Wednesday 15 January 2014

Foreign affairs

When I used to write for the Biased-BBC blog between 2009 and 2012, as David Vance frequently used to point out to his critics, the above the line contributors were volunteers, unpaid, working in our own time and at our own pace. Nevertheless, many people seemed to assume that we were sitting by our radios and televisions monitoring  the output all hours of the day, seven days per week.

In some ways, simply by presuming to write a blog about BBC bias, we were duty bound to do a certain amount of watching and listening, so there’s no use getting all indignant about it. These days I watch what I want, which isn’t very much. 

When i was hat-tipped about an upcoming Foreign Affairs Committee session that was to be aired live, I thought I’d give it a go in the line of duty.

“This is the second in a series of one-off evidence sessions that the Committee is holding on the wider Middle East, to keep abreast of developments and UK policy there. The committee took evidence on Syria in December 2013, and future sessions are expected to cover Libya, and Iraq.”
Okay, I hadn’t heard of these sessions before and hadn’t listened to the December one, and it took me a while to configure my computer so that the wretched thing would say ’yes’. By the time I had downloaded some software and tried a couple of browsers the session had started.

The first contender was that infamous fellow  Professor Manuel Hassassian, Head of the Palestinian Mission in London. (It wasn’t Mastermind I know, but somehow he seemed like a contender)

Manuel Hassassian

To anyone who was willing to be convinced, he gave a convincing performance He spoke as if he was a moderate representative of the moderate, peace-seeking Palestinians. In his opening statement, which I watched afterwards, he managed to turn the whole I/P situation on its head. For example he said that the Palestinians had been 
“committed to the  peace process for the last 20 years, and as a matter of fact we have accepted so many concessions, starting with the acceptance of the state of Israel over 78% of the Palestinian(sole? solid?) territory and so far we have not  had our statehood acknowledged from the Israeli side”
“We are not really clear about Israel’s positions in this peace process because so far we have seen preconditions coming into the actual re-negotiations sponsored by the US.”

Yes, he actually said that!

 As the interview proceeded, a menacing “If you don’t do as we say we might not be able to rein in certain violent elements” emerged, which didn’t go unnoticed. 
The committee members were polite, some to the extent of appearing sympathetic. The questions revealed as much as the answers, maybe more.  The chairman’s welcoming comments addressed to this particular witness seemed particularly effusive; he alluded to ‘hospitality’ that he had evidently enjoyed on a previous occasion.

Rory Stewart enquired why the Palestinians walked out of talks so much, whereupon  Hassassian got worked up and accused Israel of impudence at introducing the idea of recognising Israel as a Jewish state.
Not all the members were present but those who were gave the impression that they assumed, by dint of being on the committee, that they occupied the moral high ground. Airs of superiority notwithstanding, it became clear that they had limited knowledge of the Israel Palestine conflict. They must have been educated by the BBC. The labour MPs in particular (with the exception of Mike Gapes who was quite jolly) seemed a bit smug, imperious and not very knowledgeable about the topic in question. 
The conservatives were less smug, but they conducted themselves with a similar aura of superiority and, I thought, some ignorance.

Once Hassassian left the room the sole lady committee member, who I deduced was Sandra Osbourne because she certainly wasn’t Ann Clwyd,  never uttered a word. I think she was just out of her depth. 

The Rt Hon Sir John Stanley asked all the witnesses for their opinion of the British government’s role.

 The chair Rt Hon Sir Richard Ottaway was polite at all times  albeit at some times politer than others. 

Conservative MP John Baron spoke with his hand covering his mouth for a good deal of the time, (someone should have told him not to do that) and Frank Roy  who reminded me of Tom Watson, looked as though he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt underneath his suit. Sorry for the sartorial observations but I found his arms quite annoying. (What am I like?) He asked about the relationship between Hamas and the PA, which Hassasian said was hunky dory.

When Hassassian had finished, several of the committee left the room and did not return. 

Ambassador Daniel Taub

Daniel Taub’s performance was the epitome of eloquence, patience and politeness, which made the committee’s doltishness all the more apparent. He gave a great opening statement, but I have my doubts as to whether the committee fully appreciated its profundity.

Sir Menzies Campbell   was cold and unresponsive. He referred to ”The dismissive approach" taken by Netanyahu to the initiative /agreement brokered by John Kerry

Mark Hendrick  was distinctly hostile, and his remarks about settlements were, shall I say, adversarial  rather than enquiring. He seemed to be under the impression, and he’s not alone, that defining or recognising Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ was a new-fangled concept, and would automatically confer second-rate citizenship upon, or expulsion of the non-Jewish population. Daniel Taub almost had a smile on his face when he was answering this.
Whether Hendrick comprehended this is another matter, because he then  remarked: “Israel recognising a Palestinian state would be a start” and, ignoring the answer, added that the construction of settlements “continues unabated.”  He proceeded to interrupt Mr. Taub’s response several times with the ejaculation: “International law!”. The chairman intervened.

H.E. Daniel Taub maintained his good humoured and respectful manner throughout. 

The revelation came with the final interview and in particular Professor Rosemary Hollis, whose facial expressions bordered on the ham  if, under the circs, one can pardon the expression.

 “If Kerry brokers a deal an awful lot of Palestinians will view it as a stitch-up” she announced, looking up with a tragic expression. “They will have had to capitulate to something that they will not be proud of.” she said, deftly turning reality upside down

Professor Rosemary Hollis

Somewhat impertinently she complained that Israeli schoolchildren were being mis-educated, because their maps omitted the green line! I think while she was on the topic of schools, education and maps she might just have mentioned what Palestinian children are being taught, from the cradle to the Jihad.

Professor Hollis thinks the EU should get tougher on Israel, but the cunning swines are developing (commercial) relationships with Russia and China, where they “aren’t going to get pressure about the human rights of the Palestinians.”  World turned upside down, anyone? 
Amongst the Israeli public “There’s no sense of ‘giving back land!’ It’s conceding stuff that belongs to Israel!” she said with incredulity at the audacity of Israelis thinking such selfish things, and the look on her face to go with it. 

Much of the discussion during the third section of the hearing was around Israel and Israeli society. How the Israelis must be made to do this and understand that, but nary a word of what the Palestinians must do. The Israelis must stop building settlements and make this or that concession.
Rosemary Hollis became more animated as the proceedings progressed and more facially athletic. Her countenance veered from indignant - staring eyes and lemon-sucked mouth  - to extreme tragedy in mime form.
 “I’m deeply depressed to think that anybody could think it’s okay to close the tunnels” said Rosemary, remonstrating with jolly Mr Gapes, her face deepening into an even greater expression of catastrophe. “There’s a report on Gaza which says it’s  un-in-hab-itt-abble” she said leaning forward, eyes popping. 

Actually, after watching this, I despair.


I’d just like to end by mentioning this article “When will they ever learn?” from the website “Very Good News From Israel’.
“The BBC unfortunately cannot make the educational leap in connecting this to the evil of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas constantly teaching their children to hate Israelis.”
For the BBC read also the British government, the Foreign Affairs Committee, everyone who swallows whole the Israel-demonising BBC’s coverage of the Israel Palestine conflict, and all who sail in her.

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