Category Archives: Media Criticism

Mark Field and the Danger of Getting Sidetracked

I really do not wish to write about Mark Field, the British government minister who assaulted a climate change activist this week, grabbing her by the neck and violently marching her out of a City of London dinner while all the hundreds of other wealthy diners watched either impassively or approvingly. But whatever my wishes, it seems I must.

I don’t wish to write about Mark Field, because the media have constructed a debate that is limited to one matter only, even if there are apparently innumerable variations of that one issue to be raised.

Did Field behave like a gentleman or a knave? Is it reasonable that he believed the woman posed a danger? Is his apology enough? Were the climate change activists trespassing and, if they were, did that justify Field’s actions? Has he broken the ministerial code of conduct? Would we still be outraged if the activist were a man? Should he resign? Is his outburst evidence he is a wife beater? And so on.

When we engage in these debates, they seem important. As if we are fighting for the health of our societies; or upholding key values, or at the very least the rule of law. As if it shows we care. As if it can make things a little better.

Which is exactly why I don’t want to write about Mark Field. Because the reality is that things won’t get better while we allow ourselves to be manipulated into these kind of ring-fenced debates.

There is a reason why the corporate media quickly escalate simple stories like Mark Field’s into such apparently elaborate and polarising public discussions. And the reason is to stop other kinds of debates, much more vital ones, from taking place that these stories would naturally provoke if we had a truly free media. We are being offered the modern version of bread and circuses.

Strip away the narrow, sectarian party politics in play here, and there is nothing debatable about Mark Field’s actions. He is caught on camera – his face full of rage, not fear – violently grabbing an activist who clearly poses no threat to him and who is, in fact, simply walking behind his chair. Field pushes her up against a wall, then seizes her by the back of the neck and frogmarches her out of the dining hall. If you feel it necessary, you can also factor in that the activist is a woman and the government minister a man.

Either way, what is shown in the video is an entirely unjustified attack on a peaceful protester. Had the roles been reversed, the activist (whether a man or woman) would have been immediately arrested for assaulting a government minister. The activist would now be in jail with lawyers arguing over whether bail should be allowed. So why isn’t Mark Field now in the same predicament?

The point is that anyone who wishes to make the argument any more complex than the one I just outlined is doing so either in bad faith or because they have listened too credulously to others who have spoken in bad faith. Which includes the entire spectrum of the state-corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components like the BBC and Guardian.

What the story about Mark Field really illustrates is how effective the corporate media is in derailing meaningful debates about the state of our societies. The media offer us a placebo – a public arena for largely empty arguments that we are encouraged to become deeply invested in emotionally. We are offered two easy options and must choose to rally to the cause of one of those tribes – left or right. And through righteous anger, for or against, we feel temporarily cured of a deeper dissastisfaction or sense of foreboding.

The reality is that these public debates are simply gladiatorial contests offering instant – and hollow – gratification. They have as much concrete meaning in terms of changing the substance of our societies, of addressing the injustice and unsustainability of our political and economic systems, as does cheering a football team.

That is not to argue that denouncing an assault on a peaceful protester is wasted energy, or that rationalising it – as so many people on the right are currently doing – is not deeply ugly. The treatment of protesters by the state and its agents, or of women by men, are important matters for public discussion. But that is not why the media are so willingly fuelling the row about Mark Field’s actions.

The debate is not being used as an opportunity to clarify how our society should view acceptable behaviour; it is being actively promoted by a ruling class to deflect our attention from the deeper contextual issues the Mark Field episode highlights.

Allowing two sides in a debate about whether he behaved appropriately is already to have conceded the progressive argument. It is to accept that there is room for discussion, that the video evidence is not conclusive in itself.

This is a contest where the stakes are so immaterial to the corporate media that each outlet can afford to take either side of the debate and know it will make no meaningful difference. They can berate Mark Field or sympathise with him, and it will make no odds to anyone or anything but Field and possibly the victim of his assault.

And the very cynical fuelling of this debate by the state-corporate media, one that may last days or even weeks, can then be cited as seemingly persuasive evidence that the media truly is a pluralistic forum for public discussion, where all sides are represented, where everyone is given a voice. Contrived debates like this one will be used as ammunition to shunt media critics like myself further into sidings, showing how vigoruous, relevant and on the side of the underdog the “mainstream” media really is.

This is the primary purpose of the state-corporate media. To draw our energies away from real issues hiding in plain sight towards obvious ones of only specific or marginal significance, and then persuade us that we are, in fact, engaged with the most vital issues of the day.

This is precisely why the media are obsessed with individuals and personalities – celebs, sporting heroes, royal family members, actors, politicians, world leaders – not the actual power structures that dictate the patterns of our lives, that determine the chances of us gaining redress or justice, that offer the key to extricating ourselves from the economic and environmental ruin we are hurtling towards.

If necessary, Mark Field can be sacrificed by the power structures that dominate our lives (though usually only temporarily – think of other government ministers who have found themselves briefly ousted from power and then quickly rehabilitated, such as Boris Johnson or Liam Fox) because the mechanisms that protect these power structures are far more important than the punishment or humiliation or any lone individual.

Consider two much deeper issues desperately struggling to gain any traction as they are smothered by the media’s gleeful furore over the Mark Field story.

One concerns the event Mark Field attended. It was an annual dinner at Mansion House, the official residence of the mayor of the City of London. The City of London is not the Mary Poppins’ way of saying “London”. It is a tiny, secretive enclave within Britain, a state within a state located in the heart of London. Seen another way, it is a kind of British Vatican, though one that worships money alone.

It abides by its own rules, financial and criminal, creating effectively a tax-haven within the UK that cannot be policed by any of the usual watchdogs. The City of London has managed to continue unreformed from its medieval origins into the modern era for one reason alone: it is the perfect way for a wealthy elite to maintain their power and privilege by bypassing the imperfect democratic system operating outside its concrete shores, in the rest of the UK. The City of London is a deeply corrupt fiefdom inside a slightly less corrupt Britain. If the mafia were given the chance to make themselves look legit, they might create in Italy something very much like the City of London.

Those attending the dinner are drawn from either Britain’s wealth elite, or those who serve them and aspire to join them. Figures like Field, a minister in the Foreign Office, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who addressed the dinner, oil some of the wheels of this exclusive club partially out in the open, through UK politics. But they oil other wheels in the shadows, through their activities in the City of London. What precisely they get up to in the City is difficult to know given the secrecy, and all the harder to now learn about after Field’s ruling party has worked so assiduously to hobble Julian Assange and the Wikileaks platform that was established to help whistleblowers expose the more shadowy activities of our rulers.

The City of London is the biggest weapon in the armoury of the ruling elite’s class war against the British – and global – public. It is a vacuum sucking up public finances to further enrich the wealthy and leave the masses reeling from austerity policies, while using the media to bolster the impression that it is a hub of wealth creation.

That’s why you almost never hear anything about the City of London. Our supposed representatives, politicians and corporate media alike, are happy to keep the veil mostly drawn across this pocket of power. It is not just that they do not want to take it on, they are already very much part of the power structures it has designed both to preserve itself and shield itself from meaningful criticism.

As long as we are talking about Mark Field’s attitude to women, we are not talking about his and his government’s active collusion with the most regressive, secretive, unaccountable rotten borough in the UK – a city-state located geographically inside Britain, but operating outside its strictures.

Mark Field’s attack could have provided an opportunity to examine this powerful relic of medieval Britain, to consider who the City of London really serves, and to wonder why the political class are cosying up to it rather than trying to eradicate it as a dangerous behemoth of Britain’s surviving feudal order. The City of London is integral to a system of ever-accelerating wealth hording by a global elite that is economically unsustainable. But in response, the media willingly amplify a loud culture war and simplistic identity politics precisely so no other kind of debate stands a chance of being audible.

The other, even more obvious issue the activists were trying to draw attention to was the threat posed to the environment, to other species and to our own future by the preposterous, self-serving premise – espoused by the City of London and its politician and media cronies – of endless economic growth based on the exploitation of the planet’s finite resources.

We are now facing a climate emergency – or rather some of us are finally and very belatedly waking up to a climate emergency that has been many decades in the making. We have come to it so late because the wealth elite represented at the City of London dinner have used the key power structures at their disposal – the political and media establishments – to deceive us, to keep us sleepwalking towards oblivion as they have carried on plundering the planet, destroying the biosphere, and stashing away their inordinate wealth.

The state-corporate media has not only downplayed climate change but is still doing so, as credibly as it can manage given the relentless scientific evidence that human society is hurtling towards an abyss.

In fact, many of the journalists responding to Mark Field’s attack have lost no time in using it as a way to further alienate the public from climate change activism. They have presented those prepared not simply to wait quietly for us all to be driven over the cliff-edge as a nasty, uncouth, potentially violent rabble. They have done this even as the video footage shows the women who protested at the Mansion House dinner were dressed in evening gowns and remained entirely peaceful as they sought to gain attention for the most urgent and catastrophic issue of our time.

There should be no debate that they are right, that we live in a rotten and rotting system of power that has blindly invested all its energies in perpetuating a feudal system of wealth creation for a ruling class, even as the futures of our chldren – all our children – hang in the balance.

Yes, Mark Field, his face red with indignation, looked like a man who had lost the plot, who was filled with an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, and who was deeply threatened – not by violence from the protesters but by arguments he simply has no way of addressing rationally.

The real debate we need urgently to engage with is not whether Mark Field is a wife-beater or misogynist. It is how we deal with the power structure he represents, the system he is a loyal servant of. For that psychopathic system is ready to beat us all, men and women alike, into the dust, to keep extracting the last ounce of wealth from a dying corpse, to obliterate our futures.

Abuses Show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind always knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are is not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten on with developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone, and the original investigative work of Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, although she never questioned Assange. He spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case, but was then told by prosecutors he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that suspicions against him were not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on Assange being interviewed in November 2016, with a Swedish prosecutor sent to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, Assange’s Swedish lawyer was barred from being present. Ny was due to be questioned about the interview by a Stockholm judge in May 2017 but closed the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request – pursued by Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi – shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with a Swedish prosecutor taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subseqently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper  that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet – apart from Stefania Maurizi – has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.

Abuses show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind already knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten back to developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, during which time Assange was questioned and spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case. He was then told by prosecutors that he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that any offence they believed he had committed was not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on interviewing Assange in November 2016, coming to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, she barred Assange’s lawyer from being present. That was a gross irregularity that Ny was due to be questioned about in May 2017 by a Stockholm judge. Apparently rather than face those questions, Ny decided to close the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with Ny taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subsequently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.

The Western Media is Key to Syria Deception

By any reckoning, the claim made this week by al-Qaeda-linked fighters that they were targeted with chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib province – their final holdout in Syria – should have been treated by the western media with a high degree of scepticism.

That the US and other western governments enthusiastically picked up those claims should not have made them any more credible.

Scepticism was all the more warranted from the media given that no physical evidence has yet been produced to corroborate the jihadists’ claims. And the media should have been warier still given that the Syrian government was already poised to defeat these al-Qaeda groups without resort to chemical weapons – and without provoking the predictable ire (yet again) of the west.

But most of all scepticism was required because these latest claims arrive just as we have learnt that the last supposed major chemical attack – which took place in April 2018 and was, as ever, blamed by all western sources on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad – was very possibly staged, a false-flag operation by those very al-Qaeda groups now claiming the Syrian government has attacked them once again.

Addicted to incompetence

Most astounding in this week’s coverage of the claims made by al-Qaeda groups is the fact that the western media continues to refuse to learn any lessons, develop any critical distance from the sources it relies on, even as those sources are shown to have repeatedly deceived it.

This was true after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and it is now even more true after the the international community’s monitoring body on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was exposed this month as deeply dishonest.

It is bad enough that our governments and our expert institutions deceive and lie to us. But it is even worse that we have a corporate media addicted – at the most charitable interpretation – to its own incompetence. The evidence demonstrating that grows stronger by the day.

Unprovoked attack

In March the OPCW produced a report into a chemical weapons attack the Syrian government allegedly carried out in Douma in April last year. Several dozen civilians, many of them children, died apparently as a result of that attack.

The OPCW report concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” for believing a toxic form of chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Douma, and that the most likely method of delivery were two cylinders dropped from the air.

This as good as confirmed claims made by al-Qaeda groups, backed by western states, that the cylinders had been dropped by the Syrian military. Using dry technical language, the OPCW joined the US and Europe in pointing the finger squarely at Assad.

It was vitally important that the OPCW reached that conclusion not only because of the west’s overarching regime-change ambitions in Syria.

In response to the alleged Douma attack a year ago, the US fired a volley of Cruise missiles at Syrian army and government positions before there had been any investigation of who was responsible.

Those missiles were already a war crime – an unprovoked attack on another sovereign country. But without the OPCW’s implicit blessing, the US would have been deprived of even its flimsy, humanitarian pretext for launching the missiles.

Leaked document

Undoubtedly the OPCW was under huge political pressure to arrive at the “right” conclusion. But as a scientific body carrying out a forensic investigation surely it would not simply doctor the data.

Nonetheless, it seems that may well be precisely what it did. This month the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – a group of academics who have grown increasingly sceptical of the western narratives told about Syria – published an internal, leaked OPCW document.

A few days later the OPCW reluctantly confirmed that the document was genuine, and that it would identify and deal with those responsible for the leak.

The document was an assessment overseen by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW expert, of the engineering data gathered by the OPCW’s fact-finding mission that attended the scene of the Douma attack. Its findings fly in the face of the OPCW’s published report.

Erased from the record

The leaked document is deeply troubling for two reasons.

First, the assessment, based on the available technical data, contradicts the conclusion of the final OPCW report that the two chemical cylinders were dropped from the air and crashed through building roofs. It argues instead that the cylinders were more likely placed at the locations they were found.

If that is right, the most probable explanation is that the cylinders were put there by al-Qaeda groups – presumably in a last desperate effort to persuade the west to intervene and to prevent the jihadists being driven out of Douma.

But even more shocking is the fact that the expert assessment based on the data collected by the OPCW team is entirely unaddressed in the OPCW’s final report.

It is not that the final report discounts or rebuts the findings of its own experts. It simply ignores those findings; it pretends they don’t exist. The report blacks them out, erases them from the official record. In short, it perpetrates a massive deception.

Experts ignored

All of this would be headline news if we had a responsible media that cared about the truth and about keeping its readers informed.

We now know both that the US attacked Syria on entirely bogus grounds, and that the OPCW – one of the international community’s most respected and authoritative bodies – has been caught redhanded in an outrageous deception with grave geopolitical implications. (In fact, it is not the first time the OPCW has been caught doing this, as I have previously explained here.)

The fact that the OPCW ignored its own expert and its own team’s technical findings when they proved politically indigestible casts a dark shadow over all the OPCW’s work in Syria, and beyond. If it was prepared to perpetrate a deception on this occasion, why should we assume it did not do so on other occasions when it proved politically expedient?

Active combatants

The OPCW’s reports into other possible chemical attacks – assisting western efforts to implicate Assad – are now equally tainted. That is especially so given that in those other cases the OPCW violated its own procedures by drawing prejudicial conclusions without its experts being on the ground, at the site of the alleged attacks. Instead it received samples and photos via al-Qaeda groups, who could easily have tampered with the evidence.

And yet there has been not a peep from the corporate media about this exposure of the OPCW’s dishonesty, apart from commentary pieces from the only two maverick mainstream journalists in the UK – Peter Hitchens, a conservative but independent-minded columnist for the Mail on Sunday, and veteran war correspondent Robert Fisk, of the little-read Independent newspaper (more on his special involvement in Douma in a moment).

Just as the OPCW blanked the findings of its technical experts to avoid political discomfort, the media have chosen to stay silent on this new, politically sensitive information.

They have preferred to prop up the discredited narrative that our governments have been acting to protect the human rights of ordinary Syrians rather than the reality that they have been active combatants in the war, helping to destabilise a country in ways that have caused huge suffering and death in Syria.

Systematic failure

This isn’t a one-off failure. It’s part of a series of failures by the corporate media in its coverage of Douma.

They ignored very obvious grounds for caution at the time of the alleged attack. Award-winning reporter Robert Fisk was among the first journalists to enter Douma shortly after those events. He and a few independent reporters communicated eye-witness testimony that flatly contradicted the joint narrative promoted by al-Qaeda groups and western governments that Assad had bombed Douma with chemical weapons.

The corporate media also mocked a subsequent press conference at which many of the supposed victims of that alleged chemical attack made appearances to show that they were unharmed and spoke of how they had been coerced into play-acting their roles.

And now the western media has compounded that failure – revealing its systematic nature – by ignoring the leaked OPCW document too.

But it gets worse, far worse.

Al-Qaeda propaganda

This week the same al-Qaeda groups that were present in Douma – and may have staged that lethal attack – claimed that the Syrian government had again launched chemical weapons against them, this time on their final holdout in Idlib.

A responsible media, a media interested in the facts, in evidence, in truth-telling, in holding the powerful to account, would be duty bound to frame this latest, unsubstantiated claim in the context of the new doubts raised about the OPCW report into last year’s chemical attack blamed on Assad.

Given that the technical data suggest that al-Qaeda groups, and the White Helmets who work closely with them, were responsible for staging the attack – even possibly of murdering civilians to make the attack look more persuasive – the corporate media had a professional and moral obligation to raise the matter of the leaked document.

It is vital context as anyone tries to weigh up whether the latest al-Qaeda claims are likely to be true. To deprive readers of this information, this essential context would be to take a side, to propagandise on behalf not only of western governments but of al-Qaeda too.

And that is exactly what the corporate media have just done. All of them.

Media worthy of Stalin

It is clear how grave their dereliction of the most basic journalistic duty is if we consider the Guardian’s uncritical coverage of jihadist claims about the latest alleged chemical attack.

Like most other media, the Guardian article included two strange allusions – one by France, the other by the US – to the deception perpetrated by the OPCW in its recent Douma report. The Guardian reported these allusions even though it has never before uttered a word anywhere in its pages about that deception.

In other words, the corporate media are so committed to propagandising on behalf of the western powers that they have reported the denials of official wrongdoing even though they have never reported the actual wrongdoing. It is hard to imagine the Soviet media under Stalin behaving in such a craven and dishonest fashion.

The corporate media have given France and the US a platform to reject accusations against the OPCW that the media themselves have never publicly raised.

Doubts about OPCW

The following is a brief statement (unintelligible without the forgoing context) from France, reported by the Guardian in relation to the latest claim that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons this week: “We have full confidence in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

But no one, except bloggers and academics ignored by the media and state authorities, has ever raised doubts about the OPCW. Why would the Guardian think these French comments worthy of reporting unless there were reasons to doubt the OPCW? And if there are such reasons for doubt, why has the Guardian not thought to make them public, to report them to its readers?

The US state department similarly came to the aid of the OPCW. In the same Guardian report, a US official was quoted saying that the OPCW was facing “a continuing disinformation campaign” from Syria and Russia, and that the campaign was designed “to create the false narrative that others [rather than Assad] are to blame for chemical weapons attacks”.

So Washington too was rejecting accusations against the OPCW that have never been reported by the state-corporate media.

Interestingly, in the case of US officials, they claim that Syria and Russia are behind the “disinformation campaign” against the OPCW, even though the OPCW has admitted that the leaked document discrediting its work is genuine and written by one of its experts.

The OPCW is discredited, of course, only because it sought to conceal evidence contained in the leaked document that might have exonerated Assad of last year’s chemical attack. It is hard to see how Syria or Russia can be blamed for this.

Colluding in deception

But more astounding still, while US and French officials have at least acknowledged that there are doubts about the OPCW’s role in Syria, even if they unjustifiably reject such doubts, the corporate media have simply ignored those doubts as though they don’t exist.

The continuing media blackout on the leaked OPCW document cannot be viewed as accidental. It has been systematic across the media.

That blackout has remained resolutely in place even after the OPCW admitted the leaked document discrediting it was genuine and even after western countries began alluding to the leaked document themselves.

The corporate media is actively colluding both in the original deception perpetrated by al-Qaeda groups and the western powers, and in the subsequent dishonesty of the OPCW. They have worked together to deceive western publics.

The question is, why are the media so obviously incompetent? Why are they so eager to keep themselves and their readers in the dark? Why are they so willing to advance credulous narratives on behalf of western governments that have been repeatedly shown to have lied to them?

Iran the real target

The reason is that the corporate media are not what they claim. They are not a watchdog on power, or a fourth estate.

The media are actually the public relations wing of a handful of giant corporations – and states – that are pursuing two key goals in the Middle East.

First, they want to control its oil. Helping al-Qaeda in Syria – including in its propaganda war – against the Assad government serves a broader western agenda. The US and NATO bloc are ultimately gunning for the leadership of Iran, the one major oil producer in the region not under the US imperial thumb.

Powerful Shia groups in the region – Assad in Syria, Hezbullah in Lebanon, and Iraqi leaders elevated by our invasion of that country in 2003 – are allies or potential allies of Iran. If they are in play, the US empire’s room for manoeuvre in taking on Iran is limited. Remove these smaller players and Iran stands isolated and vulnerable.

That is why Russia stepped in several years ago to save Assad, in a bid to stop the dominoes falling and the US engineering a third world war centred on the Middle East.

Second, with the Middle East awash with oil money, western corporations have a chance to sell more of the lucrative weapons that get used in overt and covert wars like the one raging in Syria for the past eight years.

What better profit-generator for these corporations than wasteful and pointless wars against manufactured bogeymen like Assad?

Like a death cult

From the outside, this looks and sounds like a conspiracy. But actually it is something worse – and far more difficult to overcome.

The corporations that run our media and our governments have simply conflated in their own minds – and ours – the idea that their narrow corporate interests are synonymous with “western interests”.

The false narratives they generate are there to serve a system of power, as I have explained in previous blogs. That system’s worldview and values are enforced by a charmed circle that includes politicians, military generals, scientists, journalists and others operating as if brainwashed by some kind of death cult. They see the world through a single prism: the system’s need to hold on to power. Everything else – truth, evidence, justice, human rights, love, compassion – must take a back seat.

It is this same system that paradoxically is determined to preserve itself even if it means destroying the planet, ravaging our economies, and starting and maintaining endlessly destructive wars. It is a system that will drag us all into the abyss, unless we stop it.

Media Smoothed Way to Corbyn Target Practice

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

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

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

Is that too cynical? Ponder this.

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

Shown as Kremlin stooge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too toxic to lead Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning ‘security credentials’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Essence of Being Palestinian”: What the Great March of Return is Really About

The aims of the Great March of Return protests, which began in Gaza on March 30, 2018 are to put an end to the suffocating Israeli siege and implementing the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes and towns in historic Palestine 70 years earlier.

But there is much more to the March of Return than a few demands, especially bearing in mind the high human cost associated with it.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, over 250 people have been killed and 6,500 wounded, including children, medics and journalists.

Aside from the disproportionately covered ‘flaming kites’ and youth symbolically cutting through the metal fences that have besieged them for many years, the March has been largely non-violent. Despite this, Israel has killed and maimed protesters with impunity.

A UN human rights commission of inquiry found last month that Israel may have committed war crimes against protesters, resulting in the killing of 189 Palestinians within the period March 30 and December 31, 2018.

The inquiry found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognizable as such,” the investigators concluded as reported by BBC online.

Many in the media, however, still do not understand what the Great March of Return really means for Palestinians.

A cynically titled report in the Washington Post attempted to offer an answer. The article, “Gazans have paid in blood for a year of protests. Now many wonder what it was for,” selectively quoted wounded Palestinians who, supposedly, feel that their sacrifices were in vain.

Aside from providing the Israeli military with a platform to blame the Hamas Movement for the year-long march, the long report ended with these two quotes:

The March of Return “achieved nothing,” according to one injured Palestinian.

“The only thing I can find is that it made people pay attention,” said another.

If the Washington Post paid attention, it would have realized that the mood among Palestinians is neither cynical nor despairing.

The Post should have wondered: if the march ‘achieved nothing’, why were Gazans still protesting, and the popular and inclusive nature of the March has not been compromised?

“The Right of Return is more than a political position,” said Sabreen al-Najjar, the mother of young Palestinian medic, Razan, who, on June 1, 2018, was fatally shot by the Israeli army while trying to help wounded Palestinian protesters. It is “more than a principle: wrapped up in it, and reflected in literature and art and music, is the essence of what it means to be Palestinian. It is in our blood.”

Indeed, what is the ‘Great March of Return’ but a people attempting to reclaim their role, and be recognized and heard in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine?

What is largely missing from the discussion on Gaza is the collective psychology behind this kind of mobilization, and why it is essential for hundreds of thousands of besieged people to rediscover their power and understand their true position, not as hapless victims, but as agents of change in their society.

The narrow reading, or the misrepresentation of the March of Return, speaks volumes about the overall underestimation of the role of the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and national liberation, extending for a century.

The story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the Nakba – the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. Had Palestinians not resisted, their story would have concluded then, and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian resistance or, like the Post, fail to understand the underlying value of popular movement and sacrifices, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – the sense of collective empowerment and hope which spreads amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself.”

For 70 years, Palestinians have embarked on that journey of the re-creation of the self. They have resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms has molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that were erected amongst the people.

The March of Return is the latest manifestation of the ongoing Palestinian resistance.

It is obvious that elitist interpretations of Palestine have failed – Oslo proved a worthless exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

But the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, thus weakening and dividing the Palestinian people.

In the Israeli Zionist narrative, Palestinians are depicted as drifting lunatics, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a description that regularly defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the colonized, resisting natives.

Within some Israeli political and academic circles, Palestinians merely ‘existed’ to be ‘cleansed’, to make room for a different, more deserving people. From the Zionist perspective, the ‘existence’ of the natives is meant to be temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the roles of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic to the Palestinian people, without consideration for the ethical and political implications of such a perception, has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective.

Hence, it is imperative that we develop a clearer understanding of the layered meanings behind the Great March of Return. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza did not risk life and limb over the last year simply because they required urgent medicine and food supplies.

Palestinians did so because they understand their centrality in their struggle. Their protests are a collective statement, a cry for justice, an ultimate reclamation of their narrative as a people – still standing, still powerful and still hopeful after 70 years of Nakba, 50 years of military occupation and 12 years of unrelenting siege.

Paul Manafort and the Crime of Not Provoking Russia

Paul Manafort has been convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for what the judge calls “white collar crimes” unrelated to “Russian collusion.” The mainstream press is in a state of shock. Surely, the morning cable anchors protest, he should have gotten 20 years!

He was friends with (“pro-Russian”) Ukrainian businessmen and politicians! He took fees for political consulting work with foreigners—that he never reported to the IRS! He committed bank fraud and tax fraud! And he may have had a role in the decision of the Republican National Committee at the Republican convention in July 2016, to modify a section of the program to remove reference to the provision of U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine!

For two years that last accusation has been treated by the press as the truly damning one, the clear proof of a conspiracy to help Russia. There’s been a deliberate effort to generate outrage, where none really smolders in the masses’ breasts. How many people in this country feel strongly about the issue of Ukraine, could find the country on the map, have any knowledge in its history or any strong feelings about the matter of who should have sovereignty over Crimea?

The implicit argument is that not to give offensive weapons to the government in Ukraine at the time (then headed by Arseniy Yastenyuk, who had attained power through a U.S.-supported violent coup and the documented sponsorship of grotesque neocon beast Victoria Nuland) was anything other than the height of irresponsibility, if not treason. (“What more do we need than that?” demands the angry CNN “foreign policy analyst” or “national security analyst” while the hosts nod in agreement.), But this new regime in Kiev was riddled with fascists, was engaged in an effort to impose its armed authority over a rebellious ethnic Russian Donbas region, and might potentially be at war with Russia at any moment.

One could interpret the platform change as a rational retreat from an unnecessary provocation of Moscow. Why should that be so controversial or mysterious?

But to the talking heads of MSNBC and CNN, and maybe some on Fox, the minor move was sure, clear proof of Russian collusion. The party committee couldn’t have been applying mere common sense, and deference to a presidential nominee who’d expressed hope for normal relations with Russia. No, it had to have been hijacked by Russian agents.

In the real world, it’s just possible that Manafort (for whatever reasons) had educated Trump to some basic facts: Ukraine has long been ethnically divided between Ukrainians and (ethnic) Russians. The regime that seized power in February 2014 (toppling the democratically elected if highly corrupt one that Manafort had served) had completely alienated the Donbas region from the outset by its anti-Russian discriminatory measures, provoking the rebellion. As for the Crimean Peninsula, it had been Russian from 1785 to 1954, and the base of the Russian Black Sea Naval Fleet since the 1780s, so it wasn’t surprising that Moscow would want to re-assert sovereignty to prevent the very real prospect of losing its base to the relentlessly expanding NATO.

(It would have made sense for Bernie Sanders, had he won the Democratic nomination—that is, had we had a fair, not rigged, Democratic primary process—-to have stricken out any such language from a Democratic Party platform.)

I wrote a number of columns about Ukraine after the 2014 putsch opposing U.S. intervention in Ukraine and the U.S. effort, involving about $ 5 billion invested in what Victoria Nuland and Madeleine Albright both referred to publicly as “support for the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations.” (This was code for the drive of right-wing politicians in Ukraine to join EU after following the well-established pattern of former east bloc countries first joining NATO, then the European trade bloc.) Some of these were re-posted on Russian media. Am I thus guilty of collusion?

This matter of the non-support for military involvement in Ukraine, as a bad thing, is at the heart of the collusion case. The Manafort judge T.S. Ellis has been right to be skeptical, and to suspect that the prosecutors have been trying too hard to pin on Manafort a conspiracy charge implicating Trump and Russia. (Or a Trump staffer and a Russian businessman. Or a Trump aide and a Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-American businessman.)

The fact of the matter is, as Graham Stack, a Fusion GPS researcher once hired to gather dirt on Manafort, pointed out last year: “Manafort was nothing like a pro-Kremlin influence on the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych… Instead, Manafort was one of the driving forces pushing Yanukovich towards signing the agreement with the EU. The Kremlin has every reason to hate him.”

That is, Manafort for his own business reasons wanted Ukraine to join the European Union, just like Victoria Nuland wanted to use the Ukrainian people’s (supposed) yearning to join the organization—that was then squeezing the life out of the Greeks and was subsequently rejected by the British—-as part and parcel of Ukraine’s planned entry into the anti-Russian military alliance. (This had been announced in 2008, the same year as NATO unveiled plans to welcome Georgia as well in the near term. That plan is on hold after the Russo-Georgia War of that year, just as plans to admit Ukraine are permanently on hold for fear—by the Germans, if not the U.S.—of provoking Russia.)

The motives of Nuland and Manafort were very different. She wanted a cause that would unite the opposition and facilitate regime change; he wanted a deal that would personally aggrandize him, given his investments in EU countries and in Ukraine. But  Russia was as of February 2014 opposed, for reasons Moscow stated clearly. (Basically, the cross-border economies are so deeply integrated, the cultures so similar and movement between the two countries so free that EU goods once in Ukraine would flow uncontrollably into Russia, damaging the Russian economy. Was the Russian stance unreasonable? Moscow offered Kiev a generous aid package, which Yanukovych accepted; meanwhile, Russia indicated it had no problem with Ukraine’s eventual EU membership once certain issues were resolved, and reiterated Putin’s aspiration for a Eurasia-wide free market to extend from Vladivostock to Lisbon. (Was this reasonable? Or does it “threaten our national interests” somehow?)

The Russians perhaps convinced Yanukovych that the austerity measures Ukraine would have to accept even for associate NATO membership would be destabilizing. So he withdrew from the provisional deal that had been pushed by Manafort.The  U.S.-backed  opposition declared Yanukovych a traitor loyal to Russia, and the government fell giving way to the current dysfunctional regime that lionizes fascists like Stephan Bandera.

One should definitely condemn Manafort for his past “consulting work”—with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Jonas Savimbi. (This list of clients includes at least five mass murderers.) But why single him out for assisting the former, democratically elected Ukrainian president in his negotiations with the EU? (Oh, because he didn’t report the income…the tax fraud thing…  Terrible indeed.)

The fact is, Manafort would not have been on trial had there not been an effort to seize on any kind of link between anyone around Trump and any one or thing Russian to substantiate the charge of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election. The thinly researched and argued January 2017 “Assessing Russian Activities”intelligence report on that “interference” was followed by a drive to investigate Trump campaign collusion with Russia, with a clear political mission to explain Hillary’s loss by attributing it to Trump’s (treasonous, secret) relationship with Putin.

It hasn’t led to anything yet but a meeting in a Manhattan cigar bar Aug. 2, 2016 between Manafort, his deputy Mike Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business partner of Manfort’s since 2005 (“thought to be linked to Russian intelligence”) that might have involved  the sharing of some polling data that by law should have been kept secret (or only shared with U.S. political operatives seeking to legitimately influence the outcome of the U.S. election).

Maybe some Russians used the information to influence targeted U.S. minds, using Facebook to throw the election result in Wisconsin. That would see horrible, would it not? An attack by other people on our democracy?! (While we never interfere, anywhere!)

The message is in any case clear. We should be outraged that “the Russians” “interfered” in “our election” tainting its result. We should view “our” elections as sacrosanct affairs, and be outraged that Trump staffers were willing to talk to Russian officials or private citizens, about the election or lots of other things, neglecting to report any contact with nationals of a country that (for some reason) we’re supposed to regard as an “adversary.”   Indeed, the overriding historical import of the movement to drive Trump from office is its re-enforcement of Russophobia in this country.

Trump is depicted as evil less due to his bigotry, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, or corrupt business practices than due to his failure to do the right thing: take a hard line on Russia.

That means denouncing Putin, the way Hillary did. (Clinton as top U.S. diplomat called Putin a new Hitler, for re-annexing Crimea.) It means continuing to demand, as Obama did, that Russia withdraw from Crimea and cease whatever material support it provides to the separatists in the Donbas region or face continuing U.S. (and EU) sanctions. (These are hopeless demands, and are hurting Europe as well as Russia. Yet their maintenance is depicted as the only responsible route forward, and suggestions they be lifted portrayed as capitulation to evil.)

And it means howling in indignation when Paul Manafort, the closest thing to a “smoking gun” about collusion between Russia and Trump, only gets four years behind bars. It means disparaging Judge Ellis, noting his expressed concern about special prosecutors’ overreach and the possibility of the case becoming a “political weapon.”

News anchors visibly consternated by the sentence length seem troubled too by the likelihood that the Mueller probe will conclude with no real evidence. The dream of Trump being exposed as a Russian agent—promising sanctions relief after his victory in return for advance Russian notice about Wikileaks’ hacked emails publication schedule—-is fading.

In its place is the dream of replacing Trump in 2020 with an (appropriately) anti-Russian leader. This would mean one committed to NATO (which is still officially on track to include Georgia and Ukraine, to better encircle and provoke Russia); committed to the sanctions designed to hobble the Russian economy and prevent other countries from trading with it; committed to challenging Russia’s influence in the Middle East and depicting any such influence as “foreign interference” in a region that ought by rights be dominated by the U.S. as the world’s “exceptional” nation; and the insistence on the myth that the U.S. has “national interests” transcending class interests that need to be protected from Russia pursuing its own.

The appropriately anti-Russian leader the mainstream media seeks must of course be, preeminently, a proud capitalist. The restoration of normality must combine the new Russophobia (which has nothing to do immediately with anticommunism—since the Russian state is thoroughly capitalist and Putin’s party is both pro-market and pro-Orthodox religion—but draws on Cold War specifically anti-Russian tropes) with a clear repudiation of socialism.

*****

Saturday: Dave Gura on MSNBC expressing puzzlement that John Hinckenluper in a Joe Scarborough interview refused to call himself a capitalist (recognizing the negative connotations of that word among many young people).

Shame! the bipartisan panelists all agree; he should have proudly broadcast his capitalist status, and promoted the market as the key to creating jobs. If the Dems go with a “socialist” message, Trump will win! The very word socialism is Kryptonite!

These two phenomena—the mainstream ruling-class disappointment that the “Russian collusion” case is collapsing, and alarm at the soaring popularity of “socialism”—are related. To bring him down, one accuses the president of collusion with a country vilified throughout the Cold War; the USSR was targeted for its “socialism” but also attacked on the basis of ethnic stereotypes that remain useful to the anti-Russian propagandist. To make sure his successor is committed to the post-Cold War strategy of maintaining global hegemony and preventing the emergence of any rival, one must insure that someone who accepts capitalist imperialism takes office.

The morning TV news anchors, makers of public opinion, unite in agreement that it is unacceptable to question the motives of legislators who always vote in favor of Israel. (In this they in fact unite with Trump, who’s opportunistically charging the Democrats with antisemitism.) They also unite in agreeing it’s good the Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump failed, because it would be against U.S. interests to reduce sanctions until Pyongyang gets rid of it’s nukes (which it’s not going to do without sanctions relief, so the anti-Trump position is a virtual demand for war). These are some of the responsible positions of the anti-Trump mainstream.

My, what an awful, awful man! Such a Russian stooge! Jeopardizing our national security, serving Russian interests, by pulling out of Syria! (When did insistence on indefinite deployment of U.S. forced illegally in Syria become so mainstreamed?) And by talking about an Afghan pullout!

And his campaign chairman was meeting Russians! (Let us recall Manafort was chairman all of three months.) And Manafort was secretly meeting Russians, our adversaries!

Such outrage. Such unanimity. Such slavish devotion to capitalism, imperialism, “our heroes” in the U.S. military, sterile political correctness plus unquestioned devotion to Israel, and of course the systematic vilification of Russia. The trashing of both socialism and Russia, the latter having nothing to do with the former anymore, but what difference does it make?  We’re supposed to believe that both of them are Kryptonite, and that the choice before us is between the responsible capitalist and Russophobe (such as Joe Biden) and the capitalist and imagined Russophile traitor Donald Trump.

Would railing at a Labour Saudi Lobby be Racist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights abusers

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

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

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

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

Racism towards Palestinians

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

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

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

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

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

Plot against Corbyn

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

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

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

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

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

Blair’s Great Game for Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class privilege

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

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

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

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

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

Defending capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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