Gordon Campbell on how Gaza affects our UN bid

At an international level, the Key government is waging another election campaign right now, to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. So far, the government’s tepid response to the carnage in Gaza has done nothing but erode our only real selling point – that New Zealand would be a strong, independent voice on international affairs. By contrast…Turkey is the clear frontrunner for the UN seat and it has been highly critical of Israel’s violation of international law and the UN Geneva Convention – notably, with respect to the responsibility of an occupying power to use proportionate force and to refrain from carrying out collective punishment of civilian populations.

As mentioned before in this column, New Zealand is really engaged in a race (against Spain) for the second slot, and Spain has been (until very recently) one of the few European nations that have been relatively friendly to Israel. However, even Spain has now stepped up its rhetoric and started to put its money where its mouth is. A few days ago, Spain announced an arms embargo against Israel.

The decision to freeze weapons exports from Spain to Israel was reached on Thursday…Arms exports from Spain to Israel are fairly limited. In 2013, weapons sale was 5 million euro – 1 percent of all Spanish security exports. Spain provides Israel with missile parts, fuses from hand grenades, mortar parts, electro-optical equipment and fire control systems. Spanish officials told El Pais, however, that the purpose of the move was sending Israel a diplomatic signal.(My emphasis.)

Spanish celebrities such as actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz have also publicly slammed Israel’s actions in Gaza and this visible tide of domestic opposition probably helped to prod the Spanish government into action. Point being, UN facilities full of refugee families are being regularly bombed and shelled by Israel, and large numbers of children being killed on a daily basis. Regardless, New Zealand is now on record as the UN Security Council contender with the most anaemic response to the Gaza crisis. Our rhetoric has been far milder than Turkey, and the Key government has taken no overt action (beyond talking) to express our opposition to what Israel has been doing. So far, we have not taken the kind of symbolic economic action taken by Spain.

Is our relative inertia to be taken as a sign that we have, in effect, given up on our campaign to win a seat on the Security Council? And if we haven’t, then how is being Israel’s least forthright critic in this contest a winning strategy – let alone a moral one?

With the onset of warmer weather, insect production rises to a level where migratory birds return to feed on them. In much the same way, you know election time is nigh when the campaign heats up and politicians descend on law and order issues, to feed on any public anxiety about gang violence and gang-driven criminality, and gang-related… gangdom in general.

So there was a certain inevitability to yesterday’s Launch, a mere 46 days out from the election. Time enough surely, for a multi- agency, multifaceted, multi-tooled crackdown on the social menace posed to New Zealand society by…income inequality? Lack of timely access to healthcare? Unemployment? The student debt time-bomb? No, silly… by gangs. As a matter of urgency, there will be GPS tracking of gang masterminds. There will be sniffer dogs at airports to detect gangdom’s incoming drug shipments and their heinous packages of meth precursor ingredients. There will be more asset seizures, more extensive travel restrictions placed on gang leaders, and more stringent demands to explain any inexplicable influx of wealth to their bank accounts!

No, Police Minister Anne Tolley told yesterday’s prime ministerial press conference, there had not yet been any vetting of the proposed measures for their human rights implications. And no…this allegedly multi-faceted programme to entice prospective gang members and deprived communities away from their gang affiliations would not actually contain any new job schemes or any fresh employment opportunities for those most at risk.

In other words, there was a Grand Canyon sized gap between the gang –related crime and family violence cited by Prime Minister John Key at the start of the press conference, and the puny nature of the government response. As Key indicated in reply to a question yesterday – the entire ICT budget for this crack multi-agency task force will be only $1.3 million. It also transpires that there will be no additional money for any of the initiatives outlined. This is very old wine in very old bottles with a couple of headline grabbing elements -– sniffer dogs! 24 hour GPS tracking of gangland’s Mr Bigs! – slapped onto the labels. In practice, the Police will be required to shuffle their resources and the priorities within their existing budgets in order to accommodate this spasm of law and order electioneering. Such is politics, Gangdom Style.

Solitary Man
If there’s a musical analogue for claustrophobia it would be Chad Van Gaalen, the Canadian singer, cartoonist, and film-maker. In his separate role as a record producer, he’s worked recently with Alvvays, the shiny new dream pop group featuring Molly Rankin of the folkie Rankin Family, reborn in peroxide and swirls of noise. But that’s another story. Let’s just say that Van Gaalen is what saves them, by messing with their sweetness.

Back to Van Gaalen. Even his very prettiest, most delicate songs, like “Red Hot Drops” and “Willow Tree” contain bracing images of solitude. In his hands, lonesomeness has its own hermetic consolations:

When I’m dead is when I’ll be free

And you can take my body
Put it in a boat
Light it on fire
You can use the kerosene

Take my body
Put it in a boat
Light it on fire
Send it out to sea

Woo, woo… Yeah, yeah, yeah

“Monster” on the other hand, is Cronenberg body-loathing taken to a pretty amusing extreme. Also, his self-drawn videos on tracks like “Clinically Dead” and “Rabid Bits of Time” make many of Van Gaalen’s Youtube offerings worth checking out for the visuals alone.

Finally, in a video shot on a rooftop in Antwerp, Van Gaalen is his usual nonchalantly intense self: “I laid my head down on the tracks / My eyes just rolled on back” before getting down to business: “Last night I weighed my sin…” It goes inwards from there. His excellent 2008 album Soft Airplane CD is available in the Wellington Public Library. Despite the title, also check out Diaper Island from 2011, and this year’s great Shrink Dust album.