Category Archives: Censorship

Institutionalizing Intolerance: Bullies Win, Freedom Suffers When We Can’t Agree to Disagree

Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.
― Benjamin Franklin

What a mess.

As America has become ever more polarized, and those polarized factions have become more militant and less inclined to listen to—or even allow for the existence of—other viewpoints, we are fast becoming a nation of people who just can’t get along.

Here’s the thing: if Americans don’t learn how to get along—at the very least, agreeing to disagree and respecting each other’s right to subscribe to beliefs and opinions that may be offensive, hateful, intolerant or merely different—then we’re going to soon find that we have no rights whatsoever (to speak, assemble, agree, disagree, protest, opt in, opt out, or forge our own paths as individuals).

In such an environment, when we can’t agree to disagree, the bullies (on both sides) win and freedom suffers.

Intolerance, once the domain of the politically correct and self-righteous, has been institutionalized, normalized and politicized.

Even those who dare to defend speech that may be unpopular or hateful as a constitutional right are now accused of “weaponizing the First Amendment.”

On college campuses across the country, speakers whose views are deemed “offensive” to some of the student body are having their invitations recalled or cancelled, being shouted down by hecklers, or forced to hire costly security details. As The Washington Post concludes, “College students support free speech—unless it offends them.”

At Hofstra University, half the students in a freshman class boycotted when the professor assigned them to read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Artificial Nigger“. As Professor Arthur Dobrin recounts:

The boycotters refused to engage a writer who would use such an offensive word. They hadn’t read the story; they wouldn’t lower themselves to that level. Here is what they missed: The story’s title refers to a lawn jockey, a once common ornament of a black man holding a lantern. The statue symbolizes the suffering of an entire group of people and looking at it bring a moment of insight to a racist old man.

It’s not just college students who have lost their taste for diverse viewpoints and free speech.

In Charlottesville, Va., in the wake of a violent clash between the alt-right and alt-left over whether Confederate statues should remain standing in a community park, City Council meetings were routinely “punctuated with screaming matches, confrontations, calls to order, and even arrests,” making it all but impossible for attendees and councilors alike to speak their minds.

In Maryland, a 90-year-old World War I Peace Cross memorial that pays tribute to the valor, courage and sacrifice of 49 members of the Prince George community who died in battle is under fire because a group of humanists believes the memorial, which evokes the rows of wooden Latin Crosses that mark the graves of WW I servicemen who fell on battlefields far away, is offensive.

On Twitter, President Trump has repeatedly called for the NFL to penalize players who take a knee in protest of police brutality during the national anthem, which clearly flies in the face of the First Amendment’s assurance of the right to free speech and protest (especially in light of the president’s decision to insert himself—an agent of the government—into a private workplace dispute).

On Facebook, Alex Jones, the majordomo of conspiracy theorists who spawned an empire built on alternative news, has been banned for posting content that violates the social media site’s “Community Standards,” which prohibit posts that can be construed as bullying or hateful.

Jones is not alone in being censured for content that might be construed as false or offensive.

Facebook also flagged a Canadian museum for posting abstract nude paintings by Pablo Picasso.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, once a group known for taking on the most controversial cases, is contemplating stepping back from its full-throated defense of free (at times, hateful) speech.

“What are the defenders of free speech to do?” asks commentator William Ruger in Time magazine.

“The sad fact is that this fundamental freedom is on its heels across America,” concludes Ruger. “Politicians of both parties want to use the power of government to silence their foes. Some in the university community seek to drive it from their campuses. And an entire generation of Americans is being taught that free speech should be curtailed as soon as it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. On the current trajectory, our nation’s dynamic marketplace of ideas will soon be replaced by either disengaged intellectual silos or even a stagnant ideological conformity. Few things would be so disastrous for our nation and the well-being of our citizenry.”

Disastrous, indeed.

You see, tolerance cuts both ways.

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow, I know, but that’s the way free speech works, especially when it comes to tolerating speech that we hate.

The most controversial issues of our day—gay rights, abortion, race, religion, sexuality, political correctness, police brutality, et al—have become battlegrounds for those who claim to believe in freedom of speech but only when it favors the views and positions they support.

Free speech for me but not for thee” is how my good friend and free speech purist Nat Hentoff used to sum up this double standard.

This haphazard approach to the First Amendment has so muddied the waters that even First Amendment scholars are finding it hard to navigate at times.

It’s really not that hard.

The First Amendment affirms the right of the people to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combating prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free speech is an inalienable right and those who believe that free speech is a mere privilege to be granted only under certain conditions, the censors are winning.

We have entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political, religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors (and championed by those who want to suppress speech with which they might disagree) have conspired to corrode our core freedoms, purportedly for our own good.

On paper—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—we are technically free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official—or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube—may allow.

Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” the nation has been whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous.

Free speech is no longer free.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet the Supreme Court’s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security, commerce and speech.

When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, the Supreme Court tends to side with the government.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent that has no outlet but violence.

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world.

When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say—frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation. By bottling up dissent, we have created a pressure cooker of stifled misery and discontent that is now bubbling over and fomenting even more hate, distrust and paranoia among portions of the populace.

Silencing unpopular viewpoints with which the majority might disagree—whether it’s by shouting them down, censoring them, muzzling them, or criminalizing them—only empowers the controllers of the Deep State.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we’ve bought into the idea that we need the government to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems with each other and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears of each other.

So where does that leave us?

We’ve got to do the hard work of figuring out how to get along again.

Charlottesville, Va., is a good example of this.

It’s been a year since my hometown of Charlottesville, Va., became the poster child in a heated war of words—and actions—over racism, “sanitizing history,” extremism (both right and left), political correctness, hate speech, partisan politics, and a growing fear that violent words would end in violent actions.

Those fears were realized when what should have been an exercise in free speech quickly became a brawl that left one activist dead.

Yet lawful, peaceful, nonviolent First Amendment activity did not kill Heather Heyer. She was killed by a 20-year-old Neo-Nazi who drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians in Charlottesville, Va.

Words, no matter how distasteful or disagreeable, did not turn what should have been an exercise in free speech into a brawl. That was accomplished by militant protesters on both sides of the debate who arrived at what should have been a nonviolent protest armed with sticks and guns, bleach bottles, balloons filled with feces and urine and improvised flamethrowers, and by the law enforcement agencies who stood by and allowed it.

This is what happens when we turn our disagreements, even about critically and morally important issues, into lines in the sand.

If we can’t agree to disagree—and learn to live with each other in peace and speak with civility in order to change hearts and minds—then we’ve reached an impasse.

That way lies death, destruction and tyranny.

Now, there’s a big difference between civility (treating others with consideration and respect) and civil disobedience (refusing to comply with certain laws as a means of peaceful protest), both of which Martin Luther King Jr. employed brilliantly, and I’m a champion of both tactics when used wisely.

Frankly, I agree with journalist Bret Stephens when he says that we’re failing at the art of disagreement.

As Stephens explains in a 2017 lecture, which should be required reading for every American:

To say the words, ‘I agree’—whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith—may be the basis of every community. But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnesego nonthese are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.

What does it mean to not merely disagree but rather to disagree well?

According to Stephens, “to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.”

Instead of intelligent discourse, we’ve been saddled with identity politics, “a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought.”

Safe spaces.

That’s what we’ve been reduced to on college campuses, in government-run forums, and now on public property and on previously open forums such as the internet.

The problem, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is that the creation of so-called safe spaces—where offensive ideas and speech are prohibited—is just censorship by another name, and censorship breeds resentment, and resentment breeds conflict, and unresolved, festering conflict gives rise to violence.

Charlottesville is a prime example of this.

Anticipating the one-year anniversary of the riots in Charlottesville on August 12, the local city government, which bungled its response the first time around, is now attempting to ostensibly create a “safe space” by shutting the city down for the days surrounding the anniversary, all the while ramping up the presence of militarized police, in the hopes that no one else (meaning activists or protesters) will show up and nothing (meaning riots and brawls among activists) will happen.

What a mess!

Banning Alex Jones and Infowars

He is treated as the bogeyman of conspiracy entertainment, and Alex Jones has become a prominent figure for advancing a host of unsavoury views. High on his list of incendiaries is the claim that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never took place and was the work of paid fantasists, with the victims’ parents being “crisis actors”. “Sandy Hook,” went Jones in a January 2015 broadcast, “is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured.”  The parents of two children killed at the school massacre are suing.

There are seemingly few limits to the Jones armoury of hyper-scepticism.  But Jones has been in the business of such production for years.  Now, a campaign for banishing him from various platforms, including Infowars, has been enacted with a degree of censorious ferocity.  Summary bans have been made, ranging from the giants such as Apple, Twitter and Spotify, to Pinterest and MailChimp.

Apple took the lead in this competitive banning binge, removing five of the six Infowars podcasts available via iTunes this week, including “The Alex Jones Show” and “War Room”, while Facebook removed four Infowars pages for violating the company’s guidelines.

An Apple spokesperson explained the company’s position in a statement: “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all our users.”  Accordingly, “Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming.  We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

Spotify has also added its name to the list.  “We take reports of hate content seriously,” went a statement, “and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community.  Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”

Who is guarding whom, and who should decide which ideas are significantly safe, less discomforting or otherwise?  Contraries are, by definition, discomforting; the contrarian, by definition, dangerously disruptive.  The idea of social media platforms becoming a constabulary for the controlling of opinion – located in the vague economy of “hate” – is ominous.  Nor have these technology mammoths articulated “a clear standard,” as Ben Shapiro notes, “by which the conspiracy theorist should be banned”.

Twitter prefers a different approach.  “We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday,” came Jack Dorsey’s announcement on the medium he helped found. “We know it’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules.  We’ll enforce if he does.”

For Dorsey, the role of policing Jones is not for Twitter and such platforms, but the media proper, an estate that has been somewhat remiss in recent years.  He did not want to take “one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”

This in, and of, itself sensible view has drawn the predictable moralising and indignation.  Aja Romano of Vox is particularly riled.  “This response is breathtakingly amoral, as well as regressive, terrible decision-making – for Twitter, for the internet, for all of us.  It should be a moment of reckoning for everyone who uses Twitter.”

Words do move and change worlds, and care should, at select times, be taken, but who polices their dissemination and exchange remains key.  Dorsey has simply diagnosed an inherent problem in the information ecosystem about rage and counter-rage: who controls the participants, bars or muzzles the competition, should not, by default, fall to the giants.  For the market place of ideas to function with a fair degree of effect, it is participants who dictate their value, oiled by intermittent legal interventions to test the limits of free speech.

Free speech scholars have been sceptical about whether Jones can avail himself of the First Amendment protections. “False speech,” goes a submission by four jurists in an amicus brief in the Brennan Gilmore case, “does not serve the public interest the way that true speech does.” (Gilmore, a Democratic Party activist and former State Department official was in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 attending a violent rally that subsequently saw the death of Heather Heyer, killed by a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr.) Furthermore, the jurists insist that “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”

Jones, for his part, has submitted in court papers that his rubbishing of Gilmore (a CIA plant hired to foment disorder, he suggested) were opinions, rather than statements of fact while Infowars was a “freewheeling” website where “hyperbole and diatribe reign as the preferred tools of discourse.”

The other issue in such summary bans is how they are challenged.  Tech platforms acting as righteous disciplinarians seems an odd thing, appropriating a degree of power they simply should not have.  And foolishly, the campaign against Jones has given him a sense of dangerous frisson.  His information and views will not necessarily disappear so much as migrate to other forums and mutate with aggression. The conspiracy theorist will ride again, even as the various tech giants bask in the ethical afterglow spurred on by anger and undefined standards of hate.

Israel Is The Real Problem

Elite power cannot abide a serious challenge to its established position. And that is what Labour under Jeremy Corbyn represents to the Tory government, the corporate, financial and banking sectors, and the ‘mainstream’ media. The manufactured ‘antisemitism crisis’ is the last throw of the dice for those desperate to prevent a progressive politician taking power in the UK: someone who supports Palestinians and genuine peace in the Middle East, a strong National Health Service and a secure Welfare State, a properly-funded education system, and an economy in which people matter; someone who rejects endless war and complicity with oppressive, war criminal ‘allies’, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In a thoroughly-researched article, writer and academic Gavin Lewis has mapped a deliberate pro-Israel campaign to create a ‘moral panic’ around the issue of antisemitism. The strategy can be traced all the way back to the horrendous Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014. A UN report estimated that 2,252 Palestinians were killed, around 65 per cent of them civilians. The death toll included 551 children. There was global public revulsion at Israel’s war crimes and empathy with their Palestinian victims. Support rose for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) which campaigns ‘to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law’.

As Lewis observes, BDS came to be regarded more and more as a ‘strategic threat’ by Israel, and a campaign was initiated in which Israel and its supporters would be presented as the world’s real victims. In the UK, the Campaign Against Antisemitism was established during the final month of Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza. Pro-Israel pressure groups began to bombard media organisations with supposed statistics about an ‘antisemitism crisis’, with few news organisations scrutinising the claims.

In particular, as we noted in a media alert in April, antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ to attack Corbyn and any prospect of a progressive UK government critical of Israel. Around this time in Gaza, there were weekly ‘Great March of Return’ protests, with people demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. Many were mown down by Israeli snipers on the border firing into Gaza, with several victims shot in the back as they tried to flee. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 155 Palestinians were killed in the protests, including 23 children and 3 women. This is part of the brutal ongoing reality for Palestinians.

Recently, much media attention has focused laser-like on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including 11 associated examples. Labour adopted 7 of these examples, but dropped 4 because of their implication that criticism of Israel was antisemitic. As George Wilmers noted in a piece for Jewish Voice for Labour, Kenneth Stern, the US Attorney who drafted the IHRA wording, has spoken out about the misuse of the definition. It had:

originally been designed as a “working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech. Yet that is how it has now come to be used.

Examples of the curbing of free speech cited by Stern in written testimony to the US Congress include Manchester and Bristol universities.

In an interview on Sky News last weekend, one pro-Israeli commentator stated openly that the aim is to push Corbyn out of public life. As The Canary observed, Jonathan Sacerdoti, a former spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism (mentioned above) was:

clear that his motivation for wanting Corbyn gone is, in part, opposition to his position on Israel.

Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, reminds us of something crucial that the corporate media has been happy to downplay or bury:

We should not forget either that the Israeli embassy was implicated in interfering in British politics last year when one of its diplomats was recorded as saying that he wanted to “bring down” a pro-Palestine Tory MP, Alan Duncan. While he was sent back to Israel in disgrace, the matter went no further – disgracefully given that this was blatant interference in the British political system.

In 2017, an Al Jazeera undercover sting operation on key members of the Israel lobby in Britain had revealed a £1,000,000 plot by the Israeli government to undermine Corbyn.

German continued:

Are we seriously supposed to imagine that this was a maverick operation, or that there is no other attempt to influence British politics, especially when both Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel organisations have strong links with the embassy? The present ambassador is Mark Regev, the man who was press spokesman in 2009 when he defended the killing of Palestinians through Operation Cast Lead, and who has defended the recent killings of Gazan Palestinians by Israeli forces.

For shared elite interests in Israel and the UK, there is much at stake. Historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis highlights ‘the raw truth’ rarely touched by the corporate news media:

The UK’s relationship with Israel is special in at least nine areas, including arms sales, air force, nuclear deployment, navy, intelligence and trade, to name but a few.

Indeed, arms exports and trade are increasingly profitable to British corporations doing business with Israel. Moreover, senior government ministers have emphasised that the UK-Israel relationship is the ‘cornerstone of so much of what we do in the Middle East’ and that ‘Israel is an important strategic partner for the UK’. As Curtis notes:

The Palestinians are the expendable unpeople in this deepening special relationship.

A Shameful Outburst

Unsurprisingly, then, the Israeli lobby have been trawling through Corbyn’s life, trying to find past incidents they can highlight as ‘support’ for the ludicrous and cynical claim that he is ‘soft’ on antisemitism or even himself antisemitic. Hence the manufactured controversy of Corbyn hosting an event in 2010 during which Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer compared Israel’s behaviour to that of Nazi Germany.

An Independent editorial, titled ‘Corbyn has been found wanting on antisemitism – now he must act’, asserted that he was ‘a fool to lend his name to this stunt’. It was:
such an egregious error of judgement that Jeremy Corbyn, an extraordinarily stubborn man, has had to apologise for it.’

Under a photograph of Corbyn sitting at the 2010 meeting with Meyer, Times political correspondent Henry Zeffman said that:

Corbyn has led Labour into a nightmare of his own making. The veteran left-winger will never recant the views on Israel that he formed over decades in the political wilderness.

In the Daily Mail, the caption to the same 2010 photograph of Corbyn sitting with Meyer led with the word, ‘Offensive’.

And on and on it went in the ‘mainstream’ media.

Adri Nieuwhof, a Netherlands-based human rights advocate and former anti-apartheid activist, was a friend of Meyer, who died in 2014. In an article for Electronic Intifada, she wrote:

The 2010 Holocaust Memorial Day event took place the year after an Israeli assault on Gaza [Operation Cast Lead] that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and injured thousands more.

Meyer was very upset by the assault because Palestinians were trapped in Gaza due to the blockade on the territory that Israel imposed starting in 2007.

He could not help but compare the situation of Palestinians trapped under Israeli occupation and bombardment with Jews caged by the Nazis in ghettos like the Warsaw Ghetto.’

She added:

Those attacking Corbyn today have no restraint and no shame. They will even call a man who survived Auschwitz and lost his parents in the Holocaust an anti-Semite if they believe that is what it takes to shield Israel from consequences for its crimes.

Nasty abuse flung at the Labour leader has even come from supposed colleagues. Last month, right wing Labour MP Margaret Hodge called Jeremy Corbyn ‘a fucking anti-Semite and a racist’. The corporate media gleefully lapped up her outburst – the Guardian moved swiftly to grant her space to declare Labour ‘a hostile environment for Jews’ – and stoked the ‘Labour antisemitism row‘  for weeks afterwards, with over 500 articles to date according to our ProQuest newspaper database search.

Two days ago, Jewish Voice for Labour delivered a letter of complaint to the BBC, condemning a ‘lack of impartiality and inaccuracies’ in its reporting of Hodge’s allegations against Corbyn. Her accusations were ‘repeated numerous times without denial or opposing views’ by BBC News. Moreover, Hodge’s assertion that she represents the entire ‘Jewish community’ has been allowed to pass unchallenged.

Trashing a Dedicated Anti-Racist

Last month, the UK’s leading Jewish papers – Jewish News, Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Telegraph – all carried the same front page on ‘the community’s anger over Labour’s anti-Semitism row’. They had taken this unprecedented step because of:

the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. We do so because the party that was, until recently, the natural home for our community has seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel.

These outrageous claims were rejected by Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of Jewish News. He told The Canary:

It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.

He made three vital points:

1) Jeremy Corbyn is not an antisemite, and the Labour Party does not represent an ‘existential threat’ to Jewish people
2) The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism threatens free speech, and Labour was right to make amendments
3) The ‘mainstream’ Jewish media is failing to represent the diversity of Jewish opinion

The corporate news media itself is undoubtedly ‘failing to represent the diversity of Jewish opinion’. Worse, it has, in fact, been a willing accomplice in promoting and amplifying the pro-Israel narrative of a ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’. Consider a recent powerful piece by Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine, published in Mondoweiss:

As Jewish people in Manchester, England, we resent the despicable racism shown towards the Palestinians by Guardian stalwarts such as Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Jessica Elgott, Eddie Izzard, Nick Cohen, Marina Hyde and Gaby Hinsliff among others, all saturating comment sections on mainstream news websites with attacks designed to bring down the UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and to protect Israel from accountability.

They added:

UK commentators take the morally defunct option of backing right wing mainstream Zionist organisations’ outrageous cries of “anti-Semitism” the moment Corbyn’s Labour get ahead in the polls, or the moment there is a risk of serious public condemnation of Israel’s horrific crimes against the Palestinians.

The article continued:

Why were Palestinians not consulted on the whole debate about Israel and anti-Semitism, when they are the people being slowly squeezed out of existence by Israel? Where are the Palestinian voices in the Guardian?

Where indeed?

We, as Jews, will not mindlessly pretend that protecting the Jewish people and protecting Israel are the same thing, on the hopeless say-so of a crew of establishment hacks at the Guardian.

The Manchester-based Jewish group singled out one prominent Guardian columnist, and former comment editor, for particularly heavy criticism:

‘Jonathan Freedland, one of the UK’s most effective propagandists for Israel, while giving Palestinians occasional lip service so he and the other liberal elitists can make doubtful claims to “impartiality”, has been the most relentless in his attacks on Corbyn. Freedland routinely uses his opinion editorial position in the Guardian to do more than most to “strong-arm” the Labour Party into backing the whole IHRA definition, flawed examples and all. It is unsurprising that he would push for the guideline, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” to be included as anti-Semitic trope, given he is on record excusing the crime against humanity that was Israel’s foundational act – the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in 1947/1948.

One of Freedland’s Guardian articles that the group must have had in mind was published last month under the title, ‘Yes, Jews are angry – because Labour hasn’t listened or shown any empathy’. Leon Rosselson, a children’s author and singer-songwriter whose Jewish parents were refugees from Tsarist Russia, argued that the article:

is a devious, dissembling, dishonest piece of special pleading that shames both Freedland and the Guardian.

Earlier this month, Corbyn himself had a piece in the Guardian in which he wrote:

I do acknowledge there is a real problem [of antisemitism] that Labour is working to overcome. […] We were too slow in processing disciplinary cases of antisemitic abuse, mostly online, by party members. And we haven’t done enough to foster deeper understanding of antisemitism among members.

A Telegraph editorial typified the corporate media’s reaction to Corbyn’s article:

he respond[ed] with Soviet-esque institutional lethargy… just the latest in a long line of obfuscations that betray a central fact: Labour’s leader is unhealthily obsessed with Israel, and tainted by association with fanatics.

Corbyn cannot do anything right in the eyes of the corporate media. As Rosselson said:

Corbyn concedes and Corbyn apologises and the more he concedes and the more he apologises the weaker his position becomes and still the pressure grows and the attacks continue because this is not really about antisemitism and definitions but about getting rid of Corbyn or undermining him to the point where he is powerless.

Sadly, the Labour leader has failed to properly address this relentless and vicious campaign, focusing instead on trying to fend off accusations of antisemitism. By sticking within this narrative framework set up by the powerful Israeli lobby, a twisted framework that can only be maintained with corporate media connivance, he and his colleagues have made a serious mistake. Asa Winstanley put it bluntly back in March:

Jeremy Corbyn must stop pandering to Labour’s Israel lobby.

Winstanley pointed out that the campaign has been going on for years, and he expanded:

Too many on the left seem to think: if we throw them a bone by sacrificing a few token “extremists,” the anti-Semitism story will die down and we can move on to the real business of electing a Labour government.

But years later, Labour is still being beaten with the same stick.

Any close observer of Israel and its lobby groups knows this: they cannot be appeased.

Other commentators have made the same point. An OffGuardian article in April, titled ‘Corbyn should learn his lesson: compromise with the devil is not an option’, observed:

Corbyn seems to think a few little compromises will get him accepted in the mainstream media. It pains me to say it, but this is fundamentally untrue. You can’t compromise with someone who wants nothing but your total destruction. Hopefully Corbyn has learned this lesson by now.

Sadly not, it appears. A Morning Star editorial correctly observes that Corbyn and his advisers:

fail to appreciate the ruthlessness of his opponents or the unrelenting nature of their goals.

Earlier this week, Winstanley published an article revealing yet another element of Israel’s intense campaign against Corbyn: the use of an app to promote propaganda messages via social media accusing Corbyn of antisemitism. The app is a product of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry which ‘directs Israel’s covert efforts to sabotage the Palestine solidarity movement around the world.’

As Jonathan Cook cogently explains on his website:

Labour is not suffering from an “anti-semitism crisis”; it is mired in an “Israel crisis”.

To those who bemoan that Corbyn and his team are not sufficiently ‘media-savvy’, that he has not done enough to present himself as ‘PM material’ via the press and television, David Traynier has written a strong rebuttal. Two essential facts need to be understood, he says: first, the corporate media ‘filter’ and distort the news as described by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their ‘propaganda model‘ of the media, introduced in Manufacturing Consent. Second, journalists and editors are themselves subjected to a ‘filtering’ process as they rise up the career ladder. They are selected for positions of ever-increasing responsibility only if they have demonstrated to corporate media owners, managers and senior editors that they can be trusted to say and do the ‘right’ things; even think the ‘right thoughts’. As Chomsky famously said to Andrew Marr, then the young political editor of the Independent and now with the BBC:

I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.

In short, says Traynier:

the idea that a socialist party simply needs to manage the press better is a nonsense. The corporate media is not there to be won over, it can’t be “managed” into giving Corbyn a fair hearing. In fact, once one understands how the media works, the burden of proof would rest with anyone those who claimed that it wouldn’t be biased against Corbyn.

Despite the intense campaign against Corbyn – and perhaps, in part, because of its obviously cynical and manipulative nature – many people are perceptive enough to see what is going on. Israel is the real problem.

Labour’s Crisis is Over Israel, Not Anti-semitism

If there is indeed an anti-semitism problem in the UK’s Labour party, it is not in the places where the British corporate media have been directing our attention. What can be said with even more certainty is that there is rampant hatred expressed towards Jews in the same British media that is currently decrying the supposed anti-semitism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Here is a piece of what I hope is wisdom, earned the hard way as a reporter in Israel over nearly two decades. I offer it in case it helps to resolve the confusion felt by some still pondering the endless reports of Labour’s supposed anti-semitism “crisis”.

Racism towards Palestinians

In the first year after my arrival in Israel in late 2001, during the most violent phase of Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians’ second intifada, I desperately tried to make sense of the events raging around me. Like most new reporters, I searched for experts – at that time, mostly left wing Israeli analysts and academics. But the more I listened, the less I understood. I felt like a ball in a pinball machine, bounced from one hair-trigger to the next.

My problem was exacerbated by the fact that, unlike my colleagues, I had chosen to locate myself in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, rather than in a Jewish area or in the occupied territories. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seemed much more complex when viewed through the prism of Palestinian “citizens” living inside a self-declared Jewish state.

The Israeli experts I contacted deplored the brutality of the occupation unequivocally and in ways it was difficult not to admire, given the morass of anti-Palestinian sentiment and self-righteousness into which the rest of Israeli society was rapidly sinking. But each time I latched on to such an Israeli in the hope of deepening my own understanding, something they said would knock me sideways.

As readily as they condemned the occupation, they would laud the self-evidently bogus liberal democratic credentials of a Jewish state, one that I could see from my location in Nazareth was structurally organised to deny equal rights to its Palestinian citizens. Or the experts would echo the Israeli government’s inciteful claims that this largely quiescent Palestinian minority in Israel – a fifth of the population – was at best a demographic threat to the Jewish majority, and at worst a Trojan horse secretly working to destroy the Jewish state from within.

The very racism towards Palestinians in the occupied territories these experts eschewed, they readily flaunted when discussing Palestinians inside Israel. Were they really leftists or covert ethnic chauvinists?

Appearances can be deceptive

It was many months before I could make sense of this puzzle. An answer was only possible when I factored in the Israeli state’s official ideology: Zionism.

Israeli leftists who were also avowed Zionists – the vast majority of them – saw the conflict exclusively through the colonial prism of their own ethnic privilege. They didn’t much care for Palestinians or their rights. Their opposition to the occupation was barely related to the tangible harm it did to the Palestinian population.

Rather, they wanted an end to the occupation because they believed it brutalised and corrupted Israeli Jewish society, seeping into its pores like a toxin. Or they wanted the occupation to end because the combined populations of Palestinians in “Greater Israel” – in the occupied territories and inside Israel – would soon outnumber Jews, leading, they feared, to comparisons with apartheid South Africa. They wanted Israel out of all or most of the occupied territories, cutting off these areas like a gangrenous limb threatening the rest of the body’s health.

Only later, when I started to meet anti-Zionist Jews, did I find an opposition to the occupation rooted in a respect for the rights and dignity of the Palestinians in the territories. And because their position was an ethical, rights-based one, rather than motivated by opportunism and self-interest, these anti-Zionist Jews also cared about ending discrimination against the one in five Israeli citizens who were Palestinian. Unlike my experts, they were morally consistent.

I raise this, because the lesson I eventually learnt was this: you should never assume that, because someone has adopted a moral position you share, their view is based on the moral principles that led you to adopt that position. The motives of those you stand alongside can be very different from your own. People can express a morally sound view for morally dubious, or even outright immoral, reasons. If you ally yourself with such people, you will invariably be disappointed or betrayed.

There was another, more particular lesson. Ostensible support for Palestinians may in fact be cover for other ways of oppressing them.

And so it has been with most of those warning of an anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour. Anti-semitism, like all racisms, is to be denounced. But not all denunciations of it are what they seem. And not all professions of support for Palestinians should be taken at face value.

The vilification of Corbyn

Most reasonable observers, especially if they are not Jewish, instinctively recoil from criticising a Jew who is highlighting anti-semitism. It is that insulation from criticism, that protective shield, that encouraged Labour MP Margaret Hodge recently to launch in public a verbal assault on Corbyn, vilifying him, against all evidence, as an “anti-semite and racist”.

It was that same protective shield that led to Labour officials dropping an investigation of Hodge, even though it is surely beyond doubt that her actions brought the party “into disrepute” – in this case, in a flagrant manner hard to imagine being equalled. This is the same party, remember, that recently expelled Marc Wadsworth, a prominent black anti-racism activist, on precisely those grounds after he accused Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth of colluding with right wing newspapers to undermine Corbyn.

The Labour party is so hamstrung by fears about anti-semitism, it seems, that it decided that an activist (Wadsworth) denigrating a Labour MP (Smeeth) is more damaging to the party’s reputation than a Labour MP (Hodge) vilifying the party’s leader (Corbyn). In this twisted set of priorities, a suspicion of possible racism towards a Jewish MP served to justify actual racism against a black party activist.

But the perversion of Labour party values goes much further. Recent events have proven that party officials have decisively prioritised the rights of diehard supporters of Israel among British Jewry to defend Israel at all costs over the right of others, including Jews, to speak out about the continuing brutalisation of Palestinians by Israel’s occupation regime.

Hodge and the other Labour MPs trumpeting anti-semitism might be entitled to the benefit of the doubt – that they truly fear anti-semitism is on the rise in the Labour party – had they not repeatedly indulged in the kind of anti-semitism they themselves have deplored.

What do I mean?

When they speak of an anti-semitism “crisis” in the party, these Labour MPs – and the fervently pro-Israel lobby groups behind them like the Jewish Labour Movement – intentionally gloss over the fact that many of the prominent activists who have been investigated, suspended or expelled for anti-semitism in recent months – fuelling the claim of a “crisis” – are in fact Jewish.

Why are the “Jewish” sensitivities of Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth or Louise Ellman more important than those of Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein, Cyril Chilson, Jackie Walker or Glyn Secker – all Labour activists who have found their sensitivities, as Jews opposing the abuse of Palestinians, count for little or nothing among Labour officials? Why must we tiptoe around Hodge because she is Jewish, ignoring her bullygirl tactics to promote her political agenda in defence of Israel, but crack down on Greenstein and Chilson, even though they are Jewish, to silence their voices in defence of the rights of Palestinians?

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

The problem runs deeper still. Labour MPs like Hodge, Smeeth, Ellman and John Mann have stoked the anti-semitic predilections of the British media, which has been only too ready to indict “bad Jews” while extolling “good Jews”.

That was only too evident earlier this year when Corbyn tried to put out the fire that such Labour MPs had intentionally fuelled. He joined Jewdas, a satirical left wing Jewish group that is critical of Israel, for a Passover meal. He was roundly condemned for the move.

Jewdas were declared by right wing Jewish establishment organisations like the Board of Deputies and by the British corporate media as the “wrong kind of Jews”, or even as not “real” Jews. In the view of the Board and the media, Corbyn was tainted by his association with them.

How are Jewdas the “wrong kind of Jews”? Because they do not reflexively kneel before Israel. Ignore Corbyn for a moment. Did Labour MPs Hodge, Ellman or Smeeth speak out in the defence of fellow Jews under attack over their Jewishness? No, they did not.

If Greenstein and Chilson are being excommunicated as (Jewish) “anti-semites” for their full-throated condemnations of Israel’s institutional racism, why are Hodge and Ellman not equally anti-semites for their collusion in the vilification of supposedly “bad” or “phoney” Jews like Jewdas, Greenstein and Chilson.

It should be clear that this anti-semitism “crisis” is not chiefly about respecting Jewish sensitivities or even about Jewish identity. It is about protecting the sensitivities of some Jews on Israel, a state oppressing and dispossessing the Palestinian people.

Policing debates on Israel

When the Guardian’s senior columnist Jonathan Freedland insists that his Jewish identity is intimately tied to Israel, and that to attack Israel is to attack him personally, he is demanding the exclusive right to police the parameters of discussions about Israel. He is asserting his right, over the rights of other Jews – and, of course, Palestinians – to determine what the boundaries of political discourse on Israel are, and where the red lines denoting anti-semitism are drawn.

This is why Labour MPs like Hodge and journalists like Freedland are at the centre of another confected anti-semitism row in the Labour party: over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism and an associated set of examples. They want all the IHRA’s examples adopted by Labour, not just most of them.

There are very clear, existing definitions of anti-semitism. They are variations of the simple formulation: “Anti-semitism is the hatred of Jews for being Jews.” But the IHRA takes this clear definition and muddies it to the point that all sorts of political debates can be viewed as potentially anti-semitic, as leading jurists have warned (see here and here).

That is only undercored by the fact that a majority of the IHRA’s examples of anti-semitism relate to Israel – a nuclear-armed state now constitutionally designed to privilege Jews over non-Jews inside its recognised borders and engaged in a half-century of brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people outside its borders.

To be fair to the drafters of the IHRA guidelines, these examples were supposed only to be treated as potentially anti-semitic, depending on the context. That is the express view of the definition’s drafter, Kenneth Stern, a Jewish lawyer, who has warned that the guidelines are being perverted to silence criticism of Israel and stifle free speech.

And who are leading precisely the moves that Stern has warned against? People like Jonathan Freedland and Margaret Hodge, cheered on by large swaths of Labour MPs, who have strongly implied that Corbyn and his allies in the party are anti-semitic for sharing Stern’s concerns.

Hodge and Freedland are desperate to strong-arm the Labour party into setting the IHRA guidelines in stone, as the unchallengeable, definitive new definition of anti-semitism. That will relieve them of the arduous task of policing those discourse boundaries on the basis of evidence and of context. They will have a ready-made, one-size-fits-all definition to foreclose almost all serious debate about Israel.

Want to suggest that Israel’s new Nation-State Law, giving Jewish citizens constitutionally guaranteed rights denied to non-Jewish citizens, is proof of the institutional racism on which political Zionism is premised and that was enshrined in the founding principles of the state of Israel? Well, you just violated one of the IHRA guidelines by arguing that Israel is a “racist endeavour”. If Freedland and Hodge get their way, you would be certain to be declared an anti-semite and expelled from the Labour party.

Grovelling apology

Revealing how cynical this manoeuvring by Hodge, Freedland and others is, one only has to inspect the faux-outrage over the latest “anti-semitism crisis” involving Corbyn. He has been forced to make a grovelling apology – one that deeply discredits him – for hosting an anti-racism conference in 2010 at which a speaker made a comparison between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. That violated another of the IHRA examples.

But again, what none of these anti-semitism warriors has wanted to highlight is that the speaker given a platform at the conference was the late Hajo Meyer, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who dedicated his later years to supporting Palestinian rights. Who, if not Meyer, deserved the right to make such a comparison? And to imply that he was an anti-semite because he prioritised Palestinian rights over the preservation of Israel’s privileges for Jews is truly contemptible.

In fact, it is more than that. It is far closer to anti-semitism than the behaviour of Jewish critics of Israel like Greenstein and Chilson, who have been expelled from the Labour party. To intentionally exploit and vilify a Holocaust survivor for cheap, short-term political advantage – in an attempt to damage Corbyn – is malevolence of the worst kind.

Having stoked fears of an anti-semitism crisis, Hodge, Freedland and others have actively sought to obscure the wider context in which it must be judged – as, in large part, a painful debate raging inside the Jewish community. It is a debate between fervently pro-Israel Jewish establishment groups and a growing body of marginalised anti-Zionist Jewish activists who wish to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Labour is not suffering from an “anti-semitism crisis”; it is mired in an “Israel crisis”.

‘Repulsive’ campaign

In their silence about the abuses of Meyer, Jewdas, Greenstein, Chilson and many others, Freedland and Hodge have shown that they do not really care about the safety or sensitivities of Jews. What they chiefly care about is protecting their chosen cause of Israel, and crippling the chances of a committed supporter of Palestinian rights from ever reaching power. They are prepared to sacrifice other Jews, even victims of the Holocaust, as well as the Labour party itself, for that kind of political gain.

Hodge and Freedland are behaving as though they are decent Jews, the only ones who have the right to a voice and to sensitivities. They are wrong.

They are like the experts I first met in Israel who concealed their racism towards Palestinians by flaunting their self-serving anti-occupation credentials. Under the cover of concerns about anti-semitism, Freedland and Hodge have helped stoke hatred – either explicitly or through their silence – towards the “wrong kind of Jews”, towards Jews whose critical views of Israel they fear.

It does not have to be this way. Rather than foreclose it, they could allow a debate to flourish within Britain’s Jewish community and within the Labour party. They could admit that not only is there no evidence that Corbyn is racist, but that he has clearly been committed to fighting racism all his life.

Don’t want to take my word for it? You don’t have to. Listen instead to Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of the Corbyn-hating Jewish News. His newspaper was one of three Jewish weeklies that recently published the same front-page editorial claiming that Corbyn was an “existential threat” to British Jews.

Oryszczuk, even if no friend to the Labour leader, deplored the behaviour of his own newspaper. In an interview, he observed of this campaign to vilify Corbyn: “It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.” He added of Corbyn: “I don’t believe he’s antisemitic, nor do most reasonable people. He’s anti-Israel and that’s not the same.”

Oryszczuk conceded that some people were weaponising anti-semitism and that these individuals were “certainly out to get him [Corbyn]”. Unlike Freedland and Hodge, he was also prepared to admit that some voices in the Jewish community were being actively silenced: “It’s partly our fault, in the mainstream Jewish media. We could – and arguably should – have done a better job at giving a voice to Jews who think differently, for which I personally feel a little ashamed. … On Israel today, what you hear publicly tends to be very uniform.”

Zionist Inquisition in full cry

The row over anti-Semitism has erupted yet again in the UK Labour Party, as predicted a few months ago by Miko Peled, the Israeli general’s son, who warned that:

… they are going to pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn…. the reason anti-Semitism is used is because they [the Israelis] have no argument….

So Israel’s pimps at Westminster, never happy unless they’re telling everyone what to think and say, are frantically insisting that the Labour Party adopts the discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in its unedited entirety and incorporates it into the party’s code of conduct.  Many party members believe they have blown up the matter out of all proportion simply to settle their long-standing score – as Peled says – with the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a genuine anti-racist, champion of Palestinian rights and critic of Israel.

This is what the IHRA definiition says:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

It includes these eleven “contemporary examples of anti-semitism”:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Jewish community leaders are furious that Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, disagrees with 4 of these examples and refuses to include them in the party’s new code of conduct. The NEC, of course, is mindful that the code must be enforceable across half-a-million members with differing opinions, many of whom are tired of the constant whining. An emergency motion orchestrated by the Jewish lobby, forcing the NEC to take on board the whole IHRA package with all its examples and humiliating Corbyn in the process, was supposed to be considered yesterday but is now postponed till September.

The NEC explains its omissions by saying accusations of dual nationality are wrong rather than anti-semitic. It strikes out altogether the idea that calling the state of Israel “a racist endeavour” is anti-semitic, no doubt for the simple reason that it is racist. Israelis have for decades practised apartheid, casting their non-Jew population as second-class citizens, and now it’s enshrined in their new nationality laws, in black and white.  What’s more, Israel’s illegal occupation has denied Palestinians their right to self-determination for the last 70 years. The NEC also chooses not to forbid the use of symbols and images associated with classic anti-semitism and comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis unless there’s evidence of anti-semitic intent.

Sounds reasonable, you might think. But 68 rabbis have accused the Labour leadership of acting “in the most insulting and arrogant way” by leaving out or modifying those controversial bits. In a letter to The Guardian they say it’s not the Labour Party’s place to re-write it.

The arrogance is theirs, I think. Here’s why. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee recommended adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism subject to the inclusion of two caveats:

(1) It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

(2) It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

The Government agreed but dropped the caveats saying they weren’t necessary. Subsequently the IHRA definition has run into big trouble, being condemned by leading law experts as “too vague to be useful” and because conduct contrary to the IHRA definition is not necessarily illegal. They warn that public bodies are under no obligation to adopt or use it and, if they do, they must interpret it in a way that’s consistent with their statutory obligations and with the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is deeply flawed

Crucially, freedom of expression applies not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population” – unless they encourage violence, hatred or intolerance. Calling Israel an apartheid state or advocating BDS against Israel cannot properly be characterized as anti-Semitic. Furthermore, any public authority seeking to apply the IHRA definition to prohibit or punish such activities “would be acting unlawfully”.

The right of free expression, as Labour’s Zio- Inquisitors ought to know, is now part of UK domestic law by virtue of the Human Rights Act. Furthermore the 1986 Education Act established an individual right of free expression in all higher education institutions. Then there’s Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which bestows on everyone “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. As always, such rights are subject to limitations required by law and respect for the rights of others.

So the IHRA definition is a minefield. It’s not something a sane organisation would incorporate into its Code of Conduct – certainly not as it stands. It contravenes human rights and freedom of expression. But when did the Israel lobby ever care about other people’s rights?

The whole fuss borders on the farcical when you ask what anti-Semitism means. Who are the Semites anyway? Everyone avoids this question like the plague. Why? It’s embarrassing. DNA research shows that most of those living today who claim to be Jews are not descended from the ancient Israelites at all and the Palestinians have more Israelite blood. So they are the real Semites. Research by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published by the Oxford University Press in 2012 on behalf of the Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution, found that the Khazarian Hypothesis is scientifically correct, meaning that most Jews are Khazars. The Khazarians converted to Talmudic Judaism in the 8th Century and were never in ancient Israel.

Probably no more than 2% of Jews in Israel are actually Israelites. So even if you believe the propaganda myth that God gave the land to the Israelites, He certainly didn’t give it to Netanyahu, Lieberman and the other East European thugs who rule the apartheid state.

As former Israeli Director of Military Intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi wrote: “It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.”

Well, that tragic irony has come to pass. As has been suggested before, so-called anti-Semitism is a matter best resolved by the Jewish ‘family’ itself. There’s no reason to bother Corbyn or the Labour Party with it.

Is Britain’s Green Party About to take a Significant Step Towards Revolution?

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) is currently undertaking a huge holistic review as to how the Party works. As it already has a superb set of highly radical policies encompassing not only its well-known concerns for saving the environment but also proposals for revolutionary reforms of the economy, British foreign policy, and our so-called constitution, the holistic review has the potential to be either a step towards a major peaceful revolution, or a damp squib.

Since the Greens were first established in Britain decision-making has been undertaken at annual conferences, where any Party member attending the conference may be involved. This has worked reasonably well, but obviously excludes all those members who are unable to attend conferences. The holistic review may possibly modernise this system.

About a hundred years ago Emma Goldman was one of the first to observe that if voting could really change anything it would be made illegal. It’s not absolutely true, of course, but her point, that most of our so-called democracies are not fit for purpose, was right on the money.

Democracy is a relatively new feature of human society. Given the incredible technical advances that humans have achieved over the last couple of thousand years, it’s not exactly impressive that it’s only just a hundred years or so since women were deemed to be sufficiently human to be entrusted with the right to vote once in a while.

The main reason why we have not yet evolved a system of government where all human beings are able to exercise well-informed decisions is not only because the technology has not been up to providing such a marvel until very recent times, it’s also because the tiny minority of super-rich beings that have always ruled the world have always fought tooth and claw to resist any efforts at weakening the vice-like grip they have always held on political power.

The GPEW has fine policies intended to try to advance the cause of real democracy. Inevitably it’s very hard work to effect those changes. Not only is there the huge problem of the existing global power structure which, like its predecessors, still fights to resist change, there’s also the problem of mass ignorance – the fact that the vast majority of the population has been conditioned to meekly conform to the wishes of our rulers and their lackeys in the mainstream media, or are too apathetic to even care.

However, the Greens holistic review must eventually lead to a major leap forward for real democracy. The Party recently tried to host a couple of online workshops as part of the review. It was the first time it tried to do something like this on a Party-wide scale. Whilst I have some reservations about how this initial effort was made, the fact the effort was made at all has to be greatly applauded. Few things work perfectly at the first attempt, so it’s no surprise that this online exercise had some problems.

Although I signed up to take part in three of the workshops it turned out that I was unable to do so because I do not have the requisite camera and microphone attachments for my computer. If those technical requirements had been stipulated in the original message from the holistic review team I obviously would not have booked a place, thus preventing someone else from taking part – as there was limited availability for participation. So this is the first little glitch – the fact that it was assumed that all GP members are computer literate and have instant access to the required technology. I know of GP members who do not use computers at all, so their voices are obviously excluded from the start. Given that equality and diversity are supposedly important to Greens, the fact that this limitation was not even considered is not impressive. Whilst I accept that it’s reasonable to assume that most people are computer literate, and will continue to be even more so, it should at least have been stated that this problem was recognised, and suitable apologies voiced in the name of tolerance for floundering baby steps towards the brave new world of real democracy.

On the day of the first workshop I received an e-mail from the organisers: “Message to attendees at conference”. There was very little information about how the process would work, but one point was made clear: “If you’re a man, and there have been lots of men speaking, I’ll prioritise a woman even if she had her hand up after you.” Why was this about the only rule the organisers mentioned? It’s significant that the reverse situation was not stated – we were not told that if lots of women had been speaking a man would be prioritised even if he put his hand up after women. The rule suggests discrimination against men, not a good look, but also not the first time I’ve come across it in the Green Party.

The last part of the “Message to attendees” was something of an agenda – some bullet points of subjects to be discussed. Obviously you need agendas, but at no point was I invited to contribute towards it, and this is very important: whoever controls agenda content controls the debate. Everyone taking part in any group discussion should be able to contribute to deciding what subjects will be discussed, and in what order – no matter their gender, race, physical condition, and so on.

One of the workshops I wanted to attend was about “Equality and diversity in the Green Party”. The first part of the “Message to attendees” of this workshop was similar to the previous message, with its identical discriminatory condition about men – quite ironic given the subject matter. This message also had an agenda, towards which, like its predecessor, I had also not been invited to contribute.

However, the given agenda looked quite interesting. The most interesting issue, to me, was the fourth item: “How do we avoid the infighting which has affected the Labour party about discrimination, especially anti-Semitism and transphobia?”

This is a very important topic. I was in the Labour Party for just over a year, and an active supporter of Momentum. Whilst there is indeed considerable dissent in Labour, I saw little evidence that it is any more or less discriminatory than the Greens. Labour’s infighting has almost nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the fact that it has no core ideology, no equivalent of our Policies for a Sustainable Society.

All the same, the point is interesting. Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism is mostly created and routinely exploited by the mainstream media to smear Jeremy Corbyn for his decades of opposition to Zionism. It’s just another fake news scam. Labour is no more anti-Semitic than the Greens are, and the London-based Jewish Socialists’ Group, for example, is very supportive of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. But the very expression “anti-Semitism” has been corrupted by the mainstream media, possibly influenced by the powerful Zionist lobby.

The literal definition of Semitism originally referred to anyone with an ethnic origin stretching from North Africa to Iraq. The etymology of the word derives from ‘descendants of Shem’, a son of Noah, from whom the Phoenicians are believed to have come – the people who colonised much of the Mediterranean. Hence Arabic is routinely identified as a Semitic language, and unsurprisingly has similarities to Hebrew. But the way Semitism is being interpreted today is almost as a synonym for Zionism, suggesting that anyone who criticises Israel’s Zionist government is being anti-Semitic. But Zionism is a repulsive political ideology not dissimilar in practice to apartheid, and has nothing to do with Semitism – and many of its supporters are not even Semites. It’s a clever tactic designed to confuse understanding of the horrendous situation in Occupied Palestine and eliminate criticism of the vicious junta that rules it – something Jeremy Corbyn has always rightly done, as have the Greens, to some extent, with their support for the BDS campaign against Israel. Given Corbyn’s longstanding support for the terrible plight of Palestinians – a Semitic people – how could anyone rightly accuse him of anti-Semitism? So this is indeed a good and legitimate subject to include in the subject of “avoiding infighting” – but perhaps not quite as the workshop organisers intended.

Avoiding infighting is a vitally important concept, but it’s also a deeply loaded expression which can lead to totalitarianism. Enemies of the Greens will always seek to exploit any potential divisions as a means of destroying the party – the old “divide and rule” tactic. The widely-used traditional method for dealing with dissenting voices in large organisations is simply to eliminate them, one way or another. This is not an option for an organisation that’s striving to reform democracy. The most effective way to do this, for Greens, is through proper open debate and Party-wide decision-making. When dissenting opinion occurs, as it always will, provide a proper debate where voices for and against that opinion can be widely heard and then allow the whole membership to decide the result. The dissatisfied losers of such debates are free to leave the Party if they choose, but should not be pushed. Real progress can only be made in an environment of truly free expression and open debate, never through repression. So “avoiding infighting” should be managed through a process of open debate and decision-making, never through some form of secret policing. The very important need for widespread debate over the horrors being perpetrated in Occupied Palestine, for example, is being silenced everywhere by the simple device of labelling it “anti-Semitic”.

As I was unable to attend the workshops I have no idea how successful they were. But the fact that they were done at all is a huge advance, a giant leap forward towards creating a system where essential Party-wide debates and decision-making can be created. The key to improving the model is through increasing membership involvement at all stages, not limiting it. Those individuals tasked with administering the process must have less ability to control it. Their role must be simply to properly administer, not decide. A way must be found where any Party member may be included in deciding what issues to discuss, and in what order. Another way must be found where Proper Information is provided for each and every issue being discussed, both for and against, in an environment of real free expression. The provision of Proper Information is an essential component of real democracy. The spirit of Voltaire (who is alleged to have said, “I may disagree with all you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”) must be the guiding principle (whether he actually said it or not – because the principle is a fine one). And a way must be found where any Party member can vote to decide the outcome of any debate. An honest, transparent, inclusive, trustworthy, voting system is another essential component of real democracy. There is no plausible excuse for not doing any of this. We have the technology. It must be used.

Many of today’s political decision-makers will inevitably resist the creation of real democracy. That has been the story of democracy from its very earliest days: every new advance has been bitterly opposed by those who wield political power. From the days when British kings lost their “divine right” to rule, allowing rich land barons to share power, to the days when the voting franchise expanded to permit a whole 1% of the population to vote, the right to make political decisions has been ruthlessly restricted. Such was the situation for hundreds of years. It’s not even a hundred years since women were finally allowed to vote, as they were always deemed incapable of doing so – just as non-white people were forbidden to vote, and for the same reason, in most parts of the world, up to as recently as just twenty five years ago when apartheid ended in South Africa. Even today voting is still not a natural right for all citizens. Israel still practices apartheid, preventing many Arabs from voting in Israeli elections by the creation of Bantustans, where Arabs have no political rights outside their ghettoes, exactly as happened in South Africa.

Emma Goldman was mostly right when she made her observation about the uselessness of voting. Her words are still largely true even today, when so-called democracy is largely a cynical pantomime carefully stage-managed by the super-rich to create the illusion of democracy. But in recent years technology has provided the means to set us truly free. We now have the technical ability continually to provide good information to the entire population, and then to harvest the opinions and choices of the population. It’s only a question of time before that is routinely available to all citizens.

The GPEW is now leading the way in providing this inevitable innovation. A noble place in history awaits those who first deliver real democracy to the people. The Greens must surge ahead with this fine start they have made, and use its changes as a campaigning aid. We must create a model of real democracy within the Party to show citizens a working example of how a Green government could deliver real democracy to the whole country, and then the world. The Greens have long had a policy aim of Direct Democracy. We now have the opportunity to start providing it. The days of policy decision-making being restricted to the few people who are able to attend party conferences must end. Every Green Party member should be able to take part in all Party decision-making. If the holistic review does not include that, and propose steps to achieve it, it will be a largely pointless exercise.

The Danger Is Real: We Need a New Declaration of Independence for Modern Times

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

— Thomas Paine, December 1776

Imagine living in a country where armed soldiers crash through doors to arrest and imprison citizens merely for criticizing government officials.

Imagine that in this very same country, you’re watched all the time, and if you look even a little bit suspicious, the police stop and frisk you or pull you over to search you on the off chance you’re doing something illegal.

Keep in mind that if you have a firearm of any kind while in this country, it may get you arrested and, in some circumstances, shot by police.

If you’re thinking this sounds like America today, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

However, the scenario described above took place more than 200 years ago, when American colonists suffered under Great Britain’s version of an early police state. It was only when the colonists finally got fed up with being silenced, censored, searched, frisked, threatened, and arrested that they finally revolted against the tyrant’s fetters.

No document better states their grievances than the Declaration of Independence.

A document seething with outrage over a government which had betrayed its citizens, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, by 56 men who laid everything on the line, pledged it all—“our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”—because they believed in a radical idea: that all people are created to be free.

Labeled traitors, these men were charged with treason, a crime punishable by death. For some, their acts of rebellion would cost them their homes and their fortunes. For others, it would be the ultimate price—their lives.

Yet even knowing the heavy price they might have to pay, these men dared to speak up when silence could not be tolerated. Even after they had won their independence from Great Britain, these new Americans worked to ensure that the rights they had risked their lives to secure would remain secure for future generations. The result: our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Imagine the shock and outrage these 56 men would feel were they to discover that 242 years later, the government they had risked their lives to create has been transformed into a militaristic police state in which exercising one’s freedoms is often viewed as a flagrant act of defiance.

Indeed, had the Declaration of Independence been written today, it would have rendered its signers terrorists, resulting in them being placed on a government watch list, targeted for surveillance of their activities and correspondence, and potentially arrested, held indefinitely, stripped of their rights and labeled enemy combatants.

The danger is real.

We could certainly use some of that revolutionary outrage today.

Certainly, we would do well to reclaim the revolutionary spirit of our ancestors and remember what drove them to such drastic measures in the first place.

Then again, perhaps what we need is a new Declaration of Independence.

Re-read the Declaration of Independence for yourself and ask yourself if the abuses suffered by early Americans at the hands of the British police state don’t bear a startling resemblance to the abuses “we the people” are suffering at the hands of the American police state.

If you find the purple prose used by the Founders hard to decipher, here’s my translation of what the Declaration of Independence would look and sound like if it were written in the modern vernacular:

There comes a time when a populace must stand united and say “enough is enough” to the government’s abuses, even if it means getting rid of the political parties in power.

Believing that “we the people” have a natural and divine right to direct our own lives, here are truths about the power of the people and how we arrived at the decision to sever our ties to the government:

All men and women are created equal.

All people possess certain innate rights that no government or agency or individual can take away from them. Among these are the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The government’s job is to protect the people’s innate rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The government’s power comes from the will of the people.

Whenever any government abuses its power, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government and replace it with a new government that will respect and protect the rights of the people.

It is not wise to get rid of a government for minor transgressions. In fact, as history has shown, people resist change and are inclined to suffer all manner of abuses to which they have become accustomed.

However, when the people have been subjected to repeated abuses and power grabs, carried out with the purpose of establishing a tyrannical government, people have a right and duty to do away with that tyrannical Government and to replace it with a new government that will protect and preserve their innate rights for their future well being.

This is exactly the state of affairs we are suffering under right now, which is why it is necessary that we change this imperial system of government.

The history of the present Imperial Government is a history of repeated abuses and power grabs, carried out with the intention of establishing absolute Tyranny over the country.

To prove this, consider the following:

The government has, through its own negligence and arrogance, refused to adopt urgent and necessary laws for the good of the people.

The government has threatened to hold up critical laws unless the people agree to relinquish their right to be fully represented in the Legislature.

In order to expand its power and bring about compliance with its dictates, the government has made it nearly impossible for the people to make their views and needs heard by their representatives.

The government has repeatedly suppressed protests arising in response to its actions.

The government has obstructed justice by refusing to appoint new judges and has demanded that the Court comply with the government’s dictates.

The government has allowed its agents to harass the people and steal from them.

The government has directed militarized government agents—a.k.a., a standing army—to police domestic affairs in peacetime.

The government has turned the country into a militarized police state.

The government has conspired to undermine the rule of law and the constitution in order to expand its own powers.

The government has allowed its militarized police to invade our homes.

The government has failed to hold its agents accountable for wrongdoing and murder.

The government has jeopardized our international trade agreements.

The government has taxed us without our permission.

The government has denied us due process and the right to a fair trial.

The government has engaged in extraordinary rendition.

The government has continued to expand its military empire and occupy foreign nations.

The government has eroded fundamental legal protections and destabilized the structure of government.

The government has declared its federal powers superior to those of the states.

The government has ceased to protect the people and instead waged war against the people.

The government has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of the people.

The government has employed private contractors and mercenaries to carry out acts of death, desolation and tyranny, totally unworthy of a civilized nation.

The government has pitted its citizens against each other.

The government has stirred up civil unrest and laid the groundwork for martial law.

Repeatedly, we have asked the government to cease its abuses. Each time, the government has responded with more abuse.

An Imperial Ruler who acts like a tyrant is not fit to govern a free people.

We have repeatedly sounded the alarm to our fellow citizens about the government’s abuses. We have warned them about the government’s power grabs. We have appealed to their sense of justice. We have reminded them of our common bonds.

They have rejected our plea for justice and brotherhood. They are equally at fault for the injustices being carried out by the government.

Thus, for the reasons mentioned above, we the people of the united States of America declare ourselves free from the chains of an abusive government. Relying on God’s protection, we pledge to stand by this Declaration of Independence with our lives, our fortunes and our honor.

That was 242 years ago.

In the years since early Americans first declared and eventually won their independence from Great Britain, we—the descendants of those revolutionary patriots—have somehow managed to work ourselves right back under the tyrant’s thumb.

Only this time, the tyrant is one of our own making: the U.S. government.

The abuses meted out by an imperial government and endured by the American people have not ended. They have merely evolved.

“We the people” are still being robbed blind by a government of thieves.

We are still being taken advantage of by a government of scoundrels, idiots and cowards.

We are still being locked up by a government of greedy jailers.

We are still being spied on by a government of Peeping Toms.

We are still being ravaged by a government of ruffians, rapists and killers.

We are still being forced to surrender our freedoms—and those of our children—to a government of extortionists, money launderers and professional pirates.

And we are still being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers: a standing army.

Given the fact that we are a relatively young nation, it hasn’t taken very long for an authoritarian regime to creep into power.

Unfortunately, the bipartisan coup that laid siege to our nation did not happen overnight.

It snuck in under our radar, hiding behind the guise of national security, the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on immigration, political correctness, hate crimes and a host of other official-sounding programs aimed at expanding the government’s power at the expense of individual freedoms.

The building blocks for the bleak future we’re just now getting a foretaste of—police shootings of unarmed citizens, profit-driven prisons, weapons of compliance, a wall-to-wall surveillance state, pre-crime programs, a suspect society, school-to-prison pipelines, militarized police, over-criminalization, SWAT team raids, endless wars, etc.—were put in place by government officials we trusted to look out for our best interests and by American citizens who failed to heed James Madison’s warning to “take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.”

In so doing, we compromised our principles, negotiated away our rights, and allowed the rule of law to be rendered irrelevant.

There is no knowing how long it will take to undo the damage wrought by government corruption, corporate greed, militarization, and a nation of apathetic, gullible sheep.

The problems we are facing will not be fixed overnight: that is the grim reality with which we must contend.

Frankly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we may see no relief from the police state in my lifetime or for several generations to come. That does not mean we should give up or give in or tune out.

Remember, there is always a price to be paid for remaining silent in the face of injustice.

That price is tyranny.

Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down The Iron Curtain on Yankeedom

Leading a double life

When my partner, Barbara, first opened an account on Facebook, she used it in a way that most people in Yankeedom use it. Her network was an eclectic assortment of family, current and former workmates, new and old friends, neighbors and relatives living in other parts of the country. Most of what was posted on this account were pictures of kids, dogs and kitty cats, vacations, dinner outings, jokes – nothing too controversial. Like most members of Yankeedom, religion and politics were off limits. However, there was a kind of politically unconscious assumption operating that liberal values prevailed and that somehow the Democratic Party embodied those values. I nicknamed her Facebook account the “Suzy Cream Cheese” account after the Mothers of Invention’s album because it only dealt with surface preoccupations.

As the most recent US presidential primaries heated up and people took sides about Hillary, Bernie and Jill Stein, the Suzy Cream Cheese page started to be “not nice”. The political unconscious became conscious. The assumption was that all women – in the name of feminism – should vote for Hillary. My partner thought this was a very shallow understanding of feminism and posted an article she wrote that was published in a number of online radical newsletters titled, “Feminism is Bigger Than Gender: Why I’ll Be Happy in Hell Without Hillary.” Oh dear. After she posted that article on Facebook, she got the cold shoulder and lost a couple of friends. Around that time she opened up a second “political” Facebook account and started adding to it a whole new group of far-left friends and acquaintances. She continued posting “suitable for family viewing” comments with her Suzy Cream Cheese account while posting and responding to socialist and communist posts on her political account.

The Two Faces of Facebook

Neither Barbara nor I are sociologists of social media or specifically of Facebook, so what follows is experiential. However, we do know a thing or two about how capitalist institutions operate in general and Facebook is no exception.

The primary purpose of Facebook is to sell ad space to marketers. But how do you reach the Yankee public? You make it easy for Yankees to set up individual accounts so that Yankees can do what we do best—talk about the micro world of family, dogs and friends. In the process, hopefully people will purchase some of the products or services touted in the ads. Facebook has also made it possible for individuals to join groups and set up pages that then allow them to place ads to publicize their group or organization. For Facebook, reading groups, hobbies and support groups are fine.

But Facebook has encountered a problem that many other capitalist institutions have. The problem is that you can set up the conditions for selling your products, but you can’t control people’s motivation for buying the product, (joining a group or setting up a political page) or what they will do with the product (what kind of group they will form). Facebook could even tolerate political groups. But the political imagination of Facebook consists of Republicans and Democrats. What Facebook had not counted on is the proliferation of political groups that exist outside both parties. As most of you know, there are many anarchist groups, Leninist groups, social democrats and even council communist groups. On the right there are all sorts of nationalist and fascists groups. It is safe to say that Facebook, as a capitalist institution, does not want to host these groups but until recently has not been able to do anything about it.

Planning Beyond Capitalism Meets Suzy Cream Cheese Facebook

Six years ago Barbara and I co-founded an organization called Planning Beyond Capitalism. The name pretty much says what we are up to. As an anti-establishment organization our main problem was, and still is, outreach. We stumbled and bumbled our way with the help of some anti-establishment social media whizzes who convinced us we could reach a lot more people through placing ads on Facebook. Facebook calls it “boosting”. At first, we were skeptical because the language used in placing an ad on Facebook seemed to have nothing to do with politics. They were ads for businesses. They encouraged us to “pick the right brand” and “target our audience” for best “market return”. We weren’t a business and we weren’t a non-profit. The best category we could find was “community organization”.

One of the things we do on Planning Beyond Capitalism is to select one article from a left-wing news source and write one post and commentary each day. We call this “Capitalist News Interpreted”. We publish these posts daily on Facebook, but don’t “boost” them. But every couple of months or so we write a longer article, in which we make an analysis of world events, mostly in the United States, from the perspective of our organization. We put these in the category of Perspectives. Over the course of two or three years we found four or five political newsletters in which to publish our perspectives. In addition, we decided to “boost” those perspectives on Facebook.

Our pattern was to boost our perspective for one week for the cost of $30.00 to run for one week. This money came out of our own pockets. We were able to select our demographics – age, gender, interests – and we could post it to almost any country in the world. In selecting our audiences when we first started boosting our posts, the choices of “anarchism” and “socialism” were available for us to select. Typically, in a single week we reached about ten thousand people – with a ratio of people in that audience of people who “liked” our perspective from about 20% to 33%. The number of “shares” in a week ranged from 75 to about 250 depending on the article. In the process of doing this, we began hearing from people in other parts of the world. Some of those people then began to write for us.

We were pretty amazed that Facebook approved of virtually all our perspectives in 2016 and 2017 despite our anti Democratic Party, anti-capitalist slant. Here are some of our titles:

No Pink Wooly Caps for Me

Open Letter to the Sandernistas: The Political Revolution Continues – Hearts, Bodies and Souls

Planning Beyond Capitalism meets Big Brother Facebook

Things began to change for us on Facebook when I published an article on April 1st of this year claiming the Democratic Party was worse than the Republican Party for 90% of the population. After we posted a link to it on our Facebook page we tried to boost it.

Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is Worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population

Facebook rejected our ad and we contested that rejection. They said it was sensationalistic, involved hate speech and promoted violence. We contested this rejection and after two arguments from us, won our appeal. We ran the ad for two weeks because of its popularity. It reached 38,000 people, had many hundreds of shares and we gained about 100 new followers.

The next article we published was written by an Iraqi comrade of ours living as a citizen in Russia. The article was about why Russians are upset with Americans.

Why Russians are Upset With Americans – Seen Through the Eyes of an Iraqi

This ad was again disapproved by Facebook but for different reasons: it was “political”. We contested this as well. Below is our argument:

We have been boosting posts on FB for 2 years. Every single one of them has political content. Why is this particular one being singled out? However, this is the first article that we’ve published about Russia, written by someone living in Russia. We believe that you are not authorizing this ad because it is a favorable account of the Russian people, which does not conform to the Democratic Party’s anti-Russian ideology. This article was written by a Russian citizen and is written from his own observations and viewpoint. Furthermore, his sources are documented and it is neither sensationalistic nor violent. We are not advocating for Russian foreign policy. We are talking about average Russian citizens. If you read the article, you would see that your response is exactly the reasons Russians are upset with Americans. Their experiences are suppressed, while we maintain the stereotypes of them as in the cartoon image that leads the article. This, to us, constitutes blatant discrimination. 

Facebook’s response was a boilerplate line about what constitutes a political post. Their policy about political ads had changed as of May 7th, 2018. It implied that their disapproval had nothing to do with its content. It was because the category was “political”. We were told that in order to consider having our ad approved, we had to register as a political organization. In order to do this we needed to:

  1. Be citizens of the United States
  2. Provide proof of citizenship
  3. Provide a residential address
  4. Provide a drivers license number
  5. Provide a Social Security number

All this – simply to place a political ad. Doesn’t this sound like we are registering to be investigated by the FBI or CIA? Oh, no that’s just left wing paranoia.

Further, they said it would take up to six weeks to verify this and to approve our ad. But not to worry, they would delete all our information once it checked out.

As the author of the article on Russia, Jamal pointed out his other two articles that had been accepted by Facebook were far more political than the one they just rejected. But that was before their change of policy. Jamal rightfully pointed out that the rejected article was more historical, sociological and cultural than political. However, the upper middle class honchos of Facebook, having taken one class in political science in the United States, cannot tell the difference between sociology, political economy, and culture. Their formula is:

Russia = political = bad

America = Democratic Party = good

To paraphrase an old country tune, “Take this job and shove it”, we told Facebook to “take your political registration and shove it”.

No, there is no “Iron Curtain” in the US. That is for Russians.

Our Analysis of Facebook

We think it is reasonable to suspect that Facebook wants to get rid of its “political underground”, the groups that exist beyond the two party system. Why? For one thing people at both extremes of the political spectrum are likely to buy the products that are advertised on their pages. The second reason is that our ads are chump change for them. Getting rid of us will cost them close to nothing in revenue. The third reason is political. Facebook, like most media institutions, is committed to the Democratic Party. Cleaning its house of “Fake News” (the news and opinions of the socialist or fascist sides of the spectrum) will steer people back to reasonable choices like the Democratic Party. It is our belief that this change in policy requiring organizations like ours to register as political groups has occurred in 2018, in part, because this is an election year.

There are other indicators Facebook is closing ranks. In selecting an audience for our article, we noticed the choices given under political interests on the left, the furthest left available to choose was “very liberal”. There was no socialist choice even though a self-proclaimed socialist ran as a Democratic in the 2016 primaries.

If anyone reading this has recommendations for alternatives to Facebook that would allow us to place political ads to broaden our reach, please contact us. It’s time for those of us on the far left to find an alternative to Big Brother Facebook.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Corporate Media’s World of Illusions

For several years now, I have been writing these regular blog posts with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.

It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance – an earlier one – to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.

My personal awakening

It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else’s narrative – that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.

It is in such a moment of bereavement – deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative – that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it. My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent, as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.

In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite’s privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie – or at least, not most of them – it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as anyone else.

Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behaviour, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.

The term “human” is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.

Hierarchies of virtue

The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more thoughtful, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable.

Once kings told us they had blue blood and a divine right. Today, we need a different kind of narrative, but one designed to achieve the same end. Just like kings and barons once owned everything, now a tiny corporate elite rule the world. They have to justify that to themselves and to us.

The king and the barons had their courtiers, the clergy and a wider circle of hanger-ons who most of the time benefited enough from the system not to disrupt it. The role of the clergy in particular was to sanction the gross imbalance of power, to argue that it was God’s will. Today, the media function like the clergy of old. God may be dead, as Nietzsche observed, but the corporate media has taken his place. In the unquestioned premises of every article, we are told who should rule and who should be ruled, who are the Good Guys and who the Bad.

To make this system more palatable, more democratic, to make us believe that there is equality of opportunity and that wealth trickles down, the western elite has had to allow a large domestic middle class to emerge, like the courtiers of old. The spoils from the rape and pillage of distant societies are shared sparingly with this class. Their consciences are rarely pricked because the corporate media’s function is to ensure they know little about the rest of the world and care even less, believing those foreigners to be less deserving, less human.

Nothing more than statistics

If western readers, for example, understood that a Palestinian is no different from an Israeli – apart from in opportunities and income – then they might feel sympathy for a grieving Palestinian family just as they do for an Israeli one. But the Great Western Narrative is there precisely to ensure readers won’t feel the same about the two cases. That is why Palestinian deaths are invariably reported as nothing more than statistics – because Palestinians die in large numbers, like cattle in an abbatoir. Israelis, by contrast, die much more rarely and their deaths are recorded individually. They are dignified with names, life stories and pictures.

Even when a moment arrives to single out a Palestinian from the mass of death, western corporate media show great reluctance to do so. Just take the case of Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old Palestinian medic executed by a sniper’s bullet as she tended to the unarmed demonstrators regularly being killed and wounded at the perimeter fence encaging them in the prison of Gaza.

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed. Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that? Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity. So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would love her to be our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week as he noted in correspondence with the editor that the Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the deeper truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative.

The true message of Israel

Israel-Palestine offered me that door, just as it has so many others. It is not, as Israel’s apologists – and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative – will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like us, its cities look rather like our cities, its TV shows are given a makeover and become hits on our TV screens. If you don’t stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US.

But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly amiss about Israel. A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our sons. That is the true horror of Israel. We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel – because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it, because it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative – justifying its actions – is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the Other than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realisation – that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers – that prevents many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

Equally human

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix.

Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realise that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed. Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, inexplicable. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too – that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code – that he becomes strong enough to triumph.

Back to us. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza. From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as irrational, or rational, and as criminal as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal – not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but simply because they enjoy less power and face more constraints in trying to impose their will. The issue is not about who is better. They are the same as humans. It is about who has more force at their disposal – and more will to use it – to perpetuate their power.

Enslaved to power

The conclusion from this is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspective, on stepping through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo living in his dream world.

And if we step only to the threshold, glimpsing the shadows on the the other side, we will be equally in thrall to illusions, just as Neo took his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies.

This danger can be seen in the case of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel inflicts on Palestinians justifiably radicalise many observers. But not all step fully through the door. They linger at the threshold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and beatifying Palestinians as nothing more than victims. Some manage to find false consolation again, this time accepting ready-made conspiracies that “the Jews” are pulling the levers that make such outrages – and western inaction – possible.

To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, the false consciousness as profound.

Our planet and our children’s futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity. That other humans are not our enemies, only those who wish to enslave us to their power.

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.