Category Archives: antisemitism

As the Israel Lobby in the US Weakens, its UK Counterpart Grows More Fearsome

For decades it was all but taboo to suggest that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States like AIPAC used their money and influence to keep lawmakers firmly in check on Israel-related issues – even if one had to be blind not to notice that that was exactly what they were up to.

When back in February Ilhan Omar pointed out the obvious – that US Representatives like her were routinely expected to submit to the lobby’s dictates on Israel, a foreign country – her colleagues clamoured to distance themselves from her, just as one might have expected were the pro-Israel lobby to wield the very power Omar claimed.

But surprisingly Omar did not – at least immediately – suffer the crushing fate of those who previously tried to raise this issue. Although she was pressured into apologising, she was not battered into complete submission for her honesty.

She received support on social media, as well as a wavering, muted defence from a Democratic grandee like Nancy Pelosi, and even a relatively sympathetic hearing from a few prominent figures in the US Jewish community.

The Benjamins do matter

Omar’s comments have confronted – and started to expose – one of the most enduring absurdities in debates about US politics. Traditionally it has been treated as anti-semitic to argue that the pro-Israel lobby actually lobbies for its chosen cause – exactly as other major lobbies do, from the financial services industries to the health and gun lobbies – and that, as with other lobbies enjoying significant financial clout, it usually gets its way.

Omar found herself in the firing line in February when she noted that what mattered in US politics was “It’s all about the Benjamins” – an apparent reference to the 1997 Puff Daddy song of the same name – later clarifying that AIPAC leverages funds over Congressional and presidential candidates.

The claim that the pro-Israel lobby isn’t really in the persuasion business can only be sustained on the preposterous basis that Israeli and US interests are so in tune that AIPAC and other organisations serve as little more than cheerleaders for the two countries’ “unbreakable bond”. Presumably on this view, the enormous sums of money raised are needed only to fund the celebrations.

‘A one-issue guy’

Making the irrefutable observation that the pro-Israel lobby does actually lobby on Israel’s behalf, and very successfully, is typically denounced as anti-semitism. Omar’s comments were perceived as anti-semitic on the grounds that she pointed to the canard that Jews wield outsized influence using money to sway policymaking.

Allegations of anti-semitism against her deepened days later when she gave a talk in Washington DC and questioned why it was that she could talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association and Big Pharma but not the pro-Israel lobby – or “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”.

That pro-Israel lobbyists – as opposed to Jews generally – do have dual loyalty seems a peculiar thing to deny, given that the purpose of groups like AIPAC is to rally support for Israel in Congress.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key backer of Republican candidates for the presidency, has never hidden his passion not only for Israel but specifically for the ultra-nationalist governments of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, he is so committed to Netanyahu’s survival that he spent nearly $200 million propping up an Israeli newspaper over its first seven years – all so he could assist the prime minister of a foreign country.

Similarly, Haim Saban, one of the main donors to Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, has made no secret of his commitment to Israel. He has said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Might Saban and Adelson’s “Benjamins” have influenced the very pro-Israel – and very anti-Palestinian – positions of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates? You would have to be supremely naïve or dishonest to claim it has not.

‘No Bernie-like approach’

This point really should be beyond doubt by now. This month the New York Times published an unprecedented essay in which author Nathan Thrall quoted political insiders and lobbyists making plain that, as one would expect, the pro-Israel lobby uses its money to pressure Congressional candidates to toe the lobby’s line on Israel.

Some of the lobby’s power operates at the level of assumption about what Jewish donors expect in return for their money. According to the NYT, some three-quarters of all donations over $500,000 to the major political action committee supporting Democratic nominees for the US Senate race in 2018 were made by Jews.

Though many of those donors may not rate Israel as their main cause, a former Clinton campaign aide noted that the recipients of this largesse necessarily tailor their foreign policy positions so as not to antagonise such donors. As a result, candidates avoid even the mild criticism of Israel adopted by Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party’s challenger to Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

“There’s no major donor that I can think of who is looking for someone to take a Bernie-like approach,” said the aide. Sanders raised his campaign funds from small donations rather these major funders, leaving him freer to speak openly about Israel.

Fight for donors, not voters

Other insiders are more explicit still. Ben Rhodes, a former confidant of Barack Obama, says the lobby effectively tied Obama’s hands domestically on efforts to promote peace. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” he told Thrall, adding: “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.”

Joel Rubin, a former political director at lobby group J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, concurred: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

All of these insiders are stating that the expectations of major donors shape candidates’ US foreign policy positions in line with Israel’s interests, not necessarily US interests. It is hard not to interpret that as reformulation of “dual loyalty”.

Out of the shadows

What’s so significant about the NYT article is that it signals, as did the muted furore over Omar’s comments, that the pro-Israel lobby is weakening. No powerful lobby, including the Israel one, wants to be forced out of the shadows. It wants to remain in the darkness, where it can most comfortably exercise its influence without scrutiny or criticism.

The pro-Israel lobby’s loyalty to Israel is no longer unmentionable. But it is also not unique.

As Mondoweiss recently noted, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish scholar and fugitive from Nazi Germany, pointed to the inevitability of the “double loyalty conflict” in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered”, where she foreshadowed the rise of a pro-Israel lobby and its potential negative impacts on American Jews. It was, she wrote, “an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein.”

For that reason, the US-Cuban lobby has an obvious dual loyalty problem too. It’s just that, given the Cuban lobby’s priority is overthrowing the Cuban government – a desire shared in Washington – the issue is largely moot.

In Israel’s case, however, there is a big and growing gap between image and reality. On the one hand, Washington professes a commitment to peace-making and a promise to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. And on the other, the reality is it has offered full-throated support for a series of ultra-nationalist Israeli governments determined to destroy any hope of peace and swallow up the last vestiges of a potential Palestinian state.

Doing the Lord’s work

It’s important to point out, however, that advocates for Israel are not only Jews. While the pro-Israel lobby represents the views of a proportion of Jewish Americans, it is also significantly comprised of Christians, evangelicals in particular.

Millions of these Christians – including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – can be accused of dual loyalty too. They regard Israel’s role in Biblical prophecy as far more important than the future of the US, or mankind for that matter.

For many of these evangelicals, bringing about the end of the world by ensuring Jews return to their Biblical homeland – triggering a final reckoning at the Battle of Armageddon – is the fulfillment of God’s will. And if it’s a choice between support for Washington’s largely secular elites and support for God, they know very definitely where they stand.

Again, the NYT has started to shine a light on the strange role of Israel in the US political constellation. Another recent article reminded readers that in 2015 Pompeo spoke of the end-times struggle prophesied to take place in Israel, or what is often termed by evangelicals as “The Rapture”. He said: “We will continue to fight these battles.”

During his visit last month to Israel, he announced that the Trump administration’s work was “to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here”.

Divorced from reality

If the debate about the pro-Israel lobby in the US is for the first time making a nod to truth, the conversation about the pro-Israel lobby in the UK is becoming more and more divorced from reality.

Part of the reason is the way the Israel lobby has recently emerged in the UK – hurriedly, and in a mix of panic and damage limitation mode.

Given that for decades European countries largely followed Washington’s lead on Israel, pro-Israel lobbies outside the US were much less organised and muscular. European leaders’ unquestioning compliance was assured as long as Washington appeared to act as a disinterested broker overseeing a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, Europe was in little need of vigorous pro-Israel lobbies.

But that illusion has now been shattered, first by the explicit Greater Israel ideology espoused by a series of Netanyahu governments, and latterly by Donald Trump’s occupancy of the White House and his vehement backing of Israeli demands, however much they violate international law.

That has left European policy towards Israel – and its enabling by default of Netanyahu and Trump’s efforts to crush Palestinian rights – dangerously exposed.

Conflating Jews and Israel

Popular backlashes have taken the form of a rapid growth in support for BDS, a grassroots, non-violent movement promoting a boycott of Israel. But more specifically in Britain’s case, it has resulted in the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known champion of Palestinian rights and anti-racism struggles generally, to lead the opposition Labour party.

For that reason, Jewish leadership groups in the UK have had to reinvent themselves quickly, from organisations to promote the community’s interests into vehicles to defend Israel. And to do that they have had to adopt a position that was once closely identified with anti-semitism: conflating Jews with Israel.

This, we should remember, was the view taken 100 years ago by arch anti-semites in the British government. They regarded Jews as inherently “un-British”, as incapable of assimilation and therefore as naturally suspect.

Lord Balfour, before he made his abiding legacy the 1917 Declaration of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, helped pass the Aliens Act to block entry to the UK of Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Balfour believed Jewish immigration had resulted in “undoubted evils”.

A lobby cobbled together

Also significantly, unlike the US, where the pro-Israel lobby has maintained fervent support for Israel as a bipartisan matter over decades, the need for an equivalent pro-Israel lobby in the UK has emerged chiefly in relation to Corbyn’s unexpected ascent to power in the Labour party.

Rather than emerging slowly and organically, as was the case in the US, the British pro-Israel has had to be cobbled together hastily. Israel’s role in directing this immature lobby has been harder to hide.

Most of the UK’s Jewish leadership organisations have been poorly equipped for the task of tackling the new sympathy for Palestinian rights unleashed in the Labour party by Corbyn’s rise. The Board of Deputies, for example, has enjoyed visible ties to the ruling Conservative party. Any criticisms they make of the Labour leader are likely to be seen as having an air of partisanship and point-scoring.

So unusually in Britain’s case, the chief pro-Israel lobby group against Corbyn has emerged from within his own party – in the form of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

The JLM is trumpeted in the British media both as a venerable Jewish group, more than a century old, and as one that is widely representative of Jewish opinion. Neither claim is true.

Revived to deal with Corbyn

The JLM likes to date its origins to the Poale Zion organisation, which was founded in 1903. A socialist society, Poale Zion affiliated itself not only with the British Labour party but also with a wide range of anti-Palestinian Zionist organisations such as the World Zionist Organisation and the Israeli Labour party. The latter carried out the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948 and the party’s leaders to this today publicly support the illegal settlement “blocs” that are displacing Palestinians and stealing their land.

But as the investigative journalist Asa Winstanley has shown, before the unexpected ascent of Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, the JLM had largely fallen into dormancy.

It was briefly revived in 2004, when Israel was facing widespread criticism in Britain over its brutal efforts to crush a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. But the JLM only really became active again in 2015.

According to a covert recording of a private JLM event in late 2016, its then chair Jeremy Newmark said he and other activists had agreed to reform the group in September 2015 in response to “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” and “Bernie Sanders in the States”. Corbyn has been elected Labour leader only days previously.

According to the transcript, Newmark told the other activists that it would be the “start of a struggle and a battle we will all be engaged in for months and probably years ahead of us”. He added that the JLM would be a suitable vehicle for their work because of the “rights and privileges” it enjoyed as a Labour party affiliate organisation.

Front for Israeli embassy

The motive behind the JLM’s resuscitation was also revealed by an undercover documentary made by Al-Jazeera, aired in early 2017. It showed that the JLM was acting as little more than a front for the Israeli embassy, and that the mission it set itself was to weaken Corbyn in the hope of removing him from the leadership.

Early on, the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists within the party realised that the most effective way to damage Corbyn, and silence solidarity with the Palestinian cause, was to weaponise the charge of anti-semitism.

Support for Palestinian rights necessarily requires severe criticism of Israel, whose popular, right wing governments have shown no interest in making concessions to the Palestinians on self-determination. In fact, while westerners have debated the need for urgent peacemaking, Israel has simply got on with grabbing vast tracts of Palestinian land as a way to destroy any hope of statehood.

But pro-Israel lobbyists in the UK have found that they can very effectively turn this issue into a zero-sum game – one that, in the context of a British public conversation oblivious to Palestinian rights, inevitably favours Israel.

Identifying with Israel

The thrust of the lobby’s argument is that almost all Jews identify with Israel, which means that attacks on Israel are also attacks on Jewish identity. That, they claim, is a modern form of anti-semitism.

This argument, if it were true, has an obvious retort: if Jews really do identify with Israel to the extent that they are prepared to ignore its systematic abuse of Palestinians, then that would make most British Jews anti-Arab racists.

Further, if Jewish identity really is deeply enmeshed in the state of Israel, that would place a moral obligation on Jews to denounce any behaviour by Israel towards Palestinians that violates human rights and international law.

And yet the very Jewish leaders claiming that Israel is at the core of their identity are also the ones who demand that Jews not be expected to take responsibility for Israel’s actions – and that to demand as much is anti-semitic.

Could there be a clearer example of having your cake and eating it?

‘Institutionally anti-semitic’

Nonetheless, the JLM has very successfully hijacked the debate within Labour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to silence criticism. It has worked hard to impose a highly controversial new definition of anti-semitism that conflates it with criticism of Israel. Seven on the 11 examples of anti-semitism used to illustrate the new definition relate to Israel.

Arguing, for example, that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, the view of many in the growing BDS movement and among Corbyn supporters, is now being treated as evidence of anti-semitism.

For this reason, the JLM has been able to file a complaint against Labour with the Equality and Human Rights Commission arguing that the party is “institutionally anti-semitic”.

Labour is only the second political party after the neo-Nazi British National Party to have been subjected to an investigation by the equality watchdog.

Counterweight to the JLM

Despite its claims, the JLM does not represent Jewish opinion in the Labour party. The JLM says it has 2,000 members, though that figure – if accurate – includes non-Jews. Attendance at its annual general meeting this month could be measured in the dozens.

As one Jewish critic observed: “There are some 300,000 Jews in Britain. The Jewish Labour Movement claims to represent us all. So why were there fewer people at their AGM [annual general meeting] than at my Labour Party branch AGM?”

Many Jews in the Labour party have chosen not to join the JLM, preferring instead to act as a counterweight by creating a new Jewish pressure group that backs Corbyn called Jewish Voice for Labour.

Even a new JLM membership drive publicised by former Labour leader Gordon Brown reportedly brought only a small influx of new members, suggesting that support for the JLM’s anti-Corbyn, pro-Israel agenda is very limited inside Labour.

Speaking for ‘the Jews’

The re-establishment of the JLM has one very transparent aim in mind: to push out Corbyn, using any means at its disposal. At its annual general meeting, the JLM unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, describing him as “unfit to to be Prime Minister”. The resolution declared that “a Labour Government led by [Corbyn] would not be in the interests of British Jews”.

One Jewish commentator derisively noted the JLM’s arrogance in speaking for all British Jews at a time of Conservative government-imposed austerity:

“I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of ‘the Jews’, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services.”

Scoring Labour candidates

In other circumstances, a group of people operating inside a major political party using underhand methods to disrupt its democratic processes would be described as entryists. Some 2,000 pro-Israel fanatics within Labour are trying to overturn the overwhelming wishes, twice expressed at the ballot box, of the Labour membership, now numbering more than 500,000.

Nonetheless, last week the JLM started to show its hand more publicly. It has been noisily threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour party. In the circumstances that would at least be an honourable – if very unlikely – thing for it to do.

Instead it announced that it would begin scoring local and national Labour politicians based on their record on anti-semitism. After the JLM’s frantic lobbying for the adoption of the new anti-semitism definition, it seems clear that such scores will relate to the vehemence of a candidate’s criticism of Israel, or possibly their ideological sympathy with Corbyn, more than overt bigotry towards Jews.

That was underscored this week when a senior Labour politician, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, came under fire from the JLM and Board of Deputies for comments he made in 2014, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, that only recently came to light. He was recorded saying: “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists.” He had previously denied making any such comment.

Mike Katz, the JLM’s new chair, responded: “Insulting a core part of their [Jewish people’s] identity and then dissembling about it is shameful behaviour from a senior frontbencher in our party, let alone someone who aspires to administer our justice system.”

Marginal prejudice

According to the Labour party’s own figures, actual anti-Jewish prejudice – as opposed to criticism of Israel – is extremely marginal in its ranks, amounting to some 0.08 percent of members. It is presumably even less common among those selected to run as candidates in local and national elections.

The JLM has nonetheless prioritised this issue, threatening that the scores may be used to decide whether activists will campaign for a candidate. One might surmise that the scores could also serve as the basis for seeking to deselect candidates and replace them with politicians more to the JLM’s liking.

“We have got elections coming up but we are not going to put that effort in unless we know people are standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Katz.

Need for vigorous debate

Paradoxically, the JLM appears to be preparing to do openly what pro-Israel lobbyists in the US deny they do covertly: use their money and influence to harm candidates who are not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel.

Despite claims from both US and UK pro-Israel lobby groups that they speak for their own domestic Jewish populations, they clearly don’t. Individuals within Jewish communities are divided over whether they identify with Israel or not. And certainly, their identification with Israel should not be a reason to curtail vigorous debates about US and UK foreign policy and Israeli influence domestically.

Even if the vast majority of Jews in the US and UK do support Israel – not just in a symbolic or abstract way, but the actual far-right governments that now permanently rule Israel – that does not make them right about Israel or make it anti-semitic for others to be highly critical of Israel.

Chipping away at democracy

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support a narrow spectrum of politicians, from the militaristic right to religious fundamentalists and fascists. They view Palestinians as less deserving, less human even, than Jews and as an obstacle to the realisation of Jewish rights in the whole of the “Land of Israel”, including the Palestinian territories. Does that make them right? Does their numerical dominance excuse their ugly bigotry towards Palestinians? Of course not.

And so it would be the same even were it true that most Jewish members of the Labour party supported a state that proudly upholds Jewish supremacism as its national ideology. Their sensitivities should count for nothing if they simply mask ugly racist attitudes towards Palestinians.

Lobbies of all kinds thrive in the dark, growing more powerful and less accountable when they are out of view and immune from scrutiny.

By refusing to talk frankly about the role of pro-Israel lobbies in the UK and the US, or by submitting to their intimidation, we simply invite Israel’s supporters and anti-Palestinian racists to flex their muscles more aggressively and chip away at the democratic fabric of our societies.

There are signs that insurgency politicians in the US are ready for the first time to shine a light into the recesses of a political system deeply corrupted by money. That will inevitably make life much harder for the pro-Israel lobby.

But paradoxically, it is happening just as the the UK’s Israel lobby is pushing in exactly the opposite direction. British politics is being plunged into a stifling, unhealthy silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses, sanctioned by the west, in modern history.

• First published at Mondoweiss

Media Smoothed Way to Corbyn Target Practice

It is time to stop believing these infantile narratives the political and media establishment have crafted for us. Like the one in which they tell us they care deeply about the state of British political life, that they lie awake at night worrying about the threat posed by populism to our democratic institutions.

How do they persuade us of the depth of their concern? They express their horror at the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and their outrage at the abuse of another, Anna Soubry.

But they don’t really care whether politicians are assaulted, vilified or threatened – at least, not if it is the kind of politician who threatens their power. These political and media elites don’t seriously care about attacks on democracy, or about political violence, or about the rottenness at the core of state institutions. Their outrage is selective. It is rooted not in principle, but in self-interest.

Is that too cynical? Ponder this.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t faced just shouted insults from afar, like Soubry. He was recently physically assaulted, hit on the head by a man holding an egg in his fist. But unlike Soubry, our media expressed no real concern. In fact, they could barely conceal their sniggers at his “egging”, an attack they presented as little more than a prank. They even hinted that Corbyn deserved it.

Shown as Kremlin stooge

The media have been only happy too to vilify Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge and a former Soviet spy. Senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith today called Corbyn “a Marxist whose sole purpose in life is to do real damage to the country” – a remark that, as ever, went entirely unchallenged by the BBC giving him a platform. Just imagine a Labour MP being allowed to accuse Theresa May of being a fascist whose only goal is to destroy the country.

But the BBC has never bothered to conceal its intense dislike of Corbyn. Its news shows have even photoshopped the Labour leader to make him look “Russian” – or “more Russian”, as the BBC and the rest of the media mischievously phrased it. Those who protested were told they were reading too much into it. They needed to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously.

The Conservative party, including the former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has regularly portrayed Corbyn as a threat to national security, especially over concerns about the Trident nuclear missile system. Many senior members of Corbyn’s own party have echoed such smears – all amplified, of course, by the media.

Those who suggested that the government and media needed to engage with Corbyn’s well-grounded doubts about the safety of nuclear weapons, or the economics and practicalities of the Trident programme, were derided – like Corbyn – as “pacifists” and “traitors”.

Then Corbyn became the target of another sustained demonisation campaign. It was claimed that this lifelong, very public anti-racism activist – who over decades had forged strong ties to sections of the British Jewish community, despite being a steadfast critic of Israel – was, at worst, a secret anti-semite and, at best, providing succour to anti-semites as they overran the Labour party.

Was there any factual basis or evidence for these claims? No. But the British public was assured by rightwing Jews like the Board of Deputies and by “leftwing” Jewish supporters of Israel like Jonathan Freedland that evidence wasn’t necessary, that they had a sixth sense for these things.

Corbyn’s supporters were told that they should not question the wildly inflammatory and evidence-free denunciations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership for a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” – and, with a satisfyingly circular logic, that to do so was itself proof of anti-semitism.

Too toxic to lead Labour

The weaponisation of anti-semitism through political spin by Corbyn’s political enemies, including the Blairite faction of the parliamentary Labour party, was and is a dangerous assault on public life, one that has very obviously degraded Britain’s political culture.

The smear was meant to override the membership’s wishes and make Corbyn too toxic to lead Labour.

It has also politicised the anti-semitism allegation, weakening it for a section of the population, and irresponsibly inflaming fears among other sections. It has deflected attention from the very real threat of a rising tide of rightwing racism, both Islamophobia and the kind of anti-semitism that relates to Jews, not Israel.

Then, there was the serving British general who was given a platform by the Sunday Times – anonymously, of course – to accuse Corbyn of being a threat to British national security. The general warned that the army’s senior command would never allow Corbyn near Number 10. They would launch a coup first.

But no one in the corporate media or the political establishment thought the interview worthy of much attention, or demanded an investigation to find out which general had threatened to overturn the democratic will of the people. The story was quickly dropped down the memory hole. Those who sought to draw attention to it were told to move on, that there was nothing to see.

And now, this week, footage has emerged showing British soldiers – apparently taking their commanders’ expressed wishes more seriously than the media – using a poster of Corbyn as target practice out in Afghanistan.

Questioning ‘security credentials’

Do the media and politicians really care about any of this? Are they concerned, let alone as outraged as they were at Soubry’s earlier discomfort at the verbal abuse she faced? Do they understand the seriousness of this threat to British political life, to the safety of the leader of the opposition?

The signs are still far from reassuring. Theresa May did not think it worth using prime minister’s questions to condemn the video, to send an unequivocal message that Britain’s political choices would never be decided by violence. No one else in the chamber apparently thought to raise the matter either.

Sky News even used the footage to question yet again Corbyn’s “security credentials”, as though the soldiers might thereby have grounds for treating him as a legitimate target.

The clues as to where all this is leading are not hard to fathom. The white nationalist who drove into a crowd at Finsbury Park mosque in London, killing a worshipper, admitted at his trial that the real target had been Corbyn. An unexpected roadblock foiled his plans.

The fact is that no one in the political or media class cares much whether their constant trivialising of Corbyn’s political programme degrades British political life, or whether their smears could lead to political violence, or whether four years of their incitement might encourage someone to use more than an egg and a fist against Corbyn.

So let’s stop indulging the media and politicians as they cite Jo Cox’s murder and Anna Soubry’s intimidation as evidence of their democratic sensibilities and their commitment to political principle.

The truth is they are charlatans. They will use anything – from the murder of an MP to confections of anti-semitism and smears about treason – to incite against a democratic politician who threatens their domination of the political system.

It is their refusal to engage with a political argument they know they will lose, and to allow a democratic process to take place that they fear will produce the wrong result, that is setting the scene for greater polarisation and frustration, and ultimately for violence.

Day of Wrath

In all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean in subjeccion.
— John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, A Model of Christian Charity, 1630

I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.
— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1830

Today utopia is maligned because no one really wants to see its realization.
— Max Horkheimer, The Authoritarian State, 1940

I continue to see this repackaged antisemitism appearing everywhere, but perhaps most disturbingly on the left. And it seems tied into a growing cultic response regards the multiple environmental crises. And, thirdly, I see the retreat, from so many on the left, to a tacit or even overt endorsement of Democratic Party candidates or office holders. Often from people who claimed they were done with the Democrats, wanted to see them destroyed, etc. But are now describing the new “socialist” (sic) dems as, well… socialist. Suddenly, Tulsi or Omar or AOC are treated with comfortable amnesia. It is more proof, if any were needed, that marketing and advertising works.

There is no hope in anyone who cannot unequivocally reject all US actions against Venezuela. Unequivocally means stopping the liberal slandering of Maduro. He is the elected president. He represents Venezuela. He has also presided during a time of near constant pressure from U.S. funded and backed fascist opposition. Not to even mention sanctions. All the “mistakes” liberals claim Maduro has made were reactions to either covert attempts at destabilization, or outright assaults on his life. The U.S. has been attacking Venezuela for 18 years, and for the entirety of Maduro’s presidency. But still, there is a constant liberal commentary about his “mistakes”, how he has created chaos and poverty. This is another example of that casual unconscious racism for which the American bourgeoisie is so famous.

It is time to demand this faux left stop the revanchist position of white saviour — of knowing what decisions to make. I cannot find words for how sick I am of the condescending and subtle but indelible racism of white American liberals. No more perfect stage for this subject position can be found than Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution. And for the record none of the Democrats listed above passed the Venezuela test.

So why do so many on the left flock to these manufactured sheepdogs of the DNC? AOC and Omar and Bernie have all called Maduro a dictator, and all mediated their anti intervention remarks (some retracting them) with calls for “empowering” the Venezuelan people (because, I guess, voting in free elections is not empowering). All endorse the idea that the U.S., in its strategies for Venezuela, have only good intentions. In fact, both Omar and AOC have smeared all official US enemies, from Maduro to Assad to Iran. They are imperialists who have no problem with the slaughter of the global south. They are unambiguously pro Imperialist.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report wrote recently:

White evangelicals — once and still the greatest source of anti-Semitism in the U.S. – are paradoxically the firmest supporters of Warrior Israel and its Bible-mandated role in ushering in the coming “tribulation” and Christ’s defeat of evil. Accordingly, 53 percent of evangelical Christians supported President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 63 percent of the general U.S. public opposed to the move. Rev. William Alberts, the “Counterpunch Minister,” writes that 87 percent of U.S. white evangelicals rallied to George Bush’s Iraq war because their spiritual leaders thought the invasion “would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” Rev. Albert calls this “Biblically legitimized imperialism,” but white Americans don’t require divine sanction to find excuses for killing non-whites. It’s how the West was won, and how the U.S. became a superpower.

Racialized imperialism is embedded in the white American worldview, including most whites that call themselves “progressives” – which is why so many of them support U.S. “humanitarian” military intervention in places like Libya and Syria, and now Venezuela. Humanitarian interventionists share with George Bush and Donald Trump the belief that the U.S. has the right – no, the responsibility – to use its superpowers to “protect” other peoples from their own governments.

And these topics are linked. The new hard boiled antisemites, a sort of newish voice of no nonsense real politik, leaps headlong into the oldest most well worn antisemitic tropes available…those about global secret Jewish power, and media influence and Rothschild’s banks. I had an unfortunate experience with Mint Press, that retitled my article (The Anti Imperialism of Fools, Counterpunch) to “The United States Doesn’t Need Jewish Help to Wage War”. Now why would they do that? Ask yourself that. And I certainly never submitted the piece to them, nor did they ever ask permission to print it or use it. And the photo they used was of Netanyahu. The attempt was to invert the meaning of my article that was, in fact, on antisemitism.

And this is, in a sense, what the Evangelical is doing as well. They support and embrace Israel, while maintaining their steadfast antisemitism in all other respects. For Zionists are not quite “Jews” to them.

I was on a thread in which the mantra became “why cant we talk about the disproportionate amount of campaign contributions to the Democratic Party from JEWS? The power they wield in media and politics”. To point out by way of quick answer that none of the Joint Chiefs are Jewish, nor are any high ranking generals in any branch of the armed services, nor are the five richest families in the US. But this is rebutted with, well, Zuckerberg and Page,… etc. What about Adelson and Soros? What does one say to this? 95% of concert violinists are Jewish, too. 74% of the NBA is black. So what? The fact that the US ruling class has identical interests with many Zionists or even almost all Zionists does not make a conspiracy of Jew power. One can hear in these new voices the echo of 1930s Berlin. Herr Rippontrop…. “we must have an adult conversation about the Jewish question.” “Yes, vee cannot run away from zer power in banking and zer cultural influence”. Today this is the voice of both the NASCAR white underclass and the voice, increasingly, of the (badly) educated white liberal — the one with mountains of student debt, few job prospects, and tons of resentment.

To be clear; and to rephrase the retitling of my earlier article, the US doesn’t need Zionists to make it go to war or invade or orchestrate coups. It’s been doing that longer than Israel has been a country.

And to be clear, the attack on Venezuela is both Imperialist and racist. One cannot over estimate the importance of race in the opposition to Chavez and now Maduro from the US and from the fascist white South Americans that are behind Guaido (Lopez really).

Allow me to quote Glen Ford again:

The historical U.S. embrace of apartheid Israel is rooted in much more than “the Benjamins” wielded by Zionist lobbies. The two most lawless states on the planet revel in their shared roguishness, bound together by race-based colonial ideologies that sanction and celebrate their crimes against humanity. Were it not for the U.S. superpower, there would be no State of Israel, an outpost of Europe in Arabia that most white Americans perceive as inhabited by kindred souls surrounded by savages, like the settlers of American mythology. It is the United States’ “exceptional” duty to arm and protect the “chosen” people of Israel, whose expansionist imperatives are perceived as benign and defensive, mimicking American Manifest Destiny.

The Green New Deal is being embraced and applauded by many on the left, much as AOC herself, and Ilhan Omar and Tulsi Gabbard are being embraced for saying a few tepid truths to power, or in the case of the GND, of rescuing capitalism. I mean, this is a kind of Stockholm Syndrome variant. I remember you would see guys arrested for the first time (usually) and how they desperately wanted the arresting officer to *like* them. They wanted the system about to punish them to *like* them. A small part of this was just the desire for some tiny affection while in a situation otherwise bereft of affection. But it was always more than that, too. It was the identification with aggression, with the aggressor, with power, and with violence. For this groveling before police detectives or even uniform cops (and often later guards) took on a slight odor of eroticism, too. Of S & M (see Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean Genet). It also tied in with the sedimented traces of Puritan purges and self accusations.

Anyway…a bit of that is going on here. Gabbard says one thing about, oh, maybe we were helping ISIS. Like this is big news, right? Well, for the oily and noxious Stephen Colbert I guess it was. But no matter the rest of Gabbard’s imperialist framing of recent history, she is applauded. Or Ilhan Omar for saying stuff that everyone knows and says.. even while herself supporting the idea that the USA is a force for good in the world. There is a keen desire among even ardent leftists and critics of the U.S. to find an excuse to *like* the U.S. To like the system. To somehow be allowed to join in the festivities of the latest electoral pageant. And I do sympathize to a degree; it takes a toll to always be a minority voice of dissent. To always be a buzz kill. And deep down the thought of actual change is terrifying, and if a reason, however threadbare, is provided, that reason will be jumped on and praised.

Ilhan Omar is praised less for what she said, which was relatively minor (and walked back anyway) but because of who is criticizing her. Trump and Republicans criticize her, the neo-con Pro Zionists criticize her, ergo, she must be this terrific agent of social change. I mean, I’ve read several pieces talking about how scared the establishment Democrats are of the new “socialist” Democrats. Now it should be noted that Omar has waffled a good deal on the BDS issue, but regardless she has, it is true, been relentlessly attacked by the right (FOX News, the president, and a few conservative Democrats even). Attacked and smeared. Much as Maduro is smeared, come to think of it.

Now what Omar has said has been said literally thousands of times. Norman Finklestein has said it more articulately and in more depth, and done it for years. But he’s not a politician. Still, note that nobody is enshrining him for courage and truth. Perhaps they should, but they are not. The point is that these are comments (those of Omar and AOC) that threaten little. They unleash a lot of airtime for reactionary pro Zionist politicians, and they keep the idea of Israel and its specialness front and center. And they make left-leaning liberals, and sadly some actual hard core leftists, gush with new found and utterly irrational optimism. Omar has also voted along party lines in congress. (here is one example…thanks to Sam Husseini.)

This was a bill that encouraged the Arab League to recognize Israel, as well as allowing for the targeting of the IAEA (on Israel’s behalf, really). The point being this is standard Democratic Party voting. And Omar and AOC are perfectly in line with that. They are Democrats first, not beacons of truth.

A small additional aside here…AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, likes to wear a t shirt emblazoned with the image of Nazi loving Subhas Chandra Bose, from the anti communist Congress Party of India. Bose was a contemporary of Gandhi. I’m not entirely sure what one does with such info, but file it under the rehabilitation of fascism.

Now, I even saw one article talking about how the establishment is scared of Bernie Sanders because he is too left.

Bernie Sanders? Come on, Bernie IS the establishment. Omar and AOC are the establishment, too. They are products of a careful vetting and coaching system, the end result of a marketing campaign. They are products of the political machine. The Democrats needed a new brand, and AOC is it. And Bernie tags along, as he has done for thirty years. I mean, my god, the man called Chavez a “dead commie dictator”. Whoa, what a radical! The guy has been rewarded with seats on committees and my guess is he will get a chance to give a big speech at the next convention to introduce the candidate of choice (if I had to guess, I’d say Kamala Harris, but I’m probably premature in that). Or Ilhan Omar who one writer dubbed an avatar of truth. For what? For saying Israel was kinda, sorta, racist? That AIPAC was too pushy? I mean not stop the presses material. But the larger problem here is that everyone continues to talk about the Democratic party and this binary system of oppression. We are all, including myself right here, talking and writing about the same dulled bankrupt duopoly of war and corporate theft. The war party, branch one and branch two. And everyone is already caught up in the empty spectacle of American electoral theatre.

Meanwhile, across Europe, and in South America, and in India, there are rabidly right wing fascist and ultra nationalist parties growing in power and strength. But the liberal establishment would rather focus on Israel and the *Joooos*. And here we come to a curious psychological mechanism: something I want to call the Cult of Compassion. It applies to both the antisemitism that is growing and to the new Green agendas. Now to be clear, these things are not fictions or fabrications…I mean, there IS an environmental crises (though the nature of this crises seems still rather opaque) and there is a vicious incremental genocide going on in Gaza. But one might wonder at why the populace of Yemen is so ignored. Why are the suffering people of Venezuela ignored or told to empower themselves with U.S. aid. Why are the people of Afghanistan ignored, ignored for over seventeen years of US occupation, or those of more than half the countries in Africa. No, the compassion for Palestinians is driven by the hatred of Israel. And Israel is worth hating. No doubt. But so is Saudi Arabia and so is the opposition in Venezuela, or the Nazis in power in Ukraine, or the Vatican. But there are few memes about the Vatican’s wealth — which is extensive, I can assure you. The cultic expression of compassion is never about the ostensive object — whether that is the children during the recovered memories witch hunt, or the victims of sexual aggression in #metoo, nor is it the planet or Nature now in the majority of Green movements. It is a form of narcissistic subject creation. The desire for a cause. And in an age in which nobody bothers to read the fine print or research sources, the media with the most visibility controls the narrative.

The U.S. has military bases in every country in Africa save one. It has ravaged the land and protected western mining rights. It has armed both sides in the countless small conflicts that are taking place even now across the continent. It has helped foment larger and vicious wars in which millions have died, maybe tens of millions. The U.S. has nine hundred bases globally and a military budget that has grown to something like 700 billion a year. All the so called new socialists are on board with this, too. They are giving cover to the forces of Imperialist plunder. When Mike Pompeo talks of taking on Nicaragua next and then Cuba, the voting record of Omar and Ocasio Cortez is helping him make that a reality. So why do experienced leftists call these imposters “socialist”? Where is the compassion for the people of Honduras, prey now to the brutal right wing regime that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put in power? How many of AOC’s adoring fans even know the name Berta Cáceres? What of Haiti? Or North Korea or Iran, or Syria, or any of the other official targets of U.S. aggression? The Democratic Party is not being changed by these quislings. They are only the bright and shiny (and younger) version of Bernie Sanders. And if you really did care about the environment, you would start here, with the war machine.

Oh, and then there is this (H/T @Club de Cordeliers and @Keatssycamore)…Omar fronting for rich white gentrifiers….

All this pantomime infighting between the Socialist Democrats and the pro Israel Democrats is only that. Pantomime, it’s political vaudeville. Nothing more. It provides cover for the supposed heroism of Omar and AOC.

But back to this question of antisemitism as it ties in with this new cultic passion for Green and Ecological awareness.

The imprint of Puritanism is strong even now, and the Evangelicals in government (about whom not nearly enough has been written or researched) have internalized far more of Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of John Winthrop and Roger Williams than they would admit or even know. But America overall has never lost the basic psychic architecture of the Puritan. Certainly not in relation to ideas of collective public behaviour and thinking.

This philosophy of the national covenant was not only a logical deduction from the Covenant of Grace, but also the theme of the Old Testament: Jacob wrestles in solitude with Jehovah, but Israel make their cohesion visible in an external organization – a church, a corporation, a nation, even a plantation. In their corporate capacity, saints stand, as long as they hold together, in a relation to God separate from (although bound up with) their spiritual salvation. As a people they are chosen because by public act they have chosen God. The prerequisite is not, cannot be, a flawless sanctity of all citizens, but a deliberate dedication of the community to a communal decision, like a declaration of war.

— Perry Miller, The New England Mind; From Colony to Province

Before the great Protestant migration to America the devout were scattered in small communities or cells, half in hiding, and mostly out of touch with one another. What America offered (and it could well have been anywhere, it just happened to be America) was the opportunity to be united in one collective body. And they did view it as a grand experiment. But the relevant aspect here is that the more their endeavours met with failure or at least less than success, the more self accusing the collective became. For it was “their” fault, not the fault of the experiment. As Perry Miller wrote…“the more these people accused themselves of having shirked their covenant, the more they asserted that they had not lost confidence.” 

Hence, far more than in England, public days of purgation (following experience of wrath, or catastrophe or misadventure) and humiliation were evidence of not just their confidence but their basic virtue and a realistic assessment of reality in this “new” England. But there occurred in 1692 a rather profound shift in theological interpretation for the Puritans. From that day forward “corruption” was seen as a visitation of wrath. Meaning that corruption was not a cause but the result of wrath — a sign of wrath and a punishment. It was a shift from the external to the internal. From material misfortunate and sin, to sinful thinking and spiritual self pollution. Moral deficiency eclipsed failures of fortune, or failures of planning. All became attributed to interior spiritual weakness.

Allow me a longer quote here from Miller….

The subjective preempted the objective: a universal anxiety and insecurity had become no longer something which, being caused, could be allayed by appropriate action, but rather something so chronic that the society could do nothing except suffer-and perpetually condemn itself. In the thirty years after 1660, the conception of the relation of society to the divine was unwittingly (and unintentionally) transformed into a thesis which positively reversed primitive doctrine. The mental anguish of the second and third generations was intensified because, while recognizing that somehow they had declined, they had lost the measure by which to decipher exactly how much or why. And so the day of humiliation became, not a blood-letting and a cure, but an increase of appetite that grew by what it fed upon.

Contemporary America retains the structure of Puritan logic, sans the belief in redemption. And today the new American puritan lies about it. The false optimism is a direct outgrowth of this universal anxiety and ambivalence. The sense of American decline and promises broken feeds the need for various ersatz days of purgation. For public ritual displays of self flagellation. This ritual scaffolding has merged with a Rene Girardian scapegoating mechanism. For today there is a projection outward of that sense of acute anxiety and standing in for the body politic are celebrities or even politicans. Guilt or innocence has little to do with it, actually. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, from Julian Assange to Jussie Smollet to Lori Loughlin — and the grand inquisitors like Robert Mueller and Jeff Sessions. I mean, from whatever sewer Trump crawled from, he is the perfect symbol of our internal corruption visited upon the land by an angry god. And this addictive need for public gossip and infantile amusements can be read as moral deficiency due for cataloguing in some grand fast day sermon, a jeremiad. Public spectacles of humiliation are a staple of American life, and have been since the early 1600s.

I have said before, though, that one aspect of the seemingly endless popularity of the Zombie story in film and TV is based in a desire FOR apocalyptic end of time events. Somewhere buried within the bourgeois mind is a desire to wash it all away and start over. And with that comes, in standard Hollywood terms, a new frontiersman mentality — it is to do Manifest Destiny again, only better, and starring ME.

Maybe (and I say this with some seriousness) all of this has to do with several decades now of Hollywood television and the profound insistence on a suspension of disbelief. One is trained to accept and follow nearly any narrative, regardless how illogical or meandering. And it also reflects overall the decline of the individual. What Adorno called the “unrestrictedly adaptable”, the “subjectless subject”.

But to stay on message here, the culture overall is, it seems, returning to ever older and earlier forms of ritual and collective violence (the very oldest antisemitic tropes are in play again). I will link to an earlier piece I wrote on antisemitism and some of the history.

America never learned how to be a society. The U.S. has always been preparing to be a great nation without ever even becoming a nation at all. From Manifest Destiny to the Monroe Doctrine to Responsibility to Protect, the mission has been about ‘others’. The empty rituals of the spectacle today are by virtue of their emptiness, reactionary. Winthrop reassured the early Puritan congregation that the mean and low were never meant to rise to positions of prosperity and respect. God ordained a hierarchy of classes.

From Propaganda, in a piece on Noam Chomsky recently…

The “Left” has taken quite a journey from the 1960s, the beginning of Chomsky’s career as a political commentator, to now. During that time, what people perceive as “the Left” transformed from something which was usually opposed to the status quo and genuinely radical into something more like what CIA official Cord Meyer called the “compatible left,” an agglomeration of “liberals and pseudo-intellectual status seekers who are easily influenced” by the elites that they purport to challenge, in the words of Doug Valentine. One of the primary purposes of “courting the compatible left,” according to Valentine, was to “court Socialists away from Communists” and into safe channels.

The new antisemitism seems joined at the hip to the anti communist left. What Doug Valentine called ‘The Compatible Left’. That relationship makes sense, of course. Over at Truthdig, Chris Hedges wrote a piece titled “Israel’s Stranglehold on American Politics.” It is both antisemitic AND anticommunist. To Hedges, Israel controls U.S. foreign policy. Apparently Zionist slanders are very ‘communist-like’. I think he says ten or twelve times that the article is not antisemitic. But it is. Israel does not control the U.S. government. AIPAC is a U.S. organization, in fact. That the U.S. is perfectly fine with Israeli war crimes in Gaza is not surprising. For one thing it helps normalize U.S. war crimes. It is never clear how Israel leverages the U.S., how exactly they are able to control America without whose support Israel cannot exist. Hypnosis? Blood sacrifice?

Horkheimer wrote in 1944:

Fascism is the caricature of social revolution. . . . The monopolistic elimination of competition takes within the fascist states radically destructive forms only against the Jews, on the outside against colonial or national groups. Apart from that this trend is only a side effect of the new subordination of the masses into the machine of production. The unchecked brutality of the individual entrepreneur will be checked in the age of working contracts and social welfare and be replaced by more rational relations within society. To understand the rationality of this, to understand the irrationality of this rationality, is our most important task. On the solution of this task depends also a theory of current antisemitism to a very large extent.

— Letter to Adorno, November 13, 1944

The popularizing of anti communism today (see, oh, Jordan Peterson, for example) and the rise of this revanchist antisemitism, runs alongside the rehabilitation of fascism one sees in media almost daily. They are tied together. In the same way one must see the links between U.S. racist police departments (fully militarized now, something that began in earnest under Obama) and the violence against the global south (see Venezuela, blackouts, and sanctions and sabotage of infrastructure). The fight for ecological well being begins with fighting these things, not supporting quisling Democrats. Rather than worrying about Israel being given money by US Zionists and Pro Zionist organizations, to then *control* America (sic), Hedges might better be concerned with what Leo Zhao (100 Years of Anti Communism) describes here…

Much of this legacy of mind-boggling corporeal violence, and the just as brutal history of economic strangulation and political coercion, other than a few episodes too big to hide, is brushed aside and ignored in mainstream Western narratives { } Even more concealed, disguised, and obscured than the process of physical and material onslaught are the innumerable and never ending operations in the war for hearts and minds. Even more hidden from public view are the myriad of disinformation campaigns; the countless counterfeit radio-stations; the labyrinthine global media networks (such as the “Radio Free…” networks, with tentacles deep in every continent); the CIA and Pentagon deals with Hollywood studios; the hordes of “independent” think-tanks publishing blatant lies under the flags of “liberty” and “human rights”. All of this comprising an elaborate global propaganda structure, with mutual support between its various branches, quoting and verifying each other. The red-scare content generated, which pushes imperialist agendas, normalises bourgeois ideology, valorises capitalism, and vilifies socialism, then finds its way into text books, taught in academies largely purged of leftist professors save for some tokens.

Israel is not *dragging* the U.S. war.

Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshivization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.

— Adolf Hitler (Speech to Reichstag, 30 January, 1939)

In other words, this is the epoch of immense and towering propaganda. And the first target of Western propaganda for over half a century has been communism. And today, the media outlets are in the hands of ever fewer people and organizations. An article here, from 2016 but only now translated, is worth reading if you wonder at all about this.

Antisemitism is tied directly to anticommunism. And left anticommunism is increasingly an acceptable position that is tied directly to normalizing and restoring the legitimacy of fascism.

Desperate Netanyahu Openly Embraces Jewish Extremists

After a decade of coalition governments in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the language needed to describe them has necessarily grown more extreme.

At first, they were right-wing. Then ultra-nationalist. Recently, analysts have started to talk of Netanyahu leading a far-right coalition. Now it seems we may have to go further still.

Should he win Israel’s election in April, Netanyahu’s next government will be one that openly embraces the terrorist right.

Last week, the Central Elections Committee, a body overseeing the election process and dominated by the main political factions, gave the green light for Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) to run for the Israeli parliament.

That has shocked many observers, because the party is justifiably described as a Jewish version of the Ku Klux Klan.

But Otzma Yehudit won’t only be expecting to win seats in the Knesset. Thanks to Netanyahu, it now has a good chance of becoming a partner in the next government.

Jewish supremacists

The party, founded six years ago, is a political refuge for a group of disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. He and his followers are usually termed anti-Arab racists, but nowadays that applies to a significant swath of political opinion in Israel. They are better described as violent Jewish supremacists.

They back a Greater Israel that includes the occupied territories, all of which they want free of Palestinians. The leaders openly defend and associate with extremists within the settler movement who use terror and violence as a way to secure that very goal.

Last year, Otzma Yehudit’s leader, Michael Ben-Ari, called for violence against Israel’s 1.7-million-strong Palestinian minority, who have second-class citizenship, calling them “a fifth column” that was “waging war against us”.

He warned them: “If you speak against a Jew, you’re not going to be alive … You’re not going to be deported or have your citizenship revoked. You’re not going to be alive! You’ll be put in front of a firing squad, taken down – this is what Arabs understand.”

Ben-Ari has done so little to conceal his support for violence that the US issued a travel ban against him in 2012.

In response to the election committee’s decision, Issawi Frej, an Israeli-Palestinian member of the Knesset, said: “Now our prime minister is laying out the red carpet before the man [Ben-Ari] who said a simple phrase: ‘Kahane was right.’”

Pact with the devil

Netanyahu’s pact with Otzma Yehudit last month was designed to get him out of an electoral hole.

Unsure of how his voters will respond to the indictments he now faces for bribery and fraud, and up against a group of military generals in a popular new party, Netanyahu needs to win over as many right-wing votes as possible – wherever they come from.

Although there are technical reasons why Netanyahu needs Otzma Yehudit, he clearly believes that the political climate he has helped to foster over the past decade has made it acceptable to include these Jewish supremacists in his prospective government.

That was underscored this week when Netanyahu reiterated on social media that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” – that it did not belong to the fifth of its citizens who are Palestinian but exclusively to the Jewish people around the world.

Netanyahu’s reliance on Otzma Yehudit follows a recent split in another extreme party in his coalition, Jewish Home, that is close to the fanatical religious wing of the settlers. Jewish Home’s political “stars”, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both government ministers, recently left to create yet another far-right party called the New Right.

Need for extra votes

What was left of the Jewish Home party risked falling just short of the electoral threshold, which needs to be surpassed before a party wins seats in the Knesset. That would result in all its votes being lost, and thereby provide a boost to Netanyahu’s chief opponent, Blue and White, a party led by Benny Gantz and other generals.

Gantz may then be in a position to create an alternative governing coalition made up of the right and centre, and supported informally by a bloc of Israeli-Palestinian parties.

So Netanyahu threw caution to the wind and arm-twisted Jewish Home into making an electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit. Together, they hope to hoover up enough votes to gain a clutch of seats and thereby prop up another government led by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

In fact, Otzma Yehudit is the successor to Kahane’s original party, Kach, which briefly entered the Israeli parliament in the 1980s.

Then, the electoral threshold was much lower, and Kahane was able to win a single seat for himself. But his explicit anti-Arab racism and calls for violence were so discomfiting to the other parties that they shunned him in the Knesset.

Given the added exposure, however, Kahane’s popularity grew. With the prospect of Kach winning several seats in the next election, the parliament amended the election laws to prevent the party from standing. Kahane was assassinated in the US shortly afterwards, in 1990.

When one of his followers, Baruch Goldstein, shot more than 150 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29, Kach was outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

Manipulating the legal system

But Kach never went away. It didn’t even go properly underground. It flourished in many of the settlements deep in the occupied Palestinian territories, and its former leaders became household names.

The settler youths it cultivated torched olive groves, then mosques, and more recently Palestinian families. The Israeli police and intelligence services made little effort to find the culprits.

But while its violence continued, its leaders grew more sophisticated in the ways they learned to manipulate Israel’s political and legal systems.

Ben-Ari’s deputy, Itamar Ben-Gvir, became a lawyer, finding that it was easy to exploit the reticence of the criminal justice system to prosecute Jews who harm Palestinians.

Related “charities” have promoted Kach’s brand of Jewish supremacism and terrorism, including Lehava, which uses intimidation and violence to stop Jews and Palestinians from dating or even mixing.

Threatened with a noose

Since Kach formally reinvented itself as Otzma Yehudit ahead of the 2013 election, it’s been looking for a way back into parliament. But to the evident delight of its leadership, its brand of anti-Arab racism has in the meantime become so mainstream that Netanyahu can afford to offer it a place in the bosom of the next government.

Netanyahu’s backing for these Jewish supremacists is a clear signal about where the Israeli right plans to push the country next. The evidence has been building for some time that the Netanyahu right has moved remarkably close to Kahane’s positions of three decades ago.

One of Kahane’s stated priorities then was to remove the representatives of Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens from the Israeli parliament. He regarded them as traitors, a Trojan horse for the larger Palestinian cause that could undermine Israel as a Jewish state from within.

On one occasion in 1988, Kahane publicly threatened an Israeli-Palestinian legislator with a noose.

‘Terrorists’ in the Knesset

Such views – and threats – are now entirely normalised inside Netanyahu’s government. Avigdor Lieberman, until recently Netanyahu’s defence minister and someone who himself spent his formative political years in Kach, has repeatedly sought to cast the Palestinian Knesset members as traitors deserving the death penalty.

Last year he called Ayman Odeh, the joint head of the Palestinian parties, a “terrorist”. He has condemned the legislators as “war criminals” working “to destroy us from within”. He had earlier argued that they should be “executed”.

Lieberman helped Netanyahu drive through legislation to raise the electoral threshold in 2014, in a barely concealed effort to bar Palestinian parties from gaining any seats in the parliament.

When that move backfired, after Palestinian parties combined to form the Joint List, the government responded by passing an Expulsion Law, which empowers a three-quarters majority – in effect, of Jewish legislators – to expel a representative for holding opinions they do not like.

That threat is intended to serve as a sword hanging over Palestinian lawmakers, to prevent them from speaking out on key issues, such as the structural violence of the occupation or the systemic discrimination faced by Israel’s non-Jewish population.

How Netanyahu himself views the representation of Palestinian citizens was illustrated starkly on the day of the 2015 election, when he warned that his government’s survival was “in danger”. He clarified: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

‘Citizens, not lepers’

Under pressure from then-US President Barack Obama, he apologised for his remark, but he has already restated that sentiment in the early stages of this campaign.

Netanyahu suggested that a Gantz-led government could betray the country by relying on informal support from Palestinian legislators. The prime minister characterised this electoral alliance as “an obstructive bloc” that would be “working to eliminate the state of Israel”.

Netanyahu was thereby trying to create a false equivalence between his move to forge an alliance with the terror-supporting Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit and Gantz’s possible reliance on Israel’s main Palestinian parties.

This incitement barely attracted attention, apart from a former Israeli-Palestinian Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, who reminded Netanyahu: “These [Palestinian] citizens are legitimate, not invalid, contemptible, or lepers.”

Marches demanding expulsion

Efforts to cast the elected representatives of Israel’s large Palestinian minority as traitors are intended to send a message that the Palestinian public is equally disloyal.

That would have been welcomed by Kahane. Under the slogan “They Must Go”, he argued that there was no place for Palestinians either in Israel or in the occupied territories.

Shortly after he entered parliament in 1984, he staged a provocative march to Umm al-Fahm, a large Palestinian town in Israel that lies close to the West Bank, to demand that its inhabitants emigrate. Police blocked his way, and government leaders protested that his actions were “shameful” and “dangerous”.

In recent years, his disciples, led by Baruch Marzel, have held similar marches to Umm al-Fahm and other Palestinian communities in Israel. These marches, however, have been approved by the courts and are provided with a police escort.

Accusations of disloyalty

For more than a decade, Kahane’s message has been echoed from within the government. Lieberman has heavily promoted a “static transfer” programme, in which communities such as Umm al-Fahm – and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens – would find themselves cast outside Israel through the redrawing of borders. They would be stripped of their citizenship.

After Lieberman announced his plan, it was backed by the right-wing prime minister of the time, Ariel Sharon. More recently, the proposal has won support from Netanyahu.

Lieberman has also been at the forefront of a popular Israeli discourse that demands Palestinian citizens demonstrate their loyalty to a Jewish state – or more precisely, a state that abides by the far-right positions of Netanyahu’s government.

By those standards, Palestinian citizens are bound to fail and appear disloyal.

It is within that framework that the Central Elections Committee, while approving Otzma Yehudit, banned a major Palestinian party, Balad, from running in April’s election.

It did so on the grounds that Balad opposes Israel being a Jewish state and demands it become a state belonging to all its citizens, or a liberal democracy, which would give equal rights to Palestinian and Jewish citizens.

Incitement over forest fires

Constant incitement against Palestinians has come from the prime minister down.

Two years ago, for example, Netanyahu accused Palestinian citizens of being behind forest fires that raged across Israel, in what he claimed was an attempt to burn down the state. This smear dominated front pages, even though authorities never produced any evidence for it.

But it has contributed to an intensifying racism shared among much of the Israeli Jewish public, as consistently demonstrated in polls.

According to one in December, 88 percent would object to their son befriending a girl belonging to Israel’s Palestinian minority, and 90 percent would oppose their daughter being friends with an Arab boy. Nearly half do not want a Palestinian citizen as a neighbour.

Annexing the West Bank

Meanwhile, in the occupied territories, Kahane’s calls for Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank and at the hyper-sensitive holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem are now a staple of the Netanyahu government’s discourse.

Ministers such as Bennett and Shaked, as well as senior members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, openly speak about seeking to annex large swaths of the West Bank.

At the same time, Al-Aqsa Mosque – which Israeli Jews call Temple Mount – has become ever-more a flashpoint, as the right focuses its attention on asserting a stronger Jewish presence there and tightening Israel’s control over the site. Tensions there have again risen in recent days.

Were he alive today, Kahane would be delighted at how much influence he has exerted over the subsequent period – not only on popular discourse in Israel, but on the strategic aims of Israeli governments.

And now, his disciples in Otzma Yehudit have a chance – care of Netanyahu – to carry on Kahane’s work from inside the next government and to accelerate the pace of change.

• First published in Middle East Eye

By Any Means Necessary

Back in the chaotic collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union in the late Eighties, there occurred an event that signaled the eventual fate of the USSR, even if no one exactly knew it at the moment. A fairly unknown teacher named Nina Andreyeva published an essay in a political magazine called Sovetskaya Rossiya, or Soviet Russia. The brave Andreyeva leveled sharp criticism at Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a reformist agenda clandestinely aimed at dismantling the Communist Party and moving the country toward perhaps what would have been a vague form of European market-based social democracy. Andreyeva had understood where Gorbachev was headed and, as a committed communist, feared the dissolution of the workers’ struggle to build a truly communist society.

What happened next is instructive: Gorbachev and his Politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev seized the opportunity to attack Andreyeva’s essay and paint those who supported it as anti-reformist and anti-modern. But along with that depiction, the media raised the criticism that Andreyeva’s essay was anti-Semitic. It was not, according to authors Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their excellent Socialism Betrayed, but it hardly mattered. Gorbachev and Yakovlev printed a fierce rebuttal in the journal Pravda. The media quickly took up Gorbachev’s line and the narrative was set. Gorbachev and his fellow reformists used the artificial scandal and the hysteria it generated to isolate and disempower his Politburo rival and critic, Yegor Ligachev.

From that point, Gorbachev raced forward with his reform program and rather than become a model European welfare state, the USSR soon collapsed, disintegrating into a ‘parade of sovereignties’ that saw many of the former Soviet republics declare their independence. Millions died in the wake of the collapse, with their social supports gone, their economy in tatters, and western vulture capitalists flooding into the country. Another seminal victory for neoliberal democracy. But does that media scandal ring a bell? Because precisely the same tactic of the anti-Semitic smear is being used against another critic of power, Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.

Two Minutes Hate

In a thinly-veiled censure of Omar, the House Democrats issued a resolution condemning “all hate”. This artificial necessity of this “resolution” is pathetic. As Adam Johnson parodied it, “We oppose an abstract noun without any political or moral context. We are the party of good things and anti-bad things. Please vote for us, the good things party.” The resolution, as you may already know, addresses various comments made by Omar, the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Aside from comments in other public appearances, she issued a couple of tweets saying that Congressional support for Israel was, “all about the Benjamins” and later that it produced, “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Omar noted that fealty to AIPAC and Israel were stifling debate on Gaza. She noted that the Israeli lobby was demanding a loyalty to Israeli Zionists interests that compromised politicians’ loyalty to American interests. Following initial criticism, she said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance or pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country…Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic…” and later added, “I don’t how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Eleven Jewish groups led by AIPAC demanded a response from Nancy Pelosi, including having Omar removed from the Foreign Relations Committee and declaring an organization she spoke at labeled a terrorist unit. She has been subjected to Islamophobia from Republicans. After some push-back from the left, the House watered down the document to roundly condemn hatred in general, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities. But the weight of the document emphasized anti-Semitism, and everyone knows who the object of censure is. Her Democratic colleagues were largely silent. The bill passed 407-23. Every House Democrat voted for it, including Omar. Only Republicans voted against it.

The resolution argues that Omar’s comments conjure two anti-Semitic stereotypes. The first is the ‘dual allegiance’ ‘trope’, bringing up the Dreyfuss Affair and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The second was that her comments activated stereotypes about Jews controlling society with money. Of course, to say that AIPAC lobbying may make some senators and representatives more willing to do Israel’s bidding than America’s is not anti-Semitic. That is the very point of lobbying: placing a special interest’s objectives above those of the country at large. Nor is it anti-Semitic to argue that AIPAC uses money to push its goals in Congress. Every lobbyist does, regardless of color or creed. And yet these are easily conflated with the aforementioned anti-Semitic motifs, which is precisely the goal of the resolution.

But Paul Rosenberg at Salon, echoing Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, of all places, correctly noted that “Omar did not accuse Jews of holding dual loyalties. Rather, she objected to dual loyalties being demanded of her–and those who attacked her only proved her point.” And Jonathan Cook noted in his excellent review of the faux scandal, “These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-Semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.”

Not that it mattered to the hysterical cast of armchair magistrates, but the UN declared that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza during the recent border protests. The mainstream media continues its campaign to bury Omar, relentlessly pursuing and then evoking “pain and confusion” caused by the representative’s hard-hitting truths.

Fake Progress

The parallels with the Nina Andreyeva event are compelling. It isn’t antisemitism that is the real story, but the shuttering of dissent. Ruling class capitalists and their enthusiastic sympathizers will use any tactic they can to attack and disable perceived threats to their profiteering policy agenda. And make no mistake, profits are at the root of America’s support of Israel, as well as the entire project of imperialism. It makes no difference, as Cook argues, that a false charge of antisemitism is equal to actual antisemitism, what matters to elite capital and its political enablers is destroying threats and consolidating power. Nina Andreyeva was a threat to Gorbachev’s destructive reformism. Ilhan Omar is a threat to American imperialism. Both women were viciously attacked for their comments, their attackers using any means necessary to suppress the validity of their critiques. Andreyeva’s colleagues would soon, “give out her phone number with nasty glee…” She was eventually hounded into isolation. What will become of Omar remains to be seen, but the entire affair proved her point, that the Zionist lobby wields immense influence in Washington. Congressional representatives aside from the Minnesota representative and a handful of others are utterly venal sophists who themselves traffic in slander, exhibit base fealty to monied interests, and ignore American interests in favor of the ruling class constituency of white-led corporate entities that promote capitalist exploitation at home and abroad.

Precisely the same charges have been relentlessly leveled at British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allies. The purpose is to ensure Corbyn never sees the inside of Ten Downing Street. Watch as this narrative of progressive anti-Semitism is transferred across the Atlantic to defile the left-wing of the Democratic party going into the 2020 elections. This is yet another strain of identity politics being wielded against progressives. And without question, the socialism of the left is a far bigger threat to capitalist rule than the fascism of the right. Socialism overthrows capitalism. Fascism supercharges it. It’s important to remember that Hitler saw the conquest of the USSR as his greatest opportunity, to crush socialism and obtain a vassal colony in one fell swoop, while purging the ‘Aryan’ race at the same time. It is a pathetic irony of history that modern neoliberals falsely charge progressives with echoes of Hitler’s quest to destroy Jews as a tool to enable his plan to destroy socialism. In another regrettable paradox of recent history, it might be worth remembering that the magazine Gorbachev used to crush his rivals, Pravda, is Russian for “truth.”

By Any Means Necessary

Back in the chaotic collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union in the late Eighties, there occurred an event that signaled the eventual fate of the USSR, even if no one exactly knew it at the moment. A fairly unknown teacher named Nina Andreyeva published an essay in a political magazine called Sovetskaya Rossiya, or Soviet Russia. The brave Andreyeva leveled sharp criticism at Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a reformist agenda clandestinely aimed at dismantling the Communist Party and moving the country toward perhaps what would have been a vague form of European market-based social democracy. Andreyeva had understood where Gorbachev was headed and, as a committed communist, feared the dissolution of the workers’ struggle to build a truly communist society.

What happened next is instructive: Gorbachev and his Politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev seized the opportunity to attack Andreyeva’s essay and paint those who supported it as anti-reformist and anti-modern. But along with that depiction, the media raised the criticism that Andreyeva’s essay was anti-Semitic. It was not, according to authors Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their excellent Socialism Betrayed, but it hardly mattered. Gorbachev and Yakovlev printed a fierce rebuttal in the journal Pravda. The media quickly took up Gorbachev’s line and the narrative was set. Gorbachev and his fellow reformists used the artificial scandal and the hysteria it generated to isolate and disempower his Politburo rival and critic, Yegor Ligachev.

From that point, Gorbachev raced forward with his reform program and rather than become a model European welfare state, the USSR soon collapsed, disintegrating into a ‘parade of sovereignties’ that saw many of the former Soviet republics declare their independence. Millions died in the wake of the collapse, with their social supports gone, their economy in tatters, and western vulture capitalists flooding into the country. Another seminal victory for neoliberal democracy. But does that media scandal ring a bell? Because precisely the same tactic of the anti-Semitic smear is being used against another critic of power, Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.

Two Minutes Hate

In a thinly-veiled censure of Omar, the House Democrats issued a resolution condemning “all hate”. This artificial necessity of this “resolution” is pathetic. As Adam Johnson parodied it, “We oppose an abstract noun without any political or moral context. We are the party of good things and anti-bad things. Please vote for us, the good things party.” The resolution, as you may already know, addresses various comments made by Omar, the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Aside from comments in other public appearances, she issued a couple of tweets saying that Congressional support for Israel was, “all about the Benjamins” and later that it produced, “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Omar noted that fealty to AIPAC and Israel were stifling debate on Gaza. She noted that the Israeli lobby was demanding a loyalty to Israeli Zionists interests that compromised politicians’ loyalty to American interests. Following initial criticism, she said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance or pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country…Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic…” and later added, “I don’t how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Eleven Jewish groups led by AIPAC demanded a response from Nancy Pelosi, including having Omar removed from the Foreign Relations Committee and declaring an organization she spoke at labeled a terrorist unit. She has been subjected to Islamophobia from Republicans. After some push-back from the left, the House watered down the document to roundly condemn hatred in general, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities. But the weight of the document emphasized anti-Semitism, and everyone knows who the object of censure is. Her Democratic colleagues were largely silent. The bill passed 407-23. Every House Democrat voted for it, including Omar. Only Republicans voted against it.

The resolution argues that Omar’s comments conjure two anti-Semitic stereotypes. The first is the ‘dual allegiance’ ‘trope’, bringing up the Dreyfuss Affair and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The second was that her comments activated stereotypes about Jews controlling society with money. Of course, to say that AIPAC lobbying may make some senators and representatives more willing to do Israel’s bidding than America’s is not anti-Semitic. That is the very point of lobbying: placing a special interest’s objectives above those of the country at large. Nor is it anti-Semitic to argue that AIPAC uses money to push its goals in Congress. Every lobbyist does, regardless of color or creed. And yet these are easily conflated with the aforementioned anti-Semitic motifs, which is precisely the goal of the resolution.

But Paul Rosenberg at Salon, echoing Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, of all places, correctly noted that “Omar did not accuse Jews of holding dual loyalties. Rather, she objected to dual loyalties being demanded of her–and those who attacked her only proved her point.” And Jonathan Cook noted in his excellent review of the faux scandal, “These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-Semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.”

Not that it mattered to the hysterical cast of armchair magistrates, but the UN declared that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza during the recent border protests. The mainstream media continues its campaign to bury Omar, relentlessly pursuing and then evoking “pain and confusion” caused by the representative’s hard-hitting truths.

Fake Progress

The parallels with the Nina Andreyeva event are compelling. It isn’t antisemitism that is the real story, but the shuttering of dissent. Ruling class capitalists and their enthusiastic sympathizers will use any tactic they can to attack and disable perceived threats to their profiteering policy agenda. And make no mistake, profits are at the root of America’s support of Israel, as well as the entire project of imperialism. It makes no difference, as Cook argues, that a false charge of antisemitism is equal to actual antisemitism, what matters to elite capital and its political enablers is destroying threats and consolidating power. Nina Andreyeva was a threat to Gorbachev’s destructive reformism. Ilhan Omar is a threat to American imperialism. Both women were viciously attacked for their comments, their attackers using any means necessary to suppress the validity of their critiques. Andreyeva’s colleagues would soon, “give out her phone number with nasty glee…” She was eventually hounded into isolation. What will become of Omar remains to be seen, but the entire affair proved her point, that the Zionist lobby wields immense influence in Washington. Congressional representatives aside from the Minnesota representative and a handful of others are utterly venal sophists who themselves traffic in slander, exhibit base fealty to monied interests, and ignore American interests in favor of the ruling class constituency of white-led corporate entities that promote capitalist exploitation at home and abroad.

Precisely the same charges have been relentlessly leveled at British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allies. The purpose is to ensure Corbyn never sees the inside of Ten Downing Street. Watch as this narrative of progressive anti-Semitism is transferred across the Atlantic to defile the left-wing of the Democratic party going into the 2020 elections. This is yet another strain of identity politics being wielded against progressives. And without question, the socialism of the left is a far bigger threat to capitalist rule than the fascism of the right. Socialism overthrows capitalism. Fascism supercharges it. It’s important to remember that Hitler saw the conquest of the USSR as his greatest opportunity, to crush socialism and obtain a vassal colony in one fell swoop, while purging the ‘Aryan’ race at the same time. It is a pathetic irony of history that modern neoliberals falsely charge progressives with echoes of Hitler’s quest to destroy Jews as a tool to enable his plan to destroy socialism. In another regrettable paradox of recent history, it might be worth remembering that the magazine Gorbachev used to crush his rivals, Pravda, is Russian for “truth.”

The Fake News Nazi: Corbyn, Williamson And The Anti-Semitism Scandal

One of us had a discussion with an elderly relative:

He can’t be allowed to become Prime Minister.

Why not?

It’s so awful…

What is?

The way he hates the Jews.

The last comment was spoken with real anguish, the result of continuous exposure to just two main news sources: the Daily Mail and the BBC.

What is astonishing is that, just four years ago, essentially no-one held this view of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn first became an MP in 1983. He stood for the Labour leadership 32 years later, in May 2015. We searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 11,251 hits

None of the 18 hits accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. For his first 32 years as an MP, it just wasn’t a theme associated with him.

We also searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Labour Party and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 5,347 hits

Labour Party and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 13,921 hits

The archive begins in 1980, which means that more than twice as many articles have included these terms in the last four years than in the 35 years from 1980 until May 2015 when Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. A standard response to these findings runs along these lines:

Irrelevant backbencher gets less Press attention than Leader of The Opposition SHOCKER. What’s your next scoop, Water Wet, Sky Blue?

But, in fact, Corbyn was not an irrelevant backbencher. We found 3,662 hits for articles mentioning Corbyn before May 2015. Many of these are mentions in passing, but he had also long been a high-profile anti-war MP at a time of numerous wars. And he was frequently smeared, only not about his supposed anti-semitism. Consider, for example, an article that appeared in The Sun in 1999, under a typically cruel title:

Why did it take you so long to dump him, Mrs Corbyn?1

The story:

EXTREME Left MP Jeremy Corbyn has been dumped by his missus after an amazing bust-up over their son’s education.

The key issue, according to The Sun:

Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Why did it take her so long to leave the loathsome Lefty, and more importantly, why is she only moaning about his choice of schools?

Because there was, apparently, plenty to moan about. The Sun described Corbyn as ‘class crusader Jeremy – a rabid IRA sympathiser’ who ‘not only looks and dresses like a third-rate Open University lecturer, he thinks like one too. In 1984 the Provo stooge invited twice-convicted terrorist and bomber Linda Quigley to the House of Commons just 13 days after the IRA’s murderous attack on Tories staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton’.

This was pretty brutal stuff. The Sun added of Corbyn’s ex-wife:

Claudia’s saviour of the masses also suffers incredible delusions of grandeur. Communist states may be falling like dominoes, but raving Red Jeremy still believes his outdated views are relevant to modern-day Britain.

And:

Not only is Jeremy a political coward who backs terrorists, he is also a self-confessed big girl’s blouse.

And:

Jeremy’s mis-shapen suits, lumpy jumpers and nylon shirts are not exactly what the well-dressed radical is wearing in 1999… Claudia should be aware her ex is irredeemably, unforgivably, annoyingly stupid.

Given the no-holds-barred nature of the smear, it is amazing that The Sun made no mention at all of Corbyn’s vile anti-semitism, viewed as his most obvious and dangerous defect now.

The reason is that, as this shows, not even his worst enemies viewed him as an anti-semite. The extreme Tory press aside, the accepted view of Corbyn pre-2015 is indicated by a long, admiring piece in which Jewish journalist Deborah Ross, whose family members were murdered in Polish pogroms even before the Nazi Holocaust was unleashed, interviewed him for the Independent in 2005. Ross commented:

He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a “totally genuine mensch”.

Ross added:

As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a “beardy Bolshevik” and “loathsome lefty” but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don’t want to.

He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy’s oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough.

Joseph Finlay is a former Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, who co-founded a range of grassroots Jewish organisations such as Moishe House London, Wandering Jews, Jewdas and The Open Talmud Project. On 2 March 2018, Finlay wrote in his blog under the title, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, not an anti-Semite’:

Firstly we need to restore some perspective. The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of its ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Finlay added:

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?

Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook notes that a recent Labour Party report ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics ‘not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all’. Cook summarised:

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

He added:

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

In ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ by the Jewish Institute for Policy Research, L. Daniel Staetsky found:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the “slightly left-of-centre,” the “fairly left-wing” and the “very left-wing” – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.

The report notes that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.

Noam Chomsky has commented:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.2

Suspending Chris Williamson

On February 27, a propaganda blitz was launched against anti-war Labour MP Chris Williamson who had been filmed saying that Labour Party responses to claims of anti-semitism had exacerbated the crisis:

I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible… Because, in my opinion, we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

Williamson added:

We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party.

It is clear that Williamson was strongly endorsing the fight against anti-semitism and was proud of the Labour Party’s record. Actual anti-semites talk of ‘the scourge of Judaism’, Williamson talked of ‘the scourge of anti-semitism’. He was suggesting that the party had been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign attempting to destroy Corbyn by exploiting the issue of anti-semitism.

Others chose to see it differently. Guardian columnist Owen Jones responded to Williamson’s comments:

This is utterly out of order. When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry? Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?

We replied:

When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry?

He’s *endorsing* the fight against racism and bigotry. He’s saying Labour has been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign to destroy Corbyn in the name of anti-racism.

Ash Sharkar of Novara Media tweeted:

Chris Williamson has been had the Labour whip suspended pending investigation, which I think is the right decision. But much more work must be done to proactively confront and dismantle conspiratorial and antisemitic thinking on the left, and it goes much further than expulsions.

Aaron Bastani, also of Novara Media, wrote:

I think media coverage of the “Labour anti-semitism crisis” is completely disproportionate – primarily because it underplays problem more broadly across society.

Equally, hearing & reading the things I have in recent days I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.

In our latest book, Propaganda Blitz, we noted a key factor driving home these smear blitzes:

While a demonising propaganda blitz may arise from rightist politics and media, the propaganda coup de grace ending public doubt often comes from the “left-liberal” journalists at the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC and Channel 4; and also from non-corporate journalists who crave acceptance by these media. Again, the logic is clear: if even celebrity progressive journalists – people famous for their principled stands, and colourful socks and ties – join the denunciations, then there must be something to the claims. At this point, it actually becomes difficult to doubt it.3

Foreign Wars – Racism versus Speciesism

The truth of the corporate media’s ‘ethical concern’ becomes clearer when we consider Corbyn’s record on foreign wars. While the UK affects to care deeply about racism, Chomsky has noted that the West’s endless ‘interventions’ – all reflexively supported by the same media damning Corbyn now – are manifestations of a prejudice, beyond even racism, that is a kind of speciesism:

Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.4

Even if Corbyn was an anti-semite, a racist, he would still be a far safer ethical choice than Tory and Blairite speciesists who value human beings on the level of ants. After all, we find that Jeremy Corbyn:

Consistently voted against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Consistently voted against the Iraq war.

… voted to say that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established’.

… voted against a motion stating the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Support for the motion by the majority of MPs led to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq two days later.

Generally voted for investigations into the Iraq war.

… acted as teller for a vote on UK Air Strikes Against ISIL in Iraq.

… voted against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya.

… voted against the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan.

… voted to decline to authorise UK military action in Syria.

… voted against UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

Generally voted against replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system.

Consider, by contrast, the record of the Labour MPs who have left the Labour Party, supposedly in protest at the rise of anti-semitism, to form The Independent Group:

Chuka Umunna: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Angela Smith: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Mike Gapes: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Chris Leslie: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Luciana Berger: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Joan Ryan: Consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas,  Consistently voted for the Iraq war, Consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war.

Ann Coffey: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Gavin Shuker: Voted a mixture of for and against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Not even his most extreme critics are suggesting that Corbyn is offering the kind of threat to Jewish people consistently offered by Tory and Blairite MPs to millions of people in countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Yemen. Even if Corbyn had erred in failing to perceive the ugliness of a mural declared antisemitic by the press; even if had been lax in taking action against party racists, and so on, how do these failings compare to the destruction of whole countries in lie-based wars of aggression?

Why do corporate media never make this moral comparison? Because they are incapable of perceiving US-UK crimes against humanity as crimes; a wilful moral blindness that renders them completely unfit to pass judgment on Corbyn. Especially as they are themselves, of course, complicit in these same war crimes.

Conclusion

The claim that Corbyn is an anti-semite presiding over a surge in Labour Party anti-semitism is fake news; it is a scam of the utmost cynicism and brutality. It should be viewed as the latest in a long line of attempts to destroy Corbyn by all necessary means. He has been smeared for not bowing low enough, for not singing loudly enough, for hating women, for disrespecting gay people, for consorting with terrorists, for refusing to unleash a nuclear holocaust, for being a shambolic leader, for being a shambolic dresser, for leading Labour towards certain electoral disaster, for being a Putinite stooge, for aping Trump, and so on. Now, finally, someone widely admired for thirty years as a decent, socialist MP, has been transformed into an anti-semite; or as game show assistant and political commentator Rachel Riley implies, a ‘Nazi’.

Anti-semitism does exist in the Labour Party, as it exists throughout UK society, and, of course, these delusions should be resisted and exposed. But the smear campaign against Corbyn is not rooted in concern for the welfare of Jewish people; it is not even about blocking a political leader who cares about Palestinian rights. It is about preventing Corbyn from undoing Tony Blair’s great achievement of transforming the Labour Party into a second Tory Party, thus ensuring voters have no option challenging corporate domination, including the ‘humanitarian interventions’ for oil and other resources. The goal is to stop Corbyn letting democracy out of its box.

Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London, warns that cavalier accusations made ‘on the basis of obviously flimsy or nonexistent evidence’ are ‘disrespecting the memory of the millions who were slaughtered by real antisemitism during the Holocaust’. But, in fact, it is worse than that. State propagandists and their corporate media allies are exploiting the suffering of these millions as part of an attack on British democracy. This is obscene. But it is not particularly shocking after the campaigns of deceit which, as discussed, knowingly risked and then shattered the lives of millions of innocent human beings in US-UK wars of aggression.

One thing is certain, if Corbyn and his style of socialism can be made to disappear, we’ll hear no more about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, just as we heard no more about Iraqi democracy after Saddam Hussein, or human rights in Libya after Gaddafi; just as we will hear no more about press freedom in Venezuela, if Maduro is overthrown.

As this alert was being written, news emerged that Corbyn had been subjected to a physical assault in London, to muted concern from almost all corporate media and journalists (compare ‘mainstream’ reaction to news that Conservative MP Anna Soubry had been called a ‘Nazi’). Journalists claimed Corbyn had merely had an egg thrown at him. Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted:

I was there. He punched Jeremy very hard. He happened to have an egg in his palm. But it could have been a knife. Horrible

Perhaps journalists couldn’t bear to express concern for a person they have so completely reviled for almost four years. Or perhaps they knew their smears of a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned man would be thrown back at them. More likely, they just didn’t care. And that, finally, is the truth of their ‘ethical concern’ – they don’t care.

  1. Ally Ross, The Sun, 13 May 1999.
  2. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018.
  3. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.8-9.
  4. Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007.

Would railing at a Labour Saudi Lobby be Racist?

Owen Jones has made a short video discussing Labour’s crisis over anti-semitism. There are some good elements to it, not least the warning against conspiratorial thinking, and an admission, admittedly a fairly limited one, that the Labour leadership should not be accused of being anti-semitic (and implicitly that the party is not “institutionally anti-semitic”.)

Sadly, however, there is little more to recommend. This is another example of how Jones has failed to grasp the larger issues involved, and how he views the anti-semitism issue through an astoundingly narrow lens – one that refuses to depart from a simplistic identity politics.

Given that Jones is supposed to be one of the very few prominent voices of support for Corbyn in the media, this is depressing indeed. And it is why I have taken the time to analyse a couple of the most glaring flaws in the video.

First, Jones makes a telling analogy, and one that highlights his confusion.

He objects to Labour members raising the issue of Israel when Jewish comrades want to talk about anti-semitism by noting that no one would think it acceptable to deflect the conversation to Saudi Arabia if Muslims sought to talk about Islamophobia.

However, Jones ignores a very serious difference between these two examples. The fact is that there is a very strong and vocal pro-Israel lobby in the Labour party – not least the Jewish Labour Movement, the sister organisation of the Israeli Labour party, and Labour Friends of Israel, which includes 80 MPs.

Imagine for a moment – if you can – what it would mean were the voice of Muslims in the party to be represented chiefly by a Labour Friends of Saudi Arabia and a Saudi Labour Movement.

How would ordinary members respond to these Saudi-affiliated Labour MPs and this pro-Saudi lobby vigorously defending and promoting Saudi Arabia in the party? Indeed, how would they feel about criticism of Riyadh being termed “Islamophobia”, and a section of Muslim Labour members, supported by a group of prominent non-Muslim MPs, complaining that criticism of Saudi Arabia amounted to an attack on their identity as Muslims?

Human rights abusers

Demands to respect their identification with Saudi Arabia would, I suspect, hold little sway with most Labour members. Members would rightly expect to be able to criticise not only Saudi Arabia, but also others in the party who openly supported Riyadh and lobbied on its behalf. And it is fair to assume they would object in very strong terms were they accused of Islamophobia for doing so.

Before I get told that any comparison between Israel and Saudi Arabia is anti-semitic (and I am sure I will), let me remind readers it was Jones, not me, who introduced this analogy. Nonetheless, I think it is clear that such a comparison is valid.

The fact is that both states are massive human rights abusers. Saudi Arabia’s head-chopping, women-oppressing theocracy is an abhorrent state; but so too is Israel’s anachronistic colonial-settler state, built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and a decades-long belligerent occupation. Both are shameful examples of the trampling of human rights to promote an extreme ideology that confuses politics and religion.

So Jones’ comparison is actually far more useful and revealing than he presumably realises.

Racism towards Palestinians

Labour’s real-life lobby groups are not only fanatically pro-Israel, they are also deeply hostile to Corbyn – and have been since he was elected leader. The reason is obvious. They oppose him not because he is anti-semitic (at least Jones concedes that much in Corbyn’s favour) but because he is genuinely anti-racist – that is, he is against all forms of racism.

They oppose him because he has been a long-time critic of Israel for its undeniable oppression of, and racism towards, Palestinians.

The Saudi Arabia comparison would again be telling. Were a Saudi Arabia lobby to vocally denounce Corbyn as Islamophobic for rejecting human rights abuses by Riyadh, domestically and in Yemen, Labour members would rightly come to Corbyn’s defence and highlight the cynical exploitation of Islamophobia to shield Saudi Arabia from criticism.

But the Labour lobby’s support for Israel is not theoretical. Despite their claims, most of these lobbyists are not supporting – at least in practice – efforts to realise a two-state solution, as Corbyn does. Their actions, if not always their words, support the far-right government of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and the systematic crimes his government commits against Palestinians.

They identify so fully with Israel that they would rather oust Corbyn – or even, it seems, destroy the Labour party – than let him reach power. In other words, they would rather override the democratic will of party members than risk Corbyn shifting Britain away from its unwavering support for the Netanyahu government, or a government of army generals if it takes his place after April’s election.

Plot against Corbyn

To state this is not to indulge in some kind of conspiratorial thinking, as Jones implies. We know that pro-Israel lobbyists in Labour like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel have been plotting to rid Labour of Corbyn to protect a Netanyahu-led Israel.

How do we know? Because an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera spent months secretly filming the efforts of these lobby groups to damage Corbyn in collusion with an Israeli agent, Shai Masot, working out of the Israeli embassy in London.

It is significant that, like the rest of the British media, Jones, who comments so much on the supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, rarely, if ever, refers to the resulting documentary, The Lobby.

One can understand why. It deeply damages his thesis, and suggests what he denies: that groups like the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel are conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism precisely to weaponise anti-semitism – to make it politically useful to them.

The documentary suggests that Labour’s problem isn’t so much anti-semitic tropes on the “hard left” as it is anti-Corbyn scheming among die-hard supporters of Israel.

Blair’s Great Game for Oil

Second, Jones wilfully ignores the wider political dimension to the anti-semitism furore in Labour.

He assumes, without any evidence, that “moderates” like former leader Tony Blair and current deputy leader Tom Watson care more about anti-semitism and racism than do Jeremy Corbyn and Chris Williamson, the MP who was recently suspended for publicly defending the party and its members against charges that anti-semitism in Labour was endemic.

(We will draw a veil over the problem that, disgracefully, Jones backed the suspension of Williamson, even though in the video Jones effectively echoes him by denying that the party suffers from institutional anti-semitism.)

Jones bases his assumption on zero evidence. Or rather he ignores the massive evidence suggesting that both Blair and Watson have a much weaker commitment to anti-racism than Corbyn and Williamson.

Blair waged an illegal war in Iraq that probably led to the preventable deaths of more than a million Iraqis, and turned many millions more into refugees. He acted as though these human beings were simply pawns on a chessboard that could be shuffled around in the Great Game for Oil played by himself and US President George W Bush.

Also, Blair has been fabulously remunerated by Saudi Arabia for working as a consultant to the head-chopping regime, one that has funded a militant Islamic extremism across the Middle East, destabilising the region and contributing to countless more deaths.

As for Labour’s deputy leader, consider these recent observations from veteran party member Graham Bash:

Watson is extremely unconcerned when it comes to racism against black people and Muslims. He went along with all New Labour’s anti-terrorism and Prevent measures. He also abstained on Theresa May’s 2014 Immigration Act which introduced the ‘hostile environment policy’ which led to the deportation of hundreds of black people.

Class privilege

Neither of these men has the authority to lecture the Labour leadership, or its members, on any kind of racism.

What is undeniable is that these Labour “moderates”, who represent the centrist impulses of the parliamentary party and have the sympathetic ear of the liberal corporate media, viscerally hate Corbyn. They regard his mildly socialist programme as a threat to the economic and social order that privileges them.

If it is now clear that we are in a class struggle, how is the multi-millionaire Blair, who owns a clutch of palatial homes, possibly on the right side of that struggle?

Similarly, the problem is less that Dame Margaret Hodge is a hardcore Zionist than that she is a hardcore supporter of capitalism – along with many other Labour MPs. Hodge enjoys the fortune of her family’s business empire, and married into even more money. Like most of the Labour parliamentary party, she has no understanding of the difficulties endured by austerity-hit Britain.

It is the very privileges enjoyed by most Labour MPs that make them unlikely champions for any serious redistribution of wealth.

Defending capitalism

It is also why a growing section of a supposedly socialist Labour party are trying to extend the meaning of an already weaponised anti-semitism into ever-more fanciful, and apparently self-sabotaging, realms.

Anti-semitism has rapidly gone from meaning hatred or fear of Jews, to opposition to Israel, to antipathy to capitalism, as starkly illustrated by another “moderate” Labour MP, Siobhan McDonagh. As Jones notes, she recently told Radio 4:

It’s very much part of their [Corbyn supporters’] politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

That line of argument has been emerging – unremarked – for some time from within parts of the Labour party, and it is proof in itself that many so-called “moderates” have been weaponising anti-semitism – not to protect Jews but to protect their class privilege.

What we see in Labour is a pincer movement utilising anti-semitism to try to fatally wound Corbyn and the movement behind him. Some oppose him because Israel is their issue, some because maintenance of the neoliberal order is their issue. Both groups, it seems, fear any change to the status quo, and have discovered the accusation of anti-semitism is a winning card.

But real socialists, recognising that western economies and the planet’s climate are moving closer to meltdown, know that change has to be a political priority – and an urgent one. For Labour party members, those who uphold either the right of Israel to be a racist oppressor state or the right of capitalism to destroy the planet stand in the way of efforts to prevent humankind from hurtling over the cliff edge.

Jones and other fairweather allies of a Corbyn-led Labour refuse to consider any of this when they agree to prioritise an anti-semitism “crisis” manufactured by the very opponents of a renewed socialist programme they say they support.

It is long past time for Jones to take off his blinkers and see what is happening to the Labour party.

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

John Harris, a columnist who by the Guardian’s current dismal standards is considered on the newspaper’s left, has added his voice to the paper’s endless contributions on Labour’s supposed “anti-semitism crisis”. Sadly, his is typical of the paper’s misrepresentations of the issue.

It is easy – and lazy – to accuse those who peddle these distortions of acting solely in bad faith. But speaking as someone who was himself once deeply immersed as a journalist in the corporate culture of the Guardian, I know how simple it is from within that culture to fail to scrutinise one’s most fundamental and cherished assumptions. In fact, it’s often a requirement for remaining employed.

Nonetheless, Harris is such a good journalist by conventional standards and his work here is so lamentable, so lacking in awareness of even basic human psychology, that it cries out for some deeper analysis.

A lot has been written about how we now live in information silos. But that was true even before the arrival of social media for those like Harris whose job in the corporate media is to shore up a largely consensual view of the world, if only out of fear of the consequences should that consensus break down. In the wake of Brexit, we have heard liberal journalists grow louder in their suggestions that there is now “too much democracy”. As the consensus crumbles, their authoritarian instincts are becoming ever clearer.

No one from the Daily Mail to the Guardian departs from the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. That in itself is quite extraordinary. But the dearth of evidence for this narrative offers an opportunity to shake us out of our complacent belief that a state-corporate media, one reliant on profits from advertising corporations, can ever represent more than a narrow spectrum of thought – thought that helps those in power to maintain their power.

Moral panics and self-delusions

‘Harris begins his article by noting a Jewish woman’s experience of what she sees as an increasingly “abusive relationship” with the Labour party after 40 years as a member. Reporting her concerns, Harris lists a few recent incidents witnessed by this woman that she cites as proof of a rising tide of anti-semitism in Labour.

Absolutely no details are provided beyond her interpretations of what took place. (One should note that this lack of evidence is a staple of the media’s narrative about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour.) So let us weigh as best we can the interpretations put forward by Harris’s anonymous interviewee as our gateway into examining the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative itself.

First some background. Most liberal journalists are aware of the problem of what are called “moral panics”. Harris’s Guardian colleague Nick Davies wrote an influential book, Flat Earth News, whose first chapter was dedicated to the way the media and public can end up in a narrative tailspin, entering a world of mutually reinforcing self-delusions.

When such delusions serve an establishment agenda, they can be particularly pernicious and difficult to root out. And beating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into submission – or into the dust – before he can reach No 10 is definitely high on the political and media establishments’ agenda.

Moral panics work this way: Journalists stoke up emotions or fears over an issue that then runs rampant through public discourse to the point at which it no longer bears any resemblance to the real problem.

A famous example cited by Davies is the outpouring of concern, as the millennium approached, with a supposed Year 2000 computer bug. Through 1999, the media stoked an apocalyptic mood about the imminent meltdown of our newly computerised world, leaving us without basic goods, medicines and transport because computers would not be able to cope with a numerical change in the date. (For those too young to remember those events, the doomsday scenarios around Brexit pale in comparison.) The bug, of course, never materialised.

Once you are persuaded that something is true, however implausible it is, everything is likely to be filtered through that lens. And when everyone says Labour is institutionally anti-semitic, everything – from real hatred of Jews to vague or clumsy phrasing about anti-semitism, or criticism of Israel – will seem anti-semitic to you.

Two sides to every story

So when Harris’s interviewee says she was “jeered” by her Labour constituency general committee for raising the issue of anti-semitism, we cannot be sure that she actually was “jeered” rather than that she faced objections from committee members, possibly valid ones, about what she was claiming.

Similarly, we cannot know – beyond her claim – that she raised the issue of anti-semitism rather than that she labelled members of her constituency anti-semites for matters that had nothing to do with anti-semitism, such as their being highly critical of Israel or disagreeing with the claim that the Labour party is institutionally anti-semitic.

All of this is necessarily speculative on my part because Harris has allowed his interviewee to pass on her (possibly self-serving) interpretation of these events as the only one. And as we all know, life tends not to work like that. There are usually two sides to any story.

If it sounds like I’m being unfair to Harris’s interviewee, let’s remember that she would be very far from alone in perpetrating such misrepresentations, consciously or otherwise.

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

In fact, Harris himself, a well-trained journalist of impeccable liberal credentials, makes precisely this kind of misrepresentation a few paragraphs later on in his article, when he discusses the case of MP Chris Williamson.

Williamson, an ally of Corbyn’s, was suspended by Labour last week after the media reported that he had told a group of Labour members that the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The media, as well as “moderate” Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn, were outraged that Williamson thought it was possible to be “too apologetic” about bigotry towards Jews.

For them, the incident also usefully proved the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative they are so invested in because Williamson’s racism was warmly applauded by all those present.

Except none of that is true. You don’t even need to take my word for it. It is all recorded on video. You can listen to what Williamson said yourself and see why the audience cheered.

What Williamson actually said makes no sense to the corporate media or the Labour rightwing because it conflicts with their narrative, with a worldview that presupposes Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”. They cannot conceive of any interpretation of his speech that might undermine that narrative.

Defending Labour from smears

Williamson wasn’t telling Labour members to stop apologising about anti-semitism in Labour, and that wasn’t why they applauded him. He was telling them that there is no evidence to justify calling Labour institutionally anti-semitic, or even especially anti-semitic.

He was also saying that the endless focus on anti-semitism in Labour, and the apologies for incidents that were misunderstandings or smears rather than examples of Jew hatred, had painted a false picture of the Labour party. He was calling for Labour to stop being in default apologetic mode and start defending Labour’s reputation for anti-racism.

The members applauded because it was the the first time a Labour leader had stood up for them. Every day they hear the Guardian and Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, who is angling for Corbyn’s job, conducting a conversation over their heads that assumes they are either racists or that they turn a blind eye to racism. They are fed up with it. They know the narrative is nonsense and they are angry. When Williamson defended them, rather than those who smear them, they were delighted.

So how did Harris manage to cite this clip as further proof of Labour “institutional anti-semitism”, as he does here:

Just watch the video that eventually led to Derby North MP Chris Williamson being suspended from the party, and consider not what he said about Labour’s approach to antisemitism (“We’ve given too much ground – we’ve been too apologetic”), but the loud applause that followed.

How is it possible that everything I’ve just summarised of Williamson’s speech, and the audience’s response, passed so far above Harris’s head that he failed even to acknowledge it? He doesn’t have to agree with Williamson or those applauding him, but he has to be fair to them about how they viewed the meeting. To simply erase from the record what Williamson meant and what his audience’s applause meant is to perpetrate a deception. It’s to assist in promoting a moral panic.

Unlike many of those commenting, Harris is supposed to be a close observer of the Labour rank and file. He spends a lot of time, it appears, travelling the UK meeting ordinary people. How could he have missed this groundswell of anger among party members at being endlessly defamed – and not only missed it, but joined in the defamation himself?

Blind to other narratives

This isn’t just about Labour and anti-semitism. The Guardian, the paper of the liberal-left, has missed or misunderstood all the major political shifts of the last five years. It couldn’t imagine Corbyn being elected leader or understand the significance of the membership’s vote after it had happened. The Guardian also didn’t foresee the massive surge in support for a Corbyn-led Labour party at the last election. Instead it has led the media pack trying to undermine Corbyn, typically by promoting gross misrepresentations like this latest one echoed by Harris.

The Guardian’s incomprehension at Brexit is starkly on show too. Its commentaries rarely rise above denunciations of anti-immigrant racism. Its singleminded cheerleading of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders was as boneheaded as its continuing bafflement at the victory of Donald Trump.

The Guardian is a huge media outfit, employing many hundreds of journalists. And yet online pundits have regularly produced much more insightful analyses than the paper.

Harris’s article is yet more confirmation that even the best corporate journalists end up being blinded by media groupthink, leaving them unable to make sense of the world around them. They literally can’t see or hear what is staring them in the face. Harris is so immersed in a “consensus” anti-semitism narrative that he interprets the blinding dazzle of the sun as darkness, he perceives white as a diabolical black.

Filming an anti-semitism smear

This problem isn’t restricted to the media, of course. Politicians are equally blinkered about events that cannot be fitted into their worldview.

Take the case of Joan Ryan, a non-Jewish Labour MP who chairs Labour Friends of Israel and recently defected to the Independent Group over the anti-semitism issue. Perhaps not surprisingly given her emotional investment in defending Israel, apparently at all costs and whatever the evidence of its oppression of Palestinians, she is deeply opposed to Labour being led by Corbyn, a champion of the Palestinian cause.

To what terrible misdeeds that might lead her was laid bare when she made up an accusation of anti-semitism out of whole cloth against a Labour party member. Remember that accusing someone falsely of anti-semitism is as bad as making an anti-semitic statement. It has the same power to do terrible emotional damage to its victim, it can isolate them from friends and family, and it can result in them losing their job.

In 2016, Jean Fitzpatrick privately challenged Ryan on the margins of the party conference over the MP’s lack of support for the Palestinians. Ryan immediately accused Fitzpatrick of using anti-semitic tropes about Jews and bankers.

Fitzpatrick would have found herself one of those “anti-semites” hounded out of the party had she not been very lucky. Al Jazeera was making an undercover documentary about the collusion between the Israeli embassy and groups like Labour Friends of Israel, both of them intent on ousting Corbyn from the leadership. Unknown to Ryan, the exchange with Fitzpatrick was caught on film and shows that there was nothing about Jews or bankers, or anything anti-semitic, in what she said.

Ignoring the statistics

Unlike those smearing the Labour party as institutionally anti-semitic, I’m happy to put the most charitable interpretation possible on Ryan’s behaviour.

The fact is that, once people are invested strongly in a worldview, evidence that threatens to undermine it is usually ignored. Such evidence, if it dangerously challenges their inner narrative, can even be reinterpreted and distorted by the proponent to shore up their crumbling perception of right and wrong. The truth of the evidence simply doesn’t register, or it is turned upside down.

And that is an important part of what is happening in the crafting of the Labour anti-semitism narrative.

The statistics simply don’t bear out the accusation that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”, or even that it has what might loosely be termed an “anti-semitism problem” – beyond a problem of racism on its margins of the kind that can be found in all organisations and communities, including the Jewish community.

Labour has found 0.08% of its members responsible either for unthinking prejudice towards Jews or conscious bigotry. The evidence suggests this is much, much lower than in the general population.

What has been happening in Labour under Corbyn, however, is that for the first time party members have been able to articulate critical views of Israel, as well as their support for Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression. That is a new and important freedom and to ignore the part it is playing in the anti-semitism narrative is to be wilfully blind – to cling on to a narrative that refuses to deal with the world as it really is.

Berger and her constituency

Harris quotes another colleague, Rachel Shabi, to bolster his argument. Referring to Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who also recently defected to the Independent Group, Shabi writes:

A Jewish MP left Labour because of the tide of antisemitism directed at her and I don’t think the terrible significance of this has sunk in for chunks of the left.

There are all sorts of assumptions in this short statement that need unpacking. True, Berger claims that anti-semitism is the reason she left the party. It may well be that she really believes that she is facing a tide of anti-semitism from Labour members. But the evidence needs to be produced, not simply taken for granted.

The examples of anti-semitism invariably cited in Berger’s case refer to undoubtedly anti-semitic attacks from the far-right, not from Labour members; or to online abuse whose provenance is rarely identifiable; or to the opposition she faced from her local constituency party in Liverpool.

There are lots of reasons why Berger is disliked by a significant section of her constituency party, and the wider Labour membership, that have nothing to do with anti-semitism. One is that she was parachuted into the constituency by Tony Blair (she once dated his son Euan), even though her Blairite politics do not fit with many of the people she supposedly represents. Another is that her constant and generalised complaints about anti-semitism in Labour are seen as an insult to party members. They have taken against her because she openly defames Corbyn – and them for supporting him. Yet others are unhappy that she emphasises her support for Israel over the rights of Palestinians.

A battle of political values

Some British Jews like Berger (as well as non-Jews like Ryan) identify strongly with Israel, even as it swings ever further to the ultra-nationalist right. Some, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland among them, appear to believe that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-semitism. Some make this conflation wilfully and maliciously, some do it out of ignorance. Either way, those making this conflation do so to prevent Israel being criticised because they genuinely cannot bear to hear such criticism. They feel it as a personal attack.

That is regrettable. In an ideal world where politics did not involve having to make tough choices, it might even be avoidable. But politics in the real world isn’t actually like that.

And so allowing hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour the right to make support for Israel a priority is one political value that must compete with the right of other Jews in Labour and the right of non-Jewish members to oppose Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. For most of Labour’s history, Zionist Jews had the upper hand in this struggle between political values. Now, under Corbyn, they don’t.

That may make hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour like Berger, and hardline Zionist non-Jews like Ryan, angry and upset, but it very obviously doesn’t make their opponents in the party anti-semites.

The reality is that those who adopt a Zionist identity – one enmeshed in a belligerent, highly militarised state oppressing Palestinians for many decades – should not deserve any kind of special protection for their political views, least of all in the Labour party.

These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.

It is deeply immoral of Israel’s supporters – Jews and non-Jews alike – to try to win a political argument, about Israel, by silencing their opponents with a deceit about racism: that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism. The fact that harsh criticism of Israel wounds Zionist Jews does not give Zionist Jews a right to wound others by conflating their criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Low point in public discourse

These points ought to be so obvious that they do not need stating. And yet we have reached such a low point in public discourse – made far worse by the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative – that just saying this makes one vulnerable to accusations of anti-semitism.

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

A few days ago I spoke to another Jewish Labour member, who talked about a sundered bond between the party and British Jews, and how Labour had once nurtured a precious Jewish political tradition that was now close to breathing its last.

For Harris, it seems, it is inconceivable that any other Jewish narrative might exist. Insultingly, he erases non-Zionist Jews. And, of course, he makes no allowance at all for other Labour political traditions in which an anti-racism struggle, on behalf of Palestinians, might conflict with Zionism.

That Harris, like all his colleagues, has bought unquestioningly into the “institutionally anti-semitic” Labour narrative and the equally ridiculous “anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism” narrative is highlighted by this passage about Corbyn:

He has talked in the past about ‘the hand of Israel’ subtly and secretly acting from a distance. And from there it is only a short hop to two ideas which seem to have spread from a small hard core rooted in the anti-imperialist far left out into the wider party. First, that Israel – and by extension Jewish people – must have something do with many of the “smears”. And second, that accusations of antisemitism usually have a concealed agenda.

No, only Harris and those talking of a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” crisis in Labour are generalising about Jews and claiming that they all speak with one voice.

On the other hand, those highlighting the “anti-semitism smears” recognise that we are talking only about Zionists, Jews and non-Jews alike, who have a self-confessed emotional investment in shielding Israel from criticism, as I have outlined above. Many Labour members concerned about these smears are themselves Jewish. They even have their own organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, a group the Guardian largely ignores because it undermines the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative.

Further, the idea that only the tinfoil brigade could believe Israel has had any hand in framing this debate, or in reshaping the definition of anti-semitism to include Israel, is rich indeed coming from a newspaper that has dedicated acres of newsprint to impute a supposedly secret campaign by the Kremlin to undermine the west and its electoral processes.

Unlike many of the claims made against Russia, there is very well documented evidence that Israel, or more specifically Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, has been working behind the scenes both to bolster the “anti-semitism problem under Corbyn” narrative (that was precisely what the Al-Jazeera documentary proved) and to change the definition of anti-semitism to conflate it with anti-Zionism (I’ve written about that here).

That Harris doesn’t know about this evidence is the mark both of his failure to understand the larger picture and of the lack of coverage of these issues in the corporate media – not proof of conspiracy theories or anti-semitism.

Driving to the edge of the cliff

Finally, let me note yet again (I’ve been doing this for the past year) that the anti-semitism narrative is readily morphing into an attack on all left wing politics. Harris is no exception in this regard:

At the heart of the various strands of populism that have taken root in many countries over the past five years, you will find not just a supposed divide between ‘the people’ and an elite, but a deep conviction that the latter is mired in corruption and globe-spanning skulduggery that is never made public. …

It [the Labour party] now tends to present the very real failings of modern capitalism not as a matter of anything systemic, but the work of a small group of people who are ruining things for the rest: what Corbyn calls a ‘self-serving elite’, who ‘monopolise the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us’. …

Here is where the anti-semitism smears ultimately lead. The “moderate” left degrades political discourse, as it has since the Blair era, by refusing to countenance any criticism of capitalism that is prepared to get down and dirty with it, that descends from the lofty heights of the abstract to grapple with why ordinary people have been failed by the political and economic system.

Harris and so many other “moderates” want to treat neoliberalism as though it is some kind of immutable, if unfortunate, force of nature. As if those people forced to use food banks, those being deported, those suffering under an asymmetrical austerity forced on us by the bankers who played the economy as though it were a giant Ponzi scheme are simply victims of a natural disaster, needing only humanitarian aid.

But this is political evasion. The problems of capitalism may be systemic, but the people who rule our lives are flesh and blood. Those politicians devising austerity policies and bailing out the banks are people. Those well-paid journalists manipulating the way we see the world to benefit the 1% are people. Those CEOs despoiling the planet as they plunder its riches and heat up our climate are people. They are an elite and they need to be exposed and fought as a tiny group looking out only for their own interests, not ours.

In the guise of slaying a conspiracy theory, Harris promotes the biggest one imaginable: that the left doesn’t really care about the poor when it speaks of elites and a lack of accountability for the powerful, but is instead trying to revive the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the modern age.

Only in the imagination of Harris and purveyors of the Labour “anti-semitism crisis” narrative are the elites Jews. The reality is that this elite are not united by a religion or an ethnicity but by two things: their greed for wealth and power, and their indifference to the future.

While we waste our political energies flaying each other over marginal examples of anti-semitism in Labour, that elite will get on with the business of driving us all over the edge of an economic and environmental cliff.

UPDATE:

I had just pressed the “Publish” button when I was sent another example from within Labour of the argument that being anti-capitalism is the same as being anti-semitic. This one is from “moderate” Labour MP Siobhain McDonough, who made these remarks during an interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4:

McDonough: It’s very much part of their politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

Humphrys: In other words, to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic?

McDonough: Yes. Not everybody, but there is a certain… there’s a certain strand of it. These people are not Labour, have never been Labour, but we now find them in our party.

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

John Harris, a columnist who by the Guardian’s current dismal standards is considered on the newspaper’s left, has added his voice to the paper’s endless contributions on Labour’s supposed “anti-semitism crisis”. Sadly, his is typical of the paper’s misrepresentations of the issue.

It is easy – and lazy – to accuse those who peddle these distortions of acting solely in bad faith. But speaking as someone who was himself once deeply immersed as a journalist in the corporate culture of the Guardian, I know how simple it is from within that culture to fail to scrutinise one’s most fundamental and cherished assumptions. In fact, it’s often a requirement for remaining employed.

Nonetheless, Harris is such a good journalist by conventional standards and his work here is so lamentable, so lacking in awareness of even basic human psychology, that it cries out for some deeper analysis.

A lot has been written about how we now live in information silos. But that was true even before the arrival of social media for those like Harris whose job in the corporate media is to shore up a largely consensual view of the world, if only out of fear of the consequences should that consensus break down. In the wake of Brexit, we have heard liberal journalists grow louder in their suggestions that there is now “too much democracy”. As the consensus crumbles, their authoritarian instincts are becoming ever clearer.

No one from the Daily Mail to the Guardian departs from the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. That in itself is quite extraordinary. But the dearth of evidence for this narrative offers an opportunity to shake us out of our complacent belief that a state-corporate media, one reliant on profits from advertising corporations, can ever represent more than a narrow spectrum of thought – thought that helps those in power to maintain their power.

Moral panics and self-delusions

‘Harris begins his article by noting a Jewish woman’s experience of what she sees as an increasingly “abusive relationship” with the Labour party after 40 years as a member. Reporting her concerns, Harris lists a few recent incidents witnessed by this woman that she cites as proof of a rising tide of anti-semitism in Labour.

Absolutely no details are provided beyond her interpretations of what took place. (One should note that this lack of evidence is a staple of the media’s narrative about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour.) So let us weigh as best we can the interpretations put forward by Harris’s anonymous interviewee as our gateway into examining the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative itself.

First some background. Most liberal journalists are aware of the problem of what are called “moral panics”. Harris’s Guardian colleague Nick Davies wrote an influential book, Flat Earth News, whose first chapter was dedicated to the way the media and public can end up in a narrative tailspin, entering a world of mutually reinforcing self-delusions.

When such delusions serve an establishment agenda, they can be particularly pernicious and difficult to root out. And beating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into submission – or into the dust – before he can reach No 10 is definitely high on the political and media establishments’ agenda.

Moral panics work this way: Journalists stoke up emotions or fears over an issue that then runs rampant through public discourse to the point at which it no longer bears any resemblance to the real problem.

A famous example cited by Davies is the outpouring of concern, as the millennium approached, with a supposed Year 2000 computer bug. Through 1999, the media stoked an apocalyptic mood about the imminent meltdown of our newly computerised world, leaving us without basic goods, medicines and transport because computers would not be able to cope with a numerical change in the date. (For those too young to remember those events, the doomsday scenarios around Brexit pale in comparison.) The bug, of course, never materialised.

Once you are persuaded that something is true, however implausible it is, everything is likely to be filtered through that lens. And when everyone says Labour is institutionally anti-semitic, everything – from real hatred of Jews to vague or clumsy phrasing about anti-semitism, or criticism of Israel – will seem anti-semitic to you.

Two sides to every story

So when Harris’s interviewee says she was “jeered” by her Labour constituency general committee for raising the issue of anti-semitism, we cannot be sure that she actually was “jeered” rather than that she faced objections from committee members, possibly valid ones, about what she was claiming.

Similarly, we cannot know – beyond her claim – that she raised the issue of anti-semitism rather than that she labelled members of her constituency anti-semites for matters that had nothing to do with anti-semitism, such as their being highly critical of Israel or disagreeing with the claim that the Labour party is institutionally anti-semitic.

All of this is necessarily speculative on my part because Harris has allowed his interviewee to pass on her (possibly self-serving) interpretation of these events as the only one. And as we all know, life tends not to work like that. There are usually two sides to any story.

If it sounds like I’m being unfair to Harris’s interviewee, let’s remember that she would be very far from alone in perpetrating such misrepresentations, consciously or otherwise.

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

In fact, Harris himself, a well-trained journalist of impeccable liberal credentials, makes precisely this kind of misrepresentation a few paragraphs later on in his article, when he discusses the case of MP Chris Williamson.

Williamson, an ally of Corbyn’s, was suspended by Labour last week after the media reported that he had told a group of Labour members that the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The media, as well as “moderate” Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn, were outraged that Williamson thought it was possible to be “too apologetic” about bigotry towards Jews.

For them, the incident also usefully proved the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative they are so invested in because Williamson’s racism was warmly applauded by all those present.

Except none of that is true. You don’t even need to take my word for it. It is all recorded on video. You can listen to what Williamson said yourself and see why the audience cheered.

What Williamson actually said makes no sense to the corporate media or the Labour rightwing because it conflicts with their narrative, with a worldview that presupposes Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”. They cannot conceive of any interpretation of his speech that might undermine that narrative.

Defending Labour from smears

Williamson wasn’t telling Labour members to stop apologising about anti-semitism in Labour, and that wasn’t why they applauded him. He was telling them that there is no evidence to justify calling Labour institutionally anti-semitic, or even especially anti-semitic.

He was also saying that the endless focus on anti-semitism in Labour, and the apologies for incidents that were misunderstandings or smears rather than examples of Jew hatred, had painted a false picture of the Labour party. He was calling for Labour to stop being in default apologetic mode and start defending Labour’s reputation for anti-racism.

The members applauded because it was the the first time a Labour leader had stood up for them. Every day they hear the Guardian and Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, who is angling for Corbyn’s job, conducting a conversation over their heads that assumes they are either racists or that they turn a blind eye to racism. They are fed up with it. They know the narrative is nonsense and they are angry. When Williamson defended them, rather than those who smear them, they were delighted.

So how did Harris manage to cite this clip as further proof of Labour “institutional anti-semitism”, as he does here:

Just watch the video that eventually led to Derby North MP Chris Williamson being suspended from the party, and consider not what he said about Labour’s approach to antisemitism (“We’ve given too much ground – we’ve been too apologetic”), but the loud applause that followed.

How is it possible that everything I’ve just summarised of Williamson’s speech, and the audience’s response, passed so far above Harris’s head that he failed even to acknowledge it? He doesn’t have to agree with Williamson or those applauding him, but he has to be fair to them about how they viewed the meeting. To simply erase from the record what Williamson meant and what his audience’s applause meant is to perpetrate a deception. It’s to assist in promoting a moral panic.

Unlike many of those commenting, Harris is supposed to be a close observer of the Labour rank and file. He spends a lot of time, it appears, travelling the UK meeting ordinary people. How could he have missed this groundswell of anger among party members at being endlessly defamed – and not only missed it, but joined in the defamation himself?

Blind to other narratives

This isn’t just about Labour and anti-semitism. The Guardian, the paper of the liberal-left, has missed or misunderstood all the major political shifts of the last five years. It couldn’t imagine Corbyn being elected leader or understand the significance of the membership’s vote after it had happened. The Guardian also didn’t foresee the massive surge in support for a Corbyn-led Labour party at the last election. Instead it has led the media pack trying to undermine Corbyn, typically by promoting gross misrepresentations like this latest one echoed by Harris.

The Guardian’s incomprehension at Brexit is starkly on show too. Its commentaries rarely rise above denunciations of anti-immigrant racism. Its singleminded cheerleading of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders was as boneheaded as its continuing bafflement at the victory of Donald Trump.

The Guardian is a huge media outfit, employing many hundreds of journalists. And yet online pundits have regularly produced much more insightful analyses than the paper.

Harris’s article is yet more confirmation that even the best corporate journalists end up being blinded by media groupthink, leaving them unable to make sense of the world around them. They literally can’t see or hear what is staring them in the face. Harris is so immersed in a “consensus” anti-semitism narrative that he interprets the blinding dazzle of the sun as darkness, he perceives white as a diabolical black.

Filming an anti-semitism smear

This problem isn’t restricted to the media, of course. Politicians are equally blinkered about events that cannot be fitted into their worldview.

Take the case of Joan Ryan, a non-Jewish Labour MP who chairs Labour Friends of Israel and recently defected to the Independent Group over the anti-semitism issue. Perhaps not surprisingly given her emotional investment in defending Israel, apparently at all costs and whatever the evidence of its oppression of Palestinians, she is deeply opposed to Labour being led by Corbyn, a champion of the Palestinian cause.

To what terrible misdeeds that might lead her was laid bare when she made up an accusation of anti-semitism out of whole cloth against a Labour party member. Remember that accusing someone falsely of anti-semitism is as bad as making an anti-semitic statement. It has the same power to do terrible emotional damage to its victim, it can isolate them from friends and family, and it can result in them losing their job.

In 2016, Jean Fitzpatrick privately challenged Ryan on the margins of the party conference over the MP’s lack of support for the Palestinians. Ryan immediately accused Fitzpatrick of using anti-semitic tropes about Jews and bankers.

Fitzpatrick would have found herself one of those “anti-semites” hounded out of the party had she not been very lucky. Al Jazeera was making an undercover documentary about the collusion between the Israeli embassy and groups like Labour Friends of Israel, both of them intent on ousting Corbyn from the leadership. Unknown to Ryan, the exchange with Fitzpatrick was caught on film and shows that there was nothing about Jews or bankers, or anything anti-semitic, in what she said.

Ignoring the statistics

Unlike those smearing the Labour party as institutionally anti-semitic, I’m happy to put the most charitable interpretation possible on Ryan’s behaviour.

The fact is that, once people are invested strongly in a worldview, evidence that threatens to undermine it is usually ignored. Such evidence, if it dangerously challenges their inner narrative, can even be reinterpreted and distorted by the proponent to shore up their crumbling perception of right and wrong. The truth of the evidence simply doesn’t register, or it is turned upside down.

And that is an important part of what is happening in the crafting of the Labour anti-semitism narrative.

The statistics simply don’t bear out the accusation that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic”, or even that it has what might loosely be termed an “anti-semitism problem” – beyond a problem of racism on its margins of the kind that can be found in all organisations and communities, including the Jewish community.

Labour has found 0.08% of its members responsible either for unthinking prejudice towards Jews or conscious bigotry. The evidence suggests this is much, much lower than in the general population.

What has been happening in Labour under Corbyn, however, is that for the first time party members have been able to articulate critical views of Israel, as well as their support for Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression. That is a new and important freedom and to ignore the part it is playing in the anti-semitism narrative is to be wilfully blind – to cling on to a narrative that refuses to deal with the world as it really is.

Berger and her constituency

Harris quotes another colleague, Rachel Shabi, to bolster his argument. Referring to Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who also recently defected to the Independent Group, Shabi writes:

A Jewish MP left Labour because of the tide of antisemitism directed at her and I don’t think the terrible significance of this has sunk in for chunks of the left.

There are all sorts of assumptions in this short statement that need unpacking. True, Berger claims that anti-semitism is the reason she left the party. It may well be that she really believes that she is facing a tide of anti-semitism from Labour members. But the evidence needs to be produced, not simply taken for granted.

The examples of anti-semitism invariably cited in Berger’s case refer to undoubtedly anti-semitic attacks from the far-right, not from Labour members; or to online abuse whose provenance is rarely identifiable; or to the opposition she faced from her local constituency party in Liverpool.

There are lots of reasons why Berger is disliked by a significant section of her constituency party, and the wider Labour membership, that have nothing to do with anti-semitism. One is that she was parachuted into the constituency by Tony Blair (she once dated his son Euan), even though her Blairite politics do not fit with many of the people she supposedly represents. Another is that her constant and generalised complaints about anti-semitism in Labour are seen as an insult to party members. They have taken against her because she openly defames Corbyn – and them for supporting him. Yet others are unhappy that she emphasises her support for Israel over the rights of Palestinians.

A battle of political values

Some British Jews like Berger (as well as non-Jews like Ryan) identify strongly with Israel, even as it swings ever further to the ultra-nationalist right. Some, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland among them, appear to believe that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-semitism. Some make this conflation wilfully and maliciously, some do it out of ignorance. Either way, those making this conflation do so to prevent Israel being criticised because they genuinely cannot bear to hear such criticism. They feel it as a personal attack.

That is regrettable. In an ideal world where politics did not involve having to make tough choices, it might even be avoidable. But politics in the real world isn’t actually like that.

And so allowing hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour the right to make support for Israel a priority is one political value that must compete with the right of other Jews in Labour and the right of non-Jewish members to oppose Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. For most of Labour’s history, Zionist Jews had the upper hand in this struggle between political values. Now, under Corbyn, they don’t.

That may make hard-line Zionist Jews in Labour like Berger, and hardline Zionist non-Jews like Ryan, angry and upset, but it very obviously doesn’t make their opponents in the party anti-semites.

The reality is that those who adopt a Zionist identity – one enmeshed in a belligerent, highly militarised state oppressing Palestinians for many decades – should not deserve any kind of special protection for their political views, least of all in the Labour party.

These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.

It is deeply immoral of Israel’s supporters – Jews and non-Jews alike – to try to win a political argument, about Israel, by silencing their opponents with a deceit about racism: that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism. The fact that harsh criticism of Israel wounds Zionist Jews does not give Zionist Jews a right to wound others by conflating their criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.

Low point in public discourse

These points ought to be so obvious that they do not need stating. And yet we have reached such a low point in public discourse – made far worse by the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative – that just saying this makes one vulnerable to accusations of anti-semitism.

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

A few days ago I spoke to another Jewish Labour member, who talked about a sundered bond between the party and British Jews, and how Labour had once nurtured a precious Jewish political tradition that was now close to breathing its last.

For Harris, it seems, it is inconceivable that any other Jewish narrative might exist. Insultingly, he erases non-Zionist Jews. And, of course, he makes no allowance at all for other Labour political traditions in which an anti-racism struggle, on behalf of Palestinians, might conflict with Zionism.

That Harris, like all his colleagues, has bought unquestioningly into the “institutionally anti-semitic” Labour narrative and the equally ridiculous “anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism” narrative is highlighted by this passage about Corbyn:

He has talked in the past about ‘the hand of Israel’ subtly and secretly acting from a distance. And from there it is only a short hop to two ideas which seem to have spread from a small hard core rooted in the anti-imperialist far left out into the wider party. First, that Israel – and by extension Jewish people – must have something do with many of the “smears”. And second, that accusations of antisemitism usually have a concealed agenda.

No, only Harris and those talking of a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” crisis in Labour are generalising about Jews and claiming that they all speak with one voice.

On the other hand, those highlighting the “anti-semitism smears” recognise that we are talking only about Zionists, Jews and non-Jews alike, who have a self-confessed emotional investment in shielding Israel from criticism, as I have outlined above. Many Labour members concerned about these smears are themselves Jewish. They even have their own organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, a group the Guardian largely ignores because it undermines the “institutional anti-semitism” narrative.

Further, the idea that only the tinfoil brigade could believe Israel has had any hand in framing this debate, or in reshaping the definition of anti-semitism to include Israel, is rich indeed coming from a newspaper that has dedicated acres of newsprint to impute a supposedly secret campaign by the Kremlin to undermine the west and its electoral processes.

Unlike many of the claims made against Russia, there is very well documented evidence that Israel, or more specifically Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, has been working behind the scenes both to bolster the “anti-semitism problem under Corbyn” narrative (that was precisely what the Al-Jazeera documentary proved) and to change the definition of anti-semitism to conflate it with anti-Zionism (I’ve written about that here).

That Harris doesn’t know about this evidence is the mark both of his failure to understand the larger picture and of the lack of coverage of these issues in the corporate media – not proof of conspiracy theories or anti-semitism.

Driving to the edge of the cliff

Finally, let me note yet again (I’ve been doing this for the past year) that the anti-semitism narrative is readily morphing into an attack on all left wing politics. Harris is no exception in this regard:

At the heart of the various strands of populism that have taken root in many countries over the past five years, you will find not just a supposed divide between ‘the people’ and an elite, but a deep conviction that the latter is mired in corruption and globe-spanning skulduggery that is never made public. …

It [the Labour party] now tends to present the very real failings of modern capitalism not as a matter of anything systemic, but the work of a small group of people who are ruining things for the rest: what Corbyn calls a ‘self-serving elite’, who ‘monopolise the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us’. …

Here is where the anti-semitism smears ultimately lead. The “moderate” left degrades political discourse, as it has since the Blair era, by refusing to countenance any criticism of capitalism that is prepared to get down and dirty with it, that descends from the lofty heights of the abstract to grapple with why ordinary people have been failed by the political and economic system.

Harris and so many other “moderates” want to treat neoliberalism as though it is some kind of immutable, if unfortunate, force of nature. As if those people forced to use food banks, those being deported, those suffering under an asymmetrical austerity forced on us by the bankers who played the economy as though it were a giant Ponzi scheme are simply victims of a natural disaster, needing only humanitarian aid.

But this is political evasion. The problems of capitalism may be systemic, but the people who rule our lives are flesh and blood. Those politicians devising austerity policies and bailing out the banks are people. Those well-paid journalists manipulating the way we see the world to benefit the 1% are people. Those CEOs despoiling the planet as they plunder its riches and heat up our climate are people. They are an elite and they need to be exposed and fought as a tiny group looking out only for their own interests, not ours.

In the guise of slaying a conspiracy theory, Harris promotes the biggest one imaginable: that the left doesn’t really care about the poor when it speaks of elites and a lack of accountability for the powerful, but is instead trying to revive the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the modern age.

Only in the imagination of Harris and purveyors of the Labour “anti-semitism crisis” narrative are the elites Jews. The reality is that this elite are not united by a religion or an ethnicity but by two things: their greed for wealth and power, and their indifference to the future.

While we waste our political energies flaying each other over marginal examples of anti-semitism in Labour, that elite will get on with the business of driving us all over the edge of an economic and environmental cliff.

UPDATE:

I had just pressed the “Publish” button when I was sent another example from within Labour of the argument that being anti-capitalism is the same as being anti-semitic. This one is from “moderate” Labour MP Siobhain McDonough, who made these remarks during an interview with John Humphrys on Radio 4:

McDonough: It’s very much part of their politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.

Humphrys: In other words, to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic?

McDonough: Yes. Not everybody, but there is a certain… there’s a certain strand of it. These people are not Labour, have never been Labour, but we now find them in our party.