Sunday, 3 March 2013
Where are the safeguards for a moral foreign policy?
Channel News has reported that the Economic Development Minister Senator Alan Maclean is leading a small team for a two day trip to Israel to promote Jersey business.
You can see already people moaning about these expensive trips as a "waste of taxpayers money", but I am not one of those and I see the merit in them. If trips like this get Jersey's name out there and can advertise Jersey business, that can only be a good thing.
Further to this, it can only be a positive thing for Jersey to take more responsibility for representing itself internationally and seeking it's own voice and image.
But one problem that we have is that there is very little democratic accountability on this sort of thing. Partly because we don't have an official dedicated foreign affairs ministry, but more so because we don't ever really get a chance to vote on a set of government policy suggestions in elections.
So we don't have much debate on whether we approve of what the government is doing internationally on Jersey's behalf. When I see news of Jersey forging links with places like Israel, I immediately have concerns that I see no attempt to be addressed.
For example, I can't have been the only one that found it quite sickening to see things like this from last year -
That is our Treasury Minister with Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, a member of one of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates, a country where I suspect you can't even vote for the president of your local fishing club, in case the idea might catch on.
Not even the vaguest hints of democracy exist in the UAE. You can be executed in the UAE for engaging in homosexual activity. The huge immigrant population have no rights whatsoever.
In the age of the Arab Spring, I don't think it is right to be cosying up to disgusting regimes like that in the UAE, and this picture of Senator Ozouf with a brute makes me feel very uncomfortable, no matter how "good for business" it may be.
This may be me being naive and idealistic (I'm sure people won't hesitate to tell me in the comments section), but is it wrong to think, even though we are small and not particularly influential, we should be taking more of a stand on what is right and wrong, and not actively engaging with regimes that are directly connected with such human rights atrocities?
The 1980 Olympics in Moscow were largely boycotted because of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (how lucky we were that the same attitude wasn't taken in last years Olympics! Did anyone else spot that irony?), the Apartheid regime in South Africa was subject to a boycott, we are encouraged to boycott non-fairtrade or battery farm produce etc. So it's not an alien idea.
Of course we have to be pragmatic, we can't just boycott a regime because we don't agree with a few things they do, but on big issues of principle, it is right to take a stand, to make a point and (most importantly), stop helping it be profitable.
If an institution realises that it's vices are causing it aggravation and losing out on profits, they are more likely to change them. Starbucks being the recent example, which changed it's tax affairs when it realised that it's reputation for tax avoidance was going to cost more than it was saving. Of course North Korea is the exception to the rule where perpetual boycotts haven't done anything. (I have a friend that has been to North Korea and apparently the stories about cakes made out of grass are true!)
On the case of Israel, I can't have a problem with Jersey seeking business links with legitimate enterprises there. But Israel is a country that we have good reason to have contention with and these contentions should shape how deeply involved we get with the country.
For a start, it is a country that defines itself on racial lines (despite a quarter of the country not fitting that definition) and has specific laws for Jews that favour them above Arabs. A Jew from Brooklyn or Golders Green that has never set foot in the Middle East has an automatic right to an Israeli passport and residence (on the basis of their ethnicity), but an Arab from Jaffa or Nazareth who was displaced in the wars has no right whatsoever to come home.
As an anti-racist I have real problems with that. It's no different to the old Australian whites-only immigration policy.
Israel illegally occupies the Golan Heights in Syria. Israel illegally blockades the Gaza Strip. Israel regularly engages in wars using illegal weapons like phosphorous gas. Israel is subject to more United Nations resolutions than all of the other countries of the world combined (that's a fact, look it up). It's frankly a wonder that it hasn't been expelled from the UN.
So this is a country we must be careful with, in case we accidentally aid these crimes.
The fact is, part of why Israel occupies the West Bank is because it is profitable. They can use the land for their own businesses, they have territory to expand their growing population into, and (worst of all) they've even managed to trick the Palestinians into adopting their own local authority to which they pay taxes (which are collected by the Israelis) to pay for the police that manage the occupation alongside the IDF.
Under no circumstances whatsoever, must Jersey businesses engage with Israeli businesses based in the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem. To do so legitimises those businesses and makes them viable. When Senator Maclean meets with the director of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, that point must be made clear. If an Israeli business is directly involved with the occupation of Palestinian land, it should not be welcome in Jersey.
These are the sorts of things we don't hear from the government, because of the nature of how our foreign policy works.
Of course I would hope that people in our government like Senators Ozouf and Maclean (whom I do hold a degree of respect for) would be conscious of all these things and make an effort to ensure our business links are backed by a degree of morality, but we don't know. Honestly, it would be nice to see them questioned in the States next week to make sure that they didn't do anything on the trip to engage with businesses they shouldn't have.
However, I would make one specific criticism. Senator Maclean is reported as being due to meet the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He should cancel this meeting.
Jerusalem is a city, half of which is illegally occupied. East Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of Palestine, yet Israel has annexed it and the locals are made to suffer colonisation, eviction and subjugation. Israel builds settlements in key areas on the outer rim of East Jerusalem to ensure that it is impossible to divide the city as part of a two state solution, and thereby making peace itself impossible. That means more rocket attacks, more suicide bombs, more "precision" bombings.
Therefore, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of that city are complicit in this and they should not be recognised as legitimate leaders because they are no such thing. To engage with them is to show our support for an occupation that is a part of one of the most harmful conflicts in the modern age.
I know this is just a dream to imagine Jersey leaders show commitment to wider principles of justice, rather than a pure interest in money, but Jersey people should be making it clear what our views are on how we engage with certain foreign countries, because the apparatus does not currently exist in the States to hold these people to account on that basis.