Category Archives: UK media

Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. It has been sent to editors of major media outlets in the UK. In it, she outlines her concerns for pesticide regulation, health and the environment in a post-Brexit landscape. This article presents some of the report’s key points.

PM Boris Johnson is planning to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. However, Johnson recently suggested that the UK will be “governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo” on food imports. He has called for an end to “hysterical” fears about US food coming to the UK as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, he talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations.

Just as concerning is who has the ear of government. Rosemary Mason notes that in February 2019, at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector, UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of the Bayer Crop Science Division. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made her priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.

Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society.

In a recent open letter to Bench, Mason states:

That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.

Furthermore, Mason has presented to him and other officials statistics on the spiralling rates of disease and illness among the UK public which correlate with the increasing use of agrochemicals, especially glyphosate.

While the UK was officially no longer part of the EU as of 1 February 2020, it will continue to follow EU rules on pesticide authorisations during a transition period lasting at least until 31 December 2020. But when the transition period ends, the UK could choose to go its own way, with major implications for several significant pesticides, including glyphosate and neonicotinoids.

In her new report, Mason discusses the health dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and numerous other products. These dangers (along with corrupt practices that have kept it on the market) have been documented many times in Mason’s various open letters to officials.

Glyphosate is authorised in the EU until 2022. Reauthorisation will therefore be considered after the end of the Brexit transition period. Luxembourg is now phasing out its use and will become the first EU country to permanently ban glyphosate. EU countries only narrowly approved its reauthorisation in 2017. The exit of the UK from the soon to be 27-country bloc could tip the voting scales against the substance in 2022.

On the other hand, however, Mason concludes that it is highly likely that the UK will authorise the continued use of glyphosate given the influence of industry.

As for neonicotinoids – seed-coating insecticides that have been linked to harming to bees – Mason concludes that it is difficult to say whether the UK would stick to its most recent position in favour of a ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. She advises officials to take notice of Dr Henk Tennekes’ toxicological studies on systemic neonicotinoid insecticides from 2010. Tennekes says that unwarranted product defence by Bayer and Syngenta may have had catastrophic consequences for the environment.

Human health and glyphosate

Boris Johnson said on 3 February 2020:

I look at the Americans, they look pretty well nourished to me. And I don’t hear any of these critics of American food coming back from the United States and complaining… So, let’s take some of the paranoia out of this argument.

Mason’s response is that to judge the health of a nation by claiming “they look well nourished to me” is pure nonsense: the US has the most obese citizens in the world and Britain has the second. In her numerous reports over the past 10 years, she has been consistently documenting a major public health crisis which is affecting both countries as a result of the chemical contamination of food and crops.

Of course, with a US trade deal in the pipeline, there are major concerns about GMOs, chlorinated chickens and the lowering of food standards across the board. But for Mason, glyphosate is a big concern.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests found glyphosate on 63 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples. But the FDA did not test any oats and wheat, the two main crops where glyphosate is used as a pre-harvest drying agent, resulting in glyphosate contamination of foods such as Cheerios and some brands of granola.

Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor for children’s health at the Environment Working Group (EWG) has responded by saying:

FDA’s failure to test for glyphosate in the foods where it’s most likely to be found is inexcusable.

In August, tests commissioned by EWG found glyphosate residues on popular oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars. Almost three-fourths of the 45 samples tested had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.

Mason says that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals: diseases skip a generation. Washington State University researchers have found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers say they saw “dramatic increases” in several pathologies affecting the second and third generations. The second generation had “significant increases” in testis, ovary and mammary gland diseases, as well as obesity. In third-generation males, the researchers saw a 30 percent incidence of prostate disease — three times the rate of a control population. The third generation of females had a 40 percent incidence of kidney disease, or four times the rate of the controls.

More than one-third of the second-generation mothers had unsuccessful pregnancies, with most of those affected dying. Two out of five males and females in the third generation were obese.

Mason notes that researchers call this phenomenon “generational toxicology” and they’ve seen it over the years in fungicides, pesticides, jet fuel, the plastics compound bisphenol A, the insect repellent DEET and the herbicide atrazine. At work are epigenetic changes that turn genes on and off, often because of environmental influences.

Glyphosate has been the subject of numerous studies about its health effects. This recent study is the third in the past few months out of Washington alone. A study published in February found the chemical increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by as much as 41 percent. A Washington State University study published in December found state residents living close to areas subject to treatments with the herbicide are one-third more likely to die an early death from Parkinson’s disease.

This research adds to long-held health-related concerns about glyphosate.

Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the attorney’s fighting Bayer (which has bought Monsanto) in the US courts, has explained that for four decades Monsanto manoeuvred to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning. He says that Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.

Moreover, strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

Nevertheless, Mason notes, senior officials in the UK trot out platitudes about glyphosate being harmless and refer to flawed procedures and biased assessments that overlooked key studies.

With these health issues in mind, we should remind ourselves of Boris Johnson’s first speech to parliament as PM. In it, he said:

Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules…

This could mean the irresponsible introduction of genetically modified Roundup Ready food crops to the UK, which would see the amount of glyphosate in British food reaching new levels (levels which are already disturbing).

In finishing, it is worth mentioning that Mason makes some very pertinent points about the Conservative government in the UK, accusing it of working hand in glove with Monsanto and now Bayer. Yet, as IG Farben, Bayer collaborated with the Nazis and had a factory and prisoner of war camp at Auschwitz. For Mason, the fact that the UK media remain silent on this and has run smear campaigns about Labour and Jeremy Corbyn being anti-semitic is as disgraceful as it is hypocritical.

The UK media do not mention the US lawsuits against Monsanto-Bayer and all the diseases that Roundup brings. The media also ignore every report Mason sends to them in the hope mainstream journalists will inform the public of the dangers of pesticides and pressurise the government to act.

In the meantime, Boris Johnson is attempting to soften up the public on behalf of the corporate interests he represents. Based on no science (or scruples) whatsoever, Johnson says US citizens are fit and healthy and dismisses valid science-based concerns about the food system as “mumbo jumbo” and hysteria. He hopes the public will fall for his knockabout schtick and will remain blissfully ignorant of the reality. With the media’s compliance, the majority of people may well do.

Readers are urged to read Rosemary Mason’s new report, which contains all relevant references and additional information to that which has been outlined in this article. It can be accessed on the academia.edu website along with dozens of her previous reports

The Arrogance of BBC News

When we started Media Lens in 2001, we had a rather naïve expectation that journalists might: a) want to respond rationally to reasoned criticism; and b) have privileged access to unparalleled journalistic resources, experts and arguments that would enable journalists to respond with serious points to our challenges. In particular, we imagined that BBC journalists and editors – being funded from the public licence fee – might actually feel obliged to respond.

We were quickly disabused of such notions. Reasoned debate with journalists employed by the misleadingly-termed ‘mainstream’ media is as rare as a newspaper editorial in support of Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to last week’s General Election. The dearth of such media debate – in fact, the arrogant and condescending dismissal of vital truths – has been highlighted as never before by recent pronouncements from senior figures in BBC News.

BBC director general Lord Tony Hall told BBC staff in a post-election message:

Social media offers a megaphone to those who want to attack us and makes this pressure greater than ever. The conspiracy theories that abound are frustrating.

The dismissive term ‘conspiracy theories’ is intended to simply shut down debate: it need not be specified just what these ‘theories’ are; they are instantly rejected as irrational.

Hall added:

And let’s be clear – some of the abuse which is directed at our journalists who are doing their best for audiences day in, day out is sickening.

It shouldn’t happen. And I think it’s something social media platforms really need to do more about.

This is another repeated theme from on-high: a deliberate focus on abuse that journalists do, unfortunately, receive; which then diverts attention from the many reasoned complaints from the public. How casually senior figures call for social media platforms to censor content just four short years after the whole world defended the right to offend in the name of free speech, declaring,  ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo.’

A week before the election, Fran Unsworth, BBC’s director of news and current affairs, trotted out the standard BBC ideological stance that:

Our impartiality is precious to us and we will protect it.

For Unsworth, it is a fact that BBC News is impartial, and that the well-documented examples of ‘mistakes’ in recent coverage – all leaning in favour of the Tories – were indeed simple errors. Whether deliberate editing decisions were made, or whether they were subconscious tendencies in support of Boris Johnson, the media coverage was heavily biased in favour of the Conservative party.

Famously, or infamously, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, once said that:

I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC.

Readers may recall that, curiously, Boris Johnson used similar phrasing when he declared that:

I’d rather be dead in a ditch than agree Brexit extension.

He then lost that particular parliamentary vote, but magically managed to avoid any ditches.

As many media observers noted, Kuenssberg’s proudly-declared ‘impartiality’ came unstuck in the election campaign; as it had done previously when she was found to have breached impartiality over her biased and inaccurate reporting of Corbyn. During this election, the BBC’s political editor:

Other examples of breached impartiality, highlighted in a letter by environmentalist and campaigner Joel Benjamin to the BBC director general, include:

  • A BBC political correspondent referred during a live broadcast to the majority that Boris Johnson ‘so deserves’.
  • Editing out BBC Question Time audience laughter at Johnson’s expense and inserting audience applause.
  • Running a news ticker on the so-called ‘Labour anti-semitism crisis’ during a BBC News item on the Holocaust.

More generally, at least two former senior BBC figures would dispute the self-serving depiction of the BBC’s wonderful ‘impartiality’. Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, once warned that:

The BBC is part of a “conspiracy” preventing the “radical changes” needed to UK democracy.

Sometimes, then, conspiracies can, and do, exist. To current BBC senior staff, this would, of course, be swatted away as a ‘conspiracy theory’ that need not be examined.

Dyke called for a parliamentary commission to look into the ‘whole political system’, adding that:

I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.

And Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust, said that there had been ‘some quite extraordinary attacks’ on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.

Perhaps Lyons’ comment is also to be disregarded as merely a ‘conspiracy theory’.

The Most Stupid Boast In Journalism

After the election, Huw Edwards, the main news presenter on the BBC News at Ten, published a screed that was long on hyperbole, but short on evidence-based reasoning. He proclaimed that he was ‘supported by the best news team in the world’, and that:

BBC News is a rather unsettling mix of awkward, contrary and assertive people who (in my very long experience) delight in either ignoring the suggestions of managers or simply telling them where to get off. That’s how it works.

The famous newsreader added:

For the record, I have never been asked to change a script (unless there’s a factual error to be sorted) or adopt a slanted line of questioning.

Back in the 1930s, George Seldes, the US press critic, called this:

The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism

This, he put bluntly, is often the inane response of:

the writer who says, “I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like”. We scent the air of the office. We realise that certain things are wanted, certain things unwanted.

In an interview with one of us in 2000, Alan Rusbridger, who was then Guardian editor, made a similar point:

If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, “Rupert Murdoch’, or whoever, ‘never tells me what to write”, which is beside the point: they don’t have to be told what to write. It’s understood.

As Noam Chomsky has frequently explained, there is a strong in-built tendency for power-friendly journalists to rise to senior positions in big organisations because they undergo a selective filtering process, set by the structure of the state-corporate media that employs them. If you can be trusted to say and do the ‘right’ things’, and even think the ‘right’ thoughts, you are more likely to rise higher up the career ladder.

In an interview with Chomsky, Andrew Marr (then political editor of the Independent) expressed the default corporate opinion that ‘journalism [is] a crusading craft’ with ‘a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism’, holding power to account.

Chomsky’s riposte to Marr left him momentarily speechless:

If you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.

Alas, Marr learned little, if anything, from his bruising encounter with Chomsky, later rising to BBC News political editor. In perhaps his supreme moment of obsequious deference to political power, standing outside 10 Downing Street on April 9, 2003, Marr said live on BBC News at Ten that Tony Blair had ‘take[n] Baghdad without a bloodbath’ and declared with a beaming smile that:

tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister.

That night, it was the same Huw Edwards who sat in the studio back in London, happy to channel Marr’s fawning praise for Blair as ‘impartial’ BBC reporting.

After Edwards’ post-election exculpatory piece was published, extolling the supposed virtues of BBC News, he was challenged by historian and foreign policy expert Mark Curtis via Twitter:

I know you need to tell yourself and the public this, but people saw for themselves how BBC performed during the election (along with now considerable academic and other analysis). The idea that BBC reporting is generally impartial or accurate is unsustainable, in fact laughable.

Edwards’ response was mocking:

Explain again, Mark. Slowly. With your “academic and other analysis”. How does an organisation direct thousands of its staff to work in unison to back one political cause? I know you need to tell yourself this stuff, but it’s risible.

Whether feigned or not, the newsreader’s ignorance of how organisations work to a certain agenda without being explicitly directed to do so, is ludicrous. As blogger Tom London remarked:

.@huwbbc do you really not know anything about sociology and psychology and organisational cultures? The BBC must urgently find some humility and start engaging with its critics rather than treating them with arrogance and what might be best described as aggressive defensiveness

BBC’s Long History Of Contempt For Public Challenge

No doubt, lengthy tomes could be written on the subject line above, going back to the BBC’s founding in the 1920s. In our own experience over almost two decades of close media monitoring, we have seen a serious deterioration, from an already low base, in the BBC’s engagement with the public. In the early days of Media Lens, Richard Sambrook, then head of BBC News, did, on occasion, respond on email to us: not really addressing our points in any depth. But it was, at least, direct, respectful engagement of a sort.

Helen Boaden, his successor, also responded to direct emails; at least, initially. Most famously, and tragicomically, Boaden sent us the equivalent of six pages of A4 full of quotes from Tony Blair and George Bush supposedly as evidence demonstrating their sincerity in wanting to bring democracy to Iraq. Around this time, Media Lens was highlighting numerous war crimes by western armed forces in Iraq; notably in Fallujah. We were copied in to many articulate and cogent emails sent to Boaden by members of the public in response to our media alerts. Not long after, she boasted at a media event that she had changed her email address to duck such public challenges.

When our second book, Newspeak, was published in 2009, one of our readers wanted BBC News staff to be informed of our detailed arguments and copious examples of BBC bias, omission and blatant deception. This kind person paid for 100 copies to be sent to BBC editors and journalists. Our publisher, Pluto Press, included a letter inviting responses via a dedicated email address to receive BBC replies. The response was both pitiful and paltry, as we highlighted at the time.

With the rise of Twitter, our challenges to the BBC shifted away from email. Despite always adopting a reasoned tone, free of abuse, one BBC News journalist after another has blocked us over the years: Huw Edwards and Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor, for instance. Others have simply blanked us: Andrew Marr, Frank Gardner, Paul Royall (editor of BBC News at Six and Ten), Andrew Roy (BBC Foreign Editor), Kamal Ahmed (BBC News editorial director). We are not blocked because we are abusive – we never have been – just because we are a nuisance, a cause of embarrassment they can do without.

One recent exception – seemingly – was Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent. Earlier this year, we flagged up whistleblower testimony that a report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in 2018 had been manipulated to provide a rationale for a US/UK/France missile attack on Syria (an excellent brief overview can be watched here).  She agreed on Twitter that it was an ‘important story’, said that she had informed BBC news colleagues about it, but has since fallen strangely silent about this growing scandal, including further revelations by WikiLeaks.

Many readers will be aware that we have written several books and hundreds of media alerts carefully marshalling evidence showing that BBC News has systematically presented ‘news’ and commentary from a skewed perspective that strongly favours state and corporate power. A partial list alone would include:

  • The issue of Iraq’s supposed ‘WMD’
  • Promoting the disaster of the war on Libya
  • Pushing for ‘regime change’ in Syria
  • Lack of scrutiny of the government’s role in the Yemen catastrophe
  • Attacks on the NHS, opening it up to corporate profiteers
  • Endless smears and attacks on Jeremy Corbyn; not least the fake news of a Labour party supposedly infested with antisemitism
  • The appalling lack of action in the face of climate breakdown
  • Virtually no challenge to Boris Johnson and other senior Tories for their dreadful voting and policy record on all of the above, and more besides

In March 2018, numerous corporate media reported that, in 2012, Corbyn had responded to plans to remove an East London mural, which he believed to be anti-capitalist rather than anti-semitic, with the question, ‘Why?’ Commentators declared themselves aghast that Corbyn had not been able to perceive the racist content in the mural. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

Not that anyone is listening now, but the artist himself, Kalen Ockerman, has said that the group in his mural comprised historical figures closely associated with banking. His mural, he says, was about “class and privilege”, and the figures depicted included both “Jewish and white Anglos”. The fact that he included famous bankers like the Rothschilds (Jewish) and the Rockefellers (not Jewish) does not, on the face of it, seem to confirm anti-semitism. They are simply the most prominent of the banking dynasties most people, myself included, could name. These families are about as closely identified with capitalism as it is possible to be.

Our search of the ProQuest media database for the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘mural’ since 1 May 2015 – the month Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership –  produced 1,179 results. Over the same period, a search for ‘Boris Johnson and ‘picaninnies’ – an ethnic slur used by Johnson – found 59 results.

Although the bias is already clear from this quick search, to restrict a moral comparison to the words said by Corbyn and Johnson is absurd and risks straying into virulently racist territory.

Why? Because an honest accounting of the General Election – as described here, here and here – reveals that the moral choice was stark indeed and had nothing to do with what had been merely said by the contestants.

On the one hand, we had Corbyn, an all but unique UK political leader in modern times steadfastly refusing to support US-UK illegal wars of aggression that have killed, injured and displaced literally millions of human beings (brown-skinned, but still human) in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. And on the other side, we had Boris Johnson, with his proven track record of proudly participating in these great crimes against humanity exactly as almost every other Tory and Labour leader has.

In other words, Corbyn was an almost unique opportunity to vote for an opponent of our country’s worst moral crimes in modern times. Thus, the idea that the electoral choice involved a comparison between ‘controversial’ words that Corbyn said, versus ‘controversial’ words that Johnson said, was not just an example of media bias; it was an example of truly pathological media bias.

It is difficult, but we can try to imagine a media that placed an honest discussion of Corbyn’s question about the mural alongside analysis and pictures of hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, flattened cities, mutilated torture victims, millions of refugees in tent cities, starving children dying in trashed hospitals, refugees drowning at sea, terrorist ‘blowback’ targeting the UK and other European countries, on and on – all consequences of murderous policies that Corbyn, almost alone in the political system, opposes and Johnson does not.

If journalists had suggested a moral equivalence between these crimes and Corbyn’s comment on the mural, it would obviously be outrageous. To even suggest that a comment deemed ‘offensive’ by some is comparable to the mass death of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Arabs would be racism raised to a level of insanity rivalling the Nazis.

But the fact is that journalists did not even rise that high. Instead, they completely ignored the gargantuan crimes of the Blairs, Camerons and Johnsons, while focusing solely and obsessively on Corbyn’s ‘offensive’ comments. Our ProQuest database search found that, between November 1 and the day of the election on December 12, the terms ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘Yemen’ were mentioned in 30 newspaper articles. But only one of these, in the Independent, mentioned Johnson’s complicity in war crimes that have caused the deaths of 50,000 Yemeni children a year. Over the same period, the terms ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ were mentioned in 2,386 newspaper articles.

And here we arrive at a truly awesome, structural bias that is barely guessed at by journalists themselves. The fact is that it is simply understood by ‘mainstream’ media at election time that foreign policy – especially our leaders’ high crimes – is somehow unaccountably, inexplicably, irrationally, not an issue the electorate need trouble its pretty little head about. Even after the devastating, illegal 2003 invasion-occupation of Iraq, with the crime still fully underway, foreign policy barely featured as an election issue in 2005.

Corbyn was presented, relentlessly, as a moral monster, as a threat to humanity on the basis of miniscule, in fact, non-existent, evidence. But Johnson and the Tories, and Corbyn’s Blairite enemies, escaped all scrutiny – for the simple reason that their very real crimes have been declared a non-issue by an awesomely corrupt system of media corporations serving the power of which they are an integral part.

How Britain dresses up Crimes in Israel as “Charitable Acts”

When is a war crime not a war crime? When, according to British officials, that war crime has been given a makeover as a “charitable act”.

The British state is being asked to account for its financial and moral support for a UK organisation accused of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland. So far, it appears determined to evade answering those questions.

The target of the campaign is the Jewish National Fund UK (JNF UK), which describes itself as “Britain’s oldest Israel charity”. Noting its role in “building Israel for over a century”, the organisation boasts: “Every penny raised by JNF UK is sent to a project in Israel.”

In fact, donations to JNF UK were used to buy some of the 250 million trees planted across Israel since 1948, the year when 750,000 Palestinians were forced out at gunpoint from their homes by the new Israeli army. Those expulsions were an event Palestinians call their Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

Afterwards, the Israeli army laid waste to many hundreds of Palestinian villages, turning them into rubble. Forests planted over the villages were then promoted as efforts to “make the desert bloom”.

Subsidised by taxpayers

In fact, the trees were intended primarily to block Palestinian refugees from ever being able to return to their villages and rebuild their homes. As a result, millions of Palestinians today languish in refugee camps across the Middle East, evicted from their homeland with the help of the forests.

JNF UK raised the funds for a parent organisation in Israel, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which enforced the expulsions by using the donations to plant the forests. The Israeli state’s ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population was effectively disguised as a form of environmentalism.

Britain and other Western states appear to have accepted that barely concealed deception. They have long treated their local JNF fundraising arms as charities. JNF UK received charitable status in 1939, nearly a decade before Israel was created as a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestinians’ homeland.

The forests are still managed with money raised through tax-deductible donations in Britain and elsewhere. Since 1990, donations to JNF UK have been eligible for Gift Aid, meaning that the British government tops up donations by adding its own 25 percent contribution.

In effect, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages has been subsidised by the British public.

Backing from MPs

Britain’s continuing sanction of these crimes – and others – is being belatedly given scrutiny by human rights activists in Britain.

A campaign launched in 2010 called Stop the JNF – backed by various Palestinian solidarity organisations – has aimed to shame British officials into ending JNF UK’s charitable status.

The campaign gained parliamentary support a year later, when 68 MPs signed an early-day motion condemning the JNF’s activities and calling for its charitable status to be revoked. The motion was sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn, then a backbencher but now leader of the Labour Party, and attracted cross-party support, though no Conservative MPs backed it.

Nonetheless, the campaign has faced institutional resistance every step of the way. Over the past six years, appeals to the Charity Commission, a department of the British government, to intervene and remove JNF UK from its list of registered charities have been repeatedly rebuffed.

Rather than seeking explanations from JNF UK, British officials have largely ignored the evidence they have been presented with.

Trees ‘a weapon of war’

The campaign has highlighted one specific and egregious example of the JNF UK’s work. The organisation raised donations to create a large recreation area west of Jerusalem called British Park, which includes forests, over three Palestinian villages that were destroyed by the Israeli army after 1948. A sign at the entrance reads: “Gift of the Jewish National Fund in Great Britain.”

Many of those who donated to the project, often British Jews encouraged to drop pennies into the JNF’s iconic fundraising “blue boxes”, had no idea how their money was being used.

The Stop the JNF campaign included testimony from Kholoud al-Ajarma, whose family was expelled from the village of Ajjur during the Nakba. Today, the family lives in the overcrowded Aida refugee camp, next to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

KKL-JNF planted trees at British Park on land to which Ajarma’s family, and many others, still have the title deeds. In doing so, the group violated the protected status of such lands in international law.

In her submission, Ajarma wrote: “It was British pounds that helped destroy my village. The Jewish National Fund is not merely planting trees. These trees have been used as a weapon of war, a weapon of colonisation.”

Israeli scholar Uri Davis has observed that the establishment of British Park “ought to be classified as an act, and as a policy, of complicity with war crimes”.

4,000 protest letters

The Charity Commission’s barrister, Iain Steele, conceded in a submission that it was possible the JNF had violated the Ajarma family’s rights by creating British Park on their land.

Nonetheless, the Charity Commission has on two occasions refused to consider revoking JNF UK’s charitable status. Rather than addressing the merits of Stop the JNF’s arguments, the Charity Commission has evasively claimed that the campaigners, even the Ajarma family, are not affected by whether the JNF is registered as a charity.

In June, a commission official even wrote to the campaign with an astounding defence that appears to strip the term “charitable” of all meaning. He wrote: “In simple terms the test for charitable status is a test of what an organisation was set up to do, not what it does in practice.”

The commission’s apparent reasoning is that, so long as the JNF includes fine-sounding words in its mission statement, what it does in practice as a “charity” does not matter.

In April, Stop the JNF appealed the commission’s decision not to revoke JNF UK’s charitable status to the First-tier Tribunal. The judge, however, told them that neither Ajarma nor the campaign itself had a legal right to be heard. He concluded instead that only the attorney-general could overrule the Charity Commission’s decision. In October, the attorney-general rejected the campaigners’ claims without investigating them.

In an attempt to revive the case, Stop the JNF has submitted more than 4,000 letters of protest to the attorney-general, calling on him to reassess the organisation’s continuing charitable status.

A parallel call was made to the advocate-general of Scotland, which has a separate legal system.

‘Intense political controversy’

The JNF did not respond to questions sent by Middle East Eye about its role in planting the forests, its charitable status and other criticisms of its involvement with Israel.

The establishment’s apparent unwillingness to confront JNF UK’s historical record is perhaps not surprising. The JNF was one of the key organisations that helped to realise a British government promise made in the 1917 Balfour Declaration to help create a “Jewish home” in what was then Palestine.

Two years later, Lord Balfour declared that the colonisation of Palestine by Zionist Jews from Europe was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 [Palestinian] Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”. Little, it seems, has changed in official British attitudes since.

Steele, the Charity Commission’s barrister, successfully urged the First-tier Tribunal not to get involved, arguing that it would be “drawn into matters of intense political controversy, for no obvious benefit to anyone”.

Surely, Ajarma and many millions more Palestinians would strenuously dispute that assessment. They would have much to gain should Britain finally demonstrate a willingness to confront its continuing role in aiding and comforting groups such as the JNF, accused of complicity in crimes against international law in historic Palestine.

As Stop the JNF organisers wrote in their own letter to the attorney-general: “These people [Palestinian refugees such as the Ajarma family] are not defined by the JNF as recipients of their charity, but they have human and legal rights which the actions of this charity unacceptably violate.”

Reminiscent of dark regimes

The campaign has not only focused on JNF UK’s historic role in dispossessing Palestinians. It points out that the JNF is still actively contributing to Israel’s own grossly discriminatory and racist policies – another reason it should be barred from being considered a charity.

JNF UK’s accounts from 2016 show that it has funded the OR Movement, an Israeli organisation that assists in the development of Jewish-only communities in Israel and the occupied territories.

One such Jewish community, Hiran, is being established on the ruins of homes that belonged to Bedouin families. They were recently forced out of their village of Umm al-Hiran – a move the legal rights group Adalah has described as “reminiscent of the darkest of regimes such as apartheid-era South Africa”.

On its website, JNF-KKL congratulates “Friends of JNF UK” for supporting the establishment of nearby Hiran Forest. The JNF claims the forest will “help mitigate climate change” – once again disguising ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as a form of environmentalism.

Funding the Israeli army

JNF UK’s annual accounts in 2015 also revealed that it contributed money to the Israeli army under the title “Tzuk Eitan 9 Gaza war effort” – a reference to Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2014, whose death toll included some 550 Palestinian children.

A United Nations commission of inquiry found evidence that Israel had committed war crimes by indiscriminately targeting civilians – a conclusion confirmed by the testimonies of Israeli soldiers to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli whistle-blowing group.

Equally troubling, an investigation last month by Haaretz reported that, under Israeli government pressure, the KKL-JNF has been secretly directing vast sums of money into buying and developing land in the occupied West Bank to aid Jewish settlers, again in violation of international law.

The funds were allegedly channeled to Himnuta Jerusalem, effectively the JNF’s subsidiary in the occupied territories, disguised as funds for projects in Jerusalem.

Veteran Israeli journalist Raviv Drucker observed that KKL-JNF was rapidly converting itself into a banking fund for the settlers. He added that its “coffers are bursting with billions of shekels [and] the settlers’ appetite for land is at a peak”.

Given the lack of transparency in KKL-JNF’s accounts, it is difficult to know precisely where the funds have come from. But as more than $70m has been spent by KKL-JNF over the past two years in the occupied West Bank, according to Haaretz, the funds likely include money raised by JNF UK.

In any case, research by Stop the JNF suggests JNF UK has no objections to making “charitable” donations to settlements in the West Bank. Its accounts record contributions to Sansana, a community of religious settlers close to Hebron.

Settlements are considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

No ‘duty’ towards equality

As the JNF UK states on its website, every penny raised in Britain is “sent to a project in Israel” – much of it via the JNF in Israel.

KKL-JNF is a major landowner in Israel. Under a special arrangement with the Israeli government, it owns 13 percent of Israel’s territory – often lands seized from Palestinian refugees. The arrangement includes a provision from 1961 that the primary aim of the JNF in Israel is to acquire property “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties”.

In 2004, KKL-JNF explained its role. It was “not a public body that works for the benefit of all citizens of the state. The loyalty of the JNF is given to the Jewish people and only to them is the JNF obligated. The JNF, as the owner of the JNF land, does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state.”

In marketing and allocating lands only to Jews, the legal group Adalah has noted, the JNF in Israel intentionally rides roughshod over the rights of a fifth of the country’s population who are Palestinian by heritage.

In other words, the JNF is integral to an Israeli system that enforces an apartheid-style regime that prevents Israel’s Palestinian minority from accessing and benefiting from a substantial part of Israel’s territory.

Violating British law

This institutionalised discrimination has been made even more explicit since Israel last year passed the Nation-State Law, which declares: “The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.”

As the Stop the JNF campaign notes, British charities should abide by legal responsibilities enshrined in UK legislation, such as the 2010 Equality Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on “colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin”.

The JNF UK is clearly failing to abide by this core legal principle. It is operating in a foreign state where it has helped, over many decades, to fund activities that grossly violate both British law and international law. The evidence compiled by Stop the JNF indicates that JNF UK has itself been complicit in aiding the commission of war crimes, both in Israel and the occupied territories.

It has also given financial and moral succour to its parent organisation, which has crafted a system of apartheid that confers superior land rights on Jews over Israel’s Palestinian minority.

British taxpayers should not be subsidising institutionalised discrimination and crimes abroad – even more so when they are being dressed up as “charitable acts”.

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

Corbyn’s Defeat has slain the Left’s Last Illusion

This was an election of two illusions.

The first helped persuade much of the British public to vote for the very epitome of an Eton toff, a man who not only has shown utter contempt for most of those who voted for him but has spent a lifetime barely bothering to conceal that contempt. For him, politics is an ego-trip, a game in which others always pay the price and suffer, a job he is entitled to through birth and superior breeding.

The extent to which such illusions now dominate our political life was highlighted two days ago with a jaw-dropping comment from a Grimsby fish market worker. He said he would vote Tory for the first time because “Boris seems like a normal working class guy.”

Johnson is precisely as working class, and “normal”, as the billionaire-owned Sun and the billionaire-owned Mail. The Sun isn’t produced by a bunch of working-class lads down the pub having a laugh, nor is the Mail produced by conscientious middle managers keen to uphold “British values” and a sense of fair play and decency. Like the rest of the British media, these outlets are machines, owned by globe-spanning corporations that sell us the illusions – carefully packaged and marketed to our sectoral interest – needed to make sure nothing impedes the corporate world’s ability to make enormous profits at our, and the planet’s, expense.

The Sun, Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC have all worked hard to create for themselves “personalities”. They brand themselves as different – as friends we, the public might, or might not, choose to invite into our homes – to win the largest share possible of the UK audience, to capture every section of the public as news consumers, while feeding us a distorted, fairy tale version of reality that is optimal for business. They are no different to other corporations in that regard.

Media wot won it

Supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and Waitrose similarly brand themselves to appeal to different sections of the public. But all these supermarkets are driven by the same pathological need to make profits at all costs. If Sainsbury’s sells fair trade tea as well as traditionally produced tea, it is not because it cares more than Lidl about the treatment of workers and damage to the environment but because it knows its section of consumers care more about such issues. And as long as it makes the same profits on good and bad tea, why should it not cater to its share of the market in the name of choice and freedom?

The media are different from supermarkets in one way, however. They are not driven simply by profit. In fact, many media outlets struggle to make money. They are better seen as the loss-leader promotion in a supermarket, or as a business write-off against tax.

The media’s job is to serve as the propaganda arm of big business. Even if the Sun makes an economic loss, it has succeeded if it gets the business candidate elected, the candidate who will keep corporation tax, capital gains tax and all the other taxes that affect corporate profits as low as possible without stoking a popular insurrection.

The media are there to support the candidate or candidates who agree to sell off more and more public services for short-term profit, allowing the corporate vultures to pick hungrily at their carcasses. They are there to back the candidate who will prioritise the corporations’ interests over the public’s, quick profits over the future of the NHS, the self-destructive logic of capitalism over the idea – socialist or not – of a public realm, of the common good. The corporations behind the Sun or the Guardian can afford to make a loss as long as their other business interests are prospering.

It’s not the Sun wot won it, it’s the entire corporate media industry.

BBC’s role exposed

The real revelation at this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.

But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.

All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.

The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital only: the Conservative party and New Labour.

Hollowed-out society

The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.

To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.

In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even to a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.

Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.

Shrunken moral horizons

The second illusion was held by the left. We clung to a dream, like a life-raft, that we still had a public space; that, however awful our electoral system was, however biased the red-tops were, we lived in a democracy where real, meaningful change was still possible; that the system wasn’t rigged to stop someone like Jeremy Corbyn from ever reaching power.

That illusion rested on a lot of false assumptions. That the BBC was still the institution of our youth, that it would play reasonably fair when it came to election time, giving Corbyn a level playing field with Johnson for the final few weeks of the campaign. That social media – despite the relentless efforts of these new media corporations to skew their algorithms to trap us in our own little echo chambers – would act as a counterweight to the traditional media.

But most importantly, we turned a blind eye to the social changes that 40 years of an unchallenged corporate-sponsored Thatcherism had wreaked on our imaginations, on our ideological lives, on our capacity for compassion.

As public institutions were broken apart and sold off, the public realm shrank dramatically, as did our moral horizons. We stopped caring about a society that Margaret Thatcher had told us didn’t exist anyway.

Large sections of the older generations profited from the sell-off of the public realm, and policies that flagrantly disregarded the planet’s future. They were persuaded that this model of short-term profit, of slash-and-burn economics from which they had personally benefited, was not only sustainable but that it was the only possible, the only good model.

The younger generations have never known any other reality. The profit motive, instant gratification, consumer indulgence are the only yardsticks they have ever been offered to measure value. A growing number have started to understand this is a sick ideology, that we live in an insane, deeply corrupted society, but they struggle to imagine another world, one they have no experience of.

How can they contemplate what the working class achieved decades ago – how a much poorer society created medical care for all, an NHS that our current one is a pale shadow of – when that history, that story of struggle is rarely told, and when it is it is told only through the distorted prism of the billionaire-owned media?

A rigged political system

We on the left didn’t lose this election. We lost our last illusions. The system is rigged – as it always has been – to benefit those in power. It will never willingly allow a real socialist, or any politician deeply committed to the health of our societies and to the planet, to take that power away from the corporate class. That, after all, is the very definition of power. That is what the corporate media is there to achieve.

This is not about being a bad loser, or a case of sour grapes.

In the extraordinary circumstances that Corbyn had overcome all these institutional obstacles, all the smears, and won last night, I was planning to write a different post today – and it would not have been celebratory. It would not have gloated, as Johnson’s supporters and Corbyn’s opponents in the Conservative party, large sections of the Labour parliamentary party, and the right wing and liberal media are doing now.

No, I’d have been warning that the real battle for power was only just beginning. That however bad the past four years had been, we had seen nothing yet. That those generals who threatened a mutiny as soon as Corbyn was elected Labour leader were still there in the shadows. That the media would not give up on their disinformation, they would intensify it. That the security services that have been trying to portray Corbyn as a Russian spy would move from insinuation into more explicit action.

Future on our side

Nonetheless, we have the future on our side, dark as it may be. The planet isn’t going to heal itself with Johnson, Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in charge. It’s going to get a lot sicker, a lot quicker. Our economy isn’t going to become more productive, or more stable, after Brexit. Britain’s economic fate is going to be tied even more tightly to the United States’, as resources run out and environmental and climate catastrophes (storms, rising seas levels, flooding, droughts, crop failures, energy shortages) mount. The contradictions between endless growth and a planet with finite resources will become even starker, the crashes of 2008 more familiar.

The corporate party Johnson’s victory has unleashed is going to lead, sooner or later, to a truly terrifying hangover.

The likelihood is that the Blairites will exploit this defeat to drag Labour back to being a party of neoliberal capital. We will once again be offered a “choice” between the blue and the red Tory parties. If they succeed, Labour’s mass membership will desert the party, and it will become once again an irrelevance, a hollow shell of a workers’ party, as empty ideologically and spiritually as it was until Corbyn sought to reinvent it.

It may be a good thing if this coup happens quickly rather than being dragged out over years, keeping us trapped longer in the illusion that we can fix the system using the tools the corporate class offers us.

We must head to the streets – as we have done before with Occupy, with Extinction Rebellion, with the schools strikes – to reclaim the public space, to reinvent and rediscover it. Society didn’t cease to exist. It wasn’t snuffed out by Thatcher. We just forgot what it looked like, that we are human, not machines. We forgot that we are all part of society, that we are precisely what it is.

Now is the time to put away childish things, and take the future back into our hands.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis is Helping Stoke Antisemitism

Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has not only misrepresented the known facts about Labour and its supposed antisemitism crisis. He has not only interfered in an overtly, politically partisan manner in the December 12 election campaign by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn – against all evidence – is an antisemite.

By speaking out as the voice of British Jews – a false claim he has allowed the UK media to promote – his unprecedented meddling in the election of Britain’s next leader has actually made the wider Jewish community in the UK much less safe. Mirvis is contributing to the very antisemitism he says he wants to eradicate.

Mirvis’ intervention in the election campaign makes sense only if he believes in one of two highly improbable scenarios.

The first requires several demonstrably untrue things to be true. It needs for Corbyn to be a proven antisemite – and not just of the variety that occasionally or accidentally lets slip an antisemitic trope or is susceptible to the unthinking prejudice most of us occasionally display, including (as we shall see) Rabbi Mirvis.

No, for Mirvis to have interfered in the election campaign he would need to believe that Corbyn intends actively as prime minister to inflame a wider antisemitism in British society or implement policies designed to harm the Jewish community. And in addition, the chief rabbi would have to believe that Corbyn presides over a Labour party that will willingly indulge race-hate speeches or stand by impassively as Corbyn carries out racist policies.

If Mirvis really believes any of that, I have a bridge to sell him. Corbyn has spent his entire political career as an anti-racism campaigner, and his anti-racism activism as a back-bencher was especially prominent inside a party that itself has traditionally taken the political lead in tackling racism.

Rising tide of nationalism

The second possibility is that Mirvis doesn’t really believe that Corbyn is a Goebbels in the making. But if that is so, then his decision to intercede in the election campaign to influence British voters must be based on an equally fanciful notion: that there is no significant threat posed by antisemitism from the right or the rapidly emerging far right.

Because if antisemitism is not an issue on the right – the same nationalistic right that has persecuted Jews throughout modern history, culminating in the Nazi atrocities – then Mirvis may feel he can risk playing politics in the name of the Jewish community without serious consequence.

If there is no perceptible populist tide of white nationalism sweeping Europe and the globe, one that hates immigrants and minorities, then making a fuss about Corbyn might seem to make sense for a prominent Jewish community leader. In those circumstances, it might appear to be worth disrupting the national conversation to highlight the fact that Corbyn once sat with Hamas politicians – just as Tony Blair once sat with Sinn Fein leaders – and that Corbyn’s party has promised in the latest manifesto to stop selling weapons to Israel (and Saudi Arabia) of the kind that have been used to butcher children in Gaza. Mirvis might believe that by wounding Corbyn he can help into power a supposedly benevolent, or at least inoffensive, Tory party.

But if he is wrong about the re-emergence of a white nationalism and its growing entry into the mainstream – and all the evidence suggests he would be deeply wrong, if this is what he thinks – then undermining Corbyn and the Labour party is self-destructiveness of the first order.

It would amount to self-harm not only because attacking Corbyn inevitably strengthens the electoral chances of Boris “watermelon smiles” Johnson. It plays with fire because Mirvis’ flagrant intervention in the election campaign actually bolsters a key part of the antisemitic discourse of the far right that is rapidly making inroads into the Conservative party.

Succour to white nationalists

White nationalists are all over social media warning of supposed Jewish global conspiracies, of supposed Jewish control of the media, of supposed Jewish subversion of “white rights”. It was precisely this kind of thinking that drove European politics a century ago. It was arch-antisemite Arthur Balfour who signed off the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that sought to end Britain’s “Jewish problem” by encouraging European Jews to move far away, to a part of the Middle East then known as Palestine.

That is, of course, why today’s white supremacists love Israel, why they see it as a model, why they call themselves “white Zionists“. In creating a tribal democracy, and one heavily fortified, land hungry, belligerent and nuclear-armed, Israel has done for Jews exactly what white nationalists hope to do again for their white compatriots. The white supremacists’ love of Israel is intimately bound up with their hatred and fear of Jews.

Mirvis has given succour to white nationalist discourse both because he has spoken out against Corbyn without offering evidence for his claims and because those entirely unsubstantiated claims have been echoed across the media.

There is good reason why the billionaire-owned print media and the Establishment-dominated BBC are happy to exploit the antisemitism smears – and it has nothing to do with concern for the safety of Jews. The corporate media don’t want a Labour leader in power who is going to roll back the corporate free-for-all unleashed by Margaret Thatcher 40 years ago that nearly bankrupted the rest of us in 2008.

But that is not what those flirting with or embracing white nationalism will take away from the relentless media chorus over evidence-free antisemitism claims.

Mirvis’ intervention in the democratic process will drive them more quickly and more deeply into the arms of the far-right. It will persuade them once again that “the Jews” are a “problem”. They will conclude that – though the Jews are now helping the right by destroying Corbyn – once the left has been dealt with, those same Jews will then subvert their white state. Like Balfour before them, they will start thinking of how to rid Britain and Europe of these supposed interlopers.

This is why Mirvis was irresponsible in the extreme for meddling. Because the standard of proof required before making such an intervention – proof either that Cobyn is an outright Jew hater, or that white nationalism is no threat to the UK – is not even close to being met.

The left’s anti-imperialism

In fact much worse, all the evidence shows the exact reverse. That was neatly summed up in a survey this month published by The Economist, a weekly magazine that is no friend to Corbyn or the Labour party.

It showed that those identifying as “very left-wing” – the section of the public that supports Corbyn – were among the least likely to express antisemitic attitudes. Those identifying as “very right-wing”, on the other hand – those likely to support Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson – were three and a half times more likely to express hostile attitudes towards Jews. Other surveys show even worse racism among Conservatives towards more obviously non-white minorities, such as Muslims and black people. That, after all, is the very reason Boris “letterbox-looking Muslim women” Johnson now heads the Tory party.

The Economist findings reveal something else of relevance in assessing Mirvis’ meddling. Not only is the real left (as distinguished from the phoney, centrist left represented by Labour’s Blairites) much less antisemitic than the right, it is also much more critical of Israel than any other section of the British public.

That is easily explained. The real left has always been anti-imperialist. Israel is a particularly problematic part of Britain’s colonial legacy.

Elsewhere, the peoples who gained independence from Britain found themselves inside ruined, impoverished states, often with borders imposed out of naked imperial interest that left them divided and feuding. Internal struggles over the crumbs Britain and other imperial powers left behind were the norm.

But in a very real sense, Britain – or at least the west – never really left Israel. In line with the Balfour Declaration, Britain helped to establish the institutions of a “Jewish home” on the Palestinians’ homeland. British troops may have departed in 1948, but waves of European Jewish immigrants were either encouraged or compelled to come to the newly created state of Israel by racist immigration quotas designed to prevent them fleeing elsewhere, most especially to the United States.

The west helped engineer both the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and Israel’s creation to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem”. It provided the components necessary for Israel to build a nuclear bomb that won it a place at the international top table and ensured the Palestinians were made Israel’s serfs in perpetuity. Ever since, the west has provided Israel with diplomatic cover, military aid and special trading status, even as Israel has worked relentlessly to disappear the Palestinian people from their homeland.

Even now, our most prized rights, such as free speech, are being eroded and subverted to protect Israel from criticism. In the US, the only infringements on the American public’s First Amendment rights have been legislated to silence those seeking to pressure Israel over its crimes against the Palestinians with a boycott – similar to the campaign against apartheid South Africa. In the UK, the Conservative manifesto similarly promises to bar local councils from upholding international law and boycotting products from Israel’s illegal settlements.

Rewarding war crimes

The real left focuses on this continuing colonial crime against the Palestinians not because it is antisemitic (a claim the Economist survey amply refutes), but because the left treats Israel as emblematic of British and western bad faith and hypocrisy. Israel is the imperial west’s Achilles’ heel, the proof that war crimes, massacres and ethnic cleansing are not only not punished but actively rewarded if these crimes accord with western imperial interests.

But ardent friends of Israel such as Mirvis are blind to these arguments. For them, one western antisemitic crime – the Holocaust – entirely obscures another western antisemitic crime: seeking to rid Europe of Jews by forcing them into the Middle East, serving as pawns on an imperial chessboard that paid no regard to the Palestinians whose homeland was being sacrificed.

In his state of historical and political myopia, Mirvis cannot begin to understand that there might be political activists who, in defending the Palestinian people, are also defending Jews. That they, unlike him, understand that Israel was created not out of western benevolence towards Jews, but out of western malevolence towards “lesser peoples”. The real left in Britain speaks out against Israel not because it hates Jews but because it holds dear a commitment to justice and a compassion for all.

Mirvis, on the other hand, is the Zionist equivalent of a little Englander. He prefers particularist, short-term interests over universalist, long-term ones.

It was he, remember, who threw his full support behind Israel in 2014 as it indiscriminately bombed Gaza, killing some 550 children – a bombing campaign that came after years of an Israeli blockade on the Palestinian population there. That siege has led the United Nations to warn that the enclave will be uninhabitable by next year.

It was Mirvis, along with his predecessor Jonathan Sacks, who in 2017 endorsed the fanatical Jewish settlers – Israel’s equivalent of white supremacists – on their annual march through the occupied Old City of Jerusalem. This is the march where the majority of the participants are recorded every year waving masses of Israeli flags at Palestinians and chanting “Death to the Arabs”. One Israeli newspaper columnist has described the Jerusalem Day march as a “religious carnival of hatred”.

It was Mirvis and Sacks that encouraged British Jews to join them on this tub-thumping trip to Israel, which they suggested would provide an opportunity to spend time “dancing with our brave soldiers”. Those soldiers – Israeli, not British – occupy West Bank cities like Hebron where they have locked down life for some 200,000 Palestinians so that a handful of crazed religious Jewish bigots can live undisturbed in their midst.

What is so appalling is that Mirvis is blind to the very obvious parallels between the fearful Palestinians who hastily have to board up their shops as a Jewish mob parades through their neighbourhood and today’s white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the west who seek to march provocatively through ethnic minority communities, including Jewish neighbourhoods, in places like Charlottesville.

Mirvis has no lessons to teach Corbyn or the Labour party about racism. In fact, it is his own, small-minded prejudice that blinds him to the anti-racist politics of the left. His ugly message is now being loudly amplified by a corporate media keen to use any weapon it can, antisemitism included, to keep Corbyn and the left out of power – and preserve a status quo that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Antisemitism Claims have One Goal: To Stop Jeremy Corbyn Winning Power

A supposed antisemitism crisis in Britain’s Labour party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader has erupted back into the headlines.

This time barely any effort has been made to conceal the fact that the accusations relate to the “danger” that Corbyn could soon win power, with Britain gearing up for a general election in less than a month.

This week Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, added his voice to argue in the Times newspaper that the opposition leader was “unfit for high office” – the first time a serving chief rabbi has ever sought to interfere in the outcome of a general election. Calling Corbyn “mendacious” and warning that the election result would serve as a measure of Britain’s “moral compass”, he urged the public to “vote with their conscience”.

His intervention followed a letter to the Guardian signed by a handful of public figures, including John Le Carre, Fay Weldon, Simon Callow and Joanna Lumley, pressing voters to reject Labour on 12 December. They wrote: “The coming election is momentous for every voter, but for British Jews it contains a particular anguish: the prospect of a prime minister steeped in association with antisemitism.”

Calling on voters to listen to the Jewish community’s concerns, and prioritise them over the likelihood it would give the Conservatives the chance to continue their austerity policies and push ahead with a hard Brexit, they added: “Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?”

‘Plans to emigrate’

Their remarks echoed those of Jonathan Romain, a senior rabbi in Maidenhead, the constituency of the recently departed Conservative leader Theresa May. In the pages of the Daily Mail this month, Romain pleaded with Jewish voters to choose any candidate but Labour’s because Corbyn “poses such a threat to Britain’s Jews”.

Like many others making this accusation, Romain left it for his readers to infer what precisely the supposed “threat” consisted of. But to aid them, he repeatedly referenced the fight against Hitler and the Nazis, as well as the Kindertransport that saved many thousands of Jewish children from extermination camps by bringing them to Britain.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Chronicle’s editor, Stephen Pollard, who has spent most of his career working for right-wing tabloid newspapers, used his paper’s front page to warn readers – once again – of the Corbyn menace. He cited a poll last month that found 87 per cent of British Jews believed Corbyn was an antisemite. Some 47 per cent claimed they would “seriously consider” emigrating were he elected prime minister.

Evidence sidelined

The survey has been widely quoted as further, irrefutable proof that Labour has become “institutionally antisemitic” on Corbyn’s watch. All the evidence shows otherwise, but facts have not held much sway in a debate driven chiefly by emotion and insinuation.

Last month the Economist magazine, no friend to Corbyn or the Labour party, published a survey of British attitudes towards Israel and Jews, broken down into ideological factions.

It found that “very left wing” voters – the people who share Corbyn’s politics – were among the least likely to hold antisemitic views, even though they also had by far the most critical views of Israel. By contrast, supporters of the right were three and a half times more likely to express antisemitic opinions. The centre, representing the Lib Dems and the Blairite wing of Labour, expressed little antisemitism but also rarely criticised Israel.

The findings were clear: the left is not only highly resistant to antisemitism but recognises the crimes committed by Israel without holding Jews responsible. The Economist survey offered confirmation of Labour party records showing that instances of antisemitism among its 500,000 members were rare – at just 0.08 per cent of the membership.

Media’s influence

The evidence has, nonetheless, been overshadowed by the new survey suggesting that much of the Jewish community views Corbyn’s Labour party as plagued by antisemitism. Who, after all, wants to tell British Jews that they don’t know an antisemite when they see one?

But like a painting by an Old Master, layers of grime and dust have accumulated that need to be removed before we can see the true picture.

The reality is that the main impression most British Jews have formed of Corbyn has been one presented to them by the media – a media that is hardly dispassionate about Labour’s prospects. It is owned and controlled by large corporations that have benefited from decades of free-market fundamentalism Labour is now threatening to overturn.

Anyone who doubts the media’s ability to shape wider public opinion should remember its role in a strange electoral phenomenon long noted by psephologists. Many working-class voters prefer a Conservative government, even when it should be clear that their interests will be harmed as a result.

There is, after all, a reason why corporations are so ready to plough their money into propping up loss-making newspapers – and it isn’t out of concern for the wider social good. It is about maintaining a climate of opinion in which their right to make money is unimpeded.

Other Jewish voices

In contrast to the manufactured media consensus on Corbyn, an interview this month with John Bercow, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, was a reminder that there are contrary voices inside the Jewish community. After 22 years serving in parliament alongside Corbyn, Bercow observed of the Labour leader: “I have never detected so much as a whiff of antisemitism from him.” Nor, he added, from the Labour Party.

There are good reasons why more Jews may be reluctant to speak up on Corbyn’s behalf, however.

Last April, Jewish actress Miriam Margolyes found herself accused of antisemitism after she argued that the antisemitism complaints against Labour were being exaggerated to stop Corbyn from becoming prime minister. In a telling sign of how the climate against Corbyn is being manufactured by the media, a letter from prominent Jews and public figures in support of Corbyn, including Mark Ruffalo, Steve Coogan and Mike Leigh, could find a home only in the New Musical Express.

Anti-racism campaigner

Corbyn has been one of the most outspoken and visible anti-racism campaigners in parliament for decades. In fact, it is his long-standing vocal support for oppressed ethnic and national minorities that lies at the root of the current antisemitism “crisis” in his own party.

Corbyn has been a leading champion of the Palestinian cause, demanding that Israel end more than half a century of belligerent occupation that has oppressed Palestinians and is in clear breach of international law.

His activism long ago made him unpopular among many fellow MPs in his party, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are members of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) lobby. They have thrown their support fully behind Israel.

LFI is one of the many organisations that connects the Labour party to Israel. All are anachronistic – remnants of a time when the British left treated Israel as nothing other than a sanctuary for Jews fleeing a long history of persecution in Europe.

But these Labour lobby groups reflected too a lingering European racism only too willing to overlook the legacy of Israel’s creation – the mass suffering of Palestinians ruled over by an unaccountable, brutal Israeli army.

It was Palestinians, not Europeans, who were made to atone for Europe’s racism towards the Jewish people. Corbyn acknowledges that historical fact. Most of his parliamentary colleagues refuse to do so. Some may even unconsciously resent him for highlighting their own hypocrisy and unthinking racism towards Palestinians.

Unpopular Miliband

It is important to remember that antipathy towards the Labour Party from many in the British Jewish community is nothing new – and long predates Corbyn’s leadership. Perhaps most revealing on this score was the dismal polling among Jews of Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband, who is himself Jewish.

A Jewish Chronicle survey in early 2015 found that only 22 percent of Jews intended to vote for Labour under Miliband’s leadership, compared to 69 per cent who backed the Conservative party.

Also, five times more British Jews thought Tory leader David Cameron was good for their community than Miliband. The reasoning of many was indicated by their answer to a further question: 73 per cent said the parties’ attitude towards Israel and the Middle East would be “very” or “quite” important in influencing how they voted.

A poll a few weeks earlier had noted that the overwhelming majority of Britons thought it irrelevant that Miliband was Jewish in deciding how they would vote. Paradoxically, it was British Jews who largely saw Miliband negatively in relation to his Jewishness.

‘No passion’ for Israel

Miliband was not accused of antisemitism – that might have sounded a little too improbable – but he was found guilty by a significant number in the Jewish community of failing to be a strong advocate for Israel. For example, he antagonised many with his criticisms of Israel when it launched an attack on a blockaded Gaza in 2014 that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including some 550 children.

The Jewish Chronicle also noted how his reputation had been harmed with many British Jews by his support the same year for non-binding legislation calling for the UK to recognise Palestinian statehood.

As Israel’s Haaretz newspaper observed: “For British Jews therefore, there is a troubling question: Is Miliband Jewish enough? Does he have loyalty to the tribe? … The fact that British Jews have such little confidence in him is mainly due to his lack of passion for Israel.”

This was made clear at a fundraising dinner by the Community Security Trust, a leading Jewish organisation, in March 2015. The audience noisily booed a video featuring Miliband.

Lipman turns Tory

The mood among many British Jews was articulated by another popular Jewish actress, Maureen Lipman. Appalled by Miliband, she renounced five decades of support for the Labour Party, saying he had shown there was “one law for the Israelis, another law for the rest of the world”.

In the run-up to the 2015 election, Lipman urged other Jews to vote for any party but Labour to stop Miliband becoming Britain’s first Jewish prime minister in more than 130 years. Perhaps hoping British voters suffered from collective amnesia, Lipman pulled the same stunt again last year, suggesting this time it was Corbyn who had made her a Tory.

This month she released a mock advert for Beattie, a character associated with her since the 1980s, urging voters not to back Corbyn or Labour. The video was heavily promoted by the Mail and Sun newspapers, the latter calling it a “blistering attack”.

Nationwide echo-chamber

Corbyn’s democratic socialism is the first serious attempt by Labour since the Thatcher years to try to reverse the enormous and relentless economic gains made by Britain’s corporate ruling class. And Corbyn’s much more outspoken position in support of Palestinian rights – no different from his backing for black South Africans under apartheid rule – is unprecedented for a leader of a major British party.

That has made him especially vulnerable to attack both from a billionaire-owned media worried about his economic policies and from Israel lobbyists worried about where he might take British foreign policy on Israel.

Both have found antisemitism an effective weapon with which to damage Corbyn – both because of the seriousness of the offence and because it has been difficult to rebut such claims given the intentional blurring of antisemitism’s meaning since his election to lead Labour.

The main Israel lobby groups in the Labour party, from the LFI to the Jewish Labour Movement, have pushed hard for the Labour Party to change its rulebook on antisemitism. Last year the party was forced to adopt a highly controversial definition drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), shifting the focus from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

With a media-wide consensus on Corbyn’s antisemitism problem, it was inevitable that a significant proportion of British Jews would come to accept that Labour is indeed antisemitic. They have been living in a nationwide echo-chamber for the best part of four years.

An expanded definition

Unlike Miliband, of course, Corbyn has no ethnic card to play in his own defence. That has left him uniquely exposed. Once antisemitism was redefined by Labour’s adoption of the IHRA code, Corbyn’s decades of campaigning for justice for Palestinians easily became conflated with antisemitism. It has allowed his critics to reframe his decades of his anti-racism activism as proof of his racism.

In addition, for those British Jews who regard Israel as central to their identity, Corbyn’s record of vocal criticism of Israel has been perceived as an attack on who they are. Many have been only too ready to accept claims that his support for justice for Palestinian is rooted not in principle but in antisemitism.

The ludicrous lengths to which his opponents – whether in the pro-Israel lobby or in the media – have been prepared to go in malevolently expanding the meaning of antisemitism to harm him is illustrated by the reaction to his economic platform.

Labour’s history is rooted in socialism, redistributive policies, workers’ rights, and curbs on the capitalist class profiteering at the public’s expense. But now Corbyn’s criticisms of those who exploit workers, or accumulate vast wealth, or hide it off-shore where it can’t be taxed, are also being denounced as antisemitic.

Revealing prejudices

The assumption of his critics – revealing their prejudices rather than his – is that Corbyn is referring to “Jews” when he speaks of bankers, capitalists, a corporate elite or the establishment. This process was tentatively started by Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, but has become commonplace since.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the financial crash last year, Corbyn warned that he would crack down on those responsible for nearly wrecking western economies by creating a giant Ponzi scheme that repackaged debt. He tweeted: “The people who caused it now call me a threat. They’re right.”

Pollard responded: “This is ‘nudge, nudge, you know who I’m talking about, don’t you?’ And yes I do. It’s appalling.” As writer David Rosenberg observed: “Stephen Pollard and Jeremy Corbyn. One of them seems to think all bankers are Jews. Clue: it is not Jeremy Corbyn.”

The fact that so many Jews now believe Corbyn and his party are antisemitic does not prove their beliefs to be true – any more than the fact that sections of the working class vote Tory means the party will take care of their interests.

Wildly inflated figures

Jews are as susceptible as everyone else to media propaganda and manufactured “moral panics”. And given their justifiable fears of a revival of antisemitism, they are likely to be even more open to manipulation by a media determined to block Corbyn’s path to power.

How effective this campaign has been outside the Jewish community is highlighted in a new book, Bad News for Labour.

Academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry have noted the astonishing power of the media’s wildly inflated claims against Labour to dupe the British public. This has been equally true of Labour Party members, even when the media’s claims conflict with their own direct experience.

One survey they undertook for the book shows that on average respondents estimated that 34 per cent of Labour members had been accused of antisemitism.

That was over 300 times larger than the true figure.

When asked how they arrived at such a huge figure, many cited the scale of media coverage. As Philo observed in one interview: “A recurring theme of their answers was the sense that it simply must be on a vast scale, given how much publicity there’s been around it – the sheer amount of fuss and coverage in the media, as they saw it, and the amount of money being put into investigating the issue.”

One-sided programme

Respondents had been influenced, Philo pointed out, by headlines like “Corbyn’s antisemite army” or descriptions of Labour as “riddled with antisemites”. He also noted the role of the BBC, which is widely trusted, in bolstering the misleading coverage.

Its recent Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” presented 17 former Labour staffers attacking the Corbyn-led party. But the programme-makers failed to identify who these critics were. Many were in fact Israel lobbyists – one was even a former employee of the Israeli embassy in London.

While the show included one person replying to the complaints, it entirely excluded the many Jewish voices in Labour that defend Corbyn. Philo observed that both the BBC and Guardian, two media organisations often seen as offering a counterweight to the right-wing press, had repeatedly failed to address the evidence of whether Labour actually had an antisemitism problem.

“That is a key source of their power – they can impose silence and simply refuse to discuss their own role,” he concluded. Not surprisingly given the current climate, the Bad News book itself came under fire for being antisemitic in questioning the media’s antisemitism narrative. A book launch in Brighton had to be cancelled after a torrent of abuse from Corbyn opponents.

Rise of Jew hatred on right

Perhaps the greatest irony of the current calls from Jewish leaders and public figures to vote against Labour is that the only possible beneficiary will be the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, known for his dog-whistle racism.

The Tories have been moving relentlessly to the right in recent years and now emphasise a “hostile environment” policy towards immigrants and ethnic minorities.

After many years of media indifference, there are finally the first signs that the Conservatives may be coming under limited scrutiny for an Islamophobia long rampant in the party’s ranks. Even so, anti-Muslim racism among Tories still receives marginal coverage compared to the reporting of Labour’s supposed antisemitism problem. This is doubly misleadingly.

First, Islamophobia appears to be far more entrenched and widespread among Conservatives than antisemitism is in Labour. But equally importantly, and almost totally ignored, antisemitism too is a more significant problem on the right than the left, as the Economist survey starkly highlighted.

Remember, respondents on the right were three and half times more like to express hatred of Jews than the left.

That is reflected in the current rise in western societies of white nationalist movements that have been either maligning Jews or targeting them with physical violence.

British Jews have been persuaded that they have something to fear from a Labour government because Corbyn is a long-time critic of Israel. But all the evidence suggests that they ought to be far more frightened of the reawakening of a traditional right-wing bigotry towards Jews.

The media and Israel lobby may have been largely successful in recruiting British Jews and many others to their self-serving campaign to stop Corbyn becoming prime minister. But ultimately the Jewish community risks being engulfed by Britain’s expanding “hostile environment” if the Conservatives are allowed to remain in power and continue their drift rightwards unhindered.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Lies about Julian Assange Must Stop Now

Newspapers and other media in the United States and Britain have recently declared a passion for freedom of speech, especially the right to publish freely.  They are worried by the “Assange effect”.

It is as if the struggle of truth-tellers like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning is now a warning to them: that the thugs who dragged Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in April may one day come for them.

A common refrain was echoed by the Guardian last week. The extradition of Assange, said the paper, “is not a question of how wise Mr. Assange is, still less how likable. It’s not about his character, nor his judgement. It’s a matter of press freedom and the public’s right to know.”

What the Guardian is trying to do is separate Assange from his landmark achievements, which have both profited the Guardian and exposed its own vulnerability, along with its propensity to suck up to rapacious power and smear those who reveal its double standards.

The poison that has fueled the persecution of Julian Assange is not as obvious in this editorial as it usually is; there is no fiction about Assange smearing faeces on embassy walls or being awful to his cat.

Instead, the weasel references to “character” and “judgement” and “likeability” perpetuate an epic smear which is now almost a decade old.  Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, used a more apt description. “There has been,” he wrote, “a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing.”  He explains “mobbing” as “an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press”. This “collective ridicule” amounts to torture and could lead to Assange’s death.

Having witnessed much of what Melzer describes, I can vouch for the truth of his words. If Julian Assange were to succumb to the cruelties heaped upon him, week after week, month after month, year upon year, as doctors warn, newspapers like the Guardian will share the responsibility.

A few days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald’s man in London, Nick Miller, wrote a lazy, specious piece headlined, “Assange has not been vindicated, he has merely outwaited justice.”  He was referring to Sweden’s abandonment of the so-called Assange investigation.

Miller’s report is not untypical for its omissions and distortions while masquerading as a tribune of women’s rights. There is no original work, no real inquiry: just smear.

There is nothing on the documented behaviour of a clutch of Swedish zealots who hi-jacked the “allegations” of sexual misconduct against Assange and made a mockery of Swedish law and that society’s vaunted decency.

He makes no mention that in 2013, the Swedish prosecutor tried to abandon the case and emailed the Crown Prosecution Service in London to say it would no longer pursue a European Arrest Warrant, to which she received the reply: “Don’t you dare!!!” (Thanks to Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica)

Other emails show the CPS discouraging the Swedes from coming to London to interview Assange – which was common practice – thus blocking progress that might have set him free in 2011.

There was never an indictment. There were never charges. There was never a serious attempt to put “allegations” to Assange and question him – behaviour that the Swedish Court of Appeal ruled to be negligent and the General Secretary of the Swedish Bar Association has since condemned.

Both the women involved said there was no rape.  Critical written evidence of their text messages was wilfully withheld from Assange’s lawyers, clearly because it undermined the “allegations”.

One of the women was so shocked that Assange was arrested, she accused the police of railroading her and changing her witness statement. The chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the “suspicion of any crime.”

The Sydney Morning Herald man omits how an ambitious and compromised politician, Claes Borgstrom, emerged from behind the liberal facade of Swedish politics and effectively seized and revived the case.

Borgstrom enlisted a former political collaborator, Marianne Ny, as the new prosecutor. Ny refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States if he was extradited to Sweden, even though, as The Independent reported, “informal discussions have already taken place between the US and Swedish officials over the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody, according to diplomatic sources.” This was an open secret in Stockholm. That libertarian Sweden had a dark, documented past of rendering people into the hands of the CIA was not news.

The silence was broken in 2016 when the United Nations Working Party on Arbitrary Detention, a body that decides whether governments are meeting their human rights obligations, ruled that Julian Assange was unlawfully detained by Britain and called on the British government to set him free.

Both the governments of Britain and Sweden had taken part in the UN’s investigation, and agreed to abide by its ruling, which carried the weight of international law. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, stood up in Parliament and abused the UN panel.

The Swedish case was a fraud from the moment the police secretly and illegally contacted a Stockholm tabloid and ignited the hysteria that was to consume Assange. WikiLeaks’ revelations of America’s war crimes had shamed the hand-maidens of power and its vested interests, who called themselves journalists; and for this, the unclubbable Assange would never be forgiven.

It was now open season. Assange’s media tormenters cut and pasted each other’s lies and vituperative abuse. “He really is the most massive turd,” wrote the Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore. The received wisdom was that he had been charged, which was never true. In my career, reporting from places of extreme upheaval and suffering and criminality, I have never known anything like it.

In Assange’s homeland, Australia, this “mobbing” reached an apogee. So eager was the Australian government to deliver its citizen to the United States that the prime minister in 2013, Julia Gillard, wanted to take away his passport and charge him with a crime – until it was pointed out to her that Assange had committed no crime and she had no right to take away his citizenship.

Julia Gillard, according to the website Honest History, holds the record for the most sycophantic speech ever made to the US Congress. Australia, said she to applause, was America’s “great mate”. The great mate colluded with America in its hunt for an Australian whose crime was journalism. His right to protection and proper assistance was denied.

When Assange’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, and I met two Australian consular officials in London, we were shocked that all they knew about the case “is what we read in the papers”.

This abandonment by Australia was a principal reason for the granting of political asylum by Ecuador. As an Australian, I found this especially shaming.

When asked about Assange recently, the current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said, “He should face the music”. This kind of thuggery, bereft of any respect for truth and rights and the principles and law, is why the mostly Murdoch controlled press in Australia is now worried about its own future, as the Guardian is worried, and The New York Times is worried. Their concern has a name: “the Assange precedent.”

They know that what happens to Assange can happen to them. The basic rights and justice denied him can be denied to them. They have been warned. All of us have been warned.

Whenever I see Julian in the grim, surreal world of Belmarsh prison, I am reminded of the responsibility of those of us who defend him. There are universal principles at stake in this case. He himself is fond of saying: “It’s not me. It’s far wider.”

But at the heart of this remarkable struggle – and it is, above all, a struggle – is one human being whose character, I repeat character, has demonstrated the most astonishing courage. I salute him.

• This is an edited version of an address given by John Pilger in London at the launch of In Defense of Julian Assange, an anthology published by Or Books, New York.

The Lies about Julian Assange Must Stop Now

Newspapers and other media in the United States and Britain have recently declared a passion for freedom of speech, especially the right to publish freely.  They are worried by the “Assange effect”.

It is as if the struggle of truth-tellers like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning is now a warning to them: that the thugs who dragged Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in April may one day come for them.

A common refrain was echoed by the Guardian last week. The extradition of Assange, said the paper, “is not a question of how wise Mr. Assange is, still less how likable. It’s not about his character, nor his judgement. It’s a matter of press freedom and the public’s right to know.”

What the Guardian is trying to do is separate Assange from his landmark achievements, which have both profited the Guardian and exposed its own vulnerability, along with its propensity to suck up to rapacious power and smear those who reveal its double standards.

The poison that has fueled the persecution of Julian Assange is not as obvious in this editorial as it usually is; there is no fiction about Assange smearing faeces on embassy walls or being awful to his cat.

Instead, the weasel references to “character” and “judgement” and “likeability” perpetuate an epic smear which is now almost a decade old.  Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, used a more apt description. “There has been,” he wrote, “a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing.”  He explains “mobbing” as “an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press”. This “collective ridicule” amounts to torture and could lead to Assange’s death.

Having witnessed much of what Melzer describes, I can vouch for the truth of his words. If Julian Assange were to succumb to the cruelties heaped upon him, week after week, month after month, year upon year, as doctors warn, newspapers like the Guardian will share the responsibility.

A few days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald’s man in London, Nick Miller, wrote a lazy, specious piece headlined, “Assange has not been vindicated, he has merely outwaited justice.”  He was referring to Sweden’s abandonment of the so-called Assange investigation.

Miller’s report is not untypical for its omissions and distortions while masquerading as a tribune of women’s rights. There is no original work, no real inquiry: just smear.

There is nothing on the documented behaviour of a clutch of Swedish zealots who hi-jacked the “allegations” of sexual misconduct against Assange and made a mockery of Swedish law and that society’s vaunted decency.

He makes no mention that in 2013, the Swedish prosecutor tried to abandon the case and emailed the Crown Prosecution Service in London to say it would no longer pursue a European Arrest Warrant, to which she received the reply: “Don’t you dare!!!” (Thanks to Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica)

Other emails show the CPS discouraging the Swedes from coming to London to interview Assange – which was common practice – thus blocking progress that might have set him free in 2011.

There was never an indictment. There were never charges. There was never a serious attempt to put “allegations” to Assange and question him – behaviour that the Swedish Court of Appeal ruled to be negligent and the General Secretary of the Swedish Bar Association has since condemned.

Both the women involved said there was no rape.  Critical written evidence of their text messages was wilfully withheld from Assange’s lawyers, clearly because it undermined the “allegations”.

One of the women was so shocked that Assange was arrested, she accused the police of railroading her and changing her witness statement. The chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the “suspicion of any crime.”

The Sydney Morning Herald man omits how an ambitious and compromised politician, Claes Borgstrom, emerged from behind the liberal facade of Swedish politics and effectively seized and revived the case.

Borgstrom enlisted a former political collaborator, Marianne Ny, as the new prosecutor. Ny refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States if he was extradited to Sweden, even though, as The Independent reported, “informal discussions have already taken place between the US and Swedish officials over the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody, according to diplomatic sources.” This was an open secret in Stockholm. That libertarian Sweden had a dark, documented past of rendering people into the hands of the CIA was not news.

The silence was broken in 2016 when the United Nations Working Party on Arbitrary Detention, a body that decides whether governments are meeting their human rights obligations, ruled that Julian Assange was unlawfully detained by Britain and called on the British government to set him free.

Both the governments of Britain and Sweden had taken part in the UN’s investigation, and agreed to abide by its ruling, which carried the weight of international law. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, stood up in Parliament and abused the UN panel.

The Swedish case was a fraud from the moment the police secretly and illegally contacted a Stockholm tabloid and ignited the hysteria that was to consume Assange. WikiLeaks’ revelations of America’s war crimes had shamed the hand-maidens of power and its vested interests, who called themselves journalists; and for this, the unclubbable Assange would never be forgiven.

It was now open season. Assange’s media tormenters cut and pasted each other’s lies and vituperative abuse. “He really is the most massive turd,” wrote the Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore. The received wisdom was that he had been charged, which was never true. In my career, reporting from places of extreme upheaval and suffering and criminality, I have never known anything like it.

In Assange’s homeland, Australia, this “mobbing” reached an apogee. So eager was the Australian government to deliver its citizen to the United States that the prime minister in 2013, Julia Gillard, wanted to take away his passport and charge him with a crime – until it was pointed out to her that Assange had committed no crime and she had no right to take away his citizenship.

Julia Gillard, according to the website Honest History, holds the record for the most sycophantic speech ever made to the US Congress. Australia, said she to applause, was America’s “great mate”. The great mate colluded with America in its hunt for an Australian whose crime was journalism. His right to protection and proper assistance was denied.

When Assange’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, and I met two Australian consular officials in London, we were shocked that all they knew about the case “is what we read in the papers”.

This abandonment by Australia was a principal reason for the granting of political asylum by Ecuador. As an Australian, I found this especially shaming.

When asked about Assange recently, the current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said, “He should face the music”. This kind of thuggery, bereft of any respect for truth and rights and the principles and law, is why the mostly Murdoch controlled press in Australia is now worried about its own future, as the Guardian is worried, and The New York Times is worried. Their concern has a name: “the Assange precedent.”

They know that what happens to Assange can happen to them. The basic rights and justice denied him can be denied to them. They have been warned. All of us have been warned.

Whenever I see Julian in the grim, surreal world of Belmarsh prison, I am reminded of the responsibility of those of us who defend him. There are universal principles at stake in this case. He himself is fond of saying: “It’s not me. It’s far wider.”

But at the heart of this remarkable struggle – and it is, above all, a struggle – is one human being whose character, I repeat character, has demonstrated the most astonishing courage. I salute him.

• This is an edited version of an address given by John Pilger in London at the launch of In Defense of Julian Assange, an anthology published by Or Books, New York.

Anti-semitism bandwagon rolled out again

For a few months over the summer the British corporate media largely lost interest in smearing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-semite. Maybe they had begun to worry that the constant drum-beat of the past three years was deadening the public’s sensitivity to such claims.

But an election is now weeks away, and the anti-semitism smear bandwagon is being rolled out once again.

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle (who also writes for the Tory-loving Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph newspapers) has yet again been terrifying readers as best he can, implying not so subtly that voting for Labour might risk a genocide of British Jews. After several years of painting Corbyn – preposterously – as some kind of unkempt, grey-bearded leader of a British Gestapo-in-the-making, Pollard spent the past few days highlighting in the corporate media the predictable results of the latest survey of Jewish public opinion. It suggests that a growing number of Jews are considering leaving Britain if Corbyn manages to oust Boris Johnson from power.

That we have reached the point where so many British Jews have been persuaded that Corbyn’s vocal criticism of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians means his entire party is infected with a supposed hatred of Jews needs some explaining. It is something I have been trying to do regularly, and in real time, as life has been breathed into these various slurs, both by a corporate media that detests the fairer society a Corbyn party promises and by an Israel lobby that identifies so closely with Israel that it has completely dehumanised Palestinians, to the extent that the crimes against them can be entirely overlooked – treated as no more significant than stepping on an ant.

In the figure of Pollard, we have a journalist who merges both outlooks, typified in this extraordinary tweet last year that at the time stunned even some of his followers but has now become a staple of the campaign against Corbyn and his democratic socialist politics. Efforts by the left to highlight the class war waged by an elite that’s been sucking the life out of the British economy to enrich itself have been maliciously recharacterised by Pollard and other rightwing journalists (some of whom ensconced themselves in the Labour party during Tony Blair’s rule) as an attack on Jews. But it is not the left that conflates the corporate elite with Jews, it is right wing journalists like Pollard.

We shall return to this issue later in the post.

Jonathan Freedland’s libel

An incident at the weekend helped to illustrate just how organised and malevolent the anti-semitism smears against Corbyn truly are.
Jonathan Freedland, a supposedly liberal columnist at the Guardian newspaper and a BBC regular, again proved how he has been a key
figure in weaponising this allegation against a Corbyn-led party. So eager is he to damage Labour and make sure it is no position to end a decade of Tory-imposed austerity that he threw aside all normal journalistic caution and published a libellous claim of anti-semitism against a potential Labour candidate in the coming general election.

There were several revealing aspects to this incident. Freedland defamed Majid Mahmood, a Labour local councillor in Birmingham, without making even the most rudimentary factual checks that the highly damaging claim was actually true – a basic journalistic duty. He simply relied on the word of a “previously reliable Labour source” – in other words, one of the many Blairite enemies of Corbyn within the Labour parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy who have been briefing against the leader for the past four years.

(It is worth recalling that a prominent anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth, was hounded from the party last year, accused of anti-semitism, for warning that Blairite MPs like Ruth Smeeth were briefing against their own leader to journalists in the right wing press. Smeeth accused Wadsworth of anti-semitism because she is Jewish, though Wadsworth says he did not know that – and, of course, her Jewishness is irrelevant to the issue of whether she was seeking to malign her own party’s leader through the media. Wadsworth’s mistake, it seems, was to assume that corporate “liberal” journalists like Freedland were not also part of those smear efforts.)

In Mahmood’s case, it was an egregious example of mistaken identity. Freedland and his “source” had confused the Birmingham councillor with a London lawyer of the same name who was fined over anti-semitic comments four years ago. Such confusion was clearly neither accidental nor innocent. Mahmood’s case highlighted something that was already patently obvious: that anti-Corbyn groups have been trawling the histories and social media posts of Labour members in an organised effort to weaponise anything they can find against the Labour leader. The defamation of Mahmood was simply the latest smear to emerge from this campaign.

Smears from within Labour

But Freedland’s “defence” was itself telling. The person relaying the smear to him was, he said, from inside Labour and had been “previously reliable”. That meant someone fairly senior in the party – thereby explaining Freedland’s readiness to believe him uncritically – and someone who had passed on similar damaging information before. It was irrefutable confirmation that Corbyn’s most venomous opponents are not in the Conservative party but drawn from Labour’s own top ranks. They want a Corbyn-led party destroyed even if it means keeping the Brexit-backing, austerity-loving, racism-indulgent Tories in power.

There was another ugly aspect to the behaviour of Freedland and his “source”. It looked suspiciously like both had uncritically accepted the unfounded claim against Mahmood because he had a Muslim name. They both appeared to have assumed that Muslims are more likely to be racist towards Jews and therefore accepted the claim with a much lower standard of evidence than they would have been expected in the case of anyone else.

In fact, the councillor’s name is a Muslim equivalent of “David Brown” or “George Smith”. Can we really imagine Freedland libelling someone with either of those names so casually, without making even cursory checks to be sure he had identified the right David Brown or George Smith?

This kind of behaviour has a name: it is called racism. And it is quite extraordinary to see Freedland so susceptible, after he has made a journalistic career out of exploring the intricacies of racism when it applies to Jews. It almost leaves one suspecting that this paragon of liberal journalism is really a hypocrite.

Fears the free lunch will end

The anti-semitism smear campaign is being revived in the corporate media for good reason. The stakes could not be higher for Britain’s ruling class. As worried as many of them are by Brexit, Corbyn is seen as a bigger threat. He might call time on the banquet they have been gorging on for four decades uninterrupted.

If Corbyn shunts Boris Johnson and the Tories out of power, the millionaires and billionaires who control both the British print and broadcast media, including the BBC, fear the good times could come to an abrupt end. The Brexit threat pales in comparison. That would simply shift our primary economic allegiance from Europe to the United States, leaving the predatory capitalism on which the corporate class has grown unimaginably rich as strong as ever.

A Corbyn government, by contrast, is an unknown quantity. The free-lunch might end, or at least start to feel more like an unsatisfying snack.

In truth, given the bitter divisions tearing apart his own party – between most of the mass membership, who are behind him, and the holdouts from the Blair-Brown era that still dominate the parliamentary party – it is hard to imagine Corbyn being able to do as much as his critics fear.

He may manage to curb the worst excesses of the neoliberal financial system, he may block further privatisation of the NHS, even reverse it a little, and he may bring a few vital national industries back into public ownership. He may manage too to redirect some of the cream the fat cats have been lapping up back into the public coffers for a New Green Deal. All of that would be a relief after so many years of Tory-designed austerity for the many and state socialism for the few.

But the corporate class are now so greedy, so used to getting their way, that even the smallest diminishment of their power and wealth is seen as an unbearable offence against what they divine as the natural order.

A tool of class war

They are not about to leave anything to chance. Corbyn must be tarred and feathered again. Four years of experimenting with various smears have selected anti-semitism as the weapon of choice. That false accusation can most easily be disguised to ensure it does not look like what it is intended to be when used against Corbyn and Labour: a tool of class war.

Claims of anti-semitism have worked ideally in damaging Corbyn because no real evidence has been needed. In fact, such claims succeed even when opposed to the known evidence (as we shall see). They work chiefly by innuendo and emotion. And better still, they work even when those accused like Corbyn and his allies deny the accusation. As in all good witch-hunts, denial is proof of guilt, as an ally of Corbyn’s, the MP Chris Williamson, has repeatedly found out. He has been barred from standing in the election, and has now resigned from the party, after correctly noting that Labour had in effect made the anti-semitism smears appear more credible by constantly apologising over evidence-free claims of anti-semitism from those seeking to harm the party’s image with voters.

This is a winning formula for the ruling class because anyone who tries to argue that Corbyn’s opponents are weaponising anti-semitism through the corporate media is thereby proved to be an anti-semite. The smears are entirely resistant to all evidence that they are smears.

Survey: little anti-semitism on left

That the anti-semitism claims are slurs has been demonstrated over and over again. But paradoxically the latest refutation came last week from the corporate elite’s house journal, the Economist – though, of course, it was not presented that way .

The magazine published a new survey of British public opinion showing that an ideological group it labelled as “very left wing” – presumably the people who share Corbyn’s views – were among the least likely to hold anti-semitic opinions, even though they also had by far the most critical views of Israel (an outlook the Economist mischievously termed “highly anti-Israel”).

In other words, those people on the left who firmly oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians were unlikely also to harbour anti-Jewish views. The great majority could clearly distinguish between Israel and Jews, and did not hold Jews responsible for the crimes committed by the state of Israel.

The same could not be said, however, of either the centre or the right. Supporters of the right were less than half as likely to adopt critical views of Israel as the left but were three and a half times more likely to hold anti-semitic views. Meanwhile, only a small number of centrists were critical of Israel, and an almost identical number held anti-semitic views.

What the figures reveal is the very opposite of the Labour anti-semitism narrative – unless we wish to argue improbably that Labour and its 500,000 members (the largest party in Europe) are entirely unrepresentative of the wider public that shares their ideological worldview. The left overwhelmingly opposes Israeli colonial oppression of Palestinians but very few blame Jews for Israel’s behaviour. Israel is seen as a political project, one driven by an ugly ideology of settler colonialism, not a project representing all Jews. The latter is an anti-semitic position that, paradoxically, is supported and promoted by Israel itself.

Conversely, the same figures suggest that there is an identifiable problem of racism and anti-semitism on the right, and a potential one among centrists too. Whereas the left understands that Israel and Jews are entirely separate and distinct categories, both the centre and right appear to share a tendency of conflating Israel and Jews.

Racism rife on the right

In the case of the right, the figures show a close correlation between opposition to Israel and anti-Jewish feeling. A significant portion of the right either blame Jews collectively for Israel’s crimes or dislike Jews and so oppose the state that claims to represent them. Even though you would never know it from the media coverage, which concentrates exclusively on a supposed problem within the Labour party, anti-semitism is rife on the right in a way that simply isn’t true on the left.

The survey also hints at the possibility of a more veiled problem of racism and latent anti-semitism among “centrists”, a group presumably represented politically by the Lib Dems and the Blairite wing of the Labour party. Very few in this group express anti-Jewish sentiments – in fact, exactly the same small proportion as on the left. (Tellingly, despite these identical results, the Labour party has been smeared as “institutionally anti-semitic”, whereas the centrist Lib Dems have not.)

Nonetheless, there is a significant difference between the two political blocks – and one that could reflect much less well on the centrists than the left.

A much larger proportion of the centrist group appear to harbour sympathies for Israel, or at least view it uncritically, despite the ever mounting  evidence of Israel’s record of human rights abuses and intensifying oppression of Palestinians.

Remember that large numbers of the centrist Blairite faction of Labour MPs (though not the wider Labour membership) belong to Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and have proudly maintained their association with that organisation. They have continued to do so even after the LFI at first vigorously defended, then fell silent on Israel’s repeated massacres over the past 18 months of Palestinians protesters at the Gaza perimeter fence that encages them.

More than 220 Palestinians, including women, children, journalists, and medical staff, have been killed by Israeli snipers at the protests, while tens of thousands more have been maimed. But in a blatant example of anti-Arab racism, the LFI has blamed Hamas for these deaths, as though ordinary Palestinians in Gaza are simply pawns of Hamas and lack the volition to demand for themselves an end to an Israeli blockade that has imprisoned them for 12 years.

Centrists conflate Jews and Israel

Only a quarter as many centrists as leftists are critical of Israel, according to the Economist survey. In other words, a proportion of centrists appear to identify with Israel’s colonial oppression of Palestinians – possibly because they favour Jews over Arabs and Muslims (presumably as part of a “clash of civilisations” worldview) or maybe because they have positive feelings about Jews that translate into uncritical support for Israel, whatever it does to the Palestinians it rules over.

That could indicate a significant problem of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim prejudice among centrists, similar to the ugly assumptions made by Jonathan Freedland and his “source”. However, we can do little more than speculate on this point because the survey is concerned exclusively with Jews and Israel.

Nonetheless, the figures also allude to a potential anti-semitism problem in the ranks of the centrist camp. The stark lack of criticism of Israel among centrists, combined with little anti-semitism, suggests that a significant proportion of centrists, like right-wingers, consider Jews and Israel to be intimately connected – that they struggle to disentangle a political project (Israel) from an ethnic or cultural group (Jews).

There is only a narrow distinction between a right-winger who conflates Israel and Jews in a way that vilifies Jews and a centrist who conflates Israel and Jews in a way that venerates Israel.

Rejecting universal rights

The difference in the respective outcomes of this conflation could reflect differing understandings of what Israel does. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – whether seen as justified or not – is then projected on to Jews. Once the conflation is accepted, Jews unfairly receive either credit (from centrists) or blame (from the right) for Israel’s actions.

Or, more likely, the right-wingers and centrists who conflate Israel and Jews – as a proportion appear to do – are equally indulgent of a particularist and regressive approach to rights. Instead of committing to universal human rights, shared by all alike, the particularists assign superior rights to those they think of as more like themselves. Right-wingers, it seems, tend to exclude Jews from this category, while centrists have a greater tendency to include them.

But the danger is that, if these centrists can be persuaded that Jews are not part of their in-group – for example, by undermining the idea of a supposed Judeo-Christian West, embodying the supposed values of “civilisation” – then they could be as susceptible as the right to a generalised Jew hatred. It is a commitment to universal human rights – a doctrine to which most on the left subscribe but which some on the right and the centre appear to reject – that provides the only sure-fire political inoculation against racism in general and anti-semitism in particular.

The Economist, of course, wishes to avoid drawing this very obvious conclusion, one implied by its findings, because that would wreck the narrative it and the rest of the corporate media have been constructing to damage Corbyn. In fact, the Economist poll echoes earlier research ignored by the corporate media, such as figures showing that instances of antisemitism in Labour amount to 0.08% of the membership,  and surveys demonstrating that the Tory party – and its “watermelon smiles” leader Boris Johnson – have a far bigger problem with racism, towards both Muslims and Jews.

Not a whiff of anti-semitism’

Not everyone in the political and media class is ready to dance to the same tune, as was made clear in an interview that gently turned the tables on Alastair Campbell, chief adviser to Tony Blair when he was Labour prime minister. Campbell helped Blair distort the intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 that gave superficial credence to a different but equally confected story: both that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that those weapons were just a hair’s-trigger away from being fired at the UK. Up to 1 million Iraqis were killed as a result of that illegal war, and many millions more were driven from their homes.

Campbell, a man whose anti-Muslim, anti-Arab prejudices permitted him to help lay waste to another country on an entirely bogus pretext, and whose reputation in the corporate media suffered not a whit as a result, decided to use the interview to try to revive the Corbyn anti-semitism smears and undermine Labour’s chances of winning the election. Like other Blairites, Campbell has been an outspoken critic of Corbyn, even going public with the fact that he has started voting for the Lib Dems.

He asked his interviewee, John Bercow, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons and a Jewish member of the Conservative party, to comment on Corbyn and the anti-semitism allegations. Campbell’s transparent aim was to recruit Bercow to the smear campaign – both as a Jew and as someone who has come to be widely trusted since becoming House Speaker as an arbiter of an even-handed politics.

Bercow’s response was not what Campbell hoped for. The former Speaker answered cautiously, but observed: “I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour party … I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic … I have known him for the 22 years I have been in parliament … and I have never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism from him.”

Campbell’s face could barely conceal his disappointment.

The interview was another reminder that those leading the anti-semitism smear campaign often have, given their own histories, precisely zero credibility on the issue of racism, let alone class politics. Whatever they may think they believe, it is not racism that truly concerns Campbell or Freedland; it is their fear of a different kind of politics, one that requires from them an entirely different way of understanding British colonial history, of interpreting Britain’s role in the world, and of ending the UK’s gaping class divide. They, like so many others in the media and political elite, are frightened that a different kind of politics might force them to look in the mirror – and finally understand that long ago they chose to stand with the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

Unfree Media: State Stenography And Shameful Silence

A recent viral clip of Jeremy Corbyn featured vital truths about the corporate media that ought to be at the forefront of public consciousness in the approach to the UK General Election on December 12. The clip began:

A free press is essential to our democracy. But much of our press isn’t very free at all.

Corbyn continued:

Just three companies control 71 per cent of national newspaper circulation and five companies control 81 per cent of local newspaper circulation.

This unhealthy sway of a few corporations and billionaires shapes and skews the priorities and worldview of powerful sections of the media.

And it doesn’t stop with the newspapers, on and offline. Print too often sets the broadcast agenda, even though it is wedded so firmly to the Tories politically and to corporate interests more generally.

Corbyn’s words were not from a recent speech. They were actually delivered as part of his Alternative Mactaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August 2018. But they remain as relevant as ever; hence being picked up anew by ‘Tory Fibs‘, a grassroots socialist Twitter account.

Corbyn shone a spotlight on the BBC:

The BBC should be freed of government control, democratised and made representative of the country it serves to help it do that.

The BBC is meant to be independent, but its charter grants governments the power to appoint the chair and four directors of the board and set the level of the licence fee.

As regular readers will be well aware, Media Lens has long highlighted the BBC’s lack of independence and, more particularly, the insidious role of BBC News in protecting the establishment, promoting deference to the royal family and class system, as well as deflecting scrutiny of state and corporate crimes.

Corbyn concluded on the state of the media today:

We need to set journalists and citizens free to hold power to account, by breaking the grip of tech giants and billionaires on our media.

All this is arguably never more evident than when a General Election is looming. Right now, established power is fighting tooth and nail to maintain its control on society. Corporate media, including gatekeepers like the BBC and the Guardian – ‘thus far and no farther’, in the words of Noam Chomsky – play a central role in maintaining the destructive status quo.

Filtering Facts

The state-corporate management and manipulation of ‘the news’ relies on a subtle filtering process whereby leading journalists select – consciously or otherwise – which facts are ‘fit’ to be reported, and which can or should be ignored.

Consider an item on BBC News at Ten last Thursday when political editor Laura Kuenssberg reported Boris Johnson’s visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. She presented the Prime Minister in a favourable light, having amiable encounters with people in Addenbrooke’s. What the BBC did not show were the jeers of staff and patients ringing in Johnson’s ears as he left the hospital. Nor did Kuenssberg report on the young medical student who was ‘pushed aside by [a] Boris Johnson aide’ while attempting to challenge Johnson on the NHS and the climate crisis. Julia Simons, who is training at the hospital to become a doctor, called his visit a ‘PR stunt’.

We challenged the BBC political editor via Twitter:

Hello @bbclaurak,

Why did your @BBCNews at Ten piece on Boris Johnson’s visit to a Cambridge hospital omit the part where he left with jeers from staff and patients ringing in his ears?

Our tweet was ‘liked’ and retweeted hundreds of times, but there was no reply from Kuenssberg. Her Twitter bio states:

I know it’s fashionable, but even in 2019 there is nothing big or clever about shooting the messenger – tweets or retweets here aren’t necessarily my view

But, by heavily filtering the facts that Kuenssberg selects to tweet or retweet, ‘the messenger’ has transformed into an echo chamber and amplifier of government propaganda. This phenomenon of state stenography – which, of course, is far from new – was highlighted in an excellent article recently by Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph. Under the title, ‘British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine’, Oborne argued that:

From the Mail, The Times to the BBC and ITN, everyone is peddling Downing Street’s lies and smears. They’re turning their readers into dupes.

As Oborne noted, ‘mainstream’ political journalism too often relies upon whatever ‘a senior No 10 source’ says:

This modus operandi, which allow pro-government narratives to enter the public domain unmediated by proper interrogation, has become routine among political reporters since Johnson and his Vote Leave media team entered Downing Street.

Oborne observed:

There is an implicit deal. In return for access and information (much of it false) the political media spins a pro-government narrative.

As a recent example, Oborne pointed to the government’s deceitful response to the leaked ‘Yellowhammer dossier‘ setting out the damaging consequences of a no-deal Brexit on the UK – a news story that ‘deeply embarrassed’ Boris Johnson and senior ministers. Downing Street responded by feeding a false claim to compliant journalists that the leak happened on Theresa May’s watch; and that Remain-supporting ex-ministers led by Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer in May’s Cabinet, were responsible. Newspapers were full of convenient headlines and stories about the alleged leakers, distracting attention from the damaging analysis of the leaked dossier itself. As Oborne noted, it turned out that the leaked document was dated nine days after Johnson came to power: the leak had occurred under his watch, not May’s.

This issue of journalist access in return for maintaining a power-friendly narrative has long been known. The media’s heavy reliance on state and corporate sources is one of the five ‘news filters’ – along with corporate ownership, advertising, flak and ‘anti-Communism’ – in the propaganda model of the media introduced by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (1988).

Focusing on the country’s two main political editors – the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston of ITV News – Oborne added:

Political editors are so pleased to be given “insider” or “exclusive” information that they report it without challenge or question.

Oborne, as a senior journalist with experience and clout, was afforded follow-up media interviews to make his case. Perhaps the most noteworthy example was his fiery appearance on Radio 2 where he was interviewed by Amol Rajan, a former editor of the oligarch-owned Independent and now the BBC’s media editor. You do not get to such exalted positions in the corporate media, as Rajan has done, by being a thorn in the side of the establishment. In a remarkable exchange, not only did Oborne name and shame major political editors for cosying up to power, he directly, and correctly, accused Rajan of the same. (Click here, starting at around 1:09:20; or, once the BBC link has expired, listen to the relevant segment here)

Oborne commented:

You, yourself, when you were Independent editor, notoriously sucked up to power. You are a client journalist yourself…you were a crony journalist yourself. It’s time this system was exploded.

Rajan blustered:

It’s unbecoming of you, Peter, it’s unbecoming.

When Oborne added that Rajan had also ‘failed to notice’ stories as BBC media editor, there was a brief stunned silence.

In 2014, when Rajan was the Independent’s editor, he boasted of ‘our proud record on coverage of Iraq’. We responded at the time:

Sorry, we have analysed the Independent’s performance closely. Your record was and is shameful. Where to start?

Rajan did not reply. It was around this time that he blocked us on Twitter.

OPCW Whistleblowers Question The Douma Narrative

A further, grave example of present-day propaganda filtering involves the corporate media blanking of further proof that western powers, notably the US, have been manipulating the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Last month, WikiLeaks published evidence from an OPCW whistleblower showing that the international chemical watchdog had suppressed evidence suggesting that the Syrian government had not, in fact, mounted a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7, 2018. In other words, there is clear authoritative testimony from an OPCW insider contradicting the endlessly repeated narrative that ‘Assad used weapons against his own civilians’ in Douma. This state-approved script, propagated throughout the major western news media, served as the ‘justification’ for the US, UK and France to launch missile strikes on Syria seven days later.

Shockingly, as reported by WikiLeaks, a panel of experts convened by the Courage Foundation, an independent British civil society organisation, reported that:

Not only did the panel find that OPCW tampered with the evidence to produce an outcome desired by the geopolitical actors involved in this instance, it tried to silence its own senior civil servants.

One member of the panel, Richard Falk – an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years – noted that the credibility of the panel’s conclusions were strengthened by having José Bustani, a former Director-General of the OPCW, among its members.

Falk added:

Not only is there a lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the undertakings of major national governments, but there is a deliberate manipulation of evidence and obstruction of procedures designed to protect the citizenry against abuses of state, and in the case of major states, especially the United States, to protect the public interest.

This new testimony added to the earlier revelations in May that Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW scientist, had written a detailed report, suppressed by OPCW, calling into question the official version of events in Douma. As our media alert at the time noted, very little media coverage was devoted to this expert evidence questioning the Washington-stamped ‘consensus’ view.

Robert Fisk’s article in the Independent ten days after the Douma incident was a vanishingly rare exception. He interviewed a Syrian doctor who told him that the victims of the alleged chemical attack had actually suffered from hypoxia – oxygen starvation in the dusty tunnels where they had taken refuge from bombing– and not gas poisoning. As we also observed in our media alert, BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati stated on Twitter that after almost six months of investigation he had concluded that:

I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.

Two days after the Douma attack, he had tweeted:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

Dalati later deleted his tweet and set his Twitter account to ‘private’ status (it has since become accessible to the public again).

Typically, the BBC sought to minimise any public doubts about the official narrative on Douma by including only Syrian and Russian claims of ‘fabrication’. There was little, or no, coverage of sceptical Western voices. In similar fashion, in the run-up to the Iraq war of 2003, BBC News and other ‘mainstream’ outlets had relegated credible allegations that the ‘threat’ of ‘Iraqi WMD’ was fake news to the ‘evil dictator’ Saddam Hussein.

Readers may recall that award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh had difficulty publishing his in-depth, sceptical reporting about an earlier alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack at Ghouta in 2013. In the end, he had to publish in the London Review of Books, of all places (here and here).

This is so often the fate of the best journalism: pushed to the margins where it can be safely ignored.

Corporate Eyes Averted And Tongues Bitten

The fact that a second OPCW whistleblower has now revealed extremely serious manipulation of evidence surrounding what happened at Douma has been greeted by a wall of corporate media silence. However, it was mentioned briefly by Jonathan Steele, a former senior Middle East correspondent for the Guardian, in a radio interview with Paul Henley on the BBC World Service on October 27, 2019 (listen here; from around 11:00; if no longer available from the BBC, listen to the extract archived here by Caitlin Johnstone and read her article):

Jonathan Steele: I was in Brussels last week … I attended a briefing by a whistleblower from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He was one of the inspectors who was sent out to Douma in Syria in April last year to check into the allegations by the rebels that Syrian aeroplanes had dropped two canisters of chlorine gas, killing up to 43 people. He claims he was in charge of picking up the samples in the affected areas, and in neutral areas, to check whether there were chlorine derivatives there …

Paul Henley: And?

JS: … and he found that there was no difference. So it rather suggested there was no chemical gas attack, because in the buildings where the people allegedly died there was no extra chlorinated organic chemicals than in the normal streets elsewhere. And I put this to the OPCW for comment, and they haven’t yet replied. But it rather suggests that a lot of this was propaganda…

PH: Propaganda led by?

JS: … led by the rebel side to try and bring in American planes, which in fact did happen. American, British and French planes bombed Damascus a few days after these reports. And actually this is the second whistleblower to come forward. A few months ago there was a leaked report by the person [senior OPCW scientist Ian Henderson – mentioned earlier in this alert] who looked into the ballistics, as to whether these cylinders had been dropped by planes, looking at the damage of the building and the damage on the side of the cylinders. And he decided, concluded, that the higher probability was that these cylinders were placed on the ground, rather than from planes.

PH: This would be a major revelation…

JS: … it would be a major revelation …

PH: … given the number of people rubbishing the idea that these could have been fake videos at the time.

JS: Well, these two scientists, I think they’re non-political – they wouldn’t have been sent to Douma, if they’d had strong political views, by the OPCW. They want to speak to the Conference of the Member States in November, next month, and give their views, and be allowed to come forward publicly with their concerns. Because they’ve tried to raise them internally and been – they say they’ve been – suppressed, their views have been suppressed.

PH: Very interesting.

(Transcript courtesy of Tim Hayward of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.)

In May, when the suppressed engineering assessment report on Douma by the OPCW’s Ian Henderson was leaked, Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, agreed that this was ‘an important story’. Despite polite nudges from Media Lens, and others, she said no more on the matter. Did BBC colleagues have a quiet word in her ear?

Following revelations of a second whistleblower last week, we challenged her once more. She again ignored us, but she did reply to one of our Twitter followers:

Thanks Philip. I’ve been in Canada this month reporting on elections & in Afghanistan for most of Sept. I did forward the earlier information to programmes but was away during more recent news so other teams /programmes would have looked at it.

While it is heartening to see any reply – perhaps a measure of Doucet’s desire to give at least the impression of being accountable to the public – it is a very evasive reply. It is remarkable that for five months she had not been around to report vital testimony from OPCW insiders blowing a hole in the official, US-friendly narrative used to ‘justify’ missile attacks on Syria. Clearly, she had decided it was not that important after all.

And what does ‘so other teams /programmes would have looked at it’ actually mean? What evidence did they examine? And how closely? Where are the BBC headlines and major coverage these revelations deserve? As far as we can tell, there has been no mention of the OPCW whistleblowers on the BBC News website; nor has there been any coverage on the main BBC News programmes. Our challenges to Paul Royall, editor of the BBC News flagship News at Six and Ten programmes, and Nick Sutton, editor of the BBC News website, have gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, the General Election on December 12 may well be, as Jeremy Corbyn says:

a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country and take on the vested interests holding people back.

But time is rapidly running out for real change – whether that be on foreign policy, such as Syria, or the largest crisis now facing all of us. A global group of 11,000 scientists declared this week that the evidence is ‘clear and unequivocal’ that humanity is in a climate emergency. The stakes, then, are even higher than ‘once-in-a-generation’. As Extinction Rebellion have repeatedly warned, there may not be more than one new generation of humanity that will survive, given the severity of climate breakdown.