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Reality check: cutting off American aid to Israel won’t make much difference

by Sunny Hundal     July 24, 2014 at 5:47 pm

If I had a penny for every time someone said this to me on Twitter, I’d have bought myself a min-island in the Bermuda by now.

Yes, the United States supports Israel with military aid every year. It also licenses American companies to sell Israel military equipment every year.

But Israel won’t collapse tomorrow if the US cut off their aid. Let’s just go over the numbers to explain.

The United States gave approximately $3.2 Billion to Israel last year. Here’s the breakdown

That includes a sum of $3.1 billion as military aid.
It provides another $504 million in funding: for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system ($235 million) and the joint US-Israel missile defense systems David’s Sling ($149.7 million)
And there are a few other systems that amount to around $100m. There’s a breakdown here (PDF)

As a proportion of Israeli spending that used to mean a lot – sometimes as much as a quarter of Israel’s defense budget.

It doesn’t any more, primarily because Israel has had a healthy and growing economy. In 2000, Israel GDP was $124.9 Billion. Last year it was more than double that – $291.3 Billion. In comparison, Egypt has a smaller GDP ($271 BN) even though it has 10x the population (more comparison: India’s GDP: $1.8 Trillion; UK $2.5 TR; USA $16.8 TR).

In other words, US military aid to Israel is now worth merely 1% of its GDP. It’s a bonus, not essential money.

The country is doing so well it has more cash than needs, thanks to the recent discovery of gas reserves. It is discussing setting up a sovereign fund and discussing where to invest that surplus.

In fact, this situation has even led some pro-Israelis to call for the military aid to be cut to Israel, on the basis that Israel would then have to rely even less on its ally. They don’t want Israel to be seen as subservient to US interests and clearly think Israel will do just fine without American money.

The point is, US military aid to Israel has largely become an irrelevant factor in this war or the future. Cutting it off won’t hobble Israel. If America abruptly withdraws it over illegal Israeli action, then it may force a change in behaviour but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

Thinking of abandoning your wife in Pakistan or India? Think again

by Sunny Hundal     July 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm

A court judgement out this week sheds light on a very under-reported and rarely-discussed problem within South Asian communities in the UK.

In 2007 I reported for BBC Asian Network on women who come to the UK as brides from South Asia, and the potential problems they face. Since many don’t speak English (and are sometimes discouraged from learning it!) – they are more vulnerable to being abused, exploited, beaten or abandoned. One way to help, I argued, was to make it compulsory for them to learn English, so they could more easier seek help when needed and play an active role in British society.

Here are the facts of the case, as laid out in the court judgement. What’s extraordinary about this case is that a British law-firm (Dawson Cornwell) fought on behalf of this woman and won a judgement against the man. I hope it sets a precedent and serves as a warning to other men thinking of abandoning their wives.

* * * * * *

A very young wife was lawfully brought to the United Kingdom, where she was dependent upon her husband and his family, and where she gave birth to a child who has major disabilities. Her husband made little effort to secure for her the immigration status to which she was entitled and when the marriage got into difficulties, she was then sent out of the country with no right to re-enter. The result is that she and her child have been separated for the past three years, a situation that is a wholesale breach of their right to respect for their family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The child, S, was born in 2005 and is nearly 9 years old. He has very severe learning and communication disabilities. His parents are both of Pakistani origin. The father was born in England while the mother came here in June 2002 after an arranged marriage that was celebrated in Pakistan in 2000 when she was around 15 years old.

In December 2012, the father pronounced a talaq. In August 2013, the mother remarried in Pakistan. She says that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. Her father was planning to arrange for her remarriage to a person of his choice and she went through a ceremony of marriage with someone else to prevent this. Her evidence is that she has never lived with this “husband” and has no intention of doing so in future or of bringing him to the United Kingdom.

The mother described several occasions on which the father and his mother would slap and kick her and pull her hair. These did not cause major injury and she did not seek medical treatment or, in general, complain to the authorities. However, on 7 February 2011, she did make a police report and went overnight to a refuge. She explains this as being because the father struck S on that occasion. The father denies any violence whatever.

The judge also writes:

The father’s failure to secure the mother’s immigration status was a gross dereliction of his responsibility towards her and towards S. In his evidence, he claims that he was unaware of her precarious position, having left matters of that kind to his own father. He says that when she left the country in July 2011 he did not know what the position was. I found the father’s evidence incredible and I reject it. He knew perfectly well that if the mother left, she could not return. The reason why the father and his family were so careless of the mother’s position was because it suited them.

Having considered all the evidence on this issue, the judge found that the mother was tricked into going to Pakistan. He also made it easier for her to travel back to the UK and see her son, and forced the father to give her some visitation rights.

Well done on the judge on handling this so well.

It may be that this case also sets a precedent for other ‘stranded’ spouses. As the judge said right at the beginning:

Where one party to a failing marriage has secure immigration status and the other does not, the opportunity arises for the former to exploit the latter’s weakness by taking advantage of immigration controls. This case is a bad, but by no means unique, example of what has come to be known as the stranded spouse.

Indeed.


If you are being affected by this (or other issues like a forced marriage) and need some support, get in touch with Sharan Project

It doesn’t matter if Hamas ‘started it’, they’ve back Israel into a losing corner

by Sunny Hundal     July 22, 2014 at 3:59 am

The other day, in a discussion among friends on Israel’s attack on Gaza (I generally avoid them, even on Twitter), one said Hamas started the latest round of shelling by bombarding Israeli towns and inviting a response.

I have no way of verifying this, so I shrugged. Its irrelevant who started it.

On social media I’ve seen Israelis blame Hamas and say they’re merely defending themselves, so they’re justified in attacking Gaza. Israelis ask “what would you do if someone attacked you with rockets?“. Its a really counter-productive question to ask, and it misses the wood for the trees.

Palestinians are a desperate people who live in an open-air prison camp controlled by Israel. Their lives are lived in squalor and poverty. This is beyond dispute; even Israelis know it. Israel blocks drinking water and proper sanitation even when its not attacking Gaza. It keeps building illegal settlements when there isn’t a war going on.

Palestinians aren’t stupid – they can see Israel wants to slowly annex their land until its too late for independence. In fact, its PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated quite explicitly in a (very under-reported) speech just last week that Palestinian weren’t going to get independence.

That makes it even more likely that Hamas will provoke Israel into an angry response. They see it as the only real option available to them.

Every time Israel responds it is goaded into spending money, becoming more extreme, killing more Palestinians children and becoming more isolated from international opinion.

Sooner or later something has to give. The Palestinians have little to lose by carrying on by goading Israel. They already live their lives in squalor and under occupation.

Israel on the other hand has over-stepped the mark already to the point it has alienated most of European public opinion. A few more missteps, coupled with the rise of social media, and American opinion could rapidly turn against them too.

Once that happens Israel really will face an existential crisis.

The question for Israelis shouldn’t be “what would you do?“, but “how do we break out of this cycle?“. But they’re not asking that. Benjamin Netanyahu has stoked up his country enough that the majority want immediate respite and instant revenge. They’ve lost sight of the broader picture.

Israel may be winning the battle on the strength of its military now, but Hamas is winning the longer strategic war.

al-Qaeda has lost: it will eventually be absorbed by ISIS in Iraq

by Sunny Hundal     July 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm

The Washington Institute recently published a note titled ‘The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement’ – on tensions between the two movements.

Its worth emphasising briefly that there are differences between the two, mostly that ISIS are even more brutal than AQ and freely break many rules that Osama Bin Laden set for his own people.

But I think al-Qaeda has effectively lost the battle for terrorism supremacy to ISIS / Islamic State already.

All the world’s focus, the momentum and the expansion is on side of ISIS, not al-Qaeda, which matters to the impressionable men who want to be on the side of winners not losers (like most people, really).

Plus ISIS is based in the Levant, which has much bigger symbolic value for Muslims than the mountains of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda militants have to hide from US drones or the Pakistani army. In Iraq and Syria, they have near free rein and their opposition is melting away (for now).

Most importantly, ISIS claim to have established an Islamic State – which has even more symbolic and religious value for the kind of impressionable men who want to get involved in jihad. I suspect more fighters will abandon Al Qaeda and join ISIS over coming months, effectively finishing off Osama Bin Laden’s brainchild.

But what prompted me to write this short note was news of heightened security warnings across US airports. I suspect that US Homeland Security officials have come to the same conclusion and know this infighting has grave consequences.

Al-Qaeda leaders will be making the same calculations about ISIS and will likely re-double their efforts to regain momentum and attention. And in the terrorist world there’s only one way to do that: by launching terrorist attacks in the West.

The ‘Mega Mosque’ and how right wingers ignore liberal Muslim women

by Sunny Hundal     June 22, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Orthodox British Muslims are frequently accused of ignoring the voices of women, especially liberal Muslim women, for good reasons. But they aren’t the only ones doing it: liberal Muslim women are also frequently ignored and used by right-wingers with their own agenda.

It turns out that right-wingers are also happy to ally with liberal Muslim women to criticise orthodox Muslims, but will ignore these voices when it doesn’t suit their agenda. Yep, I’m as shocked as you are!

This particular case involves the long-running dispute over the proposed ‘Mega Mosque’ in East London.

Tehmina Kazi, director for British Muslims for Secular Democracy, was the ‘star witness’ against the proposed mosque in a newly opened public inquiry, because she earlier objected to the anti-woman bias of Tablighi Jamaat, the group behind it.

But a few weeks ago she withdrew from the public inquiry.

Alan Craig, director of the ‘Mega Mosque No Thanks’ campaign, also described as a Christian fundamentalist, sent out a press release saying she was “intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters”.

He repeated the claim in a video for by the homophobic and xenophobic group Christian Concern, which earlier objected to Aaqil Ahmed being appointed head of religion at the BBC just because he was Muslim.

But here’s the thing – they’re ignoring what Tehmina Kazi herself said.

The veteran religion journalist Ruth Gledhill wrote:

Alan Craig, director of the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign, said she was ‘intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters’. But Ms Kazi said: ‘Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women’s increased participation and involvement in the new facility.’

However, Ms Kazi told Lapido Media that she had been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community.

The claim she was intimidated was also repeated by Douglas Murray from the Henry Jackson Society a few weeks ago, who pretty much swept aside Tehmina’s point and heavily implied she was intimidated into dropping her opposition to the mosque.

All this reflects the ugly tactics being deployed in the desperate desire to win public opinion.

The pros and cons of the proposed East London centre and mosque should be judged on its own merit by the inquiry. I’m not bothered either way.

But what shouldn’t happen, inquiry or not, is the misrepresentation and spinning of a leading liberal Muslim woman’s opinion, just because it doesn’t fit the narrative of some right-wingers.

To me, this is a reflection of the same misogyny that Douglas Murray and his compatriots rail against.

British foreign policy is dead

by Sunny Hundal     June 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm

A few observations on the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria.

1) British foreign policy is dead
Ed Miliband’s fairly gentle questioning of Cameron yesterday in PMQs illustrated the obvious: there is consensus among the three main parties that there will be no military intervention in Iraq again. The same goes for President Obama, who has been proceeding far more carefully than he is given credit by the left and right. In one sense Syria has sealed the fate of military intervention: when a humanitarian and strategic disaster on that scale cannot elicit a US-UK response, its highly unlikely Iraq will. For better or for worse, we have given up major on military interventions in other countries. The American and British public are firmly against them, despite what commentators in the press say.

2) China is more worried about Iraqi oil than the USA
Less than a quarter of American oil imports are from the Middle East. The US isn’t just a net energy exporter now, some say it may become the world’s largest producer of oil by next year. Meanwhile, a majority of oil exports from the Middle East now go to Asia, and China is particularly exposed. If oil prices shoot up because of ISIS, I suspect China will throw money towards Iran to send more troops into Iraq and wipe them out. The geo-political plates have shifted significantly over the last ten years.

3) We’ll look back at ‘stable’ ME dictatorships
The US supported dictatorships across the Middle East because they provided stability. I suspect we are about to see commentators on the left and right, who earlier wanted to see democracy across the Middle East, going back to supporting dictatorships for the same reason. To take one example, Mehdi Hasan would like the US government to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria. I’ve debated other lefties too who would prefer to see Assad propped up in Syria. The same may soon apply to Iraq, and will be an argument against popular uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

4) Kurdistan may arise
The strength of ISIS has strengthened the hand of Iraqi Kurds who, in the face of a disintegrating national Iraqi government, may demand an independent Kurdistan. This is on balance a good thing because the Kurds are a persecuted minority and don’t have a homeland. But it may also increase sectarian tensions and there will be questions of how an independent Kurdistan would protect itself.

In my view there is little doubt the invasion of Iraq in 2003 lit the tinderbox across Iraq, but the conflict has taken a life of its own because its driven by deep-rooted sectarian differences. There is no appetite for military intervention in the foreseeable future, among politicians or the public, unless we are under provable, imminent threat. Whether that means we see a more peaceful world, or one where other countries (Russia, China) try and take advantage, remains to be seen.

ISIS has grown because we sat around doing nothing to stabilise Syria

by Sunny Hundal     June 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm

A group called ISIS, which even some in the al-Qaeda leadership have disassociated themselves from, are now rapidly taking over large parts of Iraq. There is a sense of panic in the air because it obviously means more conflict in the Middle East, and more refugees trying to escape their brutal control.

But it has also sparked an odd debate here in the UK.

In the Guardian, Owen Jones writes: ‘We anti-war protesters were right: the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos’.

But this has been obvious for a few years now. I opposed the invasion from the start and was at most of the demonstrations against it (including the big one in Feb. 2003). Only a few deluded idiots now believe the invasion of Iraq has gone well. In fact the invasion was a disaster from day one, despite attempts by Americans to stage a few stunts to pretend it was going OK.

So that’s an old debate, while the one about ISIS is a new one.

Firstly, ISIS has grown out of the chaos in Syria, which we sat by and watched instead of working with Arab countries to end. We should have joined a military coalition with other Arab countries to bomb Assad’s military installations and weaken him – thereby driving him out into asylum in Iran or elsewhere.

I wrote about ISIS in January this year, saying: “as these groups become prominent, the fallout is being felt in surrounding countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Pakistan”.

Sitting by and watching has made things worse. We’ve gone from 20,000 dead in Syria (“if we intervene now, we’ll make it worse”) to nearly 200,000 dead (*silence*). The ongoing chaos has helped ISIS grow and destabilised surrounding countries. And all that is about to get worse.

As I said:

Intervention in Syria is not a matter of ‘If’, but a matter of ‘When’. Do we wait until the situation spirals further out of control, and Al-Qaeda re-establish a powerful base, or go for damage limitation earlier?

Secondly, are we meant to be against countries militarily intervening in other countries? I ask because Iran is now sending troops into Iraq (without official invitation) to fight ISIS. What if those troops are used to suppress Kurds? Will people on the left raise their voice then?

Basically, we are sitting around watching the situation get worse, as many predicted. ISIS hasn’t grown because we invaded Iraq (though we definitely wrecked the country and Saddam Hussain would have been better placed to quell them)… they’ve grown because Syria was allowed to spiral out of control.

Since we have now committed to sitting around and doing nothing, the situation in the Middle East is about to get much worse.

Addendum: in case it isn’t clear, I’ve given up on the prospect of any military action now. We’re now committed to sitting around on our hands and pretending it could be worse.

Reality check: Labour is not going to win the next election by a landslide

by Sunny Hundal     May 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

A bizarre notion has taken hold of some of my fellow Labour commentators. Some of them believe that the Labour party is going to get around 40% at the next election and win by a landslide. They believe this is not only possible but within reach.

This is a fantasy. The results of the 2015 general election are going to be close. Too close for comfort, in fact.

There are simple reasons for this.

1) In 2010 Labour got only 29% of the vote – its second worst defeat ever. The party had become intellectually exhausted, hollowed out and tired. To change minds and add 11% to your vote within 5 years isn’t just a Herculean task – it is unprecedented in British politics. It has never happened because people do not change minds so quickly.

2) The financial crash of 2008 happened under New Labour’s watch. They were “intensely relaxed” about people getting super rich and let the bankers run wild by cutting regulation. Sure, the Tories urged them to be even more reckless but the electorate won’t remember that; the fault always lies with the party in power. And people take a long time to forget that. It took the Conservatives 15 after the ERM crash of 1992 to match Labour on economic credibility.

3) It takes time to change people’s minds and get them to trust you again. This is so obvious a point that it feels silly just to say it. This is especially true when New Labour leaders also lied about invading Iraq and started a war that cost tens of billions of pounds. Labour lost a lot of trust during those 13 years and it will take more than the image of David Cameron’s face to bring them back.

Sure, you say, but wasn’t Labour polling in the low 40s not long ago? Why isn’t this possible?

Again, simple. Labour polled high at a time when discontent against the government was at its peak and the economy was in dire straits (2011 – 2012). The ‘omnishambles’ budget was fresh in people’s minds and anger at the Lib Dems had driven most of their base to Labour.

But the economy has improved; UKIP and Greens have taken some Labour voters away. Some ex-Lib Dems have returned or decided Labour wasn’t particularly liberal either. Momentum within the UKuncut, student and Occupy movements has petered out. Fatigue has set in.

As the economy improves more people will go back to the Tories regardless of what Labour does or say. That is how people respond in any country, including ours.

I think there are strong factors that help Labour. But the shift in public opinion needed to win a big majority is far too much for just five years. That’s why it has never happened on this scale before.

This doesn’t mean Labour should aim low. But getting 36% or so next year is a massive task in itself, and the idea that we are failing because we’re not heading towards 40% is just fantasy.

What exactly do the likes of Graham Stringer and John Mann MP want?

by Sunny Hundal     May 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Political journalists love reporting on infighting: it adds drama and excitement to a beat that is usually about boring policy announcements. This isn’t a criticism – as a blogger I loved reporting on infighting too (even within Labour) because it meant clicks, eyeballs and excitement. Its the stuff we worked for.

The local / EU elections have brought Labour MPs John Mann and Graham Stringer to the forefront for precisely this reason: they’re willing to fuel the infighting narrative.

But listen to what they actually say and you soon realise they’re just spouting empty platitudes. There’s not a single policy demand in what they say, other than Stringer’s demand for a referendum on the EU. I’ve long called for Labour to promise a referendum on the EU too, but you have to be really obtuse to think Miliband is going to u-turn on his sensible and cautious policy now just to satisfy us. And even then, it would make very little difference to the UKIP vote.

But all this is lost on John Mann and Graham Stringer, who repeatedly call on the Labour leadership “to listen to the people” as if this were a new and radical idea.

Listen to John Mann on WATO

They have zero policy advice on what needs to be done. They have zero practical advice for the leadership.

What this does highlight however is a broader issue: the Labour leadership are aware of all the above but there is no simple answer because voters themselves are contradictory.

“Labour should be Labour, but they’re more like Conservative,” a voter from Rotherham told BBC World at One earlier, who had opted for UKIP – a party even more right-wing than the Tories.

A lot of Labour people voted for UKIP because they feel alienated by the party and by Westminster in general. On that front, the party needs broader cultural change and more extensive outreach to voters. But Miliband isn’t idle here either: he’s been fully behind rolling out the community organising model across the country. The leadership have been making heavy demands on candidates to knock on doors and speak to voters too.

On policy, should Labour go harder on immigration? It can do, but it will alienate more liberal voters in London (without which it can’t win in 2015 or 2016). And how exactly do you out-UKIP on immigration? None of these questions are answered.

The Labour leader has chosen instead to focus on the economy, and reach out to people who feel alienated because of growing inequality and are voting UKIP out of frustration. Do the likes of Mann and Stringer have any policy suggestions here? Nope. I haven’t heard a single policy suggestion yet. Which begs the question: how do these people think they’re helping?

‘But why are Jeremy Clarkson and Nigel Farage still so popular?’

by Sunny Hundal     May 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Suzanne Moore has written a column in the Guardian today that I whole-heartedly agree with.

Here’s her key argument:

Clarkson is not stupid. Nor is he a maverick or outlier. He is a central part of the establishment. He parties with Cameron. Just as Ukip is not a maverick party, but made up of disgruntled Tories; just as Boris Johnson is not a maverick but a born-to-rule chancer; just as bloggers such as Guido Fawkes pretend to be anti-politics mavericks but are hard-rightwingers – this section of the right deludes itself that it is somehow “outside” the establishment rather than its pumping heart.

Saying the unsayable is actually dully conformist. Pick on anyone different and mock them. Endeavour to take away not just their rights but the concept that they ever had rights in the first place. All this is done preeningly, while a white middle-aged man pretends he is downtrodden and now some kind of freedom fighter.

[I hate to point this out but its the Guardian that has twice published fawning profiles on Guido Fawkes emphasising his anti-establishment schtick.]

I broadly agree with what Suzanne says. But there’s a point here that follows on but isn’t quite addressed: so why are Clarkson and Farage still popular? Saying this is because their followers are just racist doesn’t quite hit the mark, despite the obviously racist remarks made by both.

There’s something else going on here.

Supporters of Farage and Clarkson do think its right that people speak truth to power. They do want someone who is anti-establishment. But don’t see themselves as the establishment.

Imagine a world that is rapidly becoming more sexist and homophobic. Attacks on women and LGBTs are on the rise and the younger generation have even worse attitudes. You can see your world crumbling in front of you and you want out. You’ll support anyone who stands up to this rising tide of hatred. Even if they’re rich, white and well-connected.

This is the world that Nigel Farage and Jeremy Clarkson fans are in. They hate progressive politics and they hate the march of political correctness. Their entire world is falling apart and they hate the future. They hate ‘political correctness’ and they see it going from the Left all the way to the Tory leadership.

Whether we on the Left think this is silly or not is irrelevant, this is the world they are in. For them, the likes of Clarkson and Farage are speaking truth to power. If your world looks full of political correctness and green politics gone mad, then you’ll support Clarkson and Farage for railing against it.

We are in the middle of a culture war.

Globalisation and immigration have made this generation (mostly older and less well-off) feel like the world is slipping beyond their control. This is why there’s no puzzle as to why Farage and Clarkson are popular despite being rich, powerful and part of the establishment: their supporters see them as on side in this cultural war.

I know where I stand as an unapologetic social liberal, and I’m comfortable with that. My side is winning, after all.

But the socially conservative classes know they’re losing badly, so the culture war is intensifying. They want their world back and they think Clarkson and Farage are the last holdouts.

In other words, there’s little point in asking why supporters of Farage and Clarkson don’t want to speak truth to power. They do. But they have a point – times have changed. They are no longer the establishment… we are.


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