When I suggested 2016 was a bad year I was referring to the world in general. It started to feel like that after I returned to London on 21 June was the 23 June United Kingdom Referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union.While realizing that the vote was too close to call I was extremely surprised and disheartened that by a very close margin of 52 to 48% we’d decided to leave. In breaking down the vote a majority of English and Welsh voters supported the leave, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voters wanted to remain in the EU. One of the statistics which pleased me that was that 86% of voters in Hackney where I live supported the stay option, the 2nd highest Constituency vote for this option in United Kingdom. This negative feeling about the year was increased by the outcome of the United States Presidential, Congressional and Senate elections which resulted in Donald Trump being elected as President, with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress.As we approached the New Year I thought nothing would change the negative elections I’ll outline below.
However unexpectedly on 23 December the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous Resolution which “reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”. What’s important is that Resolution was passed because the United States unexpectedly abstained from the vote and as importantly the United Kingdom voted in it’s favour. While the Resolution slipped through very quietly the critical response from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which showed how rattled he’d been by this event. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State a few days later made a speech critical of the Israel Government which also had a negative response from Mr Netanyahu. In my view these Israel has lost control of the Palestine-Israel dispute agenda providing the chance for Palestinian political leaders to take that role. I think that the potential for change in the dispute favoring the Palestinians is now a possibility.
Regarding the more negative aspects of 2016 its been a whirlwind year with so-called populist United Kingdom political leaders in the United Kingdom Independence Party, English Conservative and Labour Party and Northern Ireland Unionist Party supporting the leave campaign achieving victory. Their supporters won the Referendum because the leave campaign leaders were the most organised in making their arguments to leave, sometimes lying to voters by suggesting that leaving the European Union would significantly increase spending on our National Health Service as well as seizing on voters anti Establishment, anti immigration and migration views. The stay campaign leaders were right from the start unable to seize the agenda from the leave campaigners, engaging in an intellectual defensive campaign trying to motivate voters to support the stay campaign by trying to frighten them about the dangerous consequences of leaving the European Union. Statistics show that negative campaigning puts voters off and provided an open goal for the leave campaign to win the leave argument with the majority of voters.
What was so surprising if the Referendum was a chance for voters to give the Establishment a kicking by supporting the leave option is the politicians who led the campaign. While they’ve been called populist I’d suggest that behind this description in my view they’re Patrician politicians.This is because most of them have had privileged lives which include rich parents, private education and attending elite Universities like other establishment figures. What differentiates them with voters is that these patrician leaders engaged with their supporters through a nostalgia of returning the United Kingdom to how it was as Great Britain in a way which felt like ‘we were all in it together.’ Through finding a way to connect with disenchanted voters they persuaded them to choose the leave option.
My analysis shows how well prepared the leave politicians were and even from South Africa where I was when their campaign started I was struck by how quickly they organised themselves. Unlike David Cameron and his stay supporting politicians they’d been preparing the leave campaign from around 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. This was through establishing Right Wing Lobbying Groups which from the start of her Prime Ministerhood in alliance with the Right wing media started campaigning against the European Union, creating alliances in the Referendum with the leave group leaders, propelling them to victory.
What voters didn’t realize in the campaign is how little thought had been given by these politicians to what actions would be necessary to put the leave option into action because they’d assumed their side would lose the Referendum. The frantic speed after the vote led to the unexpectedly quick resignation of the Prime Minister David Cameron, with splits in the leading Conservative leave campaign leaders preventing Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Theresa May taking that role. Despite of what she said in front of Downing Street when she became Prime Minister she’s found it impossible to give any clarity about the United Kingdom’s plans regarding a departure from the European Union. This is because her Cabinet is split between stay and leave supporters who can’t agree the leave process. Boris Johnson has proved to be a useless Foreign Secretary because he doesn’t have the experience or knowledge for that role and the only competent coherent politician in the ‘Brexit’ Department is David Davies whose shifted his approach to leaving by intimating that the United Kingdom may need to move on the free movement of labour in leaving to achieve a ‘soft’ exit, withdrawing from the Union while retaining tariff free trade with the European Union. I can’t see our Government making concessions regarding labour movement which the Union will accept so the only option is a ‘hard’ exit which will be a disaster for United Kingdom citizens, Industry and service industries.Our leaders are propelling us into a disastrous future, with us seemingly standing meekly by waiting for it.
I return now to the United States with 12 days until Donald Trump is inaugurated as President. What’s terrifying is how an alliance of disaffected of all ages,different ethnic groups, poor, rich and openly racist voters propelled him to power.This alliance is dangerous because it’s made extreme right-wing politics on the edge of Fascism respectable not only in the United States but throughout the world. In my view the imperfect American democracy has been overcome by the dictatorship that Trump has already started to establish through silencing dissent and having a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress. It’s not unexpected for me that the politician he seems closest to presently is President Vladimir Putin in Russia because of the autocratic politics that characterize the system he’s established. I think Russia was more involved in the Presidential election then admitted like the plot in a book call ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ Donald Trump might be Vladimir Putin’s stooge, his Manchurian Candidate!
I’ve created enough dissent in what I’ve already written so I’ll finish quickly by reverting briefly to my interest in Palestine and more below. I’ve included below a draft letter that’s been developed by 2 UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and me as a Palestine-UK Social Work Network member. I ask that anyone willing to do so sends the letter below to their MP, Prime Minister or anyone else about the Security Council Resolution.
I welcome the 23 December 2016 Security Council resolution which “reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”. Visits to the Occupied West Bank and meetings with Palestinian Social Work professionals show the links between poor mental health outcomes and the effects of military occupation, land seizure and settlement building is inescapable. Palestinians are daily faced with brutality if they try to resist the illegal expropriation of their land and shame and humiliation if they do not. This inevitably leads to high rates of depression. The sense that the international community has abandoned them compounds the loss of hope for Palestinians. Now there is the possibility for a process which might just bring some hope. But it will need to be tested by its material effects on the lives of those who suffer under occupation.
A Public event in Hebron which started on 10 December 2016 to mark International Human Rights Day also focused on the dire situation of the Palestinian citizens of Hebron and Tel Rumeida, the effects of settlement expansion, settler violence and military closures. The impact on school children of constant intimidation from settlers is particularly grave and in direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory.
The 23 December Resolution is of course welcome and I am pleased that our government supported it. However, if it is to carry any credibility, it will need to have impact on the ground in communities such as Tel Rumeida. We therefore urge our government to keep up the pressure on Israel so that the future of a yet another generation of Palestinians is not blighted.
Last but not least (Really) I’d like to end the blog in a positive way for the new year. What’s made me feel more positive this week is BBC 4’s Thought of the Day yesterday which was about forgiveness, focusing on Jill Saward who died this week. In 1986 was raped during a burglary of her home where her father was the Vicar. She waived her right to be anonymous and recovered from the experience, becoming a campaigner for the Rape Crisis movement. She believed forgiveness was very important, “They’d destroyed enough, I didn’t want them to destroy anything else. Forgiveness gave me that liberation, that freedom, to move on,” she said.
I was also inspired by the Farewell Speech as the First Lady by Michelle Obama to young people at the School Councillor of the Year awards at the White House. She told the young people of America “This country belongs to you. For all the young people in this room and who are watching, know that this country belongs to you. From every background, know that if you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition, the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas.” She also said that hope was a very important aspect of life. I’m inspired enough to write that I’m also dedicating to this year being one of hope for me. When I think of hope I’m reminded of what the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a holocaust survivor disclosed that his father had said to him in Concentration Camp”Human beings can live for a month without food, 2 weeks without water but can’t live a day without hope.”
Please free to comment on what I’ve written.