All posts by Jonathan Cook

Israeli Politics is Being Dragged into the Grubby Realm of Reality TV

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu commandeered the country’s airwaves last week in what many assumed would prove a moment of profound national import. They could not have been more wrong.

The context was his decision last month to move forward the general election to April, widely seen as a desperate effort to turn the vote into a referendum on his innocence as long-standing corruption investigations close in.

The police have recommended that he be charged over three separate allegations of bribery. By calling the election, Netanyahu has forced the attorney-general, Avichai Mendelblit, onto unfamiliar – and constitutionally tricky – terrain.

Mendelblit, an appointee of Netanyahu’s, has indicated that he will make a decision on whether to issue an indictment before the ballot, so that voters have the facts to make an informed choice.

But Netanyahu has said he won’t drop out or resign, even if indicted, and there is no decisive precedent to suggest he must.

Instead, he would prefer to bully the attorney-general into delaying a decision until after voters have spoken. That was the purpose of his unexpected live national TV address.

His supporters have already set the stage, claiming that an indictment mid-campaign would influence the outcome and usurp the will of the people.

Either way, Netanyahu hopes to benefit. If an indictment is served before the vote, it will rile up his base and bolster a carefully crafted narrative that he faces a campaign of persecution from state authorities.

If Mendelblit delays, Netanyahu will aim to exploit any electoral success to face down prosecutors, accusing them of seeking to reverse his popular mandate.

Netanyahu’s strategy was on full show last week when he took to the main TV channels. He used this moment of enforced national attention for nothing more serious than a self-serving gripe.

The investigators, led by a far-right police commander he personally approved, had supposedly joined a leftist plot to oust him. The proof was that they had denied him a chance to confront in person his accusers – former aides turned state witness – and challenge their testimony.

Claiming that he had been stripped of his legal rights, Netanyahu demanded a showdown be broadcast live – effectively trailblazing a new type of reality TV show for suspects in high-profile criminal cases.

Of course, Netanyahu understands only too well that such confrontations with witnesses are decided by the police, not the accused, and used only when evidence needs to be tested.

The police believe they already have the evidence required for a conviction, and hope to test it in a court of law, not in the type of TV spectacle in which Netanyahu excels.

Netanyahu’s move was intended to reinforce his claim that the “system” – one that has kept him and the ultra-nationalist right in uninterrupted power for a decade – is rigged against him.

There was a striking parallel with events last week in the United States, where President Donald Trump similarly addressed the nation to corner his opponents in Congress.

In his case, Trump sought to rally his base by fearmongering about a supposed “invasion” of immigrants, suggesting that the Democrats were subverting his efforts to block their entry with an Israeli-style wall.

But whereas many have described Netanyahu’s latest intervention as “Trumpian”, in truth the Israeli leader is as well-practiced as his American counterpart in the dark arts of media manipulation.

Two of the three bribery cases he faces relate directly to allegations that he offered favours – in one case captured on tape – to Israeli media moguls in return for better coverage in their publications.

Netanyahu has long demonstrated an obsession with controlling his image, and has proved an arch-manipulator of passions to mobilise support for his hawkish agenda.

It was at the last general election, in 2015, that he turned the tables on his right-wing rivals at the last moment. He rallied voters by claiming that Israel’s Palestinian citizens – a fifth of the population – were turning out in “droves” at polling booths. Only a vote for Netanyahu, he suggested, would save the Jewish state.

Not only did he imply that voting by Palestinian citizens was illegitimate, he claimed that the Israeli left was “bussing” them to the polls, citing this falsehood as proof of the left’s treachery.

Now Netanyahu is again deploying the “leftist” slur, this time to discredit the police and prosecution service.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Netanyahu’s Likud party is the only faction opposed to a plan by the Central Elections Committee to bar online propaganda in the campaign’s final two months.

Underscoring the way TV has increasingly become a tool in Israel not for clarifying issues but for inflaming emotions, the US TV comedian Roseanne Barr has been invited to address the Israeli parliament at the end of the month.

She will use the opportunity to denounce as Jew haters activists in the international boycott movement who stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Only in Israel’s current degraded public discourse would Barr, who has a history of making offensive comments variously about Jews, Muslims and black people, be taken seriously as an arbiter of racism.

Analysts widely expect this election campaign to be the dirtiest in Israel’s history. But, although they worry about Netanyahu’s demagoguery, they still overlook its grubbiest aspect.

Palestinians under occupation have been effectively disappeared from the campaign. They will have no voice in choosing the Israeli politicians who have determined their fate for the past five decades.

In fact, not one of the Israeli Jewish parties is highlighting Palestinian rights or putting the occupation at the centre of its platform. The vast majority of Israeli politicians want to entrench the occupation, not end it.

Israeli commentators noted that Mr Netanyahu had another pressing reason – apart from legal threats – to bring forward the election. He feared that otherwise Trump might unveil his long-promised peace plan.

However bad that plan will be for Palestinians, Netanyahu does not want his unwillingness to make concessions exposed.

But Netanyahu is far from the gravest threat to Israel’s “democracy”. The most dangerous thing of all is the widespread refusal in Israel to recognise that the Palestinians are human beings too – and that they should be able to determine their own fate, just like Israelis.

Labour and anti-Semitism in 2018: The Truth Behind the Relentless Smear Campaign Against Corbyn

End-of-year polls are always popular as a way to gauge significant social and political trends over the past year and predict where things are heading in the next.

But a recent poll of European Jews – the largest such survey in the world – is being used to paint a deeply misleading picture of British society and an apparent problem of a new, left wing form of anti-semitism.

The survey was conducted by the European Union’s agency on fundamental rights and was given great prominence in the liberal-left British daily the Guardian.

The newspaper highlighted one area of life in which Britain scored worse with Jews than any of the other 12 member states surveyed. Some 84 per cent of Jews in the UK believe there is a major problem with anti-semitism in British politics.

As a result, nearly a third say they have considered emigrating – presumably most of them to Israel, where the Law of Return offers an open-door policy to all Jews in the world.

Britain scored only slightly better on indices other than politics. Some 75 per cent said they thought anti-semitism was generally a problem in the UK, up from 48 per cent in 2012. The average score in the 12 EU states with significant Jewish populations was 70 per cent.

‘Playing with fire’

Jeremy Corbyn, head of the UK’s opposition Labour party, has faced a barrage of criticism since he was elected leader more than three years ago for presiding over a supposedly endemic anti-semitism problem in his party.

The Guardian has been at the forefront of framing Corbyn as either indifferent to, or actively assisting in, the supposed rise of anti-semitism in Labour. Now the paper has a senior European politician echoing its claims.

Relating to the poll, Vera Jourova, the EU’s commissioner for justice, helpfully clarified what Britain’s terrible results in the political sphere signified.

The paper quoted her on Corbyn: “I always use the phrase ‘Let’s not play with fire’, let’s be aware of what happened in the past. And let’s not make the same mistake of tolerating it. It is not enough just to be silent … I hope he [Corbyn] will pay attention to this survey.”

Labour party problem?

However, both Jourova’s warnings and an apparent perception among British Jews of an anti-semitism problem fuelled by Corbyn fly in the face of real-world evidence.

Other surveys show that, when measured by objective criteria, the Labour party scores relatively well: the percentage of members holding anti-semitic views is substantially lower than in the ruling Conservative party and much the same as in Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats.

For example, twice as many Conservatives as Labour party members believe typically anti-semitic stereotypes, such as that Jews chase money or that Jews are less loyal to Britain.

Prejudices in decline

Even more significantly, the percentage of Labour party members who hold such prejudices has fallen dramatically across the board since Corbyn became leader.

That suggests that the new members who joined after Corbyn became leader – a massive influx has made his party the largest in Europe – are less likely to be anti-semitic than those who joined under previous Labour leaders.

In other words, the evidence suggests very persuasively that Corbyn has been a force for eradicating, or at least diluting, existing and rather marginal anti-semitic views in the Labour party. More so even than the previous leader, Ed Miliband, who was himself Jewish.

But all of this, yet again, went unremarked by the Guardian and other British media, which have been loudly declaiming a specific “anti-semitism problem” in Labour for three years without a shred of concrete evidence for it.

Resurgent white nationalism

There are good grounds for Jews to feel threatened in much of Europe at the moment, with the return of ugly ethnic nationalisms that many assumed had been purged after the Second World War.

And Brexit – Britain’s planned exit from the European Union – does indeed appear to have unleashed or renewed nativist sentiment among a section of the UK population. But such prejudices dominate on the right, not the left. Certainly Corbyn, a lifelong and very prominent anti-racism activist, has not been stoking nativist attitudes.

The unexplored assumption by the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media, as well as by Jourova, is that the rise in British Jews’ concerns about anti-semitism in politics refers exclusively to Corbyn rather than a very different problem: of a resurgent white nationalism on the right.

But let’s assume that they are correct that the poll solely registers Jewish worries about Corbyn.

A separate finding in the EU survey underscored how Jewish opinion on anti-semitism and Corbyn may be far less straightforward than Jourova’s presentation suggests – and how precisely the wrong conclusions are likely to be drawn from the results.

Buried in the Guardian report was a starkly anomalous finding – from Hungary.

Anti-Jewish sentiment

Hungary is a country in which Jews and other minorities undoubtedly face a very pressing threat to their safety. Its ultra-nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, used the general election in April to whip up a frenzy of anti-Jewish sentiment.

He placed the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros at the centre of his anti-immigration campaign, suggesting that the philanthropist was secretly pulling the strings of the opposition party to flood the country with “foreigners”.

In the run-up to the election, his government erected giant posters and billboards all over the country showing a chuckling George Soros next to the words: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

Raiding the larder of virtually every historic anti-semitic trope, Orban declared in an election speech:

We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the world.

All of this should be seen in the context of Orban’s recent praise for Miklos Horthy, a former Hungarian leader who was an ally of Hitler’s. Orban has called him an “exceptional statesman”.

The Hungary anomaly

So did Hungarian Jews express to EU pollsters heightened fears for their community’s safety? Strangely, they did not. In fact, the percentage who regarded anti-semitism as a problem in Hungary was only slightly above the EU average and far below the concerns expressed by French Jews.

Not only that, but the proportion of Hungarian Jews fearful of anti-semitism has actually dropped over the past six years. Some 77 percent see anti-semitism as a problem today, compared to 89 percent in 2012, when the poll was last conducted.

So, the survey’s results are more than a little confounding.

On the one hand, at least according to the British media and the EU, British Jews are in a heightened state of fear about the UK Labour party, where the evidence suggests an already marginal problem of anti-semitism is actually in decline. And on the other, Hungarian Jews’ fears of anti-semitism are waning, even though the evidence suggests anti-semitism there is on the rise and government-sanctioned.

Array of opponents

There is, however, a way to explain this paradox – and it has nothing to do with anti-semitism.

Corbyn’s socialist-lite agenda faces a devastating array of opponents that include British business; the entire spectrum of the UK corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components; and, significantly in this case, the ultra-nationalist government of Israel, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The British establishment fears Corbyn poses a challenge to the further entrenchment of neoliberal orthodoxy they benefit from.

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians loathe Corbyn because he has made support for the Palestinian people a key part of his platform, becoming the first European leader to prioritise a Palestinian right to justice over Israel’s right to maintain its 51-year belligerent occupation.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban, by contrast, is beloved of big business, as well as the country’s mainstream media, and, again significantly, the Israeli government.

Orban: Israel’s ‘true friend’

Rather than distancing himself from Orban and his Jew-baiting electioneering in Hungary, Netanyahu has actually sanctioned it. He has called Orban a “true friend of Israel”, thanked him for “defending Israel”, and joined the Hungarian leader in denouncing Soros.

Netanyahu, like Orban, intensely dislikes Soros’s liberalism and his support for open borders. Netanyahu shares Orban’s fears that a flood of refugees will disrupt his efforts to make his state as ethnically pure as possible.

Earlier this year, for example, Netanyahu claimed that Soros had funded human rights organisations to help African asylum seekers in Israel avoid a government programme to expel them.

Netanyahu has many practical and ideological reasons to support not only Orban but the new breed of ultra-nationalist leaders emerging in states like Poland, Italy, France and elsewhere.

Hostility to Muslims

Nativism in European states is primarily directed against Muslim and Arab immigrants arriving from the Middle East and north Africa, though domestic Jews could well become collateral damage in any future purge of “foreigners”.

Europe’s ultra-nationalist leaders are therefore more likely to sympathise with Israel and its own “Arab-Muslim problem”, especially since Netanyahu and the Israeli right have proved adept at falsely presenting the Palestinians as immigrants rather than the region’s native population.

Netanyahu would also like to see Europe paralysed by political differences, so it is incapable of lobbying for a two-state solution, as it has been doing ineffectively for many years; it is unable to agree on funding human rights activism designed to protect Palestinian rights; and it is too weak to move towards the adoption of sanctions against Israel.

But most importantly, Netanyahu and the Israeli right can identify with the anti-semitic view of “the Jew” shared by Europe’s hardline nationalists.

Ethnic purity and the Other

These far-right groups see Jews as outsiders, a discrete community that cannot be assimilated or exist peacefully among them, and one that has separate loyalties and should either be encouraged to leave or be sent elsewhere.

Netanyahu agrees. He also believes Jews are different, that they are a distinct and separate people, that their primary loyalties are tribal, to their own kind, and not to other states, and that they can only ever really be at home and properly Jewish in Israel, their true home.

Zsofia Kata Vincze, a professor of ethnology in Budapest, recently referred to the ideological affinity between Netanyahu’s Zionism and Orban’s Hungarian-Christian nativism:

They found a common language very easily. They kept talking about mutual values, which are nationalism, exclusivism … Hungarian purity, Jewish purity … against the Others.

Only ‘partial’ Jews

In fact, Netanyahu’s views are widely shared in Israel. A few years ago the celebrated liberal Israeli author A B Yehoshua outraged American Jews by saying they could only ever be what he called “partial Jews” outside Israel.

Speaking of the divide between them and Israeli Jews, he said: “In no way are we the same thing – we are total and they are partial.” He called the refusal of all Jews to live in Israel and become “complete Jews … a very deep failure of the Jewish people”.

The high levels of racism among Israelis towards non-Jews is highlighted in every poll.

According to one this month, more than half of Israeli Jews – or those willing to admit it – believed that “most Jews are better than most non-Jews because they were born Jews”. Only a fifth rejected the statement outright.

Some 74 per cent were disturbed by hearing Arabic, the mother tongue of the fifth of the country’s population who are Palestinian citizens. And a further 88 per cent did not want their son to befriend an Arab girl.

Anti-immigrant views

A separate poll this month found that, apart from Greeks, Israelis hold the most anti-immigrant views of 27 countries surveyed – more so even than Hungarians.

By immigrants, of course, Israelis mean non-Jews. They do not regard the millions of Jews who have arrived in Israel from Europe and the Americas over the past decades as immigrants. Instead they are viewed as olim, or those who “ascend” to Israel, supposedly returning to their biblically ordained home.

It is this ideological affinity – between a European ultra-nationalism and the kind of Zionist ultra-nationalism dominant in Israel – that explains why the far-right in Europe venerates Israel while despising Jews, and why so many Israelis prefer an Orban to a Soros.

And it also, of course, explains why Netanyahu and most Israelis detest Corbyn.

Legacy of Europe’s racism

Not only does Corbyn offer an inclusive domestic political agenda, unlike the Orbans of Europe, but worse he also refuses to shy away from confronting the legacy of European racism and colonialism.

The chief historic victims of that racism in Europe were Jews. But today that same European racism is channeled both into fervent support for Israel as a supposedly “safe haven” for Jews and into a general indifference – aside from handwringing – towards the Palestinians who for decades have been displaced and oppressed by Israel.

Corbyn represents a huge break with that tradition and is therefore a threat to Israel. That is why behind the scenes Israel has been seeking to redefine anti-semitism in a way that tars anti-racists like Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party.

The ‘ultimate’ anti-semitism

I have documented before in Middle East Eye Israel’s role in stoking the supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in Labour and in cornering the party into adopting a new, convoluted definition of anti-semitism that for the first time makes criticism of Israel the benchmark of anti-semitic discourse.

Last month Netanyahu made that conflation explicit in a video message to a conference in Vienna. While praising Orban, he averred: “Anti-semitism and anti-Zionism, anti-Israeli polices – the idea that the Jewish people don’t have the right for a state – that’s the ultimate anti-semitism of today.”

But it is not just Netanyahu who is stoking the patently preposterous notion that anti-racists like Corbyn – those whose principles require that they reject Jewish privilege over Palestinians – are really secret Jew-haters.

If that were the case, the criticisms of Corbyn might not have as much traction with British Jews as this month’s EU poll suggests.

Media distortions

The UK media have played a vital role in promoting a false image of Corbyn, as a survey by the Media Reform Coalition found in September when it analysed British coverage of the Labour party.

The coalition, which is led by academics, concluded that there had been systematic “disinformation” from media outlets. Inaccurate and misleading reporting by the supposedly liberal Guardian was especially pronounced.

“Two thirds of the news segments on television contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion,” its researchers also discovered.

These failures included “marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered.”

Covert propaganda

The group is reluctant to infer that these consistent media failures indicate an intention to smear Corbyn.

But revelations this month provide reason to believe that powerful interests in the UK are prepared to use dirty tricks to keep the Labour leader out of power.

According to hacked documents, a network of politicians, academics, journalists and military personnel in Britain and elsewhere have been engaged in covert propaganda to shore up pro-western narratives and smear dissidents through an organisation called ‘Integrity Initiative.’

In the UK, these operations have been overseen by an even more shadowy group called the Institute for Statecraft, with a fake address in Scotland. In fact, it is headquartered in London and staffed by former and possibly current military intelligence officers.

The UK government has been forced to admit that the institute has received substantial payments from the foreign office and defence ministry, and from the British army.

Much of what the Integrity Initiative is up to is unclear, but from public records – such as its Twitter history – it can be seen that it has repeatedly sought to damage Corbyn and his key advisers by implicating them in supposed Russian “disinformation” campaigns.

‘Fair or foul means’

It is worth recalling that shortly after Corbyn was elected Labour leader in summer 2015 an unnamed British army general was given a platform in the Establishment’s newspaper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times, to denounce Corbyn. He warned that the army would use “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent the Labour leader from becoming prime minister and being able to carry out his policies.

Certainly, the fingerprints of the British establishment now look all too visible on some of the recent efforts to malign Corbyn in the media.

Maybe not surprisingly, despite the huge implications of the story for British politics, it has been given only the barest reporting in that same media. At the time of writing, the Guardian had referred to the Integrity Initiative only in the most pro forma fashion – in the context of government denials of wrongdoing.

Is it credible that those covertly trying to paint Corbyn as a “Kremlin stooge” are not also seeking to exploit Israeli covert efforts to vilify the Labour leader as someone who encourages anti-semitism in his own party?

The real remedy

There is a serious, if rarely explored ideological tension between Israeli-style Zionism and a progressive or liberal outlook, just as there is between Orbanism and liberalism.

In a political climate where European nativists are on the rise, the stark choice facing Europe’s Jews is to double-down on their traditional left-liberal worldview or abandon it entirely and throw their hat in with Israel’s own nativists. Corbyn represents the first choice, Netanyahu’s hardline Zionism the second.

Bombarded by disinformation campaigns, it looks like many British Jews are being misled into seeing Corbyn as a threat – of a confected “left wing anti-semitism” – rather than as the best hope of inoculating Britain against the resurgence of a very real menace of right wing anti-semitism.

Jewish emigration to Israel will make matters far worse. It will pander to the prejudices of Europe’s white nationalists, weaken the European left, and bolster an equally ugly Jewish nationalism that requires the oppression of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Anonymous British street artist Banksy made headlines in October when his $1.4 million artwork Girl with Balloon self-destructed by passing through a shredder concealed in its frame at a London auction moments after it had been bought.

But in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, a much larger Banksy art project – a hotel boasting “the worst view in the world” – appears to be unexpectedly saving itself from similar, planned destruction.

When it opened in March last year, The Walled Off Hotel – hemmed in by the eight-metre-high concrete wall built by Israel to encage Bethlehem – was supposed to be operational for only a year. But nearly two years on, as I joined those staying in one of its nine Banksy-designed rooms, it was clearly going from strength to strength.

Originally, The Walled Off Hotel was intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, turning the oppressive 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into an improbable tourist attraction. Visitors drawn to Bethlehem by Banksy’s art – both inside the hotel and on the colossal wall outside – are given a brief, but potent, taste of Palestinian life in the shadow of Israel’s military infrastructure of confinement.

It proved, unexpectedly, so successful that it was soon competing as a top tourist attraction with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site, the reputed spot where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity. “The hotel has attracted 140,000 visitors – local Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals – since it opened,” says Wisam Salsa, the hotel’s Palestinian co-founder and manager. “It’s given a massive boost to the Palestinian tourism industry.”

Exception to Banksy’s rule

The Walled Off Hotel was effectively a follow-up to Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, created in the more familiar and safer setting of a British seaside resort. For five weeks, that installation in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, offered holidaymakers a dystopian version of a Disney-style amusement park, featuring a nuclear mushroom-cloud, medical experiments gone wrong, boat people trapped on the high seas and the Cinderella story told as a car crash.

But unlike Girl with Balloon and Dismaland, Banksy appears uncharacteristically reluctant to follow through with the destruction of his Bethlehem creation. Some 21 months later, it seems to have become a permanent feature of this small city’s tourist landscape.

Given that Banksy is notoriously elusive, it is difficult to be sure why he has made an exception for The Walled Off Hotel. But given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, a few reasons suggest themselves. One is that, were he to abandon the hotel, it would delight the Israeli military authorities. They would love to see The Walled Off Hotel disappear – and with it, a major reason to focus on a particularly ugly aspect of Israel’s occupation. In addition, dismantling the hotel might echo rather uncomfortably Israel’s long-standing policy of clearing Palestinians off their land – invariably to free-up space for Jewish settlement.

Israel strenuously claims the wall was built to aid security by keeping out Palestinian “terrorists”. But the wall’s path outside The Walled Off Hotel seals off Bethlehem from one of its major holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, and has allowed Jewish religious extremists to take it over.

A rare success story

In sticking by the hotel, Banksy appears to have been influenced by Palestinian “sumud”, Arabic for steadfastness, a commitment to staying put in the face of Israeli pressure and aggression. But significantly, there is a practical consideration: The Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a rare success story in the occupied territories, boosting the struggling Palestinian economy. That has occurred in spite of Israel’s best efforts to curb tourism to Bethlehem, including by making a trip through the wall and an Israeli checkpoint a time-consuming and discomfiting experience.

Israel’s attitude was highlighted last year when the interior ministry issued a directive to travel agencies warning them not to take groups of pilgrims into Bethlehem to stay overnight. After an outcry, the government ­relented, but the message was clear.

Salsa notes that The Walled Off Hotel has not only attracted a new kind of visitor to Bethlehem, but has also persuaded many to spend time in other parts of the occupied West Bank, too.

Salsa understands the importance of tourism personally. He was an out-of-work guide when mutual friends first introduced him to Banksy in 2005, shortly after the wall cutting off Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem had been completed. The city was economically dead, with tourists too fearful to visit its holy sites as armed uprisings raged across the occupied territories. The Second Intifada from 2000-2005 was the Palestinians’ response after Israel refused to grant them the viable state most observers had assumed was implicit in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Banksy arrived in 2005 to spray-paint on what was then a largely pristine surface, creating a series of striking images. It unleashed a wave of local and foreign copycats. The wall in Bethlehem quickly became a giant canvas for artistic resistance, says Salsa.

Much later, in 2014, Banksy came up with the idea of the hotel. Salsa found a large residential building abandoned for more than a decade because of its proximity to the wall. In secret, The Walled Off was born. “It was a crazy spot for a hotel,” says Salsa. “It felt like divine intervention finding it. It was close to the main road from Jerusalem so no one could miss us.”

Palestinians’ reality

Importantly, the hotel was also in one of the few areas of Bethlehem inside “Area C”, parts of the West Bank classified in the temporary Oslo Accords as under full Israeli control. That meant the army could not bar Israelis from visiting. “Nowadays there are no channels open between Palestinians and Israelis. So The Walled Off Hotel is a rare space where Israelis can visit and taste the reality lived by Palestinians.

“True, Israelis mostly come to see the art. But they can’t help but learn a lot more while they are here.”

Salsa is happy that the Walled Off Hotel provides a good salary to 45 local employees and their families. His hope in setting up the hotel was to “encourage more tourists to stay in Bethlehem and for them to hear our story, our voice”.

But Banksy’s grander vision had been fully vindicated, he says. “The Walled Off Hotel gives tourists an experience of our reality.

“But it also emphasises other, creative ways to struggle and speak up. It offers art as a model of resistance.

“The hotel magnifies the Palestinian’s voice. And it makes the world hear us in a way that doesn’t depend on either us or the Israelis suffering more casualties.”

Global impact

The hotel’s continuing impact was underscored last month when it was featured for the first time at the Palestinian stand at the annual World Travel Market in London, the largest tourism trade show in the world. The event attracts 50,000 travel agents, who conduct more than $4 billion in deals over the course of the show.

Banksy had announced beforehand that he would bring a replica of one of his artworks on the wall just outside the Bethlehem hotel: cherubs trying to prise open two concrete slabs with a crowbar. He also promised a limited-edition poster showing children using one of Israel’s military watchtowers as a fairground ride. A slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine. The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!” As a result, there was a stampede to the Palestinian stand, one of the smallest, that caught the show’s organisers by surprise.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism minister, praised Banksy for changing the image of Palestinian tourism by diverting younger people into the West Bank, often during a visit to Israel. “He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine,” she said.

At the Walled Off Hotel, however, Israel has made it much harder to see the beauty. Most windows provide little more than a view of the wall, which dwarfs in both height and length the Berlin Wall to which it is most often compared. That is all part of the Walled Off “experience” that now attracts not only wealthier visitors keen to stay in one the hotel’s rooms, but a much larger audience of day trippers.

So successful has the Walled Off Hotel proved in such a short space of time that even some locals concede it upstages the Church of the Nativity – at least for a proportion of visitors. A local taxi driver who was guiding two French sisters along the wall outside the hotel said many independent tourists now prioritised it ahead of the church.

Only wanting to be identified as Nasser, he said: “We may not know who Banksy is, but the truth is, he has done us a huge favour with this hotel and his art.”

Sanctuary in a police state

If Dismaland created a dystopian amusement park in the midst of a fun-filled seaside resort, the Walled Off Hotel offers a small sanctuary of serenity – even if a politically charged one – in surroundings that look more like a post-apocalyptic police state.

Along the top of the wall, there are innumerable surveillance cameras, as well as looming watchtowers, where ever-present Israeli soldiers remain out of view behind darkened glass. They can emerge unexpectedly, usually to make raids on the homes of unsuspecting Palestinians.

When I made a trip to the Walled Off in October, I parked outside to find half a dozen armed Israeli soldiers on top of the hotel’s flat roof. When one waved to me, I was left wondering whether I had been caught up in another of Banksy’s famous art stunts. I hadn’t. They were real – there to watch over Jewish extremists celebrating a religious holiday nearby at Rachel’s Tomb.

The hotel’s lobby, though not the rooms, are readily accessible to the public. It is conceived as a puzzling mixture: part cheeky homage to the contrived gentility of British colonial life, part chaotic exhibition space for Banksy’s subversive street art. Visitors can enjoy a British cream tea, served in the finest china, sitting under a number of Israeli surveillance cameras wall-mounted like hunting trophies or alongside a portrait of Jesus with the red dot of a marksman’s laser-beam on his forehead.

A history of resistance

The lobby leads to a museum that is probably the most comprehensive ever to document Israel’s various methods of colonisation and control over Palestinians, and their history of resistance.

At its entrance sits a dummy of Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who 101 years ago initiated Britain’s sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation. He issued the infamous Balfour Declaration promising the Palestinians’ homeland to the Jewish people. Press a button and Balfour jerks into life to furiously sign the declaration on his desk. Upstairs is a large gallery exhibiting some of the best of Palestinian art, and the hotel reception organises twice-daily tours of the wall.

Entry to the rooms is hidden behind a secret door, disguised as a bookcase. Guests need to wave a room key, shaped like a section of the wall, in front of a small statue of Venus that makes her breasts glow red and the door open.

A stairway leads to the second and third floors, where the landings are decorated with more fading colonial splendour and Banksy art. Kitsch paintings of boats, landscapes and vases of flowers are hidden behind tight metal gauze of the kind Israel uses to protect its military Jeeps from stone-throwers.

A permanent “Sorry – out of service” sign hangs from a lift, its half-open doors revealing that it is, in fact, walled up.

No mementos

Although the rooms are designed thematically by Banksy, only a few contain original artworks, most significantly in the Presidential Suite.

Hotels may be used to customers taking shampoos and soaps, even the odd towel, as mementos of their stay. But at the Walled Off, the stakes are a little higher. Guests are issued with an inventory they must sign on departing, declaring that they have not pilfered any art from their room. But it is the wall itself that is the dominant presence, towering over guests as they come and go, trapping them in a narrow space between the hotel entrance and an expanse of solid grey.

A proportion visit the neighbouring graffiti shop, Wall Mart, where they can get help on how to leave their mark on the concrete. Most of the casual graffiti is short-lived, with space regularly cleared so that new visitors can scrawl their messages and use art as a tool of resistance.

Protest pieces

Banksy’s better-known artworks, however, are saved from the spray-paint pandemonium elsewhere.

The crowbar-armed cherubs he brought to London were painted in time for Christmas last year, when he recruited film director Danny Boyle – of Slumdog Millionaire fame – to stage an alternative nativity play for local families in the hotel car park. The “Alternativity”, featuring a real donkey and real snow produced by a machine on the Walled Off’s roof, became a BBC documentary. Banksy had once again found a way to persuade prime-time TV to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive wall.

Another artwork is his “Er sorry”, a leftover from the Walled Off’s “apologetic street party” of November last year, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing. Children from two neighbouring refugee camps were invited to wear Union-Jack crash helmets and wave charred British flags. A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth II unveiled “Er Sorry” stencilled into the wall. It served both as a hesitant apology on behalf of Britain and as a play on the initials of the Queen’s official Latin title, Elizabeth Regina.

The event, however, illustrated that Banksy’s subversive message, directed chiefly at western audiences, does not always translate well to sections of the local Palestinian population. The party was hijacked by local activists who stuck a Palestinian flag into the Union Jack-adorned cake and chanted “Free Palestine”.

Is this ‘war tourism’?

Salsa outright rejects claims from some locals and foreign critics that the hotel is exploiting Palestinian misery and is an example of “war tourism”.

He points out: “The Balfour party got the media interested in a story they probably would not have covered otherwise, because it lacked violence and bloodshed.”

He adds that the area of Bethlehem in which the Walled Off is located would have been killed off by the wall were it not for Banksy investing his own money and time in the project. As well as the staff, it has brought work to tour guides, taxi drivers, neighbouring and cheaper hotels, shops and petrol stations. “That is a very important form of resistance,” he says.

It is also a rare example of Palestinians reclaiming land from the Israeli army. On the other side of the wall there had been a large army camp until the hotel started drawing significant numbers of visitors.

“The army didn’t like lots of tourists taking pictures nearby, so they moved further away, out of sight.”

Eternal memories

Canadian tourist Mike Seleski, 30, visited the hotel to see Banksy’s art before standing in front of the wall. He said he had heard about the Walled Off from an Israeli he befriended in Vietnam during a year of travelling.

This was a detour from his stay in Israel – his only stop in the occupied territories. “I don’t like the usual tourist experiences,” he said. “It is important to hear the other side of the story when you travel.”

In every one of the 32 countries he has visited, he has stood to be photographed before a famous local spot holding a cardboard sign with words to reassure his worried mother: “Mum – I’m OK.”

In Bethlehem, he said it was obvious he’d take the photo in front of Banksy’s art on the wall, rather than the Church of the Nativity. “You see the wall on TV and forget about it. You get on with your life. But when you stand here, you realise Palestinians don’t have a choice. They simply can’t ignore it.”

• First published at The National

Growing US Public Support for One State Shared Equally by Israelis and Palestinians Falls on Deaf Ears

Two years of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu as a Middle East peacemaking team appear to be having a transformative effect – and in ways that will please neither of them.

The American public is now evenly split between those who want a two-state solution and those who prefer a single state, shared by Israelis and Palestinians, according to a survey published last week by the University of Maryland.

And if a Palestinian state is off the table – as a growing number of analysts of the region conclude, given Israel’s intransigence and the endless postponement of Mr Trump’s peace plan – then support for one state rises steeply, to nearly two-thirds of Americans.

But Mr Netanyahu cannot take comfort from the thought that ordinary Americans share his vision of a single state of Greater Israel. Respondents demand a one-state solution guaranteeing Israelis and Palestinians equal rights.

By contrast, only 17 per cent of Americans expressing a view – presumably Christian evangelicals and hardline Jewish advocates for Israel – prefer the approach of Israel’s governing parties: either to continue the occupation or annex Palestinian areas without offering the inhabitants citizenship.

All of this is occurring even though US politicians and the media express no support for a one-state solution. In fact, quite the reverse.

The movement to boycott Israel, known as BDS, is growing on US campuses, but vilified by Washington officials, who claim its goal is to end Israel as a Jewish state by bringing about a single state, in which all inhabitants would be equal. The US Congress is even considering legislation to outlaw boycott activism.

And last month CNN sacked its commentator Marc Lamont Hill for using a speech at the United Nations to advocate a one-state solution – a position endorsed by 35 per cent of the US public.

There is every reason to assume that, over time, these figures will swing even more sharply against Mr Netanyahu’s Greater Israel plans and against Washington’s claims to be an honest broker.

Among younger Americans, support for one state climbs to 42 per cent. That makes it easily the most popular outcome among this age group for a Middle East peace deal.

In another sign of how far removed Washington is from the American public, 40 per cent of respondents want the US to impose sanctions to stop Israel expanding its settlements on Palestinian territory. In short, they support the most severe penalty on the BDS platform.

And who is chiefly to blame for Washington’s unresponsiveness? Some 38 per cent say that Israel has “too much influence” on US politics.

That is a view almost reflexively cited by Israel lobbyists as evidence of anti-semitism. And yet a similar proportion of US Jews share concerns about Israel’s meddling.

In part, the survey’s findings should be understood as a logical reaction to the Oslo peace process. Backed by the US for the past quarter-century, it has failed to produce any benefits for the Palestinians.

But the findings signify more. Oslo’s interminable talks over two states have provided Israel with an alibi to seize more Palestinian land for its illegal settlements.

Under cover of an Oslo “consensus”, Israel has transferred ever-larger numbers of Jews into the occupied territories, thereby making a peaceful resolution of the conflict near impossible. According to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, that is a war crime.

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the court in The Hague, warned this month that she was close to finishing a preliminary inquiry needed before she can decide whether to investigate Israel for war crimes, including the settlements.

The reality, however, is that the ICC has been dragging out the inquiry to avoid arriving at a decision that would inevitably provoke a backlash from the White House. Nonetheless, the facts are staring the court in the face.

Israel’s logic – and proof that it is in gross violation of international law – were fully on display this week. The Israeli army locked down the Ramallah, the effective and supposedly self-governing capital of occupied Palestine, as “punishment” after two Israeli soldiers were shot dead outside the city.

The Netanyahu government also approved yet another splurge of settlement-building, again supposedly in “retaliation” for a recent upsurge in Palestinian attacks.

But Israel and its western allies know only too well that settlements and Palestinian violence are intrinsically linked. One leads to the other.

Palestinians directly experience the settlements’ land grabs as Israeli state-sanctioned violence. Their communities are ever more tightly ghettoised, their movements more narrowly policed to maintain the settlers’ privileges.

If Palestinians resist such restrictions or their own displacement, if they assert their rights and their dignity, clashes with soldiers or settlers are inescapable. Violence is inbuilt into Israel’s settlement project.

Israel has constructed a perfect, self-rationalising system in the occupied territories. It inflicts war crimes on Palestinians, who then weakly lash out, justifying yet more Israeli war crimes as Israel flaunts its victimhood, all to a soundtrack of western consolation.

The hypocrisy is becoming ever harder to hide, and the cognitive dissonance ever harder for western publics to stomach.

In Israel itself, institutionalised racism against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens – a fifth of the population – is being entrenched in full view.

Last week Natalie Portman, an American-Israeli actor, voiced her disgust at what she termed the “racist” Nation-State Basic Law, legislation passed in the summer that formally classifies Israel’s Palestinian population as inferior.

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s grown-up son, voiced a sentiment widely popular in Israel last week when he wrote on Facebook that he wished “All the Muslims [sic] leave the land of Israel”. He was referring to Greater Israel – a territorial area that does not differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories.

In fact, Israel’s Jim Crow-style policies – segregation of the type once inflicted on African-Americans in the US – is becoming ever more overt.

Last month the Jewish city of Afula banned Palestinian citizens from entering its main public park while vowing it wanted to “preserve its Jewish character”. A court case last week showed that a major Israeli construction firm has systematically blocked Palestinian citizens from buying houses near Jews. And the parliament is expanding a law to prevent Palestinian citizens from living on almost all of Israel’s land.

A bill to reverse this trend, committing Israel instead to “equal political rights amongst all its citizens”, was drummed out of the parliament last week by an overwhelming majority of legislators.

Americans, like other westerners, are waking up to this ugly reality. A growing number understand that it is time for a new, single state model, one that ends Israel’s treatment of Jews as separate from and superior to Palestinians, and instead offers freedom and equality for all.

• First published in The National Abu Dhabi

Israel wages a New War of Attrition in Jerusalem

Czech president Milos Zeman offered Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government a fillip during his visit to Israel last week. He inaugurated a cultural and trade centre, Czech House, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

At the opening, he expressed hope it would serve as a precursor to his country relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If so, the Czech Republic would become the first European state to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in moving the US embassy in May.

It is this kind of endorsement that, of late, has emboldened Mr Netanyahu’s government, the Israeli courts, Jerusalem officials and settler organisations to step up their combined assault on Palestinians in the Old City and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Israel has never hidden its ambition to seize control of East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967 and then annexed, as a way of preventing a viable Palestinian state from emerging.

Israel immediately began building an arc of Jewish settlements on Jerusalem’s eastern flank to seal off its Palestinian residents from their political hinterland, the West Bank.

More than a decade ago, it consolidated its domination with a mammoth concrete wall that cut through East Jerusalem. The aim was to seal off densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods on the far side, ensuring the most prized and vulnerable areas – the Old City and its environs – could be more easily colonised, or “Judaised”, as Israel terms it.

This area, the heart of Jerusalem, is where magnificent holy places such as the Al Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are to be found.

Under cover of the 1967 war, Israel ethnically cleansed many hundreds of Palestinians living near the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the elevated Al Aqsa compound that is venerated in Judaism. Since then, Israeli leaders have grown ever hungrier for control of the compound itself, which they believe is built over two long-lost Jewish temples.

Israel has forced the compound’s Muslim authorities to allow Jews to visit in record numbers, even though most wish to see the mosque replaced with a third Jewish temple. Meanwhile, Israel has severely limited the numbers of Palestinians who can reach the holy site.

Until now, Israel had mostly moved with stealth, making changes gradually so they rarely risked inflaming the Arab world or provoking western reaction. But after Mr Trump’s embassy move, a new Israeli confidence is tangible.

On four fronts, Israel has demonstrated its assertive new mood. First, with the help of ever-more compliant Israeli courts, it has intensified efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Old City and just outside its historic walls.

Last month, the supreme court handed down a ruling that sanctions the eviction of 700 Palestinians from Silwan, a dense neighbourhood on a hillside below Al Aqsa. Ateret Cohanim, a settler organisation backed by government-subsidised armed guards, is now poised to take over the centre of Silwan.

It will mean more Israeli security and police protecting the settler population and more city officials enforcing prejudicial planning rules against Palestinians. The inevitable protests will justify more arrests of Palestinians, including children. This is how bureacratic ethnic cleansing works.

The supreme court also rejected an appeal against a Palestinian family’s eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, another key neighbourhood near the Old City. The decision opens the way to expelling dozens more families.

B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, characterised these rulings as “sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since 1967”.

At the same time, Israel’s parliament approved a law to accelerate the settler takeover.

Over many years, Israel created a series of national parks around the Old City on the pretext of preserving “green areas”. Some hem in Palestinian neighbourhoods to stop their expansion while others were declared on the land of existing Palestinian homes to justify expelling the occupants.

Now the parliament has reversed course. The new law, drafted by another settler group, Elad, will allow house-building in national parks, but only for Jews.

Elad’s immediate aim is to bolster the settler presence in Silwan, where it has overseen a national park next to Al Aqsa. Archaeology has been co-opted to supposedly prove the area was once ruled by King David while thousands of years of subsequent history, most especially the current Palestinian presence, are erased.

Elad’s activities include excavating under Palestinian homes, weakening their foundations.

A massive new Jewish history-themed visitor centre will dominate Silwan’s entrance. Completing the project is a $55 million cable car, designed to carry thousands of tourists an hour over Silwan and other neighbourhoods, rendering the Palestinian inhabitants invisible as visitors are delivered effortlessly to the Western Wall without ever having to encounter them.

The settlers have their own underhand methods. With the authorities’ connivance, they have forged documents to seize Palestinian homes closest to Al Aqsa. In other cases, the settlers have recruited Arab collaborators to dupe other Palestinians into selling their homes.

Once they gain a foothold, the settlers typically turn the appropriated home into an armed compound. Noise blares out into the early hours, Palestinian neighbours are subjected to regular police raids and excrement is left in their doorways.

After the recent sale to settlers of a home strategically located in the Old City’s Muslim quarter, the Palestinian Authority set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. But the PA is near-powerless to stop this looting after Israel passed a law in 1995 denying it any role in Jerusalem.

The same measure is now being vigorously enforced against the few residents trying to stop the settler banditry.

Adnan Ghaith, Jerusalem’s governor and a Silwan resident, was arrested last week for a second time and banned from entering the West Bank and meeting PA officials. Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, is under a six-month travel ban by Israel.

Last week dozens of Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, accused of working for the PA to stop house sales to the settlers.

It is a quiet campaign of attrition, designed to wear down Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. The hope is that they will eventually despair and relocate to the city’s distant suburbs outside the wall or into the West Bank.

What Palestinians in Jerusalem urgently need is a reason for hope – and a clear signal that other countries will not join the US in abandoning them.

• First published in the National

Guardian ups its Vilification of Julian Assange

It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian’s long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Reporter Luke Harding’s latest article, claiming that Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.

Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly – and very quietly – rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, “sources”.

The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump’s supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

The Guardian’s latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party’s servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.

Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.

To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian’s new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to “Russians” joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.

Manafort has denied the Guardian’s claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.

‘Responsible for Trump’

The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher – and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times – but the head of an organisation engaged in espionage for a foreign power.

The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organisation, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.

The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s right wing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.

It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.

For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange’s supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.

Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily – and unlawfully – detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.

Now Assange and his supporters have been proved right once again. An administrative error this month revealed that the US justice department had secretly filed criminal charges against Assange.

Heavy surveillance

The problem for the Guardian, which should have been obvious to its editors from the outset, is that any visits by Manafort would be easily verifiable without relying on unnamed “sources”.

Glenn Greenwald is far from alone in noting that London is possibly the most surveilled city in the world, with CCTV cameras everywhere. The environs of the Ecuadorian embassy are monitored especially heavily, with continuous filming by the UK and Ecuadorian authorities and most likely by the US and other actors with an interest in Assange’s fate.

The idea that Manafort or “Russians” could have wandered into the embassy to meet Assange even once without their trail, entry and meeting being intimately scrutinised and recorded is simply preposterous.

According to Greenwald:

If Paul Manafort … visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray also points out the extensive security checks insisted on by the embassy to which any visitor to Assange must submit. Any visits by Manafort would have been logged.

In fact, the Guardian obtained the embassy’s logs in May, and has never made any mention of either Manafort or “Russians” being identified in them. It did not refer to the logs in its latest story.

Murray:

The problem with this latest fabrication is that [Ecuador’s President] Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs … What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

No fact-checking

It is worth noting it should be vitally important for a serious publication like the Guardian to ensure its claims are unassailably true – both because Assange’s personal fate rests on their veracity, and because, even more importantly, a fundamental right, the freedom of the press, is at stake.

Given this, one would have expected the Guardian’s editors to have insisted on the most stringent checks imaginable before going to press with Harding’s story. At a very minimum, they should have sought out a response from Assange and Manafort before publication. Neither precaution was taken.

I worked for the Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.

And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.

That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had “insurance” on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services – presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.

It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value. Even if it later turns out that Manafort did visit Assange, the Guardian clearly had no compelling evidence for its claims when it published them. That is profoundly irresponsible journalism – fake news – that should be of the gravest concern to readers.

A pattern, not an aberration

Despite all this, even analysts critical of the Guardian’s behaviour have shown a glaring failure to understand that its latest coverage represents not an aberration by the paper but decisively fits with a pattern.

Glenn Greenwald, who once had an influential column in the Guardian until an apparent, though unacknowledged, falling out with his employer over the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote a series of baffling observations about the Guardian’s latest story.

First, he suggested it was simply evidence of the Guardian’s long-standing (and well-documented) hostility towards Assange.

The Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him.

It was also apparently evidence of the paper’s clickbait tendencies:

They [Guardian editors] knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false.

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Deeper malaise

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist left wing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for left wing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s right wing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where left wing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

Heroes of the neoliberal order

Equally, the Guardian has made clear who its true heroes are. Certainly not Corbyn or Assange, who threaten to disrupt the entrenched neoliberal order that is hurtling us towards climate breakdown and economic collapse.

Its pages, however, are readily available to the latest effort to prop up the status quo from Tony Blair, the man who led Britain, on false pretences, into the largest crime against humanity in living memory – the attack on Iraq.

That “humanitarian intervention” cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and created a vacuum that destabilised much of the Middle East, sucked in Islamic jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe that has fuelled the resurgence of the far-right. None of that is discussed in the Guardian or considered grounds for disqualifying Blair as an arbiter of what is good for Britain and the world’s future.

The Guardian also has an especial soft spot for blogger Elliot Higgins, who, aided by the Guardian, has shot to unlikely prominence as a self-styled “weapons expert”. Like Luke Harding, Higgins invariably seems ready to echo whatever the British and American security services need verifying “independently”.

Higgins and his well-staffed website Bellingcat have taken on for themselves the role of arbiters of truth on many foreign affairs issues, taking a prominent role in advocating for narratives that promote US and NATO hegemony while demonising Russia, especially in highly contested arenas such as Syria.

That clear partisanship should be no surprise, given that Higgins now enjoys an “academic” position at, and funding from, the Atlantic Council, a high-level, Washington-based think-tank founded to drum up support for NATO and justify its imperialist agenda.

Improbably, the Guardian has adopted Higgins as the poster-boy for a supposed citizen journalism it has sought to undermine as “fake news” whenever it occurs on social media without the endorsement of state-backed organisations.

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: whether they are a platform like Wikileaks promoting whistle-blowing against a corrupt western elite; or a politician like Jeremy Corbyn seeking to break apart the status quo on the rapacious financial industries or Israel-Palestine; or a radical leader like Hugo Chavez who threatened to overturn a damaging and exploitative US dominance of “America’s backyard”; or social media dissidents who have started to chip away at the elite-friendly narratives of corporate media, including the Guardian.

The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

UPDATE: Excellent background from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, published shortly before Harding’s story, explains why the Guardian’s hit-piece is so important for those who want Assange out of the embassy and behind bars. Read Porter’s article here.

Netanyahu’s Ceasefire is Meant to Keep Gaza Imprisoned

Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.

Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.

Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.

The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.

But as is so often the case, the enclave’s immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel’s warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.

Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish defence minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” in agreeing to the ceasefire.

Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumours were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.

In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza’s public-sector workers.

At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.

The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The air strikes killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.

Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a “political earthquake” with Lieberman’s resignation. But the shock waves may not be so easily confined to Israel.

Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel “restore its deterrence” – a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as “unacceptable” and demanded the vacant defence post.

There was flak, too, from Israel’s so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu “weak”, while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had “surrendered to Hamas under fire”.

Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 per cent of Israelis favour a tougher approach.

Sderot, close to Gaza and targeted by rockets, erupted into angry protests. Placards bearing the slogan “Bibi Go Home” – using Netanyahu’s nickname – were evident for the first time in his party’s heartland.

With this kind of goading, an election in the offing, and corruption indictments hanging over his head, Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist raising the temperature in Gaza once again.

But he also has strong incentives to calm things down and shore up Hamas’s rule.

The suggestion by some commentators that Netanyahu has turned a new leaf as a “man of peace” could not be more misguided. What distinguishes Netanyahu from his cabinet is not his moderation, but that he has a cooler head than his far-right rivals.

He believes there are better ways than lashing out to achieve his core political aim: the undermining of the Palestinian national project. This was what he meant on Wednesday when he attacked critics for missing “the overall picture of Israel’s security”.

On a practical level, Netanyahu has listened to his generals, who warn that, if Israel provokes war with Hamas, it may find itself ill-equipped to cope with the fallout on two other fronts, in Lebanon and Syria.

But Netanyahu has still deeper concerns. As veteran Israeli military analyst Ben Caspit observed: “The only thing more dangerous to Netanyahu than getting tangled up in war is getting tangled up in peace.”

The Israeli army has responded to months of largely non-violent mass protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence by killing more than 170 Palestinian demonstrators and maiming thousands more.

The protests could turn into an uprising. Palestinians storming the fence that imprisons them is an eventuality the Israeli army is entirely unprepared for. Its only response would be to slaughter Palestinians en masse, or reoccupy Gaza directly.

Netanyahu would rather bolster Hamas, so it can keep a lid on the protests than face an international backlash and demands that he negotiate with the Palestinians.

Further, a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza also ensures that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, can be kept out.

That was in part why Netanyahu, against his normal instincts, allowed the transfer of the Qatari money, which had been opposed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not just a fillip for Hamas, it is a slap in the face to Abbas.

A disunited Palestine, divided territorially and ideologically, is in no position to exert pressure on Netanyahu – either through Europe or the United Nations – to begin peace talks or concede Palestinian statehood.

That is all the more pressing, given that the White House insists that President Trump’s long-delayed peace plan will be unveiled within the next two months.

Leaks suggest that the US may propose a separate “entity” in Gaza under Egyptian supervision and financed by Qatar. The ceasefire should be seen as a first step towards creating a pseudo-Palestinian state in Gaza along these lines.

Palestinians there are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Between vengeful hotheads such as Lieberman, who want more carnage in Gaza, and Netanyahu, who prefers to keep the Palestinians quiet and largely forgotten in their tiny prison.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Netanuyahu’s Courting of Bolsonaro is the Latest of Israel’s Alliances with Far-right Figures

The victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential election last week has won Israel a passionate new friend on the international stage. The world’s fifth-most populous nation will now be “coloured in blue and white”, an Israeli official said, referring to the colours of Israel’s flag.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called to congratulate Bolsonaro, a former army officer with a pronounced nostalgia for his country’s 20-year military dictatorship. Critics describe him as a neo-fascist.

According to Israeli media reports, it is “highly probable” that Netanyahu will attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration on January 1.

The Brazilian president-elect has already promised that his country will be the third to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, after the United States and Guatemala. That will further undermine Palestinian hopes for an eventual state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Bolsonaro has told Israel that it can count on Brazil’s vote at the United Nations, and has threatened to close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia.

One might imagine that Netanyahu is simply being pragmatic in cosying up to Bolsonaro, given Brazil’s importance. But that would be to ignore an unmistakable trend: Israel has relished the recent emergence of far-right leaders across the Americas and Europe, often to the horror of local Jewish communities.

Bolsonaro has divided Brazil’s 100,000 Jews. Some have been impressed by the frequent appearance of Israeli flags at his rallies and his anti-Palestinian stance. But others point out that he regularly expresses hostility to minorities.

They suspect that Bolsonaro covets Israel’s military expertise and the votes of tens of millions of fundamentalist Christians in Brazil, who see Israel as central to their apocalyptic, and in many cases antisemitic, beliefs. Not that this worries Netanyahu.

He has been engaged in a similar bromance with Viktor Orban, the ultra-nationalist prime minister of Hungary, who barely veils his Jew-baiting and has eulogised Miklos Horthy, a Hungarian leader who collaborated with the Nazis.

Netanyahu has also courted Poland’s far-right prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, even as the latter has fuelled Holocaust revisionism with legislation to outlaw criticism of Poland for its involvement in the Nazi death camps. Millions of Jews were exterminated in such camps.

Israel is cultivating alliances with other ultra-nationalists – in and out of power – in the Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The conclusion drawn by Jewish communities abroad is that their well being – even their safety – is now a much lower priority than bolstering Israel’s diplomatic influence.

That was illustrated starkly last week in the immediate aftermath of a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27. Robert Bowers gunned down 11 worshippers in the worst antisemitic attack in US history.

Jewish communities have linked the awakening of the white-nationalist movement to which Bowers belonged to the Trump administration’s hostile rhetoric towards immigrants and ethnic minorities.

In Pittsburgh, huge crowds protested as Trump paid a condolence visit to the Tree of Life synagogue, holding banners aloft with slogans such as: “President Hate, leave our state.”

Equally hard to ignore is that Israeli leaders, while they regularly denounce US and European left-wingers as antisemites for criticising Israel over its abuse of Palestinians, have remained studiously silent on Trump’s inflammatory statements.

Chemi Shalev, a commentator for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted the disturbing impression created by Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, escorting Trump through Pittsburgh. Dermer looked like a “bodyguard”, shielding the president from local Jewish protesters, Shalev observed.

Meanwhile, tone-deaf diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett, leader of largest Israeli settler party, the Jewish Home, milked the local community’s pain over the Pittsburgh massacre to Israel’s advantage. At an official commemoration service, he compared Bowers’ bullets to rockets fired by Palestinians, describing both as examples of antisemitism.

In an online post before the attack, Bowers singled out the synagogue for its prominent role helping refugees gain asylum in the US.

Trump has rapidly turned immigration into a “national security” priority. Last week, he sent thousands of US troops to the border with Mexico to stop what he termed an “invasion” by refugees from Central America.

Drawing on the histories of their own families having fled persecution, liberal Jews such as those at the Pittsburgh synagogue believe it is a moral imperative to assist refugees escaping oppression and conflict.

That message is strenuously rejected not only by Trump, but by the Israeli government.

In a move Trump hopes to replicate on the Mexico border, Israel has built a 250km wall along the border with Egypt to block the path of asylum-seekers from war-torn Africa.

Netanyahu’s government has also circumvented international law and Israeli court rulings to jail and then deport existing refugees back to Africa, despite evidence that they will be placed in grave danger.

Bennett has termed the refugees “a plague of illegal infiltrators”, while the culture minister Miri Regev has labelled them a “cancer”. Polls suggest that more than half of Israeli Jews agree.

Separately, Israel’s nation-state law, passed in the summer, gives constitutional weight to the notion that Israel belongs exclusively to Jews, stripping the fifth of the population who are Palestinian citizens of the most basic rights.

More generally, Israel views Palestinians through a single prism: as a demographic threat to the Jewishness of the Greater Israel project that Netanyahu has been advancing.

In short, Israel’s leaders are not simply placating a new wave of white-nationalist and neo-fascist leaders. They have a deep-rooted ideological sympathy with them.

For the first time, overseas Jewish communities are being faced with a troubling dilemma. Do they really wish to subscribe to a Jewish nationalism in Israel that so strongly echoes the ugly rhetoric and policies threatening them at home?

• First published in The National

Bolsonaro is a Monster Engineered By Our Media

With Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election at the weekend, the doom-mongers among western elites are out in force once again. His success, like Donald Trump’s, has confirmed a long-held prejudice: that the people cannot be trusted; that, when empowered, they behave like a mob driven by primitive urges; that the unwashed masses now threaten to bring down the carefully constructed walls of civilisation.

The guardians of the status quo refused to learn the lesson of Trump’s election, and so it will be with Bolsonaro. Rather than engaging the intellectual faculties they claim as their exclusive preserve, western “analysts” and “experts” are again averting their gaze from anything that might help them understand what has driven our supposed democracies into the dark places inhabited by the new demagogues. Instead, as ever, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of social media.

Social media and fake news are apparently the reasons Bolsonaro won at the ballot box. Without the gatekeepers in place to limit access to the “free press” – itself the plaything of billionaires and global corporations, with brands and a bottom line to protect – the rabble has supposedly been freed to give expression to their innate bigotry.

Here is Simon Jenkins, a veteran British gatekeeper – a former editor of the Times of London who now writes a column in the Guardian – pontificating on Bolsonaro:

The lesson for champions of open democracy is glaring. Its values cannot be taken for granted. When debate is no longer through regulated media, courts and institutions, politics will default to the mob. Social media – once hailed as an agent of global concord – has become the purveyor of falsity, anger and hatred. Its algorithms polarise opinion. Its pseudo-information drives argument to the extremes.

This is now the default consensus of the corporate media, whether in its right wing incarnations or of the variety posing on the liberal-left end of the spectrum like the Guardian. The people are stupid, and we need to be protected from their base instincts. Social media, it is claimed, has unleashed humanity’s id.

Selling plutocracy

There is a kind of truth in Jenkins’ argument, even if it is not the one he intended. Social media did indeed liberate ordinary people. For the first time in modern history, they were not simply the recipients of official, sanctioned information. They were not only spoken down to by their betters, they could answer back – and not always as deferentially as the media class expected.

Clinging to their old privileges, Jenkins and his ilk are rightly unnerved. They have much to lose.

But that also means they are far from dispassionate observers of the current political scene. They are deeply invested in the status quo, in the existing power structures that have kept them well-paid courtiers of the corporations that dominate the planet.

Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.

The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power. Until now they preferred the slickest salespeople, ones who could sell wars as humanitarian intervention rather than profit-driven exercises in death and destruction; the unsustainable plunder of natural resources as economic growth; the massive accumulation of wealth, stashed in offshore tax havens, as the fair outcome of a free market; the bailouts funded by ordinary taxpayers to stem economic crises they had engineered as necessary austerity; and so on.

A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favoured salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on colour or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment. The polarisation now bewailed by Jenkins was in truth stoked and rationalised by the very corporate media he so faithfully serves.

Fear of the domino effect

Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fueled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.

The true left – whether in Brazil, Venezuela, Britain or the US – does not control the police or military, the financial sector, the oil industries, the arms manufacturers, or the corporate media. It was these very industries and institutions that smoothed the path to power for Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Trump in the US.

Former socialist leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela were bound to fail not so much because of their flaws as individuals but because powerful interests rejected their right to rule. These socialists never had control over the key levers of power, the key resources. Their efforts were sabotaged – from within and without – from the moment of their election.

Local elites in Latin America are tied umbilically to US elites, who in turn are determined to make sure any socialist experiment in their backyard fails – as a way to prevent a much-feared domino effect, one that might seed socialism closer to home.

The media, the financial elites, the armed forces were never servants of the socialist governments that have been struggling to reform Latin America. The corporate world has no interest either in building proper housing in place of slums or in dragging the masses out of the kind of poverty that fuels the drug gangs that Bolsonaro claims he will crush through more violence.

Bolsonaro will not face any of the institutional obstacles Lula da Silva or Chavez needed to overcome. No one in power will stand in his way as he institutes his “reforms”. No one will stop him creaming off Brazil’s wealth for his corporate friends. As in Pinochet’s Chile, Bolsonaro can rest assured that his kind of neo-fascism will live in easy harmony with neoliberalism.

Immune system

If you want to understand the depth of the self-deception of Jenkins and other media gatekeepers, contrast Bolsonaro’s political ascent to that of Jeremy Corbyn, the modest social democratic leader of Britain’s Labour party. Those like Jenkins who lament the role of social media – they mean you, the public – in promoting leaders like Bolsonaro are also the media chorus who have been wounding Corbyn day after day, blow by blow, for three years – since he accidentally slipped past safeguards intended by party bureacrats to keep someone like him from power.

The supposedly liberal Guardian has been leading that assault. Like the right wing media, it has shown its absolute determination to stop Corbyn at all costs, using any pretext.

Within days of Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, the Times newspaper – the voice of the British establishment – published an article quoting a general, whom it refused to name, warning that the British army’s commanders had agreed they would sabotage a Corbyn government. The general strongly hinted that there would be a military coup first.

We are not supposed to reach the point where such threats – tearing away the façade of western democracy – ever need to be implemented. Our pretend democracies were created with immune systems whose defences are marshalled to eliminate a threat like Corbyn much earlier.

Once he moved closer to power, however, the right wing corporate media was forced to deploy the standard tropes used against a left leader: that he was incompetent, unpatriotic, even treasonous.

But just as the human body has different immune cells to increase its chances of success, the corporate media has faux-liberal-left agents like the Guardian to complement the right’s defences. The Guardian sought to wound Corbyn through identity politics, the modern left’s Achille’s heel. An endless stream of confected crises about anti-semitism were intended to erode the hard-earned credit Corbyn had accumulated over decades for his anti-racism work.

Slash-and-burn politics

Why is Corbyn so dangerous? Because he supports the right of workers to a dignified life, because he refuses to accept the might of the corporations, because he implies that a different way of organising our societies is possible. It is a modest, even timid programme he articulates, but even so it is far too radical either for the plutocratic class that rules over us or for the corporate media that serves as its propaganda arm.

The truth ignored by Jenkins and these corporate stenographers is that if you keep sabotaging the programmes of a Chavez, a Lula da Silva, a Corbyn or a Bernie Sanders, then you get a Bolsonaro, a Trump, an Orban.

It is not that the masses are a menace to democracy. It is rather that a growing proportion of voters understand that a global corporate elite has rigged the system to accrue for itself ever greater riches. It is not social media that is polarising our societies. It is rather that the determination of the elites to pillage the planet until it has no more assets to strip has fueled resentment and destroyed hope. It is not fake news that is unleashing the baser instincts of the lower orders. Rather, it is the frustration of those who feel that change is impossible, that no one in power is listening or cares.

Social media has empowered ordinary people. It has shown them that they cannot trust their leaders, that power trumps justice, that the elite’s enrichment requires their poverty. They have concluded that, if the rich can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the planet, our only refuge, they can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the global elite.

Are they choosing wisely in electing a Trump or Bolsonaro? No. But the liberal guardians of the status quo are in no position to judge them. For decades, all parts of the corporate media have helped to undermine a genuine left that could have offered real solutions, that could have taken on and beaten the right, that could have offered a moral compass to a confused, desperate and disillusioned public.

Jenkins wants to lecture the masses about their depraved choices while he and his paper steer them away from any politician who cares about their welfare, who fights for a fairer society, who prioritises mending what is broken.

The western elites will decry Bolsonaro in the forlorn and cynical hope of shoring up their credentials as guardians of the existing, supposedly moral order. But they engineered him. Bolsonaro is their monster.

Why Liberal Jews in Israel and the US have made Lara Alqasem a Cause Celebre

An American student of Palestinian descent detained in Israel’s airport for nearly a fortnight has become an unexpected cause celebre. Lara Alqasem was refused entry under legislation passed last year against boycott activists, and Israeli courts are now deciding whether allowing her to study human rights at an Israeli university threatens public order.

Usually those held at the border are swiftly deported, but Ms Alqasem appealed against the decision, becoming in the process an improbable “prisoner of conscience” for the boycott cause.

The Israeli government, led by strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, claims that the 22-year-old is a leader of the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Activists like Ms Alqasem, he argues, demonise Israel.

Two lower courts have already ruled against the student. Israel’s supreme court has postponed her deportation until Wednesday while it reconsiders the evidence. But refusing to go quietly, Ms Alqasem is attracting increasing international attention to her plight.

So far Israeli officials have shown only that Ms Alqasem once belonged to a small Palestinian solidarity group at a Florida university that backed boycotting a hummus company over its donations to the Israeli army.

Under pressure, Ms Alqasem has disavowed a boycott of Israel, citing as proof her decision to enroll in a masters programme in Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Given the blanket hostility in Israel to the boycott movement, Ms Alqasem has found a surprisingly wide array of allies in her legal struggle.

Members of the small Zionist-left Meretz party visited her and demanded she be allowed to attend the course, which began on Sunday.

Ami Ayalon, a retired head of the Shin Bet, the secret police that oversees security checks at Israel’s borders, warned that the agency was now “a problem for democracy” in repeatedly denying foreigners entry.

Vice-chancellors of eight Israeli universities sent a letter of protest to the government and 500 academics at Hebrew University submitted a petition decrying Ms Alqasem’s incarceration.

The solidarity has been unprecedented – and perplexing.

Israeli officials control entry not only to Israel but also to the occupied Palestinian territories. For decades, foreigners with Arab-sounding names – like Ms Alqasem – have been routinely harassed or turned back at the borders, with barely a peep from most on the Israeli left.

And over the same period, Israel has stripped many thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories of the right to return to their homeland after living abroad. These abuses, too, have rarely troubled consciences in Israel.

So what makes Ms Alqasem’s case different? The answer confers little credit on liberal Israelis.

Israel’s universities are worried that the academic boycott has highlighted their long-term complicity in Israel’s occupation and is gradually eroding their international standing. Joint research projects with foreign universities are in jeopardy, as is their lucrative income from programmes they wish to expand for overseas students.

The universities want to co-opt Ms Alqasem as a poster girl for academic freedom in Israel.

They hope she will provide cover for their guilty secret: that they have stood by, or actively assisted, as Israel made a mockery of academic freedom for Palestinians under occupation. Research shows that Israel’s universities have strong ties to the nation’s military, which regularly attacks Palestinian places of learning and limits Palestinians’ freedom to study by enforcing strict movement restrictions.

Jewish liberals in Israel and the US, meanwhile, are concerned at the entrenchment of the Israeli far-right’s rule. In recent weeks, a wave of Israeli and American Jewish activists have been detained and questioned at the border over their politics.

Those liberals desperately need to draw a red line, halting the expansion of racial profiling into political forms of profiling that undermine their own status. If the courts uphold the fundamental rights of Ms Alqasem, their own rights will be more secure too.

That was why progressive Jewish leaders in the US added their own voices last week, signing a petition calling for Ms Alqasem to be allowed to study in Israel.

But the case has shone a light not only on the self-interested opportunism of Israeli liberals but also on the hypocrisy of leaders of progressive American Jewish communities.

Ms Alqasem was identified as a boycott activist via a McCarthyite website called Canary Mission, which has murky ties to the Israeli government.

Since it launched in 2014 under the slogan “If you’re racist, the world should know”, the site has built an online database profiling thousands of US academics and students, including Jewish ones, critical of Israel.

Its aim is to terrify US academia into silence on Israel. The site explicitly threatens to send letters to prospective employers accusing its targets – those who show solidarity with Palestinians – of being antisemitic.

Until recently, this blacklist had passed largely unremarked outside pro-Palestinian circles. But since its role in helping Israeli officials bar Jewish and non-Jewish activists became clear, interest in its provenance has grown.

This month the Forward, an American Jewish publication, unmasked several of Canary Mission’s major donors. They include the communal funds of Jewish federations representing liberal communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The trail leads back to a shadowy registered charity in Israel called Megamot Shalom, which aims to “protect the image of the state of Israel”.

Simone Zimmerman, an American Jewish peace activist who was detained at the border by Israeli officials in August, lamented that the American Jewish establishment’s secret support for Canary Mission “reeks of hypocrisy and betrayal”.

Supposedly liberal Jewish institutions in Israel and the US wish to be seen battling racism and aiding good causes, including the rights of a Palestinian-American student after she repudiated a boycott of Israel.

But covertly they support and finance projects intended to silence criticism of Israel and enforce the oppression of Palestinians they say they want to help.

Ms Alqasem has been turned into a pawn in the struggle between Jewish liberals and Israeli ultra-nationalists. Israel’s continuing violations of the wider rights of Palestinians – to enter and freely move around their homeland, and to receive an education – are simply not part of the discussion.

• First published in The National