Category Archives: Media Censorship

The Assange Arrest is a Warning from History

The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in  almost seven years.

That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.

But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice.

Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.

The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sow the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilisation”. The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast.

Assange’s principal media tormentor, The Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years”. The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.

With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding joined the police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. The Guardian has since published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.

But the tone has now changed. “The Assange case is a morally tangled web,” the paper opined. “He (Assange) believes in publishing things that should not be published…. But he has always shone a light on things that should never have been hidden.”

These “things” are the truth about the homicidal way America conducts its colonial wars, the lies of the British Foreign Office in its denial of rights to vulnerable people, such as the Chagos Islanders, the expose of Hillary Clinton as a backer and beneficiary of jihadism in the Middle East, the detailed description of American ambassadors of how the governments in Syria and Venezuela might be overthrown, and much more. It all available on the WikiLeaks site.

The Guardian is understandably nervous. Secret policemen have already visited the newspaper and demanded and got the ritual destruction of a hard drive.  On this, the paper has form. In 1983, a Foreign Office clerk, Sarah Tisdall, leaked British Government documents showing when American cruise nuclear weapons would arrive in Europe. The Guardian was showered with praise.

When a court order demanded to know the source, instead of the editor going to prison on a fundamental principle of protecting a source, Tisdall was betrayed, prosecuted and served six months.

If Assange is extradited to America for publishing what the Guardian calls truthful “things”, what is to stop the current editor, Katherine Viner, following him, or the previous editor, Alan Rusbridger, or the prolific propagandist Luke Harding?

What is to stop the editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who also published morsels of the truth that originated with WikiLeaks, and the editor of El Pais in Spain, and Der Spiegel in Germany and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The list is long.

David McCraw, lead lawyer of the New York Times, wrote: “I think the prosecution [of Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers… from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and the law would have a very hard time distinguishing between the New York Times and WilLeaks.”

Even if journalists who published WikiLeaks’ leaks are not summoned by an American grand jury, the intimidation of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning will be enough. Real journalism is being criminalised by thugs in plain sight. Dissent has become an indulgence.

In Australia, the current America-besotted government is prosecuting two whistle-blowers who revealed that Canberra’s spooks bugged the cabinet meetings of the new government of East Timor for the express purpose of cheating the tiny, impoverished nation out of its proper share of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Their trial will be held in secret. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, is infamous for his part in setting up concentration camps for refugees on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, where children self harm and suicide. In 2014, Morrison proposed mass detention camps for 30,000 people.

Real journalism is the enemy of these disgraces. A decade ago, the Ministry of Defence in London produced a secret document which described the “principal threats” to public order as threefold: terrorists, Russian spies and investigative journalists. The latter was designated the major threat.

The document was duly leaked to WikiLeaks, which published it. “We had no choice,” Assange told me. “It’s very simple. People have a right to know and a right to question and challenge power. That’s true democracy.”

What if Assange and Manning and others in their wake – if there are others – are silenced and “the right to know and question and challenge” is taken away?

In the 1970s, I met Leni Reifenstahl, close friend of Adolf Hitler, whose films helped cast the Nazi spell over Germany.

She told me that the message in her films, the propaganda, was dependent not on “orders from above” but on what she called the “submissive void” of the public.

“Did this submissive void include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked her.

“Of course,” she said, “especially the intelligentsia…. When people no longer ask serious questions, they are submissive and malleable. Anything can happen.”

And did.

The rest, she might have added, is history.

The Prosecution Of Julian Assange Is A Threat To Journalists Everywhere

Supporters of Julian Assange gather outside Westminster Court after Assange’s arrest (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz for AFP-NurPhoto)

Take action to protect Julian AssangeClick here to read about what you can do.

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The arrest of Julian Assange not only puts the free press in the United States at risk, it puts any reporters who expose US crimes anywhere in the world at risk. As Pepe Escobar wrote

Let’s cut to the chase. Julian Assange is not a US citizen, he’s an Australian. WikiLeaks is not a US-based media organization. If the US government gets Assange extradited, prosecuted and incarcerated, it will legitimize its right to go after anyone, anyhow, anywhere, anytime.

The Assange prosecution requires us to build a global movement to not only free Julian Assange, but to protect the world from the crimes and corruption of the United States and other governments. The reality is that Freedom of Press for the 21st Century is on trial.

There are many opportunities for a movement to impact the outcome of this process and to free Julian Assange.  The extradition process includes political decisions by both the UK and US governments. Courts are impacted by public opinion. If courts are convinced this case is about political issues, extradition could be rejected.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen after was arrested by British police outside Westminster in a police van on his way to Magistrates Court in London, Britain April 11, 2019 (Photo by Peter Nicholls for Reuters)

Next Steps, Next Opportunities

Last week’s arrest begins the next phase of Assange’s defense as well as the defense of our right to know what governments do in our name. It may seem like this is now a matter only for the courts, but, in fact, the prosecution of Assange is political. The extradition case is not a hacking case, as the US is trying to present it; it is a prosecution about exposing war crimes, corporate corruption of US foreign policy and other violations of law by the United States and its allies. The government is trying to change the subject to avoid the facts that Assange exposed.

In fact, the indictment does not even allege hacking. As Glenn Greenwald writes: “the indictment alleges no such thing. Rather, it simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different username so that she could maintain her anonymity.” Assange lawyer Barry Pollack described why journalists everywhere are threatened: “The factual allegations … boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source. Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”

The extradition process is likely to last months, most likely more than a year. The Assange case could go into 2020 or beyond. Issues that could prevent extradition include Assange’s health conditions, human rights concerns, and whether there is a political motivation behind the US request. Not only can Assange appeal through the UK courts, but he may also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

While we should not limit our mobilizations to legal filings, hearings, appeals and administrative decisions, those are all opportunities to educate and mobilize people. The next court date on the extradition will be a preliminary hearing on May 2 where Assange will appear by video link.  Next, the United States must produce its case for requesting the extradition of Julian Assange from Britain by June 12.

These are just initial steps. Lawfare reports, “It may be years before Assange sees the inside of a U.S. courtroom. The initial Swedish request to extradite Assange from the U.K. came in November 2010. Assange successfully slowed the process until June 2012.”

Lawfare also points to the case of Lauri Love, who faced extradition for hacking US government computers. It took three years for the extradition case, and then Love raised health issues that would be impacted by a long sentence and  two years later, he won on appeal with the court ruling it would be “oppressive to his physical and mental condition.” Assange has also developed health issues over the last seven years of living in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Then, there is the case of another British hacker, Gary McKinnon, who was indicted in 2002. The extradition proceedings dragged on for a decade. In the end, then-Home Secretary Theresa May, withdrew the extradition order because of McKinnon’s diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and depression: “Mr. McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon’s human rights.”

That’s right, in one case the court ruled against extradition due to health issues, and the other, Theresa May (yes, the current prime minister) withdrew the extradition due to health reasons. Beyond health, there are other issues that could be persuasive in Assange’s case.

Someone cannot be extradited from the United Kingdom if the extradition is for “political purposes.” The US Department of Justice has tried to avoid the obvious politics of Assange’s case by alleging in the indictment that it is a hacking case. In reality, and everyone knows this reality, Assange is being prosecuted because he exposed war crimes including the wanton killing of journalists and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the violation of human rights in Guantanamo Bay and the corruption of US foreign policy by transnational corporations. These are the big elephants in the room that the United States is trying to hide.

The U.S. prison system is seen around the world as inhumane. The UN Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the US prisons on a number of issues, among them torture and the extensive use of solitary confinement. The U.S .uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, on any given day, at least 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the US. The US holds political prisoners in long-term solitary confinement as demonstrated by the imprisonment of black liberation activists who were held in solitary for decades. And whistleblowers have been held in solitary as was Chelsea Manning during her prosecution, including her most recent incarceration for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Assange. The European Court of Human Rights has prevented extradition to the U.S. from the U.K .in a case involving an alleged terrorist because of inhumane prison conditions.

The US put forward a flimsy indictment that even on its face did not prove the allegation of assisting Manning with the password to access secret documents. The US put forward this weak and relatively mild charge probably to make extradition easier. They sought to avoid the political issue, which could have stopped the extradition. But, they are skirting extradition law with this approach, and if they hit Assange with a superseding indictment when he is extradited, it would be a violation of the doctrine of specialty, which means a person can only face trial for offenses presented to justify that extradition.

Assange on steps of High Court in London, December 2010 (Photo by Stefan Wermuth for Reuters)

The Politics of the Assange Prosecution

The reality of the Assange prosecution being about his journalism is obvious to all. Those in the media making the claim that this is about hacking, know they are stretching the truth in order to side with the U.S. government. People should know media that make this claim cannot be trusted to report the truth.

The editor of White House Watch, Dan Froomkin, pulls the thin veil off of this lie writing: “Julian #Assange has been charged with conspiracy to commit journalism. The free press has not ducked a bullet here; it’s taken one to the chest.” The Assange prosecution is about the criminalization of journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists writes, the indictment would “criminalize normal journalistic activities.” This obvious truth will become more evident as the case proceeds and the movement educates the public and mobilizes support to free Assange.

Already, in USA Today, Jonathan Turley clarified what the prosecution is really about: “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be punished for embarrassing the DC establishment.” The “embarrassment” really is complicity against crimes that in an effective international judicial system would result in prosecution of US officials and members of the US military who committed them. And in a US justice system that sought justice, there would have been prosecutions of members of the military for torture and of lawyers providing legal cover for these actions.

The US election season is upon us and this presents opportunities for mobilization and making Assange’s case an election issue. One presidential candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, Tulsi Gabbard, has already come out against extradition. More candidates need to be urged to oppose extradition.

Candidates can be pressured from the outside as well. Green candidate, Howie Hawkins already wrote that he opposes extradition and urges people to defend Freedom of the Press. Hawkins is in the exploratory phase of a potential campaign. The Green Party has also published a statement that “unequivocally condemns the arrest of Julian Assange and calls for his immediate release.”

President Trump has kept his options open. Trump said in the Oval Office, that he “knows nothing” about the prosecution and “It’s not my thing.” Sean Hannity, a Trump media cheerleader has offered to let Assange host his show and reach his 15 million viewers. Assange is a wedge issue that divides Trump loyalists.

If the movement does its job and builds a national consensus against the prosecution of a publisher for reporting the truth, Trump may side with those in his voting base that is against extradition; and the leading Democratic candidates may also come out against prosecution and to protect a free press that reports crimes of the US government.

In the United Kingdom, things are in flux as well. While the next election is scheduled for 2022, the government is ever closer to being forced to hold an election as it is trapped in a Brexit quandary and showing its inability to govern. Jeremy Corbyn has already said, “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.” Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said Assange should not be extradited: “It is this whistleblowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale, that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US administration.” In the end, a new government could end the extradition as the Home Secretary can choose to reject the extradition.

There are also international politics impacted by the Assange prosecution. Assange’s lawyer Jen Robinson said “extradition will set a very dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists around the world.” This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States,

The US is seeking to prosecute a foreign reporter, working from a foreign country about US war crimes. What would happen if a US reporter wrote about crimes in a foreign country? Could that country prosecute a US journalist? That is the precedent the US is setting. And, how hypocritical for the US to seek to prosecute a foreign journalist in the same week that the US celebrated evading an investigation by the International Criminal Court of alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.

Free Assange protest outside of British Embassy in Washington DC from News2Share.com

Free Assange Campaign Will Be A Global Campaign For The Right To Know

At least five times, the UN, through various committees and special rapporteurs, has called on Assange not to be prosecuted or extradited to the United States. A campaign to stop the prosecution of Assange will build into a global movement because the US has created chaos and havoc around the world, and has killed more than a million people this century and made many millions into refugees.

The people of the world are impacted by the actions of the United States and they have a right to know what the United States is doing. The people of the US are told we live in a democracy, but there can be no democracy when the people are not allowed to know what the government is doing in our name.

Protests occurred immediately on the day Assange was arrested and continued this weekend. We have started a campaign to Free Assange. As people understand the dramatic implications of this prosecution, protests will grow. Daniel Ellsberg described this unprecedented prosecution as a threat to the future of the republic and said it was time “to join ranks here now to expose and resist the wrongful–and in this country unconstitutional–abuse of our laws to silence journalists.”

In court, Assange showed his defiance of the national security state, which seeks to destroy him, by sitting calmly in the dock, reading Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State and holding it up obviously to give everyone in court a view.  We must be in solidarity with that defiance and build the campaign that is needed to free Julian Assange.

The Destruction of Freedom: Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange And The Corporate Media

In 2010, US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning was given a 35-year prison sentence after she had leaked more than 700,000 confidential US State Department and Pentagon documents, videos and diplomatic cables about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks. Perhaps the most notorious of the releases was a US military video that WikiLeaks titled ‘Collateral Murder‘. It showed the indiscriminate slaying of up to eighteen people in Baghdad on 12 July, 2007. The footage, taken from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, showed the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters journalist and his rescuers. A second Reuters staff member, employed as a driver and camera assistant, was also killed. Two young children, whose father was among those killed, were seriously wounded.

The video, together with the transcript of army exchanges during the indiscriminate US killings, shocked many around the world:

Let’s shoot.
Light ’em all up.
Come on, fire!
Keep shoot, keep shoot. [keep shooting]
keep shoot.
keep shoot.
[…]
Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.
Nice.

While in prison, Manning twice attempted to commit suicide and also spent time in solitary confinement. She was released in 2017, after her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, two days before he left office.

On 8 March – International Women’s Day – Manning was once again jailed after she refused to testify against WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange, before a grand jury in Virginia. A grand jury means that the public is not allowed entry: the hearings are held in secret. She said in a statement:

I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury.

Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system.

I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.

Binoy Kampmark, who lectures at RMIT University in Melbourne, remarked:

The sense of dredging and re-dredging in efforts to ensnare Manning is palpable… There is a distinct note of the sinister in this resumption of hounding a whistleblower.

Kampmark added:

Manning’s original conviction was a shot across the bow, the prelude to something fundamental. Journalists long protected for using leaked material under the First Amendment were going to become future targets of prosecution.

Sending Manning back to jail shows:

the unequivocal determination of US authorities to fetter, if not totally neutralise, the reach of WikiLeaks in the modern information wars.

The famous whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 detailing US war crimes in Vietnam and US government lies to the public, told Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview:

This is a continuation of seven-and-a-half years of torture of Chelsea Manning, in an effort to get her to contribute to incriminating WikiLeaks, so that they can bring Julian Assange or WikiLeaks to trial on charges that would not apply to The New York Times. It’s been speculated for years now that the secret charges, if they did exist—and apparently they do exist—against Julian Assange were under the same charges that I was first—the first person to be prosecuted for, back in 1971: violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy and theft. It would be the same cases brought against me.

Ellsberg continued:

Unfortunately, bringing that against a journalist is even more blatantly a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of the press. And although Donald Trump has made it very plain he would love to prosecute and convict The New York Times, he doesn’t have the guts to do that, to do what he wants, fortunately, because it would be so obviously unconstitutional, that although his base would be happy with it and he would be happy with it, he would get into too much trouble constitutionally. So he wants to find charges against Julian that would be different from mine, because if he brought the same charges that he brought against me—in this case, against a journalist—it would clearly be found unconstitutional.’

He then pointed to the significance of this latest development:

And so, Chelsea, having failed to give them what they wanted over seven-and-a-half years here she was incarcerated, or since, or in the grand jury—namely, false incriminating charges against WikiLeaks—they’re resorting again to torture, which does work at getting false confessions. That’s what it’s for. That’s what it mainly does. They want her to contradict her earlier sworn testimony many times, that she behaved in relation to WikiLeaks exactly as she would have to The New York Times or The Washington Post, to whom she went first, before going to WikiLeaks. And they didn’t pick up on what she was offering, so she went to WikiLeaks. But she took sole responsibility, not to spare them, but because that was the truth. And she tells the truth.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to a series of Guardian and Washington Post articles based on documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, concurred that the real target is WikiLeaks:

The Trump administration is trying to do what the Obama administration tried to do but ultimately concluded it couldn’t do without jeopardizing press freedoms, which is to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for what it regards as the crime of publishing top-secret or classified documents.

Greenwald rightly called this attempt to go after WikiLeaks ‘a grave threat to press freedom’. However:

Most reporters are mute on this scandal, on this controversy, and while a lot of Democrats are supportive of it, because they still hate WikiLeaks so much from the 2016 election that they’re happy to see Julian Assange go to jail, even if it means standing behind the Trump administration.

The reference to the 2016 election is the allegation that WikiLeaks’ publication of emails from the Democratic Party and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman, brought about Trump’s victory. Assange had even supposedly conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s alleged Russian allies, to fatally damage Clinton’s 2016 campaign: charges that are without any solid basis.

The Courage Foundation, a trust set up to fundraise the legal defence of individuals such as whistleblowers and journalists, warns of the ‘Assange Precedent’; namely, the threat to all media posed by the Trump administration’s attempt to prosecute Julian Assange:

All media organizations and journalists must recognize the threat to their freedom and ability to work posed by the Trump Administration’s prosecution of Assange. They should join human rights organizations, the United Nations and many others in opposing Assange’s extradition. They should do so out of their own self-interest given that their ability to safely publish is under serious threat.

In December 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed that the WikiLeaks founder, whose health is deteriorating, has been arbitrarily detained since 2010, and that he should be freed and compensated. George Galloway rightly points out that:

It’s a kind of modern day torture that Julian Assange has been subjected to.

In November 2018, Assange’s mother made an urgent and impassioned plea to raise awareness of his plight:

This is not a drill. This is an emergency. The life of my son…is in immediate and critical danger.

On 18 March, Christine Assange renewed her appeal to journalists, in particular, to stand up for her son. Their record to date has been, in the main, shameful. We have previously detailed numerous examples of journalistic abuse, scorn and ridicule thrown at Assange, and WikiLeaks, notably by Guardian journalists. For instance, Hannah Parkinson, who writes for the Guardian and its sister Sunday paper, the Observer, tweeted this about Assange last year:

This little shit has lived rent free in Knightsbridge for 5 years, probably saved about £200k.

The tweet was ‘liked’ by John Simpson, the ‘impartial’ grandly-titled BBC World Affairs Editor who exudes gravitas, if little insight, on world affairs.

And in response to the news last October that Assange was to launch legal action against the government of Ecuador, accusing it of violating his fundamental rights and freedoms, Parkinson had tweeted:

A teenager whose parents turn the wifi off

This is par for the course at the Guardian whose journalists are regularly shamed by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange doing the real job of exposing power to public scrutiny. In 2015, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs had even mocked Chelsea Manning when she was put in solitary confinement:

And the world’s tiniest violin plays a sad song

That, however, did earn a mild rebuke in a tweet from Guardian editor Matt Wells. The tweets were subsequently deleted, but not before screenshots had been saved.

The disdain, sometimes outright hostility, towards WikiLeaks and Assange is also reflected in the minimal coverage, and distinct lack of support, for Chelsea Manning’s renewed incarceration. The Guardian merely published a brief article titled, ‘Chelsea Manning jailed for refusing to testify to grand jury in WikiLeaks case’. As WikiLeaks journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson pointed out:

Of the MSM [‘mainstream’ media] the @guardian benefitted most from material Chelsea Manning was sentenced for in 2013. You might expect a huge story on the yda [yesterday] jailing of @xychelsea [Chelsea Manning] to extort her to testify against Assange/@wikileaks. But nothing except a small AP [Associated Press] based story that quickly lost front.

Hrafnsson added:

Every day Chelsea Manning @xychelsea spends in jail for refusing to testify against Assange/@wikileaks adds shame to those journalists who remain silent about this disgrace. This applies especially to those who benefited most from her brave acts in the past. @guardian @nytimes

The Guardian had, of course, benefitted in publishing Greenwald’s work based on Manning’s releases via WikiLeaks; as well as book sales that were generated on the back of WikiLeaks’ work. In 2012, veteran journalist and filmmaker John Pilger wrote that the British government’s pursuit of Julian Assange was ‘an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism’. He described the corporate media’s treatment of Assange as ‘a vituperative personal campaign’:

Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover, has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.

A ProQuest newspaper database search on 19 March revealed that there were but four newspaper articles about the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning in the whole of the national print press: The Times, the Daily Mail, The Herald and the Daily Record (the latter two newspapers are based in Scotland). The Guardian article mentioned above, based on an Associated Press release, was published online; but not in the print version. There was also an online Telegraph piece which was also just a press release (by Agence France-Presse). As far as we could tell, there was not a single editorial or column in a major national newspaper defending Chelsea Manning, nor pointing to the grave danger to press freedom that her new incarceration posed. That is a disgraceful indictment of our so-called ‘free press’.

In an interview last week with Dennis Bernstein on Radio KPFA, John Pilger described the significance, and injustice, of the recent jailing of Chelsea Manning. The irony of her being imprisoned on International Women’s Day was first noted, then Pilger pointed to the shameful silence from the women’s movement, and other human rights activists:

Where are they [human rights activists] on Chelsea Manning? Why were there only ten people outside the Court House? Where is Amnesty International? Where are the women’s groups? Where are the LGBT groups? Where are the Pride people? Why aren’t they massing in support of Chelsea Manning? Instead I see Chelsea Manning’s story relegated in a sort of, “Oh well, that’s almost inevitable this is going to happen.” But this […] is the most significant act of principle; an inspiration to all decent people; to democrats, to people who believe in justice. So where are the groups who have been very loud in their condemnation – rightly – of Donald Trump? Where are they? Why are we not hearing from them?

Discussion then turned to the crushing reality that the corporate media is an extension of an oppressive establishment order:

Dennis Bernstein: Iit seems to me that journalists believe Chelsea Manning should be in jail. And that Julian Assange isn’t a publisher, and that he should be tried for treason because, after all, these journalists are patriots. They’re no reporters.

John Pilger: Well, I think I’ll stand back a little from that question a little, Dennis. I think we can go on and beat our heads on the media brick wall, and asking these questions on the media. The media is part of an oppressive system in various forms […]. It is an extension of the established order and these days it is without something it used to have, and that is spaces – limited spaces – but spaces for free and fair comment. Right across the corporate media these spaces have evaporated. So they are part of a system. They have shown this in a most grotesque way by the persecution of Julian Assange – the slandering of him, the distortion of the facts about his case.

Pilger, who is well-versed in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of the media, explained that it has already been clear for some considerable time how and why the corporate media operate in the way they do. It is now time for nonviolent direct action against the media that constantly promotes rapacious Western interests and erodes public freedoms:

It is certainly right for us to protest – and I think our protests against the media should be more of a direct action now: occupy their spaces, occupy their buildings, confront them.

Pilger added that ‘people who preserve human decency’ – the majority, that is – need to ask ourselves what we are doing about the ongoing state and corporate assault on freedom of expression; and, indeed, on freedom itself:

The Chelsea Manning/Julian Assange case goes to the very heart of everything. It is about freedom. It’s not just about freedom of expression. It is about justice. It is about the law: the use of law, the misuse of law. It is about right and wrong. If there is going to be any real debate, I think we have to confront it, and we have to do it on our terms; not through the hopeless cypher of a corporate media.

The corporate media is institutionally opposed to the interests of the vast majority of the public; that is why we reject the label ‘mainstream’. The corporate media including BBC News, systematically promotes imperialist and exploitative state interests, together with private power in the form of big business, financial speculation, military forces, the arms industry, the fossil fuel lobby, destructive agribusiness, unsustainable food production and rampant global consumerism that is destroying ecosystems, ramping up mass loss of species and endangering human survival through climate chaos. This oppressive system, with the corporate media a vital cog in the apparatus, must be exposed, confronted, dismantled and replaced with a society that truly promotes democracy, justice and human potential. It is up to us to make it happen before it’s too late.

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

The Witchfinders are now ready to burn Corbyn

“McCarthyism” is a word thrown around a lot nowadays, and in the process its true meaning – and horror – has been increasingly obscured.

McCarthyism is not just the hounding of someone because their views are unpopular. It is the creation by the powerful of a perfect, self-rationalising system of incrimination – denying the victim a voice, even in their own defence. It presents the accused as an enemy so dangerous, their ideas so corrupting, that they must be silenced from the outset. Their only chance of rehabilitation is prostration before their accusers and utter repentance.

McCarthyism, in other words, is the modern political parallel of the witch hunt.

In an earlier era, the guilt of women accused of witchcraft was tested through the ducking stool. If a woman drowned, she was innocent; if she survived, she was guilty and burnt at the stake. A foolproof system that created an endless supply of the wicked, justifying the status and salaries of the men charged with hunting down ever more of these diabolical women.

And that is the Medieval equivalent of where the British Labour party has arrived, with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson for anti-semitism.

Revenge of the Blairites

Williamson, it should be noted, is widely seen as a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who was propelled unexpectedly into the Labour leadership nearly four years ago by its members. His elevation infuriated most of the party’s MPs, who hanker for the return of the New Labour era under Tony Blair, when the party firmly occupied the political centre.

Corbyn’s success has also outraged vocal supporters of Israel both in the Labour party – some 80 MPs are stalwart members of Labour Friends of Israel – and in the UK media. Corbyn is the first British party leader in sight of power to prefer the Palestinians’ right to justice over Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinians.

For these reasons, the Blairite MPs have been trying to oust Corbyn any way they can. First through a failed re-run of the leadership contest and then by assisting the corporate media – which is equally opposed to Corbyn – in smearing him variously as a shambles, a misogynist, a sympathiser with terrorists, a Russian asset, and finally as an “enabler” of anti-semitism.

This last accusation has proved the most fruitful after the Israel lobby began to expand the definition of anti-semitism to include not just hatred of Jews but also criticism of Israel. Labour was eventually forced to accept a redefinition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that conflates anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s violent creation on the Palestinians’ homeland – with anti-semitism.

Guilt by association

Once the mud stuck through repetition, a vocal group of Labour MPs began denouncing the party for being “institutionally anti-semitic”, “endemically anti-semitic” and a “cesspit of anti-semitism”. The slurs continued relentlessly, even as statistics proved the accusation to be groundless. The figures show that anti-semitism exists only in the margins of the party, as racism does in all walks of life.

Meanwhile, the smears overshadowed the very provable fact that anti-semitism and other forms of racism are rearing their head dangerously on the political right.

But the witchfinders were never interested in the political reality. They wanted a never-ending war – a policy of “zero tolerance” – to root out an evil in their midst, a supposed “hard left” given succour by Corbyn and his acolytes.

This is the context for understanding Williamson’s “crime”.

Despite the best efforts of our modern witchfinder generals to prove otherwise, Williamson has not been shown to have expressed hatred towards Jews, or even to have made a comment that could be interpreted as anti-semitic.

One of the most experienced of the witchfinders, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, indulged familiar McCarthyite tactics yesterday in trying to prove Williamson’s anti-semitism by association. The MP was what Freedland termed a “Jew baiter” because he has associated with people whom the witchfinders decree to be anti-semites.

‘Too apologetic’

Shortly before he found himself formally shunned by media commentators and his own parliamentary party, Williamson twice confirmed his guilt to the inquisitors.

First, he dared to challenge the authority of the witchfinders. He suggested that some of those being hounded out of Labour may not in fact be witches. Or more specifically, in the context of constant claims of a Labour “anti-semitism crisis”, he argued that the party had been “too apologetic” in dealing with the bad-faith efforts of those seeking to damage a Corbyn-led party.

In other words, Williamson suggested that Labour ought to be doing more proactively to promote the abundant evidence that it was dealing with what he called the “scourge of anti-semitism”, and thereby demonstrate to the British public that Labour wasn’t “institutionally anti-semitic”. He believed Labour members ought not to be forced to keep quiet as they were being endlessly slandered.

As Jewish Voice for Labour, a Jewish group supportive of Corbyn, noted:

The flood of exaggerated claims of antisemitism make it harder to deal with any real instances of antisemitism. The credibility of well-founded allegations is undermined by the less credible ones and real perpetrators are more likely not to be held to account. Crying wolf is dangerous when there are real wolves around the corner. This was the reality that Chris Williamson was drawing attention to.

As with all inquisitions, however, the witchfinders were not interested in what Williamson actually said, but in the threat he posed to the narrative they have created to destroy their enemy, Corbynism, and reassert their own power.

So his words were ripped from their context and presented as proof that he did indeed support witches.

He was denounced for saying what he had not: that Labour should not apologise for its anti-semitism. In this dishonest reformulation of Williamson’s statement, the witchfinders claimed to show that he had supported anti-semitism, that he consorted with witches.

No screening for documentary

Second, Williamson compounded his crime by publicly helping just such a readymade witch: a black Jewish woman named Jackie Walker.

He had booked a room in the British parliament building – the seat of our supposed democracy – so that audiences could see a new documentary on an earlier Labour witch hunt. More than two years ago the party suspended Walker over anti-semitism claims.

The screening was to inform Labour party members of the facts of her case in the run-up to a hearing in which, given the current atmosphere, it is likely she will be expelled. The screening was sponsored by Jewish Voice for Labour, which has also warned repeatedly that anti-semitism is being used malevolently to silence criticism of Israel and weaken Corbyn.

Walker was seen as a pivotal figure by those opposed to Corbyn. She was a co-founder of Momentum, the grassroots organisation established to support Corbyn after his election to the leadership and deal with the inevitable fallout from the Blairite wing of MPs.

Momentum expected a rough ride from this dominant faction, and they were not disappointed. The Blairites still held on to the party machinery and they had an ally in Tom Watson, who became Corbyn’s deputy.

Walker was one of the early victims of the confected claims of an Labour “anti-semitism crisis”. But she was not ready to roll over and accept her status as witch. She fought back.

From lynching to witch hunt

First, she produced a one-woman show about her treatment at the hands of the Labour party bureaucracy – framed in the context of decades of racist treatment of black people in the west – called The Lynching.

And then her story was turned into a documentary film, fittingly called Witch Hunt. It sets out very clearly the machinations of the Blairite wing of MPs, and Labour’s closely allied Israel lobby, in defaming Walker as part of their efforts to regain power over the party.

For people so ostensibly concerned about racism towards Jews, these witchfinders show little self-awareness about how obvious their own racism is in relation to some of the “witches” they have hunted down.

But that racism can only be understood if people have the chance to hear from Walker and other victims of the anti-semitism smears. Which is precisely why Williamson, who was trying to organise the screening of Witch Hunt, had to be dealt with too.

Party in disrepute

Walker is not the only prominent black anti-racism activist targeted. Marc Wadsworth, another longtime ally of Corbyn’s, and founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance, was “outed” last year in another confected anti-semitism scandal. The allegations of anti-semitism were impossible to stand up publicly, so finally he was booted out on a catch-all claim that he had brought the party “into disrepute”.

Jews who criticise Israel and support Corbyn’s solidarity with Palestinians have been picked off by the witchfinders too, cheered on by media commentators who claim this is being done in the service of a “zero tolerance” policy towards racism. As well as Walker, the targets have included Tony Greenstein, Moshe Machover, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

But as the battle in Labour has intensified to redefine anti-Zionism as anti-semitism, the deeper issues at stake have come to the fore. Jon Lansman, another founder of Momentum, recently stated: “I don’t want any Jewish member in the party to be leaving. We are absolutely committed to making Labour a safe space.”

But there are a set of very obvious problems with that position, and they have gone entirely unexamined by those promoting the “institutional anti-semitism” and “zero tolerance” narratives.

Lobby’s covert actions exposed

First, it is impossible to be a home to all Jews in Labour, when the party’s Jewish members are themselves deeply split over key issues like whether Corbyn is a force for good and whether meaningful criticism of Israel should be allowed.

A fanatically pro-Israel organisation like the Jewish Labour Movement will never tolerate a Corbyn-led Labour party reaching power and supporting the Palestinian cause. To pretend otherwise is simple naivety or deception.

That fact was demonstrably proven two years ago in the Al Jazeera undercover documentary The Lobby into covert efforts by Israel and its UK lobbyists to undermine Corbyn from within his own party through groups like the JLM and MPs in Labour Friends of Israel. It was telling that the party machine, along with the corporate media, did its best to keep the documentary out of public view.

The MPs loudest about “institutional anti-semitism” in Labour were among those abandoning the party to join the Independent Group this month, preferring to ally with renegade Conservative MPs in an apparent attempt to frustrate a Corbyn-led party winning power.

Institutional racism on Palestinians

Further, if a proportion of Jewish Labour party members have such a heavy personal investment in Israel that they refuse to countenance any meaningful curbs on Israel’s abuses of Palestinians – and that has been underscored repeatedly by public comments from the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel – then keeping them inside the party will require cracking down on all but the flimsiest criticism of Israel. It will tie the party’s hands on supporting Palestinian rights.

In the name of protecting the “Israel right or wrong” crowd from what they consider to be anti-semitic abuse, Labour will have to provide institutional support for Israel’s racism towards Palestinians.

In doing so, it will in fact simply be returning to the status quo in the party before Corbyn, when Labour turned a blind eye over many decades to the Palestinians’ dispossession by European Zionists who created an ugly anachronistic state where rights accrue based on one’s ethnicity and religion rather than citizenship.

Those in Labour who reject Britain’s continuing complicity in such crimes – ones the UK set in motion with the Balfour Declaration – will find, as a result, that it is they who have no home in Labour. That includes significant numbers of anti-Zionist Jews, Palestinians, Muslims and Palestinian solidarity activists.

Safe space for whom?

If the creation of a “safe space” for Jews in the Labour party is code, as it appears to be, for a safe space for hardline Zionist Jews, it will inevitably require that the party become a hostile environment for those engaged in other anti-racism battles.

Stripped bare, what Lansman and the witchfinders are saying is that Zionist Jewish sensitivities in the party are the only ones that count, that anything and everything must be done to indulge them, even if it means abusing non-Zionist Jewish members, black members, Palestinian and Muslim members, and those expressing solidarity with Palestinians.

This is precisely the political black hole into which simplistic, kneejerk identity politics inevitably gets sucked.

Right now, the establishment – represented by Richard Dearlove, a former head of the MI6 – is maliciously trying to frame Corbyn’s main adviser, Seumas Milne, as a Kremlin asset.

While the witchfinders claim to have unearthed a “pattern of behaviour” in Williamson’s efforts to expose their smears, in fact the real pattern of behaviour is there for all to see: a concerted McCarthyite campaign to destroy Corbyn before he can reach No 10.

Corbyn’s allies are being picked off one by one, from grassroots activists like Walker and Wadsworth to higher-placed supporters like Williamson and Milne. Soon Corbyn will stand alone, exposed before the inquisition that has been prepared for him.

Then Labour can be restored to the Blairites, the members silenced until they leave and any hope of offering a political alternative to the establishment safely shelved. Ordinary people will again be made passive spectators as the rich carry on playing with their lives and their futures as though Britain was simply a rigged game of Monopoly.

If parliamentary politics returns to business as usual for the wealthy, taking to the streets looks increasingly like the only option. Maybe it’s time to dust off a Yellow Vest.

Can Maduro Emulate Castro and Assad to Keep NATO’s Imperialist Hands Off Venezuela?

(Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr., Task Force Currahee Public Affairs Office)

Imperial logic I: External crises distract from internal ones

Empires with internal problems tend to create external crises to distract the public opinion and unite their political and economical ruling class in a fictitious nationalistic fervor. The current United States policy of overt regime change in Venezuela, backed entirely by its NATO vassals, follows an evergreen imperial playbook of creating new crises to obscure failures and divisions.

In addition to the administration’s overall incompetence, the legal investigations through the Mueller inquiry, and the failure to deliver to its MAGA sycophants their big wall, it has passed unnoticed, and it will never be admitted by US officials or media that the US imperial wars in Afghanistan and Syria are, in fact, lost. Assad will remain in power, and the US administration has publicly admitted that it was negotiating with the Taliban. The temptation for the empire’s ideologues is too strong not to follow the precept: when you have lost a war, you declare victory and you leave. And next time around, you try to pick a weaker target.

Archive of Jakob Reimann

Imperial logic II: A state of war must be permanent

A prime example of this in recent history was the way the events of September 11, 2001 were used internally to justify the emergence of a police state, using far-reaching legislation like the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Externally, 911 was successfully used by the US to trigger, almost immediately, an invasion of Afghanistan with the entire NATO membership under the hospice of the military alliance’s Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This was the very first time, since the creation of NATO in 1949, that Article 5 was put into force.

With the US public opinion still largely revengeful, misinformed by media manipulations, and eager to wage war, two years later, in 2003, it was fairly simple for the Bush administration and its neocons to sell the invasion of Iraq as a war of necessity, and not for what it truly was: a war of choice, for oil and greater control of the Middle East. Cynically, the aftermath of 9/11/2001 gave the empire and its powerful military-industrial complex two wars for the price of one.

Archive of Dawei Ding

Imperial logic III: People are collateral damage of realpolitiks

Great moral principles of altruistic universal humanitarian concerns are almost never at stake in these instances. They are mainly smoke screens to hide the board of a cold, Machiavellian, and complex chess game where innocent bystanders often perish by the millions. They are the acceptable collateral damage of realpolitik’s grand strategists. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the true guiding principle of US imperial realpolitik, and all US foreign policy decisions that derived from it, was to stop the so-called communist domino effect.

Communist domino effect: three simple words for a game that killed millions of innocent people worldwide, first in Korea in the early 1950s, then in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, and later, under the tutelage of some of the very same criminal architects, in Central and South American countries like Chile. Now in their golden years, most of these murderous policymakers, like Henry Kissinger, enjoy an active retirement with honors, respect and, unlike their colleague Robert McNamara, not a hint of remorse.

One of these policymakers, a veteran of US imperialism in Central America and also one of the staunchest advocates of Iraq’s invasion in 2003, has made a come back. He is neocon extraordinaire Elliot Abrams. Abrams has been rewarded for his actions in the Iran-Contra affair, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with a nomination as Special Envoy of the Trump administration for Venezuela. In other words, Abrams is in charge of the US-sponsored coup task force against Venezuela’s legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro.

Archive of Lezumbalaberenjena

Defeating imperial logic: The Cuban and Syrian lessons

There are many others examples in history where in a David versus Goliath fight, the little guy who, on paper, did not stand a chance eventually through sheer determination, organization and vast popular support, won on the battlefield. Vietnam is obviously a special case in this regard, as the Vietcong of Ho Chi Minh managed to defeat, almost back to back, the old colonial masters of the French empire in the 1950s, and, of course. soon thereafter, the US empire.

In the early 1960s, during the Cuban missile crisis, Castro’s days seemed to be numbered. More recently, in Syria, all the lips of the NATO coalition, Israel and Gulf State allies were chanting in unison that as a precondition for resolving the Syrian crisis, “Assad must go!” By 2017, however, some coalition members such as Qatar, France and Germany were not so adamant about the “Assad must go” mantra. Not only did Bashar al-Assad not go, but also, as matter of fact, he is regaining control of his entire country, on his own terms.

AFP PHOTO/www.cubadebate.cu/

Castro outsmarted the empire’s CIA hitmen 600 times

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, had in Fidel Castro a source of inspiration and the guidance of a father figure. Chavez, like other neo-Marxists, looked up to Fidel for leading a successful revolution, through military action, which had toppled the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. This regime was not only a docile servant of the US government but was also directly associated with the Mafia’s criminal activities in Cuba in the era of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. With Batista’s complicity, American gangsters had turned Cuba into a gambling and prostitution paradise where the US’ unscrupulous rich went to play. Castro shut down the bordello that had become Cuba and proudly rebuilt his island, and he consciously set out to transform Cuba slowly and steadily into a socialist country.

Needless to say, the shutdown of their depraved and lucrative tropical paradise was unacceptable for the US empire’s ruling elites. Against all odds, the Cuban communist leader managed to defy one US administration after another, and without compromise remained at the helm of the Cuban revolution. It was not for a lack of trying either to invade Cuba, as in the Bay of Pigs botched invasion episode, or to cook up countless assassination attempts on Castro’s person. Starting almost immediately after he took power in 1959, Castro was the target of CIA assassination attempts. From the Kennedy era all the way to the Clinton administrations, Fidel Castro survived more than 600 plots to kill him. Some of the attempts involved collaborations of the Mafia with the CIA. Castro once said, “if surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal!” It has to be added that, at least so far, Fidel Castro has also won a posthumous gold medal for ensuring the legacy of the Cuban revolution.

Damascus, Syria. 15th March 2012 — Loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad attend the rally at the Umayyad Square and hold the Syrian flag and a picture of Bashar al-Assad.

Assad: military might and striking the right alliances

Almost eight years ago, some people in quiet mansions, regal palaces or discrete offices in Washington, Riyadh, Doha, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv or undisclosed locations came up with what appeared to be an excellent plan. They would hijack some of the genuine energy of the Arab Spring then quickly sponsor it with a huge arsenal, while hiring some supposed good Djihadists soldiers-of-fortune as the main muscle to get rid of the uncooperative Bashar al-Assad. In what I called in May 2013, an “unholy alliance to wreck and exploit,” the Western and Gulf States coalition to topple Assad was born. In the US, the late Senator John McCain was one of the cheerleaders of the so-called Free Syrian Army.

Eight years later, with Syria in ruins, 350,000 people dead, around 4.5 million refugees still scattered principally in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, Assad has prevailed in a bittersweet victory, considering that his country has been wrecked as a battleground for proxy wars. Bashar al-Assad did not win on his own. He managed to retain complete loyalty from the Syrian army during the past eight gruesome years. Assad also could count on the military involvement of dependable allies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran and, of course, a critical impact of Russia once Putin’s administration decided to commit military assets and troops.

Maduro can keep Uncle Sam’s hands off Venezuela

One can only hope that Venezuela’s US-sponsored coup attempt using the subterfuge of a phony revolution does not follow the track of Syria in terms of the mayhem. However, the analogies are numerous between Maduro’s situation today and that of Assad in 2011. First, Maduro has at his disposal a reasonably well-equipped military as well as the Chavista militia. To defeat the unfolding coup attempt, the loyalty of the armed forces has to be ironclad. Second, just as Assad has done, Maduro must work to cultivate, in pragmatic ways, both regional and worldwide alliances.

Cuba will do a lot to help and might turn out to be Maduro’s Hezbollah. But will Mexico, Bolivia, and Uruguay go beyond diplomatic posturing in their solidarity with Maduro against NATO’s imperialism? How involved and how far, either economically or, in a worse-case scenario, militarily are Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran willing to go? In geopolitics, unlike diplomacy, only actions talk. Venezuela has a massive bargaining chip in the form of the mostly untapped biggest oil reserve in the world. This is Maduro’s ultimate ace in this game, and it should be used shrewdly. In realpolitiks, friends might be temporary, and they always want something. This is not an altruistic environment.

The Attack on Facebook is not for our Benefit

It’s some achievement to get me sympathising with Mark Zuckerberg. But denunciations from a powerful combination of a parliamentary committee in the UK and self-appointed watchdogs of the new media like the Guardian almost managed it.

The digital, culture, media and sport select committee finally published a damning report into Facebook after an 18-month investigation, as reported today by the Guardian.

The solutions demanded by the committee, however, are intended not to make Facebook and new media more accountable, as the report claims, but to reassert the dominance of the British state in surveilling the public and revive the declining fortunes of the more trusted old media corporations, the Guardian very much included.

And lurking behind it all is the terror of the political-media class at the spread of a new kind of political insurgency – a rejection of the current status quo for war and neoliberal pillage – given voice on new media platforms that is readily dismissed, by both the committee and the Guardian, as “fake news”.

What is really at issue becomes clear the moment one starts to unpick the report. It intentionally conflates three entirely different problems, muddling them together to win support for all three.

The aim is to hammer Facebook into submission, not for our benefit – as is desperately needed – but so that the state and media establishment can “take back control”.

Let’s look at the report’s conclusions.

First, it rightly accuses Facebook of being “digital gangsters”, harvesting private information so that it can be sold. Facebook, the committee warns, has been monetising our private lives.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states.

It hardly needs pointing out that Facebook is a for-profit company that specialises in accumulating information, the details of our lives we willingly hand over.

It was inevitable that a global company providing a digital platform for sharing information between friends would get greedy and share that same information privately with those who wish to exploit us, whether commercially or politically.

Until data-sharing companies arose, the state and its security services had a near-monopoly on such covert surveillance. Think of all those CCTV cameras dotted along the high street. Or watch an episode of TV show The Hunted, where former police officers quickly hunt down members of the public on the run.

The parliamentary report sounds much less like a clarion call for our privacy to be respected than a threat to Facebook from the establishment over such information being spread around too much.

Because when this kind of data becomes too accessible, you risk unpredictable outcomes, like a Dominic Cummings using it to engineer victory in the Brexit referendum. And who knows, if this carries on, one day the Scottish nationalists might find a way to win independence from London rule.

Second, the committee is exercised by the fact that Facebook has created “market dominance” for itself to “crush rivals” and is “shutting them out of its systems to prevent them from competing with Facebook or its subsidiaries”.

Hmm, doesn’t that sound exactly like what companies are supposed to do in our neoliberal capitalist societies? After all, if we turn our attention to the old media for a moment, hasn’t Rupert Murdoch been allowed to create “market dominance”? Doesn’t he seek to “crush rivals”? Don’t all large companies try to “shut out” competitors? Why is it so bad only when Zuckerberg, does it?

Or is this not really about “market dominance”, but about a young upstart social media corporation replicating the economic models of the old media giants and nudging them into the long grass?

The problem is not that Facebook has market dominance, but that our economies are nowadays premised solely on the idea that a tiny number of corporations gain market dominance. Let’s challenge that idea, not single out Facebook.

Third, we get to the nub of what this is all about. The giveaway is in the report’s remit, as explained by the Guardian: it was set up in response to concerns “about the influence of false information and its ability to spread unscrutinised on social media”. Or as the paper describes it more pithily elsewhere, the committee was investigating “disinformation and fake news”.

The goal here is not just to ensure that the state regains control over our private information and that the old media regain their commercial  advantage.

More importantly still, the goal is that both get to control the political agenda, the ideological narrative. All that fearmongering about “Kremlin bots” and “fake news” on social media is designed to curtail dissidents voices, those who demur from the centrist – warmongering, planet-destroying, neoliberal – consensus.

The critical left – anything to the left of the Blairites, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – are being presented as politically toxic as the white-supremacist right. Both are viewed as equally a threat, as evidence of a dangerous populism, as the wild weeds sown by “fake news”.

The committee report is simply the latest hammer blow against the new media, with Facebook most prominent, to bring it into line, to fully subordinate it to the traditional political and media class.

Tom Watson, the Labour party’s deputy leader, and the man best placed to stab Corbyn in the back should the right moment arrive, is not even shy of making that clear: “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him [Zuckerberg] and his company into line.”

Facebook, of course, has no ideological objections to complying. It does not care about freedom of speech, or pluralism, only about its image and market position.

Karim Palant, the company’s UK public policy manager, happily responded: “We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform.”

What holds it back from full compliance is not the damage that will be inflicted on our political freedoms from a crackdown on dissident views, or “fake news”, but the the economic pain it will incur if it hands back control of the digital data it has amassed.

Counterpunch Shadowboxes and Loses

In a fair boxing match, opponents enter the ring with similarly padded gloves and battle under the bright lights for the world to see.  There are, of course, cases where one fighter cheats, as in the infamous case in 1983 when Luis Resto wore weakly padded gloves and hand wraps hardened with plaster to make them rock solid.  His opponent, Billy Collins, an up-and-coming boxer from Tennessee with a 14-0 record, was permanently and very seriously injured in the fight at Madison Square Garden. His eyes were battered shut and his vision damaged. He never fought again and died depressed the following year at age twenty-two.

In the fight for truth in the public arena, similar subterfuges occur.

To battle honestly in the open forum, to argue to and fro squarely, is often prevented in advance by eliminating an opponent’s voice from the debate.  This is the typical method used by the corporate mass media that stack the deck with sycophants and refuse dissidents a place to voice their ideas.

Then there is the masquerade of fighting an opponent who is really a collaborator and benefactor, whose punches one counters in a game of shadow boxing meant to convince the audience that the fight is real and you are on their side.  Some alternative media use this technique because they are gatekeepers for the power elite.

Sometimes this ruse is so blatant that the fix becomes transparent because the smart-asses who play this game screw up, yet they still expect their real opponents to shut up and walk away because their fixer’s mantra  is “Never apologize, never explain.”  It has always been the code of the rich and powerful.

Some are brawlers, however, and fight back against this bullshit.

The well-known leftist website Counterpunch is an example of the “never apologize, never explain” school.  A number of writers and journalists who have published many pieces at Counterpunch have been banned from this site in recent years without an explanation, Andre Vltchek and C.J. Hopkins being two who crossed an invisible boundary the Shadow had drawn and were never again published by Counterpunch. Others, smelling an odd odor, have walked away. The numbers are growing.

I’ve recently seen Counterpunch shadowbox and the Shadow won.

On January 29, 2019, I published an article highly critical of the CIA (The CIA Then and Now: Old Wine in New Bottles) that was posted at Global Research. Lew Rockwell picked it up the next day.  Dissident Voice also posted it on the 30th.  Then The Unz Review published it on January 31, 2019. Four ideologically diverse websites that saw value in a harsh and complicated critique of the spy agency. Other sites would also publish it in the following days, including Off-Guardian.  After the piece appeared, I received an email from the editor of Counterpunch, Jeffrey St Clair, telling me that he too was going to publish this article on Friday, February 1, for Counterpunch’s weekend edition. I had written a few dozen pieces that Counterpunch had published and had a very cordial relationship with St Clair.  In fact, when I was in Rome in 2018, he had asked me to place a stone for him on Keats’ and Shelley’s graves when I visited the cemetery where they were buried.  I did that, and my wife took photos that I sent to him.  All was copacetic.  Buddies.  High fives!

On February 1, 2019, shortly after midnight Eastern time (12:02 AM), Counterpunch published my piece for their weekend edition where articles remain for three days.  When I awoke at 4 A.M., I saw it.  Then at 8 A. M., when I arrived at the college where I teach, I again saw it.  At 11 A.M., when I had finished teaching a few classes, I looked again and it had disappeared.  Transitive verb: Counterpunch had disappeared it. Eliminated it. Scratched it. Excised it.

All the other numerous articles remained.  Only mine was gone.  At first I thought it was a mistake.  But as the day wore on I wondered.  So I emailed St Clair and asked my buddy what had happened.  As compatriots don’t do, he did not reply.  But I assumed he was busy, as I am, and gets many emails. So I waited.  When I emailed him again, there was no reply.  A third very cordial email three days later went unanswered.

Unlike Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, I am no longer waiting.  No reply is coming, and St Clair isn’t Godot, or on second thought he may be, a chimerical leftist gatekeeper enticing Counterpunch’s followers to wait forever for a revelation that isn’t coming.  Like his mentor and the founder of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn, who was so fond of excoriating as “idiots” and “conspiracy nuts” anyone questioning the JFK assassination or the attacks of September 11, 2001 – two fundamental issues that only believers in official government conspiracy theories such as Cockburn could dismiss – St Clair seems similarly dismissive of explaining why a writer’s critique of the CIA would deserve to be eliminated after being published.  As if only an idiot would want to know.

However, any reasonable person would ask: Why would he not respond?  St Clair, the editor-in-chief, published the piece and then disappeared it after 10-11 hours?  This is highly unusual, to put it mildly. Unprecedented for the so-called left-wing alternative media. It is the kind of thing when done by the mainstream corporate media would be denounced and exposed as censorship.  Not publishing an article is a publication’s prerogative, of course, but what could cause one to eliminate an article highly critical of the CIA after people had ten or so hours to read it, and since the author and editor had a very cordial relationship up to that point and the editor had days to read it carefully?

One doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realize that someone objected to the piece.  But who could that be?  If it were St Clair’s managing editor, Joshua Frank, twenty years his junior (the two run the operation), then St Clair could have explained to me why, since we were on good terms.  I wouldn’t have liked it and argued my points, but at least we could have cordially agreed to disagree.  But the Frank possibility makes no sense, for a managing editor would be intimately involved in the publishing process that was completed the previous day in time for the very early Friday A.M. postings.  And in any case, St Clair is in charge.

Clearly an outside reader objected.  The question is: Who is that reader who could exert such control over a publication that promotes itself as one that “Tells the Facts, Names the Names”?  A publication that is considered radically leftist and in opposition to the ruling elites.

Okay, Counterpunch, would you name the name of the shadowy one who won this fight?

Venezuela Blitz: Tyrants Don’t Have Free Elections

In our new book, we describe a ‘Propaganda Blitz’ as a fast-moving campaign to persuade the public of the need for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ furthering elite interests. Affecting great moral outrage, corporate media line up to insist that a watershed moment has arrived – something must be done!

A classic propaganda blitz was triggered on January 23, when Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself ‘interim President’. This was presented as dramatic new evidence that the people of Venezuela had finally had enough of Nicolas Maduro’s ‘regime’.

In reporting this news the following day, the BBC website featured a disturbing graphic of a captive with arms tied behind his back being tortured. The caption read:

Inside Venezuela’s secret torture centre

The image linked to a complex interactive piece that allowed readers to explore the torture centre. There was also a long report on the same centre. The interactive report included this statement by a former prisoner, Rosmit Mantilla:

In a country like Venezuela there’s no difference between being in or out of prison. You are equally persecuted and mistreated, and you can die either way.

Venezuela, then, is a giant gulag. The interactive piece had clearly taken a good deal of time and effort to produce – odd that it should appear on the same day that news of Guaidó’s coup attempt was reported. The BBC followed this up with a piece on January 25 openly promoting ‘regime’ change:

Venezuela’s Maduro “could get Amnesty”

Self-declared leader Guaidó also appeals to the powerful army, after receiving foreign backing.

In fact, Guaidó, also received foreign rejection from China, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Syria and Iran. On January 29, the BBC front page headline read:

Venezuela, “living under dictatorship”

The opposition leader tells the BBC President Maduro has abused power, and renews calls for polls.

Echoing the BBC’s ‘amnesty’ front page story, the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, also talked up the merits of the coup:

It seems clear that Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, has the backing of many if not most Venezuelans.

A remarkable claim, given that George Ciccariello-Maher reported in The Nation that an opinion poll in Venezuela conducted between January 7-16 had found that 81 per cent of Venezuelans had never heard of Juan Guaidó. But then this is the same Simon Tisdall who wrote in 2011:

The risky western intervention had worked. And Libya was liberated at last.

The Guardian may currently be Guaidó’s greatest UK cheerleader. After the opposition leader gave the paper an exclusive interview, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook tweeted:

Extraordinary even by the Guardian’s standards. Juan Guaido, the CIA’s pick to lead a coup against Venezuela’s govt, gives the paper one of his first interviews – and it simply acts as a conduit for his propaganda. It doesn’t even pretend to be a watchdog’

On February 1, Cook added:

Oh look! Juan Guaido, the figurehead for the CIA’s illegal regime-change operation intended to grab Venezuela’s oil (as John Bolton has publicly conceded), is again presented breathlessly by the Guardian as the country’s saviour’

The BBC continues to administer a daily dose of propaganda. On January 31, the big morning news story was:

Venezuela opposition “speaking to army”

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó says his team has held talks with the army about regime change

As we noted, if a US version of Guaidó made that admission in public, he would soon be paid a visit by Navy Seals, perhaps shot on the spot and dumped at sea, or bundled away to a life on death row for probable later execution.

On February 4, the front page of the BBC website featured a heroic picture of Guaido’s mother kissing her son on the forehead at a protest rally. Sombre, stoic, the saviour’s head appears bowed by the weight of the hopes and expectations of his people (people who, until recently, had no idea who he was and had never voted for him). This was a pure propaganda image. More will certainly follow. We discussed earlier BBC efforts here.

“Tyranny” as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

The BBC, of course, is not alone in promoting the view that Venezuela is a ‘dictatorship’. The Times offered a typically compassionate ‘view on Venezuelan protests against Maduro’:

Paradise lost – A ruthless dictator has driven his people to the brink.

The reference to ‘paradise lost’ recalled a famously foolish remark on Venezuela made by BBC journalist John Sweeney in the Literary Review in 2013:

The country should be a Saudi Arabia by the sea; instead the oil money has been pissed away by foolish adventurism and unchecked corruption.

Apart from any obvious issues of head-chopping tyranny, the fact is that Saudi Arabia is ‘by the sea’.

The Economist focused on:

How to hasten the demise of Venezuela’s dictatorship

Recognising an interim president instead of Nicolás Maduro is a start.

The Mail on Sunday wrote of the ‘despot of Venezuela’. In the Telegraph, Ross Clark discussed ‘brutal dictatorships like Venezuela and Zimbabwe’. The editors of the Sun appeared to be holding a vigil for the suffering people of Venezuela:

We hope too that Venezuelans finally topple Nicolas Maduro, the crooked hard-left tyrant Corbyn once congratulated, and rebuild their economy.

The Sun’s Westminster correspondent Kate Ferguson reported that John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, was backing ‘the hard-left Venezuelan despot Nicolas Maduro’. The Express wrote of ‘the corrupt regime in Venezuela’.

Writing in The Australian, Walter Russell Mead observed that ‘dictator Nicolas Maduro clings to power’.1

Under the title, ‘Venezuelan spring,’ Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

The latest Venezuelan effort to topple dictator Nicolas Maduro is a pivotal moment in Latin American history…

The Guardian habitually uses the term ‘regime’ to signal the illegitimacy of the Maduro government.

An emotional Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan – who once worked as a trader of oil and refined products, initially with Royal Dutch Shell, and who, in 1989, set up Harcourt Consultants, which advises on oil and gas matters – told Parliament:

The UK and our partners cannot and will not stand by and allow the tyranny of Maduro’s regime to continue. He has caused endless suffering and oppression to millions of his own people…

The people of Venezuela do not need the weasel words of a letter to The Guardian, from assorted Stalinists, Trotskyists, antisemites and, apparently, dead people, and also from members of Labour’s Front Bench. What they need is our solidarity with the legitimate, elected, social democratic president of the National Assembly: interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.

Writing in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn commented in September 2016:

Sir Alan does have a long record of befriending the Gulf monarchies, informing a journalist in July that Saudi Arabia “is not a dictatorship”.

Sir Alan tweeted:

The dictatorial abuses of Nicolás Maduro in #Venezuela have led to the collapse of the rule of law and human misery and degradation.

We replied:

How much human misery and degradation did *you* cause by voting for war on oil-rich Iraq in 2003 and by supporting oil-rich Saudi tyrants attacking famine-stricken Yemen? Your compassion for the people of oil-rich Venezuela is completely and utterly fake.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tweeted:

We stand with the people of #Venezuela as they seek to build a better life. We cannot ignore the suffering or tyranny taking place in this proud nation. Neither should other countries who care about freedom and prosperity.

Political analyst Charles Shoebridge commented:

Now speaking of “US standing with the people of #Venezuela against tyranny”, when just days ago he was also speaking of the US standing with US allied repressive tyrannies such as UAE Saudi Arabia Bahrain.

Glenn Greenwald made the same point, adding:

I’d have more respect for the foreign policy decrees of US officials if they’d just admit what everyone knows – “we want to change this country’s government to make it better serve our interests” – rather than pretending they give the slightest shit about Freedom & Democracy.

Writing on the Grayzone website, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal describe how:

Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization.

Almost entirely overlooked in ‘mainstream’ coverage, the New York Times reported last September:

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.

Associated Press reported last week:

The coalition of Latin American governments that joined the U.S. in quickly recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president came together over weeks of secret diplomacy that included whispered messages to activists under constant surveillance and a high-risk foreign trip by the opposition leader challenging President Nicolas Maduro for power, those involved in the talks said.

In mid-December, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition’s strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro’s expected swearing-in for a second term on Jan. 10 in the face of widespread international condemnation, according to exiled former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an ally.

Labour MP, Chris Williamson, virtually a lone honest voice on this issue in the UK Parliament, commented:

Donald Trump, who received nearly 3m fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, throws his weight behind a guy [Guaidó] who didn’t even stand in last year’s Venezuelan presidential election and UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, gives Trump his servile support

Williamson was impressively rational in this interview with Going Underground. Sir Alan remains unimpressed, commenting shamefully of Williamson in Parliament:

I’m astonished he’s even been prepared to show his face in this House today.

Lack of Free Elections as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

As we have seen, the corporate media’s first great reason for opposing Maduro is that he is a ruthless ‘dictator’. This label is credible only if he prevents free elections, which, of course, are intolerable to any self-respecting tyrant.

Again, corporate media are as one in their opinion. The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Tom Phillips, writes that Maduro was ‘re-elected last May in a vote widely seen as fraudulent’. The ‘impartiality’ of Phillips’ reporting on Venezuela is clear even from the tweet ‘pinned’ to his Twitter feed:

It is 20 years since Hugo Chávez’s election kicked off his ill-fated Bolivarian dream.

A Guardian editorial noted that Maduro had won a ‘dodgy presidential vote boycotted by the opposition’. The Economist went further: ‘The election he won in May was an up-and-down fraud.’ Ross Clark in the Telegraph:

Opposition politicians have been jailed, while observers in last May’s election reported inflated vote tallies.

The Observer editors opined on January 27:

Nicolás Maduro was re-elected Venezuela’s president last May by fraudulent means, as regional governments and independent observers noted at the time, and his leadership lacks legitimate authority.

Echoing its positions on earlier ‘regime change’ efforts that brought utter catastrophe to Iraq and Libya, the Observer added:

Given this grim record, Venezuela would be well rid of him and the sooner the better. If Maduro truly has the people’s best interests at heart, he should recognise that he has become an obstacle to national renewal – and step aside.

Venezuela needs ‘national renewal’, or ‘modernisation’ in Blairspeak. Like the Guardian, the Observer then insisted that reasonable options ’emphatically do not include US intervention in Venezuela’. Nobody should be fooled by this apparent anti-war sentiment. US media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR made the point:

I love this thing where nominal leftists run the propaganda ball for bombing a country 99 yards then stop at the one yard and insist they don’t support scoring goals, that they in fact oppose war.

A further prime example of propaganda ball-running was supplied by The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan:

I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.

Beyond the ‘mainstream’, credible voices have argued that last May’s elections were free and fair. Human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, writing for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, commented:

I just returned from observing my fourth election in Venezuela in less than a year. Jimmy Carter has called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and what I witnessed was an inspiring process that guarantees one person, one vote, and includes multiple auditing procedures to ensure a free and fair election.

I then came home to the United States to see the inevitable “news” coverage referring to Venezuela as a “dictatorship” and as a country in need of saving. This coverage not only ignores the reality of Venezuela, it ignores the fact that the U.S. is the greatest impediment to democracy in Venezuela, just as the U.S. has been an impediment to democracy throughout Latin America since the end of the 19th century.

More than 150 members of the international electoral accompaniment mission for the elections published four independent reports. Their members ‘include politicians, electoral experts, academics, journalists, social movement leaders and others’. The mission’s General Report concluded:

We the international accompaniers consider that the technical and professional trustworthiness and independence of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela are uncontestable.

The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America, a grouping of electoral technicians from across the continent, many of whom have presided over electoral agencies, commented:

The process was successfully carried out and that the will of the citizens, freely expressed in ballot boxes, was respected…the results communicated by the National Electoral Council reflect the will of the voters who decided to participate in the electoral process.

The African Report:

Our general evaluation is that this was a fair, free, and transparent expression of the human right to vote and participate in the electoral process by the Venezuelan people, and that the results announced on the night of May 20 are trustworthy due to the comprehensive guarantees, audits, the high tech nature of the electoral process, and due to the thirteen audits carried out previous to and on the day of elections which we witnessed.

We can also conclude that the Venezuelan people who chose to participate in the electoral process of May 20 were not subject to any external pressures.

And also the Caribbean Report:

The mission was satisfied that the elections were conducted efficiently in a fair and transparent manner. All of the registered voters who wanted to exercise their right to vote participated in a peaceful and accommodating environment. Based on the process observed, the mission is satisfied that the results of the elections reflect the will of the majority of the voters in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

If all of this has been ignored in the current debate, it is because corporate media, in fact, do not care about free elections in Venezuela.

Consider the elections held in Iraq on January 30, 2005. On the BBC’s main evening news that month, reporter David Willis talked of ‘the first democratic election in fifty years’.2  A Guardian leader referred to ‘the country’s first free election in decades’. The Times, the Financial Times, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Independent, the Express, the Mirror, the Sun and numerous other media repeated the same claim hailing Iraq’s great ‘democratic election’.

But this was all nonsense. Iraq was not just under illegal, superpower occupation; invading armies were waging full-scale war against the Iraqi resistance. Just weeks before the election, Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people, was virtually razed to the ground by US-UK forces. Six weeks before the election, the UN reported of the city that, ’70 per cent of the houses and shops were destroyed and those still standing are riddled with bullets.’ A quarter of a million people had been displaced from this one city alone by the onslaught. One year later, The Lancet reported 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion.

There was obviously no question of a free election under these lawless, extremely violent conditions. The corporate press was not the least bit interested or concerned. Indeed, our search of the LexisNexis media database at the time of the elections showed that there had not been a single substantive analysis of the extent of press freedom in Iraq under occupation anywhere in the UK press over the previous six months. And yet the media were all but unanimous in describing the elections as free and fair.

• Part 2 coming soon

  1. Walter Russell Mead, ‘Moscow savours latest Latin American crisis to destabilise region,’ The Australian, 31 January 2019.
  2. Willis, BBC News at Ten, January 10, 2005.