Steve Nimmons
Documentary Photographer and Visual Artist

The Week in Seven Stories: Proscription, Sanction and Social Norms

In a week that saw the birth of Prince George of Cambridge seven non-royal stories caught my particular attention:

1. A Symbolic if Superficial Act: The EU’s Proscription of Hezbollah

The European Union finally acted to proscribe the military wing of the Iranian backed Hezbollah, a decision requiring active persuasion of Ireland and Austria to secure unanimity.

In an interview for Anglican Friends of Israel I said::

The European Union has finally acted to  proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah. Although this is a welcome development, the practical impact will be marginal.

The political wing, assuming one accepts the description of Hezbollah as being so sub-divided, does not fall within the bounds of this sanction and will continue to receive funds and political legitimacy from within some European states.


Many will view the timing of this decision to be rather cynical. The European Union did not act following the terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The EU’s disinclination now appears to have been diminished by Hezbollah’s significant military support for Bashar al-Asad.

With characteristically illogical argumentation, Nasrallah questioned why Hezbollah and not the IDF was being proscribed. It was a story that gave us more of “The sad delusions of Robert Fisk.

2. Back to the First, Intifada That Is

Irish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Paul Murphy’s comments in an interview for Russia’s RT shocked. Murphy, a member of a radical socialist party in Ireland “suggested that Palestinians return to Intifada”:

You’ve seen significant protest, significant movement, the potential to redevelop a struggle along the lines of the first intifada.

That’s the kind of thing that is necessary

In an interview with The Journal in Ireland Murphy rejected criticism of his comments and appeared to justify armed resistance:

I think the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves against that aggression and that may involve armed defence against soldiers – I wouldn’t have a problem with that

His comments were condemned by fellow MEPs as a cynical attempt to gain publicity.

As George Bernard Shaw had it: “when a stupid man is doing something he is (or in this case should be) ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.”

3. On the Naughty Step: The Sanctioning of David Ward MP

David Ward is a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Ward represents Bradford East and landed himself in trouble with Party officials over comments made ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day in January. Ward said:

Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.

Ward’s comments met with widespread revulsion and he was in trouble again earlier in July having Tweeted:

Am I wrong or are (sic) am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?

The Liberal Democrats removed the Party whip from Ward for a period of two months, a sanction that has been criticised for its leniency and timing. At Anglican Friends of Israel I said:

We broadly welcome the news of Mr. Ward’s sanction although this appears to be a very limited gesture. The removal of the whip during the summer recess and expiring the day before the Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference is a soft option. We take some solace from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have informed Mr. Ward that he should use balanced and proportionate language in future discussions of Israel/Palestine.


Given the potential for renewed peace talks we especially urge him to heed Party advice and to consider the responsibilities he has as an elected representative.

Apologies are easy made, and as Bob Haldeman said “once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is awfully hard to get it back in.”

4. The Good and Bad of Helen Thomas

Encomiums poured forth following the death of veteran reporter Helen Thomas at 92. For decades Thomas ‘ruled the roost’ in the White House press corps.

Jack Kennedy said of Thomas:

Helen would be a nice girl if she’d ever get rid of that pad and pencil.

The former US Secretary of State Colin Powell once asked:

Isn’t there a war somewhere we could send her to?

Thomas brought that war to herself when in 2010 she made extremely controversial remarks about Israel.

In an article at the Chicago Tribune Jonah Goldberg discussed “The Real Helen Thomas.” Goldberg noting that in 2002 Thomas was reported to have told a CNN cameraman “Thank G-d for Hezbollah.” There is an irony that her death comes in the week that the European Union proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing.

Rabbi David Nesenoff was unsurprisingly direct in his criticism of Thomas in an op-ed entitled Helen Thomas – the Ugly Truth.

Many commentators walked a moral tightrope portraying Thomas as a role model and doyenne whilst simultaneously attempting to resolve the repugnance of her infamous views. The La Rochefoucauld maxim “nothing is more certain to lower our self-satisfaction than realising that at one moment we disapprove of what we admired at some other” has the last word.

5. The Church of England versus Pay Day Lenders

“Saving is a very fine thing, especially when your parents have done it for you” said Winston Churchill. In austere times Bob Hope’s truism “a bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it” is unquestionable.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby ‘declared war’ on Pay Day lenders accusing them of usurious activities.

His wish to ‘put them out of business’ with as one commentator at the Telegraph termed kumbayah capitalism reminded me of the fall of the Presbyterian Mutual Society. Before this cautionary tale could be re-told, news broke that the Church of England had (if unwittingly) invested in a leading Pay Day Lender, Wonga.

A ‘whoops’ moment causing not insignificant embarrassment to the Archbishop’s latest crusade. In the immortal words of Flann O’Brien: “There’s only one thing to do with loose change of course. Tighten it.”

6. Organ Donation: Shifting the Norm, Nudge Style

Throughout the week I was thinking and writing about organ donation and various changes being proposed by the Israeli Health Minister and legislators in other regions.

The Welsh Government recently passed a bill for the implementation of a soft opt-out system and Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson is in the process of bringing a private members bill before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There have been many interesting debates about the role of the family and their ability to override donor consent. This follows publication of a recent strategy document on organ donation in the United Kingdom.

Soft opt-out systems by flipping the ‘default option’ are loosely based on Nudge Theory.

7. Think Local Act Global – BDS in Brighton

I advise companies to ‘think global and act local’, that is to operate in a global context and focus on customer intimacy at the local level. A story in the Times about SodaStream and a BDS campaign against EcoStream in Brighton caused me to rethink.

According to the Brighton Palestine Campaign (BPC) website:

The picket is a local manifestation of the international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israeli economic, cultural, academic and sporting activities, called for by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

I deplore BDS and I deplore the narrative on which it is based. Even the vehemently anti-Israeli Norman Finkelstein has attacked the BDS movement.

‘Think local, act local’ or ‘think local, act global’ would be my advice for the BPC.

The incoming week brings hope of renewed peace talks. It would be immensely encouraging if these (and similar) groups could free themselves from the revolving door narratives of ‘dispossession’ and ‘whataboutery’. It may even provide for a test of the words of Benjamin Disraeli:

something unpleasant is coming when men are anxious to tell the truth…

About the Author
Steve Nimmons is a writer, documentary photographer and visual artist based in Northern Ireland.