer feierlichen Verurteilung aller Formen von Rassendiskriminierung beginnt, fokussiert sie sich im Folgenden auf Israel allein. Sie hebt auch die Verbindungen zwischen Israel auf der einen Seite und Südafrika sowie Simbabwe (beide damals unter der Kontrolle weißer Minderheiten) auf der anderen hervor: „Das rassistische Regime im besetzten Palästina und die rassistischen Regime in Simbabwe sowie Südafrika haben einen gemeinsamen imperialistischen Ursprung, bilden ein Ganzes mit derselben rassistischen Struktur und sind in ihrer auf Unterdrückung der Würde und Integrität von Menschen gerichteten Politik untrennbar verbunden.“

Diese Resolution, unterstützt von den arabischen Staaten, setzte sich in der UN-Vollversammlung mit großer Mehrheit durch. Erst 1991 wurde sie widerrufen, lange nachdem die besondere Bösartigkeit Israels – zumindest in den meisten Entwicklungsländern – längst als Tatsache anerkannt worden war. Zwei weitere Passagen dieser fatalen Resolution sind nennenswert. Erstens: Obwohl die Resolution den Begriff „Zionismus“ viermal verwendet, bezieht sie sich in keinem Punkt auf Israel. Es wirkt so, als dürfe dieses übermächtige Land nicht einmal beim Namen genannt werden. Zweitens: Vielleicht noch wichtiger ist der Umstand, dass das palästinensische Volk nicht erwähnt wird. Auf das „rassistisches Regime im besetzten Palästina“ wird an einer Stelle hingewiesen, eine Nennung der Palästinenser selbst erfolgt jedoch nicht. Die arabischen Staaten und deren Unterstützer nutzen jede Gelegenheit, den Zionismus heftig zu kritisieren, schrecken aber im selben Zug davor zurück, den Palästinensern aus Fleisch und Blut tatsächlich zu helfen. Lieber stürzen sie sich auf den Zionismus als frei flottierendes Übel, das jeden anständig Denkenden anwidere.

Die Stigmatisierung Israels war für die arabischen Regime also vor allem eine Möglichkeit, ihre eigene Legitimität zu stärken. Sie erlaubte ihnen, sich selbst als Gegengewicht zu Israels vermeintlich schändlicher Macht darzustellen. Natürlich hinderte diese Position die lokalen Regime nicht daran, jede palästinensische Opposition gewaltsam niederzuschlagen, sobald man in ihr eine Bedrohung sah.

Israelische Debatte

Um die Apartheidsvorwürfe in ihrer Gänze zu erfassen, muss man auch die Debatte innerhalb Israels betrachten. Das ist schon allein deshalb notwendig, weil Gegner von außen die Argumente dieser Debatte gegen Israel ins Feld führen. Zunächst einmal haben viele populäre israelischen Politiker vor der Gefahr gewarnt, Israel könne sich zu einem Apartheid-Staat entwickeln oder bereits einer sein. Das schließt auch ehemalige Premierminister wie Jitzchak Rabin, Ehud Barak und Ehud Olmert ein.

Andere Israelis wählen sogar noch schärfere Töne. Da wäre zum Beispiel der jüngste TV-Monolog von Assaf Harel, einem bekannten israelischen Moderator, Autor und Schauspieler: Harel zerreißt die israelische Politik und Haltung gegenüber den Palästinensern schonungslos. In Amerika oder Großbritannien findet sich kaum jemand, der so entschlossen für die Demokratie im eigenen Land einsteht. Dagegen machen etliche westliche Comedians die Demokratie eher zur Zielscheibe ihres Spottes; man denke nur an die spöttische Attitüde vieler britischer Comedians gegenüber dem Brexit.

In jedem Fall besteht zwischen der inländischen israelischen Kritik und den ausländischen Gegnern Israels ein entscheidender Unterschied. Die internen Kritiker betrachten Israel für gewöhnlich nicht als Ausgeburt des Bösen (von einigen Ausnahmen abgesehen). Aus ihrer Sicht befindet sich Israel in einem Zustand, der weder Krieg noch Frieden ist. Sie lehnen Israels Besetzung des Westjordanlandes und die Kontrolle über Gaza ab; ebenso wie die Konsequenzen, die dies für die israelische Gesellschaft hat. Außerdem bedauern sie, dass kein Frieden in Aussicht scheint. Aber sie sehen Israel nicht als allgegenwärtige Macht des Bösen, das sich in seiner Abscheulichkeit von allen anderen Regimen abhebt.

Boykottiert den Judenstaat

Die westliche Debatte über Israel als Apartheidsstaat ist ein relativ neues Phänomen. Wirklich in Bewegung kam sie eigentlich erst ab dem Jahr 2000. Im April 2002 sandten zwei britische Akademiker einen offenen Brief an The Guardian, in dem sie einen Stopp aller kulturellen und Forschungsbeziehungen zu Israel forderten. Im Juli desselben Jahres war die Anzahl der unterzeichnenden Akademiker von 100 auf über 700 gestiegen. Darüber hinaus kam diese Unterstützung aus vielen verschiedenen Ländern. Seitdem hat der Aufruf zum Boykott und zur Isolation Israels an Gehör gefunden.

Eine Gruppe von palästinensischen NGOs rief 2005 dann die Bewegung „Boykott, Desinvestitionen und Sanktionen (BDS)“ ins Leben. Die Kampagne verurteilt Israel explizit als Apartheidsstaat. Die BDS macht dabei klar, dass die Verwendung des Begriffes „Apartheid“ nicht von Ähnlichkeiten zwischen der israelischen Politik und der Apartheid in Südafrika abhängt. Stattdessen berufe man sich auf die Definition des Begriffes, wie er sich im Römischen Statut des Internationalen Strafgerichtshofes von 2002 findet. Dieses Dokument bezieht sich wiederum auf „institutionalisierte Regime der systematischen Unterdrückung und Beherrschung einer oder mehrerer anderer rassischer Gruppen durch eine andere und in der Absicht, dieses Regime aufrechtzuerhalten.“

Selbst wenn diese Definition gälte – und daran lässt sich mit guten Gründen zweifeln –, stellt sich doch wieder einmal die Frage, warum Israel ausgesondert wird. Es gibt etliche Beispiele anderer Regime überall auf der Welt, die dieser Charakterisierung entsprechen und trotzdem nicht isoliert werden. Was ist mit den Millionen koptischen Christen in Ägypten? Oder der schiitischen Minderheit in Saudi-Arabien? Oder den Kurden in der Türkei? Oder den zahllosen anderen Beispielen von unterdrückten Menschen auf der Welt?

Und dennoch ist die Unterstützung für die BDS-Bewegung im Westen gewachsen. Die „Israel Apartheid Week“ ist an Universitäten überall auf der Welt zu einem jährlichen Ritual geworden. Israelis und Unterstützer Israels sind zu Opfern von teilweise sogar gewalttätigen Schikanen geworden. Die Europäische Union wiederum ist der Auffassung, dass Produkte, die in israelischen Siedlungen hergestellt wurden, als solche gekennzeichnet werden müssten. Begründet wird dies mit dem Argument, dass israelische Siedlungen nach internationalem Recht illegal wären. Wieder einmal ist die Doppelmoral der Union kaum zu übersehen.

Sicherlich ist die westliche Kritik an Israel an sich nichts Neues. Viele haben in der Vergangenheit gerechtfertigte Kritik an politischen Maßnahmen geübt, was auch heute noch vorkommt. Früher gab es auch einen linksrevolutionären Zweig, der Israel als Teil westlicher Dominanz über ärmere Nationen betrachtet hat. Dessen Absicht lag allerdings nicht darin, Israel als Einzelfall hinzustellen, sondern es ganz im Gegenteil in den Kontext westlicher Interventionen im Ausland zu stellen. Aus dieser Perspektive war Israel wohl eher ein relativ kleines Zahnrad als eine übermächtige Kraft.

Demgegenüber leiden die selbsternannten Linken heute oft unter einer ungesunden Israel-Besessenheit. Für die Linke – falls man sie noch so nennen kann – ist die Opposition gegenüber dem jüdischen Staat zum Identität stiftenden Merkmal geworden. In ihrem desorientierten Zustand hat sie die israelische Apartheidsdebatte aufgegriffen, um sich selbst wieder ein Gefühl von Bedeutung zu geben. Auf diesem Wege hat sie sich antisemitischen Tendenzen angepasst.

Selbstverständlich weist die große Mehrheit der westlichen Linken den Vorwurf des Antisemitismus weit von sich. Sie denken dabei an gewalttätige Nazi-Schläger mit Glatzen. Sie erkennen nicht, dass die Sonderverurteilung Israels als Apartheidsstaat ebenfalls eine Form von Intoleranz ist – auch wenn sie von besonders kultivierten Akademikern geäußert wird.

Fünfzig Jahre nach dem Sechstagekrieg gibt es viel legitime Kritik an der Behandlung der Palästinenser, die sich an Israel richten ließe. Israel hingegen als eine weltweit einzigartig böse Macht darzustellen, sollte endlich als das begriffen werden, was es ist: eine Form des Judenhasses.

My review of James Montague’s The Billionaires Club: The unstoppable rise of football’s super-rich owners was published by the Financial Times last Friday (1 September).

In The Wire, the acclaimed US television crime drama, Detective Lester Freamon says: “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money and you don’t know where the f*** it’s gonna take you.”

This is the explicit premise of James Montague’s book The Billionaires Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football’s Super-Rich Owners, which opens with the quote and goes on to follow the stories of these wealthy buyers.

The Wire starts as a tale of the Baltimore police department battling drug dealers but soon turns into something bigger. In the course of its five series, it covers not only the drugs trade but also life in the docks, city politics, education and the media. Many of its ardent fans see it as revealing a deeper truth about US society.

Montague attempts to emulate this model. His focus is the entry of super-rich individuals into the ownership of English Premier League football clubs. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich set the pattern in 2003 with the purchase of Chelsea FC.

Since then, foreign owners have taken control of many teams including Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family in the United Arab Emirates, at Manchester City, and John Henry from the US, who made his fortune as a commodities trader and is best known for purchasing the Boston Red Sox baseball team, at Liverpool. The diverse international origins of these owners allow Montague to discuss developments in eastern Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East.

Most billionaires who buy football clubs are not motivated by the hope of a direct financial gain, they say. Abramovich, for example, described it as a hobby in a BBC interview on the subject in 2003. “No, it’s not about making money. I have many much less risky ways of making money than this. I don’t want to throw my money away, but it’s really about having fun and that means success and trophies.”

So whereas the average football fan might buy tickets for a match or purchase team merchandise, someone as wealthy as Abramovich can afford to buy the club.

Sometimes wealthy individuals who are not necessarily avid football fans see broader advantages to buying clubs. For instance, it is widely known that Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, is passionate about the game. As a result, several members of the Chinese business elite have made huge investments in foreign football clubs in an apparent attempt to curry favour with their nation’s leader.

The main exceptions to the rule about money being secondary are American. The Glazer family’s purchase of Manchester United, John Henry’s of Liverpool and Stan Kroenke’s acquisition of a large stake in Arsenal were all commercially driven, they say. Another thing they all have in common is the ownership of US sports franchises.

Montague presents the American billionaires as wanting to introduce US-style sports practices into the UK. These include accessing public subsidies by persuading local authorities to finance the building of new stadiums. He also suggests US owners would favour abolishing the system in which teams that perform poorly are relegated to a lower division.

The Billionaires Club is likely to be a fascinating read for the many football fans interested in developments off the pitch. Although they will often be familiar with their own team’s owner, the book provides the back stories to many more. But as an attempt to reveal deeper truths it is less successful. It is undoubtedly the case, as Montague suggests, that the world is highly unequal. It is also true that many wealthy individuals are involved in murky business dealings. At best the book adds details to a story that is already known in the outline.

Unlike in the The Wire, it is always fairly clear where following the money in football will lead even if the journey is an entertaining one.

 

I will be doing a talk on “Who Runs the UK?” on the evening of Tuesday 26 September in London. More details to follow before too long.

The Wisdom of Money

4 Jul 2017

This review appeared in the Financial Times on 23 June.

It is all too easy for individuals to think that assumptions prevalent in their own country are universal. Take, for instance, the thorny question of politeness. What is considered reasonable behaviour in one country can be seen as outrageously rude in another. Just look at the faces of passengers on the London Underground when someone barges through a queue to get on to a crowded tube train.

The same is true of attitudes to money and to wealth more generally. What some might consider vulgar and ostentatious might be seen by others to be in the finest taste.

Pascal Bruckner’s The Wisdom of Money should be viewed in this context. It is essentially an attempt by a leading French intellectual to persuade his compatriots to alter their view of money. In Bruckner’s view, money should be treated as a serious subject rather than denigrated. He rejects the centuries of derision that literary figures have, he argues, heaped on to money and prosperity.

For instance, take his view on what he describes as the “soft Bolshevism” prevalent in France. It is common for leading political and cultural figures to condemn materialism, distrust the market and excoriate high finance. At the same time, he says, the poor are often venerated.

Such rhetoric may sound radical but Bruckner is right to argue that in some respects this egalitarian ethos is deeply conservative. The underlying message is that the working and middle classes should be ashamed to express great ambitions. Everyone should be willing to limit their material aspirations for the sake of society as a whole. This is a recipe for social stasis that inevitably favours those currently in positions of wealth.

Bruckner concludes that French anti-materialism amounts to a rejection of human progress. “When a people claims to renounce money and the benefits it provides, that is because it also wants to renounce history. And that proves that it no longer has confidence in itself.”

Bruckner is on weaker ground when he discusses the American attitude to wealth. Historically, it is true that the US has seen itself as the land of opportunity where anyone who works hard can achieve the American dream of prosperity. But he fails to see that in some respects the US has become more like France in that it has become uneasy with money.

Take, for example, the idea that “greed is good”. Bruckner describes this as the “American credo” as opposed to the French “cult of pleasures”. But he has apparently forgotten that the slogan was coined as part of an attack on the perceived excesses of US wealth.

“Greed is good” was the most memorable line of Gordon Gekko, a corporate raider, in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. Yet Stone’s goal was not to celebrate wealth but to warn of its potential dangers. Gekko was the villain of the piece. Stone is far from alone in voicing such criticism even in the US. Some 30 years on from the original film such views have become widespread. It is not that most Americans are opposed to wealth in principle but it often arouses anxiety.

Just consider the vast number of books and articles that warn of the dangers of excessive consumption. Too great a focus on accumulating wealth is said to lead to dangerous inequality, widespread misery and even to threaten the planet’s survival.

The rise of this critical attitude towards consumption also helps explain why the wealthy are keen to be seen promoting philanthropic initiatives. Many rich individuals are eager to rebut the charges made against them and show that they play a beneficial social role.

The US and France maintain distinct attitudes on many topics including wealth. But they have arguably converged to a greater extent than those on either side of the Atlantic would like to admit.

Following the publication of my spiked article on the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War I appeared on a spiked podcast on 16 June to discuss the question further. You can listen here  (it is the final item).

This is the text of my article that was published on spiked on 13 June.

Fifty years ago this week, the Arab world was suffering from severe trauma. In early June 1967, the tiny state of Israel had militarily crushed the surrounding armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in just six days of war. That was despite the loudly proclaimed pretensions of the Arab regimes, and Egypt in particular, to represent the Arab masses, anti-imperialism and Third World solidarity.
To understand why Israel’s victory in what came to be know as the Six-Day War was such a shock, it is important to put it into perspective. One way to do this is simply to look at a map of the region as it was. It shows a small state of Israel dwarfed by its much larger neighbours. Not only that, but Israel’s borders, relative to its size, were long and hard to defend. At its narrowest point, the distance between Israel’s border with the West Bank (then part of Jordan) and the Mediterranean Sea was only 9.3 miles (15km). That is just a few minutes’ drive.
Israel was much smaller than the surrounding states by other measures, too. For example, its population in 1967 was about 2.7million compared with 32.4million in Egypt, 5.8million in Syria and 1.3million in Jordan. In economic terms, Israel’s GDP was $1.4 billion compared with $5.6 billion for Egypt, $1.6 billion for Syria and $631million for Jordan. If the numerous other Arab regimes are included – which there is a case for, as many professed support for pan-Arabism – the discrepancy with Israel was even greater.
Some argue that such comparisons understate Israel’s strength. For example, the quality of Israel’s army was better than those of the Arab countries. But such debates need not detain us here. The important point is that in 1967, the Arab regimes were loudly declaring their pan-Arabist credentials while making military threats against Israel. Egypt, for instance, began massing its troops in the Sinai Peninsula along Israel’s border. It also blockaded the strategic straits of Tiran, adjoining the Red Sea, to Israeli shipping.
And yet in the event, the Arab regimes were humiliated by Israel. The Israeli army launched a pre-emptive airstrike which destroyed most of the Egyptian airforce on the ground. When Israel was then attacked by Jordanian and Syrian forces (and some Iraqi forces, too), it struck back against them all.
In less than a week, Israel won a spectacular victory against these combined armies. It took control of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as the Gaza Strip. The pre-1967 borders are often referred to as the ‘green line’ between Israel as it was and the Palestinian areas that it captured. Israel also captured the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Sinai was later handed back in stages following the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the largest Arab state.

The war today
The main contemporary relevance of these events of 1967 is that they are seen as the starting point of what is now widely referred to as Israeli ‘apartheid’. Today, there are about 2.7million Palestinians in the West Bank and another 1.9million or so in the Gaza Strip. That is against an Israeli population of about 8.7million, of whom about 1.8million are Palestinian (but who hold Israeli citizenship). In all, there are about 6.5million Israeli Jews and about the same number of Palestinians living in broadly the same area of land.
Although the borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are controlled by Israel, their Palestinian populations have a degree of autonomy. Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces and settlements from Gaza in 2005, and since 2006 the Islamic Hamas movement has governed the enclave. However, the area’s land, maritime and air borders are still controlled by Israeli forces (except for the border with the Sinai Peninsula, which is controlled by Egyptian forces).
The West Bank is an even more complicated patchwork. Some areas are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, some under Israeli jurisdiction, and some under joint control. The area is also occupied by about 600,000 Jewish settlers, living in their own outposts, who often come into conflict with the Palestinians.
This, then, is the basis for the case against Israel as an apartheid state. The argument is that it systematically discriminates against the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It operates a policy of hafrada (the Hebrew word for separation), which involves keeping Israelis and Palestinians apart, with the latter in a subordinate position.
The heavily fortified barrier between Israel and the bulk of the West Bank is seen as perhaps the defining feature of this divide (it is not exactly coterminous with Israel’s 1967 borders). It was built from the 1990s onwards in response to a wave of suicide bombings against Israelis.
No doubt the separation makes it hard for Palestinians to commute and travel. But there is a fundamental problem in the way that Israel is condemned. By singling Israel out as an apartheid state – a description which is not routinely applied to any other country – observers and campaigners give the impression that it is uniquely evil. Applying the term solely as an epithet to Israel suggests much more than that there are instances of discrimination; it implies that Israel’s misdeeds stand out as incomparably despicable. No other nation in the world today is described in this way.
Anyone with a broader view of the world should appreciate the one-sidedness of this charge. Take, for instance, Israel’s separation barrier. It is minute compared with the extensive fortifications keeping migrants out of the European Union. These include substantial naval forces as well as extensive land fortifications along the border between Turkey and Greece. Over the years, many thousands have drowned in the sea or suffocated trying to make the crossing into the EU. Yet the EU is never accused of operating a policy of apartheid or ‘hafrada’ against non-citizens.
At least Israel can reasonably claim that it is facing an existential threat. Most Arab states still refuse to recognise it and Islamist groups routinely threaten to destroy it. In contrast, no one could seriously claim that the EU is facing imminent physical destruction by outsiders. Yet it is Israel that is singled out above all others for criticism.
Another illuminating comparison is between the foreign condemnation of Israel and the external discussion of the conflict in neighbouring Syria. The death toll in the Syrian Civil War is almost 500,000 by one estimate, with millions internally displaced and millions more seeking refuge abroad. Although Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians is undoubtedly troubled, it is a haven of tranquillity compared with life in the neighbouring state. Criticism of the role of Islamist groups such as ISIS seems particularly muted in the West. Yet the Islamists’ goal is not just to discriminate but also systematically to murder large sections of populations they control, including religious minorities and non-fundamentalist Muslims.
There are also numerous instances of bloody conflict around the world, of systematic intolerance and bloodshed. Take, for example, Turkey’s long-running war against the Kurds. Or the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen in which Saudi-led airstrikes have played a key role. Or the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, a country that has suffered decades of foreign military intervention. Or consider the fate of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. The list could go on and on – and yet it is only Israel that is labelled an apartheid state.
The clear implication is not simply that Israel discriminates against the Palestinians in certain instances – it is that there is something that makes Israel uniquely malign. Although most purveyors of the apartheid label would deny that they are anti-Semitic, it is hard to resist that conclusion. Why else obsess over Israel’s problems while saying little or nothing about what is happening elsewhere? And why apply the apartheid epithet only to the Jewish State?
To understand how this habit developed, it is necessary to look briefly at the discussion in the Arab world, inside Israel and in the West. Although the dynamics of the debate are different in each case, they feed off each other in peculiar ways.

The Arab world
The Arab regimes and their fellow travellers were describing Israel as uniquely evil long before it became commonplace in the West. This was partly a response to the embarrassing blow that the Six-Day War landed on their pan-Arabist pretensions. But it should also be understood as a reaction to developments within the Arab world itself.
Before June 1967, the Arab regimes could present themselves as the champions of the Arab masses and of the anti-Israeli cause. After the war, however, their legitimacy was severely undermined. As a result, they decided to lend rhetorical and material support to the recently founded Palestinian nationalist movements. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), for example, was founded in 1964 but received new impetus after the 1967 war.
The Arab regimes tried to push the PLO in a more conservative direction and often found themselves in conflict with the Palestinians. For example, the Jordanian regime found itself in a bloody conflict with Palestinian fedayeen (guerrilla fighters) in what became known as ‘Black September’ in 1970. By the summer of 1971, the PLO leadership had been expelled from Jordan to southern Lebanon.
Although Lebanon borders on to Israel, it had stayed out of direct military conflict. Yet the presence of a large armed Palestinian population, including many descendants of refugees who fled their homes when Israel was founded, destabilised the country. This helped create the basis for the outbreak of a bloody civil war in Lebanon which started in April 1975 and went on until 1990. It was not that the Palestinians were entirely or mainly to blame for the conflict, but rather that their presence upset Lebanon’s delicate pre-existing balance.
The Arab regimes’ conflict both with Israel and within their own borders created the basis for the notorious United Nations (UN) resolution, ‘Zionism is Racism’. In November 1975, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379. Although the resolution started with a ritual condemnation of all forms of racial discrimination, it went on to focus on Israel. It also emphasised the connections between Israel on the one hand and South Africa and Zimbabwe (both then under white minority control) on the other: ‘[T]he racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.’
The resolution, which had the backing of the Arab regimes, won a large majority in the general assembly. It was revoked in 1991, but by that time it was widely accepted, in the developing world at least, that Israel was a particularly odious state.
Two other remarkable features of this resolution are also worth noting. First, although it uses the term ‘Zionism’ four times, at no point does it refer to Israel. It is as if the country’s influence is so powerful and wicked that it cannot even be mentioned by name. Secondly, and perhaps even more remarkably, there is no mention of the Palestinian people. There is one reference to ‘the racist regime in occupied Palestine’ but no talk of the Palestinian themselves. The Arab regimes and their supporters are all too happy to slate Zionism, but they recoil from supporting real living Palestinians. Instead they focus on Zionism as a kind of free-floating evil that offends right-thinking people.
So for the Arab regimes the stigmatisation of Israel was a way of bolstering their own legitimacy. It enabled them to present themselves as principled opponents of Israel’s nefarious power. Of course, when the Palestinian presence threatened to radicalise other Arab populations, the local regimes were more than happy to use force to crush any opposition.

Inside Israel
To comprehend fully the allegations of Israeli apartheid, it is also necessary to be aware of Israel’s domestic debate. This is in part because foreign criticism sometimes use the Israeli discussion to add weight to their stigmatisation of Israel.
For a start, many mainstream Israeli politicians have warned that Israel is in danger of becoming or might already be an apartheid state. These include former prime ministers such as Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.
Other Israelis have criticised Israeli intolerance in even more strident political terms. Take, for example, the recent television monologue by Assaf Harel, a popular Israeli TV host, comedy writer and actor. He savages Israeli policies and attitudes towards the Palestinians. It is hard to think of many American or British equivalents, most of whom are staunchly pro-establishment, who would stand up for democracy in their own countries. On the contrary, many Western comedians often make democracy the butt of their jokes. Just think of the derisory attitude so many British comedians took towards Brexit.
In any case, there is a key difference between most of Israel’s domestic critics and foreign opponents of Israel. Internal critics do not usually see Israel as uniquely evil (although there are a few exceptions). Generally their view is that Israel is trapped in a state of neither war nor peace. They dislike Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its control over Gaza, as well as the consequences of this for Israeli society. They also mourn because they see no peace in sight. But they do not see Israel as a force of free-floating evil that marks it out from other troubled regimes. On the contrary, they generally resent the double standards to which they believe Israel is often subjected.

The West’s culpability
The discussion in the West of Israel as an apartheid state is of relatively recent origin. It is really only in the 2000s that it gained substantial momentum.
In April 2002, two British academics sent an open letter to the Guardian calling for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel. By July, the number of academics supporting it had risen from over 100 to over 700, and they came from several countries. Since then the call to boycott and isolate Israel has gained ever more momentum at universities in Britain, the US and elsewhere.
In 2005, a group of Palestinian non-governmental organisations founded the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The organisation explicitly condemns Israel as an apartheid state. BDS makes clear that its use of the term apartheid does not depend on similarities between Israeli politics and South Africa under Apartheid. Instead it refers to the definition of apartheid set out by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This document in turn refers to ‘an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime’.
Even if that definition is accepted – and there is good reason to question it – it once again begs the question of why Israel is singled out. There are numerous examples of regimes around the world that arguably conform to that definition, yet they are not singled out. How about the millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt? Or the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia? Or the Kurds in Turkey? Or countless other examples from across the globe of people being oppressed?
Nevertheless, support for the BDS movement has grown in the West. Israeli Apartheid Week has become an annual ritual in universities around the world. Israelis and those who support Israel are subject to sometimes violent harassment.
Meanwhile, the European Union has taken the view that products that are made in Israeli settlements must be labelled as such. Its arguments are that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Once again it is hard not to see a double standard in the EU’s moral posturing.
Of course, criticism of Israel in the West is not in itself new. Many in the past have made justified attacks on specific Israeli policies, as indeed some still do today. Historically, there was also a revolutionary leftist strand that saw Israel as part of a broader system of Western domination of poorer countries. However, the goal then was not to single out Israel, but, on the contrary, to put it into the broader context of Western intervention overseas. From that perspective, Israel was a relatively small cog rather than an all-powerful force.
In contrast, today’s self-appointed radicals often have an unhealthy obsession with Israel. The left, if it can still be called that, has come to see opposition to the Jewish State as one of its defining features. In its disorientated state, the left has picked up on the discussion of Israeli apartheid as a way of giving itself some sense of meaning. But in doing so, it has ended up adapting to anti-Semitic tendencies.
Of course the vast majority of Western radicals would balk at the idea that they might be anti-Semitic. To their minds, such a charge evokes images of violent Nazi thugs in black shirts. They fail to see that singling out Israel as an apartheid state is itself a form of intolerance. That is true even when the criticisms are made by the most genteel academics.
Fifty years since the Six-Day War, there are many legitimate criticisms that can be made of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. But identifying Israel as a uniquely malevolent force in the world should be identified for what it is: a form of Jew-hatred.

Spiked has published an essay by me on The Truth About Hatred of Israel. I will upload the full text at a later date.

My latest book review was published in the Spiked Review yesterday.

From the title onwards, Utopia for Realists is an exercise in sophistry. Despite the ample use of revolutionary rhetoric, the consequence of its proposals would be a hyper-austerity that would make the most hawkish free marketeer blush.

Let’s start with the book’s outsized claims. Rutger Bregman, a 29-year-old Dutch writer, says the work is ‘an attempt to unlock the future’. He puts his proposals on a par with the historical campaigns for democracy, the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. So he certainly appears to have no shortage of ambition.

Bregman also makes the welcome argument that there is an alternative to the way the world currently runs. ‘Things could be different. The way our world is organised is not the result of some axiomatic evolution.’

More specifically, his big idea is that everyone, however rich or poor, should have a right to a universal basic income (UBI) paid by the state. ‘Free money for everyone’, as he prefers to call it. In this he claims to be following in the footsteps of a peculiar combination of luminaries, from democratic campaigners (Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King) to free-market economists (Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek) and disgraced politicians (US President Richard Nixon). Bregman argues that such a programme would lead to lower inequality, less poverty, lower crime rates and higher economic growth. To substantiate his case, he points to empirical studies mainly done by economists.

For example, he starts his second chapter with an account of a research programme conducted on 13 homeless men in London a few years ago. A local charity gave the men £3,000 each in cash to spend as they wished. In Bregman’s account, the experiment was a resounding success. The lives of all 13 improved considerably in the year and a half after the experiment began. Moreover, the London homeless project saved a huge amount of money in terms of the costs of policing and welfare. This opens the way for his subsequent argument that a UBI could replace conventional social-security payments. In his view, the welfare state has become ‘a perverse behemoth of control and humiliation’. This argument has some truth to it although it understates the extent to which the welfare system in many countries has come to sap individual ambition and corrode social solidarity.

Bregman also claims that Westerners will be working 15-hour weeks by 2030. The developed economies will be so wealthy that there will be no need to work longer. Although he devotes an entire chapter to this topic, he does not make the connection to the UBI explicit. Presumably it is to help with the transition to a more leisured society.

In certain circles, Bregman has won widespread plaudits for his arguments. The Guardian has described him as a ‘Dutch Wunderkind’, and numerous intellectual luminaries have endorsed his book. Support for the idea of a UBI is also gaining ground in many countries. In that respect, Britain is relatively late to the game. Switzerland had a referendum in 2016 on a proposal to introduce the basic income, although it was rejected by 77 per cent of those voting with only 23 per cent backing it. There are also UBI experiments taking place in Canada, Finland, India, Kenya and the Netherlands. It has gained significant support in Silicon Valley, including from the likes of Elon Musk, a tech billionaire, and Sam Altman, who is the head of Y Combinator, a start-up incubator, and the backer of a UBI pilot programme.

At first sight, there might not appear to be much in Bregman’s proposals to object to apart from his own hype. Of course, most people would find the idea of governments giving cash handouts to billionaires outlandish. Other than that, it seems like at least a plausible proposal. But read Bregman’s book closely and it becomes apparent that what is really being suggested is a savage cut in living standards. He tries to play down these consequences, but the argument is clearly there for those who care to look. In this he shares much with the eco-modernists who use progressive language but are even more reactionary than mainstream greens.

Read Utopia for Realists closely, and it becomes clear that it favours the idea of a UBI precisely because it will encourage people to work less. Reducing the incentive to work is not an inadvertent flaw in the proposal, but its essence. ‘Some people may opt to work less, but that’s precisely the point’, he says. Bregman wants people to do less work precisely because their income will fall and in turn they will be less able to buy things. ‘Consuming less starts with working less’, he says.

Many of the favourite green dogmas are stated explicitly in Utopia for Realists. He says we live in a world of ‘overabundance’ and in the midst of an ‘addiction to consumerism’, where the working classes are duped by the elite into ‘false consciousness’. Bregman concedes that consumption could rise a little in the short term, but argues that the inevitably adverse effects would include pollution and obesity.

Of course, more leisure time – of the voluntary variety rather than the enforced – would be desirable if it could be achieved while maintaining high living standards. But a precondition for meeting this goal would be a more productive economy than exists at present. An economy that was a more dynamic could maintain high living standards, while allowing us to work 15 hours per week. This challenge of raising productivity is central to the discussion in Creative Destruction, by spiked contributor Phil Mullan.

But nowhere does Utopia for Realists address the West’s prolonged economic lethargy. Instead Bregman loves discussing small-scale academic studies, such as that on 13 homeless men in London, but nowhere does he discuss the West’s economic stagnation. On the contrary, the working assumption, made explicitly but played down, is that popular consumption must be slashed rather than increased.

Utopia for Realists professes opposition to austerity, but he has put forward a programme that would in practice outdo the most hardcore fiscal conservatives. He is yet another green miserabilist discussed as an optimist.

Daniel Ben-Ami is a writer based in London. Visit his website here. An expanded version of Ferraris for All: In Defence of Economic Progress is available in paperback.

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman, is published by Bloomsbury.