Letters: Judge Israel and Arabs by the same standards

These letters appear in the Monday 11th August issue of The Independent


From the perspective of international human rights law, all countries have the same legal obligations to protect the human rights of their citizens, irrespective of their mode of governance.

Democracies do a vastly better job of doing so than any other form of government. Indeed, as a democracy, Israel does provide strong protections of a wide range of civil and political liberties, such as freedom of religion, expression and assembly, protection of the rights of women, and democratic participation along with social and economic rights. 

Archie Bland (7 August) argues that a higher standard of behaviour is expected of Israel. This is wrong legally and wrong morally.

Low expectations of non-democratic countries enable dictatorships that systematically and egregiously violate the rights of their citizens to thrive. Individuals living in such repressive states are only likely to have realistic hope for change in their societies when the same universal standard of human rights is demanded of their leaders and countries as is of democracies.

Not to do so is to consider those individuals, many of whom have clamoured for freedom in the Arab Spring revolts, as less rights-bearing and less deserving of freedom than those living in democracies.

Noam Schimmel, New College, Oxford

Andrew Brown (letter, 9 August) asks whether those calling for an arms ban on Israel will also be asking for a similar ban on all the Gulf states funding Islamist extremism, including Saudi Arabia.

Abso-bally-lutely! It’s human rights abuses we object to, whoever they are carried out by. That and the hypocrisy of our government, which promotes arms sales then wrings its hands when the arms are used.

Come and join us on the demos, Mr Brown.

Bill Linton, London N13

I was petitioning in Dalston, east London, for Gaza recently, when an elderly lady stopped to sign the petition to lift the blockade and for sanctions against Israel.

An agitated young man in a kippah rushed up and started repeatedly screaming “You should be ashamed of yourself!” at her before he stormed off.

“Ignore him,” she said calmly. “He’s my grandson.”

Not every Jewish person is a Zionist – even in the same family. It’s not anti-Semitic to be anti-Zionist.

Sasha Simic, London N16

Children in an art gallery

Unlike Sharman Steel’s seven-year-old pupil (letter, 9 August) I never wanted to be Jackson Pollock, but after a teenage school visit to the Tate I felt moved by Turner’s sea pieces, and never got over it. 

A couple of years ago, in the Prado in Madrid, I stood among a crowd of school children before Velázquez’s Las Meninas – some of the children sitting, some lying on the floor, some in wheelchairs, some vocally cogent, some with “special educational needs”.

These Spanish kids were acting as well as they could the parts of the figures in the painting: the royal couple; the small blonde princess; the maids of honour; the two dwarf attendants; the brush-wielding painter.

I was grateful to be not just in front of a great work of art but in the presence of children being wonderfully affected by it.

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Blair’s debt to the people of Iraq

In response to the many criticisms on his illegal war in Iraq, Tony Blair has always responded that history will vindicate him.

History is unfolding in the most cruel fashion imaginable in Iraq now, not at all in a manner that he had foolishly imagined.

I suggest that Tony Blair should have the guts to  emerge from his hideout to contribute some of his many millions towards humanitarian aid in Iraq. This would be but a drop of conscience money.

And he should also use his oft-touted comfortable special relationship with George W Bush to urge his accomplice to do likewise.

Rosa Wei-Ling Chang, Sheffield

President Obama is careful to cite the fact that the Iraqi authorities requested US assistance by way of air strikes in their fight against Isis, going on to point out: “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”

Perhaps Hamas should pick up the telephone and sound him out about Gaza.

Jeremy Redman, London SE6

Secrets of success in business

With regard to business secrets (letter, 8 August), the best advice I ever received was from a retired retailer: “Empty shelves don’t sell; there’s no such thing as bad stock, only stock that’s too expensive; and if you’ve got a manager who puts most of the takings in the till, praise the Lord!”

Roger Hewell, Holcombe Somerset

Referendum squabbles baffle young Scots

We have had a fascinating two weeks in Scotland, travelling right up to the north of the Outer Hebrides. We took a straw poll as we went, asking people how they were going to vote next month. Of 17 we asked, the numbers of answers “Yes”/ “No”/ “Don’t Know” were 3/7/7.   

Only men said “Yes”. Several of our contacts were business owners, and they all said how independence was an impediment that they simply did not want. An IT consultant said he would lose 50 per cent of his business overnight, and, correspondingly, 50 per cent of his employees.   

But we were struck again and again by the “Don’t Knows”, many of whom were young people, who were genuinely frightened for their futures, and who simply don’t know enough about the issues. 

They said they needed simple, unbiased information so that they could understand how they will be affected. We were in Scotland the night of the first televised debate, and what a disaster we found it. 

It may be so important to Alex Salmond that Alistair Darling does, or does not, agree with David Cameron, but I could not help thinking that, so far as the young people we met were concerned, this is simply not what they need to know.  

How hard it is for them to make a cool, logical decision if their politicians simply shout at each other. What a wasted opportunity.  

Gillian Perkins, Cambridge

I fully understand your anxiety at the possibility of Scotland choosing to be independent and breaking up the Union. But there is a consequence which you have not yet considered. The SNP is determined to remove Trident from the Clyde soon after Scotland becomes independent. What would that mean ?

The Ministry of Defence would inform Westminster that the cost of creating a new facility for storing and servicing Trident submarines and missiles would be enormous – and politically difficult. Who wants that in their backyard?

The choice would be:  (a) cancelling huge projects for new railways, new cities and technology innovation,  reducing the size of the Army, Navy and RAF even more than already planned; or (b) blame Alex Salmond and abandon Trident as the basis of British national defence. A face-saving presence of a few nuclear weapons on airfields could be comforting to the right wing.

This would be a bitter pill to swallow for any Tory government, but privately many would be relieved. A surprising number of retired generals and admirals  have never liked our present policy of having an unusable weapon in a modern world where the greatest danger may come from within cities in the UK. The Treasury would rejoice at the release of billions of pounds for stimulating the economy.

Above all, blame the Scots! Does that possibility have some attractions in the real world?

Ainslie Walton, Glasgow

Let those on both sides of the Border who seem to fear dire consequences, should Scotland vote Yes in a few weeks’ time, rest at ease. Those who are our neighbours now will still be our neighbours, with no reason for estrangement.

Those who wish to reclaim Scotland’s identity as a fully self-governing nation do indeed believe we will be “better together”, but as independent fellow members of the various international bodies to which nationhood would entitle us, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union.

We will still have many common interests with our neighbours: rather than be weakened by division, let us consider the possibility that, yes, when it really matters, two voices will be stronger than one.

Aonghas Macneacail, Carlops, Peeblesshire

The “No” campaign has benefited greatly by celebs from elsewhere in the UK saying, “Please stay.” So should Alex Salmond be drumming up support for the “Yes” campaign by finding another group to say: “Please go”?

Roger Allen, Nottingham

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