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The Prosecution Of Julian Assange Is A Threat To Journalists Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Steps, Next Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Politics of the Assange Prosecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception

In my last blog post, I warned that the media and political class would continue with their long-running deceptions about Julian Assange now that he has been dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy. They have wasted no time in proving me right.

The first thrust in their campaign of deceit was set out on the Guardian’s front page today.

There should have been wall-to-wall outrage from public figures in the UK at the United States creating a new crime of “doing journalism” and a new means of arrest for those committing this “crime” overseas, what I have termed “media rendition”.

Remember that all of the information contained in the US charge sheet against Assange – the supposed grounds for his extradition – were known to the previous Obama administration as far back as 2010. But Barack Obama never dared approve the current charges against Assange because legally there was no way to stop them being turned against “respectable” journalists, like those at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian.

This was the same Obama administration that had the worst record ever for prosecuting whistleblowers. Obama was no friend to investigative journalism but he understood that it would be unwise to so overtly subvert the notion of a free western press.

That the Trump administration has cast all this aside to get Assange behind bars should have every journalist in the world quaking in their boots, and loudly decrying what the US is seeking to do.

And yet the reaction has been either quiet acceptance of the US extradition request as a simple law enforcement measure or gentle mockery of Assange – that the scruffy outlaw dragged from the embassy was looking even scruffier after seven years of extreme house arrest and “arbitrary detention”. What a laugh!

Now we can see how the media is going to collude in a narrative crafted by the political class to legitimise what the Trump administration is doing.

Rather than focus on the gross violation of Assange’s fundamental human rights, the wider assault on press freedoms and the attack on Americans’ First Amendment Rights, UK politicians are “debating” whether the US extradition claim on Assange should take priority over earlier Swedish extradition proceedings for a sexual assault investigation that were publicly dropped back in 2017.

In other words, the public conversation in the UK, sympathetically reported by the Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange.

Here’s the first paragraph of the Guardian front-page article:

Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.

So the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the US, it is that the US claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden.

The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first.

It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes.

But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative.

The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

That the Guardian and the MPs are connecting the two should come as no surprise.

In another article on Assange on Friday, the Guardian – echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.”

There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that the Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which the Guardian is a key part.

Assange and Wikileaks always said that he entered the embassy to claim political asylum so as to avoid extradition on to the US.

For seven years the political and media establishments have been deriding the suggestion that Assange faced any threat from the US, despite the mounting private and public evidence that he did. Assange again has been proved conclusively right by current events, and they decisively wrong.

The Guardian knows that Assange did not need political asylum to avoid a sex case. So reporting this not as a claim by his detractors but as an indisputable fact is simple, Trump-supporting propaganda meant to discredit Assange – propaganda that happily treats any damage to the cause of journalism as collateral damage.

Second, the only major politicians prepared to highlight the threats to Assange’s personal rights and wider press freedoms posed by the US extradition request are opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his ally, Diane Abbott, the Labour shadow home secretary.

They have rightly noted that the US is using the extradition demand to silence Assange and intimidate any other journalists who might think about digging up evidence of the crimes committed by the US national security state.

Abbott commented on Friday that Assange’s current arrest was not about “the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public.”

Abbott has faced a storm of criticism for her statement, accused of not giving enough weight to the Swedish case. In fact, her only mistake was to give it more weight than it currently deserves. She spoke of “rape charges”, but there are, in fact, no such charges. (Additionally, although the case is classed broadly as a rape allegation in Sweden, in the UK it would be classed at most as sexual assault. Forgotten too is that the evidence was considered too weak by the original prosecutor to bring any charges, Assange was allowed to leave Sweden and the investigation was dropped.)

Rather, Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy.

Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticise the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

Further, the MPs and media getting exercised that Assange “took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden” are forgetting that he did not object to extradition as long as he received a promise that he would not then be extradited on to the US. Sweden refused to offer such assurances. We can now see only too clearly that Assange had every reason to insist on such assurances.

I don’t have space here to analyse the Swedish case on this occasion (that’s maybe for another time), though it is worth briefly noting that most of the problematic details of the case have been disappeared down the memory hole.

Given that the political and media class are still speaking in terms of “charges”, rather than questions about allegations, we should recall that there were glaring problems with the evidence in the Swedish case. Not least, the key piece of evidence against Assange – a torn condom produced by the woman – was found to contain not a trace of DNA from either Assange or from her.

Those at the forefront of the attacks on Abbott and Corbyn, echoed by the Guardian, are the same Blairite Labour MPs who have been trying to oust Corbyn as Labour party leader, despite his twice being elected overwhelmingly by the membership.

These MPs, who dominate the Labour parliamentary party, have spent the past four years focusing on smears that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic” in an obvious effort to terminally wound Corbyn. Now they have found another possible route to achieve the same end.

They are suggesting that Corbyn and Abbott are disregarding the Swedish woman’s right to justice. The clear subtext of their arguments is that the pair are rape apologists.

As I have pointed out, Abbott has actually overstated the current status of the Swedish case, not sidelined it at all.

But what Corbyn and Abbott have done is to make a clear political, legal and moral demarcation between the Swedish case, which must be resolved according to accepted legal principles, and the US extradition, which has no legal or moral merit whatsoever.

What these UK MPs and the Guardian have done in this front-page story is muddy the waters yet further, with enthusiastic disregard for the damage it might do to Assange’s rights, to Corbyn’s leadership and to the future of truth-telling journalism.

Media Smoothed Way to Corbyn Target Practice

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

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

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

Is that too cynical? Ponder this.

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

Shown as Kremlin stooge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too toxic to lead Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning ‘security credentials’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

The Fake News Nazi: Corbyn, Williamson And The Anti-Semitism Scandal

One of us had a discussion with an elderly relative:

He can’t be allowed to become Prime Minister.

Why not?

It’s so awful…

What is?

The way he hates the Jews.

The last comment was spoken with real anguish, the result of continuous exposure to just two main news sources: the Daily Mail and the BBC.

What is astonishing is that, just four years ago, essentially no-one held this view of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn first became an MP in 1983. He stood for the Labour leadership 32 years later, in May 2015. We searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 11,251 hits

None of the 18 hits accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. For his first 32 years as an MP, it just wasn’t a theme associated with him.

We also searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Labour Party and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 5,347 hits

Labour Party and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 13,921 hits

The archive begins in 1980, which means that more than twice as many articles have included these terms in the last four years than in the 35 years from 1980 until May 2015 when Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. A standard response to these findings runs along these lines:

Irrelevant backbencher gets less Press attention than Leader of The Opposition SHOCKER. What’s your next scoop, Water Wet, Sky Blue?

But, in fact, Corbyn was not an irrelevant backbencher. We found 3,662 hits for articles mentioning Corbyn before May 2015. Many of these are mentions in passing, but he had also long been a high-profile anti-war MP at a time of numerous wars. And he was frequently smeared, only not about his supposed anti-semitism. Consider, for example, an article that appeared in The Sun in 1999, under a typically cruel title:

Why did it take you so long to dump him, Mrs Corbyn?1

The story:

EXTREME Left MP Jeremy Corbyn has been dumped by his missus after an amazing bust-up over their son’s education.

The key issue, according to The Sun:

Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Why did it take her so long to leave the loathsome Lefty, and more importantly, why is she only moaning about his choice of schools?

Because there was, apparently, plenty to moan about. The Sun described Corbyn as ‘class crusader Jeremy – a rabid IRA sympathiser’ who ‘not only looks and dresses like a third-rate Open University lecturer, he thinks like one too. In 1984 the Provo stooge invited twice-convicted terrorist and bomber Linda Quigley to the House of Commons just 13 days after the IRA’s murderous attack on Tories staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton’.

This was pretty brutal stuff. The Sun added of Corbyn’s ex-wife:

Claudia’s saviour of the masses also suffers incredible delusions of grandeur. Communist states may be falling like dominoes, but raving Red Jeremy still believes his outdated views are relevant to modern-day Britain.

And:

Not only is Jeremy a political coward who backs terrorists, he is also a self-confessed big girl’s blouse.

And:

Jeremy’s mis-shapen suits, lumpy jumpers and nylon shirts are not exactly what the well-dressed radical is wearing in 1999… Claudia should be aware her ex is irredeemably, unforgivably, annoyingly stupid.

Given the no-holds-barred nature of the smear, it is amazing that The Sun made no mention at all of Corbyn’s vile anti-semitism, viewed as his most obvious and dangerous defect now.

The reason is that, as this shows, not even his worst enemies viewed him as an anti-semite. The extreme Tory press aside, the accepted view of Corbyn pre-2015 is indicated by a long, admiring piece in which Jewish journalist Deborah Ross, whose family members were murdered in Polish pogroms even before the Nazi Holocaust was unleashed, interviewed him for the Independent in 2005. Ross commented:

He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a “totally genuine mensch”.

Ross added:

As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a “beardy Bolshevik” and “loathsome lefty” but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don’t want to.

He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy’s oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough.

Joseph Finlay is a former Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, who co-founded a range of grassroots Jewish organisations such as Moishe House London, Wandering Jews, Jewdas and The Open Talmud Project. On 2 March 2018, Finlay wrote in his blog under the title, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, not an anti-Semite’:

Firstly we need to restore some perspective. The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of its ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Finlay added:

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?

Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook notes that a recent Labour Party report ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics ‘not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all’. Cook summarised:

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

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

He added:

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

In ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ by the Jewish Institute for Policy Research, L. Daniel Staetsky found:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the “slightly left-of-centre,” the “fairly left-wing” and the “very left-wing” – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.

The report notes that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.

Noam Chomsky has commented:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.2

Suspending Chris Williamson

On February 27, a propaganda blitz was launched against anti-war Labour MP Chris Williamson who had been filmed saying that Labour Party responses to claims of anti-semitism had exacerbated the crisis:

I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible… Because, in my opinion, we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

Williamson added:

We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party.

It is clear that Williamson was strongly endorsing the fight against anti-semitism and was proud of the Labour Party’s record. Actual anti-semites talk of ‘the scourge of Judaism’, Williamson talked of ‘the scourge of anti-semitism’. He was suggesting that the party had been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign attempting to destroy Corbyn by exploiting the issue of anti-semitism.

Others chose to see it differently. Guardian columnist Owen Jones responded to Williamson’s comments:

This is utterly out of order. When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry? Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?

We replied:

When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry?

He’s *endorsing* the fight against racism and bigotry. He’s saying Labour has been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign to destroy Corbyn in the name of anti-racism.

Ash Sharkar of Novara Media tweeted:

Chris Williamson has been had the Labour whip suspended pending investigation, which I think is the right decision. But much more work must be done to proactively confront and dismantle conspiratorial and antisemitic thinking on the left, and it goes much further than expulsions.

Aaron Bastani, also of Novara Media, wrote:

I think media coverage of the “Labour anti-semitism crisis” is completely disproportionate – primarily because it underplays problem more broadly across society.

Equally, hearing & reading the things I have in recent days I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.

In our latest book, Propaganda Blitz, we noted a key factor driving home these smear blitzes:

While a demonising propaganda blitz may arise from rightist politics and media, the propaganda coup de grace ending public doubt often comes from the “left-liberal” journalists at the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC and Channel 4; and also from non-corporate journalists who crave acceptance by these media. Again, the logic is clear: if even celebrity progressive journalists – people famous for their principled stands, and colourful socks and ties – join the denunciations, then there must be something to the claims. At this point, it actually becomes difficult to doubt it.3

Foreign Wars – Racism versus Speciesism

The truth of the corporate media’s ‘ethical concern’ becomes clearer when we consider Corbyn’s record on foreign wars. While the UK affects to care deeply about racism, Chomsky has noted that the West’s endless ‘interventions’ – all reflexively supported by the same media damning Corbyn now – are manifestations of a prejudice, beyond even racism, that is a kind of speciesism:

Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.4

Even if Corbyn was an anti-semite, a racist, he would still be a far safer ethical choice than Tory and Blairite speciesists who value human beings on the level of ants. After all, we find that Jeremy Corbyn:

Consistently voted against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Consistently voted against the Iraq war.

… voted to say that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established’.

… voted against a motion stating the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Support for the motion by the majority of MPs led to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq two days later.

Generally voted for investigations into the Iraq war.

… acted as teller for a vote on UK Air Strikes Against ISIL in Iraq.

… voted against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya.

… voted against the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan.

… voted to decline to authorise UK military action in Syria.

… voted against UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

Generally voted against replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system.

Consider, by contrast, the record of the Labour MPs who have left the Labour Party, supposedly in protest at the rise of anti-semitism, to form The Independent Group:

Chuka Umunna: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Angela Smith: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Mike Gapes: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Chris Leslie: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Luciana Berger: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Joan Ryan: Consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas,  Consistently voted for the Iraq war, Consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war.

Ann Coffey: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Gavin Shuker: Voted a mixture of for and against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Not even his most extreme critics are suggesting that Corbyn is offering the kind of threat to Jewish people consistently offered by Tory and Blairite MPs to millions of people in countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Yemen. Even if Corbyn had erred in failing to perceive the ugliness of a mural declared antisemitic by the press; even if had been lax in taking action against party racists, and so on, how do these failings compare to the destruction of whole countries in lie-based wars of aggression?

Why do corporate media never make this moral comparison? Because they are incapable of perceiving US-UK crimes against humanity as crimes; a wilful moral blindness that renders them completely unfit to pass judgment on Corbyn. Especially as they are themselves, of course, complicit in these same war crimes.

Conclusion

The claim that Corbyn is an anti-semite presiding over a surge in Labour Party anti-semitism is fake news; it is a scam of the utmost cynicism and brutality. It should be viewed as the latest in a long line of attempts to destroy Corbyn by all necessary means. He has been smeared for not bowing low enough, for not singing loudly enough, for hating women, for disrespecting gay people, for consorting with terrorists, for refusing to unleash a nuclear holocaust, for being a shambolic leader, for being a shambolic dresser, for leading Labour towards certain electoral disaster, for being a Putinite stooge, for aping Trump, and so on. Now, finally, someone widely admired for thirty years as a decent, socialist MP, has been transformed into an anti-semite; or as game show assistant and political commentator Rachel Riley implies, a ‘Nazi’.

Anti-semitism does exist in the Labour Party, as it exists throughout UK society, and, of course, these delusions should be resisted and exposed. But the smear campaign against Corbyn is not rooted in concern for the welfare of Jewish people; it is not even about blocking a political leader who cares about Palestinian rights. It is about preventing Corbyn from undoing Tony Blair’s great achievement of transforming the Labour Party into a second Tory Party, thus ensuring voters have no option challenging corporate domination, including the ‘humanitarian interventions’ for oil and other resources. The goal is to stop Corbyn letting democracy out of its box.

Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London, warns that cavalier accusations made ‘on the basis of obviously flimsy or nonexistent evidence’ are ‘disrespecting the memory of the millions who were slaughtered by real antisemitism during the Holocaust’. But, in fact, it is worse than that. State propagandists and their corporate media allies are exploiting the suffering of these millions as part of an attack on British democracy. This is obscene. But it is not particularly shocking after the campaigns of deceit which, as discussed, knowingly risked and then shattered the lives of millions of innocent human beings in US-UK wars of aggression.

One thing is certain, if Corbyn and his style of socialism can be made to disappear, we’ll hear no more about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, just as we heard no more about Iraqi democracy after Saddam Hussein, or human rights in Libya after Gaddafi; just as we will hear no more about press freedom in Venezuela, if Maduro is overthrown.

As this alert was being written, news emerged that Corbyn had been subjected to a physical assault in London, to muted concern from almost all corporate media and journalists (compare ‘mainstream’ reaction to news that Conservative MP Anna Soubry had been called a ‘Nazi’). Journalists claimed Corbyn had merely had an egg thrown at him. Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted:

I was there. He punched Jeremy very hard. He happened to have an egg in his palm. But it could have been a knife. Horrible

Perhaps journalists couldn’t bear to express concern for a person they have so completely reviled for almost four years. Or perhaps they knew their smears of a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned man would be thrown back at them. More likely, they just didn’t care. And that, finally, is the truth of their ‘ethical concern’ – they don’t care.

  1. Ally Ross, The Sun, 13 May 1999.
  2. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018.
  3. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.8-9.
  4. Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007.

Would railing at a Labour Saudi Lobby be Racist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights abusers

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

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

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

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

Racism towards Palestinians

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

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

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

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

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

Plot against Corbyn

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

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

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

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

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

Blair’s Great Game for Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class privilege

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

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

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

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

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

Defending capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour’s Civil War on Israel has been a Long Time Coming

An announcement this week by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) that it is considering splitting from the British Labour Party could not have come at a worse moment for Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is already besieged by claims that he is presiding over a party that has become “institutionally anti-semitic”.

The threats by the JLM should be seen as part of concerted efforts to oust Corbyn from the leadership. They follow on the heels of a decision by a handful of Labour MPs last month to set up a new faction called the Independent Group. They, too, cited anti-semitism as a major reason for leaving.

On the defensive, Corbyn was prompted to write to the JLM expressing his and the shadow cabinet’s “very strong desire for you to remain a part of our movement”. More than 100 Labour MPs, including members of the front bench, similarly pleaded with the JLM not to disaffiliate. They apologised for “toxic racism” in the party and for “letting our Jewish supporters and members down”.

Their letter noted that the JLM is “the legitimate and long-standing representative of Jews in the Labour party” and added that the MPs recognised the importance of “calling out those who seek to make solidarity with our Jewish comrades a test of foreign policy”.

That appeared to be a swipe at Corbyn himself, who is the first leader of a British political party to prioritise Palestinian rights over the UK’s ties to an Israeli state that has been oppressing Palestinians for decades.

Only this week the Labour leader renewed his call for Britain to halt arms sales to Israel following a UN report that said the Israeli army’s shooting of Palestinian protesters in Gaza’s Great March of Return could amount to war crimes.

Evidence ignored

Despite the media attention, all the evidence suggests that Labour does not have a problem of “institutional anti-semitism”, or even a problem of anti-semitism above the marginal racism towards Jews found in the wider British population. Figures show only 0.08 percent of Labour members have been disciplined for anti-semitism.

Also largely ignored by the British media, and Corbyn’s opponents, is the fact that a growing number of Jews are publicly coming out in support for him and discounting the claims of an “endemic” anti-semitism problem.

Some 200 prominent Jews signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper calling Corbyn “a crucial ally in the fight against bigotry and reaction. His lifetime record of campaigning for equality and human rights, including consistent support for initiatives against antisemitism, is formidable.”

At the same time, a new organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, has been established to underscore that there are progressive Jews who welcome Corbyn’s leadership.

On the back foot

In the current hysterical climate, however, no one seems interested in the evidence or these dissenting voices. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Corbyn and his supporters are on the back foot as they face losing from Labour an affiliate group of 2,000 members who represent a section of the UK’s Jewish community.

But paradoxically, the loss of the JLM may be inevitable if Labour is serious about becoming a party that opposes racism in all its forms, because the JLM has proved it is incapable of meeting that simple standard.

While the Labour Party has been dragged into an increasingly fractious debate about whether anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a Jewish state – equates to anti-semitism, everyone has been distracted from the elephant in the room.

Zionism as racism

In fact, it is political Zionism, at least in the hardline form adopted by groups such as the JLM, that is racism – towards Palestinians.

Zionism, we should recall, required the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians to engineer a “Jewish state” on the ruins of Palestinians’ homeland. It fuelled Israel’s hunger for an enlarged territory that led to it occupying the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and further dispossessing the Palestinians through illegal settlement building.

Zionism has made it impossible for any Israeli government to offer meaningful concessions to Palestinians on statehood to create the conditions necessary for peace. It has justified policies that view “mixing between the races” – between Jews and Palestinians – as dangerous “miscegenation” and “assimilation”.

Furthermore, Zionism has kept Israel’s Palestinian citizens a segregated minority, hemmed up in their own ghettoised communities, denied rights to almost all land in Israel, and corralled into their own separate and massively inferior school system.

Efforts to oust Corbyn

All of these policies were instituted by Israel’s Labor Party, the sister organisation of the JLM in Britain. The JLM not only refuses to oppose these policies, but effectively shields Israel from criticism about them from within Britain’s Labour Party.

The JLM has remained mute on the structural violence of Israel’s occupying army, and the systematic racism – encoded in Israel’s laws – towards the fifth of its population who are Palestinian citizens.

Meanwhile, the JLM’s mother body, the World Zionist Organization, has a division that – to this day – finances the establishment and expansion of settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law.

Added to this, an Al Jazeera undercover documentary broadcast in 2017 showed that the JLM was covertly working with an Israeli government official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn because of his pro-Palestinian positions.

Israel, remember, has for the last decade equated to the ultra-nationalist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. His coalition allies seek not a two-state solution, but the takeover of most of the occupied territories and ultimately their annexation, again in violation of international law.

Ella Rose was appointed director of the JLM in 2016, straight from a post at the Israeli embassy.

Relic of old politics

Times – and politics – move on. The JLM is a relic of a period when it was possible to claim to be anti-racist while turning a blind eye to the oppression of the Palestinian people. Social media and Palestinians armed with camera phones – not just Corbyn – have made that evasion no longer possible.

Labour giving pride of place to groups such as the JLM or Labour Friends of Israel – to which 80 of its MPs proudly belong – is, in the current circumstances, as obscene as it would have been 40 years ago for British parties to host their own Friends of South Africa groups.

The Labour Party bureaucracy is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world by its members, who have felt liberated by Corbyn’s leadership and his history of supporting all kinds of anti-racism struggles, including the Palestinian one.

While Britain has major and pressing issues to tackle, from dealing with its exit from Europe to imminent climate collapse, Labour’s energies have been sidetracked into a civil war about Israel, of all things.

The old guard want to be allowed to support Israel, even as it heads towards full-blown fascism, while much of the membership want to dissociate from what looks increasingly like another apartheid state – and one whose leaders are seeking to stoke conflict across a volatile region.

Redefining anti-semitism

Israel’s most ardent supporters, and Corbyn’s enemies, in Labour will play dirty to protect Israel and their own role from scrutiny, as they have been doing all along.

The JLM led moves last year intended to divide the party by insisting that Labour redefine anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel.

Rumblings of dissatisfaction from the JLM will be cited as further evidence of the membership’s anti-semitism, because that is the most powerful weapon they have to silence criticism of Israel and deflect attention away from their role in shielding Israel from proper scrutiny within Labour.

Politics is about choices and values. Labour has for many decades sided exclusively with Israel and ignored the rights of Palestinians.

Support for ethnic cleansing

In 1944 – four years before Israel’s creation – Labour’s annual conference recommended that the natives of Palestine, a large majority population, be ethnically cleansed to advance the goals of European Zionists colonising their land. The resolution declared: “Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in.”

That is exactly what Israel did by expelling 750,000 Palestinians, more than 80 percent of the Palestinian population, in events we now call the Nakba (Catastrophe).

For decades after Israel’s creation, Labour Party members happily travelled to Israel to toil in agricultural communes, such as the kibbutz, that were built on stolen Palestinian land and which, to this day, refuse to allow any of the country’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens to live in them.

In a speech in 1972, after Israel seized yet more Palestinian lands, including East Jerusalem, Labour leader Harold Wilson urged Israel to hold on to these conquered territories: “Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation.”

Dark underbelly of racism

This is the dark, dishonourable underbelly of Labour racism, and the party’s decades-long support for colonialism in the Middle East.

Labour created a hierarchy of racisms, in which concern about hatred towards Jews enjoyed star billing while racism towards some other groups, most especially Palestinians, barely registered.

Under Corbyn and a much-expanded membership, these prejudices are being challenged in public for the first time – and that is justifiably making the party an “unsafe” space for groups such as the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, which hang on to outdated, hardline Zionist positions.

The JLM’s claim to speak for all Jews in Labour has been challenged by anti-racist Jews like those of the Jewish Voice for Labour. Their efforts to defend Corbyn and Labour’s record have been widely ignored by the media or, encouraged by JLM, dismissed as “downplaying” anti-semitism.

History catching up

The JLM’s discomfort may be unfortunate, but it cannot be avoided. It is the price to be paid for the continuing battle by progressives to advance universal rights and defeat racism. This battle has been waged since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in 1948 – paradoxically, the year Israel was established by violating the core principles of that declaration.

Israel’s racism towards Palestinians has been indulged by Labour for too long. Now history is catching up with Israel, and with groups such as the JLM.

Labour MPs have a choice. They can stand on the wrong side of history, battling the tide like some modern King Canute, or they can recognise that it is time to fully enter the modern era – and that means embracing a programme of anti-racism that encompasses everyone, including Jews and Palestinians.

• A version of this article first published in Middle East Eye

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

More Than Bad Faith Behind Anti-semitism Slurs

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

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

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

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

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

Moral panics and self-delusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two sides to every story

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

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

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

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

‘Too apologetic’ on anti-semitism?

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Labour from smears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blind to other narratives

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

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

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

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

Filming an anti-semitism smear

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring the statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berger and her constituency

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

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

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

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

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

A battle of political values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low point in public discourse

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

Here is Harris again privileging a Zionist Jewish narrative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving to the edge of the cliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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