All posts by Jonathan Cook

The Neoliberal Order is dying: Time to Wake Up

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are, of course, deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

Language is on the side of those, like politicians and corporate journalists, who conceal structure, who deal in narratives of the small-power of individuals rather than of the big-power of structure and ideology. In what passes for news, the media offer a large stage for powerful individuals to fight elections, pass legislation, take over businesses, start wars, and a small stage for these same individuals to get their come-uppance, caught committing crimes, lying, having affairs, getting drunk, and more generally embarrassing themselves.

These minor narratives conceal the fact that such individuals are groomed before they ever gain access to power. Business leaders, senior politicians and agenda-setting journalists reach their positions after proving themselves over and over again – not consciously but through their unthinking compliance to the power-structure of our societies. They are selected through their performances in exams at school and university, through training programmes and indentures. They rise to the top because they are the most talented examples of those who are blind or submissive to power, those who can think most cleverly without thinking critically. Those who reliably deploy their skills where they are directed to do so.

Their large and small dramas constitute what we call public life, whether politics, world affairs or entertainment. To suggest that there are deeper processes at work, that the largest of these dramas is not really large enough for us to gain insight into how power operates, is to instantly be dismissed as paranoid, a fantasist, and – most damningly of all – a conspiracy theorist.

These terms also serve the deception. They are intended to stop all thought about real power. They are scare words used to prevent us, in a metaphor used in my previous post, from stepping back from the screen. They are there to force us to stand so close we see only the pixels, not the bigger picture.

Media makeover

The story of Britain’s Labour party is a case in point, and was illustrated even before Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Back in the 1990s Tony Blair reinvented the party as New Labour, jettisoning ideas of socialism and class war, and inventing instead a “Third Way”.

The idea that gained him access to power – personified in the media narrative of the time as his meeting with Rupert Murdoch on the mogul’s Hayman Island – was that New Labour would triangulate, find a middle way between the 1% and the 99%. The fact that the meeting took place with Murdoch rather than anyone else signalled something significant: that the power-structure needed a media makeover. It needed to be dressed in new garb.

In reality, Blair made Labour useful to power by re-styling the turbo-charged neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party of the rich had unleashed. He made it look compatible with social democracy. Blair put a gentler, kinder mask on neoliberalism’s aggressive pursuit of planet-destroying power – much as Barack Obama would do in the United States a decade later, after the horrors of the Iraq invasion. Neither Blair nor Obama changed the substance of our economic and political systems, but they did make them look deceptively attractive by tinkering with social policy.

Were the neoliberal order laid bare – were the emperor to allow himself to be stripped of his clothes – no one apart from a small psychopathic elite would vote for neoliberalism’s maintenance. So power is forced to repeatedly reinvent itself. It is like the shape-shifting Mystique of the X-Men films, constantly altering its appearance to lull us into a false sense of security. Power’s goal is to keep looking like it has become something new, something innovative. Because the power-structure does not want change, it has to find front-men and women who can personify a transformation that is, in truth, entirely hollow.

Power can perform this stunt, as Blair did, by repackaging the same product – neoliberalism – in prettier ideological wrapping. Or it can, as has happened in the US of late, try a baser approach by adding a dash of identity politics. A black presidential candidate (Obama) can offer hope, and a woman candidate (Hillary Clinton) can cast herself as mother-saviour.

With this model in place, elections become an illusory contest between more transparent and more opaque iterations of neoliberal power. In failing the 99%, Obama so woefully voided this strategy that large sections of voters turned their back on his intended successor, the new makeover candidate Hillary Clinton. They saw through the role-playing. They preferred, even if only reluctantly, the honest vulgarity of naked power represented by Trump over the pretensions of Clinton’s fakely compassionate politics.

Unstable politics

Despite its best efforts, neoliberalism is increasingly discredited in the eyes of large sections of the electorate in the US and UK. Its attempts at concealment have grown jaded, its strategy exhausted. It has reached the end-game, and that is why politics now looks so unstable. “Insurgency” candidates in different guises are prospering.

Neoliberal power is distinctive because it seeks absolute power, and can achieve that end only through global domination. Globalisation, the world as a plaything for a tiny elite to asset-strip, is both its means and its end. Insurgents are therefore those who seek to reverse the trend towards globalisation – or at least claim to. There are insurgents on both the left and right.

If neoliberalism has to choose, it typically prefers an insurgent on the right to the left. A Trump figure can usefully serve power too, because he dons the clothes of an insurgent while doing little to actually change the structure.

Nonetheless, Trump is a potential problem for the neoliberal order for two reasons.

First, unlike an Obama or a Clinton, he too clearly illuminates what is really at stake for power – wealth maximisation at any cost – and thereby risks unmasking the deception. And, second, he is a retrograde step for the globalising power-structure.

Neoliberalism has dragged capitalism out its nineteenth-century dependency on nation-states into a twenty-first ideology that demands a global reach. Trump and other nativist leaders seek a return to a supposed golden era of state-based capitalism, one that prefers to send our children up chimneys if it prevents children from far-off lands arriving on our shores to do the same.

The neoliberal order prefers a Trump to a Bernie Sanders because the nativist insurgents are so much easier to tame. A Trump can be allowed to strut on his Twitter stage while the global power-structure constrains and undermines any promised moves that might threaten it. Trump the candidate was indifferent to Israel and wanted the US out of Syria. Trump the president has become Israel’s biggest cheerleader and has launched US missiles at Syria.

Faustian pacts

The current power-structure is much more frightened of a left insurgency of the kind represented by Corbyn in the UK. He and his supporters are trying to reverse the accommodations with power made by Blair. And that is why he finds himself relentlessly assaulted from every direction – from his political opponents; from his supposed political allies, including most his own parliamentary party; and most especially from the state-corporate media, including its bogus left-liberal elements like the Guardian and the BBC.

The past three years of attacks on Corbyn are how power manifests itself, shows its hand, when it is losing. It is a strategy of last resort. A Blair or an Obama arrive in power having already made so many compromises behind the scenes that their original policies are largely toothless. They have made Faustian pacts as a condition for being granted access to power. This is variously described as pragmatism, moderation, realism. More accurately, it should be characterised as betrayal.

It does not stop when they reach high office. Obama made a series of early errors, thinking he would have room to manoeuvre in the Middle East. He made a speech in Cairo about a “New Beginning” for the region. A short time later he would help to snuff out the Egyptian Arab Spring that erupted close by, in Tahrir Square. Egypt’s military, long subsidised by Washington, were allowed to take back power.

Obama won the 2009 Nobel peace prize, before he had time to do anything, for his international diplomacy. And yet he stepped up the war on terror, oversaw the rapid expansion of a policy of extrajudicial assassinations by drone, and presided over the extension of the Iraq regime-change operation to Libya and Syria.

And he threatened penalties for Israel over its illegal settlements policy – a five-decade war crime that has gone completely unpunished by the international community. But in practice his inaction allowed Israel to entrench its settlements to the point where annexation of parts of the West Bank is now imminent.

Tame or destroy

Neoliberalism is now so entrenched, so rapacious that even a moderate socialist like Corbyn is seen as a major threat. And unlike a Blair, Obama or Trump, Corbyn is much harder to tame because he has a grassroots movement behind him and to which he is ultimately accountable.

In the US, the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party prevented the left-insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, from contesting the presidency by rigging the system to keep him off the ballot paper. In the UK, Corbyn got past those structural defences by accident. He scraped into the leadership race as the token “loony-left” candidate, indulged by the Labour party bureaucracy as a way to demonstrate that the election was inclusive and fair. He was never expected to win.

Once he was installed as leader, the power-structure had two choices: to tame him like Blair, or destroy him before he stood a chance of reaching high office. For those with short memories, it is worth recalling how those alternatives were weighed in Corbyn’s first months.

On the one hand, he was derided across the media for being shabbily dressed, for being unpatriotic, for threatening national security, for being sexist. This was the campaign to tame him. On the other, the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, the house journal of the neoliberal elite, gave a platform to an anonymous army general to warn that the British military would never allow Corbyn to reach office. There would be an army-led coup before he ever got near 10 Downing Street.

In a sign of how ineffectual these power-structures now are, none of this made much difference to Corbyn’s fortunes with the public. A truly insurgent candidate cannot be damaged by attacks from the power-elite. That’s why he is where he is, after all.

So those wedded to the power-structure among his own MPs tried to wage a second leadership contest to unseat him. As a wave of new members signed up to bolster his ranks of supporters, and thereby turned the party into the largest in Europe, Labour party bureaucrats stripped as many as possible of their right to vote in the hope Corbyn could be made to lose. They failed again. He won with an even bigger majority.

Redefining words

It was in this context that the neoliberal order has had to play its most high-stakes card of all. It has accused Corbyn, a lifelong anti-racism activist, of being an anti-semite for supporting the Palestinian cause, for preferring Palestinian rights over brutal Israeli occupation. To make this charge plausible, words have had to be redefined: “anti-semitism” no longer means simply a hatred of Jews, but includes criticism of Israel; “Zionist” no longer refers to a political movement that prioritises the rights of Jews over the native Palestinian population, but supposedly stands as sinister code for all Jews. Corbyn’s own party has been forced under relentless pressure to adopt these malicious reformulations of meaning.

How anti-semitism is being weaponised, not to protect Jews but to protect the neoliberal order, was made starkly clear this week when Corbyn criticised the financial elite that brought the west to the brink of economic ruin a decade ago, and will soon do so again unless stringent new regulations are introduced. Useful idiots like Stephen Pollard, editor of the right wing Jewish Chronicle, saw a chance to revive the anti-semitism canard once again, accusing Corbyn of secretly meaning “Jews” when he actually spoke of bankers. It is a logic intended to make the neoliberal elite untouchable, cloaking them in a security blanket relying on the anti-semitism taboo.

Almost the entire Westminister political class and the entire corporate media class, including the most prominent journalists in the left-liberal media, have reached the same preposterous conclusion about Corbyn. Whatever the evidence in front of their and our eyes, he is now roundly declared an anti-semite. Up is now down, and day is night.

High-stakes strategy

This strategy is high stakes and dangerous for two reasons.

First, it risks creating the very problem it claims to be defending against. By crying wolf continuously about Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism without any tangible evidence for it, and by making an unfounded charge of anti-semitism the yardstick for judging Corbyn’s competence for office rather than any of his stated policies, the real anti-semite’s argument begins to sound more plausible.

In what could become self-fulfilling prophecy, the anti-semitic right’s long-standing ideas about Jewish cabals controlling the media and pulling levers behind the scenes could start to resonate with an increasingly disillusioned and frustrated public. The weaponising of anti-semitism by the neoliberal order to protect its power risks turning Jews into collateral damage. It makes them another small or bigger drama in the increasingly desperate attempt to create a narrative that deflects attention from the real power-structure.

And second, the effort to stitch together a narrative of Corbyn’s anti-semitism out of non-existent cloth is likely to encourage more and more people to take a step back from the screen so that those unintelligible pixels can more easily be discerned as a smoking gun. The very preposterousness of the allegations, and the fact that they are taken so seriously by a political and media class selected for their submissiveness to the neoliberal order, accelerates the process by which these opinion-formers discredit themselves. Their authority wanes by the day, and as a result their usefulness to the power-structure rapidly diminishes.

This is where we are now: in the final stages of a busted system that is clinging on to credibility by its fingernails. Sooner or later, its grip will be lost and it will plunge into the abyss. We will wonder how we ever fell for any of its deceptions.

In the meantime, we must get on with the urgent task of liberating our minds, of undoing the toxic mental and emotional training we were subjected to, of critiquing and deriding those whose job is to enforce the corrupt orthodoxy, and of replotting a course towards a future that saves the human species from impending extinction.

Palestinians Suffer as Trump Tears Up Rules-based Order

Washington’s decision to intensify swingeing aid cuts to the Palestinians – the latest targets include cancer patients and peace groups – reveals more than a simple determination to strong-arm the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table.

Under cover of a supposed peace effort, or “deal of the century”, the Trump administration hopes to solve problems closer to home. It wants finally to shake off the burden of international humanitarian law, and the potential for war crimes trials, that have overshadowed US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and may yet prove treacherous in dealings with Iran.

The Palestinians have been thrust into the centre of this battle for good reason. They are the most troublesome legacy of a post-war, rules-based international order that the US is now committed to sweeping away. Amputate the Palestinian cause, an injustice festering for more than seven decades, and America’s hand will be freer elsewhere. Might will again be right.

An assault on the already fragile international order as it relates to the Palestinians began in earnest last month. The US stopped all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that helps more than five million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East.

The pressure sharpened last week when $25m in aid was blocked to hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide a lifeline to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, whose health services have withered under a belligerent Israeli occupation.

Then at the weekend, the US revealed it would no longer hand over $10m to peace groups fostering ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only significant transfer the US still makes is $60m annually to the Palestinian security services, which effectively enforce the occupation on Israel’s behalf. In short, that money benefits Israel, not the Palestinians.

At the same time, the Trump administration revoked the US visa of the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, shortly after shuttering his diplomatic mission. The Palestinians have been cast fully out into the cold.

Most observers wrongly assume that the screws are simply being tightened to force the Palestinians to engage with Mr Trump’s peace plan, even though it is nowhere in sight. Like an unwanted tin can, it has been kicked ever further down the road over the past year. A reasonable presumption is that it will never be unveiled. While the US keeps everyone distracted with empty talk, Israel gets on with its unilateral solutions.

The world is watching, nonetheless. The Palestinian community of Khan Al Ahmar, outside Jerusalem, appears to be days away from demolition. Israel intends to ethnically cleanse its inhabitants to clear the way for more illegal Jewish settlements in a key area that would eradicate any hope of a Palestinian state.

Mr Trump’s recent punitive actions are designed to choke into submission the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, just as Israel once secretly put Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation “diet” to make them more compliant. Israel’s long-standing collective punishment of Palestinians – constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention – has now been supplemented by similar types of collective punishment by the US, against Palestinian refugees and cancer patients.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, admitted as much at the weekend. He told the New York Times that the cuts in aid were punishment for the Palestinian leadership “vilifying the [US] administration”.

In an apparent coded reference to international law, Mr Kushner added that it was time to change “false realities”. However feeble international institutions have proved, the Trump administration, like Israel, prefers to be without them.

In particular, both detest the potential constraints imposed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is empowered to prosecute war crimes. Although it was established only in 2002, it draws on a body of international law and notions of human rights that date back to the immediate period after the Second World War.

The crimes committed by Zionist leaders in establishing Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland occurred in 1948, just as international law was being born. The Palestinians were among the first, and are still the most glaring, violation of that new rules-based global order.

Righting those historic wrongs is the biggest test of whether international law will ever amount to more than jailing the odd African dictator.

That the Palestinian cause continues to loom large was underscored this month by two challenges conducted in international forums.

Legislators from Israel’s large Palestinian minority have appealed to the United Nations to sanction Israel for recently passing the apartheid-like Nation-State Basic Law. It gives constitutional standing to institutionalised discrimination against the fifth of the population who are not Jewish.

And the Palestinian Authority has alerted the Hague court to the imminent destruction by Israel of Khan Al Ahmar. The ICC is already examining whether to bring a case against Israel over the settlements built on occupied land.

The US State Department has said the aid cuts and closure of the Palestinian embassy were prompted partly by “concerns” over the Hague referral. John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has vowed to shield Israel from any war crimes trials.

Sitting on the fence have been the Europeans. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution warning that Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction and the “forcible transfer” of its inhabitants would be a “grave breach” of international law. In an unusual move, it also threatened to demand compensation from Israel for any damage to infrastructure in Khan Al Ahmar funded by Europe.

Europe’s leading states anxiously wish to uphold the semblance of an international order they believe has prevented their region’s descent into a Third World War. Israel and the US, on the other hand, are determined to use Palestine as the test bed for dismantling these protections.

The Israeli bulldozers sent to Khan Al Ahmar will also launch an assault on Europe and its resolve to defend international law and the Palestinians. When push comes to shove, will Europe’s nerve hold?

• First published in The National

Why We’re Blind to the System Destroying Us

I rarely use this blog to tell readers what they should believe. Rather I try to indicate why it might be wise to distrust, at least without very good evidence, what those in power tell us we should believe.

We have well-known sayings about power: “Knowledge is power”, and “Power corrupts, while absolute power corrupts absolutely.” These aphorisms resonate because they say something true about how we experience the world. People who have power – even very limited power they hold on licence from someone else – tend to abuse it, sometimes subtly and unconsciously, and sometimes overtly and wilfully.

If we are reasonably self-aware, we can sense the tendency in ourselves to exploit to our advantage whatever power we enjoy, whether it is in our dealings with a spouse, our children, a friend, an employee, or just by the general use of our status to get ahead.

This isn’t usually done maliciously or even consciously. By definition, the hardest thing to recognise are our own psychological, emotional and mental blind spots – and the biggest, at least for those born with class, gender or race privileges, is realising that these too are forms of power.

Nonetheless, these are all minor forms of power compared to the power wielded collectively by the structures that dominate our societies: the financial sector, the corporations, the media, the political class, and the security services.

But strangely most of us are much readier to concede the corrupting influence of the relatively small power of individuals than we are the rottenness of vastly more powerful institutions and structures. We blame the school teacher or the politician for abusing his or her power, while showing a reluctance to do the same about either the education or political systems in which they have to operate.

Similarly, we are happier identifying the excessive personal power of a Rupert Murdoch than we are the immense power of the corporate empire behind him and on which his personal wealth and success depend.

And beyond this, we struggle most of all to detect the structural and ideological framework underpinning or cohering all these discrete examples of power.

Narrative control

It is relatively easy to understand that your line manager is abusing his power, because he has so little of it. His power is visible to you because it relates only to you and the small group of people around you.

It is a little harder, but not too difficult, to identify the abusive policies of your firm – the low pay, cuts in overtime, attacks on union representation.

It is more difficult to see the corrupt power of large institutions, aside occasionally from the corruption of senior figures within those institutions, such as a Robert Maxwell or a Richard Nixon.

But it is all but impossible to appreciate the corrupt nature of the entire system. And the reason is right there in those aphorisms: absolute power depends on absolute control over knowledge, which in turn necessitates absolute corruption. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t be dealing with serious power – as should be obvious, if we pause to think about it.

Real power in our societies derives from that which is necessarily hard to see – structures, ideology and narratives – not individuals. Any Murdoch or Trump can be felled, though being loyal acolytes of the power-system they rarely are, should they threaten the necessary maintenance of power by these interconnected institutions, these structures.

The current neoliberal elite who effectively rule the planet have reached as close to absolute power as any elite in human history. And because they have near-absolute power, they have a near-absolute control of the official narratives about our societies and our “enemies”, those who stand in their way to global domination.

No questions about Skripals

One needs only to look at the narrative about the two men, caught on CCTV cameras, who have recently been accused by our political and media class of using a chemical agent to try to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia back in March.

I don’t claim to know whether Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov work for the Russian security services, or whether they were dispatched by Vladimir Putin on a mission to Salisbury to kill the Skripals.

What is clear, however, is that the British intelligence services have been feeding the British corporate media a self-serving, drip-drip narrative from the outset – and that the media have shown precisely no interest at any point in testing any part of this narrative or even questioning it. They have been entirely passive, which means their readers – us – have been entirely passive too.

That there are questions about the narrative to be raised is obvious if you turn away from the compliant corporate media and seek out the views of independent-minded, one-time insiders such as Craig Murray.

A former British ambassador, Murray is asking questions that may prove to be pertinent or not. But at this stage, when all we have to rely on is what the intelligence services are selectively providing, these kinds of doubts should be driving the inquiries of any serious journalist covering the story. But as is so often the case, not only are these questions not being raised or investigated, but anyone like Murray who thinks critically – who assumes that the powerful will seek to promote their interests and avoid accountability – is instantly dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or in Putin’s pocket.

That is no meaningful kind of critique. Many of the questions that have been raised – like why there are so many gaps in the CCTV record of the movements of both the Skripals and the two assumed assassins – could be answered if there was an interest in doing so. The evasion and the smears simply suggest that power intends to remain unaccountable, that it is keeping itself concealed, that the narrative is more important than the truth.

And that is reason enough to move from questioning the narrative to distrusting it.

Ripples on a lake

Although journalists typically have a largely passive relationship to power, in stark contrast to their image as a tenacious watchdog, even more fundamental than control over the narrative is the ideology that guides these narratives.  Ideology ensures the power-system is invisible not only to us, those who are abused and exploited by it, but also to those who benefit from it.

It is precisely because power resides in structures and ideology, rather than individuals, that it is so hard to see. And the power-structures themselves are made yet more difficult to identify because the narratives created about our societies are designed to conceal those structures and ideology – where real power resides – by focusing instead on individuals.

That is why our newspapers and TV shows are full of stories about personalities – celebrities, royalty, criminals, politicians. They are made visible so that we do not notice the ideological structures we live inside that are supposed to remain invisible.

News and entertainment are the ripples on a lake, not the lake itself. But the ripples could not exist without the lake that forms and shapes them.

Up against the screen

If this sounds like hyperbole, let’s stand back from our particular ideological system – neoliberalism – and consider earlier ideological systems in the hope that they offer some perspective. At the moment, we are like someone standing right up against an IMAX screen, so close that we cannot see that there is a screen or even guess that there is a complete picture. All we see are moving colours and pixels. Maybe we can briefly infer a mouth, the wheel of a vehicle, a gun.

Before neoliberalism there were other systems of rule. There was, for example, feudalism that appropriated a communal resource – land – exclusively for an aristocracy. It exploited the masses by forcing them to toil on the land for a pittance to generate the wealth that supported castles, a clergy, manor houses, art collections and armies. For several centuries the power of this tiny elite went largely unquestioned.

But then a class of entrepreneurs emerged, challenging the landed artistocracy with a new means of industrialised production. They built factories and took advantage of scales of economy that slightly widened the circle of privilege, creating a middle class. That elite, and the middle-class that enjoyed crumbs from their master’s table, lived off the exploitation of children in work houses and the labour of a new urban poor in slum housing.

These eras were systematically corrupt, enabling the elites of those times to extend and entrench their power. Each elite produced justifications to placate the masses who were being exploited, to brainwash them into believing the system existed as part of a natural order or even for their benefit. The aristocracy relied on a divine right of kings, the capitalist class on the guiding hand of the free market and bogus claims of equality of opportunity.

In another hundred years, if we still exist as a species, our system will look no less corrupt – probably more so – than its predecessors.

Neoliberalism, late-stage capitalism, plutocratic rule by corporations – whatever you wish to call it – has allowed a tiny elite to stash away more wealth and accrue more power than any feudal monarch could ever have dreamt of. And because of the global reach of this elite, its corruption is more endemic, more complete, more destructive than any ever known to mankind.

A foreign policy elite can destroy the world several times over with nuclear weapons. A globalised corporate elite is filling the oceans with the debris from our consumption, chopping down the forest-lungs of our planet for palm-oil plantations so we can satisfy our craving for biscuits and cake. And our media and intelligence services are jointly crafting a narrative of bogeymen and James Bond villains – both in Hollywood movies, and in our news programmes – to make us fearful and pliable.

Assumptions of inevitability

Most of us abuse our own small-power thoughtlessly, even self-righteously. We tell ourselves that we gave the kids a “good spanking” because they were naughty, rather than because we established with them early on a power relationship that confusingly taught them that the use of force and coercion came with a parental stamp of approval.

Those in greater power – from minions in the media to executives of major corporations – are no different. They are as incapable of questioning the ideology and the narrative – how inevitable and “right” our neoliberal system is – as the rest of us. But they play a vital part in maintaining and entrenching that system nonetheless.

David Cromwell and David Edwards of Media Lens have provided two analogies – in the context of the media – that help explain how it is possible for individuals and groups to assist and enforce systems of power without having any conscious intention to do so, and without being aware that they are contributing to something harmful. Without, in short, being aware that they are conspiring in the system.

The first:

When a shoal of fish instantly changes direction, it looks for all the world as though the movement was synchronised by some guiding hand. Journalists – all trained and selected for obedience by media all seeking to maximise profits within state-capitalist society – tend to respond to events in the same way.

The second:

Place a square wooden framework on a flat surface and pour into it a stream of ball bearings, marbles, or other round objects. Some of the balls may bounce out, but many will form a layer within the wooden framework; others will then find a place atop this first layer. In this way, the flow of ball bearings steadily builds new layers that inevitably produce a pyramid-style shape. This experiment is used to demonstrate how near-perfect crystalline structures such as snowflakes arise in nature without conscious design.

The system – whether feudalism, capitalism, neoliberalism – emerges out of the real-world circumstances of those seeking power most ruthlessly. In a time when the key resource was land, a class emerged justifying why it should have exclusive rights to control that land and the labour needed to make it productive. When industrial processes developed, a class emerged demanding that it had proprietary rights to those processes and to the labour needed to make them productive.

Our place in the pyramid

In these situations, we need to draw on something like Darwin’s evolutionary “survival of the fittest” principle. Those few who are most hungry for power, those with least empathy, will rise to the top of the pyramid, finding themselves best-placed to exploit the people below. They will rationalise this exploitation as a divine right, or as evidence of their inherently superior skills, or as proof of the efficiency of the market.

And below them, like the layers of ball bearings, will be those who can help them maintain and expand their power: those who have the skills, education and socialisation to increase profits and sell brands.

All of this should be obvious, even non-controversial. It fits what we experience of our small-power lives. Does bigger power operate differently? After all, if those at the top of the power-pyramid were not hungry for power, even psychopathic in its pursuit, if they were caring and humane, worried primarily about the well-being of their workforce and the planet, they would be social workers and environmental activists, not CEOs of media empires and arms manufacturers.

And yet, base your political thinking on what should be truisms, articulate a worldview that distrusts those with the most power because they are the most capable of – and committed to – misusing it, and you will be derided. You will be called a conspiracy theorist, dismissed as deluded. You will be accused of wearing a tinfoil hat, of sour grapes, of being anti-American, a social warrior, paranoid, an Israel-hater or anti-semitic, pro-Putin, pro-Assad, a Marxist.

None of this should surprise us either. Because power – not just the people in the system, but the system itself – will use whatever tools it has to protect itself. It is easier to deride critics as unhinged, especially when you control the media, the politicians and the education system, than it is to provide a counter-argument.

In fact, it is vital to prevent any argument or real debate from taking place. Because the moment we think about the arguments, weigh them, use our critical faculties, there is a real danger that the scales will fall from our eyes. There is a real threat that we will move back from the screen, and see the whole picture.

Can we see the complete picture of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury; or the US election that led to Trump being made president; or the revolution in Ukraine; or the causes and trajectory of fighting in Syria, and before it Libya and Iraq; or the campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party; or the true implications of the banking crisis a decade ago?

Profit, not ethics

Just as a feudal elite was driven, not by ethics, but by the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of land; just as early capitalists were driven, not by ethics, but by the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of mechanisation; so neoliberalism is driven not by ethics but the pursuit of power and wealth through the control of the planet.

The only truth we can know is that the western power-elite is determined to finish the task of making its power fully global, expanding it from near-absolute to absolute. It cares nothing for you or your grand-children. It is a cold-calculating system, not a friend or neighbour. It lives for the instant gratification of wealth accumulation, not concern about the planet’s fate tomorrow.

And because of that it is structurally bound to undermine or discredit anyone, any group, any state that stands in the way of achieving its absolute dominion.

If that is not the thought we hold uppermost in our minds as we listen to a politician, read a newspaper, watch a film or TV show, absorb an ad, or engage on social media, then we are sleepwalking into a future the most powerful, the most ruthless, the least caring have designed for us.

Step back, and take a look at the whole screen. And decide whether this is really the future you wish for your grand-children.

A “Gentleman’s Agreement”: How Oslo Worked Out as Planned for Israel

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993.

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists.

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about reorganising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA. With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by the Haaretz newspaper hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, said the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon said. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski said Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis] rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

Demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, said Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” Gordon said.

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon said. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she said. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he said.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he said. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he said. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she said. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she said.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Our Broken System has no “Moderate” Devotees

Western politics is tearing itself apart, polarising into two camps – or at least, it is in the official narrative we are being fed by our corporate media. The warring camps are presented as “moderate centrists”, on one side, and the “extreme right”, on the other. The question is framed as a choice about where one stands in relation to this fundamental political divide. But what if none of this is true? What if this isn’t a feud between two opposed ideological camps but rather two differing – and irrational – reactions to the breakdown of late-stage capitalism as an economic model, a system that can no longer offer plausible solutions to the problems of our age?

Neighbouring news headlines this week offered a neat illustration of the media’s framing of the current situation. Representing the “moderates”, German chancellor Angela Merkel made a “passionate address” in which she denounced the outbreak of far-right protests in east Germany and reports of the “hunting down” of “foreigners” – asylum seekers and immigrants.

She observed:

There is no excuse or explanation for rabble-rousing, in some cases the use of violence, Nazi slogans, hostility towards people who look different, to the owner of a Jewish restaurant, attacking police.

Ostensibly pitted against Merkel is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s “extreme right” prime minister. Hungary risks being stripped of its voting rights in the European Union because of Orban’s “rabble-rousing” policies and his anti-migrant agenda.

Shortly before the European parliament voted against Hungary, accusing its government of posing a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law, Orban argued that his country was being targeted for preferring not to be “a country of migrants”.

He is far from an outlier. Several other EU states, from Italy to Poland, are close behind Orban in pursuing populist, anti-immigrant agendas.

Family feud

But does this civil war in Europe really reflect a divide between good and bad politics, between moderates and extremists? Are we not witnessing something else: the internal contradictions brought to the fore by a turbo-charged neoliberalism that is now so ideologically entrenched that no one dares question its suitability, let alone its morality?

In truth, the row between Merkel and Orban is a family feud, between sister and brother wedded to the same self-destructive ideology but in profound disagreement about which placebo should be administered to make them feel better.

What do I mean?

Merkel and the mainstream neoliberal elite are committed to an ever-more deregulated world because that is imperative for a globalised economic elite searching to accrue ever more wealth and power. That elite needs open borders and a lack of significant regulation so that it can plunder unrestricted the Earth’s resources – human and material – while dumping the toxic waste byproducts wherever is most profitable and convenient.

In practice, that means creating maximum damage in places and against life-forms that have the least capacity to defend themselves: the poorest countries, the animal kingdom, the forests and oceans, the weather system – and, of course, against future generations that have no voice. There is a reason why the deepest seabeds are now awash with our plastic debris, poisoning and killing marine life for decades, maybe centuries, to come.

Interestingly, this global elite makes a few exceptions to its policy of entirely open borders and sweeping deregulation. Through its pawns in the world’s leading capitals – the people we mistakenly think of as our political representatives – it has created small islands of opacity in which it can stash away its wealth. These “offshore tax havens” are highly regulated so we cannot see what goes on inside them. While the elite wants borders erased and the free movement of workers to set one against the other, the borders of these offshore “safe deposit boxes” are stringently preserved to protect the elite’s wealth.

International order

Meanwhile, the global elite has created international or trans-national structures and institutions precisely to remove the power of nation-states to regulate and dominate the business environment. The political class in the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Mexico or Brazil do not control the corporations. These corporations control even the biggest states. The banks are too big to fail, the arms manufacturers too committed to permanent war to rein in, the largely uniform narratives of the corporate media too powerful to dissent from.

Instead, global or trans-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary, the European Union, NATO, BRICS and many others, remake our world to promote the globalised profits of the corporations.

The United Nations – a rival international project – is more problematic. It was created immediately after the Second World War with the aim of imposing a law-based international order, premised on respect for human rights, to prevent future large-scale wars and genocide. In practice, however, it chiefly serves the interests of the dominant western states through their capture of the Security Council, effectively the UN’s executive.

A few UN institutions – those in charge of human rights and prosecuting war crimes – that have the potential to restrain the power of the global elite find themselves ever more marginalised and undermined. Both the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court have been under sustained assault from US officials, both before and after Donald Trump became president.

Towards the abyss

The internal contradictions of this globalised system – between the unfettered enrichment of the elite and the endless resource depletion of the Earth and its weakest inhabitants – are becoming ever more apparent. Historically, the toxic waste from this system was inflicted on the poorest regions first, like puddles forming in depressions in the ground during a rainstorm.

As the planet has warmed, crops have failed, the poor have gone hungry, wars have broken out. All of this has been an entirely predictable outcome of the current economics of endless, carbon-based growth, coupled with resource theft. But unlike puddles, the human collateral damage of this economic system can get up and move elsewhere. We have seen massive population displacements caused by famines and wars, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. These migrations are not about to stop. They are going to intensify as neoliberalism hurtles us towards the economic and climate abyss.

The political class in the west are now experiencing profound cognitive dissonance. Merkel and the “moderates” want endless growth and a world without borders that is bringing gradual ruination on their economies and their privileges. They have no answers for the “extremists” on the right, who acknowledge this ruination and say something needs to be done urgently about it.

Orban and the far-right want to fiercely resurrect the borders that globalisation erased, to build barriers that will stop the puddles merging and inundating their higher ground. This is why the right is resurgent. They, far more than the moderates, can describe our current predicament – even if they offer solutions that are positively harmful. They want solid walls, national sovereignty, blocks on immigrants, as well as racism and violence against the “foreigners” already inside their borders.

The system is broken

We have to stop thinking of these political debates as between the good “moderates” and the nasty “extreme right”. This is a fundamental misconception.

The deluded “moderates” want to continue with a highly unsustainable form of capitalism premised on an impossible endless growth. It should be obvious that a planet with finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth, and that the toxic waste of our ever-greater consumption will poison the well we all depend on.

The west’s deluded far-right, on the other hand, believe that they can stand guard and protect their small pile of privilege against the rising tide of migrants and warming oceans caused by western policies of resource theft, labour exploitation and climate destruction. The far-right’s views are no more grounded in reality than King Canute’s.

Both sides are failing to grasp the central problem: that the western-imposed global economic system is broken. It is gradually being destroyed from within by its own contradictions. The “moderates” are doubly blind: they refuse to acknowledge either the symptoms or the cause of the disease. The “extremists” are as oblivious to the causes of the illness besetting their societies as the “moderates”, but they do at least recognise the symptoms as a sign of malaise, even if their solutions are entirely self-serving.

Squaring the circle

This can be seen in stark fashion in the deep divide over Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, so-called Brexit, which has cut across the usual left-right agendas.

The Remain crowd, who want to stay in Europe, believe Britain’s future lies in upholding the failed status quo: of a turbo-charged neoliberalism, of diminishing borders and the free movement of labour, of distant, faceless technocrats making decisions in their name.

Like a child pulling up the blanket to her chin in the hope it will protect her from the monsters lurking in the darkness of the bedroom, the “moderates” assume European bureaucrats will protect them from economic collapse and climate breakdown. The reality, however, is that the EU is one of the trans-national institutions whose chief rationale is accelerating our rush to the abyss.

Meanwhile, the Brexit crowd think that, once out of the EU, a small island adrift in a globalised world will be able to reclaim its sovereignty and greatness. They too are going to find reality a terrifying disappointment. Alone, Britain will not be stronger. It will simply be easier prey for the US-headquartered global elite. Britain will be jumping out of the EU frying pan into the flames of the Atlanticists’ stove.

What is needed is not the “moderates” or the “extreme right”, not Brexit or Remain, but an entirely new kind of politics, which is prepared to shift the paradigm.

The new paradigm must accept that we live in a world that requires global solutions and regulations to prevent climate breakdown. But it must also understand that people are rightly distrustful of distant, unaccountable institutions that are easily captured by the most powerful and the most pitiless. People want to feel part of communities they know, to have a degree of control over their lives and decisions, to find common bonds and to work collaboratively from the bottom-up.

The challenge ahead is to discard our current self-destructive illusions and urgently find a way to solve this conundrum – to square the circle.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National

The Israel Lobby’s Non-stop Attacks on Corbyn will Backfire

Back in the 1950s, the US intelligence community coined a term: “blowback”. It referred to the unintended consequences of a covert operation that ended up damaging one’s own cause.

There are mounting indications that the intensifying campaign by the Israel lobby in the UK against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, is starting to have precisely such self-harming repercussions.

A campaign of smears

In the three years since he was elected to lead the Labour party, Corbyn has faced non-stop accusations that his party has an endemic “anti-Semitism problem”, despite all evidence to the contrary. Of late, Corbyn himself has become the chief target of such allegations.

Last month the Daily Mail led a media mauling of Corbyn over disparaging comments he made in 2013 about a small group of pro-Israel zealots who had come to disrupt a Palestinian solidarity meeting. His reference to them as “Zionists”, it was claimed, served as code for “Jews” and was therefore anti-Semitic.

Mounting evidence in both the UK and the US, where there has been a similar escalation of attacks on pro-Palestinian activists, often related to the international boycott movement (BDS), suggests that the Israeli government is taking a significant, if covert, role in coordinating and directing such efforts to sully the reputation of prominent critics.

Corbyn’s supporters have argued instead that he is being subjected to a campaign of smears to oust him from the leadership because of his very public championing over many decades of the Palestinian cause.

Israel lobbyists

Al-Jazeera has produced two separate undercover documentary series on Israel lobbyists’ efforts in the UK and US to interfere in each country’s politics – probably in violation of local laws. Only the UK series has been aired so far.

It showed an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, both plotting to “take down” a Conservative government minister seen as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and helping to create an anti-Corbyn front organisation in the Labour party.

Masot worked closely with two key pro-Israel groups in Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. The latter includes some 80 Labour MPs.

Under apparent pressure from the Israel lobby in the US, the series on the US lobby was suppressed.

Last week Alain Gresh, the former editor of Le Monde diplomatique, published significant quotes from that censored documentary after viewing it secretly in Dubai. The US lobby’s aims and practices, as reported by Gresh, closely echo what has happened in the UK to Corbyn, as he has faced relentless allegations of anti-Semitism.

The US documentary reportedly shows that Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has taken a leading role in directing the US lobby’s efforts. According to Gresh, senior members of the lobby are caught on camera admitting that they have built up a network of spies to gather information on prominent critics of Israel.

In Gresh’s transcripted excerpts, Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a group of organisations fighting BDS, states: “When I got here a few years ago, the budget was $3,000. Today it’s like a million and a half [dollars], or more. … It’s a massive budget.”

“It’s psychological warfare,” he adds, noting how the smears damage the targeted groups: “They either shut down, or they spend time investigating [the accusations against them] instead of attacking Israel. It’s extremely effective.”

David Hazony, a senior member of another lobby group, The Israel Project, explains that a pressing aim is to curb political speech critical of Israel:

What’s a bigger problem is the Democratic Party, the Bernie Sanders people, bringing all the anti-Israel people into the Democratic Party. Then being pro-Israel becomes less a bipartisan issue, and then every time the White House changes, the policies towards Israel change. That becomes a dangerous thing for Israel.

No discussion

These reported quotes confirm much of what was already suspected. More than a decade ago scholars John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt wrote a book examining the composition and role of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.

But until the broadcasting of the Al-Jazeera documentary last year no comparable effort had been made to shine a light on the situation in the UK. In fact, there was almost no discussion or even acknowledgment of the role of an Israel lobby in British public and political life.

That is changing rapidly. Through its constant attacks on Corbyn, British activists are looking less like disparate individuals sympathetic to Israel and more recognisably like a US-style lobby – highly organised, on-message and all too ready to throw their weight around.

The lobby was always there, of course. And, as in the US, it embraces a much wider body of support than right-wing Jewish leadership organisations like the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, or hardline lobbyists such as the Community Security Trust and BICOM.

The earliest Zionists

That should not surprise us. The earliest Zionists were not Jews but fundamentalist Christians. In the US, the largest group of Zionists by far are Christian evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to the Promised Land is the key to unlocking the second coming of the Messiah and an apocalyptic end-times. Though embraced by Israel, many of these Christian fundamentalists hold anti-Semitic views.

In Britain, there is an unacknowledged legacy of anti-Semitic Christian support for Zionism. Lord Balfour, a devout Christian who regularly voiced bigotry towards Jews, was also the man who committed the British government in 1917 to create a home for Jews in Palestine. That set in motion today’s conflict between Israel and the native Palestinian population.

In addition, many British gentiles, like other Europeans, live with understandable guilt about the Holocaust.

One of the largest and most effective groups in Corbyn’s parliamentary party is Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), most of whose members are not Jewish. LFI takes some of the party’s most senior politicians on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel to wine and dine them as they are subjected to Israeli propaganda.

Dozens of Labour MPs have remained loyal to LFI even as the organisation has repeatedly refused to criticise Israel over undeniable war crimes.

When Israeli snipers executed dozens of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza in May, the LFI took to Twitter to blame Hamas for the deaths, not Israel. After facing a massive backlash online, the LFI simply deleted the tweet.

A double whammy

Historically the Israel lobby could remain relatively low-profile in the UK because it faced few challenges. Its role was chiefly to enforce a political orthodoxy about Israel in line with Britain’s role as Washington’s foreign policy junior partner. No British leader looked likely to step far from the Washington consensus.

Until Corbyn.

The Israel lobby in the UK now faces a double whammy.

First, since Donald Trump entered the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dropped any pretence that Israel is willing to concede a Palestinian state, whatever the Palestinians do. Instead, Israel has isolated the Palestinian leadership diplomatically while seeking to terrorise the Palestinian population into absolute submission.

That was all too clear over the summer when those Israeli snipers picked off demonstrators each week in Gaza. As a result, the Israel lobby stands more exposed than ever. It can no longer buy time for Israeli expansionism by credibly claiming, as it once did, that Israel seeks peace.

Second, Israel’s partisans in the UK were caught off-guard by the unexpected rise of Corbyn to a place that puts him in sight of being the next prime minister. The use of social media by his supporters, meanwhile, has provided a counter-weight to the vilification campaign being amplified by the British media.

The media have been only too willing to assist in the smearing of the Labour leader because they have their own separate interests in seeing Corbyn gone. He is a threat to the corporate business interests they represent.

But not only has the messenger – the Israel lobby – now come under proper scrutiny for the first time, so has its message.

Lack of irony

The success of the lobby had depended not only on it remaining largely out of view. It also expected to shore up a largely pro-Israel environment without drawing attention to what was being advocated, beyond unquestioned soundbites. In doing so, it was able to entirely ignore those who had paid the price for Israel’s diplomatic impunity – the Palestinians.

The campaign against Corbyn has not only forced the lobby to come out into the open, but the backlash to its campaign has forced the lobby to articulate for the first time what exactly it believes and what is at stake.

The latest furore over Corbyn concerns a Youtube video of him speaking at a pro-Palestinian meeting in 2013, two years before he became Labour leader. He has been widely denounced in the media for making disparaging remarks about a small group of hardline pro-Israel partisans well-known for disrupting such meetings.

He referred to them as “Zionists” and suggested that the reaction of this particular hardline group to a speech by the Palestinian ambassador had betrayed their lack of appreciation of “English irony”.

Israel’s lobby, echoed by many liberal journalists, has suggested that Corbyn was using “Zionist” as code word for “Jew”, and that he had implied that all Jews – not the handful of pro-Israel zealots in attendance – lacked traits of Englishness.

This, they say, was yet further evidence of his anti-semitism.

Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, told the New Statesman last week that Corbyn’s comment was “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech”. In that notorious speech, the right-wing politician sought to incite race hatred of immigrants.

Calling Corbyn an “anti-Semite”, Sacks added: “It undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Treacherous words

In a now familiar pattern to lobby claims, Sacks relied on the false premise that all Jews are Zionists. He conflated a religious or ethnic category with a political ideology. The Labour leader has held his ground on this occasion, pointing out that he was using the term “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”.

Others have noted that his accusers – many of them senior journalists – are the ones lacking a sense of irony. Corbyn was not “otherising” Jews, he was highlighting a paradox not confirming a prejudice: that a small group of Britons were so immersed in their partisan cause, Israel, that it had blinded them to the “English irony” employed by a foreigner, the Palestinian ambassador.

However, the terms “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” are likely to prove more treacherous to weaponise against Corbyn than the lobby thinks. As the anti-Semitism controversy is constantly reignited, a much clearer picture of the lobby’s implied logic is emerging, as illustrated by the hyperbolic, verging on delusional, language of Rabbi Sacks.

The argument goes something like this:

Israel is the only safe haven for Jews in times of trouble – and the only thing that stands between them and a future Holocaust. The movement that created Israel was the Zionist movement. Today most Jews are Zionists and believe Israel is at the core of their identity. Therefore, if you are too critical of Israel or Zionism, you must wish bad things for the Jewish people. That makes you an anti-Semite.

Problematic premises

It probably doesn’t require a logician to understand that there are several highly problematic premises propping up this argument. Let’s concentrate on two. The first is that it depends on a worldview in which the non-Jew is assumed to be anti-Semite until proven otherwise. For that reason Jews need to be eternally vigilant and distrustful of those outside their “tribe”.

If that sounds improbable, it shouldn’t. That is exactly the lesson of the Holocaust taught to children in Israel from kindergarten onwards.

Israel derives no universal message from the Holocaust. Its schools do not teach that we must avoid stigmatising others, and discourage sectarian and tribal indentifications that fuel prejudice and bigotry. How could it? After all, Israel’s core ideology, political Zionism, is premised on the idea of tribal and sectarian exclusivity – the “ingathering of exiles” to create a Jewish state.

In Israel, the Holocaust supplies a different lesson. It teaches that Jews are under permanent threat from non-Jews, and that their only defence is to seek collective protection in a highly militarised state, armed with nuclear weapons.

This idea was encapsulated in the famous saying by the late Israeli general Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be seen as a mad dog; too dangerous to bother.”

A ‘globalised virus’

Israel’s ugly, self-serving tribal reading of history has been slowly spreading to Jews in Europe and the US.

Fifteen years ago, a US scholar, Daniel J Goldhagen, published an influential essay in the Jewish weekly Forward titled “The Globalisation of anti-Semitism”. In it, he argued that anti-Semitism was a virus that could lie dormant for periods but would always find new ways to reinfect its hosts.

“Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world,” he wrote. “It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today.”

This theory is also known as the “new anti-Semitism”, a form of Jew hatred much harder to identify than the right-wing anti-Semitism of old. Through mutation, the new anti-Semitism had concealed its hatred of Jews by appearing to focus on Israel and dressing itself up in left-wing garb.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given his latest comments about Corbyn, that is also an approximation of the argument made by Rabbi Sacks in a 2016 essay in which he writes: “Anti-Semitism is a virus that survives by mutating.”

In a sign of how this kind of paranoia is becoming slowly normalised in Europe too, the Guardian published a commentary by a British journalist last month explaining her decision, Israel-style, to teach her three-year-old daughter about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. That, she hoped, would prepare her child for eventualities such as Corbyn becoming prime minister.

But the increasing adoption of Israel’s tribalist doctrine among sections of the British Jewish community – and the related weaponisation of anti-Semitism – is likely to shed further light on what kind of a state hardline Zionists uphold as at the core of their identity.

Paradoxically, the new anti-Semitism turns the tables by legitimising – in fact, necessitating – Jewish racism towards gentiles. Rather than Corbyn stigmatising Jews – except in some feverish imaginations – it is the pro-Israel lobby stigmatising non-Jews, by claiming that they are all tainted by Jew hatred, whether they know it or not.

The more the lobby kicks up a hysteria about Corbyn’s supposed anti-Semitism, the clearer it becomes that the lobby regards much of the non-Jewish public as suspect too.

Palestinians made invisible

The other obvious lacuna in the lobby’s logic is that it only works if we completely remove the Palestinians from the story of Zionism and Israel. The idea of a harm-free Zionism might have been credible had it been possible to establish a Jewish state on an empty piece of land, as the early Zionists claimed Palestine to be. In reality there was a large native population who had to be displaced first.

Israel’s creation as a Jewish state in 1948 was possible only if the Zionist movement undertook two steps that violate modern conceptions of human rights and liberal democratic practice. First, Israel had to carry out large-scale ethnic cleansing, forcing more than 80 per cent of the native Palestinian population outside the new borders of the Jewish state it created on the Palestinians’ homeland.

Then, it needed to deny the small surviving community of Palestinians inside Israel the same rights as Israeli Jews, to ghettoise them and stop them from bringing their expelled relatives back to their homes.

These weren’t poor choices made by flawed Israeli politicians. They were absolutely essential to the success of a Zionist project to create and maintain a Jewish state. The ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the structural racism of the Jewish state were unmentionable topics in “legitimate” public debates about Israel until very recently.

That has been changing, in part because it has become much harder to conceal what kind of state Israel is. Its self-harming behaviour includes its recent decision to make explicit the state’s institutionalised racism with the passage in July of the Nation-State Basic Law. That law gives constitutional weight to the denial of equal rights to a fifth of Israel’s population, those who are Palestinian.

The backlash against Corbyn and other Palestinian solidarity activists is evidence of the lobby’s fears that they can no longer hold the line against a growing realisation by western publics that there was a cost to Zionism’s success.

That price was paid by Palestinians, and there has yet been no historical reckoning over their suffering. By veiling the historical record, Israel and the Zionist movement have avoided the kind of truth and reconciliation process that led to the ending of apartheid in South Africa. The lobby prefers that Israel’s version of apartheid continues.

Loss of moral compass

If there is one individual who personifies the loss of a moral compass in the weaponisation of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and Israel’s critics, it is Rabbi Sacks.

Asked by the New Statesman what he thinks of the new Nation-State Basic Law, the normally erudite Sacks suddenly becomes lost for words. He asks a friend, or in his case his brother, for the answer: “I’m not an expert on this. My brother is, I’m not. He’s a lawyer in Jerusalem. He tells me that there’s absolutely nothing apartheid about this, it’s just correcting a lacuna… As far as I understand, it’s a technical process that has none of the implications that have been levelled at it.”

Sacks, it seems, cannot identify apartheid when it is staring him the face, as long as it is disguised as “Jewish”. Similarly, he is blind to the history of Zionism and the mass dispossession of Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba.

He tells the New Statesman: “Jews did not wish to come back to their land [Palestine] to make any other people [Palestinians] suffer, and that goes very deep in the Jewish heart.” Not so deep, it seems, that Sacks can even identify who had to suffer to make possible that Jewish “return”.

In a critique of Sacks’ lengthy 2016 essay on anti-Semitism, a liberal Jewish commentator Peter Beinart noted that the rabbi had mentioned the “Palestinians” by name only once.

He berated Sacks for equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:

By denying that [Palestinians] might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.

Topsy-turvy world

In a world that was not topsy-turvy, it would be Sacks and the Israel lobby that were being publicly upbraided for their racism. Instead Corbyn is being vilified by a wide spectrum of supposedly informed opinion in the UK – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – for standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

It is, remember, the Palestinian people who have been the victims of more than a century of collusion between European colonialism and Zionism, and today are still being oppressed by an anachronistic ethnic state, Israel, determined to privilege its Jewishness at all costs.

The lobby and its supporters are not just seeking to silence Corbyn. They also intend to silence the Palestinians and the growing ranks of people who choose to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. But while the lobby may be winning on its own limited terms in harming Corbyn in mainstream discourse, deeper processes are exposing and weakening the lobby. It is overplaying its hand.

A strong lobby is one that is largely invisible, one that – like the financial and arms industries – has no need to flex its muscles. In making so much noise to damage Corbyn, the Israel lobby is also for the first time being forced to bring out into the open the racist premises that always underpinned its arguments.

Over time, that exposure is going to harm, not benefit, the apologists for Israel.

• First published in Middle East Eye

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

Jeremy Corbyn is Being Destroyed …

The latest “scandal” gripping Britain – or to be more accurate, British elites – is over the use of the term “Zionist” by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the opposition and possibly the country’s next prime minister.

Yet again, Corbyn has found himself ensnared in what a small group of Jewish leadership organisations, which claim improbably to represent Britain’s “Jewish community”, and a small group of corporate journalists, who improbably claim to represent British public opinion, like to call Labour’s “anti-semitism problem”.

I won’t get into the patently ridiculous notion that “Zionist” is a code word for “Jew”, at least not now. There are lots of existing articles explaining why that is nonsense.

I wish to deal with a different aspect of the long-running row over Labour’s so-called “anti-semitism crisis”. It exemplifies, I believe, a much more profound and wider crisis in our societies: over the issue of trust.

We now have two large camps, pitted against each other, who have starkly different conceptions of what their societies are and where they need to head. In a very real sense, these two camps no longer speak the same language. There has been a rupture, and they can find no common ground.

I am not here speaking about the elites who dominate our societies. They have their own agenda. They trade only in the language of money and power. I am speaking of us: the 99 per cent who live in their shadow.

First, let us outline the growing ideological and linguistic chasm opening up between these two camps: a mapping of the divisions that, given space constraints, will necessarily deal in generalisations.

The trusting camp

The first camp invests its trust, with minor reservations, in those who run our societies. The left and the right segments of this camp are divided primarily over the degree to which they believe that those at the bottom of society’s pile need a helping hand to get them further up the social ladder.

Otherwise, the first camp is united in its assumptions.

They admit that among our elected politicians there is the odd bad apple. And, of course, they understand that there are necessary debates about political and social values. But they agree that politicians rise chiefly through ability and talent, that they are accountable to their political constituencies, and that they are people who want what is best for society as a whole.

While this camp concedes that the media is owned by a handful of corporations driven by a concern for profit, it is nonetheless confident that the free market – the need to sell papers and audiences – guarantees that important news and a full spectrum of legitimate opinion are available to readers.

Both politicians and the media serve – if not always entirely successfully – as a constraint on corruption and the abuse of power by other powerful actors, such as the business community.

This camp believes too that western democracies are better, more civilised political systems than those in other parts of the world. Western societies do not want wars, they want peace and security for everyone. For that reason, they have been thrust – rather uncomfortably – into the role of global policeman. Western states have found themselves with little choice of late but to wage “good wars” to curb the genocidal instincts and hunger for power of dictators and madmen.

Russian conspiracies

Once upon a time – when this camp’s worldview was rarely, if ever, challenged – its favoured response to anything difficult to reconcile with its core beliefs, from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crash, was: “Cock-up, not conspiracy!”. Now that there are ever more issues threatening to undermine its most cherished verities, the camp’s response is – paradoxically – “Putin did it!” or “Fake news!”.

The current obsession with Russian conspiracies is in large part the result of the extraordinarily rapid rise of a second camp, no doubt fueled by the unprecedented access western publics have gained through social media to information, good and bad alike. At no time in human history have so many people been able to step outside of a state-, clerical- or corporate-sanctioned framework of information dissemination and speak too each other directly and on a global stage.

This new camp too is not easy to characterise in the old language of left-right politics. Its chief characteristic is that it distrusts not only those who dominate our societies, but the social structures they operate within.

This camp regards such structures as neither immutable, divinely ordained ways for ordering and organising society, nor as the rational outcome of the political and moral evolution of western societies. Rather, it views these structures as the product of engineering by a tiny elite to hold on to its power.

These structures are no longer primarily national, but global. They are not immutable but as fabricated, as man-made and replaceable, as the structures that once made incontestable the rule of a landed aristocracy over feudal serfs. The current aristocracy, this camp argues, are globalised corporations that are so unaccountable that even the biggest nation-states can no longer contain or constrain them.

Illusions of pluralism

For this camp, politicians are not the cream of society. They have risen to the surface of a corrupted and corrupting system, and the overwhelming majority did so by enthusiastically adopting its rotten values. These politicians do not chiefly serve voters but the corporations who really dominate our societies.

For the second camp, this fact was well illustrated in 2008 when the political class did not – and could not – punish the banks responsible for the near-collapse of western economies after decades of reckless speculation on which a financial elite had grown fat. Those banks, in the words of the politicians themselves, were “too big to fail” and so were bailed out with money from the very same publics who had been scammed by the banks in the first place. Rather than use the bank failures as an opportunity to drive through reform of the broken banking system, or nationalise parts of it, the politicians let the banking casino system continue, even intensify.

Likewise, the media – supposed watchdogs on power – are seen by this camp as the chief propagandists for the ruling elite. The media do not monitor the abuse of power, they actively create a social consensus for the continuation of the abuse – and if that fails, they seek to deflect attention from, or veil, the abuse.

This is inevitable, the second camp argues, given that the media are embedded within the very same corporate structures that dominate our societies. They are, in fact, the corporations’ public relations arm. They allow only limited dissent at the margins of the media, and only as a way to create the impression of an illusory pluralism.

Manufactured enemies

These domestic structures are subservient to a still-bigger agenda: the accumulation of wealth by a global elite through the asset-stripping of the planet’s resources and the rationalisation of permanent war. That, this camp concludes, requires the manufacturing of “enemies” – such as Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea – to justify the expansion of a military-industrial machine.

These “enemies” are a real foe in the sense that, in their different ways, they refuse to submit to the neoliberalising reach of the western-based corporations. But more significantly, they are needed as an enemy, even should they want to make peace. These manufactured enemies, says the second camp, justify the redirection of public money into the private coffers of the military and homeland security industries. And equally importantly, a ready set of bogeymen can be exploited to distract western publics from troubles at home.

The second camp is accused by the first of being anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israel (or more mischievously anti-semitic) for its opposition to western “humanitarian interventions” abroad. The second camp, it says, acts as apologists for war criminals like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, portraying these leaders as misunderstood good guys and blaming the west for the world’s ills.

The second camp argues that it is none of these things: it is anti-imperialist. It does not excuse the crimes of Putin or Assad, it treats them as secondary and largely reactive to the vastly greater power a western elite with global reach can project. It believes the western media’s obsession with crafting narratives about evil enemies – bad men and madmen – is designed to deflect attention from the structures of far greater violence the west deploys around the world, through a web of US military bases and Nato.

Putin has power, but it is immeasurably less than the combined might of the profit-seeking, war-waging western military industries. Faced with this power equation, according to the second camp, Putin acts defensively or reactively on the global stage, using what limited strength Russia has to uphold its essential strategic interests. One cannot reasonably judge Russia’s crimes without first admitting the west’s greater crimes, our crimes.

While the whole US political class obsess over “Russian interference” in US elections, this camp notes, the American public is encouraged to ignore the much greater US interference not only in Russian elections, but in many other spheres Russia considers to be vital strategic interests. That includes the locating of US military bases and missile sites on Russia’s borders.

Different languages

Two camps, two entirely different languages and narratives.

These camps may be divided, but it would seriously misguided to imagine they are equal.

One has the full power and weight of those corporate structures behind it. The politicians speak its language, as do the media. Its ideas and its voice dominate everywhere that is considered official, objective, balanced, neutral, respectable, legitimate.

The other camp has one small space to make its presence felt – social media. That is a space rapidly shrinking, as the politicians, media and the corporations that own social media (as they do everything else) start to realise they have let the genie out of the bottle. This camp is derided as conspiratorial, dangerous, fake news.

This is the current battlefield. It is a battle the first camp looks like it is winning but actually has already lost.

That is not necessarily because the second camp is winning the argument. It is because physical realities are catching up with the first camp, smashing its illusions, even as it clings to them like a life-raft.

The two most significant disrupters of the first camp’s narrative are climate breakdown and economic meltdown. The planet has finite resources, which means endless growth and wealth accumulation cannot be sustained indefinitely. Much as in a Ponzi scheme, there comes a point when the hollow centre is exposed and the system comes crashing down. We have had intimations enough that we are nearing that point.

It hardly needs repeating, except to climate deniers, that we have had even more indications that the Earth’s climate is already turning against humankind.

Out of the darkness

Our political language is rupturing because we are now completely divided. There is no middle ground, no social compact, no consensus. The second camp understands that the current system is broken and that we need radical change, while the first camp holds desperately to the hope that the system will continue to be workable with modifications and minor reforms.

It is on to this battlefield that Corbyn has stumbled, little prepared for the heavy historic burden he shoulders.

We are arriving at a moment called a paradigm shift. That is when the cracks in a system become so obvious they can no longer be credibly denied. Those vested in the old system scream and shout, they buy themselves a little time with increasingly repressive measures, but the house is moments away from falling. The critical questions are who gets hurt when the structure tumbles, and who decides how it will be rebuilt.

The new paradigm is coming anyway. If we don’t choose it ourselves, the planet will for us. It could be an improvement, it could be a deterioration, it could be extinction, depending on how prepared we are for it and how violently those invested in the old system resist the loss of their power. If enough of us understand the need for discarding the broken system, the greater the hope that we can build something better from the ruins.

We are now at the point where the corporate elite can see the cracks are widening but they remain in denial. They are entering the tantrum phase, screaming and shouting at their enemies, and readying to implement ever-more repressive measures to maintain their power.

They have rightly identified social media as the key concern. This is where we – the 99 per cent – have begun waking each other up. This is where we are sharing and learning, emerging out of the darkness clumsily and shaken. We are making mistakes, but learning. We are heading up blind alleys, but learning. We are making poor choices, but learning. We are making unhelpful alliances, but learning.

No one, least of all the corporate elite, knows precisely where this process might lead, what capacities we have for political, social and spiritual growth.

And what the elite don’t own or control, they fear.

Putting the genie back

The elite have two weapons they can use to try to force the second camp back into the bottle. They can vilify it, driving it back into the margins of public life, where it was until the advent of social media; or they can lock down the new channels of mass communication their insatiable drive to monetise everything briefly opened up.

Both strategies have risks, which is why they are being pursued tentatively for the time being. But the second option is by far the riskier of the two. Shutting down social media too obviously could generate blowback, awakening more of the first camp to the illusions the second camp have been trying to alert them to.

Corbyn’s significance – and danger – is that he brings much of the language and concerns of the second camp into the mainstream. He offers a fast-track for the second camp to reach the first camp, and accelerate the awakening process. That, in turn, would improve the chances of the paradigm shift being organic and transitional rather than disruptive and violent.

That is why he has become a lightning rod for the wider machinations of the ruling elite. They want him destroyed, like blowing up a bridge to stop an advancing army.

It is a sign both of their desperation and their weakness that they have had to resort to the nuclear option, smearing him as an anti-semite. Other, lesser smears were tried first: that he was not presidential enough to lead Britain; that he was anti-establishment; that he was unpatriotic; that he might be a traitor. None worked. If anything, they made him more popular.

And so a much more incendiary charge was primed, however at odds it was with Corbyn’s decades spent as an anti-racism activist.

The corporate elite weaponised anti-semitism not because they care about the safety of Jews, or because they really believe that Corbyn is an anti-semite. They chose it because it is the most destructive weapon – short of sex-crime smears and assassination – they have in their armoury.

The truth is the ruling elite are exploiting British Jews and fueling their fears as part of a much larger power game in which all of us – the 99 per cent – are expendable. They will keep stoking this campaign to stigmatise Corbyn, even if a political backlash actually does lead to an increase in real, rather than phoney, anti-semitism.

The corporate elites have no plan to go quietly. Unless we can build our ranks quickly and make our case confidently, their antics will ensure the paradigm shift is violent rather than healing. An earthquake, not a storm.

Is Israel’s Hidden Hand behind the Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn?

Has Israel been covertly fueling claims of an “anti-Semitism crisis” purportedly plaguing Britain’s Labour Party since it elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, three years ago?

That question is raised by a new freedom of information request submitted this week by a group of Israeli lawyers, academics and human rights activists.

They suspect that two Israeli government departments – the ministries of foreign affairs and strategic affairs – have been helping to undermine Corbyn as part of a wider campaign by the Israeli government to harm Palestinian solidarity activists.

The Israeli foreign affairs ministry employs staff of the country’s embassy in London, which was at the centre of suspicions of meddling in UK politics provoked by an Al Jazeera undercover documentary aired last year.

Eitay Mack, an Israeli lawyer, has written to both ministries requesting information on Israel’s contacts and possible funding of anti-Corbyn activities by pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK. The letter specifically seeks information on possible ties with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust, Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel.

It also requests information on any efforts by the two Israeli ministries and the Israeli embassy to influence journalists and civil society groups in the UK.

The move follows an outburst by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on social media last week, in which he accused Corbyn of laying a wreath at a cemetery in Tunisia in 2014 for a Palestinian faction that took hostage Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Eleven Israelis were killed during a bungled rescue bid by the German security services.

Netanyahu’s high-profile intervention followed days of similar claims in the British media against Corbyn.

The Labour leader has insisted that the wreath was laid for Palestinian and Tunisian victims of an Israeli attack on Tunisian soil in 1985, an operation that was denounced by most Western leaders at the time.

‘War against the Jews’

The suggestion that Corbyn supported Palestinian terrorists is an escalation in long-running allegations of a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in the Labour Party since he became leader. Such claims have been rife despite statistics showing that the party has less of a problem with anti-Semitism than both the ruling Conservative Party and British society generally.

While initial charges of anti-Semitism in the party targeted mostly Corbyn supporters, the focus has increasingly shifted to the Labour leader himself.

This week Labour MP Joan Ryan, who heads Labour Friends of Israel, wrote a commentary in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper directly blaming Corbyn for the party’s so-called anti-Semitism crisis. She said the party’s problems had grown out of his “past associations with ‘Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites’”.

Fellow MP Margaret Hodge had earlier called Corbyn “an anti-Semite and racist”.

Marie Van Der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, appeared this week on i24, an Israeli English-language channel, to berate Corbyn: “It’s like Jeremy Corbyn has declared war on the Jews. … We as the Jewish community are spending our time fighting the leader of the opposition.”

A recently created British group, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, solicited testimony this week from British Jews in a case it has submitted to the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission alleging “institutional racism” in the Labour Party.

Meddling by Israel

Netanyahu’s tweet is far from the first example of public meddling by Israel in Labour politics. Last December Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister and a close ally of Netanyahu’s, all but accused Corbyn of being an anti-Semite.

He was reported saying: “We recognise and we see that there are anti-Semitic views in many of the leadership of the current Labour Party.”

An Israeli app developed by Israel’s strategic affairs ministry was reportedly used this month to amplify erroneous criticism of Corbyn on social media for making supposedly anti-Semitic comments at a 2010 meeting.

A “mission” issued to Israel lobbyists urged them to spread claims that Corbyn had compared Israel to Nazi Germany, based on a misreading of a report in Britain’s Times newspaper. In fact, Corbyn had attended an anti-racism event at which a Holocaust survivor, Hajo Meyer, made such a comparison.

But while these interventions have angered Corbyn and many of his supporters, there are suggestions that, behind the scenes, Israel has been playing a much larger role in helping to stoke the party’s “anti-Semitism crisis,” as the freedom of information request suggests.

Dirty tricks unit

The main source of Labour’s current woes looks to be Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, which has been headed by Erdan since 2015.

It was set up in 2006, mainly as a vehicle to prevent far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman from breaking up the governing coalition. Lieberman and his successors used it chiefly as a platform from which to stoke concerns either about Iran building a nuclear bomb or about a supposed problem of “Palestinian incitement”.

But more recently, Netanyahu has encouraged the ministry to redirect its energies towards what he terms “delegitimisation”, chiefly in response to the growing visibility of the international BDS movement, which promotes boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

As a result, the strategic affairs ministry has moved from being a relative backwater inside the government to playing a starring role in Israel’s struggle on the world stage against “enemies” damaging its image.

It is hard to determine precisely what the ministry is up to, so sensitive is its work. Even the names of many of its staff are classified.

In the summer of 2016, it advertised a position for an intelligence operative to head a “tarnishing” – or dirty tricks – unit. Its role, according to Amir Oren, a commentator on Israel’s security services, was to “establish, hire or tempt nonprofit organisations or groups not associated with Israel, in order to disseminate the sullying material”.

The ministry now has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars, and there are clues aplenty that it is playing a leading, if covert, role in shaping public perceptions of Israel around the world.

‘Civil targeted eliminations’

Erdan’s number two, Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former military intelligence officer, told a parliamentary committee in 2016 that most of the ministry’s activities had to stay “under the radar” because of “sensitivities”.

“I can’t even explain in an open forum why there are such sensitivities,” she said.

The ministry’s job, she added, was to build a “community of warriors”.

Yossi Melman, a veteran Israeli analyst who has spent decades covering Israel’s intelligence services, reported at the time that the ministry was receiving help from a “special unit” of military intelligence to run “black ops” that might include “defamation campaigns” and “harassment”.

The ministry’s underhand methods were alluded to two years ago, at a conference in Israel against BDS. A colleague of Erdan’s, intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, called for “targeted civil eliminations” of high-profile proponents of BDS.

That could be achieved, he suggested, by drawing on information provided by the Israeli intelligence services he oversees.

Katz used language intended to play on the term “targeted assassinations” – how Israel describes its extrajudicial execution of Palestinian leaders. Katz appeared to be calling for “black ops” designed to character-assassinate Israel’s leading critics.

Plan to marginalise critics

If Israel regards it as necessary to go to such lengths against BDS activists, it seems reasonable to ask: what is it prepared to do to undermine Corbyn, who heads the largest political party in Europe and was in sight of winning last year’s British general election?

If Corbyn eventually becomes prime minister, he would be the first European leader to prioritise the cause of justice for Palestinians over Israel’s continuing occupation.

Clues are provided in a report written last year by two prominent pro-Israel lobby groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Reut Institute, in collaboration with Israeli government “experts” and endorsed by the ministry of strategic affairs. The report was leaked to the Electronic Intifada website.

It warned that solidarity with Palestinians had “migrated into mainstream left-wing parties in Europe”. The damage could be curtailed, according to the report, by “driving a wedge” between what it termed “harsh critics” and “soft critics” of Israel.

It proposed “professionalising” the existing network of pro-Israel lobby groups and improving “information-gathering” to target Palestinian solidarity activists – or what it called a “delegitimisation network”. Such work needed to be done “covertly” and “uncompromisingly,” the authors stated.

Harsh critics, the report concluded, could then be “marginalised to a point where it [their criticism] is considered socially inappropriate”.

The report praises the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs for having “inserted a great degree of sophistication and creativity to the pro-Israel network”.

Vaknin-Gil, the ministry’s director-general, is quoted in the document as endorsing its findings: “I am glad to see that we share a very similar point of view regarding the challenge and desired strategy.”

‘Sowing divisions’

Whether connected or not, much of the report reads like a playbook for what Israel lobbyists have been doing to promote the idea of an “anti-Semitism crisis” in the Labour Party. The issue has indeed driven a wedge between “harsh critics” of Israel – Corbyn and his supporters – and much of the rest of the party bureaucracy.

Asa Winstanley, an investigative journalist who has extensively covered the claims of an anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour Party for the Electronic Intifada, argues that Corbyn is viewed by Israel as effectively the “figurehead of the delegitimisation network”.

“They hope that by taking action against him, they can decapitate what they see as the most powerful figure in this network,” he told Middle East Eye. “By making an example of him, they can sow division, spread fear and suppress speech on Israel.”

Certainly, Israel’s fingerprints look to be present in the current claims of an anti-Semitism crisis supposedly revolving around Corbyn.

Active interference by the Israeli government in British politics was highlighted last year in a four-part undercover documentary produced by the Qatari channel Al Jazeera. It secretly filmed the activities of an operative in Israel’s embassy in London named Shai Masot.

The Al Jazeera investigation provoked numerous complaints that it breached broadcasting rules relating to anti-Semitism, bias, unfair editing and invasions of privacy. However, Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator, cleared the programme of all charges.

What little coverage there was of the documentary in the British media focused on Masot’s meetings with pro-Israel activists in the Conservative Party. Masot is shown plotting to “take down” a junior foreign office minister, Alan Duncan, who was seen by Israel as too sympathetic to the Palestinians.

But the documentary itself concentrated on Masot’s much more extensive meetings with pro-Israel activists in the Labour Party. One of his main efforts was to establish a front organisation, a youth wing of Labour Friends of Israel that would have been opposed to Corbyn.

Complaints of bias

Masot was also filmed collaborating with two key Israel lobby groups within the party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and Labour Friends of Israel – membership of the latter includes dozens of Labour MPs.

Winstanley, of the Electronic Intifada, observed that the JLM had in recent years become a largely defunct organisation until it was revived in February 2016 – just as claims of an anti-Semitism crisis in Labour took off.

Those who have tried to investigate how the JLM expanded its operations so rapidly say its funding sources are “completely opaque”.

Shortly after the JLM became more active, a new director, Ella Rose, was appointed. It was Winstanley who revealed that Rose had been recruited straight from Israel’s London embassy, where she worked as its public affairs officer.

Although the JLM has argued it represents the diversity of Jewish opinion in the Labour Party, that has come under challenge since the Al Jazeera investigation. A new faction, Jewish Voice for Labour, has since been established with a declared intention to show that many of the party’s Jewish members are supportive of Corbyn.

“It looks suspiciously like the JLM has become a proxy of the Israeli state,” Winstanley said.

“It is not an organic grassroots movement, as it likes to claim. And it is no accident that it has been the driving force behind the claims of an anti-Semitism problem under Corbyn.”

Both Ella Rose and the JLM were contacted for comment on these allegations, but neither had responded at the time of publication.

Turf war in London

Who was Masot working for? Perhaps not surprisingly, Israeli officials and the Israeli media have downplayed his significance, portraying him as a minor player at the embassy who pursued a rogue, personal policy.

That view appeared to be accepted by the British government and the British media, which allowed the controversy to quickly die down after Masot was sent back to Israel.

But there is considerable evidence that Masot’s collaborative work with British pro-Israel organisations against Corbyn was being carried out at the direction of the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs.

In September 2016, as Al Jazeera was filming its undercover documentary, Haaretz reported on a growing turf war in Britain between the Israeli foreign ministry and the ministry of strategic affairs, the two groups targeted in the freedom of information request.

In a leaked cable sent to the Israeli foreign ministry and obtained by Haaretz, its senior staff at the London embassy complain that Erdan’s strategic affairs ministry is “operating” British Jewish organisations behind the embassy’s back.

The embassy’s apparent concern is that such operations are likely to break British law and could have “dangerous” repercussions for the embassy’s work. “Britain isn’t the US!” the cable states.

Haaretz explained the concern behind the cable: “The potential legal problem stems from the fact that most British Jewish organisations are defined as charities. As such, they are barred from activity of a political nature unless it is directly connected to the organisation’s charitable goals.”

According to the Haaretz report, strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan had visited Britain two weeks earlier to try to iron out differences. His advisers in the UK had promised “not to pose as the embassy,” though the cable identifies an incident shortly afterwards when one such adviser did so.

Was Masot another of Erdan’s “advisers” in the UK, operating out of the embassy? His covert operations – caught on camera – are of precisely the kind his own embassy was complaining about.

At one point during Al Jazeera’s many weeks of secret filming, Masot dramatically changes direction. He announces to the undercover reporter that he can no longer be directly involved in creating a Labour youth movement and must remain in the background. He is seen winking at the reporter.

His sudden change of tune appears to coincide with the spat between the embassy staff and the strategic affairs ministry.

Problems over anti-Semitism

One Labour activist, who did not wish to be named given the purges taking place inside the party, told MEE: “Corbyn is up against an unholy, ad hoc alliance of right-wing MPs in both the Labour and Tory parties, the Israeli government and its lobbyists, the British security services and the media.

“They have settled on anti-Semitism as the best weapon to use against him because it is such a taboo issue. It’s like quicksand. The more he struggles against the claims, the more he gets sucked down into the mire.”

That has been all too evident in months of wrangling inside Labour about how to define anti-Semitism. Under pressure from Corbyn’s critics, the party approved a new code of conduct in July based on a highly controversial “working definition” drafted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The adoption of the IHRA definition, however, did nothing to placate Jewish leadership organisations, such as the Board of Deputies, or the JLM. They objected because Labour’s code of conduct excluded four of the IHRA’s 11 possible “examples” of anti-Semitism – the main ones that relate to Israel.

Labour officials feared that including them would severely curtail the party’s ability to criticise Israel.

Experts agree. David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck College, London University, has warned of “a danger that the overall effect will place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not anti-Semitic”.

Under pressure from pro-Israel groups, however, Labour looks close to adopting all of the IHRA examples.

Creating a new definition

Israel’s fingerprints are evident in these recent efforts to redefine anti-Semitism in a way that moves the centre of gravity away from hatred of Jews towards criticism of Israel.

That shift inevitably ensnares any political leader who, like Corbyn, wishes to express solidarity with Palestinians.

The IHRA’s definition is itself based on one proposed in 2004 – and discarded after much criticism – by a now-defunct European Union body called the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).

That definition was derived from the work of Israeli academics such as Dina Porat, who was part of an Israeli foreign ministry delegation to an anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. At that time Israel was facing a barrage of criticism for its use of lethal force to put down a Palestinian uprising.

Nathan Thrall, an analyst in Jerusalem with the International Crisis Group, has noted that the aim of Porat and others was to create “a new definition of anti-Semitism that would equate criticisms of Israel with hatred of Jews”. They were largely responsible for the way the EUMC’s “working definition” was formulated.

But Israel and its lobbyists were frustrated by the definition’s failure to gain traction. That began to change in 2015.

A conference in Jerusalem sponsored by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry, the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, recommended that year that the working definition of anti-Semitism “be reintroduced into the international arena with the aim of giving it legal status”.

The task was taken up by a senior pro-Israel lobbyist, Mark Weitzman, of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre. As chair of the IHRA’s committee on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he lobbied on behalf of the discredited EUMC definition. The IHRA formally adopted it in 2016.

In a new book, Cracks in the Wall, analyst Ben White points to an Israeli government document that approved the change of emphasis in the definition. The document states: “The main innovation in the working definition is that it also includes expressions of anti-Semitism directed against the state of Israel, when it is perceived as a Jewish collective.”

‘Open season’ on Corbyn

A tool originally intended to suppress student debates about Israel and block Israel anti-apartheid week on campus has now been successfully pressed into service against the leader of a major British political party.

According to Winstanley, if the full IHRA definition is approved by Labour: “It will be open season on Corbyn and his supporters in the party.”

He added that the strategy outlined in the report by the Anti-Defamation League and the Reut Institute was being closely followed. “Well-tested disinformation strategies are being used to isolate Corbyn from his base of support,” he said.

The Israeli academics and lawyers seeking access to information on the activities of the two Israeli ministries – foreign affairs and strategic affairs – believe that official documents could help to expose a role played by Israel in fomenting the current problems facing Corbyn.

The foreign ministry has demonstrably been at the centre of efforts to expand the definition of anti-Semitism from hatred of Jews into a catch-all for criticism of Israel – a definition that Corbyn and his supporters are bound to fall foul of.

The role of the strategic affairs ministry, given its covert nature, is harder to assess. But the existence of a “dirty tricks” unit points towards a strategy to vilify and isolate high-profile Palestinian solidarity activists such as Corbyn.

There is evidence that, in cooperation with the foreign affairs ministry, it has run at least one agent out of the London embassy assisting and possibly directing pro-Israel lobby groups to amplify a supposed anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour party.

Given his long track record of being at the forefront of anti-racism initiatives that have emphasised Palestinian solidarity and criticism of Israel, Corbyn may find there is an endless supply of readily mined “scandals” the two ministries can keep digging up.

• First published in Middle East Eye