Thursday, March 12, 2009

The case against sanctions on Iran

Sanctions are not the peaceful alternative to war but, as we have seen in Cuba and Iraq, are in fact a very real and very hostile policy that leads to the hardship and even deaths of ordinary people in the target countries whilst leaving the elites relatively untouched.

As with Cuba, Iraq and Zimbabwe there is very little evidence that sanctions produce progressive change in the countries targeted, but rather the evidence suggests sanctions allow those regimes to tighten their grip, entrenching them in power rather than strengthening democratic forces or enabling positive reforms.

The sanctions have given the Iranian regime a powerful tool that helps it solidify its hold. Where poverty or injustice takes place they can be laid at the door of sanctions and the influence of powerful, foreign enemies rather than the state. The sanctions are seen as a proxy war, furthering the aims of hostile states, rather than being a movement from below seeking solidarity with progressive voices in Iran.

Just as in Palestine where goods are being blocked on the pretence that they could be used for building military infrastructure the repercussions can be devastating - the same construction materials that could be used to erect a bunker are those that are vitally needed to rebuild hospitals and schools. Those parts that could be essential in building nuclear plants in Iran are also essential components in medical equipment, manufacturing and safety devices, for example in aviation.

The regime can smuggle enough goods into the country to use in their nuclear programme if they so choose to, but sanctions have inevitably harmed the health service, job creation and the quality of life of those the West claims common cause with. Sanctions must end if we are to truly hold out a helping hand to those worst effected by the policies of the Iranian regime.

They must also end if we are to seek a normalisation of politics in the Middle East as whole. Far from being a soft tool of diplomacy the sanctions act as a weapon to punish those states who are critical of US foreign policy and serve as an example to those nations that might step out of line in the future. As such the Iranian people are caught in a vice between the aggressive policies of the West and the oppressive nature of their regime at home.

The likelihood of a direct military invasion has significantly lessened since the glory days of George W Bush but that does not mean that US policy has suddenly become the friend of the Iranian people. It also does not mean that the threat of targeted attacks, possibly from Israel, have gone away either. Whilst it's very positive that the US has broken it's thirty year refusal to talk directly to the regime the concrete policies of sanctions and cold war have yet to shift.

Obama is indicating there is a space to create a new openness and we should take that opportunity to push for a lifting of sanctions that do nothing but hurt the poorest Iranians and strengthen their enemy at home. There's nothing wrong with cautious optimism but it's a signal to seize the time rather than a moment to sit back and hope things will turn out for the best.

If we care about creating a space for religious freedom in Iranian, for instance, then we need to remove the regime's trump card - that they are a country in danger and under siege and are forced to repress internal dissent. Whilst France, Germany and the UK are proposing new, harder sanctions they shore up the regime against democratic reform.

Those in favour of sanctions are pushing the failed policies of a new imperialism under the guise of criticism of the reactionary aspects the Iranian state. What they cannot do is demonstrate how sanctions produce positive change nor how they hinder the elites rather than murder the poorest.

Selected Links:

Launch of HOPI's 'Smash the Sanctions' campaign
Monday March 16 2009
With Jenny Jones AM, John McDonnell MP and Yassamine Mather.
House of Commons, Committee Room 6, 6pm, all welcome.

15 comments:

ModernityBlog said...

I agree, Jim, No sanctions on Cuba, etc or Iran but in your mind does that apply to Israel?

Or are boycotts different?

Can you see the dilemma here?

To support and argue for a boycott of Israel, yet to argue, essentially that shouldn't happen to the Iranian leadership too, despite their reactionary policies, threats and militarism?

It seems slightly contradictory to say, no sanctions/boycott on Iran, but yes,yes, please plenty of sanctions/boycotts on Israel?

I hope you will ponder that puzzle?

Charlie Marks said...

I am against sanctions on Iran, Israel, Cuba, and Zimbabwe. But I support a ban on UK arms manufacturers selling weapons to Israel and fuelling conflict.

Jim Jay said...

Out of interest I was thinking about this after I'd drafted the piece, but before the final version. I think there is a difference between sanctions on Iran and boycotting Israeli goods, but it's one worth dissecting.

I suspect there's a lot more to be said than space will allow in a reply (and I really don't want the important issue of Iran to get diverted into Israel, there are other countries in the world) - anyway - to my mind, to put this crudely (and I want to say there's more to unpick than just these points) it goes like this;

i) there's a big difference between a boycott that people in the region have called for (the ANC in S Africa, Palestinian groups in Palestine) and sanctions imposed from above that those living in the region are NOT calling for (sanctions on Iran).

ii) there's a difference between the AIMS of these actions. Sanctions on Iran are furthering the US strategy post 79 where they cannot tolerate "their" regime being over thrown (as with Cuba). With Israel the Western unconditional support enables the oppression of the Palestinian people and is one of many barriers to peace.

I suspect i is undeniable, but ii will be contested because people have different political perspectives on the conflicts. Anyway, I think that framework is pretty solid, even if I've only sketched it here.

weggis said...

Charlie Marks said:
But I support a ban on UK arms manufacturers selling weapons to Israel and fuelling conflict.

...and I would hope anyone else, Charlie?

ModernityBlog said...

Jim, you wrote:

"and I really don't want the important issue of Iran to get diverted into Israel, there are other countries in the world"

please, please, Jim, I am merely pointing out the contradictions, surely you remember that method from days gone by?

but as for the boycott, it was initiated by the Arab League, some 58+ years ago, under Central Office for the Boycott of Israel, see http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0502-04.htm

and if we are talking about the more recent attempts at discrimination against Israeli scholars, that came from Britain first, THEN support garnered elsewhere (I can provide numerous links, but I hope that won't be necessary?)

the point is, the two countries and these issues ARE linked, and if people favour a discriminatory boycott of Israelis, then it is perfectly acceptable to question why such people argue against sanctions against Iran, but FOR measures against Israel.

for my self, I would be against military supplies to EITHER country, but then I don't support a boycott of Iran or sanctions against Israel.

So, I come back to the point, it is a bit of a puzzle as to why sanctions are bad, but boycotts are good, does it depend on who's at the receiving end? or something else?

Jim Jay said...

As I said - it is worth dissecting.

I'll put it a new way as you've ignored my reasoning from before.

It comes down who is calling for what, and why. On each of those three questions there is a fundamental difference between the boycott of israeli goods and sanctions against iran.

The politics and effects of the two cases are different and therefore it's quite possible to support one and not the other.

ModernityBlog said...

Jim, you wrote:

"as you've ignored my reasoning from before."

really, please, don't assume that other people are arguing in bad faith, it is an old sectarian habit of the British left and you will remember how minuscule and (sadly)irrelevant they are nowadays?

Rather you might try and understand that not all of us read replies in the same ways?

I try to make a habit of engaging with other people's points, it is polite, but my reading skills are not always 100%.

So let's look at your argument:

"It comes down who is calling for what, and why. On each of those three questions there is a fundamental difference between the boycott of israeli goods and sanctions against iran.

The politics and effects of the two cases are different and therefore it's quite possible to support one and not the other."


Presumably, who is calling for what, is somehow privileged or would another groups voiced the equally as legitimate?

Suppose you had a group of Israeli-Persians, Farsi speaking, residents of the Middle East, and who's families probably lived in that region for 2000+ years, if, hypothetically, they called for sanctions on Tehran because of the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear project, would that in your mind be equally as legitimate?

Or do Israelis forfeit all legitimate concerns?

Or would you accept a lesser regime, sanctions against Tehran connected with any materials which could be used for nuclear proliferation?

Finally, if you read the press from the Middle East, you'll see that there are many others in the Arab states who are legitimately concerned about Teheran's nuclear ambitions, are they too to be disregarded?

Jim Jay said...

I didn't say you were arguing in bad faith - I was simply pointing out that you ignored my arguments when you asked "So, I come back to the point, it is a bit of a puzzle as to why sanctions are bad, but boycotts are good, does it depend on who's at the receiving end? or something else?" as I'd already explained my position.

My post has already explained that the sanctions don't significantly impact on Iran's ability to develop nukes - so yes, anyone who has those concerns and calls for sanctions ARE to be discounted, on that basis.

Oppressed people, like those living in Palestine do call for a boycott of Israel. Oppressed people in Iran like trade unionists, homosexuals, and Kurds do not call for sanctions. For me it is these groups who's views have the most weight (although views will never be homogenous, of course)

Those who benefit from their oppression can have views, but I'm unlikely to prioritise them.

ModernityBlog said...

Jim you wrote:

"Oppressed people, like those living in Palestine do call for a boycott of Israel. Oppressed people in Iran like trade unionists, homosexuals, and Kurds do not call for sanctions. For me it is these groups who's views have the most weight (although views will never be homogenous, of course)"

So that is the nub of your argument, even if there are very dangerous lines of reasoning from this position? But firstly, let me clear something up just in case you didn't know.

Leaving aside the post WW2 calls for boycotts from the various dictators, potentates and other oppressive regimes (which was a feat of breathtaking hypocrisy, when you think about how repressive these regimes were at the time, even compared to today's appalling ones), the contemporary boycott it was NOT instigated my oppressed Palestinians, it was not started by the poor and hungry in the region, rather it was the product of two rather comfortable well-off academics in Britain, the Roses.

Now subsequently these various fanatics in and around NATFHE and AUT were losing the arguments and needed to bolster support, so THEN they got some groups in the Middle East to call for a boycott.

Do you see the chronological order? as I said before I can produce numerous links to prove this point, but this will suffice http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=724

Returning to your original point, "Oppressed people, like those living in Palestine do call for a boycott of Israel."

Did you also know that there are oppressed people living in the region, who specifically say a boycott would be bad for them? did you know that?

Did you know that an academic boycott would be illegal under discrimination legislation in Britain, and Europe?

Did you know that there is a long history of boycotts against Jews, and thus it has a certain racial resonance?

Maybe you did, maybe you didn't, but let's be honest, you really don't give the shit what the Israelis think, those oppressed Israelis who fled persecution in Iran, those Farsi speakers with relatives still stuck under a rightwing theocratic racist regime in Tehran.

For you seemingly their views are unimportant, but please do correct me if I am wrong.

And what it comes down to is a bit of a political mix, like popping into your favourite wholefood shop, taking what you like and disregarding the inconvenient, that is a certain English form of selectivity, a bit like the "noble savage" mentality from the 19th century.

So some boycotts are good, sanctions are bad. Sounds like a slogan from Animal Farm doesn't it.

Green Gordon said...

Haven't had a chance to read this all, but I had a more simple question. If one believes in a two-state solution (as seems sensible) and would like to view Palestine as a proto-State, how are the ANC in SA comparable to the Palestinians in Palestine. It would be more comparable to, say, white farmers seeking asylum outside of Zimbabwe calling for a boycott of Zimbabwe, or for a more real-world example Cuban exiles in Florida calling for sanctions agaisnt cuba. I wonder (truly, as I don't know) how many progressive Israelis are calling for a boycott of Israel, because that is the real analagous question.

Jim Jay said...

Mod: "I try to make a habit of engaging with other people's point"

There's no evidence of this so far in this thread. You seem determined to get angry and pretend I've said things I haven't, some of them quite outrageous - I'm going to leave you to it.

Gordon: I believe in a one state solution as a two state solution will be destined to leave intact the problem. It would only be an extension of the current situation, which has not prevented horrific bombardment of Gaza this year and Lebanon not long before that. However, I'm a pessimist in terms of the chances of that progressive state where people enjoy equal citizenship ever emerging.

Just because the Israeli state erects a wall and checkpoints and tells us these are the boundaries we should respect it doesn't do much for me. Should refugees really be regarded as having no say in the land they come from?

Anyway the key issue is what the oppressed say about the use of boycotts against their oppression not what colour their passport is, if they are allowed one.

ModernityBlog said...

Jim,

If you wish to boycott Israeli products that your choice, it is not about some moral snottiness, or feeling good about yourself, their political implications to these actions and I'm wondering if consistency amongst boycotters is paramount, let alone logic.

As you say "Anyway the key issue is what the oppressed say about the use of boycotts against their oppression not what colour their passport is, if they are allowed one."

Do you realise that most countries in the region do not give Palestinians passports?

Do not allow them to use local services as everyone else does, that if they choose to leave refugee camps they forfeit support? that the arrangements around the UN perpetuate their pain, that's all independent of those nasty Israelis.

And when Palestinians need assistance who do they invariably turn to ? Israeli human rights organisation's or Israeli hospitals, where they are treated with the same respect that any other patient receives.

Taking up your previous issue of "Those who benefit from their oppression can have views, but I'm unlikely to prioritise them."

Who benefits from the oppression of the Palestinians in your view? all of the Israelis??

Rather local states benefit, even the dictatorship in Tehran benefits, because it can ferment racial tensions against Jews on the basis of the conflict. Armed militias benefit (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc), even UN officials benefit as they perpetuate decades of squalor.

But it is unlikely that Israelis benefit, unless you consider heightened mental problems, wasted monies on military hardware, reduced social welfare budgets, constant threats and almost political anarchy somehow beneficial to Israelis, because that is what happens to them.

I merely suggesting in all of this that instead of looking at the conflict like some Keystone cops melodrama, with the evil arch Israelis and everyone else good wholesome and without blame, that you apply your, not inconsiderable analytical skills (which you do to other conflicts in the world) and step back and think of the parallels.

For example, are you and the Greens boycotting Chinese produce?

a very strong case could be made for this from 1) Dickensian capitalism, 2) rape of the Tibetan countryside 3) deliberate environmental mass pollution 4) destruction of natural resources 5) military conquest of Tibet 6) suppression of Civil Liberties and free trade unions 7) support for regimes engaged in genocidal acts (Sudan) and finally, Tibetans (the oppressed) calling for such a boycott, etc

But let me guess, you and the Greens are NOT boycotting Chinese produce? Are you?

Or would you and the Greens be boycotting goods from any other country's involved in the some 340 conflicts around the world?

Nope, I'll wager not, just Israel.

Don't you see the point? and why it seems so stark to those of us looking in at the weird and wonderful world of the boycotters?

I am simply saying that if you're going to make considered, analytical, compassionate judgements about other countries and conflicts in the world, then you might think about applying that to Israelis too.

weggis said...

Jim @ 7:12pm

“Anyway the key issue is what the oppressed say about the use of boycotts against their oppression….”

….assuming of course that the oppressed are in a position or “free” to voice an opinion?

Charlie Marks said...

Weggis - of course, UK arms manufacturers should be banned from selling weapons to any group or state participating in the conflict.

Modernity - obviously the beneficiaries of Palestinian oppression are those benefiting from increased military spending and land grabs, not ordinary Israeli citizens. The rationale of boycotting is to generate publicity rather than effect anything substantial - which is why a focus on getting a ban on arms sales is more important. I assume that the Israeli working class would not be harmed by the UK govt refusing to allow its arms companies sell weapons to either side in the conflict, but I know that a UK boycott of Israeli products probably would cause harm to workers.

Jim - I agree with you about the desirability of a one state solution but if we compare this to South Africa, it's doubtful that boycotts and economic sanctions actually had an impact in ending apartheid - which is why I think it's best to focus on UK arms sales.

ModernityBlog said...

if, as you write:

"obviously the beneficiaries of Palestinian oppression are those benefiting from increased military spending and land grabs, not ordinary Israeli citizens."

If that is the case then why not make a very specific point on military expenditure? Why stigmatise all Israelis?

If, as you say "The rationale of boycotting is to generate publicity rather than effect anything substantial"

Then that is an open acknowledgement that the Israeli boycotts are merely gesture politics.

But let's suppose it isn't gesture politics for a moment, what has the proposed boycott achieved and do any of its advocates consider there are possible downsides to it? The possibility that there might be an increase in anti-Jewish racism? or did that obvious point elude most of the boycotters

Let's take the example of UCU, you will remember that legal advice indicated that the implementation of a boycott against Israeli scholars (directly or indirectly, because that's the consequence), would be illegal under British and EU anti-discrimination legislation?

Surely, pro-boycotters, in that case should have stepped back and said to themselves "hey, if we're doing something against anti-discrimination legislation then maybe it's not a good idea?"

But did they? No, they carried on regardless.

So what are the consequences be of the pro-boycott activities in UCU?

1) Numerous Jewish members of UCU have left the union
2) UCU is charged with being an institutionally racist organisation, as when complaints about anti-Jewish racism are brought up their not even looked into (older readers will remember how the Metropolitan police got into a similar situation years ago with black officers, etc)
3) UCU activities have become fragmented and management often disregard UCU completely.
4) Not one single Palestinian has benefited from the activity in UCU.
5) Despite the high percentage of Jews in academia, UCU has a comparatively low take-up rate.
6) UCU is far weaker than it was years back.
etc

Need I go on? The pro-boycott campaign in UCU has been divisive, disruptive and generating a hostile environment within a trade union meant that Jewish members left.

Readers with a sense of history will remember Jew-Free unions of old, and it is not something that someone genuinely interested in trade unions should welcome, in my view.

So my point is, you have a lot of political activists who know history who know the dangers, and are familiar with the imagery and symbolism of racism and yet none of that seems to resonate when the anti Israel boycott campaign comes into view.

The dangers of stoking up racism are plain enough and if, these highly educated activists, would tread very carefully when dealing with other conflicts or subjects, then it is striking that they don't employ similar sensitivities (and a dose of history) when considering the boycotting of Israelis or the consequences.