Category Archives: Media Bias

Marie-Claude Bibeau: Canada’s Minister of International Development and Propaganda

Few are aware that Canada’s aid agency has spent tens of millions of dollars on media projects designed in part to draw journalists into its orbit and shape perceptions of Ottawa’s international policies.

For example, “Find Out How Canada is Back!” was the title of Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Night for Rights fundraiser at the start of October. The keynote speaker at the Toronto Hilton was Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau.

The minister almost certainly chose not to discuss her government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, promotion of military spending, etc. Rather than reflect the thrust of this country’s foreign policy the “Canada is Back” theme is a sop to a government that’s provided JHR with millions of dollars.

As part of JHR’s “partnership” with “the Government of Canada and our Embassies abroad”, it has drawn powerful media workers to a worldview aligned with Canadian foreign policy. JHR’s list of international trainers includes CTV news host Lisa LaFlamme, former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke and former Globe and Mail editor John Stackhouse. It’s also run foreign affairs focused news partnerships with CTV and Global News while the Toronto Star and CBC have sponsored its events. At its annual gala JHR also awards prizes that incentivize reporting aligned with its views.

In addition to the millions of dollars put up for JHR’s international media initiatives, Canada’s aid agency has doled out tens of millions of dollars on other media projects broadly aligned with its “development” outlook. Between 2005 and 2008 the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) spent at least $47.5 million on the “promotion of development awareness.” According to a 2013 J-Source investigation titled “Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: is that a problem?”, more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets.

During the war in Afghanistan CIDA operated a number of media projects and had a contract with Montréal’s Le Devoir to “[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program.” In another highly politicized context, CIDA put up $2 million for a “Media and Democratic Development in Haiti” project overseen by Montréal-based Réseau Liberté (RL) and Alternatives. As part of the mid-2000s project, RL supported media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the US, France and Canada in 2004. RL sent Canadian (mostly Québec) journalists to “train” their Haitian reporters for a month. In an article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders writes:

If RL’s Canadian journalists did not already harbour anti-Aristide sentiments before their intensive ‘coaching’ experiences, they would certainly risk absorbing such political predilections after being submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media. … RL journalists would likely return home from Haiti armed with newly implanted political biases that could then be spread liberally among their colleagues in the media and hence to the broader Canadian public.

A number of leading Québec reporters interned with ANMH media outlets. Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of them. Even though ANMH outlets barred Haiti’s elected president from its airwaves in the lead-up to the coup, Filion described those who “formed the ANMH” as “pro-Haitian and they are pro neutral journalistic people … as much as it can be said in this country.” Filion also praised the media’s coverage of the 2006 election in which Haiti’s most popular political party, Aristide’s Lavalas, was excluded. In a coded reference to Aristide supporters, Filion noted, “even thugs from [large slum neighbourhood] Cité Soleil were giving interviews on television!”

A smaller part of CIDA’s “Media and Democratic development in Haiti” project went to Alternatives. The Montréal-based NGO created a “Media in Haiti” website and paid for online Haitian media outlet AlterPresse, which aggressively opposed Lavalas. During the 2007 Québec Social Forum AlterPresse editor Rene Colbert told me there was no coup in 2004 since Aristide was never elected (not even the George W. Bush administration made this absurd claim).

What the supposedly left-wing Journal d’Alternatives’ — inserted monthly in Le Devoir with funding from CIDA — published about Haiti was shocking. In June 2005 the individual in charge of its Haiti portfolio wrote an article that demonized the residents of impoverished neighbourhoods targeted for repression by the installed government. In particular, François L’Écuyer denounced community activists Samba Boukman and Ronald St. Jean, who I’d met, as “notorious criminals.” This was exceedingly dangerous in an environment where the victims of police operations were routinely labeled “bandits” and “criminals” after they were killed.

Seven months earlier L’Ecuyer published a front-page article headlined “The Militarization of Peace in Haiti”, claiming “Chimères, gangs loyal to and armed by President Aristide,” launched “Operation Baghdad” to destabilize the country. Echoing the propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration, it claimed the exiled president was profiting politically from violence. Although Alternatives printed numerous articles about Haiti during this period, their reporting omitted any mention of political prisoners, violent repression of Lavalas activists, or basic facts about the coup.

Why does Canada’s aid agency spend millions of dollars on journalism projects designed to draw journalists into Global Affairs’ orbit and shape perception of Ottawa’s policies abroad? Is that really ‘aid’?

Perhaps the title of the cabinet member in charge should be changed to Minister of International Development and Propaganda.

That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah

As the frail body of 12-year-old Nassir Al-Mosabeh fell to the ground on Friday, September 28, history was repeating itself in a most tragic way.

Little Nassir was not just another number, a ‘martyr’ to be exalted by equally poor refugees in Gaza, or vilified by Israel and its tireless hasbara machine. He was much more than that.

The stream of blood that poured out from his head wound on that terrible afternoon drew a line in time that travelled back 18 years.

Almost 18-years to the day separates Nassir’s recent murder and the Israeli army killing of Mohammed Al-Durrah, also 12, on September 30, 2000. Between these dates, hundreds of Palestinian children have perished in similar ways.

Reports by the rights’ group, B’tselem, are rife with statistics: 954 Palestinian children were killed between the Second Intifada in 2000 and Israel’s war on Gaza, the so-called Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In the latter war alone, 345 child were reportedly killed, in addition to another 367 child fatalities reported in Israel’s latest war, ‘Protective Edge’ of 2014.

But Mohammed and Nassir – and thousands like them – are not mere numbers; they have more in common than simply being the ill-fated victims of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.

In that single line of blood that links Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah, there is a narrative so compelling, yet often neglected. The two 12-year-old boys looked so much alike – small, handsome, dark skinned refugees, whose families were driven from villages that were destroyed in 1948 to make room for today’s Israel.

Young as they were, both were victims of that reality. Mohammed, died while crouching by the side of his father, Jamal, as he beseeched the Israelis to stop shooting. 18 years later, Nassir walked with thousands of his peers to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, stared at the face of the snipers and chanted for a free Palestine.

Between the two boys, the entire history of Palestine can be written, not only that of victimization and violence, but also of steadfastness and honor, passed from one generation to the next.

“Who will carry on with the dream,” were the words Nassir’s mother repeated, as she held a photograph of her son and wept. In the photo, Nassir is seen carrying his school bag, and a small bottle of rubbing alcohol near the fence separating Gaza and Israel.

“The dream” is a reference to the fact that Nassir wanted to be a doctor, thus his enthusiasm to help his two sisters, Dua’a and Islam, two medical volunteers at the fence.

His job was to carry the alcohol bottle and, sometimes, oxygen masks, as his sisters would rush to help the wounded, many of them Nassir’s age or even younger.

In a recent video message, the young boy – who had just celebrated the achievement of memorizing the entire Holy Quran – demonstrated in impeccable classical Arabic why a smile can be considered an act of charity.

Protesting the Israeli siege and the injustice of life in Gaza was a family affair, and Nassir played his role. His innovation of taping raw onions to his own face to counter the tears induced by the Israeli army tear gas garnered him much recognition among the protesters, who have been rallying against the siege since March 30.

So far, nearly 200 unarmed protesters have been killed while demanding an end to the 11-year long blockade and also to call for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees.

Nassir was the 34th child to be killed in cold-blood since the protests commenced, and will unlikely be the last to die.

When Mohammed al-Durrah was killed 18 years ago, the images of his father trying to shield his son’s body from Israeli bullets with his bare hands, left millions around the world speechless. The video, which was aired by France 2, left many with a sense of helplessness but, perhaps, the hope that the publicity that Mohammed’s televised murder had received could possibly shame Israel into ending its policy of targeting children.

Alas, that was never the case. After initially taking responsibility for killing Mohammed, a bogus Israeli army investigation concluded that the killing of Mohammed was a hoax, that Palestinians were to blame, that the France 2 journalist who shot the video was part of a conspiracy to ‘delegitimize Israel’.

Many were shocked by the degree of Israeli hubris, and the brazenness of their mouth-pieces around the western world who repeated such falsehood without any regard for morality or, even common sense. But the Israeli discourse itself has been part of an ongoing war on Palestinian children.

Israeli and Zionist propagandists have long claimed that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.

The likes of Elliott Abrahms raged against Palestinian textbooks for “teaching children to value terrorism”. “That is not the way to prepare children for peace”, he wrote last year.

In July the Israeli army claimed that Palestinian children deliberately “lure IDF troops”, by staging fake riots, thus forcing them into violent confrontations.

The US-Israeli propaganda has not just targeted Palestinian fighters or factions, but has done its utmost to dehumanize, thus justify, the murder of Palestinian children as well.

“Children as young as 8 turned into bombers, shooters, stabbers,” reported one Adam Kredo in the Washington Free Beacon, citing a “new report on child terrorists and their enablers.”

This is not simply bad journalism, but part of a calculated Israeli campaign aimed at preemptively justifying the killing of children such as Nassir and Mohammed, and thousands like them.

It is that same ominous discourse that resulted in the call for genocide made by none other than Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, where she also called on the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

The killing of Nassir and Mohammed should not then be viewed in the context of military operations gone awry, but in the inhuman official and media discourses that do not differentiate between a resistance fighter carrying a gun or a child carrying an onion and an oxygen mask.

Nor should we forget that Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah are chapters in the same book, with an overlapping narrative that makes their story, although 18 years apart, one and the same.

Syria and the S-300s: Re-Centering the People in the Global Struggles for Power

The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world [….] No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity, much less dissent.
— Gore Vidal, A View from the Diner’s Club, 1991

One of the most amusing elements of the current anti-Russian hysteria produced by U.S. state/corporate propagandists is the notion that Russia is this bold, aggressive challenger to “U.S. and Western interests” when the reality has always been the opposite. In the tumultuous period after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Russian Federation emerged as the dominate power under the leadership of the clownish Boris Yeltsin.

The Russian capitalist oligarchy that developed during that period and expanded under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has always just wanted to be part of the global capitalist game. They had demonstrated on more than one occasion their willingness to cooperate with the agenda of Western powers.  However, they wanted to be respected with their regional interests recognized.

But as result of greed, hubris and just plain incompetence, U.S. policy-makers, especially the amateurs running foreign policy during the Obama years, pushed the Russians out of their preferred zone of caution in international affairs, with Syria being exhibit A. Forcing the Russians hand in Syria was followed by the Ukraine when the U.S. sparked a coup in that nation as the second front against Russian “intervention” in Syria.

So it was quite comical to see how the announcement that Russia will deliver the S-300 air defense system to the Syrian government was met with feigned horror by U.S. and NATO forces. This decision was taken after the U.S. allowed or didn’t stop the Israeli Air Force from playing games that resulted in a Russia cargo plane being shot out of the air by Syrian ground defenses who mistook the Russia plane for an Israeli aircraft.

Without an adequate air defense system capable of covering the entire nation and strategic territories within Syria, the Israeli Air Force has had almost unimpeded access to Syria air space during the Syrian war to attack military forces associated with the Syrian government, Hezbollah and the Iranian state.

Yet in their zeal to push out anti-Russian propaganda, the state/corporate propagandists in the U.S.  exposed once again Russia’s conservatism and acquiensce to the global colonial U.S./EU/NATO agenda. While the headlines screamed traitor at Turkish President Erdogan for concluding a deal for the Russian S-400, the most advanced system the Russians are selling on the open market, very few seemed to have noticed that those wily, evil Russians that were propping up their partner in Syria hadn’t even delivered on the S-300 sale to the Syrian state that had been concluded five years ago!

The Russians said that they failed to deliver the system that the Syrians purchased due to a request from the Israeli government in 2013. This decision took place a year after the debacle of Geneva I, the United Nations sponsored conference to resolve the Syrian War, where the Russians appeared ready to abandon Assad as long as the Syrian state was maintained, and their interests protected.  Getting rid of Assad but maintaining the Syrian state was also U.S. policy at the time.

However, instead of a negotiated settlement in which the Russians would play a role, the Obama administration rejected Geneva I believing that it could topple the government in Syria through its jihadist proxies. The U.S. knew that those elements were never going to be allowed to govern the entire nation but that was the point. The Syrian state was slated to be balkanized with its territory divided and a permanent presence by the U.S. directly on the ground. Those forces in Syria would be bolstered by the thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq that had been reintroduced as a result of the U.S. reinvasion supposedly to fight ISIS – that it helped to create.

Although the Russian position on Assad came out just a year after the Chinese and Russians gave the green light to the U.S. and NATO to launch a vicious war on Libya is old news, it points out how in the global game of power relations the peoples of the former colonial world continue to lose. The Russians, like the Chinese, have demonstrated repeatedly their willingness to collaborate with the U.S. and the “Western colonialist alliance,” even as successive U.S. administrations have singled them out, along with Iran and Venezuela, as geostrategic threats to U.S. global hegemony.

This observation is not meant to be another Russia and China bashing that plays into the hands of the reactionaries driving U.S. policies who see military conflict with those two nations as inevitable. Instead what is being argued here is the absolute necessity for African/Black people and oppressed peoples and nations to be clear about the international correlation and balance of forces and competing interests at play so that “we” the people are not confused regarding our objective interests.

Russian intervention in Syria was not as cynical as the U.S. and Western European powers, which knew from the beginning that “progressive” forces in Syria could not win a military conflict. Nevertheless, they encouraged those forces to engage in military opposition while the U.S. and its allies decided to back various Islamist forces – not for democratic change – but to destroy the Syrian state.

Maintaining an independent, critical perspective on the national and global dispensation of social forces means not having any illusions about the world and the national, class and racial politics in play. We need to be clear that supporting Syria’s attempt to assert full sovereignty over its territory was only a secondary concern for the Russians. The back seat given to the Syrian government in the negotiations between Russia, Iran, and Turkey regarding Idlib confirms that. Protecting Russian interests in Syria and the Mid-East was and is the driving force for Russian military and diplomatic activity, nothing else!

The delivery of the S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria resembles the Russia cooperation with the U.S., Israel and Turkey on the Turkish Afrin operation, which was basically an invasion of Syria by Turkey in order to establish a “buffer zone”.  These are all decisions based on the objective interests of Russia and secondarily the interests of the Syrian government.

It remains to be seen how the deployment of the S-300’s will alter the situation on the ground in Syria. It would not be surprising if the deployment was limited and only covered the territory around Latakia, the site of the Russian air base and close to its warm-water port. It may not be in Russia’s interests to allow the Syria government the means to block Israeli intrusions into Syrian air space. If the Syrian government had the ability to really ensure the security of its national territory from Israeli intrusions, it could mean that Russia would have less leverage over the Syrian government to force a withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria. Additionally, the land corridor and security of the “Islamic pipeline” between Iran, Iraq and Syria could be secured that may not be necessarily conducive for maintaining Russia’s share of the energy market in Europe.

The U.S. and Israel overplayed their cards and made a strategic blunder by precipitating the shooting down of the Russian cargo plane. Although National Security Adviser John Bolton claims that the decision to supply Syrian forces with the S-300 is a “significant escalation,” the escalation really took place in 2012 when the Obama administration decided to allow U.S. vassal states to significantly increase military support for radical Islamic forces. Michael Flynn revealed this as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency – something the Obama forces never forgot.

Syria has been a difficult object lesson for the left that has had a devastating consequence for the people of that embattled nation. Hundreds of thousands have died, and millions have been displaced primarily because left and progressive forces lacked the organizational, but more importantly, the ideological, political, and moral clarity to mount an opposition to the machinations of their national bourgeoisie in Europe and the U.S.  The very idea that the bourgeois leadership of their respective states might have some benevolent justifications for military intervention in Syria revealed a dangerous nationalist sentimentality that is driving the left version of white supremacist national chauvinism.

Before the dramatic rightist turn of the left in the U.S. and Europe over the last two decades, the left – at least much of the Marxist-Leninist left – opposed Western imperialist intervention out of a theoretical and principled commitment to the national-colonial question in the global South. As citizens in “oppressor nations,” opposing their own bourgeoisie’s interventions into oppressed nations was seen as a responsibility for the left and indeed was a measurement of what was actually an authentic left position.

That stance has virtually disappeared.

The first response by the Western left to plans or actual interventions by their nation’s ruling class is a strange conversation regarding rather or not the intervention is justified or not based on the nature of the government being toppled by the intervention.

For those of us who are members of oppressed peoples and nations, it is quite obvious that without independent organizations and global solidarity structures buttressed by the few progressive states that exist on the planet, we cannot depend on any bourgeois state to really care about our humanity or on the radical or left forces in Northern nations to put a brake on repression and intervention against non-Europe states and peoples.

The bloodletting will continue in Syria. Candidate Trump raised some serious questions about the wisdom of U.S. policies in Syria and indicated that he might be willing to reverse U.S. involvement. But President Trump surrendered to the pressure from the foreign policy establishment and the warmongering corporate press. Instead of extricating the U.S., the administration announced a few weeks ago that the U.S. will essentially engage in an illegal and indefinite occupation in Syria.

There is reasonable doubt that Israel and the U.S. will allow the deployment of the S-300s even if the Russians followed through with the delivery. Which means the possibility of another dangerous escalation in the conflict at any moment. It also means why despite one’s opinion about the nature of any government’s internal situation, it is important to reaffirm and defend the principles of national sovereignty and international law in opposition to the arbitrary and illegal interventions to effect a change in government by any outside forces.

The people’s movements for social justice and human rights around the world must not allow the people to be drawn into the machinations and contradictory struggles and conflicts between essentially capitalist blocs, which include the Russians and the state-capitalism of China. This is not to suggest a moral or political equalization between the emergence of capitalist Russia and China and the systematic degradation unleashed on the world by the Pan-European colonial/capitalist project that emerged in 1492 with the invasion of the “Americas.” That would be a perversion of history and divert us from the primary global contradiction and target: The Western capitalist alliance and the corporate and finance oligarchy at its center.

In the competition between blocs and the real possibility of global conflict, we must be vigilant not to repeat the tragic mistake made before the first world war when workers enthusiastically signed up as cannon fodder in the clash of capitalist empires. Imperialist war really is a class issue!

Totalitarian capitalist domination is not a figment of our imaginations, it is real. Penetrating the ideological mystifications that divert us away from the matrix of power that distorts consciousness and renders the people as collaborators in their own subjection is the task of the moment.

The global order is changing, the only question is what will emerge. Will the new order be a multipolar one dominated by emerging capitalist states or will a new transitional order develop that is oriented toward an association of states and people’s movements moving toward authentic de-colonization, ecological rationality, and socialist construction?

There is still time for the people to choose.

All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)

There is much good news in this world. But the U.S. mass media barely reports it.

Have you noticed? Syria is on the brink of defeating the U.S.-backed opposition forces now corralled into Idlib Province. The successes of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have decisively stymied Washington’s 17-year-long year effort to dominate the Middle East through aggressive, illegal regime change operations justified by lies.

Meanwhile the Sadrists in Iraq in alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party are steering an independent national path that includes cordial ties and security cooperation with Iran, Syria and Russia. The Bush/Cheney dream (of securing Iraq as a U.S. and Israel ally) hasn’t materialized.

The Europeans, Chinese, Indians and Russians persist in expanding trade with Iran in defiance of arrogant U.S. threats. This too is good; an affirmation of international law in the face of U.S. violations. The very departure of the U.S. from the Iran deal, to say nothing of efforts to sabotage it through secondary sanctions, is illegal.

This too–have you noticed? A remarkable warming of relations between North and South Korea is underway! The North and South Korean heads of state have met three times in rapid succession and signed a host of significant agreements. This is an unqualified good, but the U.S. media pooh-poohs it, questioning whether any progress has really been made on denuclearization, wondering whether Trump sold out the store in Singapore. The desire to attack Trump trumps any natural inclination to share the joy of the Korean people at this dramatic relaxation of tensions. Instead of smiling about it, they glare, and express alarm that Trump might actually pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. Like that would be an irresponsible thing.

More good news: Sino-Russian relations are at an all-time high as reflected in the recent massive joint military operations in East Siberia and numerous trade agreements. Cooperation between the two nations through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Eurasian infrastructure projects bodes well for the global economy. (Chinese purchases of Russian jets and missiles has resulted in U.S. sanctions, in the context of the ongoing trade war. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov notes that this will simply lead to closer military cooperation between Russia and China, and further decline in the status of the dollar as default global currency.)

In July—surely you heard?—Japan suddenly signed with the European Union an economic partnership agreement establishing the largest trading bloc in the world. In effect, Japan has become the EU’s 29th member. This was after Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and initiated trade wars with practically everybody, including the Europeans and Japanese. Trump drove Japan into the arms of the Europeans; arguably a fine thing.

These are real news stories, perhaps deserving some attention.

But no. Our news anchors report on the Kavanaugh hearings, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation, the Mueller probe, Stormy Daniels’ book describing Trump’s prepuce, Bob Woodward’s book describing White House chaos and Trump’s closest advisors’ contempt for him, Trump’s tweets versus his attorney general Jeff Sessions, Trump’s (scandalous!) declassification of Russia investigation documents, Trump’s trade wars, the U.S. mid-term elections, and new data about the Puerto Rico disaster (challenging Trump’s assessment). Hurricane Florence is covered extensively, with attention to Trump’s reaction; and “active shootings” are reported excitedly as they occur. Police murders and issues of sexual abuse are, of course, covered as breaking news.

Joe and Mika and Chris Cuomo spend much time interviewing the authors of newspaper articles or editorials and books critical of Trump (or promoting their own books). They devote extensive attention to historical analogies, citing the Anita Hill episode of 1991, comparing her to Ford and noting how Sen. Orrin Hatch who dismissed Hill’s claims now similarly rejects Ford’s. Shame!

The CNN and MSNBC anchors promote a sense of impending, inevitable doom for the administration. “The walls are closing in on the White House,” they say. Yes, the economy is doing well. (This is almost grudgingly conceded, and the fragility of the recovery stressed). But Trump’s supposed Russia ties (and possible vulnerability to blackmail); his confrontational attitude to U.S. allies; his ostensible instinctive sympathy for autocrats; his erratic statements and behavior; his irrational trade policies; his history of abusing women and supporting other men who’ve done so—all are supposed to lead to some proper closure to this sad administration.

And the Democrats will win the November elections. And then there will likely be impeachment proceedings. The tone is boldly contemptuous. The mainstream media aside from Fox has become a set of organs for Trump ridicule. “Senior correspondents” and miscellaneous talking heads sneer at Trump, laugh at him, roll their eyes. They daily call him a liar and list the latest official number of lies (as tabulated by the New York Times). It is a highly unusual situation. The world knows the U.S. media and the majority of the people truly despise Donald Trump and see him as a national embarrassment.

But in projecting that national shame the media downplays almost everything else. A few minutes are spent from time to time on Yemen, and how awful it is for the Saudis to bomb all those kids. But the Israeli attack on Syria the other day, that caused the Syrians to mistakenly shoot down a Russian jet killing 15, was ignored. European politics are generally ignored. The priorities of the CNN news editor are very different than those of their BBC or RT counterpart.

The big vast world out there is largely ignored, referenced when necessary to trash Trump but not validated as a thing-in-itself. If Trump is solipsistic, the U.S. news directorate is equally so. The American Exceptionalism which Barack Obama like presidents before him openly averred is the media’s unofficial ideology.

Top of the hour news, CNN, 11:00 a.m. EST, Sept. 20. Kate Bolduan starts with the Kavanaugh issue. Then the breaking Maryland mass shooting. Finally something on Korea!

But hm… The pundit Max Boot (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations)  dismisses yesterday’s summit between Moon and Kim in Pyongyang while clueless Kate nods in agreement that a peace agreement between the U.S. and North Korea would be “dangerous” because it would mean U.S. military withdrawal of the peninsula. They chuckle together, “Oh Max,” she laughs. “You’ve been critical of Trump’s approach to North Korea. Do you see the point in another summit [between Kim and Trump]?” No, of course. Segment over.

Back to the active shooting in Maryland, after a commercial break, very briefly. Then more Kavanaugh. Then back to Baltimore. Three people dead. We’ll be right back. More on Puerto Rico now, emphasizing how Trump downplayed the death toll. An interview with the scholar who compiled the report. (Is this more urgent than covering today’s news from Yemen?) Trump all the time, all day long.

U.S. imperialism and its consequences? Why bother? The sponsors are tired of foreign wars, and it’s depressing to see reports that they’ve killed so many innocent people and created so many refugee crises and produced so many new terrorist groups and generated so much hatred and contempt for the U.S. in Europe and everywhere.

Better to spare the viewers exposure to all of that and instead focus on bringing down Trump and restoring normalcy to U.S. foreign policy. That at least seems to be the thinking.

Guest Media Alert by John Pilger: “Hold the Front Page. The Reporters are Missing”

Note From Media Lens

This is a slightly amended version of the foreword to the new Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz – How The Corporate Media Distort Reality, published today by Pluto Press. Warm thanks to John Pilger for contributing this superb piece to our book.

*****

The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.

Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.

Driven from the “mainstream”, Hersh must publish his work outside the United States. Parry set up his own independent news website Consortium News, where, in a final piece following a stroke, he referred to journalism’s veneration of “approved opinions” while “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality.”

Although journalism was always a loose extension of establishment power, something has changed in recent years. Dissent tolerated when I joined a national newspaper in Britain in the 1960s has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism moves towards a form of corporate dictatorship. This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new “groupthink”, as Parry called it, dispensing its myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.

Witness the witch-hunts against refugees and immigrants, the willful abandonment by the “MeToo” zealots of our oldest freedom, presumption of innocence, the anti-Russia racism and anti-Brexit hysteria, the growing anti-China campaign and the suppression of a warning of world war.

With many if not most independent journalists barred or ejected from the “mainstream”, a corner of the Internet has become a vital source of disclosure and evidence-based analysis: true journalism. Sites such as wikileaks.org, consortiumnews.com, wsws.org, truthdig.com, globalresearch.org, counterpunch.org and informationclearinghouse.com are required reading for those trying to make sense of a world in which science and technology advance wondrously while political and economic life in the fearful “democracies” regress behind a media facade of narcissistic spectacle.

In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens — remarkable partly because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism: the BBC, the Guardian, Channel 4 News.

Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they ask a journalist why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths.

The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.

I would say Media Lens has shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate that deconstructs and demystifies the media’s power.

What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards was a teacher, David Cromwell is a former scientist. Yet, their understanding of the morality of journalism — a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity — is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.

I think their work is heroic and I would place a copy of their just published book, Propaganda Blitz, in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.

Take the chapter, Dismantling the National Health Service, in which Edwards and Cromwell describe the critical part played by journalists in the crisis facing Britain’s pioneering health service.

The NHS crisis is the product of a political and media construct known as “austerity”, with its deceitful, weasel language of “efficiency savings” (the BBC term for slashing public expenditure) and “hard choices” (the willful destruction of the premises of civilised life in modern Britain).

“Austerity” is an invention. Britain is a rich country with a debt owed by its crooked banks, not its people. The resources that would comfortably fund the National Health Service have been stolen in broad daylight by the few allowed to avoid and evade billions in taxes.

Using a vocabulary of corporate euphemisms, the publicly-funded Health Service is being deliberately run down by free market fanatics, to justify its selling-off. The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn may appear to oppose this, but does it? The answer is very likely no. Little of any of this is alluded to in the media, let alone explained.

Edwards and Cromwell have dissected the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whose innocuous title belies its dire consequences. Unknown to most of the population, the Act ends the legal obligation of British governments to provide universal free health care: the bedrock on which the NHS was set up following the Second World War. Private companies can now insinuate themselves into the NHS, piece by piece.

Where, asks Edwards and Cromwell, was the BBC while this momentous Bill was making its way through Parliament? With a statutory commitment to “providing a breadth of view” and to properly inform the public of “matters of public policy”, the BBC never spelt out the threat posed to one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. A BBC headline said: “Bill which gives power to GPs passes.” This was pure state propaganda.

There is a striking similarity with the BBC’s coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawless invasion of Iraq in 2003, which left a million dead and many more dispossessed. A study by Cardiff University, Wales, found that the BBC reflected the government line “overwhelmingly” while relegating reports of civilian suffering. A Media Tenor study placed the BBC at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they gave to opponents of the invasion. The corporation’s much-vaunted “principle” of impartiality was never a consideration.

One of the most telling chapters in Propaganda Blitz describes the smear campaigns mounted by journalists against dissenters, political mavericks and whistleblowers. The Guardian’s campaign against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the most disturbing.

Assange, whose epic WikiLeaks disclosures brought fame, journalism prizes and largesse to the Guardian, was abandoned when he was no longer useful. He was then subjected to a vituperative – and cowardly — onslaught of a kind I have rarely known.

With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also disclosed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.

The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”

Moore, who describes herself as a feminist, later complained that, after attacking Assange, she had suffered “vile abuse”. Edwards and Cromwell wrote to her: “That’s a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone ‘the most massive turd’? Vile abuse?”

Moore replied that no, she would not, adding, “I would advise you to stop being so bloody patronising.”

Her former Guardian colleague James Ball wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like more than five and a half years after Julian Assange moved in.”

Such slow-witted viciousness appeared in a newspaper described by its editor, Katharine Viner, as “thoughtful and progressive”. What is the root of this vindictiveness? Is it jealousy, a perverse recognition that Assange has achieved more journalistic firsts than his snipers can claim in a lifetime? Is it that he refuses to be “one of us” and shames those who have long sold out the independence of journalism?

Journalism students should study this to understand that the source of “fake news” is not only trollism, or the likes of Fox news, or Donald Trump, but a journalism self-anointed with a false respectability: a liberal journalism that claims to challenge corrupt state power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it. The amorality of the years of Tony Blair, whom the Guardian has failed to rehabilitate, is its echo.

“[It is] an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives,” wrote Katharine Viner. Her political writer Jonathan Freedland dismissed the yearning of young people who supported the modest policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “a form of narcissism”.

“How did this man ….,” brayed the Guardian’s Zoe Williams, “get on the ballot in the first place?” A choir of the paper’s precocious windbags joined in, thereafter queuing to fall on their blunt swords when Corbyn came close to winning the 2017 general election in spite of the media.

Complex stories are reported to a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission: Brexit, Venezuela, Russia, Syria. On Syria, only the investigations of a group of independent journalists have countered this, revealing the network of Anglo-American backing of jihadists in Syria, including those related to ISIS.

Supported by a “psyops” campaign funded by the British Foreign Office and the US Agency of International Aid, the aim is to hoodwink the Western public and speed the overthrow of the government in Damascus, regardless of the medieval alternative and the risk of war with Russia.

The Syria Campaign, set up by a New York PR agency, Purpose, funds a group known as the White Helmets, who claim falsely to be “Syria Civil Defence” and are seen uncritically on TV news and social media, apparently rescuing the victims of bombing, which they film and edit themselves, though viewers are unlikely to be told this. George Clooney is a fan.

The White Helmets are appendages to the jihadists with whom they share addresses. Their media-smart uniforms and equipment are supplied by their Western paymasters. That their exploits are not questioned by major news organisations is an indication of how deep the influence of state-backed PR now runs in the media. As Robert Fisk noted recently, no “mainstream” reporter reports Syria, from Syria.

In what is known as a hatchet job, a Guardian reporter based in San Francisco, Olivia Solon, who has never visited Syria, was allowed to smear the substantiated investigative work of journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett on the White Helmets as “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government”.

This abuse was published without permitting a single correction, let alone a right-of-reply. The Guardian Comment page was blocked, as Edwards and Cromwell document. I saw the list of questions Solon sent to Beeley, which reads like a McCarthyite charge sheet — “Have you ever been invited to North Korea?”

So much of the mainstream has descended to this level. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is the “perception”.

When he was US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus declared what he called “a war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media”. What really mattered was not the facts but the way the story played in the United States. The undeclared enemy was, as always, an informed and critical public at home.

Nothing has changed. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker, whose propaganda mesmerised the German public.

She told me the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of an uninformed public.

“Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said. “Propaganda always wins, if you allow it.”

Empire Journalism: Venezuela, the US and John McCain

The US political commentator Michael Parenti once observed that:

Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for “objectivity”. Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.

Once you understand the truth of that remark, seeing the daily biases and distortions of the corporate media becomes obvious. Thus, there is plenty of space on the BBC News website, and plenty of time on the BBC’s airwaves, to discuss the Venezuela migrant crisis, hyper-inflation and food shortages. Rob Young, a BBC News business correspondent, wrote:

Venezuela, now in its fourth year of recession, has joined a sad list of other countries whose economies imploded as hyperinflation tore through them.

Young quoted a senior official of the International Monetary Fund:

The situation in Venezuela is similar to that in Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s.

A BBC News clip headlined, ‘Begging for food in Venezuela’, emphasised:

Food has become so scarce in Venezuela after the economy collapsed that people are getting desperate.

Likewise, there has been ample heart-wrenching coverage of Venezuelans fleeing to other countries. But you will struggle to find any substantive analysis of the severe US sanctions and long-standing threats to bring about a US-friendly government in Caracas, including an attempted coup in 2002 to remove Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s then president.

On August 19, BBC South America correspondent Katy Watson reported for BBC News at Ten:

President Nicolas Maduro is doing little to stop his country’s economic freefall. Last week, he announced plans to devalue the country’s currency; an attempt to rein in inflation that the International Monetary Fund says could hit one million per cent by the end of the year.

But there was next to no context. BBC viewers were led to believe that the blame for the crisis in Venezuela lay squarely at Maduro’s door.

By contrast, consider the analysis of Gabriel Hetland, an expert academic on Latin America. He stated that the Venezuelan government’s actions – and inactions – have made the crisis ‘far worse’. But crucially:

The government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment. The opposition has openly and repeatedly pushed for regime change by any means necessary.

On August 4, there was even an attempt to assassinate President Maduro, with responsibility claimed by a clandestine opposition group made up of members of the Venezuelan military.

Hetland continued:

The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.

The Morning Star’s Tim Young pointed out that:

Sanctions now form a key part of what is a strategic plan by the US to ruin the Venezuelan economy.

These US sanctions have even impacted Venezuela’s health programme, with the country’s vaccination schemes disrupted, dialysis supplies blocked and cancer drugs refused. Young added:

It is clear that the US sanctions — illegal under international law — are part of an overall strategy to bring about what the US calls “regime change.”

Its aim is to undermine and topple the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro and secure control of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves and other natural resources and wealth.

In a news report in the Independent last year, Andrew Buncombe quoted remarks by Mike Pompeo, then head of the CIA, suggesting that:

The agency is working to change the elected government of Venezuela and is collaborating with two countries [Mexico and Colombia] in the region to do so.

As Buncombe observed:

The US has a long and bloody history of meddling in Latin America’s affairs.

That is an accurate and truthful headline you are very unlikely to see on BBC News.

To realise how incomplete and distorted is BBC News coverage, you only have to listen to the superb independent journalist Abby Martin, who has risked her life to report what the corporate media is not telling you about Venezuela. It is little wonder that, as she discusses, her important news programme, ‘Empire Files‘, is currently off-air as a result of US sanctions against left-leaning TeleSUR, the Venezuela-based television network.

A report by media analyst Gregory Shupak for US-based media watchdog FAIR, notes the repeated usage of the word ‘regime’ to describe Venezuela by the US corporate media. As Shupak observes, a ‘regime’ is, by definition, a government that opposes the US empire. He goes on:

Interestingly, the US itself meets many of the criteria for being a “regime”: It can be seen as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country, has grotesque levels of inequality and bombs another country every 12 minutes. Yet there’s no widespread tendency for the corporate media to describe the US state as a “regime.”

In short, if you rely on the corporate media, not least the BBC, for what’s going on in Venezuela, you will get the US-friendly version of events, downplaying or simply ignoring the crippling effects of US sanctions and threats.

On Venezuela, as with so many other issues, BBC News regularly violates its own stated ‘Editorial Values‘:

Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.

The notion that BBC News journalists perform a balancing act, sifting through ‘facts and information’ to present ‘the truth’ to the public is simply pure fiction, as the ample evidence presented in our forthcoming book, ‘Propaganda Blitz‘, makes clear.

‘A Human Landmark; an American Hero’

Consider coverage of the recent death of US politician John McCain. McCain was the Republican nominee in the 2008 US presidential election which he lost to Barack Obama. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, he was shot down while on a bombing mission over Hanoi and was seriously injured. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he was tortured during his incarceration, before being released in 1973. In later years, the media would call him a ‘war hero’ and depict him as a political ‘maverick’ in not always supporting Republican Party policy on certain issues.

Theresa May declared:

John McCain was a great statesman, who embodied the idea of service over self. It was an honour to call him a friend of the UK.

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist, echoed the mantra that McCain was a ‘war hero’.

In similar vein, ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ Nick Bryant, the BBC’s New York correspondent, intoned loftily on BBC News at Ten on August 27:

Washington without John McCain is a lesser place. He was a human landmark; an American hero whose broken body personified the Land of the Brave.

Senior reporters from Channel 4 News and ITV News added their own eulogies to warmonger McCain, dubbed ‘McNasty’ by people who had observed his ‘inexplicable angry outbursts’. C4 News political correspondent Michael Crick said via Twitter:

I’ll always be grateful to John McCain. When I was #C4News Washington Correspondent in the late ’80s, he was one of the few senators happy to do interviews with us, and always very friendly & accommodating.

Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent responded:

Agreed. And that continued almost until the end – for the foreign press, McCain was the single most accessible political figure in Washington. He always had time for an interview, and a joke – including teasing me for my choice of ties.

Other Twitter users put things in stark perspective:

My thoughts are entirely with his victims and their families.

And:

How hard did you grill him about the decisions he made that killed innocent civilians in hundreds of thousands?

It would be hard to find an exchange on Twitter that better exemplifies the divide between sycophantic journalists fawning before power, and members of the public refusing to whitewash a politician’s ugly record.

Patrick Martin, writing for the World Socialist Website, makes a vital point:

The overriding feature of McCain’s career […] was his reflexive hawkishness on foreign policy. He supported war after war, intervention after intervention, always promoting the use of force as the primary feature of American foreign policy, and always advocating the maximum allocation of resources to fuel the Pentagon.

Peace activist Medea Benjamin told Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview:

We had constantly been lobbying John McCain to not support all these wars. Amy, I think it’s so horrible to be calling somebody a war hero because he participated in the bombing of Vietnam. I just spent the last weekend with Veterans for Peace, people who are atoning for their sins in Vietnam by trying to stop new wars. John McCain hasn’t done that. With his life, what he did was support wars from not only Iraq, but also Libya.

Benjamin founded Code Pink: Women for Peace, a grassroots peace and justice movement that McCain once disparaged as “low-life scum“.

She continued:

He called John Kerry delusional for trying to make a nuclear deal with Iran, and threw his lot in with the MEK, the extremist group in Iran. He also was a good friend of Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudis. There was a gala for the Saudis in May when the crown prince was visiting, and they had a special award for John McCain. He supported the Saudi bombing in Yemen that has been so catastrophic. And I think we have to think that those who have participated in war are really heroes if they spend the rest of their lives trying to stop war, not like John McCain, who spent the rest of his life supporting war.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, made clear his empathy for McCain for having suffered through brain cancer. But he castigated the corporate media phenomenon of ‘obit omit—obituaries that are flagrantly in conflict with the real historical record.’

He told Goodman:

We really have to fault the mass media of the United States, not just for the last few days, but the last decades, pretending that somehow, by implication, almost that John McCain was doing the people of North Vietnam a favor as he flew over them and dropped bombs. You would think, in the hagiography that we’ve been getting about his role in a squadron flying over North Vietnam, that he was dropping, you know, flowers or marshmallows or something. He was shot down during his 23rd mission dropping bombs on massive numbers of human beings, in a totally illegal and immoral war.

As Branko Marcetic noted in an accurate assessment of McCain’s political legacy:

John McCain’s greatest achievement was convincing the world through charming banter and occasional opposition to his party’s agenda that he was anything other than a reactionary, bloodthirsty war hawk.

In a recent article, Joe Emersberger, an insightful writer on foreign affairs, notes that corporate media coverage of both Venezuela and John McCain illustrates two main features:

  1. The uniformity of empire-friendly reporting across the corporate media.
  2. The complicity of major human rights groups in this empire-friendly ‘journalism’.

As an example:

Amnesty International has refused to oppose US economic sanctions on Venezuela, and has also refused to denounce flagrant efforts by US officials to incite a military coup.

Emersberger also points to a statement on John McCain’s death from Human Rights Watch:

Senator McCain was for decades a compassionate voice for US foreign and national security policy.

For anyone able to think critically and speak openly, such statements are risible. Brutal imperialism will continue for as long as empire-friendly journalism and tame public opposition exist.

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

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

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

A campaign of smears

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

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

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

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

Israel lobbyists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No discussion

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

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

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

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

The earliest Zionists

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

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

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

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

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

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

A double whammy

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

Until Corbyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treacherous words

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

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

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

The argument goes something like this:

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

Problematic premises

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

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

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

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

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

A ‘globalised virus’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinians made invisible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loss of moral compass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topsy-turvy world

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye

John McCain as Metaphoric Myth

Every notion of progress is refuted by the existence of the Iliad.

— Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, February 8, 1994

The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.

— Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967

It’s still the same old story.  The best propaganda places individual stories within a larger framework.  The individual is extolled or damned in the service of the controlling myth.

Senator John McCain is a case in point.  As an individual, he is not important, except as the glorified stories about him and his own confabulations about himself can be used to enhance the controlling myth.  American history is replete with such bloodthirsty, war-mongering individuals, whose lives and stories serve to enhance the American myth of being “God’s New Israel” and Americans being God’s chosen people whose mission is to spread “freedom” and “democracy” around the world with our “terrible swift swords.”

As Bob Dylan put it:

But I learned to accept it/Accept it with pride/For you don’t count the dead/When God’s on your side.

Myths are the invisible narrative skeletons of our outward lives. They are limited in number and keep getting reused in different forms.   All we do hangs upon their bones.  This is true for nations and for individuals.  Myths are what people take for granted and do not question.  Our lives are telling stories, and myth means story.

We tell our lives by living stories.  Then others tell those stories about us when we are dead.

Of course, some control freaks try to manage their myths from the grave, as did McCain, who knew how the game is played, and who got his brothers-in-arms, George W. Bush and Barack Obama to polish his myth as he lay silent before them.

“We Lost a Good One,” blared the New York Times, as McCain was lying in state, and liars of state, Bush and Obama, were preparing to shill for him as they shilled for war and the overthrow of foreign governments for their masters.  Another member of the Club, Joseph Biden, had done his part in the mythologizing a few days earlier when he shed his famous “regular guy” tears as he spoke of his dear friend.  For those outside such a small circle of friends – the millions of passive TV spectators in the society of the spectacle – tears seal the deal, set the myth into an emotional space that just feels right. In mythmaking, feeling is all; facts don’t matter. And the military and religious symbolism, the pageantry and the majesty of the setting, make the eulogies resound more loudly.

It is through symbols, not just words, that the “people” are brought together to celebrate their mythic uniqueness, for the word symbol comes from the Greek, meaning to throw together, and for the in-crowd that is what they do.  We are in this together, one nation under God….while outside, as McCain, Bush, Obama, et al never failed to remind us “folks,” there lurks the diabolic (to throw apart) devils from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Russia, etc. ready to divide us from within and attack us from without.  We are the good “insiders,” they are the evil “outsiders.”  Such verbiage constitutes the essence of cultural myth creation and the core of American Exceptionalism.  It is practiced by the politicians and mainstream corporate media every day.

In speaking about McCain, Bush and Obama did so from within the frame of this great American Myth of Exceptionalism and God’s Chosen People.  McCain, who is a small piece of a much larger myth, was just another name added to the Pantheon.  Bush once said, “Like generations before us, we have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.”  And Obama once confessed, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”  One can easily understand why McCain chose them.

Bush eulogized McCain thus: “In one epic life was written the courage and greatness of our country.”

Wasn’t it great to kill millions of Vietnamese and Iraqis?  Only the courageous from the home of the brave can perform such honorable duties, especially from the air.

“He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators,” said Bush, adding:

Whatever the cause, it was this combination of courage and decency that defined John’s calling, and so closely paralleled the calling of his country. It’s this combination of courage and decency that makes the American military something new in history, an unrivaled power for good.

And I too saw Satan laughing with delight, the day McCain died and was then eulogized by Bush.

Moreover, Obama intoned with such eloquence:

And finally while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign policy issues, we stood together on America’s role as the one nation, believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility…But John understood that our security and our influence was won not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will, but from our capacity to inspire others with our adherence to a set of universal values. Like rule of law and human rights and insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being.

Now I wonder what John’s and Barack’s dead victims in Libya and Syria would have to say about their “universal values” and respect for the “rule of law”?  Can the dead laugh sardonically?

The recent spectacle over John McCain’s death is a perfect example of myth creation.  McCain is, however, a metaphor for the larger ongoing narrative that has been going on for centuries and seems to have no end.

McCain’s apotheosis is a made for TV American hero movie, one that he first helped create and one that John Wayne would envy, as blatantly jingoistic and racist as Wayne was in “The Green Berets,” a movie released in 1968, the year after our hero McCain’s dubious involvement in the tragedy of the USS Forrestal aircraft carrier that killed 137 sailors, his being shot down while bombing North Viet Nam, and his subsequent years in captivity.  No doubt Sydney Schanberg’s devastating expose of McCain’s explanation of his years as a POW will play no part in the today’s mythologizing.

If only Wilfred Owen’s words could have been piped into the National Cathedral during the funeral ceremony, maybe the myth-making would have ceased and truth revealed.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. ((Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918.))

But that is wishful thinking in this land of make-believe, where such poetic obscenities are not allowed in the Cathedral of God’s People.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except there are few signs of guilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final loose end are the refugees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in The National

A Specter of Peace Is Haunting Nicaragua

After four months of violence, peace may be breaking out in Nicaragua, which has gotten those North American partisans opposed to Nicaraguan President Ortega worried. But they have one last hope.

The latest in a series of anti-Ortega articles in The Nation is entitled “An eternal night of persecution and death.” We are told: “Despite mass killings and newly authoritarian laws, a diverse opposition says the movement to oust Ortega is far from over.”

Although some analysts understand the relative calm that has befallen Nicaragua is mainly due to the failure of the opposition to sustain public support, this article maintains it is because it is “too dangerous for resistors to rally publicly.” The article is primarily based on an interview with an anonymous source “whose name has been altered for his safety.” Toward the end of the article, we find out that the anonymous source is “at a coffee shop in New York.” Ever vigilant, he has his back to the wall “facing out at the rest of the café.”

With the opposition in quiescence, The Nation is still hopeful for regime change. The anonymous source “laments” that “the only way Ortega would concede to that would be with US and international pressure.” The article concludes that “while the United States is not the perfect partner, options are limited.”

The article condemns Ortega, who “no longer represents the ideals of…anti-imperialism,” but does not extend that criticism to publications calling for the US to partner in regime change in Nicaragua.

Will Uncle Sam Come to the Rescue?

Academic Latin Americanist William I. Robinson, an opponent of Ortega, questions whether the US will oblige. He contends “Washington’s primary interest in Nicaragua is not getting rid of Ortega but in preserving the interests of transnational capital.”

Much of Robinson’s analysis is consistent with those who oppose US involvement in the recent violence in Nicaragua. Robinson agrees that the CIA surrogate, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), “funding started in the mid-1980s and has never ceased. It is not new to the Ortega-Murillo period.” However, Robinson’s assertion that the US funding has “not been aimed at overthrowing Ortega” is mistaken. The so-called “democracy promotion” dollars from the US went to the opposition who are intent on overthrowing Ortega.

Robinson agrees a viable left alternative within the opposition to Ortega is lacking: “These popular sectors from below have no project of their own to put forward as a viable alternative to replace the regime. This opens up the popular resistance to manipulation or cooptation by the third force.” This third force, Robinson explains “is the bourgeoisie, organized in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the oligarchic elite, transnational capital, and the United States.”

And Robinson agrees: “Finally, have right-wing forces taken advantage of the uprising to try to gain control over it? Absolutely. Have these forces deployed their own violence. Yes. Have they manipulated a disorganized and politically incoherent grassroots opposition to Ortega-Murillo? Yes.” To his rhetorical question “would the post-Ortega scenario (that) the Right seeks to achieve be ‘more, not less, neoliberal, repressive, and authoritarian’ than the regime?” Robinson answers “probably.”

The Threat of an Alternative to Empire

So what’s Robinson’s beef with what he characterizes as “the infantile manichean view of a significant portion of the US Left”?

Robinson is a major proponent of the view that US imperialism has been eclipsed by a “transnational capitalist class.” Robinson does allow that on a world scale Nicaragua weighs in as being more progressive: “Has the Ortega regime, with its assistancialism (sic), been anywhere near as ‘bad’ as these other neoliberal regimes? Certainly not.” But, less bad is not enough. The crux of his difference with the anti-imperialist left is that they uphold Nicaragua as worthy of defense, whereas in Robinson’s post-US imperialist world no nation passes his litmus test.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies, all countries are compelled to be integrated into the world capitalist market, including Nicaragua. This is well described by Robinson in his academic work.

But Robinson is less insightful regarding the coercive aspect of US relations with progressive countries such as Nicaragua and its allies in ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. These countries and their leaders are very much in the crosshairs of US regime change efforts precisely because they represent some degree of a challenge to neoliberalism and because they are not compliant to every dictate of the empire.

Robinson may label this view as “manichean,” (i.e., seeing a binary world of good or evil), but it is a reality imposed by the US. George W. Bush, in his own eloquent way, summed up US strategy best: “You’re either with us or with the enemy.”

For Nicaragua, a tipping point between US cooperation and US coercion was the adoption of a trans-oceanic canal project with Chinese financing, which fundamentally challenged US geopolitical interests.

Nicaragua and its allies represent a breathing space in a world dominated by the US empire. The US government recognizes the alternative posed by Nicaragua as a threat and has targeted the Ortega government, even if some academics are less perceptive.

Fleeing Nicaragua

Meanwhile, the US has imposed sanctions against top Nicaraguan officials. USAID received an additional $1.5 million to promote “freedom and democracy” in Nicaragua. The NICA Act has passed the House by unanimous consent and is pending in the Senate. The NICA Act is designed to restrict international financing and thereby create misery among the Nicaraguan people to pressure the Ortega government. And the bulk of the US diplomatic corps has been withdrawn from Nicaragua.

The US State Department’s travel advisory warns that the remaining “US government personnel are prohibited…from entering…gentlemen’s clubs throughout the country due to crime.”

“Non-emergency government personnel” have been evacuated to go back home, presumably where gentlemen’s clubs are still safe.