Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel


May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, most of us are either pro-Israel or pro-the Palestinian cause. Even the honest broker, the United States cannot be impartial since its support for Israel is unconditional. No American President since Harry Truman can afford to risk his political career by not providing military aid and financial assistance to the Jewish state. The Jewish lobby is too powerful in the US Congress to ignore. But there is more to this than American leadership cares to admit. That is, in my view, that Israel is America’s most reliable ally in the Middle East to protect its economic and strategic interests in the oil rich Middle East.

The two state solution, (Tony’s binational state), is the obvious one and yet both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are unable to accept the reality that they cannot but live side by side in peace and security. No, they must be at each others throats. So the conflict between the two peoples continues at a horrendous cost to both sides in terms of human lives and property.

The late Mr Judt’s interview is  an eye opener for me. Those who disagree with his views, especially those in the United States and Israel, are welcome to challenge his take on Israeli-Palestinian relations.–Din Merican

Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel

by Merav Michaeli

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/tony-judts-final-word-on-israel/245051/

In this interview just before his death last year (2010), the historian discusses his controversial views on Israel, the country’s future, and a life of disputation

In this undated photo released by New York University, NYU professor Tony Jundt is shown. A New York University spokesman says Judt died Friday night, Aug. 7, 2010, due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 62. (AP Photo/Photo Provided by NYU) NO SALES

In July 6, 2010, one month to the day before his death, I sat down with the British historian Tony Judt in his New York study to film an interview. He was positioned in a special bed in which he spent much of his time, completely immobilized by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The interview was part of a larger film project, with director Gaylen Ross, about Israel and the U.S. and American Jewry. It was, for me, a profound and deeply personal conversation.

Despite his illness, Judt agreed to let me interview him over email as well. What follows here is our lengthy conversation, conducted over several emails. As an Israeli who is deeply distressed by the state of my country, and as a journalist who feels more and more helpless in trying to bring change through my work, I felt a strong intellectual and emotional propinquity to Judt. We share similar views and perspectives about Israel. Between the two of us, he was the grown-up , he was the celebrated historian; I admit I was hoping for answers.

Before I left the filmed interview, I asked Judt how he would act, and what he would do, if he were today an Israeli Jew, teaching at Tel Aviv University, thinking the way he does, publishing the things he writes?

 “I don’t think I would have done anything different from what you and my other colleagues from Haaretz and academia are doing” he said, “History always happens to us and nothing ever stays the same.” And then I had to go.

A year has now passed. Israel is enduring a social upheaval that gives some hope for change, but its relationship with Turkey and Egypt are in severe crisis, the Palestinians are working on a unilateral independence declaration to present at the UN, and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Prime Minister Netanyahu an ungrateful ally to the U.S. and a danger to Israel. Reading Judt’s words in light of the events, feels like reading a chilling prophecy. Our exchange started about two weeks following Israel’s controversial raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Israeli tanks maneuver in Israel near Gaza border

How do you see Israel’s actions in the Flotilla affair?

The characterization that comes to mind is “autistic.” Israel behaved in a way that suggests it is no longer fully able to estimate, assess or understand the way other people think about it. Even if you supported the blockade (I don’t) this would be an almost exemplary case of shooting oneself in a painful part of the anatomy.

Firstly because it alienates Turkey, who Israel needs in the longer run. Secondly because it was undertaken in international waters and largely at the expense of civilian victims. Thirdly because it was an overreaction. Fourthly because it had the predictable effect of weakening the case for a blockade rather than strengthening it.

In short, this is the action of a country which is fast losing touch with reality.

The raid on the flotilla was far from being the worst of Israel’s behavior over 40 years of occupation, yet the international response to it was the most grievous. Why do you think that is?

I agree. But what happens in small West Bank towns, in the Israeli Parliament, in Gazan schools or in Lebanese farms is invisible to the world. And Israel was always very good at presenting the argument from “self-defense” even when it was absurd. I think that Israel’s successful defiance of international law for so long has made Jerusalem blind and deaf to the seriousness with which the rest of the world takes the matter.

“The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating”

Finally there is the question of cumulation. From the Six Day War to Lebanon, from Lebanon to the settlements, from the settlements to Gaza, Israel’s credibility has steadily fallen – even as the world’s distance from Auschwitz (the favorite excuse) has lengthened. So Israel is far more vulnerable today than it would have been twenty five years ago.

What do you tell those who say Israel has willingly withdrawn from Gaza and everything that has happened since proves the Israeli claim that there’s no partner for an agreement?

I tell them that they are talking nonsense, or else prevarication. Israel withdrew from Gaza but has put it under a punishment regime comparable to nothing else in the world. That is not withdrawal. And of course we all know that there are those who would like to give Palestinians “independence” but exclude Gaza from the privilege. That too was part of the purpose of the withdrawal.

Mideast-Israel-Palest_Horo-21

There is a partner. It may not be very nice and it may not be very easy. It’s called Hamas. In the same way the provisional [Irish Republican Army] was the only realistic “partner for peace” with whom London could negotiate; Nelson Mandela (a “terrorist” for the Afrikaaners until his release) was the only realistic “partner for peace”; the same was true of “that terrorist” ([according to Winston] Churchill) Gandhi; the well-known “murderous terrorist” Jomo Kenyatta with whom London fought a murderous war for five years before he became “a great statesman”; not to mention Algeria. The irony is that Washington knows this perfectly well and expects negotiations with Hamas within five years. After all, Israel virtually invented Hamas in the hope of undermining the PLO; well, they succeeded. But they are the only ones who can’t see what has to happen.

You advocated for a binational state. What does your binational state look like? How does it work?

I don’t know. What I do know is that since I wrote that in 2003, everyone from Moshe Arens through Barak to Olmert has admitted that Israel is on the way to a single state with a potential Arab majority in Bantustans unless something happens fast. That’s all that I said in my essay.

But ok, since it looks as though Israel is determined to give itself this future, what will it look like? Hell. But what could it look like? Well, there could be a federal state of two autonomous communities — on the Swiss or Belgian model (don’t tell me the latter doesn’t work — it works very well but is opposed by Flemings led by people very much like [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman). This could have crossover privileges and rights for both communities, but each would be autonomous. I think this would work better than a mixed single-state, and it would allow each community to set certain sorts of religious and other regulations according to its taste.

If it could look so good, why would it be hell?

Because it would start from a very bad place. It would begin with Jews running the place in the name of a Jewish state, defined by Orthodox Rabbis and controlled by an army whose officer core is increasingly permeated by religious and settler communities. No Arab would feel remotely safe, much less equal or a citizen in such a “single state”. The Arabs’ lack of property, rights, status and prospects would either make them a sullen and potentially violent underclass or else the best of them would try to leave. This is no good basis for integration, though it is of course what some of Israel’s present leaders privately desire. And then there would be Gaza…

And if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also recognize that Israel is on its way to a single state with an Arab majority, why do you think they aren’t doing what needs to be done?

Of Barak I will not speak. He is now a senior minister in what I regard as close to a neo-fascist government. If he has chosen that direction, then obviously he has no interesting or ethically defensible plans of his own. He is an object of contempt in my eyes.

Olmert, who seems to have reached my conclusions by his own path, suffers from being a typical tactician, and lacking strategic vision or political courage. He is not as bad as Shimon Peres in this and other respects — Peres seems to me the most disappointing and in some ways damaging politician in Israel’s history — but he will not stand up to the soldiers or the settlers or the rabbis and therefore he is not interesting as a candidate for real change.

In such a state, Jews would soon be a minority. Doesn’t that frighten you?

Not as much as it seems to frighten others. Why is it ok for a Jewish minority to dominate an Arab majority, its leaders to call for expulsions of majority members, etc., but not ok for a democracy to have a majority and minority both protected under law? At least Israel could then call itself a democracy with a clear conscience.

What you are really asking is whether I think the Palestinians would immediately set out to rape, pillage and murder the Jews? I don’t see why they would want to — there is no historical record suggesting that this is what Palestinians do for fun, whereas we have all too much evidence that Israelis persecute Palestinians for no good reason. If I were an Arab, I would be more afraid of living in a state with Jews just now.

Can you see or understand why Israelis are afraid?

Yes, but only in the sense that someone who has been brought up to fear and hate his neighbors will have good reason to be frightened at the thought of living in the same house with them. Israelis have created a generation of young Palestinians who hate them and will never forgive them and that does make a real problem for any future agreement, single- or two-state.

But Israel should be much, much more afraid of the Israel it’s creating for itself: a semi-democratic, demagogic, far-right warrior state dominated by racist Russians and crazed rabbis. In this perspective, an internationally policed and guaranteed federal state of Israel, with the same rights and resources for Jews and Arabs, looks a lot less frightening to me.

Can you see why American Jews are fearful as well of that?

No. This is the fear of the paranoid hysteric – like the man at the dinner table in the story I wrote in the New York Review who had never been to Israel but thought I should stop criticizing it because “We Jews might need it sometime.” American Jews — most of whom know nothing of Jewish history, Jewish languages or Jewish religion — feel “Jewish” by identifying unthinkingly with Auschwitz as the source of their special victim status and “Israel” as their insurance policy and macho other. I find this contemptible — they are quite happy to see Arabs killed in their name, so long as other Jews do it. That’s not fear, that is something between surrogate nationalism and moral indifference.

In your 2003 essay “Israel: the Alternative” you wrote that Israel was an anachronism. Writers in Israel were asking why you didn’t offer France and Germany to give up this anachronistic model first?

Oh, come on! I did not say that nation-states were past their use-by date. I said that ethnically driven versions were. There is nothing in the constitutions of France or Germany that creates second-class citizens defined by religion, ethnicity or parenthood. There is nothing there defining who can and who cannot have certain jobs, live in certain places or marry certain people. If Israel looked like France or Germany in these respects, it would be a better place. By the way, until Germany gave up its 1913 law regarding citizenship defined by descent, I wrote very critically about it. But Israeli commentators would not know that — they are fixated on their own obsessions.

In that essay, your portrayal of Europe seems somewhat idealized. Do you still think that “Christian Europe” is part of the past and that their evolving minority problem is indeed marginal?

I don’t think I said that the minority problem was “marginal”. Nor do I want to idealize Europe. I have written elsewhere that the failure of Europeans to welcome Turkey into the EU is a catastrophe — for Turkey, for democratic Muslims everywhere, and for integration back in Europe itself. But once again, my Israeli critics don’t read about anything else so they would not know my positions on this. If Europe fails to address the fact that most of its new members (excepting Poland) will be and are either secular, post-Christian, or Muslim in makeup, it will face a hard future.

And how do you see Europe’s future, will it accept Islam and Muslims as an organic part of it?

A complicated question. There is no one Europe on this issue — unlike institutions or regulations, religion varies hugely. Some parts of Europe, mostly Western but not only, are virtually de-Christianised. There — e.g. in England or parts of France or parts of Scandinavia — the problem is re-introducing religion and religious identification into secular societies. Thus in Holland the anti-immigration party emphasizes its own tolerance compared with the intolerance of Islam.

Elsewhere, e.g. in Poland or parts of Italy, people are still actively Catholic. Paradoxically, this makes them more sympathetic to Islamic institutions — priests and imams working together, etc. — but averse to excessive dilution of their historic dominance.

“I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel”

The other problem is that most young Muslims are not Muslim (the same is true for almost all Bosnian Muslims). That is, they are as secular in fact as their white schoolmates. But because it is convenient for governments and administrators to classify them as Muslim, they often become so out of resentment. Thus there are many more “Muslims” in Europe than actually belong to a Mosque or practice Islam. They would be better identified by their point of origin — Surinamese, Algerian, Senegalese, etc. — than by religion. But European censuses don’t allow for that.

The biggest impediment to integrating Muslims (real or imagined) to European societies is the loud rejection of Turkey. It says very clearly that European leaders think not in terms of democracy (else why allow Croatia to apply), nor corruption (otherwise Greece would not be a member) but religious tags: Turkey is mostly low practicing by Muslim standards, but it is unquestionably overwhelmingly Muslim. Its unacceptability to Germany or France is a big, big mistake — all across Europe it sends a message to the Muslim community: “you are not part of us”.

Conclusion: on this score I am very pessimistic about Europe’s prospects.

Do Jews still need a Jewish state, a haven from the world? Or is it a changed world in which it isn’t necessary any more?

Some think they do, some think they don’t. Israel would never have happened if it weren’t for Hitler and keeping the fear of Hitler alive is part of what fuels ultra-Zionism. But the whole thing is a complete mystery to most of the rest of the world. To be sure, there is anti-Semitism everywhere. But even if we ignore the unquestionable fact that some of it is driven by Israel’s behavior, it doesn’t diminish just because there is a Jewish state and we have no reason to believe that Israel is a barrier to prejudice anywhere else.

The world has changed since 1939. But Israel is a fact and there is no point debating whether it should exist. However, like many, many Jews outside of Israel, I feel a declining sense of identification with the place: its behavior, its culture, its politics, its insularity, its prejudices have nothing to do with being Jewish for me and I know that is especially true of younger Jews, excepting ultra-religious ones. So even if things went wrong for Jews today, I don’t think most of us would want to go and live in Israel.

You lived in Israel for about two years in all. Why did you choose to build your life elsewhere?

I found the place rather stifling. I think you have to be a very deep believer in the Zionist objective, or else a Jew for whom the presence of other Jews is absolutely crucial in your life. Otherwise the downsides of Israel — its parochialism, its self-obsession, its resort to violence as a first solution to everything: all of these are far too much to bear.

I think that perhaps I was there at an odd time. On the one hand everyone was quite optimistic and rather left-leaning in my world, and the treatment of Israel’s own Arabs was largely invisible to me; on the other hand it was a very small place in which people seemed concerned with very small things — or else they lived mentally in Europe and never really accepted the terms of life in a small Middle Eastern country that would sooner or later have to stop beating its neighbours and find a way to respect them as equals.

Finally I believe I got frustrated with my friends and colleagues who told me to abandon my academic plans (Cambridge, etc.) and help build Zion. Even in 1966 this seemed to me simply silly: reproducing a collective farm in Galicia, circa 1910, in the middle of the ’60s.

How do you see the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel today?

Why are we so obsessed by this? If Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. and Israel would wipe out large sections of that country. Tehran is a sophisticated place that knows this perfectly well. Most Iranians I know think that their president’s obscene rhetoric is diversionary — a way to sell himself as the spokesman for the Muslim “street”. They don’t like it and they don’t back it. But they are proud and don’t like being told that they alone in the neighborhood can’t have nuclear autonomy: they are surrounded by nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel, not to mention the American fleet). Why should they not feel paranoid? The nuclear threat to Tehran is far greater than the nuclear threat to Tel Aviv.

No one I know in Washington seriously believes that Iran is about to nuke Israel. They are far more worried that Israel is working up this implausible scenario as an excuse for another diversionary war.

There are good reasons to discourage Iran from a nuclear capacity – but the existential threat to Israel is not one of them.

Should Israel attack?

BenjaminNetanyahu

Only if it wants to destroy forever its credibility as a stable member of the community of legitimate states. We all know perfectly well that such an attack would have a limited impact on Iran’s long term plans, but would solidify support for it globally while forever alienating Israel from the world. That seems a pretty lousy deal for Israel.

Iran is a Shi’ite state, which hates the Taliban and is good friends with countries we need, like China and Turkey. Israel should be secretly and eventually publicly trying to get back on good terms with it. In the larger scheme of things, it is pretty incredible that Israel has deliberately set out to alienate those few Muslim lands which have a real interest in being friends with it.

 The worst consequence of an attack on Iran — an extreme form of Israel’s foolishness hitherto — would be the final alienation of American sympathy. Already major military figures like [David] Petraeus have gone on record as seeing Israel as a “strategic liability.” Attack Iran and Israel becomes an intolerable burden upon America’s increasingly fragile role in the world. This would be a very big mistake to make.

Why do you think Israel, as a state, still hasn’t gotten over its existential fears, over its self-concept as “victim?”

Obviously it has not. But it has gone from genuinely believing itself to be threatened to exploiting that “threat” to serve unworthy and foolish goals. As a result, no one outside Israel takes seriously the threat to its existence, which is bad for Israel should such a threat ever arise. The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating. Until 1967 it was semi-plausible, despite running counter to the equally self-serving image of “macho Jews” who would never “go like sheep to the slaughter.” Since 1967 it is a ridiculous claim and looks it.

In your view, in the bigger picture, what is Israel’s role and place in the history of the Jewish people?

My first response is that of Zhou En Lai when he was asked what was the significance of the French Revolution and replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Another perspective, the long one, would be to say that Israel is behaving very much like the annoying little Judean state that the Romans finally dismantled in frustration. This classical analogy may be more relevant than we think. I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel as annoying, expensive, and a liability. This will leave Israel to its own resources or to making friends with anyone who will deal with it (as it once did with South Africa). That in turn will make it a very unpleasant place for Western liberals and democrats, who will loosen their ties with it. No doubt it will survive, but it will mean less and less to Jews elsewhere as people forget the original impulse and historical circumstances surrounding its founding.

As to the future of Jews in the diaspora, they (we) will once again be the predominant community (once again as in classical times). I think Israel will grow increasingly marginal for most Jews, though I don’t quite know what their Jewish life will look like either in a secularized world. In a way, we may be entering a new Middle Ages where the only way to preserve Jewish cultural and religious traditions will be to live in separate ghetto-like spaces (gated communities) closed off from the surrounding majority. That is already the case in parts of America.

We are now about a year into the Obama era. Is President Barack Obama “good for the Jews?” For Israel?

Barack Obama

Obama could have been good for Israel and Jews if he had followed through on his Cairo speech and original intentions. But despite expectations, he caved in to Netanyahu and is now bad for Israel in the sense that he does nothing to stop it behaving badly to its own detriment. By not following through on his appeal he let people down who had hoped for a new start. And by allowing Israel to continue with settlements, or protecting Israel at the UN, he has made more enemies in Arab lands. In that sense, the dynamic is not very different than it was before, except that the tone is more polite. And of course, his Afghanistan mess makes him look like Bush, albeit nicer. On the whole, I would say he has failed here.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.

Rohingya: Foreign envoys Head to Myanmar


May 21, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya: Foreign envoys Head to Myanmar

Foreign Ministers Anifah Aman of Malaysia and Retno Marsudi of Indonesia were to visit Naypyidaw a day after announcing their countries would end a much-condemned policy of turning away boatloads of starving migrants.
South-East-Asian-ministers-meet-in-Malaysia-over-boat-people-crisSIITWE: Myanmar was braced Thursday for its first talks with US and Southeast Asian envoys on the migrant exodus from its shores, as Malaysia ordered search and rescue missions for thousands of boatpeople stranded at sea.

Foreign ministers Anifah Aman of Malaysia and Retno Marsudi of Indonesia were to visit Naypyidaw a day after announcing their countries would end a much-condemned policy of turning away boatloads of starving migrants.

The policy about-turn was welcomed by the United States, whose Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was also to meet with Myanmar officials in the capital Naypyidaw, as his country said it stood ready to admit some of the migrants. Blinken said he would raise the Myanmar government’s treatment of its Rohingya minority in the western state of Rakhine, which is widely blamed for fuelling the crisis.

“We will be talking directly to the government of Myanmar about its own responsibilities to improve conditions in Rakhine state so that people don’t feel that their only choice is to put their lives at risk by leaving and taking to the sea,” Blinken said during a stop Wednesday in Jakarta.

But tensions with the former junta-run nation remained, and heading into Thursday’s talks, Myanmar’s government reiterated its refusal to recognise the stateless Rohingya as an ethnic group. It insists they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

“If they are going to discuss about Rohingya, as we have said before, we do not accept that term here,” said Zaw Htay, Director of the Presidential office.

But he confirmed that Myanmar would attend a broader regional summit planned on the crisis in Bangkok on May 29, after the government this week softened its line by offering to provide humanitarian assistance.

Search and rescue

The talks come as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak Thursday ordered the navy to carry out search and rescue missions — the first proactive official move aimed at saving the migrants.

“We have to prevent loss of life,” Najib said on his Facebook account, announcing the measure.

The Muslim Rohingyas flee by the thousands annually, an outflow that has surged in recent years following sectarian violence pitting them against Myanmar’s Buddhist majority. A major humanitarian crisis had loomed as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand refused to take in boats overloaded with exhausted and dying Rohingya, as well as economic migrants from Bangladesh.

But Malaysia and Indonesia relented, with Anifah and Marsudi announcing after talks in Malaysia’s capital that their nations would accept and care for boatpeople for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.

Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn also took part in Wednesday’s talks but Thailand did not sign on fully to the offer.However, its foreign ministry later said it would no longer “push back migrants stranded in Thai waters”.

News of the diplomatic breakthrough was on Thursday yet to trickle down to the displaced Rohingya lodged in ramshackle camps around the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe. But with the people-smuggling route to Thailand currently blocked, some Rohingya communities were instead preoccupied with buying back their loved off boats floating at sea awaiting transit south.

“I do not want to go. I saw what happened to the people in the sea and it’s scary,” one displaced Rohingya man told AFP from the Anauk San Pya camp.

US, others offer to help

Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coastlines of the three countries over the past 10 days after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking threw the illicit trade into chaos.

Some traffickers are believed to have abandoned their human cargo at sea with scant food or water. Anifah said Malaysian intelligence estimated that about 7,000 people were still adrift in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

The United States, Philippines and even Gambia in Africa have offered assistance or possible resettlement of Rohingya, evoking the coordinated response to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of boatpeople from Vietnam in the late 1970s.

“The US stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington.The United States would help the UN set up protection centres, and would consider requests to resettle some refugees, she said.

Hours before Malaysia and Indonesia changed tack, more than 400 starving migrants were rescued from their decrepit boat off Indonesia by local fishing vessels Wednesday.

The boat had bounced between Thailand and Malaysia in recent days, rejected by authorities, as images of its emaciated Rohingya passengers — captured by AFP and other media — shocked observers worldwide.

– AFP

Prompt and Concrete Measures Needed, says Malaysian Bar


May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya and Bangladeshi Boat People Crisis: Call for Prompt Action

steven_thiru

The Malaysian Bar is appalled by the ongoing saga of the fate be- falling boatloads of thousands of people heading for our shores. It is a humanitarian catastrophe. The tragedy of suffering and even loss of life — through drowning and fights for survival on board boats left to drift on the high seas — is heart-rending.

 Boat People 1Regardless of the identity and status of the people on board these many boats, the first order of priority must be to prevent further suffering and loss of human life, bearing in mind that there are pregnant women, women who are nursing infants, and children, on board the boats. This means the Malaysian Government must allow these boats to land, set up reception centres to receive the people on board, document them, and provide them with basic amenities. There is a precedent for doing this, in the way Malaysia treated the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s.

The Malaysian Bar acknowledges that some of the people on the boats may well be nationals of Bangladesh looking for better economic prospects than those available in their home country. They will have to be identified and, if necessary, repatriated. There are proper channels for dealing with the recruitment of foreign labour and other forms of legitimate migration from Bangladesh.

Be that as it may, there are also allegations that some of these nationals of Bangladesh on the boats have actually paid human traffickers to assist them to leave.This must be investigated and, if confirmed, the human traffickers must be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law. Moreover, these victims of human trafficking should be accorded proper protection under our laws, including under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007. However, many amongst the people on the boats are from the Rohingya community, fleeing from Myanmar due to religious persecution.

While it may seem unneighbourly to accuse a fellow ASEAN Government of wrongful conduct, it cannot be disputed that the Rohingyas have not been granted citizenship in Myanmar, thereby rendering them stateless.  Further, they have been deprived of all political rights and systematically displaced from their traditional places of abode.

Regrettably, Malaysia has indirectly contributed to the exacerbation of this problem involving the Rohingyas, by repeatedly ignoring the matter for many years. The misguided and undue respect for the hallowed principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a fellow ASEAN member state has meant that Myanmar has been allowed to pursue a domestic policy of persecution of the Rohingyas, and even to dispute the historical evidence of their presence in areas in present-day Myanmar. Malaysia and other ASEAN nations have the responsibility to protect the Rohingyas so as not to compound the issue of ethnic cleansing that is being allegedly carried out by Myanmar.

The Malaysian Bar welcomes the fact that the Malaysian Government has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with the Governments of Indonesia and Thailand to discuss the situation.  However, the Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to do more than just convene discussions, and to do it quickly. It is critical to address this issue head-on, and Malaysia as the Chair of ASEAN must take the lead and show the way forward.  The fact that Myanmar is reported as not being willing to attend tomorrow’s meeting with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia means that the process already begins with a huge handicap, namely the refusal of the country of origin to participate in a process of finding a solution.

Boat People 2

Ironically, 2015 is the onset of the much-touted ASEAN Economic Community.  ASEAN cannot only be about the rich and well-off, the educated and the employed.  An ASEAN community that has no room for, and which says nothing about, the poor and the downtrodden is a sad shadow of a caring community.  The manner in which this crisis is dealt with will define ASEAN, and a failure to satisfactorily address the problem will jeopardise the very integrity of ASEAN.

Malaysians are, by nature, a generous people.  Blessed with relative peace and prosperity, we have reached out in the past and organised flotillas to assist the Palestinians, and have taken in Acehnese and Bosnian refugees fleeing persecution in their homeland. It is therefore somewhat perplexing that the same humanitarian spirit appears to be absent in the Malaysian Government’s response to the boatloads of Rohingyas coming to our shores.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to immediately engage with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here in Kuala Lumpur to put into place a system of receiving and registering this latest wave of boat people, and to find a place of transition where they can land and their claims for refugee status documented and determined, followed by either repatriation or resettlement.

As Malaysia is a member of the UN Security Council, we also call upon the Malaysian Government to move a resolution for intervention in this crisis of alleged ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas from Myanmar.  In the past, the UN Security Council had passed specific resolutions for intervention regarding Mali, Sudan and South Sudan.  It is timely as well for the Malaysian Government to consider enacting legislation that will grant recognition for refugees in Malaysia and give them legally-mandated protection and provision in line with international standards.  Further, Malaysia should also accede to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Myanmar Government to put an end to the stigma of “statelessness” and recognise the Rohingyas’ long-overdue right to citizenship.  This lies at the core of this crisis and unless it is addressed by Myanmar, the exodus of the Rohingyas is likely to continue unabated.

Finally, it is time for ASEAN to do away with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of an ASEAN member state.  What this crisis clearly shows is that what happens in a neighbouring country can, and often does, have cross-border implications.  Whether it is about the haze or human rights, it is plain for all to see that ASEAN’s aim to “prosper thy neighbour” must include intervening in situations in neighbouring countries that have the potential of affecting, even destabilising, the region as a whole.  It is myopic to pursue economic progress in ASEAN without seriously considering social and political reforms.

The Malaysian Bar recognises that this humanitarian crisis requires prompt and concrete legal solutions. The pain, suffering and loss of life off our shores must end.  It is time to stop the pretense and the piecemeal measures in this catastrophe, and to put in place a comprehensive and lasting solution. The Malaysian Bar stands ready to provide advice and assistance.

 Steven Thiru
President, Malaysian Bar
19 May 2015   

It’s Humanitarian Intervention, not Interference


May 19, 2015

Phnom Penh

It is Humanitarian Intervention, Not Interference

rohingya-refugees-try-to-cross-into-bangladesh-data

In this commentary on Ms. Khoo’s article I take the view that ASEAN’s non-interference principle can be reviewed in the context of regional concerns about human rights, human trafficking and security.Times have have changed. There is no harm done to review its applicability in keeping with regional and international developments.

ASEAN_logo_1But  to my mind, there is no doubt about its continued relevance in intra-ASEAN relations and international relations. The principle is also embodied in the United Nations Charter. There are times like  the  present Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugee crisis that affect the littoral states of Thailand. Malaysia and Indonesia when quick collective action should be taken to  rescue those still at sea from certain death and  stamp out the flow of refugees. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh are responsible for precipitating this humanitarian crisis and they have a duty to deal with it. As they have not, regional and international intervention to tackle  serious human rights abuses is warranted.

The non-intervention principle can be suspended but that does not invalidate its value  as a guiding principle governing relations among nation states. But ASEAN must look at mechanisms for rapid action in times of human tragedy.

ASEAN holds dear to the principle of non-interference which is enshrined in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (SEATAC). The purpose of the Treaty is to promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and co-operation among the people of Southeast Asia which would contribute to their strength, solidarity, and closer relationship. In their relations with one another,  ASEAN leaders would  be guided by the following fundamental principles:

  • a. mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations,
  • b. the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion,
  • c. non-interference in the internal affairs of one another,
  • d. settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means,
  • e. renunciation of the threat or use of force, and
  • f. effective co-operation among themselves.

SEATAC is also the document which countries like the United States, China and others are required to become signatories before they can be dialogue partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum.  ASEAN leaders thought (they were right) that this principle was fundamental to the preservation of peace and stability of Southeast Asia,  which was a victim of big power rivalry during the period of the Cold War, and US military intervention in Vietnam.

Human rights abuses as in Myanmar have raised questions about the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.  As Khoo states, “[T] he non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.” Some have argued that ASEAN needs to rethink about this principle.

By all means do that since times have changed. But I am of the view that there is a strong case to ensure that non-interference continues to be the principle guiding relations between members, and with other states.

In the Rohingya case, ASEAN must create first create mechanisms to deal with the humanitarian crisis promptly so that lives are not lost.That includes the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force of Naval, Police and Immigration personnel to undertake search and rescue operation to save lives and deal with syndicates engaged in human trafficking.

At present, the problem is left in the hands of littoral states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand while Myanmar, the perpetrator, is allowed to pursue  ethnic cleaning.  Surely, the military junta must be held to account for allowing Buddhist monks to commit wanton acts on violence against a minority community with a view to exterminating them. Second, in the spirit of ASEAN cooperation, Myanmar must stop the flow of refugees and provide food and shelter and a safe haven for those who remain and others who will be repatriated.

This will give time for  a lasting political solution to be found regarding the status of the Rohingyas in their homeland. Third, the United Nations and ASEAN diplomats led by Malaysia as the 2015 ASEAN chair, and others like China, India, the European Union and the US can nudge Myanmar along the process towards national reconciliation.

This is the time for urgent and decisive action. Forcing Myanmar out of ASEAN is not an option.  Instead, ASEAN needs to engage in a consultative dialogue with the military junta towards finding a lasting solution to the Rohingya issue.–Din Merican

*Din Merican is Associate Dean, Techo Sen (Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this commentary are his own and do  not in any way implicate his organisation

The Dilemma of Non-Interference in ASEAN

by Khoo Ying Hooi @www.themalaysianinsider.com

Ying Hooi is attached with a local university. Her research interests cover the fields of civil society, social movements, protests, political participation, human rights and democratization.

Recently, the international community was shocked when boats filled with 2,000 ethnic Rohingya arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. About 8,000 Rohingya are reportedly still adrift at sea following a crackdown on human trafficking syndicates.

The humanitarian crisis casts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a negative light. The incident has also revealed the core of many problems in Asean itself, that is the immense pressure on the regional bloc to rethink its principle of non-interference in internal affairs of neighbouring states.

The non-interference principle is being increasingly questioned through its expanded influence, new challenges arising from globalisation processes, and most importantly, the increasing need to focus on human security.

According to the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People-Oriented, People-Centred ASEAN adopted at the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur on April 27, ASEAN leaders agreed to “continue establishing a people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN community where all people, stakeholders and sectors of society can contribute to and enjoy the benefits from a more integrated and connected community encompassing enhanced cooperation in the political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars for sustainable, equitable and inclusive development”.

Under the sub-topic on socio-cultural, the declaration stated: “Promote and protect the rights of women, children, youth and elderly persons as well as those of migrant workers, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, ethnic minority groups, people in vulnerable situations and marginalised groups, and promote their interests and welfare in Asean’s future agenda including through the ASEAN community’s post-2015 vision and its attendant documents”.

Less than a month after the adoption of the declaration, the plight of the Rohingya blew up.The Rohingya crisis is not a new problem in ASEAN. For decades, ASEAN has turned a blind eye to the fate of the Rohingya, one of the world’s most vulnerable minorities.

In my previous article entitled, “An ASEAN detached from its peoples” derived from my reflections after attending the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Assembly (ACSC/ APF), I said that what is seriously lacking in ASEAN is not declarations or statements, but fundamental issues such as people’s access to land and resources as well as minority rights for those such as the Rohingya.

Critics have long voiced doubts over ASEAN’s ambition for closer integration, known asASEAN EC the ASEAN Community, given the grouping’s sacred stance on sovereignty. The Rohingya crisis comes as a real test of the degree to which ASEAN member states take seriously their commitment to regional cooperation on protecting human rights as enshrined in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

The reluctance of Myanmar to openly discuss the issue is a clear obstacle for ASEAN to further develop a joint position. However, on the other hand, it is a moral obligation of Asean member states to find ways for a sustainable solution to the long-standing Rohingya issue by ensuring it is on the agenda of ASEAN meetings.

The Rohingya crisis has raised the pragmatism of ASEAN’s non-interference principle. At this crucial year of 2015, the deadline for the three pillars under the ASEAN community, ASEAN is fully aware that the issue could imperil the group’s stability in the region.

Although Myanmar is primarily responsible for the influx of Rohingya refugees, ASEAN has no choice but to go beyond its non-interference principle in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. Otherwise, silence on the issue could undermine ASEAN’s goal of achieving peaceful economic development in the long-term.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

Tun Razak is Putra Nusa–Satria Negara, not Najib Razak


May 12, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Tun Razak is Putra Nusa-Satria Negara, not Najib Razak

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

If not for the efforts of whistleblowers, we would not have found out about the new government jet, the doomed 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) project, the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia Rosmah Mansor’s profligate spending; but the cruelest insult, to the Muslims is the Tabung Haji involvement in 1MDB.

Muslims throughout Malaysia, have scrimped and saved for the day when they can fulfil one of the five pillars of Islam, which is to perform the haj (pilgrimage). UMNO Baru under Najib Abdul Razak’s leadership has sold the Muslims short.

tun-razak-dan-najibHow does Najib measure-up as a politician? More often than not, he trades on his father’s name, Abdul Razak Hussein. It is alleged that during some by-elections, posters of his father were put up, to remind us of his political pedigree. Najib is not selling himself, he is using propaganda to sell memories of his father. He is merely reminding people that he is his father’s son.

This is the sign of an insecure person, who lacks confidence in his own abilities. Sadly, he does not measure up to his father. Najib will likely be remembered for dismantling the legacy of his father’s generation, like the FELDA scheme. Najib is a career politician who lost his direction as soon as he took control of the billions of ringgits, which decent, honest, hardworking Malaysians have contributed towards nation building.

Tun Razak and Zhou EnlaiDuring Tun Razak’s time, it would be true to say that many Malays grew up with aspirations, because in those days, you knew that if you worked hard you could provide a better future for yourself and your children. Najib’s folly means that our grandchildren will be saddled with the nation’s debts.

Under Najib, most Malays learn that the only way to untold riches is to become a politician. Today, as the country teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, more Malays have seen Najib in the stark light of reality. It hurts to be told to curb their spending, whilst Najib continues his lavish lifestyle.

UMNO Baru and a succession of leaders have siphoned off billions of ringgits for their own use. They warned us not to discuss ‘sensitive issues’. They silenced us with the Internal Security Act (ISA), threatened us with lawsuits and sent thugs to threaten us.

Now that Najib’s profligacy has been exposed, where is the no-confidence vote against Najib? Why is it so difficult to unseat Najib? Every minute he spends as PM is detrimental to Malaysia. Today, Malay loyalty is not measured by principles and integrity, but by the offer of financial rewards and position. Many ordinary Malays are ashamed of their leaders, but they are hampered by their psychological hang-ups and the serf mentality which cripples them and makes them helpless.

A US Poodle and Stooge of the West

Four years ago, Najib was the darling of the western world. When Najib announced that he would scrap the ISA, the foreign press was in awe of him, and Najib was heady with their accolades. Today, one wonders what they might say.

In 2011, The Economist’s international affairs section, described Najib as ‘Najib The Bold’ and ‘The Man with the Plan’. It said, “If all these laws are indeed repealed and changes implemented, then the political landscape in Malaysia may look very different, in a few years’ time, and Mr Najib will be able to claim a lot of credit for that.”

Today, Najib will remembered as the man who flushed Malaysia down the pan. British magazine The New Statesman declared that Najib deserved applause for his bravery and said, “It unequivocally marks an expansion of freedom in Malaysia, which any future government will find very hard to restrict again.”

Today, Malaysians will say, “What bravery? In times of crisis, Najib slopes-off abroad or keeps silent. With the Pre3vention of Terrorism Act (Pota) and the smendments to the Sedition Act, what freedom?”

The Financial Times described Najib as a “reforming prime minister” in an article entitled ‘Najib: Malaysia’s Born-Again Liberal’. Today, ‘born-again’ people like Ridhuan Tee Abdullah,  the born-again Chinese Muslim, are repulsive characters. Najib is no liberal!

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), praised Najib for developing Malaysia, in an article called ‘Malaysia Finds Its Own Solutions’. Today, the SMH would be hard pressed to find anything good to write about Najib because he is the mother-of-all-problems.

Abu Dhabi’s The National described Najib’s announcement of the repeal of the ISA as dramatic, and it demonstrated his commitment towards a modern progressive democracy. Today, the National should interview all the people caught in the sedition clampdown.

In 2011, Najib warned Malaysians that if the opposition coalition were to rule, they would change everything, including the national flag and its history. That is not true because Najib’s Education Ministry, with the help of some historians, have already altered Malaysia’s history. This career politician does not care a hoot for the people or the nation. He is full of himself and he thinks we owe him a living.

Malaysian forces join Saudi-led coalition in Yemen


May 11, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Malaysian forces join Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

Vanguards of the Malaysian forces have arrived Sunday at Saudi air bases to join Riyadh’s military coalition battling Houthi militias in Yemen, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

With the move, the Asian country became the 12th state in the Saudi-led coalition after Senegal announced it would send 2,100 soldiers to Saudi Arabia to join the alliance.

The Saudi Ministry of Defense said the coalition operations center is preparing to merge the Malaysian and Senegalese forces.

The Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against Iran-backed Shiite Houthi miitias and their allies on March 26 after they seized control of large parts of the country and advanced on the main southern city of Aden, where President Abedrabbu Mansour Hadi had taken refuge, before fleeing to Riyadh.