Category Archives: UK Labour Party

Dominic Cummings is our Machiavelli: with Brexit, lies served him, now the truth does

Remember how Dominic Cummings played a blinder over Brexit, spinning a web of deceptions, funnelled through politicians and the media, to persuade the public that Britain needed to quit the European Union so urgently it should do so on any terms, even ones that would sabotage the country’s interests. Well, he just did a Brexit on Boris Johnson, though this time he didn’t need to use lies. The facts were quite enough.

It would be foolish, however, to imagine that in appearing before a House of Commons select committee yesterday Cummings was serving simply as a conduit for the truth about Johnson’s catastrophically inept government – a kind of inversion of the role the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has played serving as a conduit for Cummings and Johnson’s misinformation.

Cummings was once again proving he is the master of cynical power politics. He is the Machiavelli of our times. His self-serving honesty and self-criticism were perfectly calibrated to rehabilitate his image, win over doubters and stick the knife more deeply into Johnson.

It may be too uncharitable to exclude the possibility that Cummings is offering his revelations, in part, to benefit the British public. But his larger purpose is clearer. He is doing his best to damage and destroy the incompetently corrupt, like Johnson and Health Secretary Mike Hancock, so that they can be replaced by the more competently corrupt, like Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Better frontman

Cummings is a brigade commander on the frontlines of a war within the establishment class. He wants a better frontman for his brand of US-inspired, super-predatory capitalism. And for that reason alone, the left should avoid getting so deeply immersed in these intrigues that we start cheerleading one side over the other.

Yes, Johnson made disastrous decisions over Covid that killed many thousands unnecessarily: the “herd immunity” plan, the abandonment of care homes, the delays in procuring PPE, the lax border policy, the extravagant contracts for cronies, and much more. We didn’t need Cummings to tell us that, though his insider account puts more flesh on the bones.

But there were plenty of other reasons why so many died, reasons that long predate Johnson becoming prime minister – not least the calamitous failure to maintain PPE supplies, the dismantlement of the institutions needed to prepare for and deal with a pandemic effectively, and the death by a thousand cuts to the NHS.

None of that would have been different had Sunak or Gove been in Johnson’s shoes, even assuming either would actually have been capable of devising and implementing better policies, from lockdowns to care homes. That is the greater scandal and it is not one Cummings – or Kuenssberg – will talk about.

Grudge match

What Cummings did do yesterday – inadvertently – was draw back a little the curtain designed to conceal the charade that is “representative democracy”. If we can avoid being overly invested in the drama of the Cummings-Johnson grudge match, we have a chance to understand that the whole system is rotten from top to bottom.

It is precisely this corrupted and corrupting system of power – run by, and in the interests of, a tiny political and media elite – that spent five years ensuring Jeremy Corbyn would never reach 10 Downing Street, and is now weighing whether Sir Keir Starmer is a credible “alternative” should the Tories’ fortunes sink.

Johnson has good reason to be obsessed with the media, making U-turns “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”. As with one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, Johnson understands that it is chiefly the Murdoch empire and the BBC that decide his fate.

In the Corbyn era, Johnson faced no threat at all – he knew the BBC and Murdoch press had his back. They would never have supported Corbyn against him, however unsuitable and incompetent Johnson proved to be as prime minister. That was the real problem with Corbyn. It was not his supposed character or political flaws; it was that Britain became even more of a one-party state so long he led the opposition – with the media, the political system, even the Labour party bureaucracy itself determined at all costs to keep in power the leader of the Conservative party, whoever it was.

Cummings’ sudden candour is a sign that the establishment is now in a position to replace Johnson, and willing to groom whoever from its short-list is best placed to win over the British public – be it, Sunak, Gove or Starmer.

BBC on the back foot

It is perhaps not surprising that Cummings sought to embarrass the BBC’s Kuenssberg by singling her out among his media contacts, pretending that he rarely dealt with other reporters. Kuenssberg is probably the single most powerful journalist shaping the public’s perception of this government. And she has done a sterling job of veiling and excusing Johnson’s incompetence at every turn. Without her, Johnson would have been a great deal more vulnerable much earlier.

What Cummings has subtly achieved is to force Kuenssberg on to the back foot. She is now prey to the charge – an entirely accurate one – that she has been riding shotgun for Johnson. She will need to distance herself more from him, to deal with No 10 “sources” more critically, in an attempt to prove Cummings wrong. And the new pressure on her to look less like what she is and what the BBC want her to be – a journalist hungry for access – will mean that, as a result, Johnson is more politically exposed, more vulnerable to challenge, than ever before.

For Cummings, it is a master-stroke.

One-party state

What Cummings revealed – again not entirely intentionally – was that we are ruled by narcissists and charlatans, the “donkeys”: precisely the kind of people who crave power for power’s sake and are least equipped to run government wisely and compassionately.

The policy failings, the lies, the chaos, the inflated personality clashes – the scenes of pandemonium Cummings set out – are inevitable when a country has long been run as a one-party state, even if that party comes in two flavours, red and blue, that sometimes take turns in government.

The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of Britain’s one-party system particularly starkly only because of the scale of the threat and the suddenness of its arrival. The cost of the establishment’s corruption and incompetence was measured this time in tens of thousands of lives – lives that can no more be hidden from view than the Covid “Wall of Hearts”.

But in normal times, donkeys like Johnson, Hancock, Sunak and Gove are ideally equipped to achieve the power elite’s goals, shunting capitalism’s costs out of view: on to the shoulders of the weak and vulnerable, those unheard on the margins of western society; to far-off lands, where the effects will be felt only by irrelevant black and brown people; and into the future, for our children to suffer the consequences.

Crackers by design

Even Cummings’ moments of apparent self-awareness were not quite what they seemed. He told MPs:

It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there [in a senior government position], just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there – and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.

But it isn’t crackers at all. It is by design. It is the way the system has evolved to keep a tiny wealth-elite in power. We have a narcissistic joker like Johnson in No 10 – just as Americans ended up with Donald Trump in the White House – because the public’s ability to think critically has been intentionally degraded over decades by a billionaire-owned press and a craven BBC that turned politics into the most cynical kind of entertainment.

When an opposition leader appeared, as if by accident, who actually wanted to use politics to transform the lives of ordinary people – rather than preserve the current predatory system of elite power – the corporate media lost no time turning him into a national security threat, a terrorist and an antisemite.

It is no accident that the one in power, Johnson, is the real clown. And it is no accident that the one out of power and in disgrace, Corbyn, was so easily made to look like a clown. The creation of an equivalence between them is more of the lies Cummings claims to be busting.

Cummings understands our weaknesses. We struggle to see how we are being manipulated. We listen credulously to flesh-and-blood journalists like Kuenssberg even as, in the abstract, we lose ever more trust in the media. We forget that by natural selection those drawn to the highest level of politics are invariably narcissists and master manipulators.

The result: we fall for their lies time and again. We listen to them uncritically, absorbing their cynicism and selfishness as truth, as honesty.

As Dominic Cummings knew we would.

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Crashing Out in Hartlepool: Labour Ills and Teflon Boris

By-election results make poor predictors.  The government of the day can often count on a swing against it by irritated voters keen to remind it they exist.  It’s an opportunity to mete out mild punishment.  But the loss of the seat in Hartlepool by the British Labour party is ominous for party apparatchiks.  For the first time in 62 years, the Conservatives won the traditional heartland Labour seat, netting 15,529 votes.  Labour’s tally: 8,589.  The swing against Labour had been a devastating 16%.

The scene of Hartlepool is one of profound, social decay.  Its decline, wrote Tanya Gold on the eve of the by-election, “meets you like a wall of heat.”  She noted an era lost, the trace of lingering memories.  Hartlepool was once known for making ships.  “Now it makes ennui.”  Male unemployment is a touch under 10%. Rates of child poverty are some of the highest in the country.  Services have been withdrawn; the once fine Georgian and Victorian houses are mouldering.

The seat presented the Conservatives an opportunity to take yet another brick out of Labour’s crumbling red wall.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson made visits to back his candidate, Jill Mortimer, hardly a stellar recruit.  Labour was suffering establishment blues.  They struggled to find a pro-Brexit candidate.  Their choice – Paul Williams – was a Remainer who formerly represented the seat of Stockton, which returned a leave vote of 69.6%.  It was a statement of London-centric politics, the Labour of the city rather than the locality; the Labour of university education rather than the labour of regional working class.

Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, formerly shadow defence secretary, is bitter about the estrangement and emergence of what are effectively two parties.  “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of the brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party,” he lamented in an article for the conservative think tank Policy Exchange.  “They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday.”

Energy had been expended on such causes as trying to pull down Churchill’s statue rather than “helping people pull themselves up in the world.”  The patriotism of the voters had not been taken seriously enough.  “They are more alert to rebranding exercises than spin doctors give them credit for.”

Labour’s campaign in Hartlepool was not so much off-message as lacking one.  “Today,” penned progressive columnist and Labour Party supporter Owen Jones, “we saw the fruits of a truly fascinating experiment”.  It was one featuring a political party going to an election “without a vision or a coherent message against a government that has both in spades.”

The tendency was repeated in local elections, with ballots being conducted across Wales, England and Scotland in what was called “Super Thursday”.  The Teesside mayoralty was regained by Ben Houchen for the Conservatives by a convincingly crushing 72.7%, three times that of Labour, prompting Will Hutton to see a new ideology of interventionist conservatism.  Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could do little other than call the results “bitterly disappointing” and sack the party’s chair and national campaign coordinator, Angela Rayner.  He is chewing over the idea of moving his party’s headquarters out of London. The feeling of panic is unmistakable.

What is even more startling is the enormous latitude that has been given to Johnson.  Despite bungling the response to the initial phases of the pandemic, an insatiable appetite for scandals and a seedy, authoritarian approach to power, Labor voters have not turned away, let alone had second thoughts about this Tory.  His mendacity and pure fibbing is not something that turns people off him; the stream of Daily Telegraph confections from the 1990s on what those supposedly nasty bureaucrats in Brussels were up to had a lasting effect on Britain’s relations with Europe.  Mendacity can work.

Last April, Jonathan Freedland examined the prime minister’s resume of scandals and found it heaving.  He shifted the cost of removing dangerous cladding in the wake of the Grenfell fire, along with other hazards, to ordinary leaseholders.  He slashed the UK aid budget and reduced contributions to the UN family planning program.  He delayed lockdowns in March, September and the winter in 2020, moves that aided Britain lead Europe’s coronavirus death toll.  There were the contracts to supply personal protective equipment to Tory donors and the frittering away of £37 billion on a test-and-trace programme “that never really worked.”  And that was just a modest sampling.

The refurbishment scandal is particularly rich, given the bundle Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have spent on their private residence.  The public purse will foot the bill to the value of £30,000, but the amount spent was more in the order of £200,000.  With a very heavy axe to grind, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former advisor and confidant turned blogging snitch, suggested that the PM’s grand plan was to have that inflated amount covered by donors.   “The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.”

Johnson, for his part, claims that he covered the costs himself, though he refuses to answer questions put to him on whether Lord David Brownlow initially covered it, and was then repaid.  Not declaring this transaction would have broken electoral law.  The Electoral Commission has not found the affair particularly amusing, and is investigating the refurbishment transactions.

The disaster that befell Labour in the 2019 general election sees little prospect of being reversed.  Starmer, generally seen as the more decent chap, is rapidly diminishing as a chance for Downing Street honours.  As for Johnson, Freedland suggests that the good fortune of the scandal ridden PM reveals an electorate “still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago.”

The post Crashing Out in Hartlepool: Labour Ills and Teflon Boris first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth.  Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

Maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago… For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.

Freedland is far from alone in peddling this line. Kuenssberg, in her BBC piece, offers a variant:

An insider told me: “He frequently leaves people with the belief that he has told them one thing, but he has given himself room for manoeuvre,” believing that, “the fewer cast iron positions you hold the better, because you can always change political direction.”

The verbal flourishes and rhetorical tricks are part of the reason why he has prospered. “A lot of his magic has been those off-the-cuff comments, that’s why a lot of the public like him,” says an ally.

In other words, we see what we want to see. Johnson is the vessel into which we pour our hopes and dreams, while he has the tough challenge of making our melange of hopes and dreams a tangible, workable reality.

Liberal journalists have been on this “blame the voters” path for a while. When it was Corbyn and his “dangerous” socialism being pitted against the Tories’ crony capitalism, the Guardian enthusiastically joined the smear campaign against Labour. That included evidence-free claims of an “institutional antisemitism” crisis under Corbyn’s leadership.

And yet despite the media’s best endeavours, Corbyn appalled journalists like Freedland at the 2017 general election by winning Labour’s biggest rise in vote share since 1945. Corbyn denied the Conservatives a majority and was a few thousand votes from winning outright – something Starmer can only dream of at the moment, despite Johnson’s exposure as an inveterate liar and conman. And Corbyn achieved this while the Labour party machine, and the entire corporate media, were vehemently against him.

Dangerous populism

It was in the wake of Corbyn’s unexpected success at the polls in 2017 that the Guardian unleashed its “New Populism” series, seeking to warn of a supposedly dangerous new political phenomenon that lumped the then-Labour leader in with right wing populists such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They were all part of a new wave of authoritarian, cult-like leaders who barely concealed their sinister, racist agendas, gulled supporters with promises divorced from reality, and most likely had secret ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In short, the Guardian’s thesis was that “the people” kept voting for these leaders because they were stupid and easily duped by a smooth-tongued charlatan.

This narrative was aggressively promoted by the Guardian, even though Corbyn had nothing in common with the right wing authoritarians with whom he was forced to share star billing. He had spent his long political career on the backbenches, cultivating a self-effacing politics of communal solidarity and “standing up for the little guy” rather than pursuing power. And far from being a nationalist or nativist, Corbyn had dedicated decades to internationalism and fighting racism – though admittedly, in challenging the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel and its Zionist supporters he had left himself prey to disingenuous claims of antisemitism.

But after several years of emotional and ideological investment in “the people are dumb” approach, the Guardian seems in no hurry to drop it – until, or unless, the people can be persuaded to vote for an eminently safe, status-quo candidate like Starmer. The paper’s target has simply switched from Corbyn to the more plausible figure of Boris Johnson.

The Guardian dares not contemplate any alternative explanation for why voters continue to prefer the narcissist, corrupt, lying Johnson over Labour’s “Clean Up Westminster” Keir Starmer. But its reluctance to consider other explanations does not mean they cannot be found.

A corrupt system

The problem is not that most voters have failed to understand that Johnson is corrupt, though given the corrupt nature of the British corporate media – the Guardian very much included – they are hardly well positioned to appreciate the extent of Johnson’s corruption.

It is not even that they know that he is corrupt but do not care.

Rather, the real problem is that significant sections of the electorate have rightly come to the realisation that the wider political system within which Johnson operates is corrupt too. So corrupt, in fact, that it may be impossible to fix. Johnson is simply more open, and honest, about how he exploits the corrupt system.

Over the past two decades, there have been several way-stations exposing the extent of the corruption of the UK’s political system, whichever party was in power.

Labour under Tony Blair overrode popular dissent, expressed in the largest marches ever seen in the UK, and lied his way to a war on Iraq in 2003 that led to the killing and ethnic cleansing of millions of Iraqis. UK soldiers were dragged into a war that, it quickly became clear, was really about securing western control over the Middle East’s oil. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq spawned a new nihilistic Islamic cult that rampaged across the region and whose embers have yet to be snuffed out.

Five years later, Gordon Brown oversaw the near-implosion of the British economy after Labour had spent more than a decade intensifying the financial deregulation begun under Margaret Thatcher. That process had turned the financial sector into the true power behind No 10. Both Brown and his Tory successor, David Cameron, not only refused to hold to account any of the white-collar criminals responsible for the collapse of the financial system, but instead rewarded them with massive bailouts. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were forced to tighten their belts through years of austerity to pay off the debts.

And in the background throughout this period, a global and local environmental catastrophe has been gradually unfolding that the political system has shown no capacity to address because it has been captured by corporations who benefit most from continuing the environmental degradation. The system has instead dissembled on the threats we face to justify inaction.

No price to pay

The truly astonishing thing is that those who lied us into the Iraq war, destabilising the Middle East and provoking an exodus from the region that has fuelled a surge in xenophobic politics across Europe; those who broke the financial system through their greed and incompetence and lied their way out of the consequences, forcing the rest of us to foot the bill; and those who lied about the ecological catastrophes unfolding over the past half century so that they could go on lining their own pockets; none of them paid any price at all for their mendacity, for their deceptions, for their corruption. Not only that, but they have grown richer, more powerful, more respected because of the lies.

One only needs to look at the fate of that unapologetic pair of war criminals, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The former has amassed wealth like a black hole sucks in light, and preposterously is still regularly called on by the media to pontificate on ethical issues in British politics. And the latter has been rehabilitated as a once-wayward, now beloved, irreverent uncle to the nation, one whose humanity has supposedly been underscored simply by making sure he was filmed “sneaking” a sweet to his presidential successor’s wife.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, a remedy to Britain’s self-evidently flawed political system was thrown up – in the form of Corbyn. He was a throwback, the very antithesis of the modern politicians who had brought us to the brink of ruin on multiple fronts. He was not venal, nor a narcissist. His concern was improving the lives of ordinary people, not the bank balances of corporate donors. He was against colonial-style wars to grab other countries’ resources. The things that made him a laughing stock with the political elite – his cheap clothes, his simple life, his allotment – made him appealing to large sections of the electorate.

For many, Corbyn was the last gasp for a system they had given up on. He might prove their growing cynicism about politics wrong. His success might demonstrate that the system could be fixed, and that all was not lost.

Except that is not how it played out. The entire political and media class – even the military – turned on Corbyn. They played the man, not the ball – and when it came to the man, any and all character assassination was justified. He had been a Soviet agent. He was a threat to Britain’s security. His IQ was too low to be prime minister. He was a secret antisemite.

Lying, cheating and stealing

In the United States, then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer warned Donald Trump back in 2017 that the US intelligence services would “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you” should the president try to go up against them. Maybe Trump hoped that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would offer some protection. Pompeo, a former head of the CIA, understood the dishonest ways of the intelligence services only too well. He explained his agency’s modus operandi to a group of students in Texas in an unusually frank manner in late 2019: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. That’s, it was like, we had entire training courses!”

With the campaign to destroy Corbyn, many saw how the British system was just as skilled and experienced as the US one in its capacity to lie, cheat and steal. Corbyn’s treatment offered an undeniable confirmation of what they already suspected.

Over the past two decades, in an era when social media has emerged as an alternative information universe challenging that of the traditional corporate media, all these episodes – Iraq, the financial crash, ecological catastrophe, Corbyn’s political assassination – have had deeply damaging political ramifications. Because once people sensed that the system was corrupt, they became cynical. And once they were cynical, once they believed the system was rigged whoever won, they began voting cynically too.

This should be the main context for understanding Johnson’s continuing success and his invulnerability to criticism. In a rigged system, voters prefer an honestly dishonest politician – one who revels in the cynicism of the system and is open about exploiting it – over one who pretends he is playing fair, one who feigns a belief in the system’s ultimate decency, one who lies by claiming he can pursue the common good.

If the system is rigged, who is really more mendacious: Johnson, who plays dirty in a dirty system, or Starmer, who pretends he can clean up the Westminster cesspit when all he will really do is push the ordure out of view.

Johnson is transparently looking out for his mates and donors. Starmer is looking out for a rotten system, one that he intends to makeover so its corruption is less visible, less open to scrutiny.

Liberals are mystified by this reading of politics. They, after all, are emotionally invested in a supposedly meritocratic system from which they personally benefited for so long. They would rather believe the lie that a good political system is being corrupted by rotten politicians and a stupid electorate than the reality that a corrupt political system is being exploited by those best placed to navigate its corrupt ways.

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Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say

A group of Labour activists fighting through the courts to discover why they and others were investigated or expelled from the UK’s Labour Party for antisemitism say they have flushed out proof of bad faith from their accusers.

The group, who call themselves Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J), say the new disclosure confirms their claim that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

As a result, the number of cases of antisemitism in Labour was inflated, falsely feeding the public impression that the political party under Corbyn had attracted Jew haters, say the Labour activists.

The suggestion that groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement “weaponised” antisemitism against Corbyn is currently seen as grounds by Labour to suspend or expel members.

But according to LA4J, evidence revealed in their legal case has now vindicated that claim.

The activists note that Jewish groups that waged a campaign of attacks on Corbyn over an antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 are now “deafeningly silent” on discovering that Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has been secretly using exactly the same code.

When it was first published, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations erupted in outrage, alleging that the 16-point code was proof of “institutional antisemitism” in the Labour party – and even that Corbyn posed a threat to Jewish life in Britain.

But the admission by Starmer’s officials that they are using the same code of conduct to investigate members has gone entirely unremarked three years later.

That is despite a submission to the courts from Labour’s own lawyers that the code had been kept secret because its publication might prove “politically incendiary”.

LA4J points out that back in 2018 the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups insisted that Corbyn replace the code with an alternative, controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

According to the activists, the current silence of these Jewish groups, after Starmer’s officials have conceded that they are using Corbyn’s code rather than the IHRA definition, further indicates bad faith.

Despite public statements to the contrary, the organisations knew that the IHRA definition was unworkable for Labour’s disciplinary procedures back in 2018, LA4J say.

“If Labour believes that the code issued by Corbyn was ‘incendiary’, the question is where is the bushfire now, when Starmer’s team admit they are using the very same code,” Chris Wallis, a spokesman for LA4J, told Middle East Eye.

“One of the things this case suggests is that groups like the Board of Deputies hoped to weaponise antisemitism as a way to attack Corbyn.”

Disciplinary process ‘back to front’

The group’s legal action is due to reach the High Court in June. It will be the first wide-ranging legal examination of Labour’s disciplinary procedures relating to antisemitism. In October 2019, the High Court ruled that the suspension of then-Labour MP Chris Williamson for “bringing the party into disrepute” over antisemitism allegations was illegal, though the judge did not overturn a second suspension that ousted him from the party.

Eight party members, including three Jews, are pursuing the case after they were investigated for alleged antisemitism. LA4J estimates that at least 30 Jewish members of the party have been accused of antisemitism, some repeatedly.

Late last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s equalities watchdog, issued a report critical of Labour’s handling of antisemitism cases, especially over what it termed “political interference” by Corbyn’s office, which it said had resulted in “a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process”.

However, the EHRC found that in practice such interference chiefly harmed the interests of those accused of antisemitism rather than their accusers. Corbyn’s officials often tried to speed up investigations in the hope of ending the barrage of criticism from Jewish organisations.

LA4J argue that hundreds of members have been drummed out of the party in a process that has lacked the transparency and fairness demanded by the EHRC. The procedure, they say, has failed to provide those under investigation with an opportunity to challenge the allegations.

Most members receive a “notice of investigation” that typically cites social media posts as evidence of antisemitism. In some cases, members have been accused of sharing articles from prominent websites, such as Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, known to be harshly critical of Israel for its repeated violations of Palestinian rights.

No explanation is made in the notice of why party officials believe the posts to be antisemitic. Instead, it is required of those under investigation to demonstrate why their posts should not be considered antisemitic.

The notices also demand that members under investigation not publicise their case or the information that is being used against them. It is unclear whether they are even allowed to seek legal advice. Instead, they are encouraged to get help from a GP or the Samaritans to aid their “wellbeing”.

Wallis, a former BBC radio drama producer who has been under investigation since last year, is one of the eight members taking the party to court.

“The disciplinary process has been entirely back to front,” he said. “We were never told about the secret code being used to judge our cases and it was never explained how what we did was antisemitic. The assumption was that we were guilty unless we could prove otherwise, and we were expected to incriminate ourselves.”

‘Sickness’ in Labour

At a preliminary hearing in February, the Labour Party argued that the courts had no place adjudicating on its handling of antisemitism cases. However, the judge approved the High Court hearing for June and awarded costs against Labour.

In what appears to be an attempt to avoid a second adverse ruling, Labour officials made the disciplinary process more transparent last month by divulging how it assessed antisemitism cases.

Starmer’s officials published on the party’s website the same antisemitism code of conduct that had been drafted during Corbyn’s time as leader. They did so despite a submission from one of Labour’s senior lawyers during February’s court hearing that such an admission could prove “politically incendiary”.

That was because a wide range of Jewish leadership groups rounded on Corbyn and Labour over the code when it was first published in July 2018.

Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, set up to protect Jewish communities from antisemitic attacks, lambasted Corbyn in an article in the Guardian headlined “Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”.

A blog on the Trust’s website added that the code “brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles”.

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, both claiming to represent Britain’s Jewish community, stated that the adoption by Corbyn’s officials of the code would “further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement”.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a Labour party affiliate connected to the Israeli Labor party, argued that the code was “a get out of jail free card” for antisemites, and claimed it breached equalities legislation.

Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s chief rabbi, called the code “a watershed moment” for Labour and warned that it sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.

Dozens of rabbis backed him, accusing the Labour leadership of having “chosen to ignore the Jewish community”.

And the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel lobby group, argued that “the code seems to be designed to give free rein to certain forms of antisemitic discourse”.

‘It was about who was in charge’

But despite the outpouring of concern back in 2018, note LA4J, Jewish organisations have remained silent since Labour revealed that the same antisemitism code of conduct introduced under Corbyn is being used by Starmer’s officials in disciplinary cases.

“This was never about what was going on inside Labour, as was claimed,” said Wallis. “It was about who was in charge. The aim was to remove Corbyn at all costs.”

Labour’s stated goal in drafting the code in 2018 was to assist with ironing out problems in the IHRA definition, which was being aggressively lobbied for by leading Jewish groups.

In particular, Corbyn’s code provided additional context to help judge aspects of the IHRA’s 11 potential examples of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel.

The code warns that the IHRA text “is not a legal definition, and on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic”.

The Labour antisemitism code also emphasises a need for “respectful debate” between party members when talking about contentious political matters around Israel and warns that the party “will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”.

The concern among Corbyn’s team was that the definition would shift the focus of antisemitism away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel, and expose activists supportive of Palestinian rights to investigation.

The imprecision of the IHRA definition, and its politicisation of antisemitism, had already been widely criticised, including by a former Court of Appeal judge and the British parliament’s home affairs select committee.

Kenneth Stern, the chief architect of the IHRA definition, had also weighed in to note that it was unsuitable for use in disciplinary procedures and was being “weaponised” by elements of the Jewish community to stifle criticism of Israel.

Jewish organisations, on the other hand, argued that Corbyn was using the Labour code to avoid adopting the IHRA definition in full with all its examples, and implied that his motivation was to make Labour hostile to British Jews.

Facing the backlash, and concerted criticism in the media, Corbyn’s officials appeared to discard the code and instead adopted the IHRA definition in full a few weeks later, in September 2018.

Definition ‘not fit for purpose’

It is unclear whether Corbyn’s officials ever used the 2018 code to adjudicate in disciplinary cases. But LA4J say its adoption by Starmer’s officials – and their efforts to hide the fact that they were using the code – confirm that the IHRA’s definition was indeed unworkable.

Jenny Manson, a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up in 2017 to show support for Corbyn among Jewish party members and is now supporting LA4J, said that the weaknesses of the IHRA definition must have been clear to organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement and Board of Deputies.

“Their current silence shows that they must have known the IHRA definition wasn’t fit for purpose as it was,” she said. “The additional code of conduct was needed. They opposed it in 2018, it seems clear, only because they were looking to damage Jeremy [Corbyn].”

Although LA4J argue that the code is fairer than the IHRA definition, they also say it has been widely misused against members as officials have sought to placate Jewish groups accusing Labour of being institutionally antisemitic.

Diana Neslen, an 82-year-old Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for antisemitism and sanctioned by the party, said: “Even a quick look at [the code] suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused. Indeed, we should never have been investigated in the first place.”

LA4J hopes that, with the code no longer secret, Labour members will have a better chance to challenge current and future investigations conducted against them by party officials.

Neslen warned, however, that existing injustices needed to be addressed too: “What are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?”

She and LA4J have called for those suspended or expelled to have their cases reopened and the evidence reassessed in a transparent manner.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council were all approached by Middle East Eye for comment. None had responded by the time of publication.

According to LA4J, their court case highlights how little evidence there was for the claim that antisemitism within the Labour party had been an especial problem under Corbyn’s leadership.

Levels of antisemitism in Labour appear to be lower than in the wider British public, within which about five percent of people could “justifiably be described as antisemites”, according to research published by the Community Security Trust in 2017.

Corbyn’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, issued figures in April 2019 that showed disciplinary action had been taken against just 0.08 percent of Labour’s 540,000 members, even after the strict application of the antisemitism code and “political interference” by Corbyn’s officials in speeding up disciplinary proceedings.

During the latest legal proceedings, Labour has revealed equivalent figures for Starmer, relating to the period between May last year and last month. Although details about the investigations are not precise, in the worst-case scenario an even smaller percentage of Labour members were found to be antisemitic.

These figures, the LA4J argue, suggest that Labour has not had an “antisemitism problem” under either Corbyn or Starmer.

That impression is shared by most Labour members. According to a YouGov poll commissioned last month by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, a significant majority – 70 percent – believe that Labour does not have a serious problem with antisemitism.

Most appear to agree with Corbyn’s reaction to the Equalities Commission report that the claims against Labour were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. That statement led to Starmer expelling Corbyn from the Labour parliamentary party.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Starmer isn’t “too cautious”: he is ruthlessly tearing Labour apart

The completion of Keir Starmer’s first year as Labour leader might have passed without note, had it not been the occasion for senior party figures to express mounting concern at Labour’s dismal performance in opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

At a time when Labour ought to be landing regular punches on the ruling party over its gross incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, and cronyism in its awarding of multimillion-pound coronavirus-related contracts, Starmer has preferred to avoid confrontation. Critics have accused him of being “too cautious” and showing a “lack of direction”.

Dissatisfaction with Starmer among Labour voters has quadrupled over the past 10 months, from 10 percent last May to 39 percent in March. His approach does not even appear to be winning over the wider public: a recent poll on who would make a better prime minister gave incumbent Johnson a 12 percentage-point lead.

Increasingly anxious senior Labour MPs called late last month for a “big figure” to help Starmer set aside his supposed political diffidence and offer voters a clearer idea of “what Keir is for”.

That followed a move in February by Starmer’s team to reach out to Peter Mandelson, who helped Tony Blair rebrand the party as “New Labour” in the 1990s and move it sharply away from any association with
socialism.

‘Cynically’ evasive

But there is a twofold problem with this assessment of Starmer’s first year.

It assumes Labour’s dire polling is evidence that voters might warm to Starmer if they knew more about what he stands for. That conclusion seems unwarranted. A Labour internal review leaked in February showed that the British public viewed Starmer’s party as “deliberate and cynical” in its evasiveness on policy matters.

In other words, British voters’ aversion to Starmer is not that he is “too cautious” or lacklustre. Rather, they suspect that Starmer and his team are politically not being honest. Either he is covering up the fact that Labour under his leadership is an ideological empty vessel, or his party has clear policies but conceals them because it believes they would be unpopular.

In response, and indeed underscoring the increasingly cynical approach from Starmer’s camp, the review proposed reinventing Labour as a patriotic, Tory-lite party, emphasising “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

However, the deeper flaw in this assessment of Starmer’s first 12 months is that it assumes his caution in taking on the Tory government is evidence of some natural restraint or reticence on his part. This was the view promoted by a recent commentator in the Guardian, who observed: “‘Starmerism’ has not defined itself in any sense beyond sitting on the fence.”

But Starmer has proved to be remarkably unrestrained and intemperate when he chooses to be. If he is reticent, it appears to be only when it serves his larger political purposes.

All-out war

If there is one consistent thread in his first year, it has been a determined purging from the party of any trace of the leftwing politics of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as a concerted effort to drive out many tens of thousands of new members who joined because of Corbynism.

The paradox is that when Starmer stood in the leadership election last spring, he promised to unify a party deeply divided between a largely leftwing membership committed to Corbyn’s programme, on the one hand, and a largely rightwing parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy, on the other.

As an internal review leaked last April revealed, party officials were determined to destroy Corbyn even while he was leader, using highly undemocratic means.

Even if Starmer had chosen to be cautious or diffident, there looked to be no realistic way to square that circle. But far from sitting on the fence, he has been busy waging an all-out war on one side only: those sympathetic to Corbyn. And that campaign has involved smashing apart the party’s already fragile democratic procedures.

The prelude was the sacking last June of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary – and the most visible ally of Corbyn in Starmer’s shadow cabinet – on the flimsiest of pretexts. She had retweeted an article in the Independent newspaper that included a brief mention of Israel’s involvement in training western police forces in brutal restraint techniques.

Real target

A few months later, Starmer got his chance to go after his real target, when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published its highly flawed report into the claims of an antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

This provided the grounds Starmer needed to take the unprecedented step of excluding Corbyn from the parliamentary party he had been leader of only months earlier. It was a remarkably provocative and incautious move that infuriated large sections of the membership, some of whom abandoned the party as a result.

Having dispatched Corbyn and issued a stark ultimatum to any MP who might still harbour sympathies for the former leader, Starmer turned his attention to the party membership. David Evans, his new general secretary and a retread from the Blair years, issued directives banning constituency parties from protesting Corbyn’s exclusion or advocating for Corbynism.

Corbyn was overnight turned into a political “unperson”, in an echo of the authoritarian purges of the Soviet-era Communist party. No mention was to be made of him or his policies, on pain of suspension from the party.

Even this did not suffice. To help bolster the hostile environment towards left wing members, Starmer made Labour hostage to special interest groups that had openly waged war – from inside and outside the party – against his predecessor.

During the leadership campaign, Starmer signed on to a “10 Pledges” document from the deeply conservative and pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews. The board was one of the cheerleaders for the evidence-free antisemitism allegations that had beset Labour during Corbyn’s time as leader – even though all metrics suggested the party had less of an antisemitism problem than the Conservatives, and less of a problem under Corbyn than previous leaders.

Alienating the left

The Pledges required Starmer to effectively hand over control to the Board of Deputies and another pro-Israel group, the Jewish Labour Movement, on what kind of criticisms Labour members were allowed to make of Israel.

Opposition to a century of British-sponsored oppression of the Palestinian people had long been a rallying point for the UK’s left, as opposition to the treatment of black South Africans under the apartheid regime once was. Israel’s centrality to continuing western colonialism in the Middle East and its key role in a global military-industrial complex made it a natural target for leftwing activism.

But according to the Pledges – in a barely concealed effort to hound, alienate and silence the party’s left – it was for pro-Israel lobby groups to decide who should be be declared an antisemite, while “fringe” Jewish groups, or those supportive of Corbyn and critical of Israel, should be ignored.

Starmer readily agreed both to adopt the board’s conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and to disregard prominent Jews within his own party opposed to pro-Israel lobbying. His office was soon picking off prominent Jewish supporters of Corbyn, including leaders of Jewish Voice for Labour.

One of the most troubling cases was Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who was suspended shortly after she appeared in a moving video in which she explained how antisemitism had been weaponised by the pro-Israel lobby against left wing Jews like herself.

She noted the pain caused when Jews were smeared as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi pointed out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people”.

In suspending her, Starmer’s Labour effectively endorsed that type of ugly demonisation campaign.

Israeli spy recruited

But the war on the Labour left did not end there. In his first days as leader, Starmer was reluctantly forced to set up an inquiry into the leaked internal report that had exposed the party bureaucracy as profoundly hostile to Corbyn personally, and more generally to his socialist policies. Senior staff had even been shown trying to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.

But once the Forde Inquiry had been appointed, Starmer worked strenuously to kick it into the long grass, even bringing back into the party Emilie Oldknow, a central figure in the Corbyn-era bureaucracy who had been cast in a damning light by the leaked report’s revelations.

A separate chance to lay bare what had happened inside Labour head office during Corbyn’s term was similarly spurned by Starmer. He decided not to  defend a defamation case against Labour brought by John Ware, a BBC reporter, and seven former staff in Labour’s disciplinary unit. They had worked together on a Panorama special on the antisemitism claims against Corbyn that did much to damage him in the public eye.

These former officials had sued the party, arguing that Labour’s response to the BBC programme suggested they had acted in bad faith and sought to undermine Corbyn.

In fact, a similar conclusion had been reached in the damning internal leaked report on the behaviour of head office staff. It quoted extensively from emails and WhatsApp chats that showed a deep-seated antipathy to Corbyn in the party bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, Starmer’s office abandoned its legal defence last July, apologising “unreservedly” to the former staff members and paying “substantial damages”. Labour did so despite “clear advice” from lawyers, a former senior official said, that it would have won in court.

When Martin Forde, chair of the Forde inquiry, announced in February that his report had been delayed “indefinitely”, it seemed that the truth about the efforts of Labour staff to undermine Corbyn as leader were being permanently buried.

The final straw for many on the party’s left, however, was the revelation in January that Starmer had recruited to his team a former Israeli military spy, Assaf Kaplan, to monitor the use of social media by members.

Much of the supposed “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn had depended on the Israel lobby’s efforts to scour through old social media posts of left wing members, looking for criticism of Israel and then presenting it as evidence of antisemitism. As leader, Corbyn was pushed by these same lobby groups to adopt a new, highly controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It shifted attention away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

A former Israeli spy trained in the dark arts of surveilling Palestinians would be overseeing the monitoring of party members’ online activity.

Tory party of old

Far from sitting on the fence, as his critics claim, Starmer has been ruthless in purging socialism from the Labour party – under cover of claims that he is rooting out an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly inherited from Corbyn.

In a speech last month, Mandelson – the former Blair strategist who Starmer’s team has been consulting – called on the Labour leader to show “courage and determination” in tackling the supposedly “corrupt far left”. He suggested “large numbers” of members would still need to be expunged from the party in the supposed fight against antisemitism.

Starmer is investing huge energy and political capital in ridding the party of its leftwing members, while exhibiting little appetite for taking on Johnson’s right wing government.

These are not necessarily separate projects. There is a discernible theme here. Starmer is recrafting Labour not as a real opposition to the Conservative party’s increasingly extreme, crony capitalism, but as a responsible, more moderate alternative to it. He is offering voters a Labour party that feels more like the Tory party of old, which prioritised tradition, patriotism and family values.

None of this should surprise. Despite his campaign claims, Starmer’s history – predating his rapid rise through the Labour party – never suggested he was likely to clash with the establishment. After all, few public servants have been knighted by the Queen at the relatively tender age of 51 for their radicalism.

In safe hands

While head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer rejected indicting the police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, and his department effectively cleared MI5 and MI6 officers of torture related to the “War on Terror”.

His team not only sought to fast-track the extradition to Sweden of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who exposed western war crimes, but it also put strong pressure on its Swedish counterpart not to waver in pursuing Assange. One lawyer told the Swedes in 2012: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”

Starmer’s actions since becoming Labour leader are very much in line with his earlier career. He wants to prove he is a safe pair of hands to the British establishment, in hopes that he can avert the kind of relentless vilification Corbyn endured. Then, Starmer can bide his time until the British public tires of Johnson.

Starmer seems to believe that playing softball with the right wing government and hardball with the left in his own party will prove a winning formula. So far, voters beg to differ.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Starmer isn’t “too cautious”: he is ruthlessly tearing Labour apart first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home

The revelation this week that the British Labour Party recently appointed a former Israeli military spy to work in its headquarters, reporting to the office of leader Keir Starmer, is truly extraordinary in many different regards.

It is hard to believe the Labour leadership did not know who Assaf Kaplan was or appreciate the likely backlash to placing someone with his background in charge of the party’s social media work. That may explain the continuing reluctance from the Labour leadership to comment.

In his online CV, Kaplan had drawn attention to his years spent in the notorious Israeli military intelligence unit 8200, which has a long and ugly record of surveilling Palestinians.

One of the unit’s main tasks, highlighted by a group of whistleblowers in 2014 and widely publicised in the British media, is to gain damaging information to blackmail individual Palestinians. They are then threatened into collaborating with Israel’s military authorities against fellow Palestinians.

Unit 8200 is the lynchpin of Israel’s success in maintaining its 54-year occupation, by engineering a policy of divide-and-rule among Palestinians and foiling any efforts they make to liberate themselves from Israeli oppression.

Tone deaf

If Labour officials did not know the significance of Unit 8200, or how the invitation of a former Israeli “military intelligence officer” into Labour headquarters would look to swaths of party members, that in itself is an indictment.

A near-civil war has been raging for some time in Labour over the suspension and expulsion of party members whose social media accounts have been scoured for anti-Israel sentiment by pro-Israel groups. To now put a former Israeli officer trained by a cyberwarfare unit in charge of monitoring social media for Labour is, on the best interpretation, completely tone deaf.

It simply highlights how indifferent Labour under Starmer is to the sensitivities of many of its members – and, of course, Palestinians – in stark contrast to the party’s strenuous and divisive efforts to placate each and every demand from the pro-Israel lobby.

Meddling in politics

If Kaplan’s work in Unit 8200 did not raise a red flag, other details lurking in his social media accounts should have rung alarm bells. Not only was he once an operative for Israel’s military spying machine, but he was also an online “friend” of the disgraced Shai Masot, a far more prominent Israeli spy.

Four years ago, an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera exposed Masot, who worked at the time in the Israeli embassy in London, interfering at the highest levels of British politics. Masot was filmed in clandestine talks with Conservative Party staff about how to “take down” a British foreign minister, Alan Duncan, who was seen by Israel as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

More damagingly for Starmer, Masot was also exposed working closely with pro-Israel activists inside the Labour Party to bring down his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. That included efforts by Masot to set up “youth movements” intended to operate as a front for the Israeli government.

Transcripts from sections of undercover filming not aired by Al Jazeera reportedly show the then director of the Jewish Labour Movement, Ella Rose, who had previously worked at the Israeli embassy, speaking of the JLM’s close relations with Masot.

The goal of these Israeli-organised groups was to undermine Corbyn from within, because of his public role in the Palestinian solidarity movement and his trenchant criticisms of Israel.

Dirty tricks

After the four-part investigation was aired, Israel had to carry out a damage-limitation operation, quickly returning Masot to Israel and portraying him – unconvincingly – as a rogue operator.

In fact, Masot’s work was entirely in line with the remit of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry to use dirty tricks to sabotage prominent individuals and movements abroad that criticise Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

A few months before Masot’s exposure, the Israeli media had reported a feud at the embassy in London. The Israeli foreign ministry had complained that the strategic affairs ministry was carrying out potentially illegal activities in the UK and jeopardising the diplomatic mission.

So why, before he took up his new UK post, was Kaplan moving in the same social or professional circles in Israel as the disgraced Masot? In a sign of just how embarrassing this information is for the Labour Party, Kaplan appears to have hurriedly erased his military intelligence past after it was exposed by the Electronic Intifada website.

The decision to appoint Kaplan is all the more remarkable given that Starmer has been extolling his efforts to move past the legacy of his predecessor, Corbyn. For five years, Labour was mired in endless controversy around Israel, Zionism and Jews.

Corbyn had to endure relentless, evidence-free claims from pro-Israel lobby groups, echoed by the mainstream media, that Labour had become institutionally antisemitic on his watch. These smears were chiefly designed to stop Corbyn from winning power.

Rope to hang Corbyn

Starmer’s own campaign to win the leadership included a pledge that he was a Zionist supporter of Israel “without qualification” and a commitment to those same lobby groups that they would get to oversee, and even dictate, Labour policy on Israel-related matters.

It emerged after his election that Starmer had accepted – and concealed – a large, £50,000 ($68,000) donation to his campaign from Trevor Chinn, a member of a leading Israel lobby group, Bicom. The organisation was founded by Poju Zabludowicz, whose Israeli father made his wealth from the arms trade.

In the past, Chinn has donated to several Labour MPs who worked to undermine Corbyn: Joan Ryan, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel; Tom Watson, who served as Corbyn’s highly antagonistic deputy; and Owen Smith, who led an early challenge to unseat Corbyn as leader.

Starmer’s campaign to distance the party from Corbyn reached its climax in October, when the UK government’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a report after its investigation into Labour antisemitism claims. The report quietly exonerated Labour of any charge of institutional antisemitism, but the watchdog’s inconsistent findings offered Starmer and the UK media just enough rope to hang Corbyn.

Starmer incensed much of the membership by taking the unprecedented step, in the wake of the report, of stripping Corbyn of his place in the parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent.

Deliberate provocation

It is hard not to view Kaplan’s appointment as either an astounding and entirely unnecessary self-inflicted wound, or as a deliberate provocation. Most of Starmer’s critics will regard it squarely as the latter.

It fits too neatly with Starmer’s behaviour since he was elected leader last April. Since then, he has been working overtime to cosy up to pro-Israel lobby groups that were not only deeply opposed to Corbyn, but actively worked to oust him.

In addition to expelling Corbyn as a Labour MP, Starmer has purged the party of members critical of Israel, including Jewish members, and silenced by diktat all support for Corbyn in constituency parties.

Why, after what amounts to a mini-reign of terror within Labour to get matters related to Israel off the party’s radar – and out of media headlines – would Starmer now plunge Labour into a new potential row about Israel?

Gagging orders

The answer is that the recruitment of a former Israeli spy into the inner sanctums of Labour headquarters will ultimately prove a minor and temporary controversy for him.

It will antagonise only the swath of members who supported Corbyn, for whom he has shown utter contempt and who have been battered into silence by what are effectively gagging orders from his new general secretary, David Evans.

It will not likely cause controversy with the Jewish Labour Movement, which was reportedly revived by political allies of Israel as a weapon against Corbyn” in 2015. Rather, they will be further enthused by Starmer.

It will raise barely a flicker of interest from most Labour MPs, who were desperate for Corbyn to be gone, and many of whom belong to another pro-Israel lobby, Labour Friends of Israel.

And it will be largely ignored by the British mainstream media, which has been giving the establishment-friendly Starmer a far easier ride than they ever gave Corbyn.

Ugly Labour politics

If anyone doubts this, just recall the hasty hushing up by the media of, and indifference of most Labour MPs towards, Al Jazeera’s expose four years ago.

After brief indignation over Masot’s efforts to oust Duncan, the documentary series was quickly forgotten by the media. It was certainly not brought back into the spotlight in relation to the campaign of antisemitism smears against Corbyn, despite its very obvious and pressing relevance.

The Masot affair, as well as this new one, reveal something very ugly about Labour – and British – politics.

Corbyn was widely criticised, mostly over activities that predated his becoming leader, for bringing the issue of Israel onto Labour’s agenda. His opponents argued that his foreign policy concerns overshadowed Labour’s more important domestic agenda. Could he not just forget about Israel?

Anti-Palestinian stance

But the decision of Starmer’s Labour to now invite a former Israeli spy into party headquarters – after a previous one, Masot, failed to gain a foothold – shows that the problem was never about getting Israel out of Labour politics. It was about getting the issue of Palestinian suffering, one of the most enduring legacies of British imperialism, out of Labour politics.

The antisemitism controversy was never really about supposed anti-Jewish racism from Corbyn’s supporters. It was about fighting anti-Zionists in the Labour Party, and in so doing, making support for the Palestinian cause harder to express – which has indeed been the result.

The current party leadership wants any discussion of the Palestinian issue, and Britain’s continuing colonial role, cleansed from the party.

Skewed values

In Kaplan’s job description, under a category titled “values/behaviours”, it says that applicants must show a “commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion” and “to the Labour Party’s goals, values, policies and codes of conduct”.

What Starmer has made clear is that Labour’s values give no weight at all to the injustices still being suffered by Palestinians because of Britain’s historic meddling in the Middle East.

Labour has also demonstrated that it has no commitment to “equality, diversity and inclusion” when it comes to Palestinian and Jewish members critical of Israel. Indifferent to the optics, Starmer’s Labour sacked its only senior Palestinian party official this month, reportedly over his support for Corbyn.

Imagine the outcry if Labour had sacked its only senior Jewish official. Rather, Labour’s vision of “equality, diversity and inclusion” springs from the same ideological worldview as its sister party in Israel – an Israeli Labor party that decades ago established a single political framework governing the lives of Israelis and Palestinians that B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, described this week as “apartheid”.

In the racist context of British politics, including Labour politics, there is no cost to screwing over Palestinians time and again. This is why Starmer will happily ride out the short-lived controversy – one restricted to ordinary party members – over appointing a former Israeli spy to his party headquarters.

Lucrative laboratory

For Palestinians, this decision cannot but be deeply offensive. For many years, scholars have been noting how Israel has turned the occupied Palestinian territories into a giant and lucrative laboratory in which it battle-tests weapons and military equipment for export.

But equally importantly for Israel, it turns ordinary Palestinians into guinea pigs for experiments in how to surveil, control, divide and exploit them. Unit 8200, in which Kaplan worked for many years, is at the heart of that infrastructure of terror that keeps Palestinians afraid and oppressed.

Israeli academics, such as Jeff Halper, have pointed out that Israel parlays this expertise into political and diplomatic power. Other states are queueing up to mine the lessons learned by Israel from surveilling Palestinians so that they can use similar techniques on their own populations back home. The need for these military and intelligence skills – learned from oppressing Palestinians – is reflected in Israel’s wide diplomatic backing by other states.

Starmer’s Labour Party is showing it is no different. It will profit directly from the skills of one of the graduates of Unit 8200, benefiting from the lessons Kaplan learned in a military organisation that spies on and extorts Palestinians.

That should not sit well with anyone in a party that claims to be left-wing, anti-racist and progressive, and to care about social justice. And yet, there are unlikely to be any meaningful repercussions for either Kaplan or Starmer from this ugly alliance.

The post Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction

Back in 2017, before WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was silenced by Twitter, he used the platform to highlight an immutable truth:

‘The overwhelming majority of information is classified to protect political security not national security.’

Power hates being exposed. It hates having its inner machinations, its selfish priorities and ugly operations opened up to public scrutiny.

The omission of inconvenient facts, and the silencing of inadmissible viewpoints, are core features of the so-called ‘mainstream’ news media. Thus, it should be obvious by now why we always put ‘mainstream’ in quotation marks. Because, as increasing numbers of the public surely now recognise, the major news media are not impartial, or fair, or balanced. Nor do they truly represent and reflect the concerns and priorities of the vast majority of the population. Instead, the major newspapers and broadcasters represent, defend and project the interests of powerful state and corporate elites. The state-corporate media will not, and cannot, undertake consistent and reliable public scrutiny of these elites. That would make no sense since the mass media is the propaganda operation of state-corporate power.

Since we began Media Lens twenty years ago in 2001, we have amassed over 5,000 pages of media alerts detailing numerous examples of dangerous, power-friendly omissions, distortions and imbalances in UK state-corporate media. Rather than go for easy and obvious targets like the Sun, Express and Mail, we have focused on those media outlets the public is supposed to regard as the most fair, balanced, probing and challenging of governments and Big Business. ‘Thus far and no further’, as Noam Chomsky has described the most open or most liberal end of the narrow spectrum of establishment media.

BBC News deserves particular scrutiny, not least because it regularly declares itself  ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’. That is not much of an accolade given that public trust in the media is crumbling; particularly in a country which has some of the worst ‘news’ media anywhere on the planet. The UK has an overwhelmingly right-wing and establishment press dominated by rich owners, and edited by compliant editors with the required ideologically-aligned views. As for the Guardian, which has always been a ‘liberal’ gatekeeper on behalf of power, investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported in 2019 that the paper has been:

‘successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralise its adversarial reporting of the “security state”, according to newly released documents and evidence from former and current Guardian journalists.’

Moreover, other than a recent belated and mealy-mouthed defence, for many years the Guardian essentially abandoned and abused Julian Assange, along with the rest of the ‘mainstream’ media, after exploiting him and WikiLeaks.

Couple all that with the fact that BBC News regularly follows the skewed, power-serving agenda set by UK press coverage, and it is no surprise that overall British public trust in the media is so low. As we noted last year, the extensive annual Eurobarometer survey across 33 countries revealed that the UK public’s trust in the press is rock bottom. Indeed, 2020 was the ninth year out of the past ten that the UK had come last.

BBC Silence Over Israel As An Apartheid State

One of the most egregious recent omissions by BBC News was last week’s groundbreaking report by leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem naming Israel as ‘an apartheid state’ and ‘a regime of Jewish supremacy’:

‘In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.’

Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories has long been recognised. For example, in 2004, a prominent South African professor of international law, John Dugard, then UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote that there is ‘an apartheid regime’ in the territories ‘worse than the one that existed in South Africa.’

Noam Chomsky concurred:

‘In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by “apartheid” you mean South African-style apartheid.

‘What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce…

‘The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.’

All this was damning enough. But the publication of the new B’Tselem report was the first time that Israeli human rights and legal experts had publicly stated that apartheid exists not just in the Occupied Territories, but throughout the whole region that Israel claims for itself.

As the Israel-based British journalist Jonathan Cook observed:

‘By calling Israel an apartheid state and a “regime of Jewish supremacy”, B’Tselem has given the lie to the Israel lobby’s claim – bolstered by a new definition promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that it is antisemitic to suggest Israel is a “racist endeavour”.

‘B’Tselem, a veteran Israeli Jewish organisation with deep expertise in human rights and international law, has now explicitly declared that Israel is a racist state. Israel’s apologists will now face the much harder task of showing that B’Tselem is antisemitic, along with the Palestinian solidarity activists who cite its work.’

As far as we are aware, there was no mention of the report on any of the flagship BBC News at 6 or 10 television programmes. Nor was there anything to be found on the BBC News website. Presumably, the BBC deemed it unworthy of the public’s attention. We challenged BBC foreign editor Andrew Roy, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and BBC digital news editor Stuart Millar for a response. Not one of them replied. It is perhaps significant that Millar moved to the BBC from the Guardian where, as deputy editor of Guardian US, he had scoffed at Julian Assange:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

This is the archetypal sneering ‘mainstream’ journalist’s view of anyone who seriously exposes the truth and challenges power.

As for B’Tselem’s landmark report detailing the reality of the Israeli state as an apartheid regime, it is possible that there were sporadic brief mentions in some outlying parts of the BBC. Longtime readers will recall that the BBC infamously buried revelations by Scott Ritter, a former chief UN weapons inspector, that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of any weapons of mass destruction, at 3am on the BBC World Service.

In response to the B’Tselem report, John Pilger pointed out via Twitter:

‘Israel is top of the league for vaccinating its own people [against coronavirus]. The accolades say Israel is the “example”. False. Israel is denying the vaccine to Palestinians whose land and lives it controls. WHO has pleaded with Israel: to no avail. Apartheid in action.’

Glossing Over Brutal Imperialism

Here in the UK, the Tory government’s criminally incompetent response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to an appalling death toll – now the highest death rate of any country in the world – while ministers robotically repeat the mantra of ‘following the science’, with one U-turn after another. Meanwhile, many people are suffering tremendous hardship, losing their jobs or struggling to earn a living, or even unable to feed their children adequately.

As Phil Miller, a staff writer for the excellent investigative journalism website Declassified UK, noted:

‘The UK now has over 100,000 covid deaths. That’s a result of government failure on a grand scale. The lack of calls for Johnson and ministers to resign is extraordinary’

It is extraordinary. But, tragically, it is a natural consequence of how the state-corporate media represents and defends elite power, of which it is a key component. Any real dissent is smeared, swept to the margins or simply blanked. With the power of corporate media manifest in the demolition of Jeremy Corbyn’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister in 2019, it is entirely predictable that there is now no substantive political opposition to a destructive, elite-serving Tory government.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s lame Blairite successor, is a stalwart establishment figure who, at best, would only ever paper over a few cracks in the edifice of neoliberal economics. This is the corporate- and finance-driven system that is crushing the vast majority of the world’s population, destroying the natural environment and species at an alarming rate, and driving us all towards the precipice of climate breakdown. As we have noted before, and as we will see again below, no world leader anywhere is doing anything remotely sufficient to address this disaster.

Starmer has actually called for the Labour party to emulate incoming US President Joe Biden’s ‘broad coalition’ to ‘see progressive values triumph over the forces of division and despair’. The stone-cold reality that Biden, set to be inaugurated today (20 January), represents huge financial interests and corporate power, and has an appalling record in supporting US imperialism and wars, appears to have escaped Starmer’s attention. But then, Starmer is also seemingly oblivious to the UK’s own imperial past and blood-soaked complicity in war crimes. How else could a Labour leader write:

‘We are at our best when the world knows we have the courage of our convictions and a clear moral purpose.’

Wiping away the blood of countless US/UK atrocities across the globe, he continued:

‘For the United States of America and for Britain, this is the time to return to the world stage. This is the time for us to lead.’

To gloss over Britain’s brutal past and present – to ignore the grievous crimes committed against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, to name a few – is an insult to the UK’s many victims. For a supposed ‘progressive’ to do so is surely absurd. It can only result from being blind to the propaganda system so cogently explained by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (Vintage, 1988). In this system, we are immersed in a brainwashing environment of mass media in which even the more ‘reputable’ news outlets such as Associated Press regurgitate doctrinal statements such as:

‘For decades, the U.S. has been an advocate for democracy abroad, using diplomatic pressure and even direct military intervention in the name of spreading the principles of a pluralistic system with a free and fair vote for political leaders. These tactics have generated both allies and enemies, and this year’s presidential vote perhaps more than any other is testing the strength of the values it promotes around the world.’

A safe pair of hands like Sir Keir would never recognise, far less, criticise such assertions for the dangerous, ideological and ahistorical nonsense that they are. Instead, Starmer is locked into an elite-friendly mindset apparent whenever he proclaims his establishment credentials, as here via Twitter:

‘This is also an important moment for the world. It is a chance to reassert America’s place as a force for good on the world stage. A nation that will work with Britain and other allies to defeat this pandemic and fight climate change.’

The reply from Media Lens reader Ryan Moon was apt:

‘When, specifically, has the US (& UK) been a “force for good in the world”? Supporting Suharto & Pinochet maybe? In Yemen & Libya? In the Chagos Islands? Nicaragua might have a few choice words about that description, too. Grow a spine.’

Biologist and science writer Richard Dawkins, like so many other prominent members of the liberal commentariat, once again revealed his deep ignorance of history and world affairs:

‘With few exceptions like Putin & Farage, the entire world welcomes President Biden and Vice-President Harris. After four years of lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values, America has taken a major step towards making America great again.’

Historian Mark Curtis, co-founder of Declassified UK, responded:

‘The thing is, @RichardDawkins, while you’re right to welcome the demise of the contemptible Trump, as I do, the “lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values” are just routine features of every US presidency, especially in foreign policy.’

Meanwhile, it was no surprise to see a senior Guardian journalist unleashing purple prose in praise of Biden. David Smith, the Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief, declared that ‘with empathy and humility, Biden sets out to make America sane again’. The ideological rhetoric continued to gush out across Guardian column inches:

‘After the mental and moral exhaustion of the past four years, Biden made America sane again in 15 minutes. It was an exorcism of sorts, from American carnage to American renewal.’

Readers with long memories will recall similar Guardian effusions of liberal ordure when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to ‘rebrand America’ and serve as the eloquent ‘cool’ figurehead of US corporate and imperial might. That is the Guardian worldview in a nutshell.

The harsh truth is that the corporate media, including BBC News and the Guardian, has a stranglehold on any prospect for changing society. The transfer of US power from Trump to Biden provided the briefest permissible glimpse of mild scepticism being broadcast from corporate newsrooms. This was most notable with Trump vociferously contesting the US presidential elections results, claiming election fraud on a grand scale. The repeated buzz phrase from journalists reporting Trump’s claims was ‘without offering evidence’. Thus, BBC news presenter Mishal Husain told the nation’s television audience on 8 November last year:

‘President Trump has been out on the golf course and made further claims of election fraud without offering evidence.’

The point was emphasised in a news piece by BBC North America correspondent Nick Bryant:

‘the president took to the golf course this morning continuing to make unsubstantiated claims that the election was rigged.’

This narrative was repeated across the ‘mainstream’ media.

But those important caveats – ‘without further evidence’ and ‘unsubstantiated claims’ – are routinely missing when propaganda declarations are, or were, made by the US/UK about Iraq’s mythical ‘WMD’; or when the public is told that the West’s ‘security’ and military forces need to counter the ‘threat’ from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or whoever the latest ‘enemy’ happens to be;  or that ‘we’ need to keep Saudi Arabia as an ‘ally’; that Israel only ever ‘retaliates’ in the face of Palestinian ‘provocation’, that the US is a neutral ‘peace broker’ in the Middle East; or that the US/UK defend freedom and human rights around the world. On and on flow the propaganda assertions, without serious challenge from a compliant media. Suddenly, when it really matters, the media’s supposed enthusiasm for ‘fact checking’ dries up.

Julian Assange And Guardian Hypocrisy

We have seen the ugly truth in the brutal, inhumane treatment of Julian Assange, arguably the most important Western dissident, journalist and publisher in recent years, by western ‘democracies’, the major news media, and a cruel system of court ‘justice’ operating in London. During a recent online conversation, acclaimed film director Ken Loach nailed the despicable role of the Guardian, in particular, in persecuting and undermining Assange:

‘It’s one of those cases that clarifies the role of the media […] there’s a collusion of silence. There doesn’t need to be an active conspiracy; they all understand the steps of the dance. “We’re going to keep quiet about this”. The Guardian did publish some [WikiLeaks] material, but then turned on Julian. And typical with the liberal press, there’s a degree of hypocrisy. They want to have a foot in both camps. They want to be both seen as part of the responsible establishment; they also want to speak truth to power. But they’re compromised on both fronts. And their attacks on Julian Assange were critical in undermining his presence as a journalist, and being seen as a journalist. And the scurrilous attacks on him, for year after year; [and their] failure to really campaign against the torture for ten years.’

He added:

‘There could not be a clearer case of shoot the messenger, and let the scoundrel go free. I mean, here you have people – Bush, Blair, propagandists like Alastair Campbell – wheeled out on the BBC, like Newsnight. They have season tickets to the current affairs programmes that tell us what to think. They are responsible for – what – up to a million deaths, four, five, million people made homeless, destruction of Iraq; the most atrocious war crimes, in an illegal war – an illegal war, so every activity is illegal on account of that, war crimes – they should be indicted. The man who told us about those crimes is condemned to rot, at the very least, and is in danger of never seeing the light of day again, or of being executed, and we know some politicians in the States have called for precisely that. There could not be a more outrageous, a more egregious example of the messenger being crucified and the scoundrels, the villains, the criminals getting away with this.’

As musician Brian Eno said during the discussion:

‘Julian is a threat [to power] because he exposes an illusion that we are generally being told to support. And that illusion is that we live in a democracy. So, the fundamental concept of democracy is that people make decisions about their future, and about the state they live in. And the fundamental assumption of democracy is that people have the information on which to make those decisions. So, clearly, for democracy to work we have to have good information, otherwise we’ll make bad decisions.’

‘The Gravity Of The Situation Requires Fundamental Changes To Global Capitalism’

The most compelling evidence that there is no functioning democracy in capitalist societies is all around us: global environmental collapse and climate breakdown.

A new scientific report this month warns that the planet is facing a ‘ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals’ that threaten human survival. The study, published in ‘Frontiers in Conservation Science’ by a group of 17 experts, observes that:

‘The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.’

Somewhat couched in academic language, the urgency and starkness of the warning are nevertheless clear:

‘The gravity of the situation requires fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women.’

They added:

‘the mainstream [sic] is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization.’

Meanwhile, the climate crisis has been worsening, with 2020 declared by scientists as the joint hottest year ever recorded, despite the pandemic lockdowns. There were record Arctic wildfires and Atlantic tropical storms.

The European Commission’s Matthias Petschke said:

‘The extraordinary climate events of 2020 […] show us that we have no time to lose. We must come together as a global community, to ensure a just transition to a net zero future. It will be difficult, but the cost of inaction is too great…’

In the wake of the US presidential election last November, the BBC’s John Simpson had tweeted:

‘According to the New York Times, exit polls showed that 84% of people who voted for Trump thought that global warming wasn’t an important issue.’

But, of course, if political leaders everywhere believed that climate breakdown is an important issue – the overriding issue facing humanity – they would be tackling it with the urgency that it requires now.

As climate campaigner Greta Thunberg pointed out last week:

‘In 2010 our leaders signed “ambitious goals to protect wildlife and ecosystems”. By 2021 they’d failed on every single one. Each day they choose not to act. Instead they sign more “ambitious” non-binding future goals while passing policy locking in destructive business as usual.’

This was her acerbic summary of political discussions at the One Planet Summit in Paris on 11 January:

LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris:

Bla bla nature

Bla bla important

Bla bla ambitious

Bla bla green investments

Bla bla great opportunity

Bla bla green growth

Bla bla net zero

Bla bla step up our game

Bla bla hope

Bla bla bla…*

*locking in decades of further destruction

We have arrived at this terminal stage of capitalism because we are being held in a death-grip by a system of economics and exploitation that is coated with a veneer of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘progress’ and other convenient ideological myths. The corporate media has sold the public those myths, perpetuating and deepening the various interlocking crises that threaten to wipe out homo sapiens, along with countless other species.

We can still escape the worst if we face up to reality. As Gail Bradbrook and Jem Bendell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and founder of Deep Adaptation respectively, explain:

‘Our power comes from acting without escape from our pain.’

They continue:

‘Paying attention fully to what is around us and in front of us, even though it hurts, is to be fully alive. […] Once we accept that anxiety and grief will be constant companions in this struggle, we can stay fully present to what is happening and respond accordingly. It means we do not grasp desperately at the latest idea of what might fix the climate and ecological emergency. Instead, we can help each other stay fully present to the difficult mess, so that we can try to reduce harm, save what we can and plant some seeds for what might come next.’

A good start would be to reject the corporate media.

The post “A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine

Making political sense of the world can be tricky unless one understands the role of the state in capitalist societies. The state is not primarily there to represent voters or uphold democratic rights and values; it is a vehicle for facilitating and legitimating the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands.

In a recent post, I wrote about “externalities” – the ability of companies to offset the true costs inherent in the production process. The burden of these costs are covertly shifted on to wider society: that is, on to you and me. Or on to those far from view, in foreign lands. Or on to future generations. Externalising costs means that profits can be maximised for the wealth elite in the here and now.

Our own societies must deal with the externalised costs of industries ranging from tobacco and alcohol to chemicals and vehicles. Societies abroad must deal with the costs of the bombs dropped by our “defence” industries. And future generations will have to deal with the lethal costs incurred by corporations that for decades have been allowed to pump out their waste products into every corner of the globe.

Divine right to rule

In the past, the job of the corporate media was to shield those externalities from public view. More recently, as the costs have become impossible to ignore, especially with the climate crisis looming, the media’s role has changed. Its central task now is to obscure corporate responsibility for these externalities. That is hardly surprising. After all, the corporate media’s profits depend on externalising costs too, as well as hiding the externalised costs of their parent companies, their billionaire owners and their advertisers.

Once, monarchs rewarded the clerical class for persuading, through the doctrine of divine right, their subjects to passively submit to exploitation. Today, “mainstream” media are there to persuade us that capitalism, the profit motive, the accumulation of ever greater wealth by elites, and externalities destroying the planet are the natural order of things, that this is the best economic system imaginable.

Most of us are now so propagandised by the media that we can barely imagine a functioning world without capitalism. Our minds are primed to imagine, in the absence of capitalism, an immediate lurch back to Soviet-style bread queues or an evolutionary reversal to cave-dwelling. Those thoughts paralyse us, making us unable to contemplate what might be wrong or inherently unsustainable about how we live right now, or to imagine the suicidal future we are hurtling towards.

Lifeblood of empire

There is a reason that, as we rush lemming-like towards the cliff-edge, urged on by a capitalism that cannot operate at the level of sustainability or even of sanity, the push towards intensified war grows. Wars are the life blood of the corporate empire headquartered in the United States.

US imperialism is no different from earlier imperialisms in its aims or methods. But in late-stage capitalism, wealth and power are hugely concentrated. Technologies have reached a pinnacle of advancement. Disinformation and propaganda are sophisticated to an unprecedented degree. Surveillance is intrusive and aggressive, if well concealed. Capitalism’s destructive potential is unlimited. But even so, war’s appeal is not diminished.

As ever, wars allow for the capture and control of resources. Fossil fuels promise future growth, even if of the short-term, unsustainable kind.

Wars require the state to invest its money in the horrendously expensive and destructive products of the “defence” industries, from fighter planes to bombs, justifying the transfer of yet more public resources into private hands.

The lobbies associated with these “defence” industries have every incentive to push for aggressive foreign (and domestic) policies to justify more investment, greater expansion of “defensive” capabilities, and the use of weapons on the battlefield so that they need replenishing.

Whether public or covert, wars provide an opportunity to remake poorly defended, resistant societies – such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria – in ways that allow for resources to be seized, markets to be expanded and the reach of the corporate elite to be extended.

War is the ultimate growth industry, limited only by our ability to be persuaded of new enemies and new threats.

Fog of war

For the political class, the benefits of war are not simply economic. In a time of environmental collapse, war offers a temporary “Get out of jail” card. During wars, the public is encouraged to assent to new, ever greater sacrifices that allow public wealth to be transferred to the elite. War is the corporate world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme.

The “fog of war” does not just describe the difficulty of knowing what is happening in the immediate heat of battle. It is also the fear, generated by claims of an existential threat, that sets aside normal thinking, normal caution, normal scepticism. It is the invoking of a phantasmagorical enemy towards which public resentments can be directed, shielding from view the real culprits – the corporations and their political cronies at home.

The “fog of war” engineers the disruption of established systems of control and protocol to cope with the national emergency, shrouding and rationalising the accumulation by corporations of more wealth and power and the further capture of organs of the state. It is the licence provided for “exceptional” changes to the rules that quickly become normalised. It is the disinformation that passes for national responsibility and patriotism.

Permanent austerity

All of which explains why Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has just pledged an extra £16.5 billion in “defence” spending at a time when the UK is struggling to control a pandemic and when, faced by disease, Brexit and a new round of winter floods, the British economy is facing “systemic crisis”, according to a new Cabinet Office report. Figures released this week show the biggest economic contraction in the UK in three centuries.

If the British public is to stomach yet more cuts, to surrender to permanent austerity as the economy tanks, Johnson, ever the populist, knows he needs a good cover story. And that will involve further embellishment of existing, fearmongering narratives about Russia, Iran and China.

To make those narratives plausible, Johnson has to act as if the threats are real, which means massive spending on “defence”. Such expenditure, wholly counter-productive when the current challenge is sustainability, will line the pockets of the very corporations that help Johnson and his pals stay in power, not least by cheerleading him via their media arms.

New salesman needed

The cynical way this works was underscored in a classified 2010 CIA memorandum, known as “Red Cell”, leaked to Wikileaks, as the journalist Glenn Greenwald reminded us this week. The CIA memo addressed the fear in Washington that European publics were demonstrating little appetite for the US-led “war on terror” that followed 9/11. That, in turn, risked limiting the ability of European allies to support the US as it exercised its divine right to wage war.

The memo notes that European support for US wars after 9/11 had chiefly relied on “public apathy” – the fact that Europeans were kept largely ignorant by their own media of what those wars entailed. But with a rising tide of anti-war sentiment, the concern was that this might change. There was an urgent need to further manipulate public opinion more decisively in favour of war.

The US intelligence agency decided its wars needed a facelift. George W Bush, with his Texan, cowboy swagger, had proved a poor salesman. So the CIA turned to identity politics and faux “humanitarianism”, which they believed would play better with European publics.

Part of the solution was to accentuate the suffering of Afghan women to justify war. But the other part was to use President Barack Obama as the face of a new, “caring” approach to war. He had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – even though he had done nothing for peace, and would go on to expand US wars – very possibly as part of this same effort to reinvent the “war on terror”. Polls showed support for existing wars increased markedly among Europeans when they were reminded that Obama backed these wars.

As Greenwald observes:

Obama’s most important value was in prettifying, marketing and prolonging wars, not ending them. They saw him for what U.S. Presidents really are: instruments to create a brand and image about the U.S. role in the world that can be effectively peddled to both the domestic population in the US and then on the global stage, and specifically to pretend that endless barbaric US wars are really humanitarian projects benevolently designed to help people — the pretext used to justify every war by every country in history.

Obama-style facelift

Once the state is understood as a vehicle for entrenching elite power – and war its most trusted tool for concentrating power – the world becomes far more intelligible. Western economies never stopped being colonial economies, but they were given an Obama-style facelift. War and plunder – even when they masquerade as “defence” or peace – are still the core western mission.

That is why Britons, believing days of empire are long behind them, may have been shocked to learn this week that the UK still operates 145 military bases in 42 countries around the globe, meaning it runs the second largest network of such bases after the US.

Such information is not made available in the UK “mainstream” media, of course. It has to be provided by an “alternative” investigative site, Declassified UK. In that way the vast majority of the British public are left clueless about how their taxes are being used at a time when they are told further belt-tightening is essential.

The UK’s network of bases, many of them in the Middle East, close to the world’s largest oil reserves, are what the much-vaunted “special relationship” with the US amounts to. Those bases are the reason the UK – whoever is prime minister – is never going to say “no” to a demand that Britain join Washington in waging war, as it did in attacking Iraq in 2003, or in aiding attacks on Libya, Syria and Yemen. The UK is not only a satellite of the US empire, it is a lynchpin of the western imperial war economy.

Ideological alchemy

Once that point is appreciated, the need for external enemies – for our own Eurasias and Eastasias – becomes clearer.

Some of those enemies, the minor ones, come and go, as demand dictates. Iraq dominated western attention for two decades. Now it has served its purpose, its killing fields and “terrorist” recruiting grounds have reverted to a mere footnote in the daily news. Likewise, the Libyan bogeyman Muammar Gaddafi was constantly paraded across news pages until he was bayonetted to death. Now the horror story that is today’s chaotic Libya, a corridor for arms-running and people-trafficking, can be safely ignored. For a decade, the entirely unexceptional Arab dictator Bashar Assad, of Syria, has been elevated to the status of a new Hitler, and he will continue to serve in that role for as long as it suits the needs of the western war economy.

Notably, Israel, another lynchpin of the US empire and one that serves as a kind of offshored weapons testing laboratory for the military-industrial complex, has played a vital role in rationalising these wars. Just as saving Afghan women from Middle Eastern patriarchy makes killing Afghans – men, women and children – more palatable to Europeans, so destroying Arab states can be presented as a humanitarian gesture if at the same time it crushes Israel’s enemies, and by extension, through a strange, implied ideological alchemy, the enemies of all Jews.

Quite how opportunistic – and divorced from reality – the western discourse about Israel and the Middle East has become is obvious the moment the relentless concerns about Syria’s Assad are weighed against the casual indifference towards the head-chopping rulers of Saudi Arabia, who for decades have been financing terror groups across the Middle East, including the jihadists in Syria.

During that time, Israel has covertly allied with oil-rich Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, because all of them are safely ensconced within the US war machine. Now, with the Palestinians completely sidelined diplomatically, and with all international solidarity with Palestinians browbeaten into silence by antisemitism smears, Israel and the Saudis are gradually going public with their alliance, like a pair of shy lovers. That included the convenient leak this week of a secret meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

The west also needs bigger, more menacing and more permanent enemies than Iraq or Syria. Helpfully one kind – nebulous “terrorism” – is the inevitable reaction to western war-making. The more brown people we kill, the more brown people we can justify killing because they carry out, or support, “terrorism” against us. Their hatred for our bombs is an irrationality, a primitivism we must keep stamping out with more bombs.

But concrete, identifiable enemies are needed too. Russia, Iran and China give superficial credence to the war machine’s presentation of itself as a “defence” industry. The UK’s bases around the globe and Boris Johnson’s £16 billion rise in spending on the UK’s war industries only make sense if Britain is under a constant, existential threat. Not just someone with a suspicious backpack on the London Tube, but a sophisticated, fiendish enemy that threatens to invade our lands, to steal resources to which we claim exclusive rights, to destroy our way of life through its masterful manipulation of the internet.

Crushed or tamed

Anyone of significance who questions these narratives that rationalise and perpetuate war is the enemy too. Current political and legal dramas in the US and UK reflect the perceived threat such actors pose to the war machine. They must either be crushed or tamed into subservience.

Trump was initially just such a figure that needed breaking in. The CIA and other intelligence agencies assisted in the organised opposition to Trump – helping to fuel the evidence-free Russiagate “scandal” – not because he was an awful human being or had authoritarian tendencies, but for two more specific reasons.

First, Trump’s political impulses, expressed in the early stages of his presidential campaign, were to withdraw from the very wars the US empire depends on. Despite open disdain for him from most of the media, he was criticised more often for failing to prosecute wars enthusiastically enough rather than for being too hawkish. And second, even as his isolationist impulses were largely subdued after the 2016 election by the permanent bureaucracy and his own officials, Trump proved to be an even more disastrous salesman for war than George W Bush. Trump made war look and sound exactly as it is, rather than packaging it as “intervention” intended to help women and people of colour.

But Trump’s amateurish isolationism paled in comparison to two far bigger threats to the war machine that emerged over the past decade. One was the danger – in our newly interconnected, digital world – of information leaks that risked stripping away the mask of US democracy, of the “shining city on the hill”, to reveal the tawdry reality underneath.

Julian Assange and his Wikileaks project proved just such a danger. The most memorable leak – at least as far as the general public was concerned – occurred in 2010, with publication of a classified video, titled Collateral Murder, showing a US air crew joking and celebrating as they murdered civilians far below in the streets of Baghdad. It gave a small taste of why western “humanitarianism” might prove so unpopular with those to whom we were busy supposedly bringing “democracy”.

The threat posed by Assange’s new transparency project was recognised instantly by US officials.

Exhibiting a carefully honed naivety, the political and media establishments have sought to uncouple the fact that Assange has spent most of the last decade in various forms of detention, and is currently locked up in a London high-security prison awaiting extradition to the US, from his success in exposing the war machine. Nonetheless, to ensure his incarceration till death in one of its super-max jails, the US empire has had to conflate the accepted definitions of “journalism” and “espionage”, and radically overhaul traditional understandings of the rights enshrined in the First Amendment.

Dress rehearsal for a coup

An equally grave threat to the war machine was posed by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of Britain’s Labour party. Corbyn presented as exceptional a problem as Assange.

Before Corbyn, Labour had never seriously challenged the UK’s dominant military-industrial complex, even if its support for war back in the 1960s and 1970s was often tempered by its then-social democratic politics. It was in this period, at the height of the Cold War, that Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was suspected by British elites of failing to share their anti-Communist and anti-Soviet paranoia, and was therefore viewed as a potential threat to their entrenched privileges.

As a BBC documentary from 2006 notes, Wilson faced the very real prospect of enforced “regime change”, coordinated by the military, the intelligence services and members of the royal family. It culminated in a show of force by the military as they briefly took over Heathrow airport without warning or coordination with Wilson’s government. Marcia Williams, his secretary, called it a “dress rehearsal” for a coup. Wilson resigned unexpectedly soon afterwards, apparently as the pressure started to take its toll.

‘Mutiny’ by the army

Subsequent Labour leaders, most notably Tony Blair, learnt the Wilson lesson: never, ever take on the “defence” establishment. The chief role of the UK is to serve as the US war machine’s attack dog. Defying that allotted role would be political suicide.

By contrast to Wilson, who posed a threat to the British establishment only in its overheated imagination, Corbyn was indeed a real danger to the militaristic status quo.

He was one of the founders of the Stop the War coalition that emerged specifically to challenge the premises of the “war on terror”. He explicitly demanded an end to Israel’s role as a forward base of the imperial war industries. In the face of massive opposition from his own party – and claims he was undermining “national security” – Corbyn urged a public debate about the deterrence claimed by the “defence” establishment for the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine programme, effectively under US control. It was also clear that Corbyn’s socialist agenda, were he ever to reach power, would require redirecting the many billions spent in maintaining the UK’s 145 military bases around the globe back into domestic social programmes.

In an age when the primacy of capitalism goes entirely unquestioned, Corbyn attracted even more immediate hostility from the power establishment than Wilson had. As soon as he was elected Labour leader, Corbyn’s own MPs – still loyal to Blairism – sought to oust him with a failed leadership challenge. If there was any doubt about how the power elite responded to Corbyn becoming head of the opposition, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times newspaper soon offered a platform to an unnamed army general to make clear its concerns.

Weeks after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the general warned that the army would take “direct action” using “whatever means possible, fair or foul” to prevent Corbyn exercising power. There would be “mutiny”, he said. “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it.”

Such views about Corbyn were, of course, shared on the other side of the Atlantic. In a leaked recording of a conversation with American-Jewish organisations last year, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state and a former CIA director, spoke of how Corbyn had been made to “run the gauntlet” as a way to ensure he would not be elected prime minister. The military metaphor was telling.

In relation to the danger of Corbyn winning the 2019 election, Pompeo added: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

This was from the man who said of his time heading the CIA: “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

Smears and Brexit

After a 2017 election that Labour only narrowly lost, the Corbyn threat was decisively neutralised in the follow-up election two years later, after the Labour leader was floored by a mix of antisemitism slurs and a largely jingoistic Brexit campaign to leave Europe.

Claims that this prominent anti-racism campaigner had overseen a surge of antisemitism in Labour were unsupported by evidence, but the smears – amplified in the media – quickly gained a life of their own. The allegations often bled into broader – and more transparently weaponised – suggestions that Corbyn’s socialist platform and criticisms of capitalism were also antisemitic. (See here, here and here.) But the smears were nevertheless dramatically effective in removing the sheen of idealism that had propelled Corbyn on to the national stage.

By happy coincidence for the power establishment, Brexit also posed a deep political challenge to Corbyn. He was naturally antagonistic to keeping the UK trapped inside a neoliberal European project that, as a semi-detached ally of the US empire, would always eschew socialism. But Corbyn never had control over how the Brexit debate was framed. Helped by the corporate media, Dominic Cummings and Johnson centred that debate on simplistic claims that severing ties with Europe would liberate the UK socially, economically and culturally. But their concealed agenda was very different. An exit from Europe was not intended to liberate Britain but to incorporate it more fully into the US imperial war machine.

Which is one reason that Johnson’s cash-strapped Britain is now promising an extra £16bn on “defence”. The Tory government’s  priorities are to prove both its special usefulness to the imperial project and its ability to continue using war – as well as the unique circumstances of the pandemic – to channel billions from public coffers into the pockets of the establishment.

A Biden makeover

After four years of Trump, the war machine once again desperately needs a makeover. The once-confident, youthful Wikileaks is now less able to peek behind the curtain and listen in to the power establishment’s plans for a new administration under Joe Biden.

We can be sure nonetheless that its priorities are no different from those set out in the CIA memo of 2010. Biden’s cabinet, the media has been excitedly trumpeting, is the most “diverse” ever, with women especially prominent in the incoming foreign policy establishment.

There has been a huge investment by Pentagon officials and Congressional war hawks in pushing for Michèle Flournoy to be appointed as the first female defence secretary. Flournoy, like Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, has played a central role in prosecuting every US war dating back to the Bill Clinton administration.

The other main contender for the spot is Jeh Johnson, who would become the first black defence secretary. As Biden dithers, his advisers’ assessment will focus on who will be best positioned to sell yet more war to a war-weary public.

The role of the imperial project is to use violence as a tool to capture and funnel ever greater wealth – whether it be resources seized in foreign lands or the communal wealth of domestic western populations – into the pockets of the power establishment, and to exercise that power covertly enough, or at a great enough distance, that no meaningful resistance is provoked.

A strong dose of identity politics may buy a little more time. But the war economy is as unsustainable as everything else our societies are currently founded on. Sooner or later the war machine is going to run out of fuel.

The post The Planet Cannot Begin to Heal Until We Rip the Mask off the West’s War Machine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is “antisemitic”

It is tempting to dismiss last week’s statements by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and suggesting the global movement to boycott Israel is driven by hatred of Jews, as the last gasp of a dying administration. But that would be foolhardy.

Pompeo’s decision to label all but the most tepid criticism of Israel as antisemitism is fully in line with the current redrawing of the limits of western political debate about Israel.

To underscore his message, Pompeo issued his statement as he headed to an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank – the first such official visit by a US secretary of state. New guidelines announced that in future the US would mark settlement goods as “Made in Israel”, concealing the fact that they are produced in the occupied Palestinian territories.

For good measure, Pompeo described the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), widely supported by Palestinians, as a “cancer”. “We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as antisemitic,” he added. The state department would identify any individual or group opposed to “doing business in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel” – that is, in the settlements – “and withdraw US government support”.

‘Made in Israel’

The settlement visit was doubtless intended as affirmation by the departing Trump administration of its recognition of Israel’s right to annex swaths of the West Bank seized by settlers. That position was cemented into a so-called “peace plan” earlier in the year.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, warned that Pompeo’s declarations would be hard for the new Democratic administration under Joe Biden to reverse, either rhetorically or substantively, when it takes office in January. “Such malicious measures are intended to corner the incoming US administration with layers of legal and administrative measures that maintain the destructive Trump legacy beyond his disruptive term,” she said.

To change course, Biden will have to declare the settlements illegal and come to the defence of the BDS movement – incurring the wrath of Israel’s lobbyists in Washington and opposition from the overwhelming majority of his own lawmakers in Congress.

It is fanciful to imagine he will do either.

The reality is that Israel’s endless facts on the ground, all ultimately pushing towards annexation, will continue as before, whether Biden or Trump is in charge. More significantly still, however, Pompeo’s statement marks the logical endpoint of a new foreign policy consensus on Israel that has rapidly taken shape in the US and Europe.

By this stage, only concerted action from western states to penalise Israel can alter the cost-benefit calculus that has so far made expanding the settlement enterprise pain-free. But trenchant criticism of Israel – of the kind so urgently necessary – is now increasingly off-limits. Instead western states are actually defaming and outlawing even the most limited forms of grassroots, non-violent action against Israel, like the BDS movement.

Topsy-turvy view

Pompeo’s statement, in fact, marks a complete inversion of the United Nations’ decision in 1975 to declare Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination”. At the time, supporters of Resolution 3379 made a self-evident case: any state is structurally racist if its founding ideology, as with Zionism, accords superior rights to citizens based on their ethnicity or religion.

An international convention further makes clear that such a political arrangement amounts to apartheid.

While in the 1970s Israel made efforts to obscure its ideological character, it has long since abandoned such pretence. In 2018 Israel passed the Nation-State Law making its apartheid explicit. The law affirmed superior legal rights for Jewish citizens over a large minority of Palestinian citizens.

In late 1991, however, the UN was browbeaten into revoking the “Zionism is racism” resolution after the Soviet Union fell and the US, Israel’s patron, emerged as the sole global superpower. We have now reached the point where, as Pompeo’s statement underscores, it is criticism of Israel and Zionism that is viewed as racism.

In this topsy-turvy worldview, nuclear-armed Israel is the victim, not the Palestinians who have been dispossessed and ethnically cleansed by Israel for decades. This derangement is so entrenched that last year the House of Representatives passed a near-unanimous resolution – pushed by the Israel lobby group AIPAC – denouncing any boycott of Israel as antisemitic.

Some 32 US states have passed legislation uniquely denying First Amendment rights to those who support a boycott of Israel in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians. Other states have similar legislation in the pipeline.

Criminal offence

The absurdity extends beyond the US.

The German parliament passed a resolution last year that declared boycotting Israel – a state occupying Palestinians for more than five decades – comparable to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews”. Bonn has the power to deny public funds to any group that supports, however tangentially, such a boycott.

Last month, Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin became the latest group targeted. Their art school removed their web page and cut funding for a series of workshops critical of Zionism after an outcry from German anti-racism groups and the media.

A similar inversion of reality is taking place in the UK, where the government has ruled that local authorities are not allowed to divest pension funds from Israel. These investments, some in illegal Jewish settlements, are assessed at nearly £3.5bn ($4.7bn), meaning ordinary Britons heavily subsidise Israel’s occupation.

The decision by Boris Johnson’s government was struck down by Britain’s highest court in April, but the government has vowed to bring in new anti-BDS legislation that would nullify that ruling.

In France, meanwhile, support for boycotting Israel has long been treated as a criminal offence under anti-discrimination legislation. A group of 12 Palestinian solidarity activists lost a series of court battles in France after they were convicted a decade ago of calling for a boycott outside a supermarket. The activists received a reprieve in June only after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that their convictions violated Europe’s human rights convention.

Growing chasm

That judgment serves only to highlight the growing chasm between, on one side, the political and legal environments being shaped by lobbyists in individual western states and, on the other, the principles of international law and human rights established in the wake of the Second World War.

Pompeo’s claim that opposition to Zionism – the ideology oppressing Palestinians – is antisemitic has taken widespread root because pro-Israel activists have managed to advance an entirely novel definition of antisemitism. In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a highly contentious and politicised “working definition” of antisemitism – one promoted by Israel. The definition is illustrated with 11 examples, seven of which refer to various criticisms of Israel, including that it is a “racist endeavour”.

A conclusion reached by the UN 45 years ago – that it is racist for a state to promote rights based not on our shared humanity but on ethnic or religious difference – is now defined as antisemitic. Donald Trump used an executive order to incorporate this weaponised definition into the Civil Rights Act last year, thereby chilling speech about Israel, especially on US campuses.

The IHRA definition is now widely accepted in the West, making it all but impossible to mount a defence against the malicious characterisation of support for Palestinian rights as equivalent to hatred of Jews. Pompeo is simply echoing a discourse that has rapidly become entrenched.

This became obvious when the British Labour party found itself plunged into a manufactured controversy in early 2016 that, overnight, it had become uniquely and institutionally antisemitic. The campaign began shortly after the membership elected as leader Jeremy Corbyn, one of a handful of socialist MPs in Labour and a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights.

Fear of backlash

The degree to which Israel has become untouchable – even when criticisms accord with international law – was highlighted when the United Nations compiled a list of businesses colluding with Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Publication of the database was repeatedly delayed for fear of the backlash the UN would receive for offending Israel and its lobbyists. The list finally saw daylight last February.

But the firms identified in the list have not come under any significant pressure to pull out of the settlements. In fact, what pressure they have faced has been for them to stay put, or otherwise face accusations of unfairly discriminating against Israel.

Countervailing pressure on them could come through the actions of popular, grassroots groups calling for a boycott. But western states now characterise the BDS movement that organises such boycotts as antisemitic too.

Quiescence and inaction are the only options allowed, if one wishes to avoid being labelled antisemitic.

Human rights ‘racist’?

Pompeo’s remarks in support of the settlements last week were foreshadowed by reports last month that the State Department is considering a mechanism for labelling the world’s most prominent human rights groups as antisemitic. The US would then urge other states not to deal with organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam.

Pompeo’s approach – ridiculous as it might have seemed a decade ago – does not stray far from the current logic in western capitals. Their officials have ridden roughshod over international law for some time – especially with their “interventions” in Arab states such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.

As the Palestinian cause is progressively sidelined by both western states and Arab states, groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have found themselves solitary critical voices on Israel. They are almost alone in continuing to articulate concerns about Israel’s egregious violations of international law, especially in relation to the settlements.

As a result, Pompeo’s moves to silence them may face much less resistance than many observers might assume.

Might makes right

Sadly, there is a self-fulfilling logic to these moves by the Trump administration. From Corbyn to Amnesty International and the BDS movement, those trying to uphold human rights and international law are being forced on to the defensive.

They have been strong-armed into the dock and must prove to their accusers the impossible: their innocence, measured not in concrete, public positions but in what supposedly lies behind them, in the form of private and unprovable motives.

This is safe ground for right-wing politicians and lobby groups.

Antisemitism is the insidious charge that sticks to anything it touches. The stain is all but impossible to remove. Which is why those standing up for human rights – and against racism and oppression – are going to find themselves ever more aggressively condemned as antisemitic.

This is a path not towards peace and reconciliation but towards greater tribalism, confrontation and violence. It strips out the tools of argument and persuasion, as well as non-violent forms of pressure like boycotts, and ensures a world ruled by “might makes right”.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Pompeo Spells Out the New Normal: All Criticism of Israel is "antisemitic" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference

I recently published in Middle East Eye a long analysis of last week’s report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into the question of whether the UK Labour party had an especial antisemitism problem. (You can read a slightly fuller version of that article on my website.) In the piece, I reached two main conclusions.

First, the commission’s headline verdict – though you would never know it from reading the media’s coverage – was that no case was found that Labour suffered from “institutional antisemitism”.

That, however, was precisely the claim that had been made by groups like the Jewish Labour Movement, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Board of Deputies and prominent rabbis such as Ephraim Mirvis. Their claims were amplified by Jewish media outlets such as the Jewish Chronicle and individual journalists such as Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. All are now shown to have been wrong, to have maligned the Labour party and to have irresponsibly inflamed the concerns of Britain’s wider Jewish community.

Not that any of these organisations or individuals will have to apologise. The corporate media – from the Mail to the Guardian – are continuing to mislead and misdirect on this issue, as they have been doing for the best part of five years. Neither Jewish leadership groups such as the Board of Deputies nor the corporate media have an interest in highlighting the embarrassing fact that the commission’s findings exposed their campaign against Corbyn as misinformation.

Breaches of procedure

What the report found instead were mainly breaches of party protocol and procedure: that complaints about antisemitism were not handled promptly and transparently.

But even here the issue was not really about antisemitism, as the report indicates, even if obliquely. Delays in resolving complaints were chiefly the responsibility not of Corbyn and his staff but of a party bureaucracy that he inherited and was deeply and explicitly hostile to him.

Senior officials stalled antisemitism complaints not because they were especially antisemitic but because they knew the delays would embarrass Corbyn and weaken him inside the party, as the leaked report of an Labour internal inquiry revealed in the spring.

But again, neither the media nor Jewish leadership groups have any interest in exposing their own culpability in this false narrative. And the new Labour leadership, under Keir Starmer, has absolutely no incentive to challenge this narrative either, particularly as doing so would be certain to revive exactly the same kind of antisemitism smears, but this time directed against Starmer himself.

Too hasty and aggressive

The corporate media long ago styled Labour staff who delayed the complaints procedure to harm Corbyn as antisemitism “whistleblowers”. Many of them starred in last year’s BBC Panorama programme on Labour in which they claimed they had been hampered from carrying out their work.

The equalities commission’s report subtly contradicts their claims, conceding that progress on handling complaints improved after senior Labour staff hostile to Corbyn – the “whistleblowers” very much among them – were removed from their posts.

Indeed, the report suggests the very opposite of the established media narrative. Corbyn’s team, far from permitting or encouraging delays in resolving antisemitism complaints, too often tried to step in to speed up the process to placate the corporate media and Jewish organisations.

In an example of having your cake and eating it, the commission castigates Corbyn’s staff for doing this, labelling it “political interference” and terming these actions unfair and discriminatory. But the unfairness chiefly relates to those being complained against – those accused of antisemitism – not those doing the complaining.

If Labour had an identifiable problem in relation to antisemitism complaints, according to the report, it seems to have occurred mostly in terms of the party being too hasty and aggressive in tackling antisemitism, in response to relentless criticism from the media and Jewish organisations, rather than being indulgent of it.

Again, no one in the media, Jewish leadership organisations, or the new Labour leadership wants this finding to be highlighted. So it is being ignored.

Flawed approach

The second conclusion, which I lacked the space to deal with properly in my Middle East Eye piece, relates more specifically to the commission’s own flawed approach in compiling the report rather than the media’s misrepresentation of the report.

As I explained in my earlier piece, the commission itself is very much an establishment body. Even had it wanted to, which it most certainly did not, it was never going to stick its neck out and rubbish the narrative presented by the establishment media.

On procedural matters, such as how the party handled antisemitism complaints, the equalities commission kept the report as vague as possible, obfuscating who was responsible for those failings and who was supposed to benefit from Corbyn staff’s interference. Both issues had the potential to fatally undermine the established media narrative.

Instead, the commission’s imprecision has allowed the media and Jewish organisations to interpret the report in self-serving ways – ways convenient to their existing narrative about “institutional antisemitism” in Labour.

Scouring social media

But the report misleads not only in its evasion and ambiguity. It does so more overtly in its seemingly desperate effort to find examples of Labour party “agents” who were responsible for the “problem” of antisemitism.

It is worth pondering what it would have looked like had the commission admitted it was unable to find anyone to hold to account for antisemitism in Labour. That would have risked blowing a very large hole in the established media narrative indeed.

So there must have been a great deal of pressure on the commission to find some examples. But extraordinarily – after five years of relentless claims of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, and of organisations like the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement scouring through Labour members’ social media accounts – the commission is able to muster sufficient evidence against only two individuals.

Two!

Both are found responsible for “illegal harassment” of Jewish people.

In those circumstances, therefore, it is important to critically examine just what evidence exists that these two individuals exhibited antisemitic attitudes or harassed Jews. Presumably, this pair’s behaviour was so egregious, their antisemitism so unmistakable, that the commission felt it had no choice but to single them out and hold the party responsible for failing to punish them summarily (without, of course, exhibiting at the same time any “political interference”).

I won’t test readers’ patience by examining both examples. In any case, I have dealt with one of them, Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor, at length in previous blog posts. They can be read here and here, for example.

Outward appearances

Let us focus instead on the other person named: a minor Labour party figure named Pam Bromley, who was then a local councillor for the borough of Rossendale, near Bolton.

First, we should note that the “harassment” she was deemed to have carried out seems to have been limited to online comments posted to social media. The commission does not suggest she expressed any hatred of Jews, made threats against any Jews individually or collectively, or physically attacked anyone Jewish.

I don’t know anything about Bromley, apart from the handful of comments attributed to her in the report. I also don’t know what was going on inside her head when she wrote those posts. If the commission knows more, it does not care to share that information with us. We can only judge the outward appearance of what she says.

One social media post, it is true, does suggest a simplistic political outlook that may have indicated an openness to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – or what the commission terms a “trope”. Bromley herself says she was making “general criticisms about capitalism”. Determining antisemitic conduct on the basis of that one post – let alone allowing an entire party of 500,000 members to be labelled “institutionally antisemitic” for it – might seem more than a little excessive.

But notably the problematic post was made in April 2018 – shortly after Corbyn’s staff wrestled back control of the complaints procedure from those hostile to his project. It was also the same month Bromley was suspended from the party. So if the post was indeed antisemitic, Corbyn’s Labour lost no time in dealing with it.

Did Bromley otherwise demonstrate a pattern of posting antisemitic material on social media that makes it hard to dispute that she harboured antisemitic motives? Were her comments so obviously antisemitic that the Labour party bureaucracy should have sanctioned her much sooner (even if at the time Corbyn’s staff had no control over the disciplinary process to do so)?

Let us examine the two comments highlighted by the commission in the main section of the report, which they deem to constitute the most clear-cut examples of Bromley’s antisemitism.

Raw emotions

The first was posted on Facebook, though strangely the commission appears not to know when:

Had Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party pulled up the drawbridge and nipped the bogus AS [antisemitism] accusations in the bud in the first place we would not be where we are now and the fifth column in the LP [Labour Party] would not have managed to get such a foothold … the Lobby has miscalculated … The witch hunt has created brand new fightback networks … The Lobby will then melt back into its own cesspit.

The strong language doubtless reflects the raw emotions the antisemitism claims against Corbyn’s supporters provoked. Many members understood only too well that the Labour party was riven by a civil war and that their socialist project was at stake. But where exactly is the antisemitism in Bromley’s tirade?

In the report, the commission says it considered the reference to a “fifth column” as code for Jews. But why? The equalities commission appears to have placed the worst possible interpretation on an ambiguous comment and then advanced it as an “antisemitic trope” – apparently a catch-all that needed no clarification.

But given what we now know – at least since the leaking of the internal Labour report in the spring – it seems far more likely Bromley, in referring to a “fifth column”, was talking about the party bureaucracy hostile to Corbyn. Most of those officials were not Jewish, but exploited the antisemitism claims because those claims were politically helpful.

Interpreted that way – and such an interpretation fits the facts presented in the leaked internal report – Bromley’s comment is better viewed as impolite, even hurtful, but probably not antisemitic.

Joan Ryan, an MP who was then head of Labour Friends of Israel – part of the lobby Bromley is presumably referring to – was not Jewish. But she was clearly very much part of the campaign to oust Corbyn using antisemitism as a stick to beat him and his supporters with, as an Al-Jazeera undercover documentary exposed in early 2017.

Ryan, we should remember, was instrumental in falsely accusing a Labour party member of an “antisemitic trope” – a deception that was only exposed because the exchange was secretly caught on film.

Internecine feud

Here is the second comment by Bromley highlighted by the commission. It was posted in late 2019, shortly after Labour had lost the general election:

My major criticism of him [Corbyn] – his failure to repel the fake accusations of antisemitism in the LP [Labour Party] – may not be repeated as the accusations may probably now magically disappear, now capitalism has got what it wanted.

Again, it seems clear that Bromley is referring to the party’s long-standing internecine feud, which would become public knowledge a few months later with the leaking of the internal report.

Here Bromley was suggesting that the media and anti-Corbyn wing of the party would ease up on the antisemitism allegations – as they indeed largely have done – because the threat of Corbyn’s socialist project had been ended by a dismal election result that saw the Tories gain a commanding parliamentary majority.

It could be argued that her assessment is wrong, but how is it antisemitic – unless the commission believes “capitalism” is also code for “Jews”?

But even if Bromley’s comments are treated as indisputably antisemitic, they are hardly evidence of Corbyn’s Labour party indulging antisemitism, or being “institutionally antisemitic”. As noted, she was suspended by the party in April 2018, almost as soon Corbyn’s team managed to gain control of the party bureaucracy from the old guard. She was expelled last February, while Corbyn was still leader.

Boris Johnson’s racism

It is instructive to compare the certainty with which the commission treats Bromley’s ambiguous remarks as irrefutable proof of antisemitism with its complete disregard for unmistakably antisemitic comments from Boris Johnson, the man actually running the country. That lack of concern is shared, of course, by the establishment media and Jewish leadership organisations.

The commission has repeatedly rejected parallel demands from Muslim groups for an investigation into the ruling Conservative party for well-documented examples of Islamophobia. But no one seems to be calling for an investigation of Johnson’s party for antisemitism.

Johnson himself has a long history of making overtly racist remarks, from calling black people “piccanninies” with “watermelon smiles” to labelling Muslim women “letterboxes”.

Jews have not avoided being stigmatised either. In his novel 72 Virgins, Johnson uses his authorial voice to suggest that Jewish oligarchs run the media and are able to fix an election result.

In a letter to the Guardian, a group of Jewish Corbyn supporters noted Johnson’s main Jewish character in the novel, Sammy Katz, was described as having a “proud nose and curly hair”, and he was painted “as a malevolent, stingy, snake-like Jewish businessman who exploits immigrant workers for profit”.

Nothing in the equalities commission’s report on Labour comes even close to suggesting this level of antisemitism. But then again, Johnson has never argued that antisemitism has been politically weaponised. And why would he? No one, from the corporate media to conservative Jewish leadership organisations, seems to be taking any serious interest in the overt racism demonstrated by either him or his party.

The post It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference first appeared on Dissident Voice.