Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Editorial | If this is stupid

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Michael Lee-Chin believes that Jamaicans - including, presumably, this newspaper - who discuss geopolitical issues without calculating an immediate and direct financial benefit to the island to be stupid.

That is a very reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the billionaire entrepreneur's remark last week about the work being done by his Economic Growth Council (EGC) and Prime Minister Andrew Holness's recent trip to Israel, of which delegation Mr Lee-Chin revealed he was a member. This is what Mr Lee-Chin said at a briefing at Jamaica House: "So, please, let's not get drawn into global politics and our kids starve. You see the article, the headlines and editorials. Stupid, actually!"

Let's be clear. This newspaper has great respect for Mr Lee-Chin and his business skills. His record speaks for itself. We celebrate the work he is doing for the country, attempting to lure investment to Jamaica and to make the island welcoming of capital.

But in this case, Mr Lee-Chin conflates issues and throws around an emotive phrase about starving children to mask an illogic that, taken to its conclusion, would diminish Jamaica's place in the world and assume that nothing would be predictable, moral, or principled in its international relationships.

The apparent basis of Mr Lee-Chin's ire was the question about whether Prime Minister Holness's visit to Israel, without his foreign minister and any public, pre-trip statement as to context, hinted at a shift in Jamaica's Middle East policy. That policy, for decades, has rested on a presumption of Israel's right to exist within secure borders but is supportive of a two-state solution in its conflict with the Palestinians based on the borders before the 1967 war. This is the position of the United Nations.




Mr Holness's Israel visit coincided with an aggressive announcement by Benjamin Netanyahu of his intention to expand settlements in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, to which most of the world, including many of Israel's best friends, objects. But what, to Mr Lee-Chin, appeared to be a declaration of stupidity, this newspaper observed: "We welcome any attempt by Jamaica to advance its economic interests across the globe. But the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a delicate matter on which Jamaica has maintained a principled and finely balanced position. We have to be careful against, inadvertently or otherwise, disrupting that."

Indeed, among Jamaica's global assets is the fact that diplomatically, it punches above its weight, having gained respect for pursuing across administrations sophisticated, nuanced, and principled foreign policy. It has maintained good relations with Arab states and Israel. Some of the latter's companies have operated and invested in Jamaica, including in shipping, and, recently, in the water sector.

So courting Israeli investment and supporting its right to exist within secure borders, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242, and backing an independent Palestinian state are not mutually exclusive. Neither is balancing these two ideals promoting the starvation of Jamaican children.

Paradoxically, this is a fact that Mr Lee-Chin appreciates. Or so it seems. Courting Israeli capital doesn't hinder attempting to tap Arab Middle East nations.

Furthermore, if Jamaica crafted a foreign policy of being friends only with the rich and the powerful, without balance, empathy, or ethics, its pre-Independence government might not have banned imports from apartheid South Africa. And Nelson Mandela's bones might now be interred at Robben Island.