Category Archives: UK Hypocrisy

Labour: anti-Semitic or just resisting occupation?

Today there’s an important addition to the group of MPs defecting from the UK Labour Party: Joan Ryan.

Important because Ryan is Chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She recently lost a no-confidence vote in her constituency so her days as an MP are probably numbered anyway.

Are we beginning to see an orchestrated drip-drip of resignations following the departure of ‘The Insignificant Seven’, as the Morning Star called them, at the start of the week? Their destructive intent is clear for all to see from their dizzy remarks.

In a statement Labour Friends of Israel said:

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, anti-Jewish hatred and demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state has been allowed to flourish. The politics of the hard left represent a threat to the security of the UK, to our traditional alliances and to the stability of the Middle East and its only democracy, the state of Israel.

We will continue to work both within the Labour party and with like-minded, independent MPs on the left and centre left to promote a two-state solution, to combat anti-Zionist antisemitism and counter the delegitimisation of Israel. Joan Ryan MP will remain in her position as our Parliamentary Chair.

Israel, of course, is no Western-style democracy. It’s an ethnocracy, that is a deeply ethnic power structure behind a thin democratic veneer.

Joan Ryan leaves with a long, ranting attack on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Over the past three years, she says, the Labour party under Corbyn “has become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism. This problem simply did not exist in the party before his election as leader…. I have been horrified, appalled and angered to see the Labour leadership’s dereliction of duty in the face of this evil….

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned, and their integrity called into doubt.

“I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership singles out for demonization and delegitimization the world’s only Jewish state.

“And I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while this requires me to suggest that I believe Jeremy Corbyn – a man who has presided over the culture of anti-Jewish racism and hatred for Israel which now afflicts my former party – is fit to be Prime Minister of this country. He is not.”

This “singling out” of Israel for criticism is an old refrain. Israel does a good job of delegitmizing itself by its contempt for international law and cruel subjugation of Palestinians whose lands they have stolen – and continue to steal. And people of conscience single out Israel because these unforgivable crimes are going on in the Holy Land, territory which is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It was also a British mandate and in 1948 we abandoned it in an unholy mess. We have a responsibility to make amends.

Ms Ryan complains about “a revolving door disciplinary policy with those accused of antisemitism briefly suspended and then quietly readmitted to the party”. Ken Livingstone will be interested to hear that. He was suspended “indefinitely” from the party nearly 3 years ago. Those accused of anti-Semitism are typically subjected to administrative suspension for around 6 months during which their reputation and public standing are shattered and they are hampered in their work if councillors or MPs. Life is made hell. And if the disciplinary hearing finds the charges baseless there are no consequences for the vexatious accuser.

And she grumbles about the party’s refusal to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. “Jeremy Corbyn had but one priority: to preserve the right of antisemites to label Israel a ‘racist endeavour’. That priority tells me all I need to know about his fitness to lead the Labour party and our country.” This remark is particularly stupid. Several legal experts have pointed out how the IHRA definition contradicts existing laws and conventions guaranteeing freedom of expression and would cause endless trouble if used in an attempt to punish.

Furthermore the Israel project was from the start – before Balfour even – unashamedly racist in purpose as demonstrated yet again only a few months ago when Israel enacted nation state laws that make its non-Jewish citizens distinctly second-class.

The Ryan rant goes on to include remarks like these:

  • “The Jewish community has made clear that it believes a Jeremy Corbyn government would be an existential threat to it. I will not campaign to put such a government into office.”
  • The mindset that tolerates antisemitism “is one that would ostracise the Middle East’s only democracy in favour of the Ayatollahs in Tehran: a regime which tramples on human rights, has the blood of tens of thousands of Syrians on its hands, and seeks to dominate and subjugate the region and impose its theocratic brutal rule.”
  • “And it is one that would abandon our friends in Europe in favour of appeasing Vladimir Putin….”
  • “Nine years of Tory government have caused enormous damage to my constituency and the country. Held hostage by the hard right of her party, the Prime Minister is now preparing to inflict a crippling hard Brexit – one that will rob the young of their future. Jeremy Corbyn and the Stalinist clique that surrounds him offers no real opposition to any of this.”

Under the influence

So, of the eight ex-Labour MPs now huddled together in the Independence Group six are signed up Friends of Israel. Why would any politician in receipt of a salary from the British taxpayer wish to promote the interests of a foreign military power – and a belligerent, racist one at that? Why are they allowed to? After all, doesn’t that breach the second of the Seven Principles of Public Life, namely Integrity – “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”?

But put that to the watchdog, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and you’ll get nowhere. Eleven years ago twenty senior professionals wrote to the CSPL about the undue influence of the Israel lobby at the heart of British government. They reminded the Standards Committee how Friends of Israel had embedded itself in the British political establishment with the stated purpose of promoting Israel’s interests in our Parliament and bending British policy.  The various Friends of Israel groups had gone to great lengths to influence those in power a good many of whom, it seemed, had reached their high positions with FoI help. The network acted as a sort of parliamentary freemasonry. The political director of Conservative Friends of Israel at the time claimed that with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, it was the largest affiliated group in the party.

Its website stated that the CFI “strives to support the Conservative Party at all available opportunities. In the run up to the 2005 General Election… CFI supported candidates up and down the country. As candidates are now being continuously selected for target seats, CFI has developed a special programme of weekly briefings, events with speakers and a chance to participate in delegations to Israel.” It also had a ‘Fast Track’ group for Conservative parliamentary candidates fighting target marginal seats. The political director himself was seeking election to Parliament. If successful where would his loyalty lie?

Senior Conservatives tried to justify these activities by insisting that Israel was “a force for good in the world” and “in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together” [my emphasis].

Eleven years on, we can see what “good” Israel has been in the world and what impact the British government’s “viewpoint” ever had on the Israeli government’s criminal conduct.

The best thing Corbyn could do is shut down the Labour Party’s Friends of Israel operation. If people want to form such associations let them do it outside Westminster. They should not be allowed to flourish within any parliamentary party.

As for the Conservative Party’s flag-waving for Israel, words fail.

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

The Attack on Facebook is not for our Benefit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the report’s conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britain lurches Deeper into Brexit Crisis as its Population Remains Deeply Alienated from the Political Establishment

The British political establishment is experiencing an unprecedented crisis over the issue of exiting the European Union. The Conservative government staggers from crisis to crisis over its Brexit deal while politicians of all colours bicker and argue as the UK lurches towards a potentially devastating No Deal scenario. This had lead to a huge distrust in the political class amongst the long suffering public.

As the clock ticks down towards the 29 March exit date it is worth while recalling how this crisis came about in the first place. Regardless of which Brexit option the UK takes over the next period it will not detract from the fact that there is a huge chasm between large sections of a bitterly discontented population and the political establishment that does not bode well for the future stability of a key American ally.

A recent poll of 33,000 people revealed that an overwhelming majority felt that whatever Brexit option is adopted it will not address the rampant inequalities, political alienation and disenchantment that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

In June 2016 the UK vote to exit the EU shocked the financial and political elites and led to turmoil on global stock markets. The corporate media was full of shocked pundits lamenting the democratic decision of British people for Brexit. Brexit voters were being blamed for everything from the rise in racism against immigrant families to the increased dangers of terrorist attacks.

The corporate media both in Britain and internationally was and still are furious with the British electorate for voting for Brexit. They never saw it coming and still don’t fully understand why ordinary people voted for Brexit. More than this, they still don’t understand how the Brexit vote reveals how completely out of touch the corporate media and the political/financial elites are with the millions of working class people who voted for Brexit.

Let’s be very clear about this: the vote for Brexit was a working class rebellion against the financial and political elites of Britain who have presided over a massive redistribution of wealth in favour of the super rich leaving a fifth of the population in poverty. Analysis of the referendum vote shows how the poorer an area was the higher the vote was for Brexit.

The working class stood up to massive pressure from the Bremain camp that included: all of the mainstream political parties, the Bank of England, CBI, IMF, ECB, Obama, the World Bank and the trade union bureaucrats.

The vote for Brexit revealed how out of touch the establishment advocates of the EU are with working class people. Millions of working class people are struggling to get by with low wages, incessant benefit cuts, zero hour contracts, food banks and poor housing that are putting their families and communities under intense strain. On top of this, working class people suffer the most from the cuts to the welfare state and the incessant cuts to local council services.

Working class people are not stupid they can see how the EU is a fundamentally undemocratic organisation that is completely unaccountable to them. The secret negotiations that took place between the EU and the Obama administration over TTIP, which members of the European Parliament had no say over, proved conclusively how this is an organisation run for the benefit of the too big to fail banks and the multi-national corporations.

They can see how the undemocratic EU has bludgeoned the people of Greece into living in permanent austerity and mass poverty despite a referendum last year that decisively rejected austerity measures. Obama’s favourite economist Paul Krugman called the EU’s intervention into Greece in 2015 a ‘coup d’etat’.

The advocates of Bremain in 2016 such as Mark Carney (ex-Goldman Sachs), then Prime Minister Cameron (from a tax avoiding banker family) then Chancellor George Osborne (son of a Baronet) warned working class people that Brexit would lower their living standards more than any other group in UK society.

However, millions of working class people were not taken in by the crocodile tears coming from those responsible for creating a massively unequal society. Quantitative easing and ZIRP have made the super rich fabulously richer as they have benefited from the massive bubbles on the stock market and in property. The top 10% of society own 45% of all wealth totalling over £5 trillion while the bottom 50% of society own a pathetic 9% of the wealth.

Prime Minister Cameron’s government presided over a savage attack upon welfare benefits which have led to one and half million benefit sanctions leaving people totally destitute and leading to hundreds of people committing suicide. The attack on welfare benefits for disabled people has been so severe it prompted the UN to launch an investigation into the human rights violations of disabled people. In 2018 the UN accused the UK government of ‘’systematic violations’’ of disabled people’s rights..

The political and financial elites who advocated that Britain should stay in the EU were puzzled as to why so many working class people stubbornly supported Brexit in 2016. They were and still are incapable of comprehending the anger, pain and suffering of millions of working class people who feel increasing contempt towards a political and financial elite that has no understanding of their daily lives. Over 13 million live in poverty (1 in 5 of the population) while 15 million live in inadequate housing conditions.

This inchoate anger at the daily reality that confronts them has few outlets in life. The EU referendum provided working class people with a means of sticking two fingers up at the political and financial establishment which now presides over a very divided country along lines of class and geography. This sense of alienation and disenchantment with the political establishment has only increased in the two and half years since the Brexit referendum.

The Brexit vote has led to unprecedented turmoil in both of the main political parties in Britain, particularly the Conservative Party.

The financial and political elites suffered a major defeat in 2016 Brexit vote. The Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties in history and has served the British ruling class well for over two hundred years. Now it faces an unprecedented crisis and is unable to effectively govern.

Regardless of which Brexit option the Conservative government takes over the next period the UK will face huge challenges as the world economy continues to slow down and heads towards another devastating recession.

This will pose major challenges for the stability of the UK, whose manufacturing base continues to weaken while its financial services sector loses its dominant position in European capital markets due to Brexit. A discontented population may take inspiration from its yellow vested neighbours across the English Channel.

Trial and Error

Nick Boles, an MP previously loyal to Britain’s Tory party, recently made himself very unpopular with his own constituency activists. Why? Because he dared to state that he would not support any move that might result in Britain quitting the European Union without a deal. In a recent column in his local newspaper he listed several points that explain his position concerning the disastrous Brexit fiasco. One of those points stated his adamant rejection of any support for holding a second referendum because, he says, it would “Increase cynicism about the honesty and competency of politicians”.

Well, what can you say? Anything that helps people to become cynical about the honesty and competence of politicians has to be good thing, doesn’t it?

But seriously, I understand the point he makes, and even agree with it at a very superficial level: you can’t ask people to decide something and then ignore their decision and do something else. But I think it might be helpful for him, and others with a similar view, to think about the Brexit referendum, or any referendum, not so much as some divine eternal proclamation, but more like a court verdict.

Our justice system has an essential device, an appeals process, which prevents or reduces countless miscarriages of justice. Many court cases which produce one type of verdict when they’re first heard often produce an entirely different verdict when the case is appealed at a later stage. This is because new evidence is usually heard at an appeal which was not initially available and which, if ignored through the absence of an appeal system, would result in grotesque injustices.

A similar and desperately serious situation exists with Brexit. Very few people who voted for Brexit had any idea of the mayhem that was about to be unleashed – and that was even before we actually left the EU. Very few people knew about the immense problem that would arise about the Irish border, for example, and very few people knew how much they were lied to in the months, and years, leading up to the referendum.

And how many people knew the great champions of Brexit would be the first to head for the hills as soon as the Brexiteers won the day? How many expected Nigel Farage to quit UKIP within days of the result, leaving others to sort out the mess he created? How many expected the likes of arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to expand his multi-billion pound hedge fund operation, not in Britain, but in Ireland? Or anticipated arch-Brexiteer James Dyson to move the headquarters of his multi-billion pound empire out of the UK to Singapore? If all these leading lights of the “Leave” campaign were so confident about a rosy future for post-Brexit Britain, why did they behave like rats leaping off the sinking ship?

No referendum result should be treated like the word of God. It should be seen as fallible as a court verdict which could and should be changed if new compelling evidence is produced. Adhering blindly to a referendum result just because it’s a referendum is a bit like someone being convicted on phoney evidence in some kangaroo court by a bloodthirsty lynch-mob, denied any chance of appeal, and then brutally executed – all O.K. because some pseudo-court said so. Referendums are just as capable of returning wrong decisions as any courtroom and, just like court decisions in moderately civilised countries, should be able to be changed if sufficient evidence is forthcoming.

Generally speaking, the judicial system is not too bad. It possibly produces more good verdicts than bad ones. But everyone knows it’s fallible. It makes lots of mistakes, even when it isn’t being cynically rigged or manipulated. Without an appeals system it would be much, much worse.

There is a mountain of new evidence to support a re-trial of this case. The accused, Britain’s partnership with the European Union, has been wrongly convicted. The case must be appealed, and another referendum, based on all the new evidence, held as soon as possible.

Cyprus: Deadly UK Military Bases, Refugee Camps … and Tourists

Believe it or not, but not long ago, Cyprus used to be the only country in the European Union that was governed by a Communist Party. And it was not really too long ago – between 2008 and 2013.

Also, relatively recently, unification of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish administered northern part of the island, appeared to be achievable.

And when Cyprus, like Greece, almost collapsed financially, it was Russia which offered to bail it out (before the EU did all it could to prevent this from happening).

Now it all seems like ancient history.

The city of Nicosia is still divided, with the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish immigration check-points located right in the middle of an old town. Graffiti painted in ‘no man’s land’ demand an immediate end to the conflict: ‘One country; one nation solution’.

The crossing is busy. And to make it all somehow more colorful, perhaps, there is a huge white Pitbull, phlegmatically hanging around the border area. It does not bark; it is just there. Nobody knows whether he belongs to the Turkish or the Greek side, but it appears that he spends more time with the Turks, as, I suppose, they feed him better.

The Greek-speaking side of Nicosia looks like a slightly run-down EU provincial town. On their flank, Turks are smoking shisha (traditional Middle Eastern waterpipe), and their cafes appear to be more traditional, and the old architecture more elegant. In the southern part, freshly brewed coffee is called ‘Greek’, while a few meters north, you have to order ‘Turkish’, or at least ‘Arabic coffee’. Needless to say, you get the same stuff on both sides.

Otherwise, it is one island, one history and one sad and unnecessary partition.

*****

The division of the nation is not the only madness here. Before you get used to the idea, you may go mental, finding out that there are two British administered territories still engraved into the island.

If you drive around, you will never notice that you are actually leaving Cyprus, and entering the U.K. Some car license plates are different to those regular Cypriot ones, but that’s about it.

You cross an invisible line, and you are in the UK; historically the most aggressive (militarily and ideologically) nation on the face of the earth.

You drive through some agricultural fields, but soon you see something very eerie all around the road: a few kilometers after passing the historic Crusader’s Kolossi Castle, there is an ocean of masts of different heights and shapes, as well as concrete, fortified military installations. The masts are ‘decorated’ with strange looking wires. It all looks like some old Sci-Fi movie.

Entrance to Akrotiri RAF base

Of course, if you come ‘prepared’, you know what you are facing: tremendous installations of the BBC propaganda apparatus aimed at destabilizing and indoctrinating the Middle East. But that is not all. This entire enclave – ‘Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri’ (as well as Dhekelia a few dozens of miles to the east) – is here mostly in order to spy on the ‘neighborhood’ of the Middle East. While London is some 4 hours flight away, Syria is just a short distance across the water, and so is Lebanon.

Vile British military installations in Akrotir

Further south, after you leave the propaganda and spy installations behind, is a small village of Akrotiri; a typical picturesque Cypriot charming settlement, with an old church, narrow streets and humble local cafes. It sits on top of the hill. But you are, actually, inside the U.K. From here, you can see the blue sea, a salt lake and the city of Limassol; but you are on British turf. How come? Simple: after Cyprus achieved independence from the British Empire, in 1960, the Brits ‘were concerned’ that they could lose control over their military bases in Cyprus, and at least partially, influence over the Middle East. As this being unimaginable to the British imperialist mind, the U.K. arm-twisted the Cypriots into this bizarre arrangement which holds to this day.

One more kilometer further south, and you hit the wall and a gate, decorated with threatening warnings. You are at the perimeter of the RAF Akrotiri base. From here, since December 2015, the RAF is carrying out illegal (according to international law) airstrikes against the sovereign Syrian Arab Republic.

According to Jeffrey Richelson and Desmond Ball, The Ties the Bind: Intelligence Cooperation between the UKUSA Countries, (Unwin Hyman, Boston/London and others, 1990, p.194 note 145):

As of 2010, around 3,000 troops of British Forces Cyprus are based at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Ayios Nikolaos Station, in the ESBA, is an ELINT (electronic intelligence) listening station of the UKUSA Agreement intelligence network.

That was then, but now things are getting even deadlier. Practically, the U.K. is at war with Syria. Many in Cyprus are deeply concerned that Syria could retaliate, sending missiles against the RAF bases, from which it is being bombed (legally, independent Syria has the full right to defend itself against the attacks from abroad). Such retaliation could endanger the lives of the inhabitants of Cyprus.

There have been protests and demands for the British forces to return to Cyprus both of the ‘sovereign bases’, but the U.K. shows no interest in ceding what it controls.

As early as in 2008, former left-wing President Demetris Christofias (who was also the General Secretary of AKEL, the Communist Party of Cyprus) tried to remove all British forces from the island, calling them a “colonial bloodstain”. However, he did not succeed, and in 2013 he decided to step down and not to seek re-election.

Dhekelia Base is carved into the eastern part of Cyprus, bizarrely encircling both Turkish-controlled and Greek-speaking villages.

In the past, the Cypriots fought against the British presence. Nowadays, in the era of omnipresent surveillance, sabotages and resistance had been replaced by toothless protests. Still, hundreds of local people have been detained, demanding the departure of British troops from the island.

*****

Cyprus is still divided, although reunification talks began, once again, in 2015. Now it is possible to walk between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus (controlled by Turkey).

It was not always this way. As Papadakis Yiannis wrote:

On 15 July 1974, the Greek military junta under Dimitrios Ioannides carried out a coup d’état in Cyprus, to unite the island with Greece.

Thousands of Turkish residents were displaced, many killed. Turkey invaded and the island got divided. But inter-cultural violence dated even further back than 1974. The history can be felt on every corner of Nicosia, and in many villages of the island. Northern Cyprus was never recognized by any other country except Turkey, but the division is still there. There are still entire de-populated towns that used to belong to the displaced Turkish and Greek inhabitants.

One of the eeriest is Kofinou, in the south of the island, which suffered on at least two occasions, unprecedented ethnic violence, which could be defined as ‘cleansing’. Once inhabited mainly by the Turkish Cypriots, Kofinou is now a ghost town, dotted with collapsed houses and agricultural structures, with foreign guest workers and farm animals living in appalling conditions.

*****

Cyprus has two faces. It is proud to be one of the famous European tourist destinations. It is an EU member.

Simultaneously, it is a symbol of division.

Border fences between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus are scarring its beautiful countryside. Deadly British military installations, the air force bases, as well as propaganda warfare and disinformation campaigns are brutalizing, physically and morally, almost the entire Middle East.

Here, in Cyprus, European and Russian tourists coexist, uneasily. The ideological war between the West and the rest of the planet is clearly felt in Pathos and other historic areas of the island.

Some British residents (around 50,000 of them), as well as countless British tourists, often behave insultingly towards the generally humble Russian visitors. Here, the British Empire still appears to be ‘in charge’.

In the port of Pathos, I passed by an elderly Russian couple, who seemed to be simply admiring an old water castle. A British couple was passing by, then looked back and forged sarcastic, rude grimaces: “Those Russians,” uttered the man. This was not the only instance when I witnessed this sort of behavior.

In Cyprus, I drove exactly 750 kilometers, all around the island, trying to understand and define its present position, and its role in the ‘area’ and in the world.

I hoped to find reminiscences of at least some revolutionary spirit of the Communist (AKEL) government. But I almost exclusively found pragmatism, so typical for basically all European Union countries. Only questions like this were common: ‘Would Brexit be good or bad for Cyprus?’ Or: ‘Would the bombing of Syria be dangerous for the citizens of Cyprus?’

Symbolically, near the village of Kofinou, destroyed by the inter-cultural violence several decades ago, I found a tough-looking refugee camp, built mainly for the immigrants coming from the destabilized Middle East. It looks like a concentration camp. Locals call it, realistically, a ‘prison’. Most likely, it is.

As I was driving around the area, I spotted, just a few kilometers from the camp, in front of an eerie and semi-abandoned farm, a huge goat. It was on its side; dying, in agony, in the middle of the road.

Cyprus has become a divided island with some hedonistic resorts, but also with terribly marginalized communities, located all over its territory.

One could easily conclude: this former British colony is still allowing, for a fee, the tremendous presence of the British/NATO military forces, as well as various spy facilities and propaganda outlets. RAF Tornado jetfighters are presently flying their ‘missions’ against Syria. Missiles are being fired from Akrotiri. People fleeing from the destroyed countries of the Middle East, are then detained in Cyprus, like criminals, behind barbed wire.

In the meantime, the people of Cyprus are calculating, whether all this is truly feasible, or not; whether to be an outpost of the empire is a good business, for as long as it pays, they will do very little to change the situation. Despite of its complex past and present, as well as its proximity to the Middle East, Cyprus is, after all, an integral part of Europe, and therefore of the Western empire.

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

Fiasco In Islington

Jazz saxophonist and writer Gilad Atzmon was recently banned from playing at an assembly hall in Islington, a borough of London, by order of the Islington Town Council. This came about as a result of an e-mail from one person—Martin Rankoff saying nothing more than that if Atzmon was going to be at the venue on December 21 he would give a ticket that was given to him to someone else. Rankoff wrote, “Mr Atzmon’s news and beliefs I personally find repulsive and do not wish to be in the same place as him, let alone listen to his music.” Rankoff included links to ADL and Israeli news outlets accusing Atzmon of antisemitism. Incredibly, on the basis of this letter alone, the Islington Council went way out of its way and contacted the show’s promoter to get Atzmon banned—something Rankoff didn’t even ask for.

Imagine the situation in reverse: Gilad Atzmon writes a letter to the Council saying he is uncomfortable with Martin Rankoff appearing in the audience at Islington assembly hall. He refers to Mr. Rankoff’s pro-Israel Twitter page where Rankoff calls Jeremy Corbyn “A F***ing Antisemite and Racist” and where Corbyn is pictured on a bike with a comment suggesting Corbyn should be rammed by a car. Atzmon says that he doesn’t feel safe with Rankoff in the audience. He finds Mr. Rankoff’s support for Israel repulsive because Israel was founded on genocide against the people of Palestine. As proof he provides links to news reports on the slaughter of unarmed protestors in Gaza since  March 30, 2018, and a story on the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

This imaginary second complaint would have been scorned as an abridgement of Rankoff’s rights. Indeed, since the Islington Council has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in which criticism of Israel is deemed antisemitic, the Council would probably feel obliged to forward the letter to the authorities as evidence of hate speech.

The Council provided a statement on the banning in which it says: “under the Equality Act 2010, the Council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough. The Council took account of the fact that Mr Atzmon’s presence at the Hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents of the borough, might harm such relationships, as well as the Council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the borough.”

This begs the question—in what way would either the “presence” of Gilad Atzmon or “knowledge of his presence among residents” harm the relationship between different races and religions in the borough? Atzmon was to appear at the venue as a saxophone player in a jazz group. It’s hard to imagine a more severe inversion of the concept of discrimination. On the basis of the feelings of one complainant, the right of a musician to work or even be present in Islington is taken away.

What lies behind this is a familiar tactic. Zionists have no argument to counter critics of Israel, so they try to shut them up by attacking their character and robbing them of their livelihood. Now AIPAC and other lobbies are working to make it illegal to criticize Israel, as we see in the recent case of a Texas speech therapist whose yearly contract was denied because she refused to sign a pledge not to support a boycott of Israel. One might ask, what does a teaching position in Pflugerville, Texas have to do with one’s opinions about a country seven thousand miles away? And why does that country have the right to compel anyone in the US to sign a loyalty oath?

If the BDS movement doesn’t do it, zealotry and fanatacism will be the undoing of the Zionist project. People don’t like being told what they are allowed to think and say. When our words and thoughts are policed, it makes us question all the more. What were once decent leftist positions against racism and discrimination have been twisted into a new kind of totalitarianism, one in which it is racist to question the racist, and discriminatory to question discrimination; one in which we are told to think something doesn’t exist when we can see with our own eyes that it does. The self-righteous members of the Islington Town Council have set a very dangerous precedent, and have been used as fools on top of it.

The Saudi Arabian Model: Blueprints for Murder and Purchasing Arms

It reads like a swaying narrative of retreat.  A man’s body is subjected to a gruesome anatomical fate, his parts separated by a specially appointed saw doctor – an expert in the rapid autopsy – overseen by a distinctly large number of individuals.  Surveillance cameras had improbably failed that day.  We are not sure where, along the line, the torturers began their devilish task: the diligent beating punctuated by questions, followed by the severing of fingers, or perhaps a skipping of any formalities.  One Turkish investigator sniffing around the Saudi consulate in Istanbul saw such handiwork “like a Tarantino film.”

The result was clear enough: the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went into the Saudi embassy on October 2 and never came out alive.  (Even an attempt of the gathered crew of death to procure a Khashoggi double was noted.)

For aspiring authoritarians, the Saudi state is a model instructor.  First came blanket denial to the disappearance: the Saudi authorities had no idea where the journalist had gone after October 2.  On October 18, Riyadh officially acknowledged Khashoggi’s death.  By October 21, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir had come to the conclusion that this had, in fact, been murder, and a mistake. “This was an operation where individuals ended up exceeding the authorities and responsibilities they had”.

Then, an improbable story of a fist fight developed through the media channels. (When one has to kill, it is best to regard the enemy as inappropriately behaved when they dare fight back.)  In the presence of 15 Saudi operatives, this was all richly incredulous – but the Kingdom does specialise in baffling and improbable cruelties.

It was clear that distancing was fundamental, hence the cultivation of the “rogue” theory, with Saudi operatives taking a merry trip off the beaten path.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was happy to pour water on the suggestion. “We have strong evidence in our hands that shows the murder wasn’t accidental but was instead the outcome of a planned operation.”  It had been executed “in a ferocious manner”.

The Turkish president has, however, danced around the issue of ultimate state sanctioned responsibility.  Neither King Salman, nor Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have been publicly outed in any statements as either showing awareness of the killing or ordering it.  Prince MBS and his father are happy to keep it that way, severing their links with the killing as assuredly as the killers had severed the journalist’s fingers.  This is evidenced by the Crown Prince’s own labelling of the act as a “heinous crime that cannot be justified”.

The Saudi Public Prosecutor has also decided to move the case from one of accidental killing (fist fights will do that sort of thing) to one of planned murder.  A bit of cosmetic housecleaning has been taking place (another authoritarian lesson: look busy, seem engaged with heavy concern): 18 people have been arrested and two advisers sacked by the Saudi state.  The Crown Prince, according to the official Saudi Press Agency, has chaired the first meeting of a committee established to reform the country’s intelligence services.

This authoritarian blueprint also implies a staying power in the face of other states who see Saudi Arabia as cash cow and security partner.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a rich appetite for foreign arms, a point not missed on the weapons makers of the globe.  Some attrition is bound to take place: certain countries, keen to keep their human rights credentials bright and in place, will temporarily suspend arms sales.  Others will simply claim disapproval but continue leaving signatures on the relevant contracts of sale.

Some ceremonial condemnations have been registered.  Members of the European Parliament voted upon a non-binding resolution on Thursday to “impose an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.”  Germany, temporarily concerned, has suspended arms sales to the House of Saud, with Chancellor Angela Merkel deeming the Khashoggi killing “monstrous”. Canada’s Justin Trudeau briefly pondered what to do with a lucrative defence contract with Riyadh worth $12 billion, only to then step back.

The Canadian prime minister did acknowledge that the killing of Khashoggi “is something that is extremely preoccupying to Canadians, to Canada and to many of our allies around the world” but has not made good any threats.  His predecessor has become the ideal alibi.  “The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract.”  Cancellation would lead to penalties which, in turn, would affect the Canadian tax payer.  How fortunate for Trudeau.

France, the United Kingdom and the United States remain the three biggest suppliers of military hardware to the kingdom, a triumvirate of competitors that complicates any effective embargo.  Which state, after all, wants to surrender market share?  It’s a matter of prestige, if nothing else.  President Donald Trump’s reaction is already clear: a suitably adjusted lid will be deployed to keep things in check till matters blow over; in the meantime, nothing will jeopardise a $110 billion arms deal.  Business with a theocracy can be patriotic.

The French angle has been reserved and coldly non-committal.  “Weapons exports to Saudi Arabia are examined in this context,” claimed foreign ministry deputy spokesman Olivier Gauvin, meaning that his country’s arms control policy was made on a case-by-case basis.  For France, keeping Riyadh in stiff opposition to Tehran’s regional ambitions has been a matter of importance in its Middle Eastern policy for decades, a point reiterated by President Emmanuel Macron in April.  And the Kingdom pays French arms exporters well: between 2008 and 2017, Saudi Arabia proved the second biggest purchaser of French arms (some 11 billion euros), with 2017 being a bumper year with licenses coming to 14.7 billion euros.  Riyadh can expect little change there.

Britain’s Theresa May, in the tradition of elastic British diplomacy (condemnation meets inertia), has insisted that her government already has the appropriately stringent rules on arms exports, another way of shunning any European resolution that might perch on human rights.  Such strictness evidently does not preclude the eager oil sheiks of Riyadh, though Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt did suggest the Khashoggi killing, should it “turn out to be true” would be “fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly.”  Such actions are bound to be symbolic – much money has been received by the British arms industry, with earnings of £4.6 billion coming from sales to the Kingdom since the Saudi-led war on Yemen began in 2015.  Sowing death, even if through the good agency of a theocratic power, is lucrative.

The fate of Khashoggi, cruel and ghastly, seems a piddle of insignificance in that light.  “Brexit,” urged Philippe Lamberts, MEP and leader of the Group of the Greens, “must not be an excuse for the UK to abdicate on its moral responsibilities.” That abdication, on the part of Britain and its arms competitors, took place sometime ago.

After 70 Years of Abuse, a Definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism

What is the matter with the Palestine solidarity movement? Since 1948 (and before that, even) the Palestinians have been viciously abused and dispossessed while the perpetrators and their supporters have continually played the anti-Semitism card.

Bemused spectators have been bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as a cornerstone in their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against  the Palestinian people. The expected riposte never came.

Anti-Palestinian Racism

Now Jewish Voice For Labour, of all people, have struck back with a useful looking definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism which they decribe as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”. In a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism they suggest that manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism might include the denial of Palestinian rights to a state of Palestine as recognised by over 130 member countries of the United Nations and blaming Palestinians for their own plight under brutal military occupation and lock-down. Here’s how they put it:

Contemporary examples of anti-Palestinian racism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  1. Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.
  2. Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  3. Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.
  4. Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.
  5. Denial that Palestinians have lived in what is now the land of Israel for hundreds of years and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.
  6. Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed Nation State Law) are inherently racist.
  7. Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.
  8. Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.
  9. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.
  10. Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.
  11. Accusing the Palestinians as a people, of encouraging the Holocaust.

I am not sure how Palestinians, as genuine Semites living there for thousands of years, will react to No.5 which claims their homeland is “now the land of Israel”. Despite being illegally occupied by an apartheid entity most of whose members have no ancestral links to the ancient “land of Israel” it is still Palestine.

For decades activists have been telling the Israel lobby to look in the mirror and address their own racial hatred towards the Palestinians. You must truly hate people to deny them their freedom and even their right to return to their homes and livelihoods. Why has it taken so long for such a simple and obvious weapon to be produced? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the true agenda of those in charge of Palestine solidarity? And why has it taken a group of Jews (bless ’em) to do it?

The question now is how best to deliver this somewhat delayed riposte. It might have been best delivered while the iron was hot, at the height of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt and media onslaught. Many activists wanted Corbyn to turn on his tormentors and tell them to mend their own vile attitude towards Palestinian Arabs before daring to smear others with accusations of  anti-Semitism.

On the other hand it will benefit from careful honing, cool planning and the massing of pro-Palestinian support to make the hit really count.

For reasons we know only too well our politicians won’t adopt it as eagerly as they embraced the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. But it is at least a starting point in the fight-back especially if deployed by a coalition of genuine pro-Palestine groups and the BDS movement as the centrepiece of their new, combined campaign strategy.

Lies, damned lies….

Meanwhile I hope all those who allowed themselves to be suckered by the Israel lobby will hang their heads in shame when they read this report by the Media Reform Coalition: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm.

The Executive summary says that an analysis of over 250 articles and news segments from the largest UK news providers (online and television) showed:

  • 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by anchors or correspondents themselves, six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on TheGuardian.com
  • A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.
  • Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labours code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.

In all, there were 95 clear-cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. On TV two thirds of the news segments contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

The report points to “a persistent subversion of conventional news values”. Furthermore, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often omitted critical discussion of the ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA and wrongly described it as universally adopted. “We established through background case research that although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six  of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves.

  • In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UKs central government in early 2017, less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition.
  • Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency (a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based) and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by three senior UK barristers and one former appeals court judge. Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Which all goes to show that Britain’s mainstream media has a hill to climb to get back its self-respect.

Blanket Silence: Corporate Media Ignore New Report Exposing Distorted And Misleading Coverage of Corbyn

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the 17 years since Media Lens began, it’s that media professionals generally hate being challenged, critiqued or criticised. This fierce antipathetical belligerence underlies the corporate media’s total refusal to mention, far less discuss, a recent damning report on how the corporate media have been misreporting Labour and its supposed ‘problem’ with antisemitism.

The report was published last week by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC), set up in 2011 in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, to promote debate about the media and democracy. The MRC coordinates effective action by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners, and is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, Professor of Communication and Media at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The urgent need for such a media initiative is highlighted by the disturbing reality that Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with just three companies in control of 71% of national newspaper circulation and five companies running 81% of local newspaper titles.

In the careful MRC study, articles and news segments on Labour and antisemitism from the largest UK news providers, both online and television, were subjected to in-depth analysis. The research was undertaken by Dr Justin Schlosberg, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media at Birkbeck, University of London, together with Laura Laker, an experienced freelance journalist.

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

myriad inaccuracies and distortions in online and television news including marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered. Overall, our findings were consistent with a disinformation paradigm.

In other words, the corporate media have been pumping out reams of ‘fake news’ promoting a narrative that Corbyn and Labour are mired in an ‘antisemitism crisis’.

Out of over 250 articles and news pieces examined by Schlosberg and Laker, fully 95 examples were found of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In particular, there were (our emphasis):

• 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by news presenters or correspondents themselves, six of them on BBC television news programmes, and eight on the Guardian website.

• A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single -source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated value-based assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.

Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1. Nearly half of Guardian reports on the controversy surrounding Labour’s code of conduct featured no quoted sources defending the party or leadership.

This is, to say the least, totally unacceptable from any supposedly responsible news outlet. It is even more galling when it comes from the Guardian and BBC News, both with large global audiences, who constantly proclaim their credentials for ‘honest and balanced reporting’.

Much recent corporate media coverage has focused on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of ‘antisemitism’. Corporate media across the spectrum have argued that in refusing to accept the IHRA definition in total, with all of its accompanying examples, Corbyn has promoted antisemitism, alienated Britain’s Jewish community and divided his own party.

Philip Collins wrote in The Times of Corbyn (our emphasis):

He has, for some reason he cannot articulate, insisted that the Labour Party should be just about the only institution that does not accept the definition of antisemitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

In July, a Times editorial stated of Labour’s National Executive Committee (our emphasis):

Instead of adopting a standard definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and endorsed by governments around the world, the NEC has amended it in unacceptable ways… Let there be no doubt: these are unconscionable and antisemitic accusations.

In September, another Times leader opined (our emphasis):

Labour’s national executive committee will vote today on whether to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism. It is essential that it does. Governments and organisations worldwide have adopted the carefully worded text developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Jeremy Corbyn’s hamfisted attempt to rewrite it, without consultation and with the apparent aim of protecting certain activists, shames his party.

The Times added:

British Jews are well placed to define what constitutes racism towards them, just as any minority deserves the last word in the debate as it applies to them. Gordon Brown has called for Labour to “unanimously, unequivocally and immediately” adopt all the examples. Anything less would mark a dark day indeed for the party.

Noting that three leading British Jewish newspapers had declared that a Corbyn-led government would pose ‘an existential threat to Jewish life in this country’, senior Guardian columnist and former comment editor Jonathan Freedland asked:

How on earth has it come to this?

Part, but not all, of the problem, Freedland suggested, was (our emphasis):

Labour’s failure to adopt the full text of the near universally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including all its illustrative examples.

He added:

When Jews hear that the IHRA is not good enough, they wonder: what exactly is it that Labour wants to say about us?

And yet, as the MRC report [pdf] makes clear, although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves. Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency – a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based – and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies. Moreover, academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by four leading UK barristers.

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Nearly 50% of Guardian reports failed to include any quotes from those critiquing the IHRA definition or defending Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism. In fact, media reporting (our emphasis):

effectively gave those attacking Labour’s revised code and championing the IHRA definition a virtually exclusive and unchallenged platform to air their views. By comparison, their detractors – including a number of Jewish organisations and representatives of other affected minorities – were systematically marginalized from the coverage. Furthermore, Labour MPs adopting even moderate positions defending the code were subjected to far more aggressive questioning from interviewers than those adopting extreme positions attacking it.

In a calm, methodical and rigorous manner, the MRC has exposed to public view the blatant anti-Corbyn bias of even the ‘best’ media outlets: the BBC and the Guardian.

Response to the Media Reform Coalition Report

Our searches using the ProQuest newspaper database reveal that there has not been a single news article or editorial published about the report. This is a remarkable symptom of the glaring tendency of the media to reject, or simply blank, reasoned, well-researched criticism.

When The Canary website published an article about the MRC report, they approached both the Guardian and the BBC for comment. The Guardian‘s response was boilerplate rhetoric – ‘The Guardian has featured a wide range of voices in this debate’, etc – that failed to acknowledge the paper’s unambiguous distortions and omissions. The BBC did not even provide a comment.

The sole newspaper mention to date is a letter in the Guardian which may only have been published because Noam Chomsky is one of the signatories, along with high-profile figures such as Brian Eno, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach and a number of media academics. They make a crucial point that relates to criticism of the Guardian itself (mentioned earlier):

‘In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance” in which critics of Labour’s code of conduct dominated coverage, with nearly 50% of Guardian reports, for example, failing to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition.’

The letter also notes the MRC researchers’ conclusion that media distortions and inaccuracies:

were not occasional lapses in judgment but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party.

Chomsky and his co-signatories add:

In covering the allegations that Labour is now “institutionally antisemitic”, there have been inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions across our most popular media platforms. We believe that significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from antisemitism elsewhere, including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.

Given the Guardian‘s appalling record of boosting fake news of a Labour ‘antisemitism crisis’, and given its vehement opposition to Corbyn’s brand of moderate socialism, it is no wonder that #DumpTheGuardian and #BoycottTheGuardian were trending in the UK last Friday as part of a dedicated Twitter campaign.

Pro-Corbyn Labour MP Chris Williamson tweeted his support in response to the MRC report:

My reference to McCarthyism vindicated by this report. The Guardian newspaper’s deplorable contribution explains why so many people are saying #BoycottTheGuardian

Last Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech to the Labour Party conference in which he dared to criticise the British corporate media who have been gunning for him ever since he became the party’s leader:

It turns out that the billionaires who own the bulk of the British press don’t like us one little bit.

Now it could be because we’re going to clamp down on tax dodging. Or it may be because we don’t fawn over them at white tie dinners and cocktail parties.

He added:

We must, and we will, protect the freedom of the press to challenge unaccountable power.

Journalists from Turkey to Myanmar and Colombia are being imprisoned, harassed or sometimes killed by authoritarian governments and powerful corporate interests just for doing their job.

But here, a free press has far too often meant the freedom to spread lies and half-truths, and to smear the powerless, not take on the powerful.

You challenge their propaganda of privilege by using the mass media of the 21st century: social media.

Pippa Crerar, Guardian deputy political editor, responded with the standard kneejerk conflation of Corbyn’s reasoned comments with the idiotic ‘fake news’ mantra of Trump. She tweeted:

Corbyn criticises some parts of British media, claiming they “smear the powerless, not take on the powerful”. As a journalist, makes me very uncomfortable to hear him leading attack on our free press. Dangerous, Trumpian territory.

We responded:

Honest, rational criticism is not an “attack”, and it is not “dangerous”. A corporate press that refuses to listen or respond to this kind of reasonable criticism is itself dangerous. If anyone has a right to criticise media smears, it is @jeremycorbyn.

The level of popular support for this view is indicated by the fact that our tweet has so far received 518 retweets and 1,222 likes; a massive response by our standards.

To her credit, Crerar did engage with us reasonably, unlike the vast majority of her media colleagues over many years:

Totally agree media has to reflect/listen. Not for a minute saying we’re perfect (some elements extremely *imperfect*). But orgs also do invaluable work eg Windrush, grooming scandal, MPs expenses so just not true to say we don’t hold power to account.

We answered:

Thanks for replying, Pippa, very much appreciated. Glad you agree “media has to reflect/listen”. Doesn’t that mean taking Corbyn’s thoughtful, reasoned criticism seriously, rather than lumping it in with Trump’s awful tub-thumping? Corbyn and Milne really aren’t “dangerous”.

Her follow-up:

I’ve sat back today & watched pile-on. I’d always rather engage but not when abusive. Like I said, media far from perfect, but I fear JC’s comments ignored excellent journalism that does exist & undermined journalists who produce it. Of course, nowhere near as extreme as Trump.

And our reply:

Our response generated nearly 800 [now 1,700] likes and retweets – that gives an idea of the strength of feeling. Like other media, the Guardian‘s smearing of Corbyn has gone way too far. It’s time to start listening to your readers @KathViner.

To date, there has been no further exchange; and certainly not a peep out of Guardian editor, Katharine Viner; which is typical for this extraordinarily unresponsive media professional.

Justin Schlosberg, lead author of the MRC report, told The Canary:

Neither the Guardian nor the BBC have acknowledged or even directly responded to the myriad reporting failures highlighted in our research. It is completely inadequate to offer blanket dismissals or simply kick into the long grass of their respective complaints procedures.

Schlosberg pointed out:

The failure to answer to these allegations is even more serious than the reporting failures themselves.

Conclusion

As a further, related example of bias, consider the corporate media’s stunning indifference to the bomb threat that interrupted the screening of a new film, The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker, in Liverpool on September 25. Walker is a former Momentum Vice-Chair who was suspended from the Labour party as part of a propaganda blitz attempting to silence critics of Israel. The screening was organised by Jewish Voice for Labour which has been supportive of Jeremy Corbyn.

If the corporate media were genuinely motivated by concerns about alleged rising antisemitism, this shocking threat would have generated headline coverage. Instead it was met by a blanket of silence. A brief online Guardian piece was, to say the least, ambiguous in its narrative. Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook noted:

Another “fake news” master-class from the Guardian. A bomb hoax to stop Corbyn-supporting, Jewish Labour members screening a film about how Labour’s “anti-semitism crisis” has been manufactured is framed as *more* evidence of Jew hatred in the party!

According to our ProQuest database search, the only mentions in the print press have been in the Liverpool Echo and The Times of Israel. Where are all the editorials and major comment pieces in the Guardian, The Times and elsewhere?

As for the Media Reform Coalition report itself, it is no surprise that the BBC, the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media should brush away detailed reasoned criticism of their biased reporting, or pretend such clear evidence does not exist. These media outlets sell themselves as publicly accountable; or, at least, as defenders of the public interest; a valiant fourth estate standing up for the truth and honest, neutral news coverage. And yet, when the alternative media makes a mistake, or says ‘the wrong thing’, there are angry howls and screaming mockery from the corporate commentariat. The hypocrisy is staggering, and, again, entirely predictable.

• Authors’ Note:  Propaganda Blitz, the new Media Lens book, has just been published by Pluto Press