Category Archives: antisemitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Playing with fire’

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

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

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

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

Labour party problem?

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

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

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

Prejudices in decline

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

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

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

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

Resurgent white nationalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Jewish sentiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hungary anomaly

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

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

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

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

Array of opponents

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

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

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

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

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

Orban: Israel’s ‘true friend’

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

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

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

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

Hostility to Muslims

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

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

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

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

Ethnic purity and the Other

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

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

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

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

Only ‘partial’ Jews

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-immigrant views

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

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

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

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

Legacy of Europe’s racism

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

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

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

The ‘ultimate’ anti-semitism

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

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

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

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

Media distortions

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

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

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

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

Covert propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fair or foul means’

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

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

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

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

The real remedy

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye

Standing up for Jeremy Corbyn

It is appalling to be British and observe the circus of hysterical, ridiculous accusations being flung at Jeremy Corbyn by the Jewish Board of Deputies and their Conservative and Labour cohorts. I wonder if these self-righteous accusers have any perception of how we are viewed from afar by the more sane countries around the world. There is a simple question to be asked here: “Is Jeremy Corbyn racist?” Well, the answer to that is so self evident that those who accuse him wouldn’t dare ask it.

Jeremy Corbyn has a long history of standing up for truth, justice and for all of those who find themselves under attack through social injustice and poverty. Were he to be Prime Minister it would bring a breath of new life into our occupied Kingdom, held hostage by money, power and corporate lobbyists. That is, were all of his Labour party members to stand up and support him.

So who are the real anti-semites here? It goes without saying that Palestinians are also of the Semitic race. The word anti-semitic has been highjacked, distorted and shrunk to make it into a little word that only applies to one people. Is the suffering of one people greater than the suffering of other people? I can’t imagine anyone who survived the holocaust ever thinking that, let alone heralding it as a shield to protect themselves from bully tactics or, in the clear case of Israel, their criminal behaviour. Suffering is a condition that is relevant to all of us by virtue of our being human. Although, rather than shrink the experience of ‘suffering’ to one people I would say that where and when it occurs, suffering can be felt throughout all of the natural world. (On that note, I would like to see ‘ecocide’ recognized alongside ‘genocide’ as a serious crime against humanity). However, that leads us into a much broader discussion so I will return to: ‘Who are the real anti-semites here?’

Hamas are accused of using human shields in Gaza. The accusation is ridiculous for anyone who has actually travelled to Gaza. It’s such a tiny strip of land that its civilian population is crammed together. As is being demonstrated now, Palestinians can’t even venture within a kilometre of the perimeter of their permitted imprisoned land without being teargassed or shot at. Most of the protestors, the medics and journalists, are young men and women from within families who are trying to defend their families from Israeli genocidal policies. And, really, who of us wouldn’t? I salute them.

On the other hand, we have here in Britain a largely privileged group who are shielding their unfounded attacks on Jeremy Corbyn behind a claim of being Jewish. So what if they are Jewish. This doesn’t give them the right to make such wild accusations, to speak for other Jews — and certainly not all British Jews — as they falsely make claim. I have many wonderful Jewish friends who are either appalled by their behaviour or have never even heard of them. I would say that brandishing this shield of their individual Jewishness is intimidating and exploitative. In a metaphorical sense they are the ones using innocent British Jews as human shields. In fact, one might even debate whether this could be seen as a variation on a hate crime, because there are those who still take the word of the monopoly media literally and who do think these unfounded attacks are coming from all Jews. In making such a claim, aren’t they just shifting criticism away from themselves as individuals and placing it on the shoulders of British Jews, thus attracting ridicule and a potentially frightening risk for real anti-semitic attacks.

We are all inter-connected in this beautiful natural world. I hope that one-way we will ALL awake up to this and instead of attacking such stalwarts as Jeremy Corbyn we will celebrate our differences and thus avoid diving into dark oppressive rabbit holes of politically motivated distortion.

How I became an anti-Semite without hating Jews

“Because you’re an anti-Semite!” said Kei in a room full of Palestine supporters, looking me straight in the face.

Kei was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He had just finished delivering a talk on the Nakba – “catastrophe” in Arabic – to a meeting of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. It was a good presentation, and clearly he and the other presenter had spent significant time putting it together.

To all appearances, Kei and I saw eye to eye on the issue of Palestine, and should have been on the same side. And that is how we first became acquainted. I was the logistical member of a team bringing two Palestinian women from the refugee camps in Lebanon to speak to students and other groups in North America. Kei’s SJP group at GWU had invited the women to speak at their campus, and Kei was my contact for working out the details.

But then, all of a sudden, he and his group disappeared and we had no response from them. They had decided not to communicate with us anymore, not even to let us know that they had cancelled the invitation. And then there was Kei at the PSL meeting, where I had come at the suggestion of a friend. Having never met him in person, I didn’t realize who he was until he was in the middle of his presentation.

So I asked for an explanation of the GWU incident, and he responded, “Because you’re an anti-Semite.”

“Really!” I replied. “Is it because I hate Jews or have made anti-Semitic statements?”

“It’s because you defend Alison Weir.”

I was astonished.  The definition of anti-Semitism had apparently been growing exponentially when I wasn’t watching.  It is, of course, true that Israel and its supporters had been expanding the definition to include criticism of Israel and support for BDS (the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel for its violations of international law).

“But how is that anti-Semitic?” I asked.

“Because she’s an anti-Semite.” He replied.

“OK, then how is she an anti-Semite?”

“Because she appeared on an anti-Semitic white supremacist show”.

“I’ve known Alison a long time and I’ve never known her to say anything racist towards Jews or anyone else. What did she say or do?”

“She appeared on a racist show.”

“OK, so you’re saying that even if she’s never said anything hateful toward Jews, she’s anti-Semitic because she appeared on a racist show, and I’m an anti-Semite because I defend her. Is that right? And anyone who defends her or me will be anti-Semitic? And anyone who defends them? That’s going to be a lot of anti-Semites!”

That’s pretty much where the discussion ended. But it’s clear that my defense of Alison Weir was not the reason Kei considered me an anti-Semite. There are thousands who defend her that are not being called anti-Semites. And Alison and I are both proud to count many anti-Zionist Jews among our friends and supporters. (I also count Zionist Jews among my friends, but we just can’t talk about Israel.)

In fact, Kei’s talk that day was in support of the Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition, which staunchly supports Alison. And following Kei on the podium was Abbas Hamideh, who is staunchly supportive of Alison. Is Al-Awda anti-Semitic? Is Abbas Hamideh?

No, the reason for labeling me, Alison and others as anti-Semitic has more to do with the arbiters of who gets invited; i.e., the use of power and ostracism as tools for sowing division.

Kei was not tempted to change his view toward me, but had he been, he would almost certainly have found himself ostracized by his own group at George Washington University. That’s a very powerful weapon for those able to wield it.

It doesn’t take much. A couple of rumors and slanderous postings on line, aimed against the targets and backed by a few community leaders, are often enough to create a rift in the movement. Those who want to be accepted and who might aspire to future leadership roles will quickly toss a few corpses along the way as sacrificial offerings to prove their sincerity. Such motivations are typically much stronger than principles.

What can we learn from this experience?  That support for those who have been ostracized is not a recommended course of conduct, unless you are motivated more by integrity than legitimacy, in which case you too may become an anti-Semite without hating Jews.

Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification

My previous post was about the firing of a cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung after its editor became concerned – though, it seems, far from sure – that a cartoon he had published of Benjamin Netanyahu might be anti-semitic. Here is the image again.

As I argued then, the meaning seems pretty clear and uncoloured by any traditional notion of anti-semitism. It shows the danger that Israel, a highly militarised state, will use its win at the Eurovision song contest, and its hosting of next year’s competition in occupied Jerusalem, to whitewash the sort of war crimes it just committed in Gaza, where it has massacred large numbers of unarmed Palestinians.

In fact, the cartoonist is far from alone in highlighting such concerns. The New York Times has reported delight among Israelis at the prospect of what they regard as a “diplomatic victory” as much as musical one. And, according to the Haaretz newspaper, the Eurovision contest organisers have already expressed concern to Israeli broadcasters about likely attempts by Israel to “politicise” the competition.

Among those responding on Twitter to my post was Naomi Wolf, a US Jewish intellectual and feminist scholar whose body of work I admire. She disagreed with my blog post, arguing that the cartoon was, in her words, “kind of anti-semitic”.

In our subsequent exchange she also noted that she was uncomfortable with the fact that the cartoonist was German. (For those interested, the complete exchange can be found here.)

In the end, and admittedly under some pressure from me for clarification, she offered an illustration of why she thought the cartoon was “kind of anti-semitic”. She sent a link to the image below, stating that she thought Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu had echoes of this Nazi image of “the Jew” alongside an Aryan German woman.

Frankly, I was astounded by the comparison.

Nazi propaganda

Cartoons in Nazi propaganda sheets like Der Sturmer were anti-semitic because they emphasised specific themes to “otherise” Jews, presenting them as a collective menace to Germany or the world. Those themes included the threat of plague and disease, with Jews often represented as rats; or secret Jewish control over key institutions, illustrated, for example, by the tentacles of an octopus spanning the globe; or the disloyalty of Jews, selling out their country, as they hungered for money.

As Wolf notes, anti-semitic cartoonists would give the portrayed “Jew” grotesque or sinister facial features to alienate readers from him and convey the threat he posed. These features famously included a large or hooked nose, voracious lips, and a bulbous or disfigured head.

So how did the cartoon of Netanyahu qualify on any of these grounds? There is no implication that Netanyahu represents “Jews”, or even Israelis. He is illustrated straightforwardly as the leader of a country, Israel. There is no sense of disease, world control or money associated with Netanyahu’s depiction. Just his well-known hawkishness and Israel’s well-documented status as a highly militarised state.

And there is nothing “grotesque” or “other” about Netanyahu. This is a typical caricature, certainly by European standards, of a world leader. It’s no more offensive than common depictions of Barack Obama, George Bush, Tony Blair, or Donald Trump.

So how exactly is this Netanyahu cartoon “kind of anti-semitic”?

Limiting political debate

What follows is not meant as an attack on Wolf. In fact, I greatly appreciate the fact that she was prepared to engage sincerely and openly with me on Twitter. And I acknowledge her point that judgments about what is anti-semitic are subjective.

But at the same time ideas about anti-semitism have become far vaguer, more all-encompassing, than ever before. In fact, I would go so far as to say the idea of anti-semitism has been metamorphosing before our eyes in ways extremely damaging to the health of our political conversations. It is the current mystification of anti-semitism – or what we might term its transformation into a “kind of antisemitism” – that has allowed it to be weaponised, limiting all sorts of vital debates we need to be having.

It is precisely the promotion of a “kind of anti-semitism”, as opposed to real anti-semitism, that has just forced Ken Livingstone to resign from the Labour party; that empowered Labour’s Blairite bureaucracy to publicly lynch a well-known black anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth; that persuaded a dissident comedian and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Frankie Boyle, to use his TV show to prioritise an attack on a supposedly “anti-semitic” Labour party over support for Gaza; that is being used to vilify grassroots movements campaigning against “global elites” and the “1 per cent”; and that may yet finish off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, currently the only credible political force for progressive change in the UK.

None of this is, of course, to suggest that Wolf would herself want any of these outcomes or that she is trying to misuse anti-semitism. I fully acccept that she has been a strong Jewish critic of Israel and doubtless paid a price for it with friends and colleagues.

But unlike Wolf, those who do consciously and cynically weaponise anti-semitism gain their power from our inability to stand back and think critically about what they are doing, and why it matters. There is an intellectual and cultural blind spot that has been created and is being readily exploited by those who want to prevent discussions not only about Israel’s actions but about the wider political culture we desperately need to change.

Israel and Jews

In fact, the mystification of anti-semitism is not new, though it is rapidly intensifying. It began the moment Israel was created. That was why a Nazi cartoon – drawn before Israel’s establishment in 1948 – could never have been described as “kind of anti-semitic”. It simply was anti-semitic. It attributed menacing or subversive qualities to Jews because they were Jews.

To understand how the current mystification works we need briefly to consider Israel’s character as a state – something very few people are prepared to do in the “mainstream”, because it is likely to result in allegations of … anti-semitism! As I observed in my previous post, this has provided the perfect get-out-jail-free card for Israel and its supporters.

Israel was created as the national homeland of all Jewish people – not of those who became citizens (which included a significant number of Palestinians), or even of those Jews who ended up living there. Israel declared that it represented all Jewish people around the world, including Wolf.

This idea is central to Zionism, and is embodied in its Declaration of Independence; its constitutional-like Basic Laws; its immigration legislation, the Law of Return; its land laws; and the integration into Israel’s state structures of extra-territorial Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency.

A dangerous confusion

It is also why the rationale for Israel is premised on anti-semitism: Israel was created as a sanctuary for all Jews because, according to Zionists, Jews can never be truly safe anywhere outside Israel. Without anti-semitism, Israel would be superfluous. It is also why Israel has a reason to inflate the threat of anti-semitism – or, if we are cynical about the lengths states will go to promote their interests, to help generate anti-semitism to justify the existence of a Jewish state and encourage Jews to immigrate.

So from the moment of its birth, the ideas of “Israel” and “anti-semitism” became disturbingly enmeshed – and in ways almost impossible to disentangle.

For most of Israel’s history, that fact could be obscured in the west because western governments and media were little more than cheerleaders for Israel. Criticism of Israel was rarely allowed into the mainstream, and when it did appear it was invariably limited to condemnations of the occupation. Even then, there was rarely any implication of systematic wrongdoing on Israel’s part.

That changed only when the exclusive grip of the western corporate media over information dissemination weakened, first with the emergence of the internet and satellite channels like Al Jazeera, and more recently and decisively with social media. Criticism of Israel’s occupation has increasingly broadened into suspicions about its enduring bad faith. Among more knowledgeable sections of the progressive left, there is a mounting sense that Israel’s unwillingness to end the occupation is rooted in its character as a Jewish state, and maybe its intimate ideological relationship with anti-semitism.

These are vital conversations to be having about Israel, and they are all the more pressing now that Israel has shown that it is fully prepared to gun down in public unarmed Palestinians engaging in civil disobedience. Many, many more Palestinians are going to have their lives taken from them unless we aggressively pursue and resolve these conversations in ways that Israel is determined to prevent.

And this is why the “kind of anti-semitic” confusion – a confusion that Israel precisely needs and encourages – is so dangerous. Because it justifies – without evidence – shutting down those conversations before they can achieve anything.

The Livingstone problem

In 2016 Ken Livingstone tried to initiate a conversation about Zionism and its symbiotic relationship with anti-semites, in this case with the early Nazi leadership. We can’t understand what Israel is, why the vast majority of Jews once abhorred Zionism, why Israel is so beloved of modern anti-semites like the alt-right and hardcore Christian evangelicals, why Israel cannot concede a Palestinian state, and why it won’t abandon the occupation without overwhelming penalties from the international community, unless we finish the conversation Livingstone started.

Which is why that conversation was shut down instantly with the accusation that it was “anti-semitic”. But Livingstone’s crime is one no mainstream commentator wants to address or explain. If pressed to do so, they will tell you it is because his comments were perceived to be “offensive” or “hurtful”, or because they were “unnecessary” and “foolish”, or because they brought the Labour party “into disrepute” (Labour’s version of “kind of anti-semitic”). No one will tell you what was substantively anti-semitic about his remark.

Similarly, when pressed to explain how Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu was anti-semitic, Wolf digressed to the entirely irrelevant issue of his nationality.

This is the power and the danger of this “kind of anti-semitic” logic, and why it needs to be confronted and exposed for the hollow shell it is.

A mural becomes anti-semitic

The next stage in the evolution of the “kind of anti-semitic” argument is already discernible, as I have warned before. It is so powerful that it has forced Corbyn to concede, against all evidence, that Labour has an anti-semitism problem and to castigate himself, again against all evidence, for indulging in anti-semitic thinking.

Corbyn has been on the defensive since a “controversy” erupted in March over his expression of support back in 2012 for street art and opposition to censorship amid a row over a London mural that was about to be painted over.

After he was elected Labour leader in 2015, the first efforts were made to weaponise the mural issue to damage him. The deeply anti-Corbyn Jewish Chronicle newspaper was – like Hanitzsch’s boss at the Süddeutsche Zeitung – initially unsure whether the mural was actually anti-semitic. Then the newspaper simply highlighted concerns that it might have “anti-semitic undertones”. By spring 2018, when the row resurfaced, the status of the mural had been transformed. Every mainstream British commentator was convinced it was “clearly” and “obviously” anti-semitic – and by implication, Corbyn had been unmasked as an anti-semite for supporting it.

Again, no one wanted to debate how it was anti-semitic. The artist has said it was an image of historical bankers, most of whom were not Jewish, closely associated with the capitalist class’s war on the rest of us. There is nothing in the mural to suggest he is lying about his intention or the mural’s meaning. And yet everyone in the “mainstream” is now confident that the mural is anti-semitic, even though none of them wants to specify what exactly is anti-semitic about it.

The 1 per cent off-limits

Much else is rapidly becoming “anti-semitic”. It is an indication of how quickly this slippage is occuring that repeating now a slogan of the Occupy Movement from only seven years ago – that we are ruled by a “global elite” and the “1 per cent” – is cited as proof of anti-semitism. The liberal New Statesman recently ran an article dedicated to proving that the articulation of basic socialist principles – including ideas of class war and the 1 per cent – was evidence of anti-semitism.

On Frankie Boyle’s popular TV show last week, comedian David Baddiel was allowed to misrepresent – unchallenged – an opinion poll that found 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters agreed with the statement “the world is controlled by a secretive elite”. Baddiel asserted, without any evidence, that when they spoke of a global elite the respondents were referring to Jews. What was this assumption based on? A hunch? A sense that such a statement must be “kind of anti-semitic”?

Lots of young people who support Corbyn have never heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and have little idea about Der Sturmer or Nazi propaganda. More likely when they think of a secretive global elite, they imagine not a cabal of Jews but faceless global corporations they feel powerless to influence and a military industrial complex raking in endless profits by engineering endless wars.

The mystification of anti-semitism is so dangerous because it can be exploited for any end those who dominate the public square care to put it to – whether it be sacking a cartoonist, justifying Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians, destroying a progressive party leader, or preventing any criticism of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism destroying our planet.

Anti-semitism: Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card

The silencing of critics of Israel using anti-semitism as the pretext is far from restricted to the current wave of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party. It is now used to intimidate anyone who steps out of line on Israel. Once we raged against the conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. We have so lost that battle that it is now standard operating procedure for Israel’s apologists to conflate anti-semitism with simple criticisms of the current ultra-nationalist Israeli government.

Here is an illustration of our defeat, reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz. It concerns what would in other circumstances be a fairly standard satirical cartoon: this one published by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung about Israel winning the Eurovision song contest last week. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown on stage dressed as Israel’s winning singer, Netta, and proclaiming “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

After the usual outcry, the cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, was sacked. No Charlie Hebdo-style concerns about free speech on this occasion, it seems.

As has become familiar in these cases, Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, seemed unsure himself whether the cartoon was actually anti-semitic. But presumably he thought it better to fire the cartoonist just to be on the safe side. Let’s hope Hanitzsch can take Krach and his newspaper to the cleaners at a labour tribunal.

One critic, Jonas Mueller-Töwe, who sounds like Germany’s version of Jonathan Freedland, has claimed that “a Jewish star” – that would be Israel’s emblem of the Star of David – on a rocket held by Netanyahu suggests that “behind every war, Jewish interests are hiding”. Instead we could simply trust our eyes, which provide a different meaning: that Israel, a highly militarised state, won the Eurovision song contest at the same time as it was devastating Gaza – again – and will now be able to use its hosting of a popular cultural event in Jerusalem next year to whitewash its war crimes.

Before we get too exercised about the significance of every detail, we should remember that political cartoons, by their very nature, need to use symbols as shorthand for more complex ideas. We demand the impossible from a cartoonist if we expect them to offer us political satire while denying them the possibility of using symbols.

So what is anti-semitic about the cartoon? It’s not about Jews, it’s about the Israeli prime minister and his war agenda. And Netanyahu’s purportedly “oversized nose, ears and lips” are surely well within the normal bounds of a caricature. Do we really want to impose a unique demand on cartoonists when dealing with Israel’s leaders of drawing anatomically precise images?

The problem here, as with the anti-semitism “crisis” debate about the Labour party, is that it is totally divorced from any sense of proportion or reality. The question we ought to be asking in a case like this is: what kind of satirical cartoon lambasting Israel could ever satisfy the criteria being demanded by the current anti-semitism watchdogs?

And in consequence, what cartoonist is going to dare to deploy their satirical skills against Israel when the response is invariably going to lead to their being accused of anti-semitism and possibly losing their career and their reputation?

That is precisely what weaponising anti-semitism means. It hands Israel a get-out-of-jail-free card. It intimidates opinion formers – journalists, cartoonists, comedians, politicians, civil society leaders, human rights activists – by making the issue of Israel so toxic that none dare touch it. One need only look to the BBC to see the result: a mix of anaemic fence-sitting and outright censorship when covering Israel.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously reminded us: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” A submission to those who abuse anti-semitism to make Israel unassailable entails terrifying consequences for the Palestinians. It requires that, after decades of betraying them, we in the west once again turn a blind to their suffering. And, as was highlighted last week in Israel’s slaughter of Gaza’s unarmed protesters, it clears the path to a future in which Israel can and will commit ever graver outrages against the Palestinians.

Frankie Boyle: Your new show betrayed Gaza

Dear Frankie Boyle,

I’d prefer not to be writing this as an open letter, but you didn’t leave me much choice: I can no longer engage with you on Twitter because you blocked me (and many hundreds of others, it seems) for criticising the first episode of your New World Order TV show on Friday.

Since then, having purged your Twitter feed of critics, you have created a series of straw men. In the worst, you have suggested that those unhappy with the show are really closet racists for objecting to the fact that you spent half of your 30-minute schedule allowing your guests, led by David Baddiel, to flay Jeremy Corbyn for a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in the Labour party. Presumably that offers you a comfortingly circular proof of Labour’s anti-semitism problem.

Another straw man is that those criticising you are simply Corbyn devotees defending their man. Well, that’s certainly not true in my case. Like you, I am dissatisfied with the Labour party as a vehicle for real change, and I think Corbyn is too moderate on a range of issues. But he is also a blast of fresh air in British politics, and the only party leader in living memory who has put anti-racism – and class solidarity – at the heart of his political agenda.

Which may be why some of us were infuriated watching a show hosted by you – probably the only true dissident currently given a show on mainstream TV – trash Corbyn in exactly the same terms used over the past two years by every section of the corporate media, from the Daily Mail and the Times to the Guardian and the BBC. Even were these anti-semitism allegations grounded in a verifiable reality, we really don’t need Frankie Boyle indulging prejudices we’ve heard almost every day since Corbyn was elected Labour leader.

Politically toxic

But sadly, that segment of your show was more than simply wasted airtime. Far worse, you peddled – or rather gave a platform to Baddiel and the other guests to peddle – allegations that are rooted in no reality at all, as people like me have been pointing out for a long time and in a great deal of detail. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

We are not saying there is no anti-semitism on the left (another straw man). Unfortunately, there are racists, including anti-semites, everywhere in life. We are saying that there is no anti-semitism crisis on the left. That is not my or anyone else’s opinion. It is documented fact. Surveys show that Labour is significantly better on the issue of anti-semitism than the right.

Your decision to echo the Murdoch press by focusing on a Labour/left anti-semitism “crisis” can have only two consequences, both of them politically irresponsible and socially toxic.

The first is that this allegation undermines – completely unfairly – the left, creating the impression among the wider public that there is a significant problem of anti-semitism in Labour, and implying, again unfairly, that Corbyn is the source of that problem. We understand very well why the corporate media is devoting so much time and energy to the character assassination of Corbyn. What we can’t understand is why you would use your own slot in the corporate media to steady the rifle for them.

But the irresponsibility of focusing on a confected Labour anti-semitism “crisis” extends beyond simply helping the right wing damage Corbyn and the left more generally. You have also assisted the right in deflecting public attention from its very real anti-semitism problem. And that kind of right wing anti-semitism isn’t about criticising Israel (in fact, the right increasingly loves Israel), but about promoting hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. While you and everyone else in the corporate media are busy directing our critical gaze at the Labour party, the right can get on with stoking real Jew hatred. If you doubt that, let Donald Trump be a warning to you.

A history of ‘new’ anti-semitism

Doubtless, David Baddiel thinks he’s defending Jews by concentrating on a supposed left wing “anti-semitism” that criticises Israel or, as he was also allowed to argue on your show, vilifies a “global elite”. Maybe he’s right and the Occupy Movement’s talk about “the 1 per cent” was just a way to repackage the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But I rather think not, and you should have required some evidence for those insinuations rather than grinning approvingly as he made them.

(Baddiel exposed his own unconscious racism on the show by making an ugly analogy in which anti-semitism was treated as the equivalent of “cancer”, while other forms of racism – against blacks and Muslims, presumably – were only “shingles”. I have analysed the problem of creating hierarchies of racism that prioritise anti-semitism, and undermine class solidarity, here.)

I understand, Frankie, that you may not realise that anti-semitism began to be weaponised by Israel and its supporters nearly two decades ago – long before Corbyn became Labour leader. From my vantage point in Israel, I have been tracking the mischievious misuse of anti-semitism since Israel began exploiting it more aggressively to silence critics in the early 2000s.

Then it was known as the “New Anti-Semitism”, or sometimes Judeophobia, and the Israeli and US media dedicated acres of newsprint to this supposedly new “problem” on the European left.

One prominent exponent of the thesis was Daniel J Goldhagen, a scholar of the Holocaust, who feared Muslim and Arab immigration to Europe had unleashed a new kind of anti-semitism. In 2003 he wrote in the Forward, a prestigious US Jewish weekly:

Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world. It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today, and on the United States as the world’s omnipresent power. …

Essentially, Europe has exported its classical racist and Nazi anti-Semitism to Arab countries, which they then applied to Israel and Jews in general. …

Then the Arab countries re-exported the new hybrid demonology back to Europe and, using the United Nations and other international institutions, to other countries around the world. In Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere, today’s intensive anti-Semitic expression and agitation uses old tropes once applied to local Jews — charges of sowing disorder, wanting to subjugate others — with new content overwhelmingly directed at Jews outside their countries.

Silencing criticism of Israel

In fact, this theme was enthusiastically picked up by a group of British Jewish intellectuals, who produced a book that same year called “A New Antisemitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain”. The contributors included the Guardian’s executive editor Jonathan Freedland; far-right Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, formerly of the Guardian; novelist Howard Jacobson; and Britain’s then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. A review in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described its thesis in these terms:

The irreducible fact is this: something new is at work in Britain. But it’s not the old anti-Semitism. It’s not eliminationist. It’s not genocidal. Nor is it even a deep-seated, visceral hatred of individual Jews. …

Not widespread in “Middle England” at the moment, [Judeophobia] nevertheless resides among certain “cognitive elites” within the news media, churches, universities, and trades unions. … Today’s Judeophobia is an assault on the essence of the Jewish collectivity, both in terms of a Jewish sovereign state in its ancient homeland, and the nature of robust, emancipated, and self-aware Diaspora communities. …

The discriminatory outcome of this campaign of vilification is the demonization of Israel, and by association Jews wherever they may live. Such demonization contributes little to constructive dialogue over Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In fact, it is another obstacle on the road to peace.

In Israel, a few analysts admitted at the time that this new kind of anti-semitism was intended to intimidate critics who were reacting to Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in the early years of the second intifada.

And proponents of the “New Anti-Semitism” argument, of course, wilfully ignored other, more convincing explanations of the mounting criticism of Israel on the European left – not least the growing exposure of western publics to Israel’s abuses of Palestinians in an age of 24-hour rolling news and social media.

The New Anti-Semitism playbook was quickly updated after Corbyn became Labour leader. He is seen as an enormous threat to Israel: the first head of a major modern European party to prioritise the suffering of Palestinians over Israel’s right to colonise the Palestinians’ homeland. I have written about this in too much detail to do so again, so if you need to get up to speed, it’s all set out here.

Censured for Israel jokes

There are a number of additional reasons why some of your followers are so angry with you over this episode. Rather than shutting them up, it might have been wise to listen to them.

1. You have spoken in the past about the BBC censuring you for jokes you made that were critical of Israel on the grounds that those jokes were supposedly anti-semitic. Remember what you wrote in an open letter eight years ago, before the media had set up Corbyn as the fall guy rather than you. Then, you stated:

I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal, was an appropriate target for satire. The [BBC] Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers.

It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.

Well, your prediction is fully vindicated. Now you don’t get censured by the BBC for anti-semitism; instead they pre-emptively censor your jokes on the assumption that they are anti-semitic (see point 2).

It’s a bad look for you to claim you were defamed as an anti-semite, and then allow your show to be used to defame others as anti-semites. It’s an explosive and hugely damaging accusation. It needs serious evidence before you joke about it at the expense of others.

2. You admitted in a tweet that BBC executives cut sections of Friday’s show – in violation of promises to you that those segments would be kept in – in which you criticised Israel as apartheid state and spoke out against Israel’s actions in Gaza. It is commendable that you made such comments, and that you have alerted us to the fact that the BBC excised them. It is yet further confirmation that the British state-corporate media is deeply unbalanced and untrustworthy on issues relating to Israel.

But that’s the point, isn’t it. Israel, as I have explained, chose to weaponise anti-semitism to silence criticism of its actions. When the BBC censors material critical of Israel, (as it has done to others, such as Max Keiser) it does so because – as you, Frankie, noted in the video clip referenced in point 1 – it conflates that criticism with anti-semitism, just as Israel hoped.

The BBC and the rest of the corporate media have similarly ignored the fact that many of the most high-profile suspension cases in the Labour party for anti-semitism have actually been of anti-Zionist Jews outspoken in their criticisms of Israel. That important fact is not mentioned by the corporate media, or on your show, because it dramatically undermines the narrative of an anti-semitism “crisis” on the left.

Now censored for Israel jokes

You want to treat the fact that your show focused on anti-semitism as entirely separate from the fact that in the same episode the BBC censored your comments critical of Israel. However, everyone but apparently you, Frankie, understands that these two matters can’t be separated because Israel, the BBC and many others now blur any distinction beyond recognition. Just take Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, who has argued that his Jewish identity is inextricably bound up in Israel, and therefore to criticise Israel is to attack him as a Jew.

When you play the anti-semitism card against Corbyn, you open the door for the BBC to play the anti-semitism card against you (as it has) and any routine you might want to perform that is critical of Israel. You threw Corbyn and the left under the bus with Friday’s show, while you whinge about the fact that you were censored on Israel. It simply won’t wash.

3. The anti-semitism allegations against Labour and Corbyn have been festering away for the best part of two years. Aside from all the other matters I have raised, it is not unreasonable to question why you would dredge them up now. The most topical issue of the week was the massacre by Israeli snipers of Palestinians protesting in Gaza, after a decade in which the enclave’s two million inhabitants have been slowly starved to death in line with Israeli policy.

You dismissed one of your followers who raised the incongruence of your priorities by suggesting that she was racist for holding the Jewish people collectively responsible for Israel’s actions. Yet another straw man. She did nothing of the sort.

But presumably she, like many others, has noticed that anti-semitism has been weaponised against Corbyn and the left more generally. It is intended to shut us up for talking too much about Israel. Quite how this has passed your notice is less easy to explain, given your double admisson that the BBC has censored your own criticisms of Israel and censured you by conflating such criticism with anti-semitism.

The very week when Palestinians need full-throated support, and Israel full-throated condemnation, you trotted out stale and bogus allegations of an anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour precisely designed (whether you understand it or not) to foreclose criticism of Israel. That is a betrayal of the Palestinian people in their time of need. I can’t think of a nicer way to dress it up.

Keeping you honest

There are those who say you, Frankie, are trying to do your best in a tough spot from within the corporate media, and therefore we should cut you some slack. Certainly, it is good that you have a platform that can reach far larger numbers of people than any of us social media activists.

But that is not a good reason for us to keep quiet. First, we need to keep you honest. You slipped up badly in this first episode, both in enthusiastically adopting the right’s anti-semitism “crisis” narrative and in not making a bigger noise about the censorship of your Gaza criticisms. If we don’t kick your arse over it, no one else will.

Second, we on the real left have to raise our expectations. Okay, it’s good to have you on the BBC, but we need to make as much noise as possible when we have a chance to remind viewers that you are a one-off, the exception that proves the rule; and that even so, you are being censored and doubtless forced to make other major compromises on your material to remain on the telly.

Our job is not to stand loyally by you while you trim your sails. It is to challenge you on your compromises and expose the difficulties you face to a wider public. That helps to raise awareness of how rarely alternative perspectives are available on the BBC, while at the same time deepening our own critical thinking.

The fact that you have blocked so many of us for simply pointing out what should have been obvious to you in the first place is a good sign that you do indeed need your arse kicked. We’ll happily do it again next time you play by the establishment’s rule book.

No one pays me to write these blog posts. If you appreciated it, or any of the others, please consider hitting the donate button in the right-hand column.

How Anti-semitism Row MPs turned Lynch Mob

If you force me to choose – and tragically, the mischievious confection of an “anti-semitism crisis” in the Labour party does require me to choose, because it turns racism into a competition between worthier “victims” – Marc Wadsworth, a black activist and the founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance, is a much bigger victim of racism than Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth.

The proof is in the 50 Labour MPs who marched with her to an internal party hearing that they expect will expel Wadsworth. The MPs wanted to give the impression of serving as a bodyguard; in fact, they looked more like a lynch mob.

Wadsworth’s “crime” is his accusation at a meeting to unveil the Chakrabarti report nearly two years ago that Smeeth had been leaking stories to the right wing press to harm Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

We can argue the facts about whether Wadsworth’s claim is true: whether Smeeth did indeed connive with the anti-Corbyn press. But even if he is wrong, that would not make his allegations anti-semitic.

Furthermore, the accusation itself is hardly far-fetched. The Blairite wing of the parliamentary party, of which Smeeth is very much a part, barely bothers any more to conceal its desire to oust Corbyn from the leadership.

In fact, the Blairites now seem determined to terminally wound not just Corbyn but their own party, as they did at the instigation of the Conservative government last week in a debate on anti-semitism. The opportunistic pummelling of Corbyn, jointly conducted by Labour and Conservative MPs, comes just days before local authority elections that were supposed to be Labour’s chance to seize the initiative from the government.

Smeeth and other Labour MPs have relied on personal anecdotes to argue that anti-semitism is far worse in Labour than any other party, and worse than in British society generally. That is the only possible meaning of the term “crisis”. But the actual statistics give the absolute lie to their claims.

Anti-semitism in Labour is so dire, so endemic, according to Smeeth and her allies, that the party must be eviscerated in public day after day, its energies sapped in the hunt to root out any traces of Jew hatred, and its political programme (and the chances of beating the Tories) set aside until the purges are complete.

But the Wadsworth case illustrates quite how sham the “anti-semitism crisis” is.

His attack on Smeeth was political, not racist. If she took offence, it should have been because she regarded his comments as a political insult, and an untrue one, not a racist insult.

But Smeeth preferred to mischaracterise the attack, not least because she would have been hard pressed to offer a political defence. Instead she weaponised anti-semitism to divert our attention from the real issue at the heart of the spat between herself and Wadsworth. She accused him of promoting “vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people”. Wadsworth pointed out that he did not even know Smeeth was Jewish until she brought the issue into play.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Smeeth believes, because she is Jewish, that any criticism of her is anti-semitic by definition. And she now has 50 MPs on her side, trying to bully Wadsworth out of the party – and by implication, not only him but anyone else who might try to unmask their McCarthyite tactics.

Smeeth, it should be remembered, is not a credible witness in the prosecution of Wadsworth. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy Smeeth’s parliamentary privilege, so I will have to be more circumspect in what I say than Smeeth makes a habit of being. But as I pointed out in an earlier post, at least one of her major claims cannot withstand the most cursory scrutiny, once it is fact-checked.

After her row with Wadsworth she claimed to have been inundated with anti-semitic abuse, some 25,000 messages, most of them on Twitter – though given her own inflated and egocentric ideas about what constitutes anti-semitism, she can hardly be viewed as a competent judge.

But you don’t need to rely on my scepticism. The Community Security Trust, a British Jewish lobby group ever-vigilant about anti-semitism, has discredited her claims too, even if in their case they did so inadvertently. Their study of anti-semitic activity on Twitter for a year-long period that included the few days in which Smeeth was supposedly overwhelmed with abuse found only 15,000 anti-semitic tweets – in a whole year, for the whole of the UK. Smeeth’s self-serving figures simply don’t add up.

But if Labour is now committed to witchhunts, as it seems to be, then it needs pointing out that there are more serious problems of racism in Labour than the current “anti-semitism crisis”.

How about Labour launching an investigation into its “anti-black racism crisis”? It should not be hard to identify. It is being led by the Blairite wing of the party, which has been using anti-semitism as a pretext to hound out of the party black anti-racism activists like Wadsworth and Jackie Walker who support Corbyn, also a lifelong anti-racism activist.

These are people who are concerned about racism in all its guises, and about real victims in all their shades of colour. Not opportunists like Smeeth who have hijacked racism narrowly to serve their political cause.

Equally serious is Labour’s real anti-semitism crisis – the one no one talks about. That is being led by an unholy alliance of Labour’s Blairite MPs, right wing Jewish establishment bodies like the Board of Deputies, and the corporate media to vilify individual Jews and Jewish organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas because they dare to be critical of Israel.

Again unmentioned, Jews are being hounded out of the party on the ridiculous pretext that they are anti-semites – just ask Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker (black and Jewish!), Glyn Secker, Cyril Chilson and others.

The disturbing implication is that these are not “proper” Jews, that their voices not only don’t count but their arguments are dangerous and must be shunned. And further, that those who “consort” with them, as Corbyn has done, are contaminated and guilty by association.

Ruth Smeeth is not a victim of the Labour party “anti-semitism crisis”, because that crisis does not exist. It is a political construct. There are doubtless examples of anti-semites and other racists who are members of the Labour party, as there are in all walks of life, but there is no crisis.

Real victims of racism suffer because they are isolated, vulnerable and easily vilified. The Labour party should stand with such people. Instead it is allowing privileged MPs and party bureaucrats to promote the demonisation, abuse and persecution of black activists like Marc Wadsworth and anti-Zionist Jews like Cyril Chilson. We are living through a truly shameful period in Labour’s history.

What’s in a word?

Jeremy Corbyn is currently enduring yet another well-organised smear campaign based on his alleged support for “anti-Semitism”. Although the allegation is too ridiculous for words, the smear campaign is nevertheless enjoying some success for two main reasons, each of which is pretty serious – yet neither one has any rational foundation that’s capable of withstanding even basic critical examination.

  1. What’s in a word?

The first, and arguably most relevant reason, is the widespread misunderstanding of the expression “anti-Semitism”. Consider the most significant part of the expression – Semitism. This obviously derives from the word “Semite”. The 1993 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defined “Semite” as follows:

A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen 10:21-31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.

So just twenty five years ago the expression anti-Semitism could have referred to the showing of prejudice against tens of millions of people stretching from North Africa to Iraq. Then something quite peculiar happened. According to Stephen Sedley, writing for the London Review of Books:

In May 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body, adopted a ‘non-legally-binding working definition of anti-Semitism’: ‘Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

This definition, which has apparently being officially adopted by both the British government and Britain’s Labour Party, simply airbrushes out all of the other people originally included in the earlier rational definition of the word – and notably Arabs. It would appear that the new wording originated at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which also provides numerous examples how to interpret the definition. One such example reads:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Now it isn’t very difficult to spot the lack of intellectual quality in this. The concept of a country owned and controlled by the Jewish people, and only the Jewish people, is the basis of Zionism. Many people have become so conditioned to fear Zionist propaganda that they become blinded to the many obvious flaws in the rationale of the Zionists. They appear to think that questioning Zionism is tantamount to supporting holocaust denial, when the two things are obviously completely different. No matter the obvious contradictions between the fundamental concept of Zionism, and a concept of basic human rights where no one group is exceptional, and which most civilised countries try to live up to.

But the example provided by the IHRA goes to the heart of the current problem: we have travelled from a definition of anti-Semitism that originally included hundreds of millions of people originating in North Africa and the Middle East, of which the Jewish people were not exceptional, to one which totally excludes everyone who is not Jewish, and demands acceptance of a notion that Israel is not a racist endeavour – despite seventy years of history, and counting, that provides voluminous evidence to the contrary. Zionism is clearly a racist endeavour, and seventy years, and counting, of Palestinian suffering is undeniable, ongoing, blood-soaked proof of that fact.

Given that Jeremy Corbyn has spent much of his political life as a dedicated supporter of the rights of the Palestinian people – a Semitic people – it’s really quite ridiculous to suggest he supports anti-Semitism.

It would seem that much of the smear campaign that’s being carried out at the moment is a carefully orchestrated attack on someone who has long championed the terrible injustices perpetrated against Palestinians for the last seventy years, and counting. A key part of this smear campaign is the gradual corruption of the expression “anti-Semitism”, from its original interpretation to one where it’s now supposed to include anyone who questions the concept of Zionism – a very different meaning altogether.

Whilst it’s very easy to accuse non-Jews, such as Jeremy Corbyn, say, or Ken Livingstone, of anti-Semitism because of their support for Palestinians and opposition to Zionism, it’s a lot more difficult when Jewish people themselves say basically the same thing, as frequently happens.

Hasidim, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group, has long opposed the state of Israel, and Zionism, the ideological principle behind it. In a recent article by the BBC, a photograph shows a large demonstration by Hasidic Jews, many of whom are holding up placards which read “Judaism rejects Zionism, and the state of Israel”. This is not as strange as it may seem: Judaism has been around for about five thousand years, Zionism for a mere hundred and twenty years or so, but accusing Hasidim of anti-Semitism, which is implied by the IHRA’s words, would be beyond satire.

Nor is Zionism opposed only by ultra-orthodox Jews. The London-based Jewish Socialists’ Group, for example, wrote the following:

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. Zionism is a political ideology which has always been contested within Jewish life since it emerged in 1897, and it is entirely legitimate for non-Jews as well as Jews to express opinions about it, whether positive or negative. Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews. [My emphasis]

Criticism of Israeli government policy and Israeli state actions against the Palestinians is not antisemitism. Those who conflate criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism, whether they are supporters or opponents of Israeli policy, are actually helping the antisemites. We reject any attempt, from whichever quarter, to place legitimate criticism of Israeli policy out of bounds.

Opposition to, or prejudice and discrimination against people just because they’re Jewish is totally inexcusable. Opposition to Zionism, however, is not only a completely different thing, it’s absolutely right. Zionism is the modern equivalent of apartheid (both of which, curiously, started flexing their muscles at about the same time). It practices exceptionalism, proclaiming one group of people superior to all others, justifying a vile and ruthless discrimination which, in the case of the Zionists, has murdered tens of thousands of defenceless people and cruelly oppressed millions of others. Therefore it’s fairly clear to see that anyone who does not strongly and actively oppose Zionism must obviously be supporting instead a regime whose institutionalised heartless cruelty has no other equivalent in the modern world.

  1. On a wing and a prayer

The second reason for the relative success of the smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn which, when critically examined, quickly crumbles to dust is the very ideological premise for Zionism: that Jewish people have some sort of exceptional claim to the land around Jerusalem – because their god said so.

The hard unchallengeable facts about this claim are:

  1. The Old Testament, which contains the scriptures which supposedly validate the Zionist claim, was written by human beings – mostly Jewish human beings – not god.
  2. There is no verifiable empirical evidence that god exists.

At least two thirds of the human population are brainwashed into believing some kind of religion, and the existence of some sort of supernatural being, or beings, whose wisdom in all things is both beyond question and reproach. Coupled to this, and an integral part of the brainwashing, is the “carrot and stick principle”: if we wholeheartedly accept the religion we will live happily ever after in some sort of “heaven”; if we do not accept it we will live forever in some sort of “hell”. So even though many people do not regularly practice the religions in which they’re indoctrinated, the conditioning is still there inside them, which is why they invariably observe religious services for the events that matter to them: births, deaths and marriages.

So religion is a powerful controlling device for most people – no matter that the core principle of most religions – belief in some sort of supernatural being – cannot be proven. Therefore when Zionists say there are biblical scriptures to verify their claim to land around Jerusalem, scriptures purporting to be the very word of god, many people balk at the prospect of disputing the claim, vaguely recalling distant thoughts of eternal hellfire.

But the existence of this god cannot be proven, and the quoted scriptures were written by ordinary human beings with vested interests in the claims they made.

Some would no doubt argue that even though the religious basis of Zionism is flimsy, to say the least, that people are still entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, and that real libertarians should respect that. True, up to a point. People should indeed believe whatever they like, but there’s a very important caveat: that the practice of that belief should not be at the cost of the rights of others to practice their beliefs too; and the practice of that belief should very definitely not cause harm to others. When some new cult emerges claiming the necessity for human sacrifices, as happens from time to time, we don’t meekly nod in agreement and say, well, that’s O.K. if that’s what your religion says, we quite rightly throw the murderers into prison for substantial periods of time. But that’s not what’s happened with the Zionist cult. The Zionists have used their religion to not only justify stealing vast lands away from Palestinians who owned it for centuries, but also to justify the murdering of tens of thousands of Palestinians too, and ruining the lives of millions of others.

Therefore it’s very easy to see that the ideological claim of the Zionists has no substance.

It’s a shame the Labour Party hasn’t got the courage to strongly support its leader against the latest smear campaign. The spectacle of MPs from Jeremy Corbyn’s own party attacking him in support of the smearing against him is sickening beyond belief. Labour should stand up for justice for Palestine, not crumple up like a wet paper bag. Discrimination against Jewish people is utterly reprehensible and inexcusable, but Zionism is the modern equivalent of apartheid. As the Jewish Socialists say, “Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not the same. Zionism is a political ideology“. Fighting it is totally justifiable, and right. Labour MPs who support the Zionists, against their own leader, are obviously also supporting one of the greatest human rights violations of modern times. There are no words adequate to the job of properly describing these people.

The Anti-semitism Paradox Damaging Labour

The supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in Britain’s Labour party is revealing an interesting paradox at the heart of modern discussions of anti-semitism.

Undoubtedly there are those who intentionally exploit anti-semitism for political gain. That should be obvious if we pause to consider how much attention left-wing “anti-semitism” (criticism of Israel) – formerly promoted as the “New Anti-Semitism” – is receiving compared to the old-fashioned type of anti-semitism beloved of right wingers. They wanted Jews out of Britain (the Balfour Declaration, anyone?), denied the Holocaust, desecrated Jewish graves, or refused Jews entry to elite schools and golf clubs.

Because right wingers now love Israel, even if they often aren’t too keen on real-life Jews as neighbours or members of their organisations, no one seems too exercised about that kind of anti-semitism any longer, even as it rears its ugly head again across the United States and much of Europe. We are all too busy trying to work out when hating Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settlements is really cover for hating Jews more generally.

But aside from these foolhardy priorities, there is a more insidious and unconscious danger in this obsession with left-wing anti-semitism. It is neatly illustrated by an anti-semitism test unveiled by the comedian David Schneider. On this occasion, he does not appear to be joking. It poses four questions that are supposed to determine whether you are a secret anti-semite and which get progressively more difficult for many left-wingers to answer unambiguously.

Schneider himself notes that many on the left fail the third and fourth questions. And there is a good reason for that: they should do, if they are genuinely progressive.

Once, in a more fundamentalist Christian Europe that emphasised ethnic races, and in which Jews were the main identifiable Other, anti-semitism was rampant and the most significant form of racism. For good reason, the rapid rise of the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust have left most westerners extremely sensitive to the issue of anti-semitism and the dangers of its re-emergence.

But the world has changed markedly since the 1930s. Globalisation means Europe is now rife with many other identifiable groups that racists can turn into an unwelcome “Other”.

Self-interested elites, concerned only with the preservation of their power, have always been keen to cultivate racism. That way, justifiable resentments and anger from the middle and working classes over their economic and social plights can be re-directed towards easily identified targets. Power elites scapegoat weak groups, often through the corporate media, encouraging the wider population to see them as contaminants of a supposed native racial purity, immigrants stealing jobs and “our women”, and those promoting alien practices, religions and cultural ideas that threaten to corrupt or endanger a supposedly traditional way of life.

This is a sophisticated form of divide and rule, designed to deflect our attention from the real struggle against a tiny class of the rich and powerful who control our societies and organise it in ways to entrench their power and further enrich themselves at our expense.

So the struggle against racism must be one that treats all forms of racism as evidence of false consciousness, and regards all racisms as equally dangerous and equally in need of eradication. Anti-racism, if it is to be effective, must be a struggle based on class solidarity – the 99 per cent against the 1 per cent. Anything else plays into the hands of the elites and allows them to perpetuate their pillage of our societies through their enablers in the political and media class.

Schneider’s third question is therefore a problematic one for a true leftist. He asks:

Do you treat antisemitism in exactly the same way as hatred and prejudice against any other group, condemning it outright without any qualifying comment about, for instance, the suffering of other groups?

There is twofold problem here. First, for anyone with their eyes open, anti-semitism clearly isn’t being treated by our elites in the same way as other forms of racism – against Muslims, for instance. It is being prioritised by politicians and the corporate media as a special kind of racism: more significant, more dangerous, more worthy. When would you ever see the full breadth of the British media – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian and BBC – collectively obsessing about a wall mural unless it was being claimed as an example of anti-semitism?

In fact, when there has been very clear evidence of incitement against Muslims, repeatedly in the case of inflammatory cartoons by European publications depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist and worse, western liberals have insisted on the right to offend and scandalise.

In the case of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, where several of its journalists were killed in a revenge attack, world leaders vocally supported the right to be offensive – to be racist even – and ordinary people adopted the French flag as a social media icon in solidarity with that idea.

In other words, the prioritising of anti-semitism as a racism we care about as opposed to other racisms we generally don’t is the very antithesis of class solidarity. What is becoming ever clearer is that anti-semitism is being exploited, as the Labour party “anti-semitism crisis” highlights, precisely to promote divide and rule, to weaken class politics, to subvert a genuinely progressive Labour leadership – the first in living memory.

Which brings us to the second problem with Schneider’s question. If claims of anti-semitism are being prioritised – manipulated even – to divert our attention from class solidarity, then we need to point that out. We precisely must qualify – or more accurately, contextualise – our condemnations, so it is clear that the reason why problems of anti-semitism are being highlighted, and in some cases manipulated or manufactured (see here, for example), is not to protect Jews but to exploit them to advance an elite political agenda.

This is something that many Jews on the left are trying to say, such as those in Jewish Voice for Labour, but they are being ignored by politicians and the media because they are the wrong sort of Jews. Their message does not fit with the one our elites (most of whom are not Jewish) wish to promote to serve their interests – interests that are in truth indifferent to the plight of Jews.

Schneider makes a similar mistake with Question 4:

Did you manage to answer 1-3 without moving the subject onto Israel / Palestine?

But this is possible only if we ignore the fact that allegations of anti-semitism – again obviously in the case of the Labour “crisis” – are increasingly being used as a weapon to silence left-wing criticism of Israel and the promotion of Palestinian rights. Recent official redefinitions of anti-semitism, including one adopted by the British government, explicitly include criticism of Israel as evidence of anti-semitism. Labour’s “anti-semitism crisis” only emerged when a veteran anti-racism campaigner and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Jeremy Corbyn, became leader of the party.

Corbyn reveals in stark fashion the paradox of this modern anti-semitism problem. It is because he treats all forms of racism as equally troubling that he now finds himself in hot water, under attack from the Conservative Party, as well as the Blairites who dominate his parliamentary party, from the narrow spectrum of thought represented by the corporate media, and from the Jewish establishment in Britain – from the Board of Deputies to the Jewish Chronicle – that long ago hitched their Jewish identities to a colonial settler state in the Middle East.

When even commentators in supposedly liberal publications like the Guardian, such as Jonathan Freedland, claim their Jewish identity is intricately bound up in Israel, how are the rest of us supposed to ignore the issues of Israel and Palestine in addressing and challenging what is supposed to now constitute anti-semitism?

Yes, anti-semitism as racism is a problem that needs to be rooted out of our societies. But anti-semitism as a tactic to stifle class solidarity and promote Israel is a weapon designed to benefit only the rich and powerful, and it must be identified as such. The two need to be carefully distinguished – and that job will inevitably fall to the left, one that genuinely cares about all forms of racism.

Unreality

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
— Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928

For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news.
— Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, 2008

There is a strange uncanny quality to a number of recent stories. In fact, an uncanny quality to nearly everything recently. And it is a quality that includes paranoia, but also the sense of living within some increasingly malevolent psy-ops experiment. Now everyone runs for cover when this idea of psy-ops is introduced. The conspiracy theorist label is the most feared appellation in contemporary culture. But the truth is that I cannot recall a time when there was so much psychological disquiet running through the populace of North America and Europe. But especially, unsurprisingly, in the U.S. Edward Snowden released information last week that set the CIA black budget at 52 billion (and change) for 2013. Of course, there is some reason to suspect Snowden himself is part of this budget (see how this goes?). One writer noted:

In comparison, the Department of Homeland Security was allocated $55.4 billion in 2013. The black budget comes in at a figure larger than the sums received by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and NASA this year combined.

A few years ago the late Daniel Inouye wrote:

There exists a shadowy government with its own Air Force, its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself.

Today, it is estimated (!) that there are close to 200 special access secret intelligence programs in the U.S. government. Nobody has any idea how many are employed in these programs or, obviously, what they do. Nor does anyone have any clear idea how much money there is to which they have access. Now the recent Snowden leak prompted a number of online publications, many of them ostensively liberal (Wired, The Verge) to declaim the obvious — that’s a lot of money — near more than most small countries spend on everything in a year. But see, anyone paying any kind of attention knew all this. And when James Clapper notes that much of the secret budget is targeting North Korea, you know that such leaks are part of the psy-ops themselves. For you know Clapper is lying because his mouth is moving. Nobody in the intelligence community really thinks the Pentagon fears North Korea. Lots more discussion makes mention of Pakistan, Hezbollah, and Syria. The usual targets the CIA and Pentagon want America to fear. Not a word about false flag ops or domestic propaganda. Are we to believe the black budget is not spent on propagandizing the U.S. public? Are we to believe the CIA covert program does not engage in false flag operations?

Take this notification about Armageddon that occurred in Hawaii recently. I mean seriously, think about what happened. Bill Van Auken wrote:

The “false alarm” delivered to a population of 1.5 million in the US Pacific island state of Hawaii on Saturday morning has laid bare the clear and present danger of a nuclear war. Cell phones lit up with the text message “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Television and radio broadcasts were interrupted with the chilling announcement that “A missile may impact on sea or land within minutes. This is not a drill.” For 38 minutes, residents of and visitors to Hawaii were confronted face to face with nuclear Armageddon. Parents frantically sought to find and protect their children, families said last goodbyes and people desperately sought largely nonexistent shelter in anticipation of a nuclear blast.

Thirty-eight minutes, huh? Okay. Van Auken adds:

There is no reason that anyone should blindly accept this official story as true. Given the record of the US government in staging provocations and launching wars based upon lies, not only severe skepticism, but outright suspicion is called for.

Of course. The problem, though, runs even deeper than just the idea that somehow this intentional false alarm was meant to frighten the public about Nuclear War. It may be that, too, although while I don’t think the U.S. will attack the DPRK (they are too useful as the regional villain), it’s certainly useful to normalize the very idea of nuclear war. But this false alarm does something else. It is part of the manufacturing of existential terror. And certainly it fits in seamlessly with the spike in internet censorship (see Diane Feinstein and Adam Schiff letter to Mark Zuckerberg…I mean you can’t make this shit up). Or listen to Monika Bikert, the Facebook rep as she talks of the doubling of Facebook personnel devoted to weeding out subversives, or what she called counterspeech (sic). Fear, fear, fear everywhere. Even fear of your neighbours. Most everyone is aware of Google and YouTube and Facebook now deleting voices they don’t like, and effectively disappearing web sites that are anti- capitalist and anti-imperialist. For your own good, of course. Normal.

Or think about the Robert Mueller investigation and the massive propaganda campaign against Russia that has taken place the last year. The entire “Russia-gate” narrative is a fiction. But much of the educated white populace are now literally frothing at the mouth in outrage (for what is often unclear, actually, but Trump inspires a new level of hatred and contempt in many) and falling over themselves to laud praise on Mueller and the FBI. Ponder that a moment or two.

Clint Watts, jar head ex Army, and ex FBI, and now head of some creepy organization that works on censorship (Alliance for Securing Democracy), spoke to a judiciary hearing last year and said:

Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.

This in an article by Andre Damon. So fear words too.

The public faces of repression. A populace now saturated with online psychological manipulation. Now most of us have noticed, for years, really, the Israeli hasbara trolls on social media. They pop up at odd times to attack any critical discourse on Israeli crimes. The U.S. government does much the same thing for a variety of topics. And it should be noted that there is a precipitous spike in antisemitism on the left. Some of it almost just structural in nature, but much of it blatant. But this is the top text, so to speak. It is never that simple. For the deeper psy-op activities are housed directly in the voices of dissent. Others, all those voices that pop up to attack, with faint praise sometimes, socialist countries — Cuba or the DPRK or Venezuela — are achieving something opposite of what they appear to be claiming. There is always this not quite radical criticism of, say, Hillary and Bill Clinton. But if one just asks…just asks, what about that trail of dead bodies going back decades that seem to follow in the wake of Bill and Hill. Ask that and you are slandered. Ask, say, about any left or even liberal journalist…why is this guy saying this stuff. I’ve asked about Chris Hedges’ unwavering attacks on Slobodan Milosevic. I mean Hedges claims he was there. He should know better. Right? But maybe it’s just a blind spot. I find that hard to understand, but maybe. I mean, maybe it’s all in my head, too. Could be. But if one has any illusions about the CIA and media, here is a useful quick primer.

Conspiracy exists. That’s just a fact. COINTELPRO, Iran/Contra, the ‘babies torn from incubators’ meme, or those mythical rape camps in Serbia, or Operation Northwoods, or Operation Gladio for that matter. Yet, there is an enormous resistance to even suggesting any suspicion about certain things. And that is understandable. After all, there are countless crazy conspiracy stuff one can find. And there are certainly tons of people propagating these crazy theories. And it is tiresome. And the complexity of the experience of dealing with crazy theories is often also just enervating and depressing. Lodged within much of it are various layers of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism.

For the people who embrace the worst and most unrealistic conspiracy theories are also, usually, just not very smart. Uneducated, and their embrace is part of a character structure built on resentment and anger. From the crude Trumpian build-a-wall-to-keep-out-those-foreigners-who-are-taking-your-jobs, to the latest incarnations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (just the word Rothschild is enough for me to stop reading) the sheer volume of this stuff is mind numbing. But then there is the possibility that the most outlandish stuff, that which attracts the nativist racists or antisemites might itself fall under the umbrella of that black budget. See how this goes? I mean, I often worry everything too outrageous just might be part of some massive psy-ops.

The latest UFO video has garnered a lot of attention. I’d love to believe it, I really would. And it’s compelling, actually. But those drawings of the flying saucers. Why do they resemble Buck Rodgers serials? Why is the alien aesthetic, as it were, so retro? All these retired military guys, isn’t that a red flag? I don’t know. Or the moon landing didn’t happen meme. It was done on a sound stage in London and directed by Stanley Kubrick. I love that one, I admit. Why? Because those photos, the colour ones, DO, in fact, look like something Kubrick would have done. Do I actually believe it? No. But I get the appeal. I get the appeal for all of it. And I get the appeal because the actual world, itself, is so, well, unreal. Edward Said, not long before his death, did a BBC interview in which he was asked the single thing he felt most about the world at that moment. And he said, “the unreality”.

Did private security teams shoot people after Hurricane Katrina? Yes. So did a lot of cops. Did land get stolen from the poor? Of course, it did. The ruling class is highly opportunistic. Disaster capitalism and all that. But nobody manufactured a hurricane in some lab at DARPA.

But this unreality is not a hallucination. And the denial of it increasingly feels like its own neurosis. It also strikes me, the denial of all conspiracy theory, as a masculine affliction. It is the residual Puritanism or Calvinism of the stoic nose to the grindstone American male. Take Michael Hastings or Seth Rich, and ask yourself if one can with any equanimity accept the official story. Once upon a time people laughed at the idea that the U.S. government trained death squads at a place called School of the Americas. Unreal. But, of course, it was factual. Air America or CIA cocaine importation and the Gary Webb story. Unreal? Yeah. Sure it was.

The shocking fact, Cockburn and St Clair assert, is the utterly quotidian nature of CIA operations. This is a healthy bureaucracy in which organizing drug transshipments, reportfiling, business lunches and clocking-out of the office are the workaday routines of well-educated, well-spoken men in suits. In contrast to the glamorous Hollywood depiction of espionage culture, this is the sphere of public servants, who are bid to do the job of achieving American geopolitical aspirations as best they can: “it should again be emphasized,” write Cockburn and St Clair, that the ClA works not as a “‘rogue’ Agency but always as the expression of US government policy” dictated from the Oval Office. All this might be dismissed as conspiracy theory were it not for the impressive research and documentation in Whiteout.
— Brian Musgrove, review of Whiteout

Catch that? Might be dismissed as conspiracy theory. Would have been. Almost was. For many still is. And yet there are decades of evidence that the U.S. does, in fact, engage in routine clandestine operations on foreign soil (and probably, this same evidence suggests, domestically), up to and including murder. There are a million Hollywood movies with this story line. But if one suggests that something not officially recognised might have been a black op — you are just a conspiracy theorist.

Or in another register, look at the remarkable work of the Innocence Project. Look at the number of men acquitted of murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. These men were set up. Those men were not convicted because of accidents or just bad legal representation (though they often had that, too). No, they were set up by venal dishonorable racists, white supremacists, men in positions to take away your freedom. If you are poor, especially poor and black or brown or Native American, then your life is always going to be precarious.

And yet, much of America still needs convincing that the death penalty is wrong. People laugh about how everyone in jail claims innocence. Yet we know many ARE innocent.

Or Chelsea Manning’s campaign for congress. The former Bradley Manning launched her campaign with an Orwellian video in which she is dressed in black, wearing a designer hoodie and which suggests nothing so much as some V for Vendetta out take, by way of Oswald Mosley. But, but she is running as a Democrat. What does one make of this, exactly? Unreality. Color me suspicious.

But I want to return to the current wave of antisemitism I see in the West. Much of it on the self identified left. For this represents something symptomatic of the dissipation of critical thinking that is helping foster this climate of unreality. An unreality that aligns psychologically with fascism.

The British ruling class, which was rabidly anti-Semitic, had its own reasons for this support. Out of the First World War, Arab nationalism had emerged as a major threat to domination of the Middle East and Britain hoped that Zionists could be a useful force for policing the Arabs. But Winston Churchill gave another reason for supporting Zionism–defeat of the left wing “International Jews.” In an astoundingly anti-Semitic article titled “Zionism versus Bolshevism,” Churchill wrote, ‘First there are the Jews who, dwelling in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life and, while adhering faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens in the fullest sense of the State which has received them…( )

It becomes, therefore, specially important to foster and develop any strongly-marked Jewish movement which leads directly away from these fatal associations. And it is here that Zionism has such a deep significance for the whole world at the present time.… [S]hould there be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown, which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event would have occurred in the history of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.
— Anne Levin (International Socialist Review, 2002)

As John Rose wrote:

The shadow of anti-semitism as a partner of Zionism rather than its polar opposite, as the Zionists would claim it to be, hung over the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour, the British minister in whose name the declaration was signed, had enthusiastically campaigned for the introduction of the British Aliens Act in 1905 – which aimed deliberately at stemming further Jewish immigration into Britain.

The antisemitism of the educated left today, just as much as the rabid Jew hating of the David Duke variety, both serve to absolve the ruling class of its crimes, to absolve the bourgeois plutocrats and even Capitalism, itself. It’s all the fault of the Jews!

The Zionist project has always employed antisemites and Imperialists. The Arab revolt of 1936 was brutally squashed by the British (something at which they were to become very adept) but with massive Zionist assistance in the form of the Haganah paramilitary. Once the Arab populace was soundly defeated and demoralized the Zionists turned on their Imperial guardians.

Anne Levin again:

In 1945, they declared war on the British and drove them out. In 1947, the United Nations imposed its criminal partition of Palestine, which granted the majority of the land to the minority of Jewish settlers. For the Zionists, this was a green light to begin a terrible war of ethnic cleansing. In 1948, through systematic terror and murder, they drove 800,000 Palestinians off their land and founded the state of Israel on the ruins of destroyed Arab Palestine.

The legacy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still palpable. Remember too that Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right wing revisionist of early Zionism, was much enamored by fascism. The Revisionist newspaper of the time even wrote sympathetically of Hitler, who they believed would discard his antisemitism but trusted he would not discard his more important animus toward Marxism and Bolshiviks. The Israeli massacre of the British at Dir Yassin in 1948 marked the final act for the British mandate of Palestine. The point here is that antisemitism is a hugely useful tool for the current Israeli state. Netanyahu beats the drum constantly. Nothing is more pleasing to Israeli officials than to watch the rise of far right parties today in Europe (all of which echo the language of the Protocols).

The destruction of the revolutionary left in Europe by Nazi fascism allowed the Zionist propagandists to manufacture a narrative of Jewish ideological support for Israel. The socialists who fought and died in resistance to fascism have been essentially erased from History…at least Israeli history. The socialist anti Zionism among huge numbers of European Jews has been relegated to Western and Israeli rabbit holes of amnesia. (never mind the Bolshiviks put an end to all racist laws and all anti Jewish legal restrictions in 1917).

The anti-communism of Churchill and the instrumentalization of political Zionism in order to weaken the socialist appeal to Jews were not endeavors free of contradictions. On the Jewish question, Bolshevism at that time had been opposed to Zionism on the ideological front and to anti-Semitism on the political level. British imperialism, in contrast, was promoting Zionism to counter Bolshevism while supporting the elements of the White Guards in the Russian civil war who had a long tradition of anti-Semitism and pogroms. During the civil war, anti-Bolshevik forces killed at least 60,000 Jews.
— Jacques Hersh

Socialist and Marxist opposition to Zionism has existed ever since the modern political movement was launched by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Before World War I, Jewish nationalism was, if anything, more vigorously criticized by Jews than by non-Jews, at least outside Palestine. Jewish adversaries of Zionism at that time included much of the liberal communal establishment in Western countries, “assimilationist” Jews, religious reformers, and most of the preeminent “Orthodox” and ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Russia and Eastern Europe. On the secular Left, the Bund (the leading Jewish workers’ organization in Tsarist Russia), and later the Communists, vehemently opposed Zionism as a utopian, reactionary, “petty-bourgeois” movement.
— Robert Wistrich

Wistrich, himself a defender of the Israeli state, was also a perceptive analyst of contemporary antisemitism. And he recognized the dynamics of prejudice:

On the far Left as well as the far Right, anti-Zionism uses a type of discourse and stereotypes concerning the “Jewish/Zionist lobby,” Israeli/Jewish “criminality,” and Sharonist “warmongering” that is fundamentally manipulative and anti-Semitic. This has penetrated the mainstream debate to the point where 60 percent of all Europeans regard tiny Israel as the greatest threat to world peace; where over a third of those surveyed in Europe and America regularly attribute to Jews excessive power and influence; where Jews are suspected of dual loyalties by ever greater numbers of non-Jews; and where “anti-Zionist” attacks on Jewish institutions and targets show that we are talking about a distinction without a difference. Anti-Zionism is not only the historic heir of earlier forms of anti-Semitism. Today, it is also the lowest common denominator and the bridge between the Left, the Right…

And this is all exactly true. The problem for Wistrich and those critics like him is that Israel IS a criminal state and one that is engaged in something exterminationist regarding Palestinian Arabs. On social media of late I find a nearly never ending discourse on Jewish power, the New Jew World Order, and evil Jewish bankers. And most recently the Jews were behind 9-11.

So, to return to my sense of unreality and psy-ops. One does wonder exactly why this striking revanchist antisemitism? The current sort of stealth fascism of much trendy or branded left discourse fits into this, too. One sees it in the romanticizing of the Kurds (the YPG) and some vague nostalgic and sentimental image of Kurdish nationalism. The Kurds who fight alongside the Imperialist U.S. in Syria, and are armed and trained by the U.S. and UK (long friendly with the Tories). But liberals seem to only care about the perception of Kurdish victimhood. One sees it in the closeted Islamaphobia in much of the left, too. One that often cross-pollinates with western bourgeois feminism. Discussions of head scarves or veils often feel like delivery systems for latent xenophobia.

Holocaust survivor Jacques Hersh wrote at Monthly Review:

This notwithstanding, some survivors found it difficult to comprehend why, after the industrialized and scientific massacre of millions of Jews, as well as that of other ethnic groups and nationalities, together with the persistent anti-Semitism in both postwar Europe and America, the big powers were now willing to accede to the project of a Jewish homeland. Was this change of heart purely a function of guilt over the treatment of European Jews or was there some “intelligent design” involving the mapping of a future international political architecture which the new state formation would help bring about?

Anti-Semitism, the German socialist leader Bebel therefore felt, was ‘the socialism of idiots.’ Yet what strikes us about the rise of political anti-Semitism at the end of the century is not so much the equation ‘Jew ≈ capitalist,’ which was not implausible in large parts of east/central Europe, but its association with right-wing nationalism.
— Eric Hobsbawm

Gianfranco Fini of the Italian National Alliance and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, have also professed their admiration of Zionism and the ‘white’ ethnocracy of the state of Israel, while on other occasions making their anti-Semitic views plain. Three things that draw these anti-Semites towards Israel are, first, the state’s ethnocratic character; second, an Islamophobia they assume Israel shares with them; and, third, Israel’s unapologetically harsh policies towards black migrants from Africa…
— Neve Gordon

Kim Domenico (at Counterpunch) had a perceptive piece on the Me Too movement. And it touches on this increasing friendliness toward the fascist sensibility in liberals as well as the far right.

But reading story after story in the news, hearing the salacious details discussed at parties, one can begin to feel the taking down of successful men of business and the arts as being tinged with that McCarthyist kind of sadism, of puritanical vindictiveness. Like all stories coming from Identitiarianism, it blots out the Much Bigger problems of free market capitalism and imperialist wars, of rule by oligarchy and plutocracy, of which dirty “old satyrs” are but one symptom and not the worst, while forefronting victimhood.

And in another piece she writes:

Eyes are off the fascism discernible in this mood of furious vengeance that casts the offender as a special category of monster, tosses aside due process, innocence until proven guilty, and ruins the alleged offender’s reputation for life.

The crimes of the ruling class are absolved. Institutional violence against women is mystified.

I have read, a number of times, in fact, Aziz Ansari described as a pig. Sometimes by people I know and like. The Ansari narrative, driven by an online tabloid site that solicited such gossip for months, is a sterling example of unreality (I have noted, however, a certain backlash to that particular story…however small). The United States is, today, a crumbling empire where the white bourgeoisie clings ever more deliriously and desperately to their privilege…even if sometimes only illusory. A privilege that includes the right to be victims. A nation of bruised feelings. Victim’s rights is partly an outgrowth of a new sub phylum of narcissism.

The prison system is cutting out visits by family and friends. Only a pay for Skype call is allowed. Prison libraries are being shut down, too. This is gratuitous sadism. Or, maybe a sort of surplus sadism. For the society is one run on resentment and disappointment. The average American is consumed by both. No prison visits. Unreality.

The current under the radar rise of fascist thinking in the liberal West is both disturbing, for obvious reasons, but also haunting. It feels unreal. I see or hear people I know saying things that I find shocking. Racist and xenophobic and mostly just vindictive and vengeful even. The tolerance for American wars speaks to this, I think. Yemen is being reduced to rubble but America simply doesn’t care. The erosion of public education and its effects are partly masked by the addiction to technology. Smart phones, I suppose, in particular. But I say that sincerely. The weird masturbatory text compulsion eats up hours of everyone’s day. People no longer even look at each other. Where Walter Benjamin once marked the shock of late 19th century urban life with the rapid passing of faces in a crowd, today the shock is of the passing faces not seen. Life takes place on screens. A life increasingly unreal.

And yet, one will be called a conspiracy theorist for just asking questions. Just that. And right now it seems to me EVERYTHING should be questioned. There are literally a dozen books now, by serious journalists, outlining the media manipulation and covert activities of the intelligence services here and in the UK. The CIA has manufactured fake news stories since Allen Dulles. And they even admit to manipulating polls, creating or destroying website popularity (and page view counts), and hiring trolls or shills to highjack social media discussions. But it is hard to imagine the intelligence community does not engage in far more concrete activities. Of course, the flip side is that such speculation (a side bar benefit) encourages paranoia. It is natural to feel this way given that nothing can be trusted. Nobody and no institution.

German journalist Udo Ulfkotte recently said (reported by Eric Zuesse):

Most of the journalists you see in foreign countries … European or American journalists …, like me in the past, are so-called non-official cover. … Non-official cover means what? You do work for an intelligence agency…

And Hollywood is, again, a means to normalizing such activities. It offers mild rebuke, but mostly it just valorizes the duplicity of the government. Of all western governments. And the consequences for such normalization, and the discouragement of skepticism, is the growing expression of this latent xenophobia, racism and antisemitism. The ruling class and its stenographers, the ownership class and its affluent flatterers, have colonized the western imagination. And it is leading to this sense of pervasive unreality. And this unreality seems designed to promote a new fascism. One that makes use of all the old tropes and symbolism, only retrofitted to appear new. And it is growing.