If you become the head honcho of a race relations group or anti-race hatred movement, you should expect a pretty intensive examination of both your credentials, your partners and the organization. And for good reason. Few causes are more vital and important at a time of the increasing popularity of far right movements, a welter of phobic movements and trends and when being anti-others is the overpowering trend. Attacks on people on the basis of skin color, sect, or sexuality is sadly still an issue in the 21st century.
It is a noble cause. So step forward the new wannabee hero of this fight, Tony Blair. On June 4, it was announced that Blair will become the chair of a little known group, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR). In the Times, Blair discussed his first new role since deciding to stand down from being Quartet representative in a joint article with ECTR’s president Moshe Kantor.
Blair will not be paid (he hardly requires more millions) but an unknown fee will be paid to the Blair Faith Foundation. Why this has to be secret who knows but it fits in with a lack of transparency that many have criticized Blair for.
A decent record
Blair as prime minister of Britain from 1997 to 2007 had a more than decent record. Ethnic minorities did become better represented in Britain with more access to the corridors of power even if inequalities were still rife. He is no far right racist. He has also a proud record of working on interfaith issues.
But is this sufficient? He has a cargo hold full of baggage from his international affairs outings. There are those who believe that Blair’s responsibility for the Iraq war should preclude him from any public role of any meaning. Aside from Northern Ireland, many, not least Iraqis and Palestinians, may baulk at the ECTR’s glowing tribute that “Mr. Blair has worked tirelessly to end conflict.”
His outspoken views on political Islam and his pro-Israeli leanings have antagonized many Muslims. His overall standing outside Israel and the U.S. Congress has plummeted in his eight years as Quartet representative. Finally there is also the issue of his myriad array of state and corporate clients. Can he preach tolerance and respect whilst working for and advising Dictators such President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev, who recently “won” re- election with 97.7% of the vote, is a very tolerant man who has allegedly made it illegal to criticize him. He can be reassured by the praise from his adviser Blair. Nazarbayev’s opponents are shot, arrested and tortured, according to claims.
A checkered record
A checkered record for Blair but what about ECTR? Its twin aims of “tolerance and reconciliation” are surely admirable. Liberals will not agree with ECTR’s attempts to legislate against intolerance arguing that laws will not solve the issue.
ECTR’s President Moshe Kantor is the Chair of the European Jewish Council (EJC) that aims to combat anti-Semitism across Europe, with little success sadly as anti-Semitic attacks have risen alarmingly according to reports in 2014. Jewish communities in Europe are frightened and the issue requires serious attention.
Yet Moshe Kantor was a signatory to an advert in the Financial Times calling for the European Union not to take action against Israeli settlements. The text clearly shows that the EJC is pro-settlement and even that it sees them as helping peace.
Settlements are illegal, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime. Even Tony Blair has spoken out against them and his governments, along with pretty much every one in the world, considered them not just illegal but an obstacle to peace.
To support settlements in occupied territory is the polar opposite of tolerance and respect. It involves the confiscation of Palestinian property and resources, the demolition of their homes and theft of their agricultural land.
Any organization that wishes to be taken seriously cannot be pro-settler and pro-war crimes. It cannot endorse occupation that is a denial of an entire people’s freedom. Kantor’s position is a disgrace. Did Blair know of Kantor’s position? Does he share his view? He is for another few weeks the Quartet Envoy, a body with a clear position against the settlements.
It also raises questions as to whether the ECTR will properly tackle the massive increasing attacks on Muslims in Europe. A cursory attempt to find any mention of this on its website or on its Twitter feed found no results – perhaps I missed something. Anti-Muslim marches and hate speech is at an all time high. After the Hebdo attacks in Paris there were 26 attacks on mosques. A mosque in Le Mans was attacked with grenades.
Moshe Kantor proclaims that Jews are the only European minority afraid of sending kids to school. Really. The only ones? Well not if you talk to British Muslim parents for example. In fact Muslim groups report a far greater number of verbal and physical abuse of their children, but you do not seem to find this mentioned by Kantor. I hope this is wrong because if he only focuses on hate crimes against one community, it brings into serious question his, and by association Blair’s, credentials.
So the ECTR appears to spend considerable time, and quite properly, on anti-Semitism, racism in football too but precious little it seems on anti-Muslim hate crime.
Blair needs to challenge Kantor on settlements and support for war crimes because there can be no place in any organization promoting tolerance and reconciliation for pro-settlement views. If Moshe Kantor supports settlements he must resign – no ifs, not buts.
To be a truly credible group fighting hatred you cannot just pick and chose. It is a universal struggle by definition. Perhaps it is time for their new Chairman, Mr Blair to chart a new course. Reconciliation between community groups is much needed but first one needs to understand that all hate crime and racism is objectionable no matter who the victims are. It is not clear that Blair’s new friends fully promote that.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.SHOW MORE