Brexit Deadlock

Imagine, there was a time before we had even heard of Brexit. Now it is moving towards a confusing deadlock. UK PM Theresa May seems to have done the best she can to achieve an actual British exit from the EU, while retaining some trade advantages for the UK as well as finessing the issue of the Irish border.  She managed to defeat a vote of No Confidence in the Commons last week.

The problem is that the Brits are totally divided between about five different approaches, most of which differ from May’s pending solution.  The options are: 1. Hard Brexit: There are some mainly in the right of the Conservative Party who want a total and complete exit from the EU, without any remaining connections, consequently they oppose May’s compromises with the EU; 2. No Brexit: There are those on the other extreme who cling to the original majority of those in several areas of the UK, namely Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London, who opposed Brexit in the original referendum; 3. Another Referendum: Those who say that things have changed so much since the first referendum, and that now there is a definite agreement between the UK Govt. and the EU, that the people should be able to vote again in a second referendum; 4: New election; Those mainly in the Labor Party who maintain that May has not been able to come up with an acceptable solution to Brexit and they want a complete new election in the hope that they will be elected, note that Labor has generally opposed Brexit; 5. May’s Agreement; those who support May insist that this is the best deal they could get from the EU, allowing UK independent sovereignty while retaining some beneficial ties to the EU.

The final deal has to be voted on by the UK Parliament, and it seems none of the above options has a majority,  May’s position is that this is the only deal on the table and has been arrived at thru extensive and difficult negotiations, and she hopes and expects in the final analysis that those who are in the other four groups, when push comes to shove, will vote for her deal rather than face the prospect of a No-Deal Brexit (NDB).  Most people agree that such a NDB would be disastrous for the UK and the EU.  The Vote will be in 2 weeks and the actual final Brexit date is in less than three months. We shall see.



Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…

You can easily tell when you’re on a British TV station, they are always talking about Brexit, the exit of the UK from the European Union.  It’s without doubt the most discussed, examined and debated issue in Britain, to the point of being obsessive.

Almost two years ago the British people voted in a referendum to leave the EU, i.e. to carry out Brexit.  But, since then there have been interminable negotiations with the EU, internal splits within British parties, UK elections, parliamentary maneuvers, resignations galore, and finally as the deadline for the actual Brexit looms, successful agreements.  And at the same time, as those who oppose Brexit and those who think the UK-EU agreement reached will not be a clean break or a “hard Brexit”, there have been calls for going back to the beginning and having another referendum.  Oh, no, how boring!

Since Theresa May became PM when anti-Brexit Conservative leader David Cameron resigned, she has struggled manfully with this issue.  She even called an election to gain support, but unfortunately for her she lost support.  However, she was saved by the small Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that formed a coalition with her Conservatives.  But, then there is a sting in the tail, as soon as May revealed the outlines of the Brexit terms at a meeting at her official residence Chequers, she has been dogged by an even greater split within her own party.

And when the official papers for the Brexit terms (585 pages) and the expected relationship between the UK and EU after Brexit (26 pages) were published this week, a veritable explosion occurred.  Three Ministers resigned, the former Brexit Minister himself opposes the agreement, and the DUP decided not to support the terms of Brexit.  Part of the reason for this is that the Irish Republic (Eire) is in the EU, and Northern Ireland (and Scotland) voted against Brexit, while the rest of the UK voted for it.  Then the issue of the Eire-NI/UK border became crucial, since no-one wants it to be a “hard” border, but if Eire is in the EU and NI is out, how can this be managed.  Also, the issue of Gibraltar came up between Spain and the UK, but this has been finessed by agreeing to discuss any future changes with Spain.

Today Boris Johnson, former FM of the UK, who resigned because he wants a “hard” Brexit, spoke to the DUP at their conference in NI, and they gave him a strong welcome.  But, Theresa May stated last week that the current agreement is the only one available and is the best that Britain can get.  But, it must now be voted on and approved by both the British and the EU Parliaments.  If it fails in either, then there will be NO Brexit agreement and Britain must leave the EU without an agreement.  This would cause massive chaos.  The hope is that the majority, even those who oppose some aspects of this agreement, when push comes to shove, will vote for it rather than risk a no-agreement Brexit.

Corbyn’s Bias

A great deal has been made of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism.  I am not so concerned about that.  After all he represents a party that supposedly caters to the working class in the UK, and from my experience growing up there, the working class in the UK is endemically anti-semitic. Not that the upper classes are not, but they at least are more polite and subtle about it.

Also, Labor increasingly comes to represent the immigrant groups from Africa and Asia, but mainly Muslims from Pakistan.  There are now Pakistani Muslim Brits at all levels of the Labour Party, and some of them have been openly anti-semitic and anti-Israel.  So it is not surprising that the rank and file of the Labour Party would choose someone like themselves to represent them as their leader.

No, what is really worrying and indeed unacceptable in a British leader is that Corbyn has allowed his animus towards Jews to influence his political ideology so much that he has repeatedly called Haimas and Hezbollah his “friends”.  Let’s remember that these are terrorist organizations, involved in murdering innocent civilians in many countries.  Further, they are recognized as terrorist organizations by the UN, the US and importantly by Britain.  As a friend of these terrorist organizations, as well as the BDS boycott movement against Israel, Corbyn should be on an MI5 watch-list.  He has shared stages on numerous occasions with known terrorists, who not only call for the destruction of Israel and the victory of Islamism, but have also themselves participated in the planning and carrying out of terrorist attacks.

They may not be al Qaeda or IS, but I challenge anyone to show me the basic difference between their ideologies.  The increasing tempo of lone wolf attacks in Western Europe, including in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Britain, are carried out by a sick ideology that believes that killing infidels in their homelands will bring about the religious war that will result in the victory of Islam in all of Europe and then the world.  The sick thing about this is that the leader of the British Labour Party is on their side!

The Irish Potato Famine

We had an interesting lecture on Thurs afternoon at our English Discussion group by Robert Weintraub, a graduate of MIT and the librarian at the Shamoon Technical College in Beer Sheva, on the subject of potato blight and the Irish potato famine.  He started out by telling us about Redcliffe Salaman, a British Jew who in the late 19th and early 20th century was a major expert on potatoes and published several iconic books on the subject.  He was the person who classified potatoes into about 200 varieties and who studied the potato blight scientifically.  By the way, about his name, his parents had many children and ran out of names, so they named him after the area of London where they lived.

The potato blight (phytophthora infestans) is a kind of fungus that first appeared in Mexico centuries ago.  It gradually spread around the world and under the right climatic conditions (warm wet weather) could wipe out a potato harvest in 2 weeks.  The problem in Ireland was that the British overlords had decreed that the Irish, who were mainly impoverished peasants, should live only on potatoes, that were cheap and nutritious, and all the other food produce was exported to England.  Further, the whole of Ireland was growing the same variety of potato, the lumper, that was particularly sensitive to the blight.  There were outbreaks of potato blight in other countries at other times, but the outbreak in Ireland between 1845-9 was the most catastrophic.  Basically the whole potato crop was destroyed, resulting in a terrible famine.  Of the ca. 8.1 million inhabitants before 1845, ca. 1 million perished and ca. 1.5 million were forced to flee, most to the USA (Boston, New York, Chicago and so on).

Unfortunately, in ignorance of the cause and effect of the blight, the farmers dumped the rotting potatoes around their fields and this allowed the blight to spread even more.  Salaman and others conducted scientific and genetic experiments to try to find blight-resistant strains of potato, but were only partially successful, and even until today new supposedly resistant varieties are being produced.  If ever there was an argument for genetically modified (GM) food crops, the Irish potato famine is it.

This was largely a man-made crisis, because the British had forced the Irish to eat only one variety of potato and the cruel irony was that there was plenty of food in Ireland, but the British Government refused to stop the export of the food to England.  So while hundreds of thousands starved, food grown on their land, owned and controlled by the English, was being taken away.  In England there was little sympathy for the Irish, who were Catholic and considered backward.  It was generally felt that they were lazy and untrustworthy and deserved their fate.  Nevertheless, the Queen gave GBP 1,000 to a fund for the relief of the famine. How generous.  So while the potato blight could not be blamed on the English, the subsequent famine was a form of deliberate ethnic cleansing of the Irish people.

Approximately one third of all Irishmen died or left Ireland, a catastrophe in Irish history that resulted in pure hatred of the English and ensured a generation of Irish who were dedicated to expelling the English from Ireland.   After the Easter Day uprising of  1916, it took until 1922 before southern Ireland achieved partial self-rule as the Irish Free State and until 1949 with full sovereignty as the Irish Republic, Eire.


The Crown

I have just finished watching the two series of “The Crown,” an original Netflix production created by Peter Morgan.  The first series covers the time from the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947, thru the death of King George VI and the ascension of Elizabeth II as Queen in 1952, when Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister.  It ends in 1955 after her falling out with her sister Princess Margaret over her refusal to sanction her marriage to Group Captain Peter Townsend.  Both Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill are excellent in their roles and have won awards for their acting.  Matt Smith as Phillip in my judgement portrays Philip as rather too feckless and lacks gravitas.  The series won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.

The second series continues the coverage of the reign of Elizabeth from the Suez crisis of 1956, and shows the strains in her marriage, and her continuing problems dealing with the spirited Princess Margaret and her ill-fated marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones.  Her relationship with PMs Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan show them both as weak and indecisive men, “a confederacy of elected quitters” as she described them.  They were brought down by the Suez crisis and the Profumo affair, respectively.  In both cases they lied to Parliament and the country, Eden about collusion with the French and Israelis before the Suez attack, and Macmillan who was misled by Minister of War Profumo over his relationship with Steven Ward and Christine Keeler.

Overall I found the series entertaining and brilliantly produced and I highly recommend it.  I should at this point confess my bias, as a convinced anti-monarchist and this series confirmed my opinion.  I have always viewed the monarchy in Britain as an archaic and obsolete anachronism.  When growing up in Britain I was in a small minority.  I never felt any loyalty to the Crown as such, although I did have loyalty to the country of England (that is part of the UK), and to its culture and history (i.e. not “King and Country”, just “Country”).  I was later happy to declare my allegiance to the Republic of the USA and subsequently to the State of Israel.

In that context, I should mention that my father knew someone who had told him that the Duke of Kent had accidentally killed a woman when opening the door of a train while it was still in motion and he was drunk.  But, as with all such stories, it was hushed up and no mention appeared in the press.  Much of the action in “The Crown” consists of back-room attempts by the Palace lackies to “manage the situation” and quash stories that might reflect badly on the Monarchy.  Similar to Stalinist Russia, no negative stories shall appear in the controlled press.  The only apparent action taken during this whole period by Elizabeth was to fly off to visit Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in 1961 to persuade him not to go “Soviet.”  Apparently a foxtrot with the Queen did it.  But, in any case a constitutional monarch is not supposed to act spontaneously against the advice of her government. According to “The Crown” she did it because she was insulted by Jackie Kennedy.

Perhaps  the most fascinating topic that came up in the series was the issue of the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated the Crown as Edward VIII in 1936, due to his intention to marry the divorcee Wallace Simpson, in favor of his younger brother Bertie, who became King George VI, Elizabeth’s father.   Windsor wanted to return to England from his exile in France and resume some role in British governance.  Elizabeth was at first sympathetic.  But, once the true background to Windsor’s support for Hitler and Nazism was exposed she retracted.  How is it that she did not know this background?  My father and most Britons knew of Edward’s sympathy for fascism and Nazism long before WWII and it was known that after his abdication while he was living in Portugal he visited Hitler in Germany, had meetings with him and shook his hand.  It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that Hitler made a deal with Edward to reinstate him as King of England after the Nazis invaded England, which fortunately they failed to do.

There were many other aspects of this series deserving comment, including the horrible mistreatment of Prince Charles by sending him to Gordonstoun, the school run by a German Jewish headmaster who trained his pupils to be little fascists.  But, one scene was iconic, when Queen Elizabeth is tracking a large stag on the moors of Scotland.  In the movie “The Queen,” admirably played by Helen Mirren, she admires the stag and decides not to shoot it, but in the series ‘The Crown” Elizabeth shoots it without any compunction.  That characterizes Elizabeth for me, unfeeling, insipid, patronizing, irrelevant and costly.

Murder in Salisbury

Salisbury, England, is a sleepy market town.  Nothing much happens there…until last Sunday when two people were found unconscious on a park bench.  Then all hell broke loose and it became a major international incident affecting the major powers in the world.  That is because the two people were Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.  He was a former spy for the UK in Russia, and the means of their attempted assassination was a toxic nerve agent.

By now everyone knows that the attempted assassination was “most likely” by the Russians, as stated by British PM Theresa May in her speech to the House of Commons.  She said it could have been by a rogue group within Russia who got hold of the particular nerve agent that is a military product of the Russian State, or the Russian State itself, in other words by Pres. Vladimir Putin. In this case it was evidently an assassination ordered by Putin and probably carried out either by Russian agents or indirectly by some paid assassins.  The fact that the nerve agent is known to be a Russian military grade product makes it most likely that the Russian State was directly involved in this incident.

Remember that this is not the first such assassination carried out in Britain by the Soviets/Russians.  In 1978 Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was murdered by the injection of a tiny ball coated with the deadly nerve agent ricin that was in the tip of an umbrella with which he was stabbed as he got off a bus; in 2013 Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch who fell out with Putin, was found hanged in this bathroom in London; in 2006 Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated using highly radioactive polonium, and there are other mysterious deaths and “suicides.”  After the Litvinenko murder the UK took severe political actions against Russia, including sanctions and expelling several diplomats (actually KGB agents).  They also indicted the man responsible for the murder, although he is still at large in Russia.

PM May gave Putin a few days to come up with an explanation of the incident and when he didn’t she expelled 23 members of the Russian Embassy from the UK and imposed sanctions.  You just can’t allow agents from another country to come into your country and kill someone, and particularly not with such a dangerous substance that has endangered the lives of ordinary British citizens.  In fact one constable is in grave danger from contact with the agent and a restaurant and a pub where traces were found have been closed and the number of people visiting Salisbury have dropped significantly.

And now Pres. Trump is said to be reassessing his response to Pres. Putin.  The US imposed its own sanctions and the US, France and Germany issued a joint statement with the UK deploring Russian actions in this case.  So far Trump has shown a rare degree of sympathy for Putin, as a strong fellow-leader.  But, now he is beginning to understand how dangerous Putin is, as a former KGB Colonel, as a ruthless murderer of his opponents and an enemy of democracy.  As is well-known, they have a certain way of doing things in Russia (as it was under the Czars and under Stalin), if you can’t beat your enemy, you kill your enemy!

The Crown

I have been watching the BBC series “The Crown” on TV that is a docudrama of the ascension and life of Queen Elizabeth II of England.  It is an intriguing story that goes behind the scene to show us ordinary mortals how the royals behaved.  As such it is both very familiar and yet at the same time very foreign.

Having been born and brought up in England, I remember well the newsworthy antics of the royals and their upper class clipped accents.  But, I was an anti-monarchist from an early age, quite out of step with most Brits.  I was influenced by my Russian Jewish father who had only contempt for royalty, not surprising given the excesses and the fate of the Romanovs.  My attitude towards the royals was much the same as my attitude towards slavery.  Just as no man should be a slave to others, so no man or woman should be a King or Queen to rule over others.  I don’t believe in the divine right of Kings, who does nowadays, and I also don’t believe in the right of familial succession, such as they have in England and in North Korea.

The way the monarchy lords it over others and gives them something to look up to because of their flamboyant and excessive lives is so condescending and patronizing that it is nauseating.  Nothing I have learnt from seeing this series has changed my views, on the contrary, they only reinforce the pure banality of the whole idea of a royal family, a bunch of bloodless, blood-sucking parasites.   I found myself agreeing with the Duke of Windsor, who as Edward VIII was forced to abdicate from the throne.  But, he was a fascist and a supporter of Hitler and even worse than the rest of them because he wanted to be an active King who intervened in political affairs.  They had to get rid of him.

I was struck by the oath repeated by the monarch at her coronation, “I accept this anointment with oils as Zadok the Priest anointed King Solomon.”  What presumption, what cheek to try to relate their German and Anglo line of succession to that of the Jewish Kings in the Bible.   And how does the “holy” oil differ form ordinary oil?  I left the UK and was glad to become an American and then an Israeli, both democratic republics.  Eventually I feel sure there will be an English Republic, once Scotland, Ireland and Wales achieve their separation from the conquering English.