Category Archives: Tony Blair

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.

The Witchfinders are now ready to burn Corbyn

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

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

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

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

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

Revenge of the Blairites

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

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

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

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

Guilt by association

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No screening for documentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

From lynching to witch hunt

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

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

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

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

Party in disrepute

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

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

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

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

Lobby’s covert actions exposed

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

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

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

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

Institutional racism on Palestinians

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

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

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

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

Safe space for whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

May Days in Britain

It is hard to envisage sympathy for a person who made a name as a home secretary (prisons, detentions, security and such) taking the mast and banner of her country before hopeless odds, but inadequate opponents will do that to you.  Vicious, venal and underdone, the enemies from within Theresa May’s own Tory ranks resemble the lazily angry, the fumingly indulgent.  These are the same men, and a few women, who managed to derive enormous satisfaction from a Britain pampered and spoiled by EU largesse but questioning of its bureaucracy and demands.  Patriotism has an odd habit of making one jaundiced, but manic self-interest will also do that to you.

May remains British prime minister after a botched effort to overthrow her within conservative party ranks.  She faced the unenviable situation of being stonewalled in Europe and by Parliament itself.  President of the European Council Donald Tusk assured May that the deal for the UK leaving the EU is not up for renegotiation, “including the backstop”.

The border with Ireland – soft, hard, or middling – is proving to be a rattling affair.  Should it go “hard”, Britain will find itself trapped.  As The Irish Times noted, “It evokes genuine fear, not least in those who live near the Border or rely on trade for their livelihoods or count themselves among the silenced majority in Northern Ireland who voted Remain.”

As for Parliament, May has ducked and weaved in putting the deal to its irritable members, thereby depriving MPs a hack at sinking it.  May fears, rightly, defeat over a proposal that has satisfied few.  What is now being run in certain circles is the idea of “indicative votes” which might throw up various Brexit models (Canada-styled; Norwegian adapted).

The May plotters, however, showed the skills and talents of marksmen who end up shooting themselves in a fit of drunken enthusiasm on a poorly planned hunt.  The leadership challenge on December 12 served to demonstrate a good level of incompetence, amplified by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson.

The fact that May received 200 votes against 117 to stay on as PM was not enough for the righteous Rees-Moog, who spoke as if some inscrutable victory for the rebels had been attained.  “She said in 2017 she would lead the Conservative Party if she had the support of the parliamentary party.”  It was clear that a third of members voting against her suggested she did not. “So if she honours her word she will decide in the interests of the party and the nation she will go.”

This all seems to amount to a stay of execution.  May survives, but faces daggers on a daily basis.  Home Secretary Sajid Javid is nipping at her heels in the hope to land a blow.  Welfare Secretary Amber Rudd has made it public that she likes the idea of a UK-EU arrangement along the lines of Norway’s relationship with the union.  Naturally, as with so many such ideas, the EU response is automatically assumed.

The idea of a second referendum, long seen as the ultimate betrayal of the Brexit result, has received more than a decent fanning.  Vast swathes have changed their mind since the populist up swell of 2016, goes the view of conservative Dominic Grieve and New Labour’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell on Good Morning Britain, a bastion of rusted reaction few can match on British television.  The panel, as ever, was on the hunt for the elusive idea of democracy in Britain, and found wanting.   The Remainers remain desperately confused.

If there is a good reason to be suspicious of a second referendum, former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s endorsement of it would be one.  Frankly Tony, whose rule was characterised by long spells of deception and arrogance (remember the Iraq War?), had a singular contempt for democracy that should not be forgotten. He is now spending time slumming in Brussels in the hope that people will take notice, advocating for a second people’s vote.  Should parliament be unable to reach agreement on each of the forms of Brexit being put forth, he suggests, “then the logical thing is to go back to the people.”

To Blair can be added May’s own de facto deputy prime minister, David Lidington and chief of staff at 10 Downing Street Gavin Barwell.  The latter has supposedly discussed the issue of a second people’s vote with Chancellor Philip Hammond and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd.

May is having none of it.  “Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum.” To do so “would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver.”

Brexit is the great exercise of imperfection, an experiment that the EU would like to quash just as many in the UK would like to see reversed.  It has been disheartening and cruel; it has divided and disturbed. It has also demonstrated levels of marked mendacity fitting for countries British citizens tend to mock.  Facts have become fictions; fictions have been paraded as exemplars of truth.  The dark spirits have been released, and they are not going to be bottled any time soon.

National Interest or Personal Interest: Theresa May’s Spat with Tony Blair

The war of words between Tony Blair and Theresa May over the last few days is quite revealing – not of Blair’s known position regarding the Brexit mess, but because the Prime Minister’s rant showed her weakness.  Her position is unsustainable and the last thing she wanted was unwelcome comments from an ex-Prime Minister.

She had, after all, just come back from Brussels yet again, carrying no hope from the EU negotiators, but then she had offered no new ideas to put on the table.  The agreed withdrawal text was ‘the best deal’ she could get, and Parliament had been refused the chance to vote against it – a vote she had promised then taken away.

The spat started with Tony Blair speaking on BBC’s Today programme* prior to a speech he was due to make later that day.  His predecessor John Major, had already publicly given his support for 2 options: another referendum (the Peoples Vote) and revoking the Article 50 withdrawal.  Blair had also backed the People’s Vote.

There is currently no majority in Parliament for May’s deal or any other, including crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. Blair said there could be majority support among MPs for a new EU poll if Parliament ended up “gridlocked”, and certainly more MPs are saying so.  He added that “he admired Mrs May’s determination but suggested that, with so many MPs opposed to the backstop and other parts of the deal, this was becoming a weakness and she must realise she was “in a hole… and there is literally no point in carrying on digging”.

All very reasonable but this did not please Theresa May.  She issued an explosive statement, demonstrating just how touchy and vulnerable she’s feeling.  She said the ex-PM’s backing for a second referendum was deliberately sabotaging her bid to make EU leaders compromise on the Irish backstop.  To quote:

There are too many people who want to subvert the process for their own political interests rather than act in the national interest.  For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served.  We cannot, as he would, abdicate responsibility for this decision.

There are three points to note here. First, ‘her bid to make EU leaders compromise…’  After all this time and months of negotiation, her government has not abandoned its arrogant and self-important attitude towards the EU, something many of us find embarrassing.  How many more times does the EU have to say ‘no more negotiations’ before they will be believed?

Secondly, her government’s ‘responsibility for this decision’.  The decision is no decision.  Brexit MPs and supporters have never produced a genuine plan for Brexit.  It has been about nothing but leave the EU and its regulations.  What happens then is not their problem.  On May’s side there has been a complete failure to enable Parliament to come up with any ‘decision’.  That is her problem, and indeed her responsibility.

Thirdly, according to the Independent, ‘Mr Blair is understood not to have visited Brussels for several months, and it is unclear what prompted the timing of Ms May’s attack.’  Blair, of course, defended his position, being somewhat better at that than May (he’s had a lot of practice), saying that if Parliament cannot come to a clear decision, it is logical to go back to the people.

May suggests that Blair’s latest comments are in his own interests.  It is true that Blair has relentlessly popped up to pontificate about the current state of affairs, and that most of those occasions could be seen as self-advertisement and very much in his personal interest.  (On the other hand, the Prime Minister may not be doing all this in her personal interest, but it’s certainly focused on the interests of the Conservative Party and its survival.)

Blair ignored the people and the national interest when he joined President Bush’s military games.  I and millions of others will find it difficult to ever forgive him for the damage done to Afghanistan and Iraq and their citizens** (and, Mr Blair, please don’t forget that somewhere in the dusty back rooms of the International Criminal Court is a case still to be heard against you for war crimes).

Word has it that whenever he criticises Jeremy Corbyn or suggests a more ‘centrist’ party, Labour membership increases. Sadly, that is now probably balanced by the number of members leaving because of Labour’s very weak position on Brexit.  People joined Labour because of the social reforms promised in the Labour manifesto.  They saw an end to the disastrous Tory ‘austerity’ ideology.  How on earth Labour thinks it can deal with Brexit and deliver on its pledges is beyond me – and anyone else.  Nor would the EU be willing to start negotiations all over again, regardless of Corbyn’s internationalism and negotiating skills.

So, where Brexit and the national interest are concerned, I have to admit Blair is right, and I never thought I would say that.  But then, over the last two years I have had to revise my opinion about several, mostly right wing, MPs who are doing their best to protect the UK from Brexit and the chaos that May’s predecessor David Cameron and her government have caused.

Blair and his predecessor John Major (who sensibly kept out of politics until Brexit reared its head) were largely responsible for the Good Friday Agreement, which not only brought an end to most of the violence in Northern Ireland; it resulted in the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  For trade, traffic and people that border has become almost invisible.  It is in the national interests of both the UK and the RoI to keep it that way, regardless of what Brexiters and Northern Ireland’s DUP MPs claim.  The border issue is the very large and unavoidable hole in the Brexit road.

For Blair and Major, their legacy will include the Good Friday Agreement.  For the politicians of that time, it is something to be proud of, something worth protecting.  And if the negotiators could achieve that, then surely peace could be made between Leavers and Remainers without trashing the UK in the process.

Theresa May’s legacy, on the other hand, will be ‘the hostile environment’, a policy that shames this nation and its people.  And the last two years under her leadership, with her ministers’ inability to negotiate in any real sense with the EU, is also deeply shaming.  Even worse, they have blamed the EU for their failures, accusing them of bullying (Brexit Minister No. 1, David Davis, and blackmailing and bullying (Brexit Minister No. 2, Dominic Raab) while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt likened the EU to the Soviet Union. This is no way to negotiate your way out of one of the biggest threats to this country’s stability.

Shame, embarrassment, humiliation and unwise rants against a former Prime Minister – what more could Theresa May add to her ‘legacy’ and its place in our history?

* You can hear the whole interview here, starting at 2:19:52

** An estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths from the invasion and the following years of violence and unrest.

Under a Blood Moon

U.S. imperial actions in Vietnam and elsewhere are often described as reflecting “national interests,” “national security,” or “national defense.” Endless U.S. wars and regime changes, however, actually represent the class interests of the powerful who own and govern the country.
— John Marciano, “Lessons from the Vietnam War,” Monthly Review, December 1, 2016

The Bretton Woods institutions are like arsonists, lighting new social fires, then waiting for the NGOs and local communities to play firefighter.
— Eric Toussaint, (Your Money or Your Life:
 The Tyranny of Global Finance, June 1, 2005)

We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]. We found biological laboratories.
— President George W. Bush, May 29, 2003

There is no evidence to confirm that [US-supported El Salvador] government forces systematically massacred civilians in the [El Mozote] operations zone.
— Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders, February 8, 1982

Today here in Norway, it is expected that this will go down as the hottest day in Norwegian history. It is also the day of the Blood Moon lunar eclipse. Somehow this seems fitting, in a sort of mytho-poetic way. For I can’t shake the sense of apocalyptic dread that permeates life everywhere today. I suppose it might have to do with the historic-level wild fires near the arctic circle, or the dozen major floods that are happening on every single continent, or the methane bubbles that are growing weekly across Siberia and the Arctic. Or just the drought that has hit my home state of California, as well as the previously inviolate countryside of Norway.

The U.S. government continues to occupy itself with the matters of Imperialist aggression (which, besides, you know, killing people, contributes something like 40% of the world’s pollution). And with the endless, necessary, selling of the mythology of freedom and democracy that is so important to sustain the fantasy lives of its citizens. So, to just sort of track semi randomly the madness that is gripping the Empire today, we can start with the fact that most of Trump’s cabinet are Dominionist Evangelical Christians. I don’t think most people, at least most of those not brainwashed by Christianity, realize just how barking mad the Dominionists are. Pence is one, Pompeo is one, DeVos and Kudlow and Carson are also such. Think about that. This label covers a variety of belief systems, but in the U.S. these are the legatees of the surge of Christian Nationalism that started in the 70s (really, there are two branches of Dominionism, that of the late R.J. Rushdoony, and the 7 Mountains brand favored by Ted Cruz and others).

Pompeo and John Bolton are the two most significant advisors to Donald Trump. Both men are what in conventional terms could be described as unstable and perhaps suffering from one or another personality disorder (antisocial personality disorder, or APD, is no doubt accurately assigned to Bolton). But these are the obvious examples. Trump is the cartoon bad guy writ large, in primary colors (including hair) and he invites such hatred because part of his schtick is to troll the public. And his own administration, for that matter. (And its funny how suddenly liberals are aghast because he insulted the Queen of England — or rather “broke protocal.” I mean seriously who gives a fuck. That old racist harpy long ago deserved to work stacking boxes in a WalMart warehouse, but I digress).

No, the deeper madness that has taken hold is found in the educated classes, actually. I wrote before about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and her rather obvious intellectual bankruptcy as well as her disingenuous presentation of self. And yet, leftists continue to defend her and plead to give her a chance and how she is part of some mythic insurgency in the Democratic Party. Now most of these writers, those I am thinking about, spent the last couple years deriding the DNC, attacking the criminal record of Hillary Clinton. And yet, now there is a sort of mushy appeal to consider the Democratic Party in any calculus for building a movement toward change. No longer do I hear the word communism, and I only hear socialism when it is hyphenated with Democratic (Democratic-Socialist). What happened? Well, part of what happened is the rise of the marketing left. The entrepreneur left. Or the branded left. The capitalist left. All of these terms apply. In other words, these people are no longer (and probably never were) in any way the opposition. The magazines of these entrepreneurs (Sunkara and Jacobin, which Nick Beams amusingly called the ‘the house journal for the middle class pseudo-left milieu, in particular the Democratic Socialists of America’) found a niche sort-of-left market demographic and capitalized (sic) on it. This is the place one reads of strategic alliances but never reads of the positives of communism. Or the likes of Charles Davis, a puerile fascist masquerading as pseudo left. I mean he is sort of the fake, fake left.

And invariably these new non-Marxist and anti-communist leftists will quote and include those western educated voices in matters of foreign policy ( on Syria in particular). They will claim these Syrian voices, who speak English with perfect vowels, are the voices of the people. And they will always find a way to damn with faint praise the Bolivarian Revolution, and they will be anti-Castro and anti-the late Colonel Gadaffi. Most take a mulligan on Milosevic, even at this late date when literally all the propaganda has been debunked. They will use the term thug for any number of revolutionary leaders in the 3rd world. Think Maduro or Kim Jong Un, or Mugabe or Ortega. They call it is realism or something. It is the illusion of fairness. It is the subject position of the educated bourgeoisie. Now, never mind the failings or not of these leaders, their real crimes in the eyes of the West (like Iran) is their independence. And rarely is much thought given to the forces assembled against these independent countries. (think the embargo of five or six decades against Cuba, or the what was done to crush the Sandinistas, the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia, the sanctions against Iran). Remember, too, the U.S. targeted Syria thirty some years ago and that hasn’t changed.

I think in earlier times, a time before the internet, when news was not nearly instantaneous, one relied on certain principles, a certain ideological experience (I was accused this week of being blinded by my ideology, when in fact I think my ideology allows me to see more clearly, but I digress) that meant one knew who had the power, one knew that such power is almost always used to preserve privilege, and hence one would be inclined to side with those who had no power. Regardless. But it is also the tendency, today, to imagine a level playing field – a field that exists in one’s own cultural landscape. And this is what I am coming to call the new Orientalism. When I think back to Vietnam and how those of us who resisted and protested that Imperialist war, there was no question of tweezing apart if Ho Chi Minh was nice. I suspect he kind, but not probably nice, but that was not the issue. The issue was the United States and its massive military killing machine against a largely peasant population. And the opposition to the war had deep working class roots, and it was a resistance that began with a refusal to support any U.S. Imperialist aggression.

The domestic antiwar movement was the largest in U.S. history, and the October 1969 Moratorium Against the War alone was the greatest single antiwar protest ever recorded in this country. The movement was deepened and strengthened by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), that in January 1966 issued a public statement against the war—a courageous dissent that nearly bankrupted it financially. SNCC called U.S. involvement “racist and imperialist.”
— John Marciano

Artists and poets travelled the country giving free readings and offering support for draft resisters. Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin… even Robert Lowell, were creating work that was organically political, and not simply agit prop. They were doing what artists traditionally do, they were engaging in the world around them, and with the people around them, and with the life of planet. They weren’t selling anything. Not even a T-shirt.

Now, this branded left of today, or the anti-dialectical left, is also acutely anti-Maoist and anti-Stalinist. And again, my experience suggests the core of this ideological grouping are white men under or about 40, and University educated. And they are the exemplars, too, of this new Orientalism. And this Orientalism tends to enclose a particular strain of racism. Jay Tharappel wrote over at Big Russ News last week: “Racism is not just a tool of capital to divide labour (which is the dominant definition of the term among first–world Left); it is also an ideological weapon employed primarily by empires to shape how their citizens think about other nations in accordance with their geopolitical strategy.” These New Orientalist Leftists are also, as I say, rabidly anti-Stalinist and anti-Maoist; and this is less because they possess any real historical knowledge but because the caricature of the evil totalitarian despot is a necessary figure in their personal anti-communist imaginary.

President Barack Obama made his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president in July, 2009, speaking in Accra, Ghana. Despite a decades-long trail of broken promises to Africa on aid and development, Obama’s speech in Accra was marked by finger-wagging and reprimands, and an insistence that African nations’ own “mismanagement” and “lack of democracy” are to blame for their economic and social problems.
— Lee Wengref (International Socialist Review, #103)

Nations that establish their dominance can afford to be more liberal especially if they’re not threatened by more powerful enemies, whereas countries that find themselves actively fending off aggression by more powerful enemies do not have the luxury of adhering to ‘liberal’ standards premised on a privileged place in global affairs.
— Dan Tharappel

When liberals and New Orientalists (branded left, anti-communist left etc) look to find that neutrality of argument, the one that suggests just because I don’t like U.S. and NATO wars doesn’t mean I have to like Assad (Castro, Maduro, Ortega, Milosevic et al). They are assuming their privileged state of existence is outside all critiques. Any country colonized by one of the European powers automatically inherited bureaucratic and administrative structures and a political apparatus (including European policing). Syria inherited the French colonial structures for the most part. Such burdens constitute a psychic wound, a kind of mythic burden of both guilt and rage. But if those western educated sources with the posh vowels are consistent with NGO testimony and reports (western based and funded) such as Amnesty International, then this serves as evidence of third world savagery. The history of Hill & Knowlton, or any of the other Madison Avenue firms the State Department employs is simply ignored. It is literally tossed into the black hole of Western amnesia. If one cites the even very recent perfidy of western media and NGOs one is usually called a conspiracy theorist. I’ve been so called for citing things the CIA actually admits and brags about.

In 1998 the U.S. Air Force document, titled Information Operations, states that “Information Operations are applied across the range of military operations, from peacekeeping to full conflict … it is important to emphasize that the Information warfare is a formula that is implemented in all Air Force activities, from peace to war in order to enable the effective execution of all tasks.… The execution of information operations in the aeronautical, space and cyberspace across all aspects of the conflict “(note the use of” doublespeak “[or” dual language “, in the context of the terms” peace “and” military operations “). [sic]
— from the Yellow Brick Road Free Blog

And of course this leads to items such as this
… and this.

In a quite constant way, Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand.
— Edward Said

The looming environmental catastrophe, or multiple catastrophes, are impossible to calculate in effect. But clearly there are going to be enormous changes to how the wasteful west, the privileged white world, lives. The current dementia or hallucinatory fever that is gripping the U.S. has far less to do with Donald Trump (though it does, in a sense, have to do with Putin and Russia, but I will return to that) than it does with the degraded state of daily life for nearly everyone that lives within it. And that includes the very wealthy, who I maintain are just as miserable, only they have far better coping mechanisms available to them. The sheer sense of despair that cuts across all western societies today is visible and palpable, and the new homeless camps on the edges of EVERY big city in America, are the symbol of the dying society. And yet, this predatory nation of slave owning Presidents, a nation that is the only in history to use nuclear weapons, this country of mass incarceration and provable indelible racism, still seems to attract those claiming they want to change it.

Liberals are, of course, always going to side with authority. Always will look to preserve the status quo. They are most comfortable, really, with open displays of fascist symbolism and style. I know few liberals who do not secretly admire or find Mussolini attractive. For such fascist leaders are very similar to the protagonists Hollywood turns out. Of late, I’ve noticed, a sharp uptick in heroes fashioned after Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs — the lone genius who goes off and discovers the solutions to everything. Never are they seen at work with countless colleagues, or vast armies of researchers working in near anonymity. No, it is the Zuck/Mussolini figure that does it alone. And these figures are always allowed to be vain, rude, selfish and destructive. And most often reactionary. Genius is forgiven. It is a very attractive fantasy for the western bourgeoisie today. It also suggests these figures are hard at work solving global warming for example. Solving all those things that can’t be faced. But this new ‘branded left’ — the New Orientalists, the anti-communists under the age of forty five, are also attracted to power. And they find positions that are not greatly different than an HRC supporter (or Bernie, or Elizabeth Warren et al). Its the old lets hold their feet to the fire fantasy. As I think on it, there is rather a lot of fantasy taking place on all levels and at all rungs of contemporary society. Which is probably why such emphasis is put on being realistic. Which reminds me that today the public intellectual is either a Jordan Peterson (for the Jr College student or under grad at some directional state University) or Stephen Pinker (for the post grad from more expensive schools). To think only a few decades back Gore Vidal and James Baldwin appeared with regularity on TV opinion shows. As an aside, there is so much ludicrously wrong with Pinker that time and space prevent a full listing. But one observation regarding his claim that violence is in decline and that mankind has never known such a sustained peace. Now he arrives at this absurdity by simply ignoring the violence visited upon the global south. Post-1945 he figures the big “civilized” states aren’t at war. And that’s all that counts. Pinker and Peterson both are new Orientalists.

As Ed Herman and David Peterson wrote,

Pinker completely ignores the phenomenon of structural violence, or the kind of violence that is ‘built into the structure’ of social relations, and ‘shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances,’ in Johan Galtung’s famous rendering. On a planet with more than 7 billion people facing mounting ecological pressures, the increasingly savage global class war of the 1% against the other 99, and the ‘endemic undernutrition and deprivation’ that afflicts billions of people even in ‘normal’ times—to extend Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s writings on India to the world as a whole—takes a toll every day that overshadows the violence of war.

Pinker, by the by, teaches at Harvard. Something I find rather fitting and revealing regards the state of intellectual discourse today.

Fanon, of course, said,  “…decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.”

And today the structural violence is finding new avenues of expression. I wrote a while back about the rise of a new antisemitism. In one way much of that antisemitism is found in structural relationships. Just as racism is, though perhaps to a lesser degree (for white black racism remains steadfastly overt and concrete). Those homeless encampments also are testimony to the alienation of modern western society. For these are the camps of the newly poor. And it has been an opening of the flood gates of penury for much of what was once working class America. And these are people without protection, either from government, unions (which largely dont exist anymore) or extended family.

When the USSR collapsed another sort of symbol disappeared. For it was the USSR that fought for the independence of African nations. They fought against colonial rule. The US fought for the colonizer. They supported the apartheid state. And they would today, too, which is what many Africans instinctively know. Across the poorest regions of the planet the figures of Mao and Fidel and Stalin are symbols of hope, not tyranny.

So the rabid insane demonizing of Putin is both an extension of a cold war comfort zone, and simply the furious irrational tantrum of the DNC. But to be clear, the Bush and Putin bromance came to an end when Obama took office. That was the real sea change in US-Russia relations. And it marked the serious infiltration of Hollywood by the Clinton mafia. Obama was the errand boy for the deep state, for the CIA and state department, but also the NSA, and certainly for Wall Street and the even bigger finance that controls Wall Street. Now, tracking the logic and movement of this change is too complex for this post, but what is germane here is that Obama’s pivot to Asia included a pivot against Russia. For no matter how one feels about Putin, the historic role of the Russian people matters greatly. It matters because Russia has always defied Western diktats, and because Russians themselves, as a culture, a society, tend toward a sensibility of independence. And because as Andre Vltchek pointed out, they look white, the look normal, but they are in fact different. And it feels as if they are closer to Roma than to Americans. They have the same streak of absolute indifference to our opinion of them. In a sense they are closer to much North African culture, too, funny as that sounds. One thing they are not is British or French or American. There is a real split in cultural character between the European colonizing culture and that of Russia, the Islamic world, and Africa.

So Putin becomes this, on the one hand, slightly camp figure, barechested on horseback, but also surgically intelligent former KGB agent. Putin feels too smart for Americans, I think. I mean what-the-fuck, who-the-fuck-does-he-think-he-is? Few world leaders project intelligence. Castro did, but he, alas, is gone now. Commandante Marcos is smart. And your average liberal will try to explain that Obama was smart, Harvard Law Review and whatever. (Harvard where that Pinker guy teaches, right?). But its not the same smart. Its another varietal of smart, another sort that grows under other conditions. Obama did not project more than a kind of detached wonky intelligence. Intelligence but without a soul.

Meanwhile, I see where Tony Blair (speaking of not so smart) was just gifted with ten gajillion dollars or pounds or something by Mohammed Bin Salman, the presumptive next king of Saudi Arabia. Billions, as a gift, from the man who launched a merciless pointless genocide against Yemen. And Tony, ever the good Christian, accepted giddy with gratitude. The obscenity of the United States and UK today depresses me, I have to say. I see nothing good that comes out of trying to reform a ruthless profiteering death infected party of rich and the very rich and their courtiers. The Democratic Party should not even be mentioned when the discussion turns to change. Not even mentioned, let alone praised for anything. The Democratic Party, as noted before, are drawing candidates primarily from the intelligence community and the military. Remember that. For those erstwhile leftists, those who side with NATO and the U.S. against any third world ruler, ANY of them, are collaborators really. That is how I look upon them. If, as an example, Lula da Silva functioned as a sort of ersatz collaborator, for a time, I tend to forgive him more than I would Angela Merkel. Or Theresa May. For da Silva was leader of the world’s largest former colony. And the scars of the colonial period are always visible even today. And besides that, those arraigned against him are the same neo aristocrat fascists massed against Maduro. Against Bolivia, too. The real threat to mankind is the american establishment.

The other thing worth asking is if, as we know, the U.S. CIA black budget is in excess of fifty billion dollars a year, what is that being spent on? And one has to wonder if infiltrating the left is not something of a priority. I would submit it is. So these publications of the pseudo left (now routinely mentioned in articles by CNN and at the NY Times) must have connections. And when other supposed radical voices take up the cause of the Democratic Party, one has to wonder. When they suddenly starting citing, as an authority, the findings of NGO reports or the data collected by front groups… it gives one pause.

Ben Rhodes (Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications under Obama) has a memoir out, and in it is a paragraph he wrote, regarding the speeches at Fidel Castro’s funeral. He writes, “For the next several hours the global left was heard from in speech after speech. The message was tired, out of date. Africans talking about the struggle to shake off colonialism. Latin Americans honouring the Cuban people and their resistance to Empire in the North.” So you see, this is the Democratic Party. Even mentioning colonialism is soooo five minutes ago.

The Soviet Union was the only Great Power whose stand conformed to our people’s will and desire. That is why the Soviet Union was the only Great Power which has all along been supporting the Congolese people’s struggle. I should like to convey the heartfelt gratitude of the entire Congolese people to the Soviet people and to Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchov personally for your country’s timely and great moral support to the young Republic of the Congo in its struggle against the imperialists and colonialists. I should also like to thank the Soviet Union for the assistance in food which it is extending to the Congo.
— Patrice Lumumba, July 28, 1960. (Interview).

Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankly, I was astounded by the comparison.

Nazi propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

Limiting political debate

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

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

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

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

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

Israel and Jews

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

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

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

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

A dangerous confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Livingstone problem

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

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

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

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

A mural becomes anti-semitic

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

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

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

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

The 1 per cent off-limits

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

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

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

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

Douma: Deception In Plain Sight

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the ‘Enemy’, while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a ‘denier’, ‘pro-Saddam’, ‘pro-Gaddafi, ‘pro-Assad’. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: ‘Apologist… Apologist… Apologist’.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

The ‘mainstream’ responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was ‘a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth’.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian’s assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

It’s time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad’s ability to murder Syria’s citizens at will.

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

It means destroying Assad’s combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad’s and Russia’s control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.

But surely after Iraq – when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – ‘we’ should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump’s air raids:

When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.

Oborne added:

Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.

Tisdall was having none of it:

Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had ‘the motivation’ to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed ‘writhing’ under gas attack. Tisdall’s pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper’s comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

Besides, how much evidence do we need?… To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad’s guilt is clear.

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of ‘inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch’. But when we actually click Freedland’s link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not, in fact, unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall’s claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as ‘denialists’ and ‘apologists’ – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In ‘mainstream’ journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

Syria has paid a terrible price for the west’s disastrous policy of doing nothing.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA’s billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian ‘rebels’ via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian’s George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

Don’t you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn’t think Assad did it.

Monbiot replied:

Then he’s a fool.

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

I continue to attract attacks from the “respectable” corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.

Monbiot tweeted back:

I’m sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.

The idea that Murray’s effort has been ‘to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes’ is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an ‘apologist’ for ‘the enemy’.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term ‘apologist’ might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad’s responsibility is ‘apologism’, then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as ‘Trump apologists’, or ‘May apologists’, or ‘Jaysh al-Islam apologists’? The term really means little more than, ‘I disagree with you’ – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.

Why Are These Academics Allowed?

The cynical, apologetic absurdity of questioning the official narrative has been a theme across the corporate media. In a Sky News discussion, Piers Robinson of Sheffield University urged caution in blaming the Syrian government in the absence of verifiable evidence. In a remarkable response, Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, screeched at him:

Who do you think did it? Was it your mother who did it?

Again, exact truth reversal – given the lack of credible, verified evidence, it was absurd to declare Robinson’s scepticism absurd.
Mendoza later linked to an article attacking Robinson, and asked:

Why are UK universities allowing such “academics” – and I use the term advisedly because they are not adhering to any recognised standard when promoting material with no credible sourcing, and often with no citation at all – to work in their institutions?

In 2011, Mendoza wrote in The Times of Nato’s ‘intervention’ in Libya:

The action in Libya is a sign that the world has overcome the false lessons [sic] of Iraq or of “realism” in foreign policy.

The UN had ‘endorsed military action to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding’.

In fact, the unfolding ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ was fake news; Mendoza’s mother needed no alibi. A September 9, 2016 report on the war from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons commented:

Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence….

The Times launched a shameful, front-page attack on Robinson and other academics who are not willing to accept US-UK government claims on trust. The Times cited Professor Scott Lucas of Birmingham University:

Clearly we can all disagree about the war in Syria, but to deny an event like a chemical attack even occurred, by claiming they were “staged”, is to fall into an Orwellian world.

In similar vein, in a second Guardian comment piece on Douma, Jonathan Freedland lamented: ‘we are now in an era when the argument is no longer over our response to events, but the very existence of those events’. Echoing Soviet propaganda under Stalin, Freedland warned that this was indicative of an intellectual and moral sickness:

These are symptoms of a post-truth disease that’s come to be known as “tribal epistemology”, in which the truth or falsity of a statement depends on whether the person making it is deemed one of us or one of them.

And this was, once again, truth reversal – given recent history in Iraq and Libya, it was Lucas and Freedland who were falling into an Orwellian fantasy world. Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens made the obvious point:

Given the folly of the British government over Iraq and Libya, and its undoubted misleading of the public over Iraq, it is perfectly reasonable to suspect it of doing the same thing again. Some of us also do not forget the blatant lying over Suez, and indeed the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hitchens clearly shares our concern at media performance, particularly that of the Guardian, commenting:

Has Invasion of the Bodysnatchers been re-enacted at Guardian HQ? Whatever the dear old thing’s faults it was never a Pentagon patsy until recently. Rumours of relaunch as The Warmonger’s Gazette, free toy soldier with every issue.

Hitchens questioned Guardian certainty on Douma:

But if facts are sacred, how can the Guardian be so sure, given that it is relying on a report from one correspondent 70 miles away, and another one 900 miles away.. and some anonymous quotes from people whose stories it has no way of checking?

He added:

The behaviour of The Guardian is very strange & illustrates just what a deep, poorly-understood change in our politics took place during the Blair years. We now have the curious spectacle of the liberal warmonger, banging his or her jingo fist on the table, demanding airstrikes.

Indeed, in discussing the prospects for ‘intervention’ in the Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer, described the 2013 vote that prevented Britain from bombing Syria in August 2013 as ‘that shameful night in 2013’. Shameful? After previous ‘interventions’ had completely wrecked Iraq and Libya on false pretexts, and after the US regime had been told the evidence was no ‘slam dunk’ by military advisers?

In the New Statesman, Paul Mason offered a typically nonsensical argument, linking to the anti-Assad website, Bellingcat:

Despite the availability of public sources showing it is likely that a regime Mi-8 helicopter dropped a gas container onto a specific building, there are well-meaning people prepared to share the opinion that this was a “false flag”, staged by jihadis, to pull the West into the war. The fact that so many people are prepared to clutch at false flag theories is, for Western democracies, a sign of how effective Vladimir Putin’s global strategy has been.

Thus, echoing Freedland’s reference to ‘denialists and conspiracists’, sceptics can only be idiot victims of Putin’s propaganda. US media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR accurately described Mason’s piece as a ‘mess’, adding:

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

Surprisingly, the Bellingcat website, which publishes the findings of ‘citizen journalist’ investigations, appears to be taken seriously by some very high-profile progressives.

In the Independent, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas also mentioned the Syrian army ‘Mi-8’ helicopters. Why? Because she had read the same Bellingcat blog as Mason, to which she linked:

From the evidence we’ve seen so far it appears that the latest chemical attack was likely by Mi-8 helicopters, probably from the forces of Syria’s murderous President Assad.

On Democracy Now!, journalist Glenn Greenwald said of Douma:

I think that it’s—the evidence is quite overwhelming that the perpetrators of this chemical weapons attack, as well as previous ones, is the Assad government…

This was an astonishing comment. After receiving fierce challenges (not from us), Greenwald partially retracted, tweeting:

It’s live TV. Something [sic – sometimes] you say things less than ideally. I think the most likely perpetrator of this attack is Syrian Govt.

We wrote to Greenwald asking what had persuaded him of Assad’s ‘likely’ responsibility for Douma. (Twitter, April 10, direct message)

The first piece of evidence he sent us (April 12) was the Bellingcat blog mentioning Syrian government helicopters cited by Mason and Lucas. Greenwald also sent us a report from Reuters, as well as a piece from 2017, obviously prior to the alleged Douma event.

This was thin evidence indeed for the claim made. In our discussion with him, Greenwald then completely retracted his claim (Twitter, April 12, direct message) that there was evidence of Syrian government involvement in the alleged attack. Yes, it’s true that people ‘say things less than ideally’ on TV, but to move from ‘quite overwhelming’ to ‘likely’, to declaring mistaken the claim that there is evidence of Assad involvement, was bizarre.

Political analyst Ben Norton noted on Twitter:

Reminder that Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is a notorious vehicle for US soft power.

Norton added:

It acts like an unofficial NATO propagandist, obsessively focusing on Western enemies.

And:

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, which is funded by NATO, US, Saudi, UAE, etc.

And:

According to Meedan, which helps fund Bellingcat — along with the US government-funded NED — Bellingcat also works with the group Syrian Archive, which is funded by the German government, to jointly produce pro-opposition “research”.

And:

The board of the directors for Meedan, which funds Bellingcat, includes Muna AbuSulayman—who led the Saudi oligarch’s Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation—and Wael Fakharany—who was the regional director of Google in Egypt & North Africa (US gov. contractor Google also funds Bellingcat)

And:

Bellingcat—which gets money from the US gov-funded NED and fixates obsessively on Western enemies—claims to be nonpartisan and impartial, committed to exposing all sides, but a website search shows it hasn’t published anything on Yemen since February 2017.

Although Bellingcat is widely referenced by corporate journalists, we are unaware of any ‘mainstream’ outlet that has seriously investigated the significance of these issues for the organisation’s credibility as a source of impartial information. As we will see in Part 2, corporate journalism is very much more interested in challenging the credibility of journalists and academics holding power to account.

• Part 2 will be published soon!

Fisk Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria

It seems that many who supported the weekend’s air strikes on Syria are missing the significance of Robert Fisk’s report this morning from Douma, the site of a supposed chemical weapons attack last week.

Fisk is the first western journalist to reach the area and speak to people there. One is a senior doctor at the clinic that treated victims of what a video purported to show were chemical weapons used by the Syrian government.

That doctor says the video was real, but did not show the effects of a chemical weapons attack. It showed something else. This is what the doctor is reported saying:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night — but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted ‘Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

On my social media pages there are plenty of armchair warriors furiously denying the importance of this report, by claiming either that the doctor made up the story or that Fisk is a mouthpiece for the Assad regime, or maybe both.

That will not wash for reasons that ought to be obvious – and it still won’t wash even if the testimony later turns out to be wrong.

The air strikes on Syria at the weekend were patently illegal according to international law. That would have been the case even had there been a chemical weapons attack in Douma, in part because it would have been necessary for independent inspectors to determine first whether the Syrian government, and not the jihadists there, was responsible.

The air strikes would have been illegal too, even if it could have been shown that a chemical weapons attack had taken place and that Assad personally ordered it. That is because air strikes would have first required authorisation from the UN Security Council. That is why international law exists: to regulate affairs between states, to prevent militarism of the “might is right” variety that nearly destroyed Europe 80 years ago, and to avoid unnecessary state confrontations that in a nuclear age could have dire repercussions.

Had Assad been shown to be responsible, Russia would have come under enormous international pressure to authorise action of some kind against Syria – pressure it would have been extremely hard for it to resist.

But had it resisted that pressure, we would have had to live with its veto at the Security Council. And again, for very good reason. Israel, the US and the UK have used depleted uranium munitions in the Middle East, and Israel and the US white phosphorous. But who among us would think it reasonable for Russia or China to unilaterally carry out punishment air strikes on Maryland (US), Porton Down (UK) or Nes Ziona (Israel), and justify the move on the grounds that the US and UK could veto any moves against themselves or their allies at the Security Council? Who would want to champion belligerent attacks on these sovereign states as “humanitarian intervention”?

But all of this is irrelevant because whatever incontrovertible information the US, UK and France claimed to have that Syria carried out a chemical weapons attack last week is clearly no more reliable than their claims about an Iraqi WMD programme back in 2002.

Fisk does not need to prove that his account is definitively true – just like a defendant in the dock does not need to prove their innocence. He has to show only that he reported accurately and honestly, and that the testimony he recounted was plausible and consistent with what he saw. Everything about Fisk’s record and about this particular report suggests there should be no doubt on that score.

Fisk’s report shows that there is a highly credible alternative explanation for what happened in Douma – one that needs to be investigated. Which means that an attack on Syria should never have taken place before inspectors were able to investigate and report their findings.

Instead, the US-UK-France launched air strikes hours before the UN inspectors were due to begin their work in Syria, thereby pre-empting it. At the time those air strikes took place, the aggressor states had neither legal nor evidential justification for their actions. They were were simply relying on the reports of parties, like the White Helmets, that have a vested interest in engineering the Syrian government’s downfall.

As is now known beyond doubt, our leaders lied to us about Iraq and about Libya. Some of us have been warning for some time that we should be highly sceptical of everything we are being told by our governments about Syria, until it is verified by independent evidence.

All of us have a moral responsibility to stop simply believing what our governments and their propagandists in the corporate media tell us, whether we do it out of a kneejerk authoritarian impulse or because we have some romantic notion that, despite the evidence, our leaders are always the good guys and their leaders are always the bad guys.

Just consider for a moment the UK’s support for, and involvement in, the horrifying Saudi war against Yemen, or US politicians’ blanket silence on Israel’s massacre of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza. Our leaders have no moral high ground to stand on. Their foreign policy decisions are about oil, defence contracts and geo-strategic interests, not about protecting civilians or fighting just wars.

However bad Assad is, and he is a dictator, he is responsible for far fewer deaths and much less suffering in the Middle East than either George W Bush or Tony Blair.

Former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer sets out a very plausible reason why the US, UK and France keep intervening in Syria. It is not about children or chemical weapons. It is to prevent the Syrian government and Russia triumphing over the jihadists, as they have been close to doing for some time.

These western states are adamantly opposed to allowing a peaceful resolution in Syria, Kinzer observes, because it:

might allow stability to spread to nearby countries. Today, for the first time in modern history, the governments of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are on good terms. A partnership among them could lay the foundation for a new Middle East.

That new Middle East, however, would not be submissive to the United States-Israel-Saudi Arabia coalition. For that reason, we are determined to prevent it from emerging. Better to keep these countries in misery and conflict, some reason, than to allow them to thrive while they defy the United States. …

From Washington’s perspective, peace in Syria is the horror scenario. Peace would mean what the United States sees as a ‘win’ for our enemies: Russia, Iran, and the Assad government. We are determined to prevent that, regardless of the human cost.

UPDATE:

Fisk’s account is corroborated by another reporter there, Pearson Sharp of the conservative news network One America. Unlike Fisk, who I know has a long track record as a highly credible reporter of events in the Middle East, Sharp is an unknown quantity to me. But it may be significant that he echoes Fisk in saying that no one he spoke to, even in the neighbourhood where the attack supposedly occurred, seemed aware that chemical weapons had been used.

Five Thoughts on Air Strikes Against Syria

1. The United States, the UK and France launched air strikes on Syria this morning just as inspectors from the UN chemical weapons agency, the OPCW, had arrived to investigate whether a chemical weapons attack – the official justfication for the strikes – had taken place in Douma last week and, if so, who was responsible.

It looks suspiciously like the strikes were timed to pre-empt, and foil, the UN investigation. That has to raise concerns that we are being hoodwinked by our leaders, as we were in Iraq and Libya, as they seek to actively stoke yet another “humanitarian war” whose only beneficiaries will be the west’s military-industrial-security-media elites.

2. Let us not forget, a military attack on a sovereign country without authorisation from the UN Security Council amounts to a war of aggression. That is a crime against humanity – the supreme international crime, in fact – as jurists have repeatedly pointed out.

We have now so inverted the global order that western powers can claim – with a straight face – to attack a country in the name of decency and humanitarianism by breaking the most fundamental tenets of international law, tenets that were developed precisely to prevent last century’s two world wars that laid waste to Europe and beyond.

3. Trump has said: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” Given that he doesn’t know whether Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, or whether Assad’s jihadist opponents in Douma have access to such agents, his statements can only give Islamic extremists of the headchopping variety a huge incentive to carry out (more?) false-flag attacks – or simply mock up phoney attacks – to intensify western violence that will work in their favour.

4. There is precisely nothing humanitarian about western military attacks. They encourage and strengthen the losing side, Islamic extremists, and further drag out an already protracted proxy war in which Syrian civilians have been paying the main price.

They also risk triggering an escalation and a widening of the fighting that could lead to massive death and destruction in the region and beyond (and that without contemplating the dangers of a nuclear confrontation). We are now dependent not on the good sense of our leaders (they have shown they have none), but on the restraint of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. We must hope he refuses to be baited by our own irresponsible governments.

5. This is not Trump’s fault, bad as he is. There is bipartisan support for this madness. Hilary Clinton and the Democratic leadership in the US, and much of the parliamentary Labour party in the UK, are fully on board with these actions. In fact, they have been goading Trump into launching attacks.

It is hard not to notice a political context in both the US and the UK in which those opposed to escalating tensions with Russia – including Trump when he was a presidential candidate – have been vilified as Kremlin agents and Putin-bots.

Doubtless Trump’s shady global business dealings are worthy of investigation, as they were before he became president. But it is the relentless focus on his ties to Russia alone, on Russia’s supposed interference in the last US elections, on Russia’s supposed role in generating so-called “fake news” on social media, on the assumption of Russian involvement in the poisoning of the Skripals in the UK, and much else, that provides Trump with little choice but to go along with the US security and intelligence elites.

That is the reason why he is instantly feted by the policy establishment every time he attacks Syria. It will take a brave Trump to resist these pressures in the future – and little so far suggests that he possesses that kind of courage.